(Fall 2017 Version – Second Edition)Copyright Daniel Triumph, 2020
Yaska May Däwngale and the people of her village sat around the community fire. Jan was telling a story about the storm festival. Yaska rubbed her fingers through the sand. It did not rain a lot in the desert, but once every two years, there was a rainstorm. Even though she had been gone for so long, Yaska had heard his story many times and had gotten bored of it. She decided to leave the village to look at the stars.
“Where are you going?” It was her friend Mariça, the most unusual looking of the bunch.
“West. I am going to look at the stars.”
Yaska walked until she couldn’t hear the buzz of the gathering. She found a spot next to a shrub and lay down, resting her hands behind her head. It wasn’t always easy to see the stars because the atmosphere often distorted them. In her homelands, however, there was less humidity, so heat distortion was reduced. Even on this clear night, the stars shimmered and danced in the skies, and Yaska knew she was only seeing a fraction of them.
Yaska gazed at the hundred or two shining dots, tracking their irregular movement until she saw one that was moving oddly. She blinked. It wasn’t shimmering, or moving in hazy circles. It was shuddering. And getting brighter. Yaska watched it, and realized that it was growing.
She sat up, and then, keeping her eye on the star, she stood. She rubbed her eyes, and when she opened them again, the light was the size of her fist.
A fiery mass plummeted down from the heavens. Yaska watched as it smashed into the ground, twenty steps in front of her. She was quite astonished.
Yaska, fearless, approached the landing area. As the smoke dissipated, she could see a bright mass of whites and yellows shifting around. She watched as the ball of light took shape. It morphed vertically, splitting at the bottom and the sides. Yaska watched it compress into the definite shape of a person.
The form’s brightness faded slowly, until all that remained was a soft glow over its tanned skin. The face remained featureless.
Yaska waved her hand in front of where the face should have been. She thought that perhaps it would spark the next part of the creature’s transformation, that it had gotten stuck.
Yaska put her hands on her hips, staring at it. After a while of nothing happening, she took a step back.
The creature tentatively stepped forward.
“Aha!” Yaska took another step backwards, and the creature again followed. “So you can do something!”
Yaska turned and started walking back to the village, checking over her shoulder frequently to make sure the creature was following. As she neared the makeshift stone huts of her village, she heard muttering.
Then, a voice rang out, “I will go, because I am the eldest. If anything happens to me, it is a much smaller loss than if we lose Jan, our hunter.”
Yaska entered and approached the group; huddled together and worried. It was Mariça’s part-mother who had volunteered herself. Jan noticed her first.
He said, “What is that following you?!”
Yaska stopped. The creature stopped. Yaska realized she had no idea what she had just led into her village. She assumed it wasn’t dangerous because thus far it had been so benign, but she couldn’t be sure. Still, she wasn’t too worried. If it was dangerous, she had the strength to deal with it.
Yaska turned around and said, “- oh, you are finally getting yourself a face, I see.”
The face of the creature pushed itself out of the front of its head, much to the surprise of the villagers.
Jan ran up to Yaska and whispered, “is this normal?”
Yaska nodded stating, “It started as a ball of light.”
“Hey!” Mariça shouted from among the group, “it looks like a boring Jan!”
Yaska and Jan looked up.
“I look like that?”
Yaska approached the creature.
“Can you speak?”
The creature opened its mouth and gave a shriek. Jan stepped back. Yaska stepped forward, readying herself, just in case.
Mariça’s mother walked to Jan and said, “that’s an infant’s screech. If it just got its face, it likely doesn’t know how to use it.”
Jan said, “Well, actually, it just got my face.”
After tapping it a few times, Jan declared the creature harmless. Yaska said that since it figured out how to grow a face so fast through observation, it would likely learn how to speak the same way. So, the village returned to the fire and Jan began another story.
And the creature did listen.
“What? Come on, we’re trying to help you!”
“I… do not have the words.”
Yaska nodded, “the word for his food probably is not in Plainkind vocabulary.”
“Vocabulary?” Jan asked.
Yaska said, “vocabulary is… it is all the words you have to choose from when you speak. I learned the term from Chloe.”
“Oh yes, Chloe, the outsider. She knows quite a bit, doesn’t she.”
“Yes she does,” Yaska agreed, “Chloe knows about history, and science, and… Oh Jan!”
“What?” Jan asked. The Starman, too, looked at her.
“We could ask Chloe to help!”
“Oh, great idea!”
“I will write her a letter when we return. We can send it by bird.”
Yaska, Jan, the Starman, and Chloe stood just inside the desert village, near Yaska’s house.
“This is the Starman,” Yaska said.
Chloe considered him. She looked at his face, and his form. The face looked similar to Jan’s, but less cheerful.
She said, “you know, Yaska, I doubted your letter, but… I can tell that something with this Starman is off. I need to prove it to myself.”
“What do you mean by off?” Jan asked.
“Yaska, can you get me one of your shirts? No, not the one you’re wearing right now.”
Yaska shrugged. Shortly after, she returned from her small stone hut with a shirt. Chloe took the shirt and offered it to the Starman, who put it on.
Chloe asked, “does it fit?”
“It fits exactly,” he said.
Yaska’s eyes widened, but Jan remained confused.
He asked, “what’s this about?”
Chloe addressed the Starman, “You look like a man, but you’re not, are you. You just copied what’s around you in order to give yourself shape.”
“I’m still lost.” Jan said.
Yaska looked at the Starman. Her shirt fit the creature far better than Jan’s did.
“Well, I am not lost,” Yaska said, “when he landed, the first person he met was me. He was just a ball of light, and then he took on my shape. Jan, do you remember when he first came to the village?”
“It had no face…”
Jan’s expression became passive. Chloe and Yaska both noticed that, without Jan’s constant grin, they really did look identical.
Yaska’s face became stern. She said, “it came from the sky and imitated my body. It came to the village and imitated Jan’s face. Then, it came to our campfire and imitated our language. What does it want, blending in with us so?”
She accusingly pointed a clawed finger at the Starman, “is getting home truly your only goal?”
Silence overcame the group. The Starman stared, searching his limited vocabulary for words with which to explain himself.
Chloe’s mumbling eventually broke in, “…imitation, returning to the sky… he truly is a star, isn’t he? I didn’t think that the legend was true.”
Jan said, “what legend?”
The Starman said, “tell us, please.”
Some of the villagers had gathered around Jan’s fire, anticipating the story from the outsider, Chloe.
“My father told me it was long ago, I always assumed two or three thousand years. A star fell from the sky. It was unlike a dead shooting star. It was alive, and it landed on the planet. The ancient people encountered it, and came to fear it.
“The first person to find it was a great hero. The star took the shape of the hero. It was uncanny for the people, to see this false form of the hero. The accused it of being a demon, and captured it out of fear.
“The hero feared for the star. The star had done nothing wrong, but would likely be charged will all forms of frivolity, and the ancient people would decide to kill it. Standing around the star’s cage, and surrounded by his people, the hero decided to take a risk to save the star.
“The hero gave a great laugh, and then pointed to the cage, ‘you fools, you have captured the wrong person, for I am the star, and he is the true hero!’
“The star was cunning. It said, ‘I am indeed your noble hero, please free me!’
“The hero gave the star a secret smile, and then ran. Half the ancient people pursued, and the other half hastened to free the person they thought was their hero. The star was yet still cunning, it said, ‘I will chase down the imposter! Leave it to me!’ And it gave chase. The two heroes ran about the city, each claiming to be chasing the other.
“The hero, that is, the true hero, stopped at his house to rest. He hid, and watched through his doorway. The city calmed. The star was still wandering about, but he assured everyone that he had chased the imposter out of the city. In truth, he was still searching, but without frenzy. He walked around, fearful at the civilization before him, fearful of getting caught.
“Finally, the star noticed the hero in his doorway, beckoning. The star approached, and the hero pulled him inside. The hero fed the star, and told him to journey out of the city and return to his home. The star told him, ‘I need energy,’ so the hero fed him, and gave him drink.
“The star left the city, under the guise of the hero, and returned to the skies. They say that the star still looks down on the hero in thanks, and that the hero still looks up as well.
“Supposedly, it’s the hero that passed this story down to his children, and to the next generation.” Chloe finished.
Yaska, usually stoic, had become quite surprised.
Jan said, “are you the same star?!”
“No.” The Starman said.
Chloe grinned, “so, if the legend is true, and my father says it is, all we have to do is feed the star!”
Yaska shook her head, “I apologize, but we already tried. It did not work, he said that our food was not star food.”
Chloe looked from Yaska to the Starman. She considered Yaska’s words for a long time. Their food is not star food. The hero’s food was. Did that mean that the problem was that Plainkind food specifically was not star food? What was different about what the Plainkind ate, compared to what the hero ate? And then Chloe remembered the odd quirk in Plainkind diet the separated them from nearly every other race.
“I know what it is!” Chloe stood up, “I think I know what we need to feed the star in order to give him the energy he needs!’
By now the various villagers that had been listening to Chloe’s story returned to their responsibilities. Only Jan, Yaska, and the Starman remained around the dwindling fire. Now that the story had turned to discussion, the stood, forming a small circle around the dwindling fire.
“What did the hero give the star in my father’s legend?” Chloe asked.
Yaska half-frowned at Chloe, “you said it was just food and drink. We gave him food and drink on the mountain.”
“I know, but, like you said, it wasn’t star food.”
“Well then what is star food?”
Chloe smiled, “well, what is a star? Here’s a better question; the sun is a star, so what is the sun?”
Jan looked into the sky and stared at the sun. His Plainkind eyes adjusted and focused. After a few seconds, he looked away and rubbed his eyes.
“Well, it’s bright!” Jan laughed.
Yaska said, “It is bright, and it gives off heat during the day.”
“Right, so…?” Chloe questioned.
“So, is the sun a fire?”
“So stars are made of fire.”
“Right!” Chloe clapped her hands together, “Stars are made of fire.”
“So we need to figure out what feeds a fire, and feed it to the Starman.” Yaska concluded.
The Starman nodded.
Jan said, “So we have to feed him shrubs and brambles?” He looked at the pile of desert plants he had gathered for the night fire with confusion.
“If I needed to eat shrubs, I would have told you. I learned the word for that.” The Starman said.
Chloe laughed, “don’t worry, I’ll tell you! Stars don’t burn wood or shrubs, you can’t grow those things in the sky anyway. Instead they burn hydrogen.”
Yaska listened with interest, but Jan said, “They burn what?”
“Hydrogen. It’s invisible and flammable,” Chloe said, “and a star doesn’t really burn it. Instead, it causes a nuclear reaction that combines four hydrogen atoms into beryllium*. At least, that’s what the Sol-Metch researchers say. But really, they know more about fission than fusion.”
Jan said, “you completely lost me.”
Yaska said, “you mostly lost me. But more importantly, do you know where we can get hydrogen?”
Chloe smiled, “oh, it’s in water.”
Chloe picked her waterskin up from the ground, “you can separate the hydrogen from the rest of the compound by, ah,” Chloe frowned, “running an electric current through it.”
Jan and the Starman stared, but Yaska’s face showed deadened recognition, “an electric current? Is that not related to the a soul in Solune culture?”
“Ah, all of our nerves run on electric signals, so creating one outside of a body is…” Chloe trailed off and twiddled her thumbs, “ah, even if it wasn’t such a touch area, how would we even…”
Chloe gave up on her sentence. She had to the water, but she wasn’t sure how she could separate it, or even how.
The Starman looked from Yaska to Chloe, and then to Jan. He could see that Jan was unsure of what was going on, but was aware that this was some sort of road block.
The Starman said, “but, if we are to believe your story then does that not mean that, like the hero, I can just drink the water?”
Chloe’s eyes widened, she brightly said, “of course! Perhaps you can do it within you! Let’s at least give it a shot.”
She handed the skin to the Starman, who drank a bit. He said, “this is what I needed.”
To Chloe’s relief, the Starman finished only half the water. He said, “thank you, you were right, this is star food. I think I should return outside the village.”
The Starman started walking towards the place where he landed. The group followed. AS they walked, the sky began to get dark.
Chloe said, “it was quite interesting to meet a star, I would have liked to learn more about you.”
Yaska said, “well, perhaps he can stay.”
The Starman shook his head, “You are all quite friendly, but I prefer my own home.”
The Starman closed his eyes and began generating energy. His legs slowly morphed away. His body dropped and began to hover above the ground. Then the rest of his features began to lose their form and he, once again, became a ball of light. The star rose up just as other stars began to appear in the darkening sky.
Yaska tried to see which star he would become, but through the dusk and the shimmering atmosphere, it was hard to tell. Jan departed shortly after to make sure the village had a fire, and Chloe and Yaska were left alone, watching.
“Did you see which star he was?” Yaska said.
Chloe said, “it’s hard to tell. To be honest, I don’t really know the locations of stars. They’re hard to see in the Solune Kingdom too, so we don’t really engage in mapping them.”
“Oh. He was a little strange. Silent. Perhaps he did not particularly enjoy our company.”
“He must have had some reason for wanting to get home. For all we know, that could be the reason. Maybe stars just think differently than us.”
Chloe shrugged and sat on the sand. Yaska sat next to her.
“I wonder,” Yaska said, “If that star in your story wanted to stay.”
“Well, my father says he did. I guess, like us, stars have differences too.”
Yaska considered her words. She thought about Chloe’s father. She had met him, the Solune King, before. He was said to be immortal.
Yaska said, “was your father the hero from the story?”
Chloe turned her head and smiled, “I think so. He told me that the star might return at some point.”
“It is just afraid of taking the form of someone influential again? Or getting attacked?”
“Yeah.”Chloe continued, “Hey, let’s go visit the fire. Maybe Jan will have a new story for us.”
“Or maybe you could give us another.” Yaska smiled.
They both smiled, and returned to the village.
Originally published Fall 2017.