One Last Night at the Carnival Before the Stars Go Out Caroline M. Yoachim
Lady Earth went to the Galactic Carnival in a gown of watery blue and earthy green, with a shawl of swirling gray clouds. The back of her gown was black, but decorated with the lights of thousands of cities. Her pet, Moon, trailed behind her.
“Guess your mass, Madam?” Mars asked, teasing.
She twirled for him, showing off her gown.
“You look lovely,” Mars said. “Even the Great Ringmaster could not conjure anything so beautiful.”
Lady Earth wanted to hear more about the magician, but Moon tugged at the ocean of her gown, eager to see the attractions. Venus hurried by, dressed in thick clouds and looking uncomfortably warm. Mercury followed. He asked, as he always did, “Can Moon come and play? Please please can I play with Moon?”
He was gone before Lady Earth could answer. She turned her attention to the bright lights of the Constellation Animal Show — bears and lions, dogs and fishes, all sparkling brilliantly as they leapt through hoops and balanced on tightropes. Lady Earth munched on meteorites as she watched the animals, tossing an occasional treat to Moon. The back of her gown brightened as her city lights spread and merged, covering her land and even her oceans.
The constellation show was popular with children. Lady Earth spotted Halley and Apophis running around and gawking at the animals, surrounded by scores of other comets and asteroids. Apophis paid no attention to where he was going, and almost collided with Lady Earth.
“Be more careful,” she warned, for even at the carnival there were sometimes tragedies. “Remember what happened to Shoemaker-Levy Nine!”
Poor Nine had been watching His Majesty’s Many Mighty Moons — a spectacular juggling act — and had run into His Majesty himself, the great King Jupiter. Nine had broken up into pieces and burned away, and there was nothing anyone could do. So sad. But Apophis paid no attention to Lady Earth’s warning and continued at top speed, careening away into the blackness. From the exit of the constellation show, Lady Earth saw the magician Mars had mentioned. The Great Ringmaster pulled planetary nebulae seemingly out of nowhere. Excited by the show, Moon ran circles around her, eager to see where the rings would appear next. Her darling pet would have loved to chase the brightly colored rings, but she kept Moon’s leash short, as she always did.
Mercury whizzed by, so enthralled by the show that he forgot to ask if Moon could come and play.
Another nebula appeared, and another. A bluish one here, a rainbow ring there, and a delicate band of pink and gold that appeared like a halo directly above her. Some were so distant they looked like points, others were close enough to see every detail. Lady Earth searched the blackness, trying to see where the rings came from, but she never managed to look in the right place at the right time. She was so engrossed in the show that she didn’t notice Mars until he was almost upon her.
“The Great Ringmaster will perform his trick on Sun in a moment — you’d best step back a bit,” he said. “And, I must say, your natural black is gorgeous. I always thought the lights were a bit much.”
Lady Earth’s beautiful lights had all gone out while she was watching the magic show. She wondered what had happened to the sparkling cities, and decided that perhaps the Great Ringmaster had dimmed the lights in preparation for his trick. She hoped it was only that, and not a more permanent change.
“Hurry,” Mars said, disrupting her thoughts, “and come away with me. It isn’t wise to linger when the magician makes his nebulae.”
Mars was forever asking her out, but never with such urgency. He was a nice enough neighbor, but Lady Earth wasn’t sure he was worth leaving orbit for. Besides, who would watch Moon if she went out?
Lady Earth was about to say no when a section of her gown caught fire. Half a continent of fabric lit up with tiny jets of flame. Startled, Lady Earth jumped out toward Mars. A good thing too, for Sun transformed into a giant ball of red flames. If she had stayed on her normal path, Lady Earth would certainly have perished. As it was, her gown boiled away, leaving her with no oceans and no atmosphere, only molten rock laid bare for all to see.
But that was not the worst of it.
Poor Moon was lost to the flames. Even at the carnival there were tragedies, and Lady Earth had not pulled her beloved pet out fast enough. She felt more naked for losing Moon than for losing all her oceans, clouds, and lights put together.
Eventually Sun shrank away, small and dim, drained by the magic trick. All around Lady Earth the blackness of space had changed to reds and blues and yellows and greens, but she hardly noticed the nebula that surrounded her. Instead she searched the inner orbits for her lost pet, but she searched in vain. There was no sign of Venus, or little Mercury. He and Moon were together now, burned away and gone.
Mars and Halley and even King Jupiter came and gave her their condolences. Mars offered her Deimos, for he had two pets and liked Phobos better anyway — but Deimos could not replace Moon. Lady Earth was stripped of everything she held dear, and nothing could cheer her.
Or so she thought.
But when Mars swept past again, Phobos and Deimos cast their shadows on him, and in those shadows Lady Earth saw the tiny glowing lights of cities.
Moon was lost, and her gown was ruined, but perhaps one day her cities would return to her. Their tiny lights gave her hope enough to keep moving. After all, tonight was the last night of the carnival, and she had much to see before the stars went out.
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