You Choose To Be Bright

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I find her in a pile of her broken wings. She’s like my grandmother’s drawings from decades ago, from her travels before the gates closed.

My generation was the first to never experience flitting from planet to planet. People with speckles of gray in their hair and lines in their faces mourn the loss as if their beloved died.

Our community is built on sadness, but I never engage in it. What’s the purpose of demanding access to distant shores when they’ll forever be inaccessible?

They’re only driving themselves to ruin. There’s much to love on this lonely moon. I’ll live and die here, so I’ve learned to enjoy it.

—–

It’s a beautiful world, though the sight before me is anything but stunning. She lies sprawled across the road on my way to work.

I’m of the age deemed responsible enough to decide how to fill time, provided it benefits me, my chosen family, and society at large.

I run the local bookstore, Books, Our Assurance. Two millennia have passed and people still say books are dying. We’ve reached a stage where we’ve cured most diseases and extended life to just under two centuries.

For our technological advancements, our brains are living in the times of cave people. My profit margins beg to differ.

After society collapsed, people lost interest in most inconsequential things, books included. Though we’ve had time to recover.

Our resident guardian has restored the net. I avoid it at most periods, though it’s proved a lifeline for our troubled middle-aged folk.

My dwellings are on the outskirts of the principal city, and provided I keep a brisk pace, I reach the bookshop in half an hour for opening time.

Today, though, I’ll be late. A smart one of our kind developed a scientific discipline of molding our bodies to a chosen planet in the Galactic Expansion age.

Fast forward hundreds of years, and we’re divided into subspecies suited to our homeworld.

The system made it difficult to achieve travel between the worlds, but we managed.

My people are suited to the warm, humid climate of our small moon, which has a select biome of river basins and towering rainforests. It rains most of the year.

Since gravity here is low, and there is little flat land here, we’re tall and light. Our guardian deemed building the roads of our ancestors unsuitable.

We created swinging walkways hung from the trees instead, which are difficult to brave when you’re young, though give it a few years, and they’re effortless to cross.

She’s lying a few meters away on the bridge way I’m standing on. I’m thankful she landed here, for the ground is a mountain’s worth of height below.

I rush over, pressing a finger to her shuddering ribcage. Her four-chambered heart thuds with a furious speed and rhythm.

If I remember correctly, it’s supposed to run at that speed.

My knowledge of the others in this galaxy is patchy, though from what I gleaned from my grandmother’s sketches should be sufficient.

She’s stocky and short where I am tall and willowy, a purple-blue crest of feathers on her forehead, transitioning to more familiar pale amethyst hair. It’s spread around her like a halo.

Wings are her crowning feature, though they’re bent at angles they should never be. In this state of ruin, they’re still stunning, a rich kaleidoscope of the same colors as her crest.

They’re twice as wide as she is tall, and the individual feathers flutter in the upper-canopy wind. How she ended up here, twenty-five parsecs away from her home planet, is anyone’s guess.

Though that isn’t relevant now. She needs medical attention. Our guardian failed to restore documents on inter-subspecies relations.

She’s breathing, thank the suns. Her pulse is too fast, and her breathing is ragged and shallow. Her skin feels clammy.

The obvious signs of shock. She’ll live if I can stabilize her. Though how do I do that? Her heart is racing, but that’s not the problem.

I’m no medic, but she’s my responsibility now. I shift her onto her side and place a hand under her head. She spasms in pain, and her broken wings shudder.

Blasted infernal gates!

I still my heart and calm my breathing. I place a hand on her forehead, my thumb on her chin. When I close my eyes, I see my energy flowing into her.

I move my hand down to her chest, my heart thudding in time with hers. I close my eyes, and ease it to a slower, more natural beat.

Her breathing slows, her shuddering subsides, her heart beats at a gentler rhythm. My knees hit the metal walkway as I slump down beside her.

Despite my exhaustion, it’s fascinating. I’ve never heard of evidence of our subspecies calming someone who isn’t of our kind.

It hits me this is the first time this has happened in decades, and a thrill tremors down my spine. Though it’s soon replaced with fear.

What will others do if they find out she’s here? I can’t alert anyone else to her presence, especially the older folk. She can decide what to do once she heals.

—–

I pick her up, cradling her in arms I’m still growing into. She’s shorter than most here, though my size is normal for my people.

The bookshop is near, and I trudge through the trees with haste. At this hour, the rest of our moon doesn’t stir, and I have the streets to myself.

I haven’t seen my mother in years, and grandmother I’ve only seen in my dreams. I’m told I had a brother, though he left long ago, before the gates closed forever.

The display windows look like smoky mirrors, but the door’s large, hand-carved sign isn’t: Books, Our Assurance. The store is a haven of knowledge, each book like a doorway to another world. Just peeking at the spines of the books, I can see worlds of space and alien worlds that exist, realms of people and creatures I’ve never imagined.

The bookstore has a wooden exterior, grown out of the majestic tree, leaving its pleasing natural hue. It has a small, second floor porch, with a rocking chair and a green garden chair. There’s the bridge way below, and a few solar street lights illuminate the street. Their service won’t be needed in half an hour when the suns rise. The books radiate a glow that illuminates the interior like the sun’s warmth.

Stacks of books tower to the ceiling, some reaching the highest heights of the multicolored stained glass windows. Colors that shift and move, reflecting the time of day. Books are a wonderful blend of fine paper, the glue that binds them, and the ink that fills their pages. It’s a marvelous aroma, one I never grow tired of.

The books are so old; they feel like they are alive. Running my fingers over them makes me feel like I’m petting a dragon. As I ascend to the second floor, I feel the smooth surface of the bookcase and the gentle slope of the stairs. I run my hand over the small garden chair, one I painted myself. I run my hand over the head of my hearthstone to feel the grooves carved into it by a long dead and forgotten craftsman.

The books beckon you to touch them. The pages feel like polished silk, smooth and warm. It’s a mausoleum filled with the echoes of generations, each a memento to us, to those who had long forgotten their history, who had forsaken us.

My people are descended from the original inhabitants of the galaxy.

However, we were the unfortunate ones who experienced a great cataclysm. We no longer live as one, divided into subspecies.

We’re a memory of what was. I never tire of this place. It’s a haven for me, a comfort and a refuge. My home. It was because of our subspecies that this galaxy flourished.

We were the caretakers and guardians of our small moon before the gates closed. Or, at least, that’s what grandmother told me in her drawings.

She told me of a place that no longer exists. Grandmother never told me where she came from.

I’ve searched my entire life and never found it. Her greatest wish was to see it restored, and people brought together again. I place her on the small couch near the front window.

I retrieve a blanket and drape it over her. It’s cold, but that won’t last long with the rising suns. I bend over her, my hand on her forehead.

Again, I reach out with my mind, and my energy flows into her. I close my eyes and visualize her heart thudding. I send her energy to her limbs, coaxing blood through her veins and cells. I can only do this in short bursts, for otherwise I’ll tire beyond repair.

I open my eyes and look over to her. Her breathing remains shallow, but it’s calmer, and her heart beats at a more logical rhythm.

Her eyes are still closed, and I hope she’ll sleep for a while.

—–

I build a fire in the hearth, and set a kettle of water for tea on the hook above. The suns rise over the far horizon, the orange glow of the eternal flame growing stronger.

This is a ritual I perform every morning as they bathe our moon in their warm light. I notice her wings aren’t as damaged as they first appeared. The feathers flutter.

They’re a magnificent specimen, with more than a dozen shades of purple. The wing has at least three breaks. I’ll have to ask her what she needs.

If it heals, she could fly again. What’s it like to leave the ground? I would feel the wind on my face, unbound by this small realm, seeing the world beyond.

I’ll need to ask her what happened to her. She’ll tell me of the one who betrayed us all. The one who closed the gates. I don’t know if I want to hear this tale.

The story of what happened to the rest of our kind isn’t something I wish to relive. That period is a blink of the eye compared to what we lost.

I gave up hope long ago. I’ve accepted we’re no longer who we once were.

The water whistles, and I pour the tea into a small floral teapot. I pour a cup and take a sip. It’s a lovely blend, with a hint of jasmine.

I know it well, it’s my favorite. The suns rise higher, but warmth isn’t necessary. I appreciate the light, however. I’m startled out of my musing as she stirs. Her eyes open to meet mine, and she takes in a sharp intake of breath.

Her eyes, a pale purple, widen in disbelief. I smile in greeting, pour a cup of tea, and place it beside her on the small table.

According to Grandmother’s extensive research, this blend should calm her nerves.

“Do you have a name?” I ask, praying she speaks the common language of decades prior.

She smiles, the simple gesture a welcome relief in the anxiety of the last few hours.

“Cleo,” she whispers, her voice a gentle murmuration, musical and soft.

She has a name. With every second, she becomes more of a person.

Thank the suns.

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