There was a tap on my door, a rat-a-tat that I gave Hickory to use when I was nine, when I made it a secret member of my secret club. I made Dickory a secret member of an entirely different secret club. Same with Mom, Dad and Babar. I was all about the secret clubs when I was nine, apparently. I couldn't even tell you what the name of that secret club was now. But Hickory still used the knock whenever my bedroom door was closed.
"Come in," I said. I was standing by my bedroom window.
Hickory came in. "It's dark in here," it said.
"That's what happens when it's late and the lights are out," I said.
"I heard you walking about," Hickory said. "I came to see if you needed anything."
"Like a warm glass of milk?" I said. "I'm fine, Hickory. Thank you."
"Then I'll leave you," Hickory said, backing out.
"No," I said. "Come here a minute. Look."
Hickory walked over to stand next to me at the window. He looked where I pointed, to two figures in the road in front of our house. Mom and Dad. "She has been out there for some time," Hickory said. "Major Perry joined her a few minutes ago."
"I know," I said. "I saw him walk out." I heard her walk out, too, about an hour earlier; the squeaking of the springs on the screen door had gotten me out of bed. I hadn't been sleeping, anyway. Thinking about leaving Huckleberry and colonizing somewhere new was keeping my brain up, and then made me pace around. The idea of leaving was sinking in. It was making me twitchier than I thought it would.
"You know about the new colony?" I asked Hickory.
"We do," Hickory said. "Lieutenant Sagan informed us earlier this evening. Dickory also filed a request to our government for more information."
"Why do you call them by their rank?" I asked Hickory. My brain was looking for tangents at the moment, it seemed, and this was a good one. "Mom and Dad. Why don't you call them 'Jane' and 'John' like everyone else?"
"It's not appropriate," Hickory said. "It's too familiar."
"You've lived with us for seven years," I said. "You might be able to risk a little familiarity."
"If you wish us to call them 'John' and 'Jane,' then we will do so," Hickory said.
"Call them what you want," I said. "I'm just saying that if you want to call them by their first names, you could."
"We will remember that," Hickory said. I doubted there would be a change in protocol anytime soon.
"You'll be coming with us, right?" I asked, changing the subject. "To the new colony." I hadn't assumed that Hickory and Dickory would not be joining us, which when I thought about it might not have been a smart assumption.
"Our treaty allows it," Hickory said. "It will be up to you to decide."
"Well, of course I want you to come," I said. "We'd just as soon leave Babar behind than not take you two."
"I am happy to be in the same category as your dog," Hickory said.
"I think that came out wrong," I said.
Hickory held up a hand. "No," it said. "I know you did not mean to imply Dickory and I are like pets. You meant to imply Babar is part of your household. You would not leave without him."
"He's not just part of the household," I said. "He's family. Slobbery, sort of dim family. But family. You're family, too. Weird, alien, occasionally obtrusive family. But family."
"Thank you, Zoe," Hickory said.
"You're welcome," I said, and suddenly felt shy. Conversations with Hickory were going weird places today. "That's why I asked about you calling my parents by rank, you know. It's not a usual family thing."
"If we are truly part of your family, then it is safe to say it's not a usual family," Hickory said. "So it would be hard to say what would be usual for us."
This got a snort from me. "Well, that's true," I said. I thought for a moment. "What is your name, Hickory?" I asked.
"Hickory," it said.
"No, I mean, what was your name before you came to live with us," I said. "You had to have been named something before I named you Hickory. And Dickory, too, before I named it that."
"No," it said. "You forget. Before your biological father, Obin did not have consciousness. We did not have a sense of self, or the need to describe ourselves to ourselves or to others."
"That would make it hard to do anything with more than two of you," I said. "Saying 'hey, you' only goes so far."
"We had descriptors, to help us in our work," Hickory said. "They were not the same as names. When you named Dickory and me, you gave us our true names. We became the first Obin to have names at all."
"I wish I had known that at the time," I said, after I took this in. "I would have given you names that weren't from a nursery rhyme."
"I like my name," Hickory said. "It's popular among other Obin as well. 'Hickory' and 'Dickory' both."
"There are other Obin Hickorys," I said.
"Oh, yes," Hickory said. "Several million, now."
I had no possible intelligible response to that. I turned my attention back to my parents, who were still standing in the road, entwined.
"They love each other," Hickory said, following my gaze.
I glanced back at it. "Not really where I was expecting the conversation to go, but okay," I said.
"It makes a difference," Hickory said. "In how they speak to each other. How they communicate with each other."
"I suppose it does," I said. Hickory's observation was an understatement, actually. John and Jane didn't just love each other. The two of them were nuts for each other, in exactly the sort of way that's both touching and embarrassing to a teenage daughter. Touching because who doesn't want their parents to love each other, right down to their toes? Embarrassing because, well. Parents. Not supposed to act like goofs about each other.
They showed it in different ways. Dad was the most obvious about it, but I think Mom felt it more intensely than he did. Dad was married before; his first wife died back on Earth. Some part of his heart was still with her. No one else had any claim on Jane's heart, though. John had all of it, or all of it that was supposed to belong to your spouse. No matter how you sliced it, though, there's nothing either of them wouldn't do for each other.
"That's why they're out here," I said to Hickory. "In the road right now, I mean. Because they love each other."
"How so?" Hickory asked.
"You said it yourself," I said. "It makes a difference in how they communicate." I pointed again to the two of them. "Dad wants to go and lead this colony," I said. "If he didn't, he would have just said no. It's how he works. He's been moody and out of sorts all day because he wants it and he knows there are complications. Because Jane loves it here."
"More than you or Major Perry," Hickory said.
"Oh, yeah," I said. "It's where she's been married. It's where she's had a family. Huckleberry is her homeworld. He'd say no if she doesn't give him permission to say yes. So that's what she's doing, out there."
Hickory peered out again at the silhouettes of my parents. "She could have said so in the house," it said.
I shook my head. "No," I said. "Look how she's looking up. Before Dad came out, she was doing the same thing. Standing there and looking up at the stars. Looking for the star our new planet orbits, maybe. But what she's really doing is saying good-bye to Huckleberry. Dad needs to see her do it. Mom knows that. It's part of the reason she's out there. To let him know she's ready to let this planet go. She's ready to let it go because he's ready to let it go."
"You said it was part of the reason she's out there," Hickory said. "What's the other part?"
"The other part?" I asked. Hickory nodded. "Oh. Well. She needs to say good-bye for herself, too. She's not just doing it for Dad." I watched Jane. "A lot of who she is, she became here. And we may never get back here. It's hard to leave your home. Hard for her. I think she's trying to find a way to let it go. And that starts by saying good-bye to it."
"And you?" Hickory said. "Do you need to say good-bye?"
I thought about it for a minute. "I don't know," I admitted. "It's funny. I've already lived on four planets. Well, three planets and a space station. I've been here longest, so I guess it's my home more than any of the rest of them. I know I'll miss some of the things about it. I know I'll miss some of my friends. But more than any of that... I'm excited. I want to do this. Colonize a new world. I want to go. I'm excited and nervous and a little scared. You know?"
Hickory didn't say anything to this. Outside the window, Mom had walked away a little from Dad, and he was turning to head back into the house. Then he stopped and turned back to Mom. She held out her hand to him. He came to her, took it. They began to walk down the road together.
"Good-bye, Huckleberry," I said, whispering the words. I turned away from the window and let my parents have their walk.