It begins with an explosion: his mother. He isn’t born yet, but he’ll be made from the bits and pieces she leaves behind. Star-stuff. She’s also left some heavier elements, extra dusts and gasses he’ll have to figure out what to do with later.
He comes together slowly. It takes much longer for him to be born than it took his mother to die. She was beautiful in those last moments, though, as she blasted into oblivion. He can remember it in his molecules, which used to be part of her, of course. She was everywhere at once, every color, every shape. She did everything light can do, all at the same time. He misses her. Maybe he has brothers and sisters in some distant corner of the galaxy, millions of lightyears away. It doesn’t matter. They’ll never meet.
He’s trying to be a good star. He creates things, using whatever he finds at hand. Gasses are easiest to gather, so he makes some baubles with those. But they don’t do much. In fact, they’re kind of boring. He tries to toss them aside, but they follow, spinning in lazy circles wherever he goes. His galactic orbit takes him past a scattering of little rocks, and he takes some, mashes them together. They stick better than the gassy things, but still they’re not much fun. He tries to throw them away, but they’re heavy and awkward, and he can’t toss them very far. Soon they’re orbiting him just like the gassy things.
He misses his mother.
A comet zips past, and when he grasps it he discovers ice. What a strange and wonderful substance, he thinks, melting and freezing, melting and freezing. It’s hard to master, though. When he tries to make it into a planet, it melts and falls apart. Then he has the brilliant idea of combining ice with crushed asteroids. Gravity works its magic and . . . voilà? No. Definitely not voilà. The ice evaporates and he’s left holding another hot little rock. He tosses it away, but like the others it hangs there in space and follows him around without really doing anything, another reminder of his shortcomings.
Making planets is the only thing he’s allowed to do and it sucks.
He can barely remember his mother, whom he never really knew in the first place.
He tries to ignore his ridiculous creations, but they won’t leave him alone, circling around and around and around. Is this what it’s like for all the stars, he wonders? The whole galaxy, the whole universe, feels flat, stale, tired. If only he could melt away like his failed ice planet. But he’s a star. He has too much gravity. Too much him. And he knows, because he was there when it happened to his mother, that before his life ends he will swell unimaginably red and huge, and it will be unbearable. He’d take the explosion that follows, but he’s not even sure he’s big enough; he might be one of those stars who collapse into a tiny white rock not unlike these stupid failures he can’t get rid of.
Still, he does what he can. He bears down and tries to halt the trillions upon trillions of thermonuclear reactions happening inside of him at every moment. All he gets for his trouble is a series of farty flares and a few new black spots in embarrassing places.
He can’t help it. He shines. He’s a star.
He’s lost track of time, forgotten his mother.
But what’s this? Something . . . sparkly? He’s supposed to be the sparkly one, but one of his planets is sparkling too. And . . . is that ice? It sure is! Did the ice planet experiment work after all? As he settles in for a closer look the ice starts to melt. He pushes the planet away, just a little. That’s better. Then he sees one of those puckish comets careening straight for it and gives it a tug so the comet swings wide. But now it’s too close again, and the bits of ice that cap it handsomely at either end are starting to melt. He pushes it away. Another comet. He sends this one wide too, but here comes another, right on its tail. Oh, for heaven’s sake! He loses his temper, gathers the rest of his asteroids, and flings them wildly. For a moment this feels like a pretty good move: the asteroids settle into a belt, and another incoming comet is destroyed. But no, now the asteroids are being pulled out of orbit towards his favorite, one by one, and he knows he’s the one causing it, but honestly gravity physics is so complicated and he doesn’t know how to stop.
As he’s batting away one asteroid after another he notices something about the planet he hasn’t seen before. There’s something . . . on it. Stuck to the surface and moving from place to place. Lots of things, actually. He doesn’t understand what they are or what they’re doing, but he likes them. They make silly noises and stomp around and chew on each other. It’s fun.
But now, disaster. He’s taken his eye off the ball, so to speak, and here comes another asteroid, quick and wily, and it’s too late to pull it off course, and before he quite knows what’s happening the worst possible thing of all has happened; it’s struck his planet dead center, and now the whole thing has erupted in fire and smoke and ash.
There’s nothing he can do to fix it.
He turns away. He knows the planet will freeze, but he doesn’t care. It’s dead now anyway.
He starts worrying about the future. He thinks he feels himself getting bloated, even fat, and wonders if there isn’t just the faintest reddish tinge to his rays. It’s probably nothing, he tells himself, but he hasn’t paid much attention to the passage of time lately. He wonders if his mother felt like this when her end was near. She probably made the best planets, he thinks. Way better than mine. She never would have let them get smashed up by asteroids. She was the best star.
For the first time, he cries for her.
He’s idly playing a game with the biggest of his gassy things. It’s not much fun, but there’s nothing else to do. They’re competing to see who can throw an asteroid the farthest. He’s a little surprised by how good the gassy thing is at this game. Not as good as he is, of course, but pretty good. It’s stronger than it looks.
As he’s winding up for a real zinger he notices that the gassy thing’s orbit is bringing it closer and closer to his favorite planet, the one he ruined. He’s about to turn away when something catches his eye. The planet is green again, and blue, with wisps of white across its face. Prettier, even, than it was before. How is this possible? It isn’t. And yet, it is. There’s so much he doesn’t understand. But maybe his planet has more things on it now. Maybe they’re even better than the stomping, chewing things that were on it before.
He’s afraid to look.
He’s glad, now, that he made the gassy things. He’s experimenting with the biggest one again, tugging it this way and that, and he sees that if he places it just right, it does a lot of his work for him, slinging asteroids and comets away when they get too close. He’ll still have to keep a close eye on his planet, to make sure nothing terrible ever happens again.
It’s hard, caring about things.
He wonders how long his planet will survive.
He’ll have to wait and see.
Spread the word!