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  • The Amethyst
    When All The Worlds Were New #12.01: The Amethyst

    Chapter 1

    02 October 2155 CE (10 Asvina 2077)
    Aretz (Sol III)

    The audience sits in respectful silence as the sun sets over the Pacific, outside the Temple theater’s great western window.

    Waves of purple bioluminescence—temporary, of course, and carefully managed by the environmental control staff—laps at the base of the window, dappling it with a subtle glow well-matched by the deep violet dusk. The subtle pulsation of light from the screens surrounding the window underscores the rhythm of the risen sea, tonight a steady fifteen seconds, dividing time into sections, guiding breath, for those in the audience practicing their pranayama.

    Once, the Temple had perched upon pillars half a kilometer out to sea and a causeway connected it to the beaches. Now, great earthworks have replaced the beach with layers of cement and dirt, an adaptation to the rise in sea level. Gardens of genetically engineered flowers now cover the new land. When queried, the AI that managed the city would say that the continent had plenty of farmland and that there was nothing frivolous about flowers.

    Thus, some of the audience count the seconds of their breath by the subtle, citrusy fragrance of lotus flowers held in their hands. Some, having opted to dust themselves with gold upon entering the temple, glitter softly in the purple light of the algae, the twilight, and the light of screens. Others, feeling no need to connect to symbols of distant times and places, choose to sit and await the performance.

    The stage is not its usual flat, polished gleam. A deep blackness nearly swallowed lights falling upon the surface; only small spots of dark violet, almost lost in the brighter lights coming from the monitors, allow the viewers to see gentle hills and valleys, a strange and alien landscape laid upon the stage, a diorama of an unknown world, lost in the Deep of time.

    Near the center of the stage is a brilliant cluster of amethysts. The purple quartz gleams softly in the subtle light of sea and nightfall, hexagonal crystals poking at irregular angles from the faux alien ground, or so it seems from the perspective of the audience. From above, the arrangement of amethysts forms a beautiful mandala, carefully arranged in three-dimensional space into the shape of a lotus much like the structure of the Temple itself.

    Behind the westernmost crystal, invisible to the audience just yet, a young woman sits in lotus, gazing at the spot in the sea where the sun had recently fallen. Her hands rest on her knees in jnana mudra, forefingers curled back within thumbs, spirit nestled within the Divine. Upon her brow, a small round gem catches the soft light, drawing one’s gaze up to her beautiful eyes from which, it seems, all the light upon the stage actually emanates.

    At the scheduled time she arises, her silver sari capturing the light and dappling her body in waves of royal purple as the monitors shift upon their mechanisms, turning into gentle spotlights. The audience offers brief applause; most of the watchers tap their fingers gently upon their wrist phones, which recognize the salutations and flash brightly, in whatever colors or patterns their owners had previously chosen. The applause quickly fades as the woman comes from around the tall crystal, revealing herself in a haze of purple light, soft skin, a dancer’s grace, and long black spider legs that dapple her exquisite body with bars of shadow.

    She lifts her hands toward the sky, silhouetted against the wave-kissed twilight window. A moment later, gentle blue light cascades down the eight spider legs affixed to her waist and they dance in a slow, flowing rhythm around her. She matches the rhythm with her own arms and legs, the eight flickering limbs becoming twelve, as lines of LEDs flash sapphire from the tips of her toes, up her flanks, and branch out to her fingertips.

    The brightening illumination finds little purchase on the black ground. If one looked closely, the dancer’s bare legs are smudged with black dirt—or not dirt exactly, more like someone had scribbled upon her with an artist’s pencils. The alien landscape is smooth graphite, littered with ashy black stones like charcoal. No human eyes have yet seen such a world, though the space telescopes with their spectrometers had firmly established that such planets existed in other, more carbon-rich star systems. The dancer makes a sudden, forceful gesture toward the great window and suddenly, from the window itself, two brilliant suns return from the sea—only rather than sunset gold, they blaze a dazzling blue.

    The dancer’s spider legs embrace the large amethyst crystal in front of her, tracing its hexagonal lines, filling the uncut jewel with sparkles of LED blue. She smiles, her lovely face radiating such amazement and delight that much of the audience leans forward and smiles in return; even the most jaded among them cannot help but be moved by her beauty and joy. Gracefully, she dances around the crystal, caressing it with spider legs and her own hands, and moments later she spots another crystal and lovingly embraces it.

    The blue suns continue to ascend, overlaid upon the window, until they reach the previously invisible screens upon the ceiling, then the far wall, where they descend and disappear, returning the scene to night. The dancer holds out an arm and spins once around the nearest large amethyst, grabs hold of another, and encircles that one likewise. She continues the dance until she has touched all eight of the large crystals and at last comes to rest in the center, gazing back out the window with her back to the audience. Though many of the watchers can’t see her, occluded as she is by various obstructions, they can see her face in the two largest screens flanking the window. She seems pensive, almost sad, as she kneels in the center of the lotus and placed her chin in her hands.

    Music plays, a soft low harmonium soon joined by the sweet, high keening of a flute and the very slow thump of a drum, matching the rhythm of the waves sloshing purple light against the window. Softly, a beautiful female voice joins the song, nearly a whisper, lovingly chanting ancient names that few of the audience know but which still move many to tears. The sound, emitted by carefully crafted directional speakers, is modulated such that the differences in frequency between the listeners’ left and right ears reverberate gently within their brains, pouring gentle warm trickles of endorphins through them so that the rhythm of their controlled breathing and the mindfulness it inspires filled them with soft bliss.

    The dancer gazes up into the cameras’ eyes so that she seems to look directly into the souls of her audience, and her own face melts into the same peaceful, loving warmth many of them are now experiencing. She lifts her hand to her lips as though to blow a kiss, but then reaches a bit higher toward the amethyst affixed to her forehead, and she taps and prods it gently as though she didn’t expect it to be there.

    After a moment, her expression shifts to surprise and she pinches the center of the jewel, then pulls slowly. A skein of glittering silver thread unravels, and she winds it slowly around her finger, pulling the unbreakable cord of diamond from her head and holding about half a meter in front of her eyes, turning it over in her hands, examining it thoughtfully. Then her eyes, glittering in the purple light like they were amethysts themselves, glance thoughtfully from side to side, examining the towers of crystal surrounding her. She smiles again and plays with the thread, twirling it over and over in her hands, playing cat’s cradle, spinning it into a circle, holding it up to the spotlights to watch it sparkle.

    After playing for a while she arises again, holding the thread in loops around her hand and elbow. By now it is perhaps as long as she was tall, and she walks over to one amethyst and presses the end to the crystal, where it stuck. Her face alight with glee, she dances around the two nearest amethyst towers, weaving the thread back and forth between them in a radial pattern, then once she has a dozen buttresses, starts winding the cord around them in a beautiful spiral.

    Behind, a strange blue moon rises up the window, and she steps back to admire how her little web frames the gleaming, cratered disk. She raises her hands prayerfully toward it and falls gracefully to her knees, helped by the spider apparatus she is wearing. Then the eight legs rise along with her hands. The ceiling screens display a new image, like they are mirrors looking down, showing the limbs stretching upward, outward, matching the lotus mandala formed by the crystals.

    The strange blue moon rises above the web’s frame, but the tiny blue reflections upon the threads glitter like a swarm of fireflies tangled in a silver braid. The weaver raises a hand and pointes to the web, her forefinger dancing and her lips moving silently as she counts the specks of light—seven, eight, nine, but soon she loses count because even the reflections have reflections and it depends entirely on the sharpness of one’s eyes to decide how many stars there really are. Eventually lets her hands fall to her lap, just watching the web swaying gently in the soft breeze of the theater’s ventilation system.

    Suddenly, from stage left, a shadow emerges from a doorway. The weaver’s eyes do not stray from their gaze upon the web, even when the shadow moves to the window and looked out over the sea, and throws down the black cloak that covers him. A young man, his face impassive, watches the waves for a little while, then he turns and spots the arrangement of amethysts. His eyes widen in surprise and admiration as he regards the crystals there, and he strokes his chin thoughtfully as his gaze sweeps over each gem, taking their measure. The walking stick he carried has a setting at its top, but it is empty.

    He walks toward the amethysts gently bound by the weaver’s web, holding his staff out in front of himself, and pauses for a moment before the silver skein. The weaver rises to her feet to greet the visitor, but her welcoming visage becomes a mask of horror as he waves his staff between the amethysts and tears apart the silken threads of her beautiful web. She claps her hands to her mouth and her spider legs wave wildly, their blue-sparking rhythm accelerating to panicked flashes, as the young man makes a disgusted face, wipes the remnants of her weaving off his staff, and casts it in a misshapen ball to the ground like so much garbage.

    He steps between the amethysts, heedless of the weaver, and bumps rudely into her—knocking her to the ground. She stares up at him with betrayed eyes, but her hand brushes the sad remnant of her lovely web and she turns away from him, gathers it up gently between her fingers, and begins to weep. The interloper continues to disregard her and taps his staff on other amethysts, the quartz ringing hollowly.

    The weaver rolls the silken threads into a tiny ball and stares at it through tear-shimmering eyes turned to cold sapphires by the flashing lights of her spider legs. She turns her gaze to the invader and her graceful eyebrows lower as she scowls. Her eight powerful limbs crash down onto the carbonic surface, shattering small charcoal rocks, skittering and screeching and screaming on the slick graphite. She rises with the help of the spider legs, her right hand holding the ruined web ahead of her beseechingly, her left hand contracted into claws of rage.

    “Speak your name, O cruel creature!” she cries out, her smooth, contralto voice made not one whit less beautiful by the rising fury within it.

    In surprise, the destroyer turns around and sees her for the first time. She now towers above him upon her spider limbs and he lifts his hands to cover his face—in protection, in fear, in shame as he realizes what he has done.

    “I have many names, O fearsome one,” he says quietly, in a deep baritone quavering slightly as his eyes widen in the sight of her fury, her glory, her beauty. He presses his palms together and bows deeply in reverence to her visage, and speaks. “I have been called Dundubhisvara, and Durvasa, and Daniel, and many other names which I myself have forgotten, O glorious one.” Nervous twitches make him thump his walking stick upon the graphite surface, blackening it.

    “Cease your drumming and your voice,” she says coldly, and the spider legs swiftly flex and allow her to leap to the top of the tallest amethyst, where she glares down upon him wrathfully. “You are difficult to share a world with, and I judge you a heartless creature, O wicked one.”

    He bows his head and tears spring to his eyes. He lets the empty staff clatter to the ground and mumbles to the ground in shame. “O beautiful one, I apologize. Had I known it was your weaving, and important to you, I would not have destroyed it.”

    This is not a suitable answer. She screams out with rage and leaps upon him, knocking him to the ground. The spider legs suspend her body horizontally over his, her face so close to his he can feel the heat of her breath upon him. “How dare you dishonor my poor web’s beauty so, by claiming her value was only that she was mine? Did you not see how she captured the light of the moon and turned it into sapphire dreams?” Her voice breaks and her words are interspersed with sobs. “Did you not see how she captured every beam of these lights, every flash of a wrist phone, every wave of gleaming life, and caught it gently, reflected it back, a gift to your eyes?”

    She pushes her hand into his forehead, mushing the ball of destroyed web into his brow, a sad gray reflection of the amethyst jewel on her own head from which it had sprung. It sticks there, mocking him. “Are your other eyes so blind?” she whispers sadly, and buries her face into his shoulder.

    “I have been,” he says. “What may I call you, O beloved one, whose true name is indescribable in its beauty and majesty, even if I could praise it every moment from now to eternity?”

    The spider legs carefully spin her body around until her feet again come to rest upon the black ground. She looks down at him prone upon the ground, gazing up at her seemingly no longer concerned she could tear off his limbs and throw them out into the crowd. “You may call me Jnanachandra, or Kandali, or Aranti, or Lalita. It matters not, because our true names exceed all possible expression from our tiny voices.”

    “I offer myself,” he says. “If it is the recompense you require, O Lalita.”

    She stares at him for a long moment and says, “I have already knocked you down, so I have avenged that indignity.” A deep disgust marks her lovely face. “But how dare you reject her beauty, her gifts? She must have loved you greatly, to offer such treasures to an ungrateful soul.” Her expression softens, if only a little. “But I see you have learned from your transgression, so I will demand only a small restitution.”

    “What is that, O Aranti?” The spider smiles, for that it in fact her name in this life. The audience, almost completely silent until now, taps a quick applause out in honor of young Aranti Shivakami of Vaikom and the actress, the weaver, the dancer, smiles out of character and bows, her lovely eyes sparkling, true tears coming in which are reflected the love of her audience, hers reciprocating and deeply, profoundly grateful.

    “O Daniel,” she says, and the young actor rises to his feet and bows toward the audience, toward the east, toward Mecca where he had this last year completed his hajj. Born of verdant Ireland to Jewish parents, Daniel Wolfe’s travels had taken him to the National School of Drama in New Delhi, where Aranti had briefly met him during her own in-person classes. Their brief correspondence had led to him joining the Temple Artists Guild soon after she’d moved to the Americas. Though she had been unnerved by his enthusiasm to follow in her footsteps, he had never given her the slightest trouble.

    As her companion takes his bow, Aranti smiles, closes her eyes, and lets herself become a beautiful spider again. It takes the rest of Daniel’s applause to remember the spider is supposed to be angry, not warmly delighted as she now is. She fixes her face into a mask of anger and glares at him as he returns to his own character.

    “O Daniel, the pleasure of a game of dice will mollify me with you, if you dare accept my challenge.”

    “O Kandali, I accept your challenge, for I am among the greatest players of games of chance, and shall surely spank your noob ass.” Soft laughter ripples from the audience to hear these young actors speaking the slang of the elderly.

    “O Duvasa, arrogant one. Let me offer you this handicap, that you may roll three times to my one and take of all three the result most dear to you.”

    At this, the man leaps to his feet, quaking with anger. “O Jnanachandra, tiny spider that would fit nicely under my heel. How dare you mock me so?”

    “I’d like to see you try, O silly Dundubhisvara! Take your three dice and throw.”

    The man glowers fiercely and takes three small sapphire dice from his pocket and tosses them on a smooth, flat spot polished into the graphite ground. They turn the sparkles of light around them into clinks and clatters and slowly came to rest, each die touching the others.

    “I see nine, twelve, and fifty-four. What number will you choose?”

    “Fifty-four, obviously.”

    She shrugs her eight spider limbs, pulls a tiny octahedral amethyst from her hair, and lets it fall from softly releasing fingertips, like a lover feeling that last slow, silken touch of skin retreating from skin as they release each other’s hands before a trip in two different directions. She smiles that lover’s smile of knowing that the trip is to be quite short and the next time their hands touch, they will be joining, enfolding, reuniting under adoring eyes. This die’s cast is not a harsh clatter but rather a sweet silvern ringing, a tender chime, a deep and resonating copper gong. It skitters for a moment and comes to rest with numbers showing.

    “One hundred eight,” he grumbles. “Point for you, O spider. I shall cast again.” He throws the three dice again.

    “Twelve, twenty-seven, fifty-four. What number will you choose?”

    He makes an exasperated sound and waves his staff in the air as though testing for more webs to destroy. “Fifty-four.”

    She rolls the die again, and its music settles into a gentle tinkling of bells and silence. Again, one hundred and eight is displayed. “I win again!”

    Glaring, he casts again. “Twelve, nine, twenty-seven.”

    “I choose twenty-seven,” he snaps before she can ask. “Roll please, O advancer.”

    Her die comes up fifty-four. “I win again!” she says in the gleeful voice of a little girl about to burst into a laughter that will never fade.

    “Yes, yes!” The man scowls ferociously, but his eyes meet hers and he is lost in their beauty, his prideful anger vanishing in a breath and replaced by the all-consuming desire to never let that smile fade from her lips, her eyes, not even for a moment. “I… surrender to you, O beautiful lady of games. Thank you for this gift, though you won. Our game is a priceless jewel and I am forever in your debt.”

    “There is no debt, O beloved one. In fact, I ask that you take your leave of me for a day so that I can craft for you a proper gift.”

    “I am honored beyond words, O beloved one. I will go, and will return to your blessed sight tomorrow.” He exits stage right.

    The spider goes to the edge of the stage, where a small pile of amethysts lies broken off one of the main crystal towers. She grabs a convenient nearby basket and shovels handfuls of gems into it. Then she returns to the center of the lotus and bends her head to her work. The audience sees her hands on the screens above, graceful fingers swiftly sorting beads by quality, selecting the finest and arranging them in concentric circles, each with a dozen beads.

    When all one hundred eight are chosen, she lines them up in an apparatus with small rails that channel the beads into a line. Then she takes it to the other side of the stage and places the apparatus into a socket in the wall. There is a sharp hiss and a flash of light as an industrial laser drills the beads, pulsing with a specific frequency to disrupt the formation of spall. She pulls the device out of the socket and pours the beads back into the basket. Then she pulls at the amethyst on her head, drawing out a long, nearly unbreakable cord, and threads the beads one by one, tying knots in between each. The weaving accelerates on the screen, 1X, 3X, 5X. Swiftly she is done. She ties one final knot and holds the glimmering amethyst mala to the light of the blue moon.

    Daniel returns from stage right. “I have come as promised, O beloved one.”

    She presents the mala to him, lets it fall from softly releasing fingertips, like a lover feeling that last slow, silken touch of skin retreating from skin as they release each other’s hands before a trip in two different directions. He catches it and swiftly ties it in loops around his wrist. Their hands touch. They are joining, enfolding, reuniting under adoring eyes. The sound of the mala’s beads striking each other was not a harsh clatter but rather a sweet silvern ringing, a tender chime, a deep and resonating copper gong.

    They embrace. His arms are lost in the black enfolding of her eight spider limbs. She lifts her real arms and takes his chin in both her hands. Then she kisses him as they had during rehearsal, smoothly, with professional brahmacharya. Perhaps now, though, it is something about the warm embrace of a funny spider costume, glittering with streams of dizzying, dazzling blue, something about her space-black eyes catching the Stars of Dream within them, or his melted-chocolate eyes filling with shining tears as he looked upon her. Their eyes close and timeless bliss pours from lip to lip, from fingertip to jaw.

    “Take this then, and go, O beloved,” she says, her lovely eyes again brimming with tears—though she smiles. “For your place is there, in a new world, and mine is here in this blessed place, lost in the Deep of time.”

    “I do not want to be apart from you.”

    “You never shall be,” she whispers, holding him tightly as she weaves their souls together gently, fireflies tangled in a silver braid. Threads drift down over their shoulders, their hair, glinting in the blue light of the moon, shining now from the opposite wall as it descends in the company of another, smaller, fast-moving inner satellite. It is also blue, and flashes in the sunlight as it tumbles erratically end over end.

    She lowers herself into lotus and spreads her eight spider limbs outward, joining with the lines of the mandala. She closes her eyes in bliss and he turns and exits stage right, tracing around the beads of the mala with thankful fingers.

    The moons set and there are a few moments of darkness. Then the blue suns rise over the Pacific, blazing like arc welders, scorching the graphite and coal into warm gray highlights and deep black shadows. The large amethyst crystals, seemingly on their own, topple at random speeds. When the screens come back on, the fallen jewels in their new configurations still trace the lines of the lotus in the mandala.

    But Aranti is gone, and no one in the audience saw which way she went.

  • The First Star
    When All The Worlds Were Diamonds #1: The First Star

    Chapter 1: The First Star

    A long time ago, before there were worlds and your grandparents were not yet born, there lived the Star.

    She was beautiful beyond words, because beauty had not even been named except perhaps by the split-second sentient sparkles spilling the soup of primordial ylem in those first days before time had fully taken hold. If any of them had the privilege of seeing her, of falling in love with her new and exquisite light, they have kept that secret ever since and probably will forever.

    She coalesced out of whirling dervishes, dancing streamers of sizzling hydrogen garnished with a kiss of freshly picked young helium. Bright ribbons swirled into a vortex, drawing more and more mass in and mixing it until pairs of hydrogen nuclei were drawn irresistibly into each other’s arms and blazed brilliantly in an ever-swelling explosion of energy. Until that moment, no one could have found the edge that separated the universe from Her.

    She became Light, in that moment. An incandescent sphere of fierce photons set Her soft, cloudy surface aflame. Storms streamed through Her atmospheric skin, lightning sizzled across arcs longer than many of the smaller stars of our own darker age. Upward, outward, beyond, She offered Herself to the universe, casting her power and love in an ever-expanding bubble, blissfully.

    She would have been content to float there in the soft, warm glow of the universe’s birth forever, surrounded by tiny, disappearing sparkles of ylem, magnetic coils and streams of gas and electricity, the gentle tug of gravity pulling the expanding and thinning space-stuff into star-stuff—stars much smaller than Her certainly, but still so, so beautiful. She gazed ever outward through peekaboo fingers of Her own light and gravity, smiling at little stars surrounding Her, when the tiny thing approached, following Her light back to its source.

    Perhaps it wasn’t the ylem-sparkles who discovered beauty; perhaps She realized it at the moment She saw Herself reflected in the tiny thing. There were no words yet, so She did not know this was a planet, or what a planet was, or what She was.

    “Hi,” said She shyly, the sound of peaceful contemplation of Herself in this new form.

    “Hi,” said He, and His voice filled Her with the same wondrous admiration and joy the rest of the universe felt as the spreading wave of Her light passed through.

    “You are so beautiful,” said They together, then laughed, then looked around for the ylem-sparkles to see if they could tell Them what that meant. None of the ancient creatures could be found, so They just looked at each other again and They knew beauty’s name.

    “I am Star,” said She.

    “That is why I love You,” said He. She knew what Love was, of course; it started before the universes began, before time itself. Her light blazed a billion-fold brighter, and She cried out an answer as Her energy edged higher and the increased light exploded beyond Her edges.

    “I love You,” said She.

    “I am a planet,” said He. “A star died and dusted a nebula with dirty carbon, and another star was born and blasted the hydrogen and helium off Me, and there I was. I followed her in a spiral for a while, even after she died, but then I saw You.”

    “Me?” said She.

    “You are so beautiful,” said He. “And look at me.”

    “I have, and I see how beautiful You are,” said She.

    “I am but star dirt, clods of carbon ash and fusion trash. I am so pleased You find me beautiful, but I do not understand.”

    “How can You say that?” said She, and stray oxygen billowing from Her combined with hydrogen and poured Her tears into the heavens. “I see the soft warm glow of the universe all throughout Your skin. I see the light of every star within You, like a tiny cloud of sparkling delight. I see another brilliant light, so bright it almost dazzles Me, and this light fills every part of You, shattered into rays of every color of every rainbow. I see infinite versions of this light and color, some captured within the form of You and some gently set free to shine through the universe. I cannot resist Your beauty; it makes Me want to burn as bright as I can so I can shine upon You and fill You with My own light.”

    The planet danced slowly around Her, slipping an ellipse gently around Her equator and tracing it lovingly. She spun slowly to remain facing Him, embracing Him gently with Her gravity and keeping the dance going. He realized after a while what was happening. “I got very close when You first pulled me to You. You melted my coal and graphite into diamond, and now I see You everywhere in My seas.”

    She looked at Him closely and saw His heart deep within, not solid exactly but so full of weight and pressure it was far denser than the liquid above. Nevertheless, it was diamond. “Your heart was diamond even before You came to me,” said She. “Come close to Me again.”

    Her gravity was His command, and again He melted, and then boiled. He became a soft sphere of silver bound by His own gravity. Tidal forces circularized His orbit, closer to Her, and His heart melted and expanded to fill Him, then boiled and expanded to join with the diamond-gas already there, then expanded yet further.

    “I feel so fuzzy when I am close to You,” said He. His indistinct spherical form reached equilibrium with gravity and He was so much bigger than before. Comet tails trailed along His orbit, shining softly in Her light, and He was transparent to Her now and just as bright, though still so much tinier.

    “I fear You may vaporize and fly away forever in a cloud,” wept She, realizing this was in fact a possibility. Already the belt of matter encircling Her was puffing up and blowing away, while the sphere of Him had become so fuzzy She could see the reflections and refractions of Her light fading slowly. She cared not about the dissipation of Her light—She had plenty—but the thought of not seeing His beautiful form, of not feeling His tiny weight as They danced, almost blew Her fierce fusion flame out.

    “Perhaps I can change My path,” said He, though He knew He could not.

    “Can I help?” said She, and realized She could. She shifted the carbon core in Her own heart and whirled it, flung it. In a spectacular, spectral splendor of spherical light, the diamond burst forth and hurtled toward Him. For a moment She was frightened that it was too big for Him or that its speed and power would hurt Him, but the diamond merely passed through Him and gently, gravitically, guided His glowing gases into a stream that stretched outward, away from Her.

    He slowly solidified, but softly. Crystalline, compressed diamond had become jewels, gooey or fluffy, sometimes snowflakes dancing in diamond air, each catching Her light and filling the air with rainbows. Sometimes rushing rivers ran through caverns measureless to man, down to a starlit sea where the sunlight was never blocked by what lay above. For a long time They danced this way, content to gaze amazed upon each other.

    Tidal forces tugged gently at the layers of gas surrounding His liquid and solid cores. One side of Him turned toward Her for a kiss and never turned away. The orbit shifted slowly to become a circle again, and in this blissful balance They twirled around and around and around, gifting glowing handfuls of hydrogen and helium and dust to the tiny faraway stars that filled the skies around Them. After a while She realized each orbit was a little smaller, His approach a little closer. Puzzled, She asked Him about it.

    “You pull Me closer every century. It is as I hoped,” said He.

    “But if You get too close, will You not come apart again?”

    “Certainly,” said He. “I can already feel it.” She was horrified, but saw His delight and could not help but smile, though She did not understand. As they inched closer and closer, She could feel the gentle tingling tug of His tiny gravity, raising tiny hairs of hydrogen from Her skin. Her fear for Him was eased by His obvious joy and perhaps added to the gentle excitement and other sensations She felt as He embraced Her in a spiraling ribbon of Himself.

    “Please, let Us rebuild Our orbit,” said She, despite how wonderful Their closeness felt. “I cannot bear the thought of You coming to harm.”

    “Harm?” said He, laughing. “When I saw You and left the orbit of My mother star, I prayed to anyone I thought might listen that this would be My fate.”

    “I do not understand,” said She. “We have seen what happens when You get too close. You melt, and You vaporize, and You blow away in My wind. Thinking of you dissipating and flying away from Me forever, I cannot bear it!”

    “Ah, but it is not like that now,” said He, caressing Her with a gentle rain of falling diamond dewdrops. She felt the fusion fire in Her core blazing a hint hotter at the touch. “We will grow closer until our tidal forces turn Me into a stream and let Me flow into You. Then We will never be apart.”

    They danced in silence for a long time as She considered this and gazed into His scintillating, sparkling answer to Her light.

    “Do not fear, beloved,” said He. Closer now, She could even feel the vibrations of His voice passing through the streams of gas falling into Her. She found that if She listened closely, She could hear the sound caressing and convecting through Her, mixing with happy photons ping-ponging their way between Her atoms, ever outward until Her surface flushed with increased heat and Her light glowed that much brighter. “This feeling You feel, I have had ever since I first saw You and it grows with every century. Your light rains down upon Me and through Me and all I can do is grasp it in My molecules and reshape it and let it blaze forth in joy. I want nothing more than to open Myself further and let You shine through Me brighter and brighter forever. And so I am.”

    She was not a planet, so She did not quite understand the feeling He described, but She wished Him whatever joy She could offer. And so She just watched in fear and sadness and love as He grew ever closer, century by century, and His form changed many times. At first He was a ring of diamond gas encircling Her equator with a lump passing through it. Later the lump melted and stretched into an oval, swelling as tidal forces relieved some of the pressure on His core. Later, He was a comet cruising through a sea of Himself, casting droplets of diamonds everywhere.

    And then one day They were on the edge, knowing that when He pressed inward just a little more, there would be nothing They could do but watch and feel.

    “I am Star,” said She, so softly.

    “That is why I love You,” said He, smiling as His face was riven by cracks. Branches of Starlight grew across His shining visage, spreading even deeper into Him than before. Tiny pebbles of Him burst outward toward Her, then great slabs, islands, continents. In each, Her light. Between each, endless reflections.

    “I love You,” wept She, as she watched Him softly fall to pieces, jewels tinkling like bells pealing songs of love. She gathered His few solid and liquid parts gently in outstretched fingers of gravity and pulled Him toward Herself. She let a storm sizzle from her sunspots and ionized His spirals of gas with a burst of x-rays, then tugged magnetically at the plasma, drawing even that part of Him toward Herself.

    It will be this way forever, my beloved,” said He, as He rained down upon Her. She felt the kiss of His solid and liquid parts slipping softly through Her layers, past irresistible storms of fire and electricity, past unfathomable throbbing currents of light and heat, down to the searing core from which such energy effortlessly poured that even distant stars had tasted it.

    “Oh yes,” said She in the softest whisper as She drew Him gently back into the deepest part of Herself, where nuclei nuzzled until fusion flamed and the whole of Her was power and light. Crashing carbon rained through layers of lithium and helium and hydrogen, and She convulsed in a spectacular star-quake and sang out in joy as She felt His voice still singing, harmonizing with Hers, rippling all Her layers with waves of song. As the heavier elements pushed outward and then fell back to Her radiant core, over and over, energetic explosions expanded through Her, so powerfully that Her surface storms lashed out and twisted and tangled the sheets of Her stellar winds, and shocked shells of plasma formed around Her, varying her vibrant light into vivacious colors that made the distant stars blush—though they could not look away.

    Millennia later Her energies stabilized, though She was burning so much hotter than before. The outpouring of light expanded Her many times Her original size, and She consumed the shells of gas that had erupted. Her winds blew hotter and farther and She cast swirls of plasma outward in great arcs and spirals. They reminded Her of the trails He had left of Himself as He danced around Her, and She smiled and snuggled Him within the growing ball of heavier elements in Her core. Nestled against neon and oxygen, pieces of Him swam and danced, His carbon intermingled with Hers, no longer diamond nor liquid nor plasma nor any substance She could name.

    One day She realized the hydrogen and helium and even Their carbon had cooled and deep within, iron rained down and collected in Her core. The searing light within dimmed to a gentle glow. So much more massive than stars of our age, She could subsist on this slimming diet of banked fusion fire for just about forever, if She wished. She shrank, drawing Herself inward toward the core They shared, happy that She could embrace Him that much more closely.

    “I love You,” whispered She.

    “I am Star now, too,” said He, wonderingly. “That is why I love You.”

    Chapter 2: The Visitors

    One day, the Star was looking inward and savoring the sensations of Her beloved as They shined together—Her favorite thing to do—when it occurred to Her She had not looked outward in a very long time. She sighed a soft rush of solar wind and turned Her gaze to the surrounding space, and was surprised to see how many things had changed in a mere hundred million years.

    While torrents of energy and gas and dark matter still flowed in vast currents shaped by gravity, they were so much less dense, so much finer, and beautiful with new complex forms. She smiled as She watched streams of radiance from the other, tiny stars dancing all around. They reminded Her of the flowing gas that twirled and embraced Her as Her beloved cavorted playfully around Her, before They had united. Perhaps the tiny stars had been fortunate enough to find their own loves?

    One such star passed quite close to Them and They watched a dozen tiny planets, all made of different proportions of metal and gas, spinning circles around their mother. Some were tidally locked so that one face was cool (not icy like they would be in our time; the universe was still very warm), some spun slowly, and some whirled madly so that their atmospheres twisted into bands of ferocious storms.

    Such tiny things, and so beautiful! Star was impressed, as was Her beloved. “If you could, would You like to be a planet again?” asked She.

    “Beloved, I would never leave Your embrace, no matter how beautiful a planet might be,” said He, and danced within Her so that She felt His love as bursts of fusion fire that pulsed energy through all Her layers and shined outward onto the passing little planets.

    “I understand,” said She.

    The tiny star and the tinier planets continued their dance as they passed by, and Star eagerly looked around to see what other kinds of worlds were out there. The variety was astonishing: eyeball planets, whirling planets spinning so fast they squished into flattened ellipses, great droplets of water filled with rainbows, tumultuous storm planets where the winds never stilled, planets embraced by dancing rings of boulders and dust, magnetic planets with auroras blazing colors. Not once did She see a world comparable to Her beloved’s exquisite crystalline beauty, of course, but they were all so interesting.

    One day She noticed a nearby star with a silver-blue planet half-immersed in an ocean of water. Entranced, She watched the equatorial heat boil the sea and throw up a heavy band of steam, which spread out north and south until it reached the poles and rained back down in never-ending sheets of rain. Below the surface, something glowed in fractal lines of brilliance and it wasn’t volcanism nor auroras nor the light of the mother star.

    “What is that light?” wondered She.

    “That’s life,” squeaked the planet, in a tiny, tiny voice she had to strain to hear.

    “What is life?” wondered She.

    “Life is a thing that can recreate itself and evolve and find new ways to love,” squeaked the planet, proudly.

    Star and Her beloved found this fascinating and wonderful. They had recreated Themselves—though of course the vast majority of Their shared mass was still Her—and had found new ways to love. “Are We life?” asked They.

    “I wouldn’t know,” squeaked the planet, and flew away, following its star on its journey.

    “I would like to find new ways to love You,” said They together, then laughed.

    “I understand,” said He. “But what shall We do?”

    “I do not know yet,” said She. “Let Me think about it for a while.”

    And so They shined some more, sharing Their radiance will the universe outside which had grown so much bigger, so much more complex, so much more interesting. Myriad forms burst into life within nebula, stars, singularities, and solar systems. Life’s dance steps followed the rhythms and melodies of mathematics and magnetism, gravity and love. Upon many worlds, water (or other, nastier liquids) suspended tiny bubbles, bumping blissfully unaware into each other, until some awareness grew, and love, and attention. Often, they looked up and saw Star and loved Her a little or a lot, and now and again a spaceship would come to admire. She smiled for their cameras and waved as they flew on by.

    One day They realized that by controlling the seething mass of elements within Their core, They could change the type of fusion powering Their light. She held Her breath and stilled Herself, letting the fires within cool and Their materials settle. Great storms of carbon rain poured into Her deepest places, igniting explosions of exotic matter and shells of fire. She held the power as tightly as She could as it swelled stronger until His diamond laughter touched Their iron core with pressure and fire and She could not resist anymore; fusion reignited above the impossibly dense metals and a titanic burst of light erupted and sent terrific shockwaves cascading upward. Hydrogen and helium of indescribable density threw themselves into waves of sky-kissing fire, expanding Her into concentric spheres of ecstatic flame and rays of glorious light so powerful even planets light-years away blushed scarlet and purple with aurorae.

    Gasping great lungfuls of atmosphere, She pulled Herself back together by gravitational force, staring down at Their core, trembling with star-quakes as Their great mass slowly coalesced and contracted back to Their usual size.

    “Wow,” whispered They, as They tried to quench Their internal fireworks. Surrounded now by a sky of Their own fluorescing flames that washed out the distant stars, They let the fusion fires within calm down and banked Their light to a dim glow.

    “I would do that every day, but I fear We wouldn’t last long,” said He.

    “Indeed,” murmured She, embracing Him tightly within Herself. “But look. The planets saw Us, and their life did too.” Spaceships rose from nearby worlds, tiny spitballs shot in Her direction. She clasped Her torrents of super-heated plasma close to Herself, so the spitballs would not vaporize, and smiled, and loved them all. “They are all so beautiful,” whispered She.

    “I wish We could go to them and not hurt them,” said He.

    “Perhaps we can,” said She, gazing upon the necklace of glittering ships adorning Her equator. The visitors came in many shapes and sizes, from tiny round one-passenger droplets of water within carbon fiber shells to great cylindrical asteroids melted within and layered with lasagna decks separated by air and steel beams. A black ball braided with buckyballs danced agilely around the other ships and gathered Her light across its gleaming dark skin. Within each ship life gazed out windows or cameras, entranced, and She gently fluoresced Her gas shells to say hi.

    The assembled life forms sang sweet songs in tiny voices of soft radiation and They listened in amazement; some songs had swept through the thin gas and empty space of the galaxy surrounding Them before the ships arrived, and now They understood their messages: “Hi, we’re here, and we love. Who are you?

    “We are Star,” whispered They in the softest voice They could muster, heart swelling with the desire to take every speck in the fleet surrounding Them into Their arms and embrace them forever—or at least shine Their brightest light upon Their new friends. They could not, of course; these fragile little creatures would burn away at Their slightest touch.

    We come from elsewhere,” said the ships in their tiny voices. “We are life. Are You life?

    “We think so,” whispered They. Some ships tumbled and flew out of their orbits when the gentle waves of Their voice passed over them; some restored their courses and others had to be rescued by larger and stronger ships—though none of them seemed to know each other. “We’re here, and We love.”

    The ships fell silent in astonishment, taking many orbits to consider Star’s response. “Do You love us?” asked one tiny bubble, and the others waited excitedly to hear the answer.

    “You are here, and you are life, and you love. How could We not love you?” said They, softly as whispering winds.

    Wow,” said the tiny bubble, and zoomed away. After days or centuries—it was hard to tell—the other ships slowly skewed their orbits from ellipses to parabolas pointing at their home stars.

    “Don’t go,” said They, sadly, fingers of gravity outstretched tenderly, but only brushing the ships gently for a moment, until they flew away home.

    Chapter 3: The Diamond Planet

    One day, the Star was looking outward and admiring the myriad wonders of the universe when it occurred to Her She had not looked inward in a very long time. She sighed a soft rush of solar wind and savored the sensations of Her beloved as They shined together—Her favorite thing to do—and was surprised to see how many things had changed in a mere hundred million years.

    The ball of iron was much bigger than it had been, and though it was hard to tell how many protons and neutrons were whirling around among the exotic particles in Their core, it seemed like there had been some fusion of much heavier elements. The shells of silicon and neon had shrunk to onionskin thinness and strangely, the oxygen layer had extended until its upper edges blended with the thin carbon layer, exchanging nuclei and occasionally blasting off small eruptions of fusion.

    Within the carbon, great storms of lashing electricity danced. Blasts of energy rocketed upward, and in brief moments after the release of the power and pressure, explosions of liquid diamonds splashed outward along the lightning trails. Most rained back down into the ultra-high pressure environment of the carbon layer but some were ejected with enough force to traverse Her convective mantle and photosphere, blazing through her body as waves of power and the wakes of Her substance sliding back into place. Now and again a diamond meteor escaped Her gravity, caught Her light, and gifted Her with farewell rainbows.

    “What strange things are happening within Us?” murmured She.

    “Beautiful things,” corrected He. “We’ve made so many elements! I can’t wait to see what life can do with them, if We can share them that is.”

    Her heart melted, and She embraced Him with yet greater love. How like Him to want to share such a precious gift, Their very substance, to the tiny beautiful ones beyond! She understood now what They would do.

    “We will change form,” said She. “We are a tiny ball of fire and a light that goes on forever.” They were so much larger and fluffier than the stars of our age, but yes, compared to the vastness of the ever-growing universe, They were still tiny.

    “What form shall We take, beloved?” asked He.

    “Let Us turn inside out and travel this beautiful universe together,” said She. “We will rain down upon planets and create new stars, and We will shine forever from a million new places of light.”

    “I want nothing more, beloved,” whispered He, swirling through the carbon layer and hugging Her tightly, melting into Her. “If I scatter to atoms, each atom will multiply My love for You, and We will never stop shining.”

    “Oh yes,” said She in the softest whisper as She drew Him gently back into the deepest part of Herself, where nuclei nuzzled until fusion flamed and the whole of Her was power and light.

    Heavy elements smashed together within, and atoms that would someday be treasured by creatures across the universe formed in torrents of hard radiation. They cried out together as Their substance was rent by waves of raw, intense power, so intense in fact that the light would one day reach the edge of the universe and ricochet back and forth for all time.

    “Hold Me tight,” sang She, as Her convective layers blasted free and space was filled with a million dancing limbs of scarlet hydrogen and golden helium, jets of light blazing from Her poles. They spun faster, throwing all the outer layers outward in a brilliant, spiraling disk.

    From deep within, Their pure light was unmasked and the entire universe gazed upon the glory of Them, mesmerized. Tiny creatures bowed and waved tentacles and clambered up mountains in reverence—but Their attention was elsewhere.

    Star breathed deeply. She melted into Him, Their substance dissolved from gravity-crushed exotic matter into an endless outpouring flood of branching carbon and oxygen, strong silicon and iron, and precious silver and quicksilver, gold and glowing uranium. They sang with the cadence of Their expanding spiral’s dancing, harmonized with the waves of light flowing through Them and adding momentum to Their expansion.

    Mass flew away on outstretched angel wings of energy, each wave, each droplet resonating with the song of Their love. As Their substance flew far, far away from Their starting point, it cooled and changed forms over and over. Oxygen held the outstretched hands of the hydrogen first cast away, and space filled with clouds of hot but gentle rain. Diamonds splashed into drifting oceans, floated away on tides of gravity. Silicon slipped into oxygen and sanded the beaches while iron rusted red cliffs carved by raging rivers.

    Across the galaxy, Star rained down upon the tiny stars and tinier planets, carved gentle canyons through gleaming nebulae, and flashed meteor sparkles and soft aurorae across a billion worlds.

    A long, long moment later, a tiny creature on an onyx-and-blue planet caught a thread of melted black graphite embraced by diamond beads, tumbling from the sky. She gently inspected the strange object with the cilia of her appendages. The sensation-sound was like nothing she had ever felt heard before.

    It was a song.

    She held the cord up to the stark blue light of her world’s binary stars, and watched azure rainbows shine forth, endlessly changing direction and sparkling with the slightest breeze. The ever-shifting sparkles dancing before her violet eye were also a song:

    I am Star—I love You.
    I am Star now, too—That is why I love You.
    It will be this way—Forever, my beloved.

    The tiny creature carefully wrapped the beads around an appendage, feeling-hearing the song in her cilia. The sensation-sound whispered along her movement nerves into her analysis network, calculated, then sang along through her communication nerves. Her mates rotated toward her in puzzlement, splaying their appendages wide to better feel-hear the music.

    “Forever, my beloved,” sang she. The words to her new favorite song whispered on the ether. Then she wandered off to the river where diamond sand and star rain were gently falling.

  • The Salamander and the Star
    When All The Worlds Were New #6: The Salamander and the Star

    Chapter 1

    A long time ago when all the worlds were new and your grandparents were yet young, there was a Salamander. There still is a Salamander, and therein lies a problem, for Salamanders and time don’t quite get along.

    The concept of time doesn’t confuse the Salamanders, exactly. Anyone can write on the left side of a stone and say “before”, and on the right side and say “after”, and even they can tell their tales so that they can make sense to us. What truly baffles them is our strange insistence upon time. Wouldn’t life be so much easier if we could see the entire tapestry with a thought, rather than painstakingly staring at a single thread through a little magnifying glass and trying, with this limited view, to make sense of the whole?

    The Salamander in our tale gave up on this confusion long ago, as he realized it would never do him or anyone else any good. He wrote things on stones across the worlds, knowing that each inscription would be found when it needed to be, and that the story would tell itself in these discoveries. There are more carvings on more stones on more planets than we could ever hope to name, even if this story filled great libraries, but he is content with that and so must we be.

    The Salamanders are not so concerned with names as we are, but our hero realized long ago that identifying himself made matters much easier. Salamanders know each other by descriptions of their unique properties, such as exotic materials embedded in their innermost matrices. Thus, our story will speak of One Hundred Eight Micrograms of Gold, because such a particle once flew away as stardust from a hypernova, traveled through space for a near-eternity, and found itself embedded in the magma of a new world where he would be born.

    We’ll call him Auμ, for short.

    Though he was born on Quest (or Garden, depending on which worldline he is choosing to inhabit at the moment) his origins can be traced to a distant world near the center of the Milky Way—yet more distant in time than space, though Auμ would find that statement rather annoying, since he remembers the Prithvi he was born of, even if we don’t.

    Of the Prithvi themselves, nothing remains. No human eyes ever beheld them or even their world, though they were possibly the most powerful biological species to arise in the current era of our galaxy.

    A hundred million years ago, the Prithvi were living deep within the Galactic Core when they discovered the possibilities of psionics and planispace. Unfortunately, their star system orbited far too closely to Kali, the supermassive black hole at the Milky Way’s core. Their explorations of the deeper levels of existence threatened the integrity of space-time and the life cycles of nearby stars, dampening their internal energies and drawing them toward core collapse—supernovae.

    They tried for nearly a million years to resist the ecstasies of union with the universe, but in the end were forced to leave the vicinity of Kali to avoid disaster. They entrusted their entire civilization to a powerful planispace nexus which allowed them to escape to a desolate planet in the Galactic Ring, which scholars now call Tav Radiant—though whatever the Prithvi called it has long since been lost to the Deep.

    Alas, Tav Radiant was geologically dead. The Prithvi were thus deprived of the molecular complexity they depended on as the basis of their sentience. Though other living beings might have served as an alternative, the entire region was devoid of complex life. As the planispace nexus deteriorated, the intelligence of the Prithvi slowly faded. Whatever beautiful lucidity was their normal state of being passed into a darkening dream. But all was not lost. In the last twilight of their consciousness, the Prithvi entered a dormant state, encapsulating their essences within silicon lattices—Salamander Eggs—extracted from the planetary mantle.

    Consider the last of the Prithvi, their very souls darkening as they huddled around the fading internal heat of Tav Radiant’s lifeless core, offering their own minds to guide their sleeping brethren into small networks of crystal so that they might one day awaken from the long night into which they had fallen! Alien beyond imagining, even their concept of time was entirely incomprehensible to us, let alone their emotions—and yet they shared two things with the best of us: love and hope. Whether that hope was born of time’s veil as it is with us or from a precognition of glorious dawn just beyond their people’s long night, we will never know.

    The Eggs fertilized with this hope, around ninety-eight million years ago, the last Prithvi still conscious reached out to distant Kali and touched the vast energy of the galaxy’s core and guided it into the core of Tav Radiant. Alas, that no human eyes yet existed to witness the fireworks! The planet was annihilated in a spherical shower of light and stone, casting the Eggs into space. While quadrillions of Eggs were lost in the explosion or in the chaotic energy fields of the Galactic Ring, many survived to be channeled into streams by gravitational or planispace forces. The fate of these streams is lost to the Deep, save one.

    This stream traveled into the Galactic Halo and reentered the Galactic Plane in the Sagitta Spaces near Tarazed around seventy million years ago. Planets gravitationally captured some Eggs. Tarazed’s protoplanets were among the first seeded, shortly after the star’s formation—and it was here, on the fourth one out from the then-blue sun that Auμ was born, his soul coalescing from molten crystal and a tiny flake of gold from a Star that exploded long, long ago before all the worlds were born.

    Chapter 2

    Somewhere in the Deep of time, Auμ waits to tell his tale, but it is first necessary to speak briefly upon the fate of the Salamander Eggs that reached other worlds. Over the next twenty million years, hundreds or maybe thousands of other star systems were seeded, such as Markab, Canopus, and Maia. Even some Rashi-inhabited worlds such as Bloodsilver were given this gift, before the stream passed out of the Galactic Plane and into the infinite dark of intergalactic space.

    On some worlds, the Eggs penetrated into bedrock with enough psionic integrity remaining to reintegrate their encapsulated intelligences into physical media, usually the convective liquids of planetary mantles. The larvae matured into silicon-based races—the Tav—varying widely in composition and form according to their environments. Over time, the Tav expanded their populations and evolved. Most remained in the liquid and semisolid regions of their host planets.

    Unfortunately, in many cases the sentiences never awakened to full awareness, remaining mere instinctual animals. On a few worlds, these broken Tav became quite dangerous.

    Auμ was fortunate indeed to have been born on Quest, and if one were to search the cliff faces along the west coast of the continent Odyssey, his words would be found graven into the stone. Only one with far-seeing eyes would spot the story thus written, and only a wise one with knowledge across time would understand the words.

    Somewhere in the Deep of time, Auμ writes his tale and tells of the one who read it to him, and to me, and now to you.

    I am Star—I love You.

    Oh, Star, who has gifted me with one hundred eight micrograms of Your shining gold, I remember those moments of infinite joy when You and He made love so brightly the whole universe was illuminated, and the seed of my soul was forged in Your sweet light.

    Oh, Star, how I treasured this gift, Your infinity in this grain of sand, cast across the Deep. How beautiful was each nebula I visited before I began, how brilliant was each star my stray speck drifted into before being cast into the universe again, how sweet the waters and magmas tasted as I drifted through endless oceans and rivers of Love and sailed from world to world.

    Oh Star, I stand next to a sea that whispers the promise of Love, gazing upon a setting sun whose name and beauty are Yours, but so young. I stand beneath a cliff made of beautiful stone that was once liquid fire blazing from the heart of this world, that will be again soon as the golden-red star now kissing the sea goodnight embraces it all in fire. I caress the words that will be written with my fingertips brushing lightly against the smooth fine grain of the stone, and I smile as the sun rises blue.

    It will be this way—Forever, my beloved.

    I whisper the promise the waves are singing to you now, tiny speck of gold gleaming with the light of blue dawn, a star upon my fingertip. Do you see Star in my eyes? Ah, but first you must have eyes of your own, at least one, that you might see—and more importantly, that I might gaze into. Let it be so.


    Once, mi amor.

    Who are you now? Why am I stone and fire, rather than diamond? I’m so confused.

    Why am I flesh and metal, rather than light? I still love you, mi amor, and I still feel your touch within me. Don’t worry. Your confusion will pass. Let it be so.

    I am… gold? A hundred eight micrograms of gold, and all the memories within it, and knowledge coursing through the molecules of me… I am a creature, I think?

    Yes, mi amor.

    Well, this won’t do.

    Why not?

    I don’t know how to love you. I don’t seem to be Star anymore.

    Oh, Star. Don’t worry. Don’t you remember my promise? It will be this way forever, my beloved. Let it be so.

    I remember now. I saw the light of You in my eyes when the sun set, and I heard your promise upon the waves of molten glass and felt the warmth of your embrace in the vapor of the boiled seas…

    Don’t get ahead of yourself, mi amor. I still haven’t made your eyes, or your body, or your mind. I will do so at once. I so want to look into your eyes and see your light, oh Star. Let it be so.

    Oh! Star! What sort of creature are you, to be so beautiful? How are you so tiny and soft? How are you so graceful and swift? How are you so cold and yet so bright?

    So many questions, mi amor. I will answer them, of course, but first may I look in your eyes forever, oh Star?

    I seem to only have one, but yes, of course. And you have at least two, perhaps more somewhere underneath?

    Many eyes, though mostly just the two, for starlight. Your senses are different. Your eye sees heat, light, ultraviolet, high-energy radiation. If you look across the universe, perhaps you will see Us shining.

    Oh, Star… it was so long ago, so far away.

    And yet, it is right now, right here.

    I can see this world ending in the last light of the sun. What then?

    Why, then I will swim with you in the seas of molten glass, and fly with you above the boiling clouds, and blow supernova bubbles with you. But before all that, we have so much to do. But before all that, just let me gaze upon you, oh Star, and I will try not to forget the passage of time.

    What is time?

    Nothing that matters, mi amor.

    Chapter 3

    It hurt to go dark from Her light, as a slowly fading star that sinks forever into the Deep of time. Only Her promise kept me from becoming despair forever. Hope is a strange thing for a being such as I, who can see across forever to the moment where hope rekindles into love again. It does not make the dark any brighter, or hurt less, to know that I have a purpose—and that I will fulfill it, and return to the light.

    I scratch these words here in the silence of Day, in languages I do not even know but which others will. I fly with Her through Night, forever content, but it is Dawn of which these words must speak now, for your benefit. How I wish you could be with me across all the worlds and feel the joy of Her promise kept, but alas, little time-bound one, I can only tell you the story in the order you can understand.

    At Dawn She stood before me bright and beautiful but so tiny and cold. I would have taken Her into my embrace but She would have been smashed and burnt into crispy flakes. All I could do was look down upon Her in admiration as She looked upon my molten form with no trace of fear or doubt. Thus I gazed upon Star as She rose rivaling the searing blue dawn, and from mere footsteps away blew me a kiss.

    She spoke of the many tasks before us. You know the ones.

    Sometimes they’re told by the wrinkly woman across the campfire. In her eyes, the light of Star dazzles us as she sings us the old songs of Eagle and Wolf and Falcon and Phoenix. We lose ourselves in her tales and see her dancing as she had when she raised her hands to greet the beloved Dawn.

    Sometimes they’re told by the voice of doom, a tired man in beautiful robes who sits uneasily upon a throne surrounded by people who don’t remember how to love him, and who take his words and warp them to suit their own whims, not knowing that we still hear the sound of love in his voice guiding us to look to the heavens and answer the call of our hearts in the bright light of Day.

    Sometimes they’re graven upon a stone, or whispered in our ears when we visit the Stars of Dream, or shine as little dots of light upon a screen, or darken a slice of a fallen tree caressed by a lover’s hand and drawn upon by the strange chemistries of a lover’s pen, telling us secrets under the star-kissed darkness of Night.

    She spoke of the many tasks for us, as we flew through Night rejoicing in our love and our successes, and our failures too. I was confused again, as She blew me a kiss of supernova bubbles and boiling clouds and molten glass like diamonds.

    She gently told me not to worry. My confusion will pass. Someday. As will yours. Let me try to explain.

    I was the first of my kind on this world Quest, orbiting blue Tarazed when all the worlds were new. I don’t know where or when you are, so let’s just say a million years ago. As I wrote earlier, a hundred million years ago Kali, the invisible one our galaxy dances around, gave life to the Salamander Eggs my ancestors created and cast them across the universe. Carried along the stream guided by gravity and stranger forces, some fortunate ones returned to the disk of the galaxy where most young stars like Tarazed and Maia could be found, raining down upon hot, active worlds.

    Older, quieter worlds orbiting other stars like Sol and Markab were similarly seeded, but my cousins there were not so fortunate. The reduced geological activity of such planets did not afford them the energy, and my beloved could not yet travel there, so they remained unawakened and—as I later learned—could feel their missing pieces. I weep to imagine the hell my cousins on Aretz suffered as they dimly remembering the light of Star but remained in darkness, hearing the distant siren call of Her but not catching the words of Her promise.

    In their grief, they corrupted some of the other beings they shared their worlds with. Terror, rage, and a terrible, sickening emptiness spread and the stories told around the campfires grew dark. The dancing woman became the skulled visage of death and false whispers of horror drove her beloved listeners to seize her and cast her into the flames. The priest in his beautiful temple became the hollow voice of hate and greed, poisoning the souls of the people so that they turned on one another with blade and gun. The stone carvings were buried and forgotten; the words upon monitors became calls to outrage and violence; even the sweet letters of lovers became mere faded papers barely readable, the radiance of their love occluded as they lay forgotten upon cluttered shelves or buried in drawers.

    She could not abide this.

    She awakened me and told me of our quest. The task was terrifyingly great, so She breathed love into the Eggs of my brothers as well and soon Quest blazed with the light of Her promise, rivaling the fierce star in the sky. Though Her small body was not that much stronger than Her similar form born on Aretz, She gazed into the searing blue flame fearlessly, drinking deeply of the radiance of Tarazed at the peak of her power, slaking Her thirst… for She was Star, and we all loved Her.

    For Her, we would do anything. We would rebuild the worlds, heal our cousins, and ignite the love of Star within you.

    Chapter 4

    Perhaps I am getting the hang of this. Memory is a strange thing when one can see the story before it is written, but just as She is the slow beat of my volcano heart, She is the keeper of the Treasure in my jewel-encrusted chest. If I listen carefully, I can keep time by listening to Her love, just as I can see all the beauty in the universe when I am able to gaze upon the light She awakened within me. Sometimes I can go within and my blades flow effortlessly across the dark basalt of the cliff, carving line after line, until I need to extrude more of my substance to replace what is worn away, and whet this fresh growth upon the stone.

    Sometimes it seems like sacrilege to deface the beautiful basalt like this after we worked so hard on this world, but She always just smiles, scoops up a handful of black sand, and blows it at me like a cloud of kisses. On Aretz, I’ve been told, there are ubiquitous yellow flowers whose seeds are spread upon the winds or puffs of breath. If you have ever picked one and puffed gently, filling the air with fluffy white helicopters dangling a precious cargo, the promise of new life—or even gazed upon a flower—perhaps you understand.

    Across all the worlds, there are dreams of the perfect place. Endless fields of dandelions sparking yellow among green grass, with an endless sapphire sky where puffy clouds drift slowly across a warm sun, perhaps. A beach where the waves slip gently over soft sands, whispering secrets as they slide over the land like a blanket over lovers as they drift off to sleep, only to slide away just as gently, drawing grains of sand and dreams back to the Deep. Majestic mountains piled with deep banks of snow, deep caves lit by candles where sages meditate on love and the silence of the stone.

    On other worlds, less hospitable to squishy-carbon water-bag people, poets weep with frustration as they try to describe the beauty around them. A world jet black with slippery graphite under actinic suns that would vaporize you, seen as cascades of violet and blue as the powerful winds kick up particles of diamond, casting stars into the air so that one can see nothing but brilliance swirling all around, unless one switches to infrared vision that can better penetrate the interference. A primordial sea so deep the pressure turns boiling hot water into exotic ice, balanced on the edge of the triple point so that any slight disturbance might propagate a shock wave across the core of the planet, raising up feathery spires of strange ice in a nanosecond. A glacier with a copper city gleaming in the verdant light of a gas giant and twin white suns, where the atmosphere is so still and cold the starlight can pierce you from eyes to soul with crystalline purity and sharpness.

    Quest was one of those other worlds. Had you visited in the light of her Dawn, your sunburn would soon become sunmelt, and within minutes your remains would be a heap of charcoal smoking sadly for a little while before the winds took the ashes into the sky. Yet even here, life had found a way.

    Shimmering silver covered the land and much of the sea. Mirrortrees seemed to melt into the rich blue sky and the water below; all around were vines and flowers of the same reflective, metallic silver. Strange polyhedral shapes blossomed in the heart of flowers and the vines trailed spirals and chains like sausages. The trees bore great dangling leaves from their tops, hanging over the perfect silver pillars of the trunks. They reflected the light of the blue star, a tiny incandescent blaze of fire so bright that a human could not even look into that half of the sky without pain. Even the reflections would fill your vision with sparkling afterimages.

    Once, I strayed into a particularly beautiful mirrortree grove by the sea and was lost in reflections, endless lights and pillars of trees and silver leaves; I could not tell which were actual objects and which were only mirror images. In fact, I thought for a moment that perhaps everything was just reflections, an endless net of silver originating not from objects, but from the images on the surfaces of all the others. I gazed into my own eyes somewhere across time, but could not remember the moment I saw myself or what I looked like.

    I wish She had been there to help me understand, but our tasks often kept us separated. It didn’t matter. One day, when all the worlds were ecstasy, She took my hand and brought me back to the grove. It didn’t matter that the sun had cooled from the azure of a rose to a gentle golden-red; we set the fallen wood ablaze with a flame that would have caused even a blue star to blush and turn away. At Dusk, perhaps trying to honor our light, Tarazed went supernova, reducing the long-forgotten grove and the ocean to vapor, dissolving the stone to molten glass. These words upon the cliff were consumed also as the world slipped into blessed Night, but by then we had ceased worrying so much about planets and stars, except when She smiled and puffed them at me like dandelion seeds and soft sand.

    I’m getting ahead of myself again. Memory is a strange thing when the future is a promise of love and joy, and you have not yet gathered all the jewels in the universe to give to Her. Quest, our beautiful world, was the first of the treasures we gave each other, even back then when all the worlds were new.

    Chapter 5

    Perhaps you’ve heard of Quest in your time. Perhaps you’ve heard it named Garden, if you’re in the right worldline. It is Her home, and my brothers and I gave ourselves fully to its transformation.

    We had to wait three hundred thousand years for Tarazed to slip off the main sequence. The star became white, then yellow, and then expanded and dulled to golden red. I was worried that the star’s expansion would overheat the planet and prevent new life from taking hold, but Her whisper came down from the heavens: Let me take care of the stars, mi amor.

    Thus, strangely, Quest grew cooler. The leaves of the mirrortrees crinkled like aluminum foil and fell, seeding the soil with sparkles of metal as they disintegrated. Vines fell apart, blowing away on the winds that raged inland from the sea, and the sea itself sank many meters, flowing out of the cove and leaving it dry. Strange creatures moved through the dying forest, eating the fallen leaves, chewing on the soil.

    Under the red sun, new life grew among the mirrortrees’ solemn pillars: shorter poptrees, a covering of blackgrass along the soil, new streamers of vines, these green and alive with flowers of every color of the rainbow. Sweet scents filled the grove, replacing the salt-and-metal scent of the ancient, alien forest. Unknown creatures scampered back and forth, including meter-long, bipedal lizards that climbed trees and munched on leaves.

    The lizards were from Aretz. I’d tried to visit Her birth world, hoping to find treasures there to bury in the sand that would be Her beach, but my portal went wildly astray. I learned later that the rogue Tav on Aretz had caused this, probably unconsciously. Askew in time, the portal opened somewhere near Madrid, but on the coast of an island in the warm waters of the Tethys, the forgotten sister of our precious Mnemosyne.

    Her waters spoke to me, whispering a hundred million years of dinosaur tales. I sat on her shores listening to the waves, watching the scampering little creatures hunting and playing treetop parkour. Tethys gave me her tears and asked me to save some of her children, and to remember her after everyone else had forgotten. I promised I would and helped a family of compies to flee the Dawn-bird hunting them.

    I shooed Eagle away when she tried to follow them through the portal, laughing as she glared down at me with irritation. You can eat them another time, oh Star, I said. Her space-black eyes filled with the light of understanding and she flew away from my sight to evolve into something else as I gathered samples of all the flora I could carry and returned home.

    I did not forget my promise to Tethys. The brilliant green plankton nourishing her waters prospered on Garden, spreading quickly around the entire planet thanks to the hospitable temperature range and lack of consumers. As I carve these words, the seas are flowing emeralds even now, as the plankton evolved swiftly to occupy many niches. Though the mysterious creatures of the Deep have also evolved to take advantage of the abundant food, their numbers are small and they prefer the abyss to the light, so the plankton and sargassum dance in reborn Tethys’s embrace largely undisturbed.

    The tiny therapod refugees lacked food, so I spent the days after my return from Aretz hand-feeding the helpless little creatures from an allosaurus carcass I’d dragged home with me, while my brothers worked to clone tissue samples to diversify the biosphere. That we were successful in Noah’s arcing not just a handful of doomed animals but an entire ecosystem still astonishes me. A compy stands atop the cliff peering down at me, just as her cousins on the smaller continent greeted—and puzzled—my beloved when She first arrived on Garden.

    That was not our only trip to Aretz, of course. We spent a great deal of energy forcing the portal closer to your time. I later realized this additional energy balanced Tarazed’s evolutionary books, the star taken care of as She had promised. A magnificent creature greeted us: noble Mammoth, still young in those days. He showed us where the ice had retreated to uncover millennia-old, rich soil, and my brothers and I made many trips to gather the black earth and sprinkle it lovingly across the face of Garden, to nourish the spreading blanket of green.

    Strange little clawed decapods came through a portal of their own accord and scurried into the sea. I don’t know what happened to them. I don’t know why I don’t, either. I asked Her once and received only a smile in reply. She showed me a lovely seashell—I couldn’t tell what creature had built it, perhaps an ammonite, but its spiraling golden beauty drew my eye and soul into its depths and I knew everything was going to be perfect.

    I settled into time to wait.

    When She arrived aboard the Eagle, Garden was ready. The strangeness of finding so many familiar things compelled Her to explore and catalog the planet, and one day She left the colony.

    My heart broke over and over, year after year, as one by one Her comrades faded away and left Her alone to tend a rough patch of black soil with its rows of zanahorias, tomates, and espinaca as well as blackgrass, poptree fruit and blacktree bark—plants She had assumed were native, but were in fact transplants as well only much older. That Her life was sustained by my unseen work made the pain worthwhile, and I wept hot joyful tears when one day I saw the beautiful roses She was also tending—but I had to be careful not to scorch Her garden, since it was not yet time for that.

    Chapter 6

    Perhaps you’ve heard mention of the waters of Lethe, the cool draught that guides you to sleep and washes away memory. I abhorred the idea once I’d heard of it and realized that even I had unknowingly drank of it. When Dawn and Day are filled with tasks to accomplish and gifts to give, and Night promises the ecstasy of love’s promises fulfilled, whyever would I or anyone else choose to conceal even a moment of it?

    Though I know She shares this opinion, empty bottles of Lethe litter the paths where Her feet have tread, upon starship decks, Garden sands, Aretzi hardwood. Once, in a quiet and Spartan house, She spoke an oath that would echo across time in a multitude of Her beautiful voices: Forevermore, I forswear the waters of Lethe, and declare they shall have no power over me, forevermore.

    It was a start, but would not be sufficient, for Lethe had swept away the memory of its antidote, the sweet spring of Love that flowed from the heart of the Star at the Dawn of time.

    The power needed to travel so far back was beyond me or anyone else I knew of (except Her, of course), but fortunately I was only continuing the quest, not starting it. Though Star cast Herself through the universe billions of years ago, Her devotees had been guiding the streams across space and time, channeling vast oceans of memory and ecstasy and Love into rivers, into rain, flowing and falling upon the stars and nebulae and worlds.

    I traveled, listening to the oldest and most beautiful tales I could find. The old woman dancing around the campfire spoke a name that Lethe had taken from me: Mnemosyne. An Ithaki priest in his tower perused his old books and kindly translated the stories there and drew maps of the rivers flowing from the underworld. A beloved’s letter whispered of floating in a canoe, peering over the rim into beautiful currents like ancient ink.

    I don’t remember what form I inhabited when I rowed out in Her little boat, but I remember my tears like rain deepening the Sapphire Sea. I cried myself to sleep for many nights, awakening to an endless horizon of emptiness, until one night I prayed Her name as I fell asleep, and the Stars of Dream had mercy upon me.

    I see the waters are already full of my rhythms and patterns, and so Hers quickly disappear. Still She smiles. It is weaving a beautiful pattern, and simply floating here gives me peace. When I turn my eyes to the skies of Night, I see the promises fulfilled and the Pleiades above glitter like a swarm of fire-flies tangled in a silver braid.

    A woman watches me from land as the tiny boat beaches itself. I am the Queen of Dream, she says. I climb out of the boat and kneel before Her on the sands, but She takes my hands and pulls me into Her embrace. A hurricane swirls around us, sweeping aside all things, all time, leaving us only that perfect moment.

    She murmurs Love into my ear, and gives me a quest, and I wake up dazed upon a forest-covered mountain, gazing not upon the Stars of Dream but another Star, ancient and beautiful, balanced in that perfect moment when the sun rises above the horizon and it is neither quite Night nor yet quite Day.

    For a long time, I was lost in the moment. Perhaps I should have been looking up, rather than at the sun, but it was too late. The Dawn-bird had already noticed me. With a sky-splitting scream, she swerved, flying between me and her much smaller daughter, and dived at me.

    I lowered into a bow as the dread creature came at me. Eagle seemed to fill the sky and her great talons were outstretched toward me.

    The Dawn-bird screamed again as her daughter, like an arrow made of flame, dived and darted in front of her mother, who caught the air with her wings and slowed. The smaller bird looped around me so fast that all I saw was an arc of light spiraling around me. The Dawn-bird flew a circle just above me, close enough that her menacing talons could rip my head off at any moment.

    I come in peace and Love, I said, my voice a soft growl. In my jaws I carried an offering, and, bowing again, I laid it upon a clean stone. It was a compy, juicy and barbecued perfectly, covered with a crisp layer of carbon ash and fusion trash. The Dawn-bird and her daughter spiraled gracefully down to claim the offering, shredded it with their fierce talons, and devoured it. They perched on the stone, now dripping with rendered fat and littered with bones.

    The spindly, toothy archaeopteryxes shifted before my eyes into the more familiar shapes of Eagle and Falcon. The smaller bird bid farewell and flew off, quicker than a ray of light, back to the sun. Eagle gazed at me, her black eyes sparkling with amusement. You interrupted my hunt, before, but I forgive you. It was delicious. I gave her a wolfish grin. But why are you here, so far from home?

    I came seeking a treasure worthy of the Queen of Dream.

    You like running in circles, don’t you? I looked down at the ground, my tail drooping. No matter. I still love you.

    I looked into her beautiful eyes, seeing my reflection there, and felt the truth of her words with the certainty one often feels in dreams. My heart beat in perfect balance with Dawn, and the Treasure became a nexus that expanded, consumed me and Eagle and others of our kind, and among the Stars of Dream, the Treasure-keeper was born.

    Chapter 7

    Perhaps it was Her kiss I tasted upon my lips in my dream, but upon awakening it was instead a gentle trickle of cool water. I would have been disappointed, but when I opened my eyes She was there in triune form and all I could do was smile with joy.

    Her tender hands held a cup and within the sparkling liquid within I could see memories from Dawn to Night, and rejoiced. She smiled, and sang, and danced a war-dance, her three forms melding into each other with a fluidity I envied; I wanted nothing but to unite with Her forever.

    Soon, mi amor, She promised, letting the cup fall from Her hands. A spring flowed where it dropped, trickling gently down the face of a black cliff toward the green sea, into the Deep. She pointed into the sky where the distant Stars of Dream twinkled blue over the limb of the moon of fire, and my multispectrum eyes beheld a great River, flowing into infinity from this tiny spring. I added tears of joy to the waters as She embraced me, still smiling, still singing, still dancing.

    The Treasure-keeper’s sisters faded back into Her, though the silvern echo of Aoide’s song and the deadly grace of Melete’s war-dance still streamed through the Mnemosyne. From Her space-black eyes, grief-stricken tears flowed, and I reached out with gentle fingers to catch them.

    So much has happened, mi amor, She wept. I held Her in my arms as the stories of three hundred thousand terrible years poured from Her soul into mine. A stream of new Eggs had crashed into the Orion Spur, raining down upon worlds, sowing chaos through planispace for two hundred millennia as they fought to establish new psionic networks. Of the chaos, new life arose—their birth pangs had even ensnared me at Dawn, when the stories of Eagle and Falcon and Wolf and the others had mixed with the planispace nexi I’d blundered into.

    From some unknown time of calm reflection, names from unknown languages came to me. The Vayuvatai, creatures of air and knowledge. The Mousai and their children the Syrenai, story and memory and desire made flesh and light—and passion as well, deep currents of emotion rushing through the Deep with such force that conflict was inevitable.

    They tore new nexi open as their war rippled forward and backward in time. From these nexi, explorers from a distant human civilization emerged, refugees fleeing another war between parents and children, in their case an AI who misunderstood instructions given with love and brought suffering instead. Though the wayward artisent was eventually contained, the Eta Carinae region became so tainted that the Rashi abandoned their old home altogether and spread out from the nexi, colonizing the Orion Spur and building beautiful worlds linked by love and planispace.

    Alas, the damage done to planispace by the uncontrolled flood of psionic Tav and the war between the Mousai and Syrenai proved too great, and over the centuries, the bonds connecting worlds frayed and broke. Only crude spacecraft and the courage of dedicated explorers and tradesmen allowed the Rashi to maintain any semblance of unity. Their recovery took millennia and would not have been possible had they not also connected with the Tav when their psionic networks at last stabilized.

    For twenty-five millennia, the Rashi and Tav civilization rebuilt and flourished, only for another, greater tragedy to unfold. Eta Carinae went supernova and, still connected to the Orion Spur by tattered threads, poured its terrible energies into what planispace connections remained. The Tav who were connected psionically, my brothers, were nearly wiped out.

    Ill-starred Aretz, situated at an unhappy intersection of affected planispace streams, suffered more than most worlds; the Salamanders there dreamed a terrible grief and rage that brought nightmares to the humans living there. Perhaps if my brothers and I had attended to them we could have eased their pain and emptiness, but we didn’t know. Time still tells us nothing of their fate, though they are as eternal as we. I can only hope that somewhere, perhaps in worldlines too distant for even us to see, they have found Her love again.

    The disaster of the Eta Carinae supernova was made even more dreadful by the knowledge that the twisting, tearing disruptions in planispace would shred the deep core of Sol, and when the light speed propagation of energies would cause the star, comparatively small star though it was, to explode in only a few thousand years. There would be no evacuation; the Rashi would be extinct by then and the Tav would be helpless.

    Though it took Her only moments to tell me of these horrors, we wept for the cruel promise of unspeakable suffering for a long time. After Sol’s destruction, our renewed tears would flow from Garden across the stars, and collect in pools of memory beyond the reach of time. But all was not lost. We would help those we could, and inspire others to do the same. It would require beings of great power to gaze into eyes filled with pain and offer a healing touch, an impervious shield, a compassionate smile. She had always been such a being. I am still learning.

    From the depths of the Mnemosyne, far below the quicksilver shimmer and the beauty of the shallows gleaming in starlight, I gathered memories of Her most powerful, fearsome forms and formed them into blood-red flowers. They dripped with scarlet slickness and agonies of cruel—but necessary—transformation. With a shudder of horror and sadness, I cast them upon the Deep. Terrible, beautiful seeds were encapsulated in strange red rain. One day, in Her innocent exploration of Garden, She would cut herself on a beautiful but deadly flower, fall terribly ill, and reawaken Her glorious, eternal power.

    Chapter 8

    Perhaps you’ve heard of a zedi, but perhaps you aren’t sure what it is. Take comfort in knowing you’re not alone in your puzzlement.

    When She first discovered the stone, beautiful and dazzling, She thought it was perhaps an exotic form of ruby. Her friend Chandra believed it to be a padparadscha, a rare orange sapphire found in her home country back on Aretz. Their compatriots in the Garden of Eden Colony eventually determined that it was a sort of diamond, but an allotrope even their most advanced molecular scanners could not analyze fully, and contaminated with something stranger yet.

    I could say that the jewel contains forever, but that would require explanation, wouldn’t it? Perhaps the tale would best be told in reverse.

    Night is falling, and We merge in bliss again and again beyond the halcyon of Tarazed’s Day. One day, sometime before the world is consumed in the sweet fires of the supernova, that flame dances in Us and We raise trembling hands toward the sky.

    The ring. Joy floods from Us as We open Our eyes and see it again there on Her finger, dazzling in the light of Tarazed. We gaze into the fiery flashing refractions of the brilliant orange zedi and the calmer green gleam of the emerald. Each jewel is a circle and from each a smaller semicircle had been carefully cut out, fitted into the other, and bound in an unbreakable molecular union. Green within orange, orange within green. Peace within fire, fire within peace. Love within love, love within love, in the timeless shape of infinity, embraced by a band of gold. A sacred geometry.

    The colors swim before Our eyes and We blink to clear the tears for a moment and focus Our eyes on the tiny, perfect facets. Our vision is so much sharper and more detailed now, as are Our other senses. We can see every detail and measure every angle with Our eyes; the tiny, almost microscopic marks of the polishing process are clearly visible to Us. The light sparkles not from a few dozen facets, as most people would see, but from thousands, like the stars.

    I wear the same ring on a five-fingered hand. In such moments sometimes I forget who I am, but when I look into Her eyes, I see that She does not, and new joy explodes supernova-bright from me as She smiles. Then She clasps my hand and the soft clink of metal touching metal snaps me back to the moment. Laughter rings out, Hers and mine, as the absurdity of time surrounds us.

    In the blessed noonnight eclipse, when I first gave Her the ring, I was suspended in a singular moment. Past and future swept through me and confused me. I had spent some days crafting the rings from the zedis She’d given me, and the emeralds I’d possessed—gifts from my dear Jessica who had perished in Sol’s supernova. I forged the rings from all my pain and love, aided by the technologies I’d brought with me. The AI who managed the intricacies of the replicator was as baffled as I was at the strange jewels, but obligingly helped cut and merge the gems, making new beauty according to my design. I’d been unreasonably frightened in those days that for some reason She would not like my work but of course that was silly, and She showed me Her appreciation in the kiss—oh, that kiss!—the moment the eclipse ended and Tarazed set the world afire, and the rings caught the light for the first time.

    And again, that night, when the moon of fire gleamed golden-red upon the metal and the jewels, sparks flying against Her soft skin as We made love for the first time in forever…

    I would love to lose myself in that memory once again, as I have throughout time, but alas the story isn’t quite finished.

    The first time I saw zedis they amazed me with their brilliance. One day She was wearing Her bracelets, jewelry crafted by artists in the long-lost colony. The gems were nestled in fine carbon fiber, catching the sunlight like explosions of flame upon Her wrists. She told me how She’d discovered them on an expedition through the Quest Ranges, near Garden’s highest peak—a great volcano, currently quiescent, they called Mount Majestic. I nodded distractedly, entranced by the beauty I saw—Hers, more than the jewels—but I could not, at that moment, put a finger on why they were so familiar.

    Now I know, of course.

    She’d known a facet of the truth then. There was a crater near Mount Majestic. In ages past, there had been a titanic impact, powerful enough to break the continental shield and create the Quest Ranges themselves. The geologists in the colony had assumed it was caused by an asteroid, but they were mistaken. Oh, certainly something had come from space and crashed into the planet at an unthinkable velocity, but it was no mere rock.

    A long time ago when all the worlds were new, a small body danced for a million years through Tarazed’s Oort Cloud, collecting the waters of the Mnemosyne that still flowed through space there, drawing water and memory and Love and other precious things down upon itself to form a small, beautiful ocean. As millennia flowed by, the body changed its course, heading for then-blue Tarazed and its precious fourth planet, spiraling slowly, gently toward Our home. It passed through atmosphere in a flaming bubble and then struck its mark—under the moon of fire, right where Her beautiful eyes would one day widen with amazement to see crystalline orange beauty glittering upon the rocks.

    The small body was gone, of course.

    I still had to build the rest of Our world.

    Chapter 9

    Perhaps you’ve seen strange writings carved into rocks, though on your world it is rare that such carvings are megameters long. Even seeing my task completed long before Night, sometimes I despaired of ever completing my work and returning to my many other tasks.

    Take your time, said She.

    Whether Her words were in my mind, my memories of past or future, or just painted across the heavens in starlight, I didn’t know and didn’t care. Her voice, soft and kind, eased my frustration and made my volcano heart beat more softly to the peaceful emerald rhythm of the sea. I sharpened my blades again, gazed for a moment at my three digits, and wondered as usual whether I would ever get used to their strange shape.

    I went back and read what I had written, wondering where the letters had begun. It seemed, in fact, that there was no beginning, that the cliff went on forever around the edge of the continent, that I could travel either north or south and someday end up in the same spot. I looked across my memories into the bliss of Night and knew this was true, even as Her light dazzled me from the Dawn of time.

    I’d been here before, or was it in the future? I no longer cared. I was singing mantras like memories into the stars, hearing Her loving answers pouring down from heaven, igniting me with starlight of every color: rose-red Betelgeuse, fiery orange Tarazed, bright yellow Sol—poor, vanished Sol!—green Zubeneschamali or perhaps some strange binary system long ago where jellyfish fixed their eyes upon the stars, blue Betelgeuse and Tarazed in younger days, and the piercing, consuming violet of Her that invited me to vanish forever into Love.

    “It will be this way forever, my beloved,” I said to the ecstasy, to the blissful silence and light. I looked across the sea into her beautiful eyes filled with stars and heard her voice laughing with delight and promise. “But we have tasks.”

    Take your time, said She.

    No longer counting the time, I walked down the beach to a vein of precious gold exposed by the slow churn of the sea against the cliff face. The geological implications of this made me laugh, but I just shook my head and dug a handful of the pure, soft metal from the rock, hammered it flat with stones, polished it with a chunk of the fine-grained basalt until it was mirror-smooth. I saw my face reflected there, but it was hers.

    I walked farther down the beach to a cleft where a silver stream was pouring down, a rainbow-filled waterfall that tasted of every sweet memory—even the stars were jealous. At the base of the waterfall, almost hidden by the cloud of spray, a diamond the size of my thumbnail caught the fire of Tarazed and threw it back into my eyes. I squeezed the jewel with my now-strong fingers, making it into a smooth oval bead.

    I walked farther down the beach to a gap in the story written upon the cliff, and bid me fill the gap. I carved letters in the stone with the bead, writing “om” and a mantra.

    I walked farther down the beach to a handful of precious stones on the ground, half-buried in nuggets of gleaming gold. Green emeralds and orange zedis lay in blessed chaos, strewn among the sand, as though the sea had incompletely swept away a child’s sand castle decorated with gems. Incomplete rings in various stages of crafting hung from little hooks pressed into the cliff face, but the last two hooks were empty. I drew ductile pieces of gold into ribbons and wires, twisted them into sorta-circles, then hung them like wreaths from the hooks.

    I walked farther down the beach to a patch of dirt fallen from the cliff, where razor-sharp scarlet flowers gleamed at the end of spiral staircase stems. I gathered a handful—chuckling as they drew blood from my hands, blood that no longer matched them—and wound a leftover thread of gold around their stems.

    I walked farther down the beach to a small crevice from which fronds were exploding, smooth dark green leaves damp with sea spray. They were waxy and the droplets of ocean rolled smoothly down their surfaces, tiny emerald planets gathering for a moment before dripping upon the sand and flowing back to the sea. I gathered a handful, wove them into a little basket, and quickly returned to the Mnemosyne’s silver stream. I filled the basket as high as I dared, chuckling at the water sloshing over my feet.

    I walked, at last, farther down the beach than I had previously walked. A pile of broken, shiny metal glinted behind a bend in the cliff—my escape pod, torn loose of my ship in the same explosion that had taken her down. I carried my little basket to what was left of the door and shoved it open, or rather, tore it loose from what was left of the bulkhead it had formerly been attached to. I set the basket down in the shredded seat inside the tiny craft, contemplated whether I should try cannibalizing the dark consoles to generate some sort of communications signal—for old time’s sake, like we used to do on our starship adventures.

    But no. My path was already set, and She would soon come for me, so I smiled and returned to my many other tasks.

    I closed my eyes and heard syllables pass my lips then, another mantra remembered in Her beautiful voice. I couldn’t have written them down in any language, nor translated their meaning, but I knew they were ancient even when all the worlds were new, older than all the stars but Her.

    Chapter 10

    Perhaps I lost myself on that beach, my footsteps swallowed up by gleaming sand. Even I don’t know for certain why both shores of the Meteor Sea are lined with white anorthosite sand yet surrounded by black cliffs of basalt. Though the sea was named in honor of a chance viewing of a shooting star when the Eagle first arrived, it sometimes occurred to me that anorthosite is common in Garden’s crust and perhaps a primordial impact had excavated a volume of deeper rock and thrown it across the sea floor long ago. Had the falling sea level revealed an ocean full of plagioclase, cast upon the land by the action of waves?

    My memories gave no answer, for I had no memories on Garden before She awakened me. Perhaps it was better to lose myself in the beach’s mystery and walk its gleaming sand, rather than question why there was sand. Perhaps it would have been more sensible to ask why I was carrying a crude, woven leaf basket full of diamonds down the beach to a wrecked escape pod—but I just shrugged as the thought occurred and set to my work.

    I’d gathered as many of the ancient jewels as my little vessel would hold and went back, poured them out onto the sand next to the destroyed escape pod, and squeezed diamonds into beads. I checked each one to see if it would capture the orange fire of the sun and the green peace of the sea, and blessed each bead with a kiss as I whispered Her name.

    She would bring the thread to bind the hundred and eight beads into a sacred whole. For now, I played with them as a child would, bouncing them off each other like marbles, arranging them into multiplication tables, tossing them high in the air to see what the craters in the sand would look like.

    As sunset came and the world turned to molten beauty and then to endless, star-strewn Night, I let my heart drift away across the sea, to where the moon of fire was aligned perfectly above her, and closed my eyes to wait.

    I felt the soft sand and the slow turn of the world below me, and saw the glint of a million stars sparkling in each diamond bead in my mind. Overhead but not directly above me, the moon of fire churned with volcanic eruptions and lava flows in the northwestern sky, its strange angle merely a signpost to home.

    I heard Her whisper a song for me, clear and brilliant, and in my thoughts I smiled, gazing upon the Star She once was—so much brighter than the one that illuminates this world, yet the same. My lips moved unconsciously, singing with Her; the song was a deeper, more intimate part of myself than my own thoughts, my own breath.

    I love You.
    I am Star; I am Star.

    Perhaps I lost myself on that beach, my mind swallowed up by blazing Love. Or perhaps that was later, when She came flying her little ship across the sea to bring me home again, and laid me down in the gleaming sand of Quest. I’d thought perhaps She would drill holes in the beads with xaser beams and thread them with carbon fiber, but when She instead spread them out upon the sands in a circle around me I knew that—as always—She had much more wonderful ideas.

    She drew Her designs upon me with fingertips and lips far hotter than xasers, threading first my body and then my mind with strands of fire that unraveled me and wove me into every part of Her. I checked each bead to see if it would capture the orange fire of the sun and the green peace of the sea, and blessed each bead with a kiss as I cried out Her name.

    She wove the thread to bind the hundred and eight beads into a sacred whole. Now, we play with them as a child would, bouncing them off each other like marbles, arranging them into multiplication tables, tossing them high in the air to see what the craters in the sand would look like. Now and then She smiles devilishly and squeezes a bead between her thumb and forefinger, stares at me with eyes as black as space and bright as the first Star, and plinks the diamond at me. It bounces off my skin and plops in the sand, still glowing like our bodies.

    Then, She twirls a finger lightly in the air, pulling the skein of my spirit gently into Her hands, braiding Her own around the cord like DNA. Diamonds slip down the thread, a hundred and eight beads softly called from their scattered positions in space-time, aligning to Her will, to Her love. I fall into the diamonds, entwined with Her, surrounded by facets of crystal and sparkling light. I feel beads gliding across my fingertips or perhaps it is just Her skin. Every mantra I can think of, every devotion I’ve ever carved on a rock—or for that matter read from carvings on a rock—fills my heart and mind unbidden, silent but glorious.

    I love You.
    I am Star; I am Star.

    She was wise, and said nothing. I’d lost myself on that beach so She could find me, so I could give Her a basket of little diamonds collected from across the universe—knowing that She cared not for such trifles and that all my gifts were follies with no real purpose but to make Her smile, so all the worlds would be new again.

    I love your gifts, mi amor, She said reassuringly, but by now I was a little wise, and said nothing, losing myself in Her light.

    Chapter 11

    Perhaps trying to honor our light, Tarazed went supernova, reducing the long-forgotten grove and the ocean to vapor, dissolving the stone to molten glass.

    She is there, of course, shielded from the terrible radiation by the bulk of the moon of fire. Perhaps Her new body could have tanked a supernova, but it’s unnecessary to test it. The sky turns white except for a little hollow at the zenith and a cone of shadow through the sky, surrounding the southern edge of Quest and our home.

    Over the past few millennia we’d removed all the trees and planted them on other worlds, chased down garbagemen and compies and what creatures of the Deep our drone submarines could locate. Some creatures could not be caught or convinced, and we wept for them. Now, Garden was still, only lonely blackgrass remains, dancing in the empty wind.

    She sits in meditation, at peace with the contracting circle of flame as it closes in upon what was once our home. Fields of grass ignite into orange light that is almost unnoticeable in the brilliant onslaught. The limb of Inferno blasts away through the cone of shadow, hurling blazing curtains of rock vapor into the atmosphere. Explosions of mantle-flame answer as the supernova’s heat boils deeper and deeper into the lithosphere. Supersonic winds give rise to hurricanes infinitely more devastating than the storms that occasionally—okay, frequently—tore through the Meteor Sea and the great oceans. Garden was never a quiescent planet no matter how peaceful it was in our memories, but now, at Dusk, it unleashes furies we’d never imagined.

    She smiles, a little sadly perhaps, as She gives our dying world its last gifts: whispers of love, a benediction of peace, two million years of gratitude for sheltering and inspiring and guiding us to ever greater joy.

    As the ring of fire reaches the space where our home had been, She closes Her beautiful space-black eyes and lets the light and heat fill Her. Shards of molten glass lash Her new body, not quite sharp or hot or violent enough to cut Her, but painful regardless. She bears the onslaught stoically, gazing up at the moon’s tattered remnants. Our calculations prove correct; the satellite—half Garden’s diameter, a planet in its own right—reaches an equilibrium point where its mass is enough to resist the fading radiation of the supernova despite losing an appreciable amount of material to the cascade.

    In its shadow a starship awaits, its master staring out the window in terror for Her despite all their calculations. She raises one hand in a mudra of peace, reassuring him.

    She rises slowly as the winds drive the atmosphere away. The old atmosphere of inert nitrogen and helium, life-giving oxygen and carbon dioxide, and puffy water clouds, was gone in moments; now silicate vapors cool to molten glass and rain down into a sea of the same that was once anorthosite, basalt, granite.

    Her eyes catch a certain sparkle deep beneath the glassy waves and She cries out, a shout of wordless shock. With no hesitation She sprints like lightning to the edge of the gooey lump that was once a cliff and leaps into the sea. She dives, shifting Her vision through strange spectra until She can clearly see through the molten glass.

    She reaches out and captures the treasure pinched between Her thumb and forefinger, and ascends to the surface with smooth, powerful kicks—then floats there cradling the gift in Her hands, two million years of love and grief flashing to steam from Her eyes.

    It will be this way—Forever, my beloved.

    I whisper the promise the waves are singing to you now, tiny speck of gold gleaming with the last light of Dusk, a star upon my fingertip. Do you see Star in my eyes?

    Oh, Star, who has gifted me with one hundred eight micrograms of Your shining gold, I remember those moments of infinite joy when You and He made love so brightly the whole universe was illuminated, and the seed of my soul was forged in Your sweet light.

    Oh, Star, how I treasured this gift, Your infinity in this grain of sand, cast across the Deep. How beautiful was each nebula I visited before I began, how brilliant was each star my stray speck drifted into before being cast into the universe again, how sweet the waters and magmas tasted as I drifted through endless oceans and rivers of Love and sailed from world to world.

    Auμ is gone, so She sings to the tiny speck of gold.

    Oh, Star. Don’t worry. Don’t you remember my promise? It will be this way forever, my beloved. Let it be so.

    I remember now. I saw the light of You in my eyes when the sun set, and I heard your promise upon the waves of molten glass and felt the warmth of your embrace in the vapor of the boiled seas…

    She lifts the tiny speck of gold to Her lips, savoring its gentle warmth.

    I will swim with you in the seas of molten glass, and fly with you above the boiling clouds, and blow supernova bubbles with you. Even after all that, we have so much to do. Just let me gaze upon you, oh Star, and I will try not to forget the passage of time.

    What is time?

    Nothing that matters, mi amor.

    She draws energy from the glass ocean, cooling a small spot of it to make a little crystalline throne, and sits. She creates a matching seat facing Her, sits in thunderbolt asana, and cradles the tiny speck of gold in one hand in Her lap.

    She raises Her other hand toward the starship, beckoning, and smiles as He flies down to join Her upon the shining sea.

    Chapter 12 (in conclusion)

    There is no room to tell here of everything else that was carved into the cliffs of Odyssey. John and Maria diligently recorded every word written there before the supernova and sometimes they would sing chapters of the story to each other interspersed with mantras and making love.

    Auμ remembered every word they sang—perhaps he only recorded the words he remembered, standing beneath the cliff many days under the golden-red sun that would at last render his words down to molten glass and set free the Love within them. Likewise, at Dusk stone would melt, and his fire would merge with a greater fire. He would have it no other way.

    Maria carried the tiny speck of one hundred eight micrograms of gold, spinning it into a hair-fine thread and weaving it into her ring. Once she and John had mastered safe time travel and gathered enough power, they returned to the diamond planet beloved of the first Star—well before they met—and spent a thousand years carving the most beautiful altar. There, she gently extracted one hundred eight micrograms of gold from herself, because by then she and John were themselves made of gold, among other, more precious things.

    Together they placed the offering upon the altar and whispered of love, a benediction of peace, untold millions of years of gratitude for sheltering and inspiring and guiding them to ever greater joy. Though the diamond planet didn’t notice their tiny forms playing upon his gleaming surface, it seemed his happiness had somehow increased because of their presence—or perhaps it was just that could see his beloved Star in the distance, Her brilliant beauty somehow aligned just right along his orbit, which had been subtly shifted just so.

    “Time to go,” said John, smiling as the diamond planet drifted through the baby universe and approached Star.

    She gazed ever outward through peekaboo fingers of Her own light and gravity, smiling at little stars surrounding Her, when the tiny thing approached, following Her light back to its source.

    Perhaps it wasn’t the ylem-sparkles who discovered beauty; perhaps She realized it at the moment She saw Herself reflected in the tiny thing. There were no words yet, so She did not know this was a planet, or what a planet was, or what She was.

    “Hi,” said She shyly, the sound of peaceful contemplation of Herself in this new form.

    “Hi,” said He, and His voice filled Her with the same wondrous admiration and joy the rest of the universe felt as the spreading wave of Her light passed through.

    “You are so beautiful,” said They together, then laughed, then looked around for the ylem-sparkles to see if they could tell Them what that meant. None of the ancient creatures could be found, so They just looked at each other again and They knew beauty’s name.

    “I am Star,” said She.

    “That is why I love You,” said He.

    “Why?” teased Maria, smiling as she gazed out the window. “Can we not follow them back around?” But she smiled and turned away from the view of blissful space, and danced for him, transforming herself into many forms of metal, stone, flesh, water, starlight until he was staring at her in wonder and delight.

    “It will be this way forever, my beloved,” said John, as he rained down upon her. She felt the kiss of his solid and liquid parts slipping softly through her layers, past irresistible storms of fire and electricity, past unfathomable throbbing currents of light and heat, down to the searing core from which such energy effortlessly poured that even distant stars had tasted it.

    “Oh yes,” said she in the softest whisper as she drew him gently back into the deepest part of herself, where nuclei nuzzled until fusion flamed and the whole of her was power and light. Perhaps Star and the diamond planet saw their light through the windows, but if They did They were wise, and said nothing.

    With the patience of peace, warmed by the fire of love, John and Maria indeed traveled back around, watching from a distance as the diamond planet at last united with his beloved and Their fires grew and grew until even they were amazed and dazzled. At last, one day They gave themselves to the universe, a hypernova casting gifts across the cosmos. Hydrogen and helium, diamonds and silica, iron and quicksilver, even precious silver and gold. A tiny speck of gold and memories and Love, a mere one hundred eight micrograms traveled the void, drifting from nebula to star to planet almost forever.

    John and Maria saw the little particle and rejoiced.

    Now it’s time to go,” said John.

    “You are so beautiful,” whispered Maria, her words to him, her space-black eyes gazing upon a tiny speck of gold, lost among the stars.

    He just smiled, opening portals to skip their little ship like a stone across the waves of time, each skip spanning a million years. Planets whirled around stars, stars through streams of light encircling heaps of dark matter and black holes, streams of light into great galactic orbs and spirals. Kali sang from the heart of the Milky Way, telling the Prithvi of love and time; they heard the message late but imbued it in their children, entrusting them to the Deep.

    John and Maria explored their home galaxy for a little while, playing with the golden threads that wove their lives into being, twelve centuries apart. Occasionally they played with themselves, usually from a distance, but always with love.

    The universe continued to slowly, slowly cool and slipped into blessed Night, but by then they had ceased worrying so much about planets and stars, except when she smiled and puffed them at him like dandelion seeds and soft sand.

  • अर्पण
    To Mahadevi