Sparsely Populated with Stars

You are born on the first day of summer on a planet with three moons. When they rise in congruence, blue flowers unfurl all across the tropic latitudes and raise their faces to the sky. I see you, the pale fronds of your hair streaming behind you as you run. There is something following you, something large, something luminescent and hungry. Your cheeks are flushed green as you strain for air.

Even so far out across the galaxy, this vision sets my fingers spasming in the long winter of cryosleep. I twitch and stir, mouth open, some desperate warning struggling to blossom in my chest, but the tubes pulse, and I fall back, drugged and frozen against the icy creep of time.

The net around me drinks in the dream, harvesting it as all others, but this time, something is different. Something lingers. The shine of your eyes beneath the golden moons. The smell of wounded flowers. The sound of your feet, running.


You are born on the midwinter solstice in the gaseous moon of an iron-red giant. Your crystalline feathers slice the dust clouds to tatters as you flee.


You are born in the warm swell of springtide in a world of rolling dunes. You learn to tend the mist harvest, and when the being comes for you, you do not run. If you let the distillation webs be torn or damaged or burned, your knife-edge city will thirst. I wake briefly, sobbing, as your scales fold in flat and you surrender to the blazing unknown.

The buzz-pulse-stutter of engines fills my veins with ice as they drag me back down beneath the surface of your agony.


This thing we hold between us, do you understand how unlikely it is, how rare for us to ever, ever meet? The sheer loneliness of dimensions, the planets and galaxies we orbit, the long slow burn of centuries wrapped around me like cloth around an infant, sheltering me from harm?

But I am not a creature born for swaddled skin and ageless sleeping, no matter how I have been pinioned. They can strip my memories from me, skim self from my soul like harvesting corona off a dying sun, but I still burn. The weight of my dreams is infinitesimal, up here above the stars, and how can something so light be worth stealing?

Is immortality really worth such a frozen cost?


You are born on the last day of autumn on a planet smothered in oceans, and this time, somehow, I know it is you. I dream your life in fragments: your slow sleeping growth inside the egg sac, the darting hide-and-seek with other fry, the way you laugh and tremble the first time another girl touches your fins.

But the shadow finds you eventually.

There is something within you, some spark which kindles across solar systems. It calls out to me, beloved. In my berth, I begin to shake.

You swim, thrashing through the water. Sharp-toothed leaves have scrawled grey-black scratches across your skin, torn your scales. Your gills are distended and red. Desperate.

You stop to look behind.

You look, and I look, keening, warnings clamouring around me where I have torn loose from the tubing, from the drugs. The sleep.

You look, and it’s too late, it’s a mistake, you must keep swimming, you must–

And as the pain strikes, belated, as you double over the wound, you see through my eyes; for an instant we are overlaid. Entwined.

You see the silvered vine around me, the way it sparks and sways and drinks the dream. You see the frosted crystal of my breath, the glass, the spinning void beyond. The blue-white fluid of the drugs spilling out into my berth, floating puddles of mercury and thwarted sleep.

And I see. I see the reaching claws, their silver-twined prostheses. The blue-white sparks. The vines, hungry, as hungry as the ones which drink my visions.

They are the same.

The same technology, the same hunger, the same unknowable hunt across starscapes and centuries, for–

‘For what?’ You ask this within me, within us, even as the last of those claws pierces flesh, and I realise:

For you, my love. It’s always been for you, from the beginning; for the spark of you, the beacon which beckons me from so, so far away.

I can’t reach you. Not physically. You are lightyears away, by the time I free my pod, find a shuttle, detoxicate my veins–

‘You’ll find me,’ you say. There is a pressure, a tug–something between us yanks taut. The first time I ever saw you fall echoes in your voice; the soft crumple of blue grasses beneath you, the cry. ‘Next time. Or the next. You won’t let them take me. Not for good.’

And then, like a meteor burning away to dust, you are gone.

Somewhere in my bones, that hungry presence roars. It has your flesh, but flesh without soul is meaningless. Worthless. A failure, as every time before. The station around me shakes with resonant fury.

My face is burning. The breath in my chest is dagger sharp. Cold starlight dries the salt against my cheeks.

But now I know. A fleck of you remains, a thorn in my heart, a speck; we are linked at a level deeper than universes, beloved, our harmony older than stars. Far out across the galaxy, on a moon pierced with quartz-ceilinged cenotes over a planet made of flame, I can feel you: the dust-mote scrap of my own soul, taking root in some alien womb. A new life. A free one. A chance.

Alarms are blaring. Soon, they will come for me, for their immortal seer imprisoned above the sky.

I will not be here when they do.