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Wishing Star: A short story (As we are in the midst of meteor showers, I thought it appropiate.)

August 13, 2015

WISHING STAR

The stars clung stubbornly to the sky, the sunrise a pale blossoming in the east. As if extinguished by the breath of a god, one-by-one the stars disappeared before the growing light. Birds sang, their voices exuberant, each one greeting the new day according to the ritual of his kind.
Jean stood, face framed in the window, the dawn’s gathering light filling her eyes with colour and hope. Sleep – a luxury Jean had done without for months had deserted her. Every night, next to her husband of thirty years she lay, eyes closed. Body tense, mind racing. Like a shadow of a wish dawn came, weeping away some of the stress, the fear and trepidation, and replacing it with fresh hope, for another day beckoned. Jean turned, smiled at her sleeping husband, recognising the peace of rest that seemed to smooth the wrinkles on his face. She turned towards the bedroom door and caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror; change, illness, worry, silent tears had sculptured with cruel chisels fresh lines on her face, and had taken away her shape, causing the once shapely, curvaceous woman to appear thin and haggard like a tired wraith. Her eyes, deep sunken twinkling, offered a silent plea. She ignored it, ignored the internal suffering, the blight of knowledge and walked downstairs.

Jean sat in her garden, the flowers of summer surrounding her, the mists of dawn still lingering, and she shivered slightly. This was her favourite part of the day, this was where hope was born, where memories gave birth to feelings, and feelings gave solace to the aching emptiness of the inevitability of fate. She sighed and smiled to herself, taking in the beauty of the new day – the trees, the flowers, the sky, the sun. An oasis amongst the Hurley-burly of the city.

High above an airliner rumbled, graceful and tiny, climbing into the clouds, flying towards another land. Jean squinted up at it and thought of the passengers, the people who sat in the cylinder of flimsy aluminium, darting towards their dreams, their expectations and lives hanging in the hands of god, and the skill of the pilot. So many hopes, ideas, thoughts; so many aspirations crammed into one aeroplane, but so much could be lost, one wink of destiny, one cruel flinch of chaos could tear all those dreams apart and scatter them into the winds. Jean had only been on an aeroplane once when she and her husband travelled to Spain. It terrified her, every moment in the air an age, a nightmare of white knuckles and fear. But, she considered, maybe if the plane had crashed then, she wouldn’t be where she is now, instead she would have had a quick easy death, and not the lingering potentially agonising one the doctors had promised. Would it have been easier to die thirty-thousand feet in the sky than in a hospital bed drugged to the eyeballs? She glanced up at the plane, but it was a dwindling spec, caught like an insect between heaven and earth. She shrugged, and felt selfish – at least she still had time with Jim – Jim the first and last man she fell in love with, the man, who even now made her heart trip and her stomach tighten. Jim who wore worries like tattered clothes, but remained strong and optimistic despite everything. Everything – the word lodged in Jean’s consciousness, inhabiting the pathways, the secret tangled roads, unseen and hidden from the scrutiny of the outside world. Everything – the word sat heavily and waited to be joined by another word. “Changes.” Hand-in-hand the words ran through the tangled undergrowth, chanting, taunting like wicked children. “Everything changes, everything changes!” Jean whispered, mouthing the loathsome words and closing her eyes against the beauty of the light. “Everything will change now,” she breathed, remembering the doctor, his words like a firing squad. “I’m so sorry Mrs Summers, it’s cancer.”
“Everything changes,” the birds seemed to sing, twittering their dismay, a counter-point to the hopeful dawn. And then there was Jim, he had sat there and squeezed her hand, silent tears betraying his breaking heart.

“Hello dear,” Jim said, sitting next to his wife and taking her hand, resting it on his knee. He smiled warmly and kissed her tenderly.
“You’re up early,” Jean observed.
“The sun woke me. You ok?”
“Fine,” Jean nodded, watching a blue tit.
“Breakfast?”
“I don’t think I can manage it, the medication….” She trailed off as a blackbird called.
“Just a little. Toast, egg?” Jim implored.
“Ok. A scraping of marmalade.” He smiled and walked towards the house, leaving Jean alone with her thoughts, and her birds. The birds she fed diligently in winter, and watched avidly all year round, observing the cycle of life; nesting, breeding, hatching, fledging, hunting, feeding, fighting, dyeing.

“Soon be time for the Delta Aquarids.” Jim said, sipping his tea. “I missed the Lyrids this year.”
“I wonder if I’ll be around to see them next year,” Jean mused. Jim looked sad, and she immediately felt guilty for her words. “DO you want a new telescope for Christmas?” she asked, trying to lighten the mood. Jim shook his head.
“No, truth is, I’m getting to old to stand in the cold and gaze at the sky. Think I might sell my telescope, we could go on a nice holiday.”
“But you love your telescope, you love astronomy.” Jim shook his head mournfully.
“It’s ok love, things change, I’ve other priorities. We can still see the meteor showers,”
“Our shooting stars,” Jean said, recalling when first they met at a dance. Like a true gentleman Jim had offered to walk Jean home. They walked, hand-in-hand, relishing the closeness, the balmy night air. He looked so dashing, and she looked so beautiful. They had stopped in the lane, the farmland stretching out on either side, the road empty and dark. In wrapped, enchanted silence they marvelled at the spectacular magic of the Perseids. Clinging to one another, the sky erupting in silent fireworks, streaks of fire tracing across the sky in marvellous colours. Thirty-five years ago Jim had explained to Jean, unlocking some of the secrets of the universe, and wrapping her in his infectious enthusiasm. Filled with wonder and joy they walked on, the only people in the world, love as bright as the stars, and as pure as the heavens.

“I’ve still got my first telescope,” Jim reflected, munching toast. “A tiny refractor, I loved it. I saved up for it for ages, doing odd-jobs and a paper round. I remember the first time I looked at the moon with it – took my breath away.” Jean smiled with him, and for a moment they shared time, and nothing else seemed to matter.
“Tomorrow,” Jean began, “If I feel up to it, shall we do the garden?”
“If you want… I should dig up that tree stump. Last year’s storm did for it.”
“Really?”
“Yes, it’s rotten, it won’t be too hard.”
“I might prune the roses.” Jim arched an eyebrow. “If I feel up to it,” Jean conceded. “I want to do as much as I can before the radiotherapy.”
“I know.”
“I’m scared Jim,” Jean said, reaching across the kitchen table for his hand.
“It’ll be ok love, I promise.” He smiled, and for a moment Jean believed him. “We’ll beat it together,”
“Will we?”
“Course. Doctors don’t know everything.” He shrugged, wishing he believed his own words.
“We don’t have long Jim,” Jean’s eyes sparkled.
“We’ll make the most of everyday. I love you so much.” Jean’s heart squeezed and she felt warm and full, her husband’s love a palpable thing, a silken embrace of warm energy that she could grasp and hold. They embraced clumsily, ignoring the spilled tea, clinging to one-another desperately, seeking and finding strength, drawing on each other’s reserves of courage to see them through another day.

She lay, cradled in Jim’s arms, exhausted and drawn. A day of fresh air, conversation and toil had suspended reality, pushing aside grief and knowledge of the loathsome enemy, who, like a marauding monster, ate away her life. Now, darkness enshrining her, reality thudded In and hit her like a fist. She shook with silent sobs, realising that she had changed, that she was weaker, sicker, and the pain was a constant companion, like a jagged shadow made of grating glass. “Let me stay alive long enough to make sure Jim’s ok,” she whispered. “Let us see one more meteor shower together…” she pleaded into the dark, a wretched voice in the still room, the night air still warm with the kind breath of summer. Jean sighed and closed her eyes, willing sleep to take her, to anaesthetize her against the fear.

She didn’t know what woke her, because she didn’t realise she had been asleep. She lay, eyes open, pupils fighting the dark, mind fighting confusion. Then she smiled as the vague glimmer caught her eye. She rose on one elbow and gazed out of the window. The night sky was dark, the air still, but a streak of light burst across the heavens, for a moment illuminating the window in a pale green glow. Breathlessly Jean watched the display, her heart quick, excitement and awe filling her. With gentle words and a even more gentle touch she woke her husband and they stood, arm in arm, each sharing in nature’s miracle.
“Let’s go outside,” Jean whispered.
“Now? It’s late…”
“I know, but it’s special.”
“Do you feel up to it love?”
“Just. Come on Jim.”

They sat on the bench at the end of the garden and watched the streaking meteors lance through the night. Beautiful colours that send shivers down the spine and poetry to the throat.
“Shooting stars,” Jean breathed. “I used to wish on them when I was little.”
“Makes no difference who you are,” Jim sung.
“They never did come true.”
“Make a wish Jean, you never know.” Jean laughed self-consciously.
“It’s silly, we both know they’re just burning pieces…”
“Shhh,” he urged, “Don’t spoil the magic.”
“Wishing stars,” Jean whispered. “I wish, I wish,” she cleared her throat and a magnificent flash of light exploded, sending sparks of multi-colours racing silently into the atmosphere. “I wish we had more time, I wish I could be well.” Jean said, wiping a tear from her eye and holding Jim tight.
“Tomorrow,” he whispered, I’ll finish digging up that stump, then we’ll go to the hospital. Ok?”
“Ok,” Jean nodded and shivered. As another silent flash illuminated the dark sky.

• * * * *

“Reach for the stars,” Jean’s father said, calling her from beyond the vail of dreams. Her sleeping face smiled, and she saw his face in the crowd, exuberant joy, bright and utterly without self-consciousness. In her dream Jean saw herself on stage, the bright spotlight illuminating her curtsying figure. Applause and cheers swelled, pride threatened to overwhelm her as her partner came on stage. He took the applause, and together, holding hands they clung to the perfect moment, for a moment forgetting their exhaustion, their aching legs and feet. The Nutcracker, a slice of magic, reality suspended, disbelief left outside the theatre doors, a celebration of music and story, dance and enchantment. Jean saw her father stand-up, tall amongst the audience, cheering loudly. The spotlight grew brighter, it felt hot, it filled Jean’s eyes, filled her senses, and flooded out of her dreams to mingle with reality. She tried to wake up, but she could not. She tried to open her eyes, but her eyelids wouldn’t move; she tried to raise a shielding hand against the fierce light, but she was paralysed. Inside her mind the applause intensified until they seemed like a roaring oppressive wave of sound. The curtains closed – darkness, the light extinguished, and like a bird she began to rise, a strange swooping sensation that made her stomach lurch. For a moment she tried to fight it, but she soon realised that it was a futile struggle. Silence, darkness, no applause, no light, no stage. She hung, suspended in darkness, awareness gone, only the feeling of fatigue, and the dull sense of fear, for she was sure she was dead.

• * *
The vast expanse of the galaxy elongated, contracted and seemed to disappear as the intergalactic pathway opened, a wormhole created by tachyons and quarks, that threaded into the fabric of being by super-advanced technology – science indistinguishable from magic. The craft, a scouting vessel erupted from the funnel of light and engaged its sub-light speed engines. They had timed it perfectly, choosing to enter the small solar-system and orbit the third planet from the star the same time as a meteor shower hit. They knew from past experience that the creatures of this world were slowly evolving, and that sometime soon they would have the ability to find and scan them. The ship, accompanied by a flash of light from the super-heated bubble of plexigen that covered it’s bridge, and the collision of protons as the wormhole cllapsed, went into geo-stationary orbit and shut-down all primary systems.

This species had visited earth before, the first time was many millions of years ago when their flagship crash-landed. Earthlings speculated that this caused the death of the dinosaurs, but their theory of a meteorite impact was naive and very wrong. Strange, as there was so much evidence to suggest the presence of extraterrestrials. Not only the slow drip feeding of technological knowledge throughout the ages that seeped into the subconscious of the few, but also the visitations. Earlier in man’s history they called them demons, spirits or phantoms, their likenesses painted on the walls of churches and dotted throughout the artwork of the renaissance. Latterly they had been known as “Greys,” because of their hue. Many people had told stories of abduction and experimentation, but few had believed them. However true or untrue, the fact was that a handful of people had been “abducted.” However, false memories were placed in their minds to cover up the true nature of their meeting with the aliens.

In appearance the Greys were tall and thin and had large almond shaped eyes. But in truth, in the same way there were many forms of homo sapiens, there were greys in many sizes and shapes; from four feet tall to nearly twelve feet tall. From pale, to dark, thin to stocky.

* * *

“ Please don’t struggle or panic, we mean nothing but peace,” the gentle voice penetrated the dark curtain of sleep and Jean opened her eyes. Swimming above her was a face, pale, narrow, wide-eyed, yet strangely caring, compassion like beautiful angel fish clear in dark pupils. “You are aboard Scout 114, you are safe.”
“Am I dreaming?” Jean breathed.
“No, you are not. We are currently orbiting home world. See…” with a hand gesture the ceiling silently rolled aside to reveal the earth, bright and magnificent, gleaming like a radiant god given jewel. “In a while you will go to the DNA replication unit.”
“I want to go home,”
“You will female, soon.”
“What are you?” the creature paused.
“All questions will be answered presently. Please comply and then our commander will assess, greet, converse and process you. Then you will be debriefed.” Jean tried to rise, but she could not. An invisible force field held her captive and she lay back down, exhausted. “Sorry for the incarceration,” the voice said, disappearing from view. The ceiling closed and jean was in near darkness apart from a scatter of tiny overhead lights that sprinkled white light, but illuminated nothing of Jean’s surroundings.

A wave of Norcia washed over her as she felt herself moving backwards. A door opened and she was in a circular, grey corridor. Around her she could vaguely hear the sound of footsteps and from far above she could vaguely hear the sound of muffled voices. Motionless on her medical platform, she felt confused as she hovered upwards towards a dark tube. Darkness enveloped her, until with relief she found herself in a brightly lit room. She turned her head and could just about make out a bank of what appeared to be computer screens. Although she didn’t know it, she was looking at a complex neural network, a living computer that almost had senseance – more advanced than anything humankind had yet conceived, it turned the craft from a machine operated by people, to a hyper intelligent, self-diagnosing, self-aware, self-healing piece of biotechnology, complete with hyperspace drive, advanced dampeners and a neural net. This packed into a craft with living quarters, medical deck, science deck, recreation deck and bridge, all protected by a dome of plexigen and polymexon stress conductors. To the human eye the ship looked like a flash of light, but with intelligent analyses it would look like a transparent sphere, a bubble of technology with a multidimensional Translight engine, fused into the hybrid neuro-processor.

“Hello,” the voice made Jean jump. “I am your designated contact.” She recognised the voice from the holding room.
“I don’t like it here,” Jean sobbed. “I’m not well, I wan Jim, I want to go home.” A gentle grey hand with long artistic fingers stroked her arm.
“Sorry,” the voice sounded neither male or female, young or old; the tight cover-alls giving away no clue as to its gender.
“Where am I?”
“Aboard, safe.” Three other creatures crowded around a bank of screens, seemingly inputting data with their minds, as they didn’t seem to have any obvious input devices. “Your name is Jean Summers, is that correct?”
“Yes,” Jean nodded.
“Jean, we are going to perform a procedure, then you can talk to the commander. This is a DNA extraction plant. We will extract some of your DNA, replicate it, store it and use it.” Jean tried to struggle but the force field was too strong. “Please do not panick, I assure you this will be painless.” With this, something touched her head. “Phase one complete. Now for marrow.” There was a faint high-pitched drilling sound and her arm felt numb. “Done. Now stage 3, cell analyses and regeneration.” She felt a dull scratching sensation and a rush of heat that flooded into her body. “Good, the nanobots are installed. Now for a brainwave analyses.” Jean felt nothing as a wireless device was synchronised to her neuro frequency and her brain waves were assimilated, probed and examined. “Excellent. Finally the full scan.” A beam of impossibly bright light passed over her. “Completed. Thank you Jean, we have everything we need. Now you will be taken to the commander and then after he has answered all your questions we will reformat a memory engram.”

Stillness; the vast, magnificent vista of the milky way spreading out all around her. She stood on the observation deck, a thin layer of plexigen the only barrier between her and the vacuum of space. She turned around and marvelled at the earth, bright and beautiful in the dark. Beside her an alien stood, tall and proud, white flight suit high-necked, eyes large, face serine in the earth-glow. “I know I am dreaming,” Jean breathed.
“No, this is no dream.” The commander said gently. “Please sit.” He guided her to a seat, transparent and warm – she seemed to float in space.
“Where are you from?” Jean asked.
“Home world, earth. We migrated to the stars after the great cataclysm. We travelled the stars and mastered trans-dimensional flight, able to use wormholes to traverse mighty distances. We are from your future.” Jean shook her head.
“Why am I here?”
“We visit the past to save the future. We collect DNA, we harvest cells to make sure humanity survives. If we do not do this, all would be lost. Without it humanity would be dust.”
“What do you do with the stuff you harvest?”
“Cure diseases, enhance the gene-pool, in short, ensure the future of mankind.”
“What would happen if…”
“If we didn’t do it?” Jean nodded. “Nothing, we would die, we would no longer evolve and within a handful of generations humanity would disappear from the pages of history.”
“So, you are saving the future by visiting the past?” the commander nodded.
“We are a species who travel and learn. We know that without visiting home world, the cataclysm would destroy all things. We know from our travels that without our visitations mankind would be too weak to live amongst the stars. We evolved, we fought the universe and our limitations – through visiting home world we learned from our own mistakes, increased our stocks of DNA and wisdom and insured the future.” Jean shook her head.
“What cataclysm”?
“A massive asteroid impact in the year 2013 wiped out the whole of Europe and North America. We didn’t have the technology to survive. But, a few, a chosen group lived in bunkers, the Ark project was born and some people survived the first impact. But the secondary debris caused a new devastation that turned the Atlantic into a wall of water nearly half-a-mile high.”
“Are you human?” Jean interrupted, gazing at the alien. It shook its head.
“Hybrid, part human, through DNA splicing, part Cetian. We visited earth in around 300BC and mated with the populous in Central America and Egypt. We planted or DNA and educated the populous, hoping they would learn. As I said, we come back to take DNA, to make sure that, after the impacts, humanity lives. And it is so, the humans did survive in a hybrid, evolved version that you may have heard called greys.” Jean nodded.
“Why did you come to earth in the first place?” she asked, sighing.
“To destroy the dinosaurs. You see, if they lived, if the mammals were unable to survive and prosper, homo-sapiens wouldn’t exist, and therefore we wouldn’t have existed.”
“we?”
“The pure Cetians. Only through inter-breeding did we survive, for the pure human X chromosome contains a micro-cellular organism that acts as an antidote against an airborne disease that spread amongst the Tau-Ceti cluster.”
“I don’t understand any of this,” Jean shook her head.
“No, it is hard. You are miles above your earth aboard an alien ship. Do you suffer sea-sickness?” Jean nodded. “Very well, maybe it is time to terminate our contact. Thank you Jean, your DNA will prove useful, your species will survive, and the microscopic robots that are in your body will disintegrate within twenty-eight days. However, they may prove advantageous to you. Before we part, I want to show you something.”

Jean stared, open-mouthed out of the plexigen bubble. Never had she seen such heart stopping beauty. The birth of a star – the cosmic nursery, a surging, boiling sea of light. Super-heated protons colliding, gasses of every colour spinning in a vortex of terrifying power. Then it came, the big bang, a magnificent explosion – a blinding, jarring, awe-inspiring, nerve jangling maelstrom that overloaded the senses. “This,” the commander said, “Is where it started, where your sun was born.” A ball of superheated gas, a tiny spec of dust that began to spin. “Here, in billions of years from this now, the earth will be born.” A dazzling panorama of flickering light; tiny stars, microscopic worlds and an immense universe. Then they flew through nebulae, through beautiful coloured galaxies and star-systems. Through solar systems, around gas giants and over barren planets, silent, dead worlds, worlds of ice and aching splendour. On they went to the Triffid nebula, green and gold. They watched the birth and death of stars, the rise and fall of civilisations. Planets of all sizes and geology – and then back to earth.

“This,” the commander gestured with a narrow hand. “Is it. Earth Watch tracked it for nine months, then decided that it’s trajectory would take it away from the Earth.” A huge rock filled the space above their head. “This will destroy mankind in your future. Without us, without the Ark, without our technology and our cities in the stars, all would be lost.” Jean felt a jolt as the ship was enveloped in light and catapulted through a wormhole. When the sense of disorientation had passed, she looked outside. A blue orb swam into view. “You see, the continent of Europe is gone, most of the Northern hemisphere is submerged, and the dust cloud from the first impact has blotted out the sunlight, causing animal and plant-life to perish.” Jean gazed open-mouthed.
“Can you stop it?”
“Of course, in the year 2013, due partly to our genetic make-up and evolution – because we now have the technology, we can do the following. Firstly we can cause sunspots to scrabble radio-signals. We can also jam radar and viewing devices. Then we will, with our larger craft, open a temporal rift in which the asteroid will disappear. It will, in all intense of purpose go into the past and become the world you call the moon.”
“But that means..” Jean mused,
“It means we as Greys will not exist as we do now, for mankind wouldn’t need to migrate. I would sease to exist, and mankind would remain as it is for the foreseeable future.”
“If we wake upon..?”
“In June 12th 2013,”
“On June 12th 2013, and the sky is still blue, we have you to thank.”
“Not just me, all of the members of the Ark project, all of the people who gave DNA to improve our gene pool. Everyone who ever came into contact with us.”
“This is hard to believe.”
“Of course, that is why I will make it easy for you to process by modifying your memory.” The commander smiled at her and nodded. A small robot hovered into view and landed on Jean’s earlobe. It tickled her, but she restrained from scratching. The tiny probe disappeared into her ear and painlessly entered her brain and irradiated the offending tissue.

• * *

“I had the strangest dream,” Jean yawned. The sun flooded into the bedroom, and Jim sat up. “I dreamed I was on stage performing the Nutcracker, and my dad was there.” Jim smiled.
“Ready for your appointment?” Jean nodded. “Nervous?”
“Yes, but I feel ok.”
“Good,” Jim said, getting out of bed.
• * *

The specialists were stunned, confused and totally unable to explain what had happened. When they asked Mrs Jean Summers where she had been having the private radiotherapy treatments, she had shook her head and denied she had had any. Despite this denial, the doctors were sure she had been, for her illness seemed to be completely gone. In fact, there was no trace of cancer in any of her cells. On closer inspection they found that Jean had been exposed to small amounts of radiation, and that there were traces of tiny pieces of metal in her bloodstream. Confused, Jean and Jim submitted to the questions and examinations, but when the doctors could not explain the “miraculous” recovery they put it down to an initial misdiagnosis. Jean and Jim knew this wasn’t so; instead they put Jean’s recovery down to their wishing star.

On June 12th 2013, Jean and Jim sat outside. It was a balmy evening, and they had friends around, sharing a barbecue. The air was still, the sky a deep and perfect blue; a streak of light flew across the sky, then a bright flash and a warm breeze. An explosion of unimaginable splendour erupted overhead, and then all was still and quiet, and Jean closed her eyes and shook her head, as if struggling to remember, or struggling to forget.
“They did it.” Jean breathed, her eyes moist. “Thank you.” She breathed, her heart filling with emotion, her mind with colours. “Thank you.” She whispered before shaking her head and clearing her throat.
“Are you feeling all right?” Jim asked, coming to stand next to her, an arm around her shoulder.
“Yes, I am now. Everything’s going to be all right now. Jean smiled, a tear shining on her cheek.

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One Comment
  1. gonmrm permalink

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