My Sister Loves the Moonlight

Lilaey likes machines. Born to the stations and raised ship-board, she finds the bowl of blue sky above them stretches too . . . much. Too high, too distant and too open. No definite end to it. No boundaries. Born to the stations and raised ship-board, she can envision far too clearly the world on which they stand. Sees it very vividly in her mind as a marble, the way it looked from the docking station moored above. Pictures it small as a marble and shining gold and blue against a darkness as never-ending as the sky. A darkness that is the sky. This blue stretches into it, turning dark and deep and cold as the atmosphere thins; stretches so far that it touches the earth of other worlds the same way it touches this one.

In her mind, she sees the star maps, spheres and dot and the ellipses of known trajectories, spinning around each other, looping, twisting, turning. Clouds scud across overhead, massively tall and white against a sky so deep and rich a color she hardly thinks she can call it 'blue'.

If she looks up, it feels like they're spinning. Like she can feel them spinning. Like she can feel the planet hurtling along its orbit. It's roughly two hundred days to the year here. A short year, but long days. The planet isn't dense enough that its gravity is crippling, but it's large. The horizon is as further away than Lilaey's ever seen it, and blurred by the haze of atmosphere--water and dust and whatever else made up the air here--it's barely visible. It almost looks like the edge of the world dissolves into the sky, no distinct boundary between land and a drop into forever.

Except its not a drop and Lilaey thinks hard about spheres and the shape of planets and reminds herself that there is no drop. No edge she can fall off.

Lilaey misses having walls around her. Misses the hum of engines and pumps and the gentle hiss of circulating air. Here there's only wind, and it's silent unless it catches the leaves of a tree or the edge of a building, and sets to rustling and howling.

It's eerie, even in daylight, but it's worse at night when the howling sounds like it comes from far away, farther away than it ever could on any station, mournful and lonely, but the wail is probably lost in all that sky, in the distance between worlds and stars.

Avan says "Animals," unperturbed in the face of all that never-ending dark, even at the prospect of some creature roaming about out there, on the dunes and rocks, calling and calling. Searching for companionship that might be miles distant.

The distances on the surface unnerve her. Ship-board there is no where that can't be reached within minutes. No one that can't be contacted at the touch of a button. Today they spent five hours traveling and the scenery didn't even change. The skin of this planet has so far been rocky and jaggedly sharp in the manner of young landscapes, but mostly it's flat. Flat and a sandy gold underfoot, and overhead it's blue, blue, blue, and both are so bright in the day that she can barely stand it.

So dark at night that she can barely tell them apart, and if it wasn't for the solid ground beneath her feet--hard packed and uneven with stony rubble--she thinks it would feel like floating in space, in the distant, dark sky, without machines and halls and station lights set to human cycles.

The days are a little too long on this planet, and thought she knows it can't be, the nights seem longer yet. As blindingly dark as the days are bright and so empty it's almost painful. Ship-board, station-board, there's always someone practically in reach. Here, on the surface, there's nothing but space and distance.

Avan calls it 'room to breathe', and walks so far across the empty land that she becomes a speck of muted white, even the crisp brightness of her shirt disappearing, swallowed by distance. Further than anyone could go without turning a corner, were they on a station, but not out of earshot.

Voice carried here, in the silence. Bounces off rock and hard earth and maybe off all the nothingness, and comes back doubled and tripled. The next time Avan calls, it sounds like there's three of her, and whatever animal is wandering the rocks too far out for the human eye to see answers it with that forlorn, rising cry, a note that holds and holds and holds before it finally fades back to silence.

Lilaey tries to judge if the animal sounds like its come any closer, while mimics it--poorly--and waits expectantly for a reply that never comes. When they hear the animal again, it's far away, baying among the shallow, craggy gulleys, and getting farther by the minute.

Far away on that distant, near invisible horizon, a line of pale light appears, then grows. Becomes full and fat and bright and far larger than it has any right to be. Magnified by the curve of the planet. Illusion. Lilaey thinks of ellipses and trajectories and orbits, but it doesn't make the moon any smaller. She can see craters and valleys in the shadows on its surface.

Avan looks away from the dark where the animal is wailing again, and lifts her face. Meets the light and grins and probably doesn't once think about distance and emptiness and how the sky above them continues until it is the sky above that moon. Until it is the sky above everything.

Lilaey thinks about rooms and hallways and ceilings, but it doesn't make the sky any smaller.