Story A Day, Day 2 – Of Void

Header image by the European Southern Observatory under Creative Commons 4.0.

Somewhere far, far away there existed a village, existing far away as nothing more than a floating island in the void of space. The village was enclosed by high cliffs, but this had never stopped anybody from sitting idly on them as the walls were nothing more than the edges of the high forests and open plains. You could reach them from the many paths upwards from the forest or even sometimes going up the walls. When the residents of this village stood at any of the edges and looked out, they saw the stars in every direction. From anywhere in the village, you would only have to look upwards and you’d see them. Every week or so the people would wake and they would find everything they needed at the glade at the forest at the highest point of the island. People had tried to see it firsthand, but they’d never been successful. The village took this to be a gift from the universe and were thankful in return. Nobody truly knew how old the island was. Maybe it was as old as the stars themselves.

The day everything was set into motion was the day a lone traveller arrived. Some say he was drifting for an indeterminable amount of time, some say he’d strayed from his original destination, and others would say it was fate; nobody, not even him, knew how he got here. He wore thick white clothing with some sort of equipment attached and was tapping something held in his hands. With his greying hair and weariness, he looked like he was somewhere between 40 and 60 and wore a confused yet concerned expression on his face as he put away the device and slowly walked away from the clearing towards the forest and towards the first building, the town hall.

“Where am I…?” He faced the first person to step forward, a man slightly larger than him with and around 10 years older. “Excuse me, do you know where I am?” The mayor responded. “Welcome! This is the village of Terna. We haven’t seen anybody from out there for a long, long time.” The mayor paused, briefly remembering that what he was doing was in fact the right course of action. “We have plenty of places for you to stay. Come, we’ll get you a spare room in our village hall.” The traveller politely smiled but still seemed concerned. “Wait. I…still have some questions.” He stepped forward and took a breath. “I am Adam Reyes. I work for an agency focusing on space travel. I was on my way to a planet to set up some equipment there but before I know it, I’m lost and nowhere. They won’t be making the return journey for a month.” He seemed desperate when he asked. “Do you know anything about where we are? How I could get home? Even how I could contact them?”

A silence fell. Half the village was watching from a distance and two boys of around 13 sat on one of the high forest walls watched, faces hidden by shadow cast by trees but still seemed somewhat sorry for someone so far from home. The mayor looked down, sorrowful, then looked up again. “I’m sorry. I don’t have any answers. All I can offer is a place here.” The traveller smiled more warmly this time. “I’ll take it.” The mayor’s advisers, a young couple, both laughed faintly out of relief, for they knew that no matter if he made it home or not, he’d be alive and well.
The traveller was shown his room and was changed into more suitable clothes. He was given food and drink and things to pass the time. The mayor’s advisers even took time to show him around Terna. “Here!” One half of the couple exclaimed. She looked up at the tree standing taller than the rest of the forest. The other half walked up slowly beside her and put on a lighthearted face that dared him to do it. “I’ve never seen anybody climb that tree. The branch missing from the middle means nobody can get up there.” Despite his training, he backed down “Well, I don’t know…I haven’t climbed trees since I was a kid.” In unison they protested. “Come on!” “Well,  here goes…” The traveller climbed the tree with some difficulty due to his time spent in space. But he’d trained long to get where he was now, even if it wasn’t the place he was aiming to get to.

The couple showed him pools and streams in the forest for relaxing, open spaces to watch the stars, and the traveller talked with some of the village. He was proving popular for someone who spent so much time in his room at the back of the village hall building. But his week was nearly up and still his efforts to contact the others failed until late on the 27th night when his device lit up. They were somewhere in the area and they’d found him. whatever “this area” was. He didn’t notice them until he heard the villagers outside talking amongst themselves. When he stepped outside, his ship was at the side of the edge of the plains past the forest walls. It was time for him to go.

He said his goodbyes, of course. He thanked the mayor for his hospitality and letting him stay here. He thanked the advisers for showing him Terna and for being good friends. And finally, he thanked the village for everything as he made his way up the path to the plain, waving all the way. He could occasionally make out the things they were saying. “We’ll miss you!” One of the advisers shouted, or maybe even both. Some of them were even thanking him.

He told his companions everything that happened and what he had learned. He knew where it was or where it could be but wondered if he’d ever go back or if he’d ever find it again.

Terna was also reeling from the experience, nearly dizzy from the excitement. They spent a few more months living their lives until something shook them to their cores. The stars were beginning to go out. Maybe they were, or maybe it only looked like it was, but something was terribly wrong. They started receiving less and less from the stars each week. It was barely noticeable from week to week but they knew it was less. They could still last a long time like this, but it was anyone’s guess how quickly the stars would be fading from now on.

A year after the visit, Adam made a return journey to the planet his workmates had set up the equipment on. He’d almost forgotten about Terna due to his work. He was only reminded when somebody said something. “Huh.” One of them said. “Seems to be a few less stars around here.” One of the others spoke. “Sure about that? I don’t think they’d go that quickly.” Adam looked out. Sure enough, there were a few less, and he felt worry. It took him a minute to remember why, them he realised who was in trouble. He told them he had to go there. “Why? We’ll wait until after we’re done.” “Who knows what could happen if we wait? We have to go.”

He convinced them to go in the end. When he got there, the villagers seemed tense even if they were happy he was back. “Ah.” The mayor said. “Welcome back! We’re happy you returned, but…” One of his advisers spoke up. “The stars are going out. We’re getting less and less each week.” It was clear that while he knew what was happening, he wasn’t sure what to think about it. Nobody wanted to say it but the stars were going out at an alarming rate now. The familiar traveller didn’t seem too frightened. “Can’t we help you?”

Their faces didn’t seem any less troubled. “No…” The mayor said. “We’re not meant for a world like yours. We couldn’t live in a place so unfamiliar.” The advisers remained silent, but this confused the traveller. “But why? Don’t you all need help? You can’t go on like this.” The female adviser looked up with an expression that could have been empty hope, fear or something else. She was staying strong either way. “I’m sorry. If we left, there’s no way we could go on either. I hope you understand.” “But don’t you want some life instead of staying here until the end? You wouldn’t have to live exactly the way we do. There would be room for you to live the same way you always lived. Come on.” The mayor agreed with some uncertainty. “Alright. We’ll go with you.”

They went with the travellers…no, explorers, to their home. They had a similar place in a remote forest somewhere on the planet. It was strange to them that there were other people so close to them, even if they didn’t think it was close. They survived, and the village got used to it as the generations went by. Even if it wasn’t the same, even if they weren’t on Terna anymore, they were still alive.

The next time anybody tried to look for Terna, it wasn’t there. Some say it still roams the cosmos for reasons beyond anybody’s understanding. Others would say it was fate.

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