And Now, A Short Story
Every day she winked at him.
Far off, almost indistinct, she shimmered in her radiant beauty. He could not remember the day he first saw her, it had been so very long ago. Now he could only wait out the hours for her next glorious glimmer–for you see, every day, without fail, she shot a look across the heavens for all to see; a beacon of desire and loneliness that you could set your watch to. He was enamoured. He and his brothers.
They circled the sun ever so slowly, a stone’s throw from arrogant Saturn. Venus remained an elusive dot some distance away. He and his friends had seen quite a bit in the past fifteen billion years. They watched Saturn reign in her sparkling rings, they watch tiny ice balls pepper the landscape of a prepubescent Earth before she shrouded herself in her cloak of carbon dioxide. And they remember that fateful day when they were whole, before that unspeakable calamity had ripped them apart, robbed them of their chance to shine with the other breathtaking worlds that calmly danced around their benevolent, yellow, main-sequence mother.
Life was simple back then. But he wouldn’t trade what he had now for all the precious silver specks in the cosmos, not while she remained to flirt across the thin aether. What was she like, they wondered? Was she like their own star, proud and intense, a beautiful yellow gem marking the heavens, or was she different? Maybe she was a great red giant, glowing quietly, patient and giving. It was their dream, all of them, to one day reach into the empty gulfs and somehow answer her call; to take her up on her summons, and bathe in her gentle radiation. But what were the chances of that? What were the odds that some cosmic happenstance would hurl them across the galaxy to her side? Perhaps some of those feisty parasites from their ever-fecund sister, Earth, would be sympathetic to their plight. Perhaps not. Still, they had waited that long, and they had all of the time in the universe to hope, and in the meantime, they subsisted on the daily kisses blown across countless leagues of nebulae and dark gasses by their secret lover.
Naturally, he supposed that he had some special, privileged bond with that sweet, incandescent angel from afar. This feeling was exemplified when, one miraculous day, the solar winds caused an unexpected collision. One of his rocky brethren, through a series of complicated ricochets, smashed into him, jarring him loose from the pack. It happened, these things—not so much anymore (things have settled down since the big bang)—and accidents are inevitable, and when one is presented with the immortal expanse of time that is due all of the heavenly bodies, anything is possible.
And so it was that he was sent forth into empty space, with no time to bid farewell to the rest of the asteroid belt, just spiralling uncontrollably through the frictionless void. Could it be this was the answer to his prayers? Was he, through some mad twist of circumstance, destined now to take the long journey towards the resplendent gleam that shoots out through the dark to warm his stony heart? He tried to collect himself, to get his bearings, to calm down enough to ensure that he wasn’t just fooling himself into false expectations. But no. Gloriously, it did indeed seem that he was heading straight for the object of his affection.
Drunk with anticipation, he almost wanted to shut off his senses, to live off of hope. For he knew that throughout the long trip, countless things could go wrong. A stray comet could slingshot his trajectory and befoul his destiny. He could find himself in the path of a wandering planet, or a hungry white dwarf that would tear him apart particle by particle, oblivious to his perfectly focused desire. He just wanted to sleep, oblivious to the worrisome forces that he could not control, and wake up in her embrace, enraptured until the end of time. Luck had got him this far, but this seemed too important to rely on it any longer. Yet he had no choice, he was as much a pawn of the spatial tides as was the rest of the universe.
Millennia passed, and things were looking good. Every day, as in times past, she winked her lucent wink, voicelessly sang out her brilliant song, each one more full, more potent than the last. Soon, he saw not only her measured beam of hope, but managed to make out, through the gassy maelstroms, her demure, luminous form. It was not long before she danced before him, spilling her radiant light to saturate his welcoming pores. It was all too much.
He was here, at last, by her side. Everything he had hoped, everything he had dreamed, had been handed to him, finally and inexorably. He found that all of the thousands of years he had spent on his journey, planning things to say to win her over, might as well have been only a few seconds, for words were all lost on his tongue. He was, simply, overwhelmed with the moment.
Finally, still tumbling in the heady rapture of her vibrant ambience, he struggled out his destiny.
“O my bright and shimmering beloved…I have finally come. I…I have shot through the light-years at last, to be here, now. For so long have you sparked your signal out to me, and, as I always knew one day it would, the celestial host has seen to it that I made my way to this final point.” Her light cut long shadows into his pocked surface as he tumbled slowly by her side. “Every day your brilliance shone out the question, and I would not deny you my answer, which, though I am small and brittle, I hope will justify the immense warmth in which you have bathed me for so many sublime eons. I have never been so content as I am at this tiny moment—no thought, no circumstance, no hope has brought me such exquisite peace as I know now. I am, finally, yours.”
She edged slowly on her axis, as she had since the dawn of creation. Whorls of superhot gas played across her blinding skin. Sunspots, continent-sized beauty marks, shimmered like drops of oil in an autumn puddle. He sensed that just beyond her horizon, a solar prominence spilled forth like a quick breath, and licked the empty blackness. She seemed to swell, in what he assumed to be a moment of silent passion.
“Asteroid,” she began, “know this: I am but a pulsar. Once I was a star, but eventually I exhausted my supply of hydrogen, and collapsed into a neutron star. In the change, this one spot upon my surface merely became the focus for the constant ejection of accelerated charged particles. As I rotate, these waves of energy sweep uncontrolled across the blanket of space. Vanity of vanities, you have ascribed meaning where there is none.”
Appropriately, at the same time that his molten heart abruptly and painfully cooled into a flaky cinder, he realized that his long course through space had not brought him within reach of her gravitational field—that he was not able to maintain orbit. Had the irony been able to pierce through the all-absorbing sense of loss, he would have laughed. The pull of her immense gravitational mass was not matched by the pull of her siren’s call.
It was no sadder, then, that he was left alone with his broken thoughts to soundlessly drift beyond, into the cold, unforgiving blackness of illimitable space, forced to endure the ceaseless, mocking winks—the systematic, indifferent clock that counted down, with such perfect precision, the rest of time.