Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

February, again. I remember, it was today I first heard it. You left your window a little way open so I could hear you playing our songs as I walked to work. Those grey mornings, snow blowing by. They always seemed a little less bleak after I walked past your place.
Then the war came. Six years without playing a note while I helped your people go from tragedy to ceasefire, and capture two planets along the way.
I came back with a new leg, and a limp on the other side. How long did you wait up that day? I never knew. All I know is I was somewhere down and dark, lugging a kitbag that had no respect for my mismatched stride. Then I heard our music. I stumbled, then smiled. Staggering down a road conspicuously short of victory parades, I might as well have been feted from space port to reservation gates.
Then the stuff they gave me to stop implant rejection screwed me up.
The next time… That would have been the second victory day. The day your papa stood up at the flag ceremony and called me a ‘snakeskin coward pretending to be a veteran’ so I could get away with ‘troubling’ his daughter. Don’t know what you whispered to him afterwards, but I’ve never seen a man’s face fall so far, so fast.
Third victory day. I got that one right. First one I’d been clean for, but you were the one off-planet, doing your best not to die while helping more people survive.
I stayed up for nearly two days straight to make sure I could play music when you walked home with your folks. Your family didn’t make the connection, but your smile nearly gave me a heart attack. I thought it would blow my chest open, it was beating so hard and fast.
Fourth victory day I shipped out while you were in rehab. Seems the ‘new’ drugs they gave you didn’t do much beyond giving you the same problems I had.
Fifth victory day: I heard about the Integration Order while I was growing a new tail on Eldebarre. Then the cause of the first victory day decided they weren’t beaten. I missed both sixth and seventh victory days defeating them again.
Now here I am, standing in your street. Got a cerametal arm to go with the leg, and a guitar in the case at my side. War’s over. I can be a musician again. But… My matriarch sent word you got badly hurt.
What a pair we make. My family love you from the ground up, and your family hate me from the horns on my head to the scales of my soles. I guess we were never destined to be anything beyond stealthy meetings in unlit places, but I’d have liked to try. Just the once, you know. To see if we really could be as magical as it felt.
I wrote a new song. Would you like to hear it? Your neighbours can’t complain anymore. I’ve as much right to sit on a kerb and play rockin’ blues as the next citizen. Valusians and humans are one glorious society now… Excuse me if I keep my chest armour on. Some humans have funny ways of expressing their joy over Integration.
“Hey, you.”
Sweet Mother Hydra… You’ve had your cerametal etched with scale patterns!
“I learned to play bass. Thought we could play together. See where it takes us?”
I open my arms. You run to me.
To the stars, beloved. It’ll take us to the stars.