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The Seventh Sister

Look up, up at us. Then look us up.
You will not find her.

Looking up, you will count a little cluster of six.
Visible to the naked eye in a clear night sky.
Someone will say, there, the Seven Sisters. Though the seventh, of course, is invisible.

If you look us up in a book or online, you will learn many things, some of them true.
Our names, or who our father was, how he held up the sky.
How we are named after mother.
How “lustful” Orion chased us, back when we were mountain nymphs.
How Zeus intervened. Made us first birds, then stars.

Then, some theories about our sister’s conspicuous absence, why she might be hiding.
Is it shame for being the only one of us to have stooped to loving a mortal man?
Or maybe grief over mortals’ wars?

You can believe that if you like. But it’s not what happened.
The truth is: Our sister isn’t hiding with us. She is not here at all.

She is out there, knife in hand, facing down the rapist Orion and his disciples. Protecting us.
Every time she strikes, her blade’s sparks rain down as shooting stars.

Wood Buffalo Scullery

We built the star scullery, on the moor that used to be Wood Buffalo National Park. The land looked nothing like the boreal forest from great-grandmother’s tales of Canada’s final wildness.

It was scrub grass and deep pits with metal and concrete protruding at odd angles.

The scullery was a cloth house, with removable spines, we carried on our backs. If anyone had been interested in leaving the city, we’d have patented it.

Fairy tale sculleries had washstands. We had a telescope, an antique thought useless by our generation who doubted the existence of stars.

We arrived in July. During the brief night, the light clouds from Edmonton and Yellowknife kissed. We waited. Great-grandmother’s tales told of long nights in December. By late November, at midnight there was a thin piece of navy visible to the naked eye.

It was just a sliver, but enough that we thought it might be possible to wedge a bit of true darkness back to the earth.

In the false darkness of the scullery, we took turns looking through the telescope lens.

I was the first to see it. A star on December 21, 2145, an honest to goodness star.

Cloudbreak

She was the first.

The first born of nine. The first in her family to study the dark art of science.

But not the first in size.

She was tiny–not good for climbing the great mountain with a metal tank of brightgas in tow.

Few people had ever been this close to the sky, to the endless bed of clouds that shrouded the planet. A single cohesive layer that never opened. That never cracked.

She stood far above the cities engulfed in petty struggles. Myopia and vindictiveness as thick as the sky.

She pushed a dirty wisp of hair from her face and arched her back. She lowered her glass shield over her eyes.

She reached to ignite the brightgas–that very substance used for trading and fueling and even killing in the cities below. For turning the wheels of factories and war machines.

But never before to power a human projectile.

She inhaled.

And then a spark.

In a sudden rush the cities below were out of sight. Then the mountain too.

There were only clouds.

And then she saw the other side of the soft gray sky.

She saw the stars.

She was the first.

Stars Hide Your Fires

The night before she lost her mind, Lady M, alone in her chamber, looked down at her hands. Blinked. Clutched her fingers into fists, unfurled them slowly, looked again.

What there, in her palms? A premonition.

Dark and slick and flecked with light. Night sky spread against flesh. Stars made of sinew, celestial bodies of spatter. In the time it took the light to reach her eyes, she saw a thousand daughters born to a hundred mothers, all powerful and beautiful just like her, all made of starlight and magic.

The galaxy pulsed along her lifeline. A dozen moons and suns and countless stars, all beckoning to her to choose the future. And she might have, yes, she might have chosen the sky and the stars and a power that outlived her body, had not her chamber door swung open.

“My lady—it is time.”

She curled her fingers inward. Closed the stars up tight in the prison of her palms. Felt them squeeze and ooze between her fingers, dripping onto the chamber floor. From her dressing table she drew a dagger, passed it to her husband. Another kind of darkness already staining her palms red.

Intergalactic, or Bust

She walked in like she owned the place, but I pegged her for a spoiled-wealthy tourist.  “I need a ticket to Proxima Centauri.  Immediately.”

“Of course!  We at Intergalactic…”

“Never mind all that.  How much?”

“It depends, of course, but…”

“Don’t patronize me, sir!”

Our company manual on client relations says When in difficulty, remember to smile.  I’m not sure I pulled it off.  “I’m very sorry if it came off like that, Ms. …?”

“Campbell.  Tricia Campbell.”

“Ms. Campbell.  See, the costs do differ significantly, depending on whether you intend us to send all of you, or just your head.  Mass considerations…”

Are you daft??!

I blinked in surprise.  “Sorry?”

“’Send just my head’??  I’d be dead!”

“Oh, no ma’am.  We’d induce suspended animation and get you—well, your head—there quickly, and just clone a new rest-of-you when you’re there.  Be much cheaper that way than shipping you whole.”

“Absurd!”  She bit her lower lip.  “But that would save on cost?”

“Yes ma’am.  This way, we just take a little off the top.”  I carefully didn’t smile.

I would swear I saw steam puff from her ears; she gave me the finger, and left.

Tourist.

fallingstars.exe

The control room was empty, but it usually was when Arrie started her work. The chair dropped hard when she sat down and Arrie wasn’t surprised that her calls to maintenance had gone unanswered, just disappointed.

Maybe that’s why she did this work. There was so much disappointment in her own life that it felt good to drop a little wonder into someone else’s. Even if that someone else barely met the definition of sentience and had descended from primates on a savage, little planet.

Arrie typed in her access codes, and with the quick brush of her fingers, the planet on her screen spun until she stopped it with a light tap. Another flick and she’d zoomed all the way in to the planet’s surface, topography expanding, beings becoming clearer, until she found him. The boy with the telescope.

Her fingers hovered over the keyboard, hesitant. She’d be risking punishment if she allowed another shower in this quadrant. But the boy’s eyes full of hope were enough to make her almost remember the feeling. Maybe that’s why she did this work.

“Make a wish,” she murmured as she typed in the command, sure she’d be reprimanded this time.

Charting

The aliens had made a map on her skin at first contact: a thousand bio-luminescent moles to help her people find them in the sky. This had been a huge drag during debrief, and worse when Ezzie got home and found she couldn’t sleep.

“Haven’t had a nightlight in years,” said Anka, snuggling close to help.

“Figures we’d land a species with no sense of boundaries,” Ezzie sighed. She set a hand over the brightest nuisance. Her palm smothered its light, but her knuckles bore three more. “At least the biopsies came back clean.”

Anka traced what the experts had thought was a stellar nursery along Ezzie’s right hip. “But if they can throw their minds across the cosmos? Light up your skin with directions to come over?”

“A gesture of peace, an invitation, and… a reminder of their power. Couldn’t’ve been a better message on their part.”

“So how do we answer? What show of force could possibly compete?”

Ezzie shrugged; the coronal mass ejection the experts planned to trigger, once the home-star’s location was pinned down, was confidential.

Even she would only know of its success months later: one mole–the brightest–winking out.

It wouldn’t help her sleep.

Billion Year Hurt

Between blinks, time passes at an astronomical pace, but the ache remains. Across the reinforced window pane, Sharon sees the stars rearranging themselves in a strange, stop-motion procession. She had volunteered for the capsule as soon as Vicky handed her the divorce papers:

I love you, Sharon. But you don’t want to put in the work.

Vicky’s words linger as she skirts the edge of the galaxy. Inside her altered womb, she feels what will be the seeds of a new humanity stir softly, as if to comfort her. She thinks of Vicky, as she sat across from her in the clinic’s waiting room:

I won’t have your baby by my damn self.

Sharon has broken away from the grip of the Milky Way. She thinks of Vicky, young and still in love, a hundred million years dead, whispering:

You’re worth it in her ear.

In the blackness, Sharon cries: it’s a long, geological weeping but it does her ancient heart good. By the time the soft blue light of an alien star begins to seep through her window, the pain has dulled, somewhat.

In another ten million years, Sharon hopes, she will be over her.

To The World Beyond The Sky

Sunlight had grown dimmer each day until it was a dark orange tinge in the sky. A gloom across the horizon: Earth’s yellow sun in its last throes. Thousands had already made their way to Helionous, the Earth-like exoplanet; the wealthiest already evacuated, a randomly-selected worker lottery followed.

Sisip’s family had all passed on, and, without the sun, the land would soon wither unrecognizable, bleached, silent. Every night she stared into the darkness, looking for Skitekmujewawti in the haze. Amethyst stacked on gold: the star-ringed Milky Way galaxy, humming in the vast void, stretching itself over the evergreen hills of her reserve. It was the road to the Spirit World, where her ancestors lived, and it would be behind her on her journey through The World Beyond The Sky.

Sisip furiously wrote the constellation songs and stories her family had told her on a scrap of birchbark and smuggled it into the Helionous Employee manual. A deep breath: almost boarding time.

Gesasijig gloqowejg wa’so’q wela’gw. The stars shine bright in the heavens at night. She took a last look above. Soon there would be new stories stretched out above her, and she would sing these ancient words to her new and glittering heaven.

Exit

Masha is a neuro-artist, so she can’t just send a break-up message like a normal person. That’s why a memory of last night, cropped and augmented, is blinking in Bess’s inbox. She knows she should delete it. She doesn’t.

They’re in a car together, winter swirling past the windows. She sees herself in profile, wearing her recycled pink coat, rubbing balm on her chapped lips then leaning in to rub it on Masha’s.

The car maneuvers onto a frozen field, tires squealing and crunching. They pile out. Her face is electric with excitement, but even though she’s deep in the memory now she can’t feel anything from Masha. Not when her arms wrap around her from behind, not when their heads nestle together.

“I wonder if any of these stars are already gone,” her voice says. “Like, gone, burned out, but we’re still seeing the after-images.”

Finally, she feels Masha feel something: realization and dread and resignation all mixed together. Masha’s head tips up to the heavens, the glowing constellations, but Bess knows now she was only seeing the after-images of something bright and beautiful.

She tastes her own cold lips when Masha kisses her. She exits the memory.