… continued from Fear and Trust
Grey skies gave way to blue, relieving Anna’s anxiety when she could once again sight the thin line of the elevator descending from orbit to the horizon ahead, confirming they remained on track. Navigation by assuming the seas rolled in their direction did not fill her with confidence, and in those hours and days she most keenly felt the lack of the inertial compass, lost to the depths with their makeshift raft weeks earlier. Ca-Tren appeared sure of their direction, but her comments to the Orta notwithstanding, she remained an adolescent, and not in Anna’s mind a proven ocean navigator.
The visual reference of the elevator, however, made all such worries moot. On a clear day it made a better navigation aid than any other tool, as all they need do was point their boat toward it, or slightly upwind of it to account for drift, and sail on.
The clear nights revealed no further lights upon the horizon, no sign of pursuit, giving Anna yet another reason to breathe easier. Far from land, from the lights of any community, and with none aboard their tiny boat, the stars shone brighter than ever, with the ever-present arc of the ring station bisecting the sky. Each passing night brought it that much closer to directly overhead, competing with the arc of the galactic core for brightest object in the sky whenever the moons were below the horizon.
During her night watches, Anna spent as many hours gazing at the stars, picking out the ones she knew, as she did monitoring the seas around them. There was brilliant Deneb, brightest of all those she could see, and Anna thought back to her first view of that dominant star from Aniara’s observatory blister, months ago. The Veil and the Crescent were too faint to be seen through the planet’s thick atmosphere, and without Aniara’s sensitive instruments, though she knew where they would be. Betelgeuse still burned brightly, not yet having exploded into a supernova, though against the cosmic scale of the eons, its time was close. Like all astronomers, Anna secretly hoped to be able to observe such a cataclysmic yet iconic event, though she knew the odds were against it occurring within her lifetime, extended though it might be compared to past ages.
Anna was not the only one watching the heavens. Ca-Tren too turned her gaze skywards at night. Anna could not yet interpret Kwakitl expressions, but the young avian’s curiosity was evident in her intense focus.
Two nights after their encounter with the Orta, Ca-Tren noticed Anna watching her. She squawked something, and although Anna imagined she was starting to discern distinct sounds, vowels and consonants in the Kwakitl speech, she still could not make out any meaning. Jaci slept below, but he had left his tablet in the cockpit for all to use, and to Anna’s surprise Ca-Tren picked it up with her clawed foot. Then, to Anna’s even greater amazement, Ca-Tren manipulated the tablet within her claw, activating the translator, and spoke to it.
Which one is yours?
Anna turned her gaze upward again, finding Betelgeuse, Rigel, and Polaris. She pointed at the constellation of Orion’s Belt, directing Ca-Tren’s attention.
“There. My sun is very faint, very difficult to see through the air, but if you look closely, you will see three bright stars forming a curved line, and between the one on the right and the middle one, closer to the one on the right… do you see it? A very faint yellow star. That is my home.”
The tablet quietly did its job, translating Anna’s answer for Ca-Tren.
You come from a very small world?
“Not so much small, as just very far away. Our world is not much different from yours. Our sun is brighter than yours, the days on our world are brighter. But it is so far away that it has taken more than a thousand years for the light of our sun to reach here.”
A thousand years… Ca-Tren was quiet a moment, apparently absorbing this concept, then she pointed to Rigel, burning bright blue next to Sol’s faint yellow. So that one is closer?
“No. That one is even farther away, but it is a much bigger and brighter star, so we see it more clearly at this distance.”
And who lives there?
“No one lives there. It is not possible to live there, at least not for people like you or me. Rigel — that star — is beautiful to look at, but would be deadly up close. It is actually four stars, all close together, spinning around each other, which would make for a very interesting sky for anyone there, but two of them are so large, and they put out so much radiation… hmm, you probably don’t have a word for that. They are so hot they would burn up any worlds around them. They are also too young, much younger than your sun or mine. There has not been enough time. So, we just look at them, but we don’t go there.”
So all these stars… all these suns… they don’t all have worlds with people on them? How many other peoples have you visited besides us?
“Only you.” Anna chuckled quietly to herself. “We have been looking for a long time, but you are the first we have ever found, and the Orta are the only others we know about now. We did not know about them before coming here.”
So many stars, and it is so quiet. It is almost… lonely.
Lonely is right, Anna thought. “We have been looking for friends for a long time. And now we have found you.”
The Orta too seek someone.
“Yes, they’re looking for us.”
Not you. Yes, they seek you now, but even before you, there was someone else, some other people, on some other world, which was lost to them.
Anna’s ears perked up, and she turned her face from the sky to look at Ca-Tren directly.
“Who? Who is it besides us that they seek? And how do you know this?”
It is legend, but Li-Estl says legend is sometimes built upon true history. Legend tells that the Orta first came to us, long ago, looking for this other people. They did not find what they were looking for, but they found us instead. I believe even now, they still seek this ancient lost people of theirs. I think they, too, are lonely.
Anna looked again to the myriad of stars filling the sky. A hundred billion stars, or more, made up this galaxy, and Earth had heard from just this one. Yet Earth had been listening for only a couple hundred years. It seemed the Orta had been listening too, for much longer, perhaps a couple thousand years, and yet with equally silent results.
So many stars, and so quiet.
Quiet indeed. Where was everyone?
… continued with The Drowned City
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