Saturday, July 6, 2024

The Odin Chronicles • Episode 41: “The Gravity of Home” • by Kimberly Ann Smiley

…Previously, in The Odin Chronicles

A tall woman burst into Weber’s Place, the best watering hole on the mining planet of Odin III.  

She raised her voice to be heard over the crowd. “Ingrid! Still tending Dad’s bar, I see!”

Ingrid nearly dropped the mug she was filling. “Astrid! What are you doing here?”

Astrid settled on the last open stool. “My schedule shifted last minute. Mind if I crash here for a bit?”

“Of course! You’re always welcome.” Ingrid’s stomach clenched. She loved her sister, but she dreaded the inevitable interrogation about her life choices.

Ingrid studied her sister’s face. Astrid had been born first, but her transport ship life meant she had far fewer wrinkles. Ingrid knew about time dilation, but seeing it firsthand was always a bit shocking.

“Don’t suppose you’re finally ready to leave this dump?” Astrid grinned like she was joking, but they both knew she wasn’t.

Ingrid forced a smile. “Put your stuff in your room. I’ll pour you a beer.”

Astrid headed upstairs to the little three-bedroom apartment above the bar they’d grown up in. It wasn’t long before she was back on the bar stool.

Townspeople who hadn’t seen Astrid in years greeted her like a conquering hero. Ingrid didn’t have time to join in. Same old story.

Past midnight, the bar had emptied, Astrid pressed Ingrid again. “Aren’t you bored here? This planet is a dead end.”

“I’ve traveled enough to know I’m happy here.”

“I’ve got an inner planet gig lined up next and they’re still hiring. Come with me. Now that Mom and Dad are gone, there’s nothing to tie you to this hell hole.”

Why’d she have to bring up their parents? “Give it a rest already!”

“Don’t you want some excitement while you’re still young enough to enjoy it?”

The age comment stung. “You don’t have to be an ass. And you’re free to leave if you hate it so much.”

“Fine. I’ll jet.”

“Hold on.”

“I’ll be gone as soon as I can.” Astrid stomped off upstairs. The door to her old bedroom slammed.

Why was Astrid like this? Ingrid had no desire to share the apartment with Astrid right then, so she started sweeping with more force than necessary.

It was only then that she realized her cat Sheba wasn’t around. The cat never missed the opportunity to attack the broom.

It was past the time Sheba normally returned from her outside adventures, and Ingrid couldn’t help worrying. She hurried to the back door to call for the cat, but paused when she noticed Sheba on the back porch railing staring intently into the shadows.

Someone was kneeling in the darkness with a pale hand stretched out toward the cat.

The figure leaned forward into the light. It was a woman with features that looked like they were carved from marble. Ingrid froze, the air in her lungs rushing out.

Odin North was a small town. She knew everyone, including most of the transport crews that visited. She had never seen this woman before.

The strange woman looked up at Ingrid. “Why is this creature staring at me?”

The woman’s skin was nearly white, and her eyes glowed strangely in the darkness.

“She likes you.”

Cats were all over Odin North. How had this woman never seen one before? Who was she? Ingrid had heard rumors about miners encountering strange creatures, but she hadn’t expected to meet any herself, especially not on her back porch.

“It…likes me?” asked the stranger.

“Would you like to pet her?”


“Like this.” Ingrid moved very slowly towards her cat, careful to avoid getting too close to her unexpected visitor. She rubbed Sheba’s ears. “Want to try?”

The stranger extended her hand deliberately towards Sheba. The tabby enthusiastically closed the distance and butted her head on the offered palm. The cat started purring like a mine cart motor.

The woman jerked her hand back. “Did I hurt it?”

“No, that sound means she is happy. She definitely likes you.”

“How do you know these things? What is this creature?” The stranger’s voice sounded like stones rubbing together.

“She’s a cat named Sheba. She lives with me.”

“Cats are not of this world. Why were they brought here?”

The question was vaguely alarming, but the stranger didn’t seem threatening or dangerous. “Cats are pets. We keep them for companionship. They also keep pests out of our homes.”

“Companionship?” The woman’s eyebrows pulled together.


The woman nodded very slowly. “You are friends with creatures that are not like you?”

The question felt heavy in the air. “Yes.”

The woman hard eyes studied Ingrid. “Do you mind if I come here to listen to the music sometimes?”

“You’re welcome to visit anytime.” Ingrid hoped the woman would return soon. She had so many questions!

This encounter was exactly what Astrid refused to understand about Ingrid’s life. Odin wasn’t a fancy planet. Hell, it wasn’t even a particularly nice one, but it was interesting. You never knew what might happen in ways not possible on a ship or a fully settled planet.

She wouldn’t leave her home for anything.

The stranger rubbed Sheba’s head gently. “Are you sure Sheba likes this?”

The cat leaped onto the strange woman’s lap.

Ingrid laughed. “Absolutely.”

“Ingrid?” Astrid’s voice called from inside.

“I must go. I would like to visit Sheba again,” said the visitor.

The woman abruptly stood. Sheba meowed indignantly as she was dislodged.

“Come back anytime,” Ingrid called. The stranger disappeared into the night faster than seemed possible.

Astrid stepped out the door. “What are you doing out here?”

“Just getting Sheba.” Ingrid scooped the cat up and carried her inside.

“I couldn’t get ahold of my crew. This armpit of a town doesn’t have a hotel, but I promise I’ll figure it out in the morning.” Astrid paused. “I didn’t see Joe tonight.”

Ingrid looked down and spoke softly. “He died a few years back. I’m sorry. Hunting accident.”

Astrid didn’t respond. She just stared into the darkness. For the first time in years, Ingrid felt sorry for her. Maybe Astrid’s life was lonelier than she let on. Maybe that was why she kept returning to this “armpit” of a planet? Maybe that was why she wanted Ingrid to join her so badly?

Ingrid put her hand on her sister’s shoulder. “Please don’t go. Even if you just stay for a couple of days, this will always your home.”

Astrid raised an eyebrow.

“I’m sorry. I just don’t like you always pressuring me.”

Astrid sighed. “I’m sorry, too. I just hate to think of you wasting your life.”

Ingrid had to laugh. Even when apologizing, Astrid couldn’t resist a dig.  “I’m really happy here.”

“Won’t you at least think about it?”

“I have. Many times. Can we agree to disagree and just enjoy this time? I’ll even make you mom’s pancakes tomorrow if you promise not to bring up job opportunities before noon.”

Astrid snorted. “Deal.”

Ingrid grinned at her sister. Astrid might never understand why Ingrid loved Odin with its mysteries and strange inhabitants, but Ingrid was still glad she was here. Even if there was no way Astrid would resist making a sarcastic comment until noon.

Kimberly Ann Smiley was born and raised in California but now lives in Mississippi after an unexpected plot twist. She has several pieces of paper that claim she is a mechanical engineer and none that mention writing, but has decided not to let the practical decisions made in her youth define the rest of her life. Her stories have appeared both here on Stupefying Stories and in Daily Science Fiction and Sci-Fi Shorts.

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Coming Tuesday: Episode 42: “The Same Bratwurst Every Day,” by Carol Scheina

New to Odin III? Check this out.

The Odin Chronicles: The Complete Episode Guide (So Far)