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  • Writer's pictureAlan Allinger

Pleiades Lost

Mother and I were walking through the cemetery, and it was either late or early depending on how you think of such things as sunrise or moonset. Looking up into the night sky at the constellations burning coldly above us, we both paused at the same time mid-stride, arrested like a pair of matching statues, each of us holding up an arm to bar the other’s path. We looked at one another, and then back up at the inexplicably damaged sky.

“Orion is there,” I said, pointing. He was where he always was in the February sky at this hour, and that was reassuring. I turned my head a little to confirm that Taurus was still where he belonged; the Bull hung in his proper place, and that was good. My arm kept moving, tracking across the stars until it hit the spot that held only six of the seven Pleiades. I counted again, to no avail, and Mother, frowning slightly, nodded in confirmation. When part of a constellation goes missing a lot of odd things can happen, and most of them are not good.

“We’ll have to look for it,” Mother said quietly, now fully engaged and ready to solve the problem. Her cousin is a star, I think.

“We won’t have to look far,” I commented, pointing. Mother gave me a sidelong glance because I still can’t resist being a smart ass on inappropriate occasions when I know it will annoy her. We moved forward then, until we came to a halt a safe distance from the silent and unmoving fallen star. I had always thought stars to be humanoid, so this was doubly surprising.

Mother squeezed my elbow for a second, a brief warning not to approach closer. I nodded in acknowledgement and waited placidly, still puzzled by what we saw.

“What do you think happened?” I asked as we regarded the dull sphere of celestial matter and the bright beam of light that fell just beside it. Mother’s eyes flashed and blinked as she stared at it intently for a moment, her irises changing color several times until they returned to their usual bright blue.

“This is Celaeno,” Mother said decisively. “It looks as if she fell after quarrelling with her sisters about something, or perhaps they toppled her from her place.” Our eyes met, for it is difficult to know what stars might quarrel about. I pointed at the beam of light which fell well short of touching the spherical form of the seventh sister.

“If someone is trying to get her back,” I said, doing mental calculations, “that beam can’t be corrected, now. The sky lightens, and the Pleiades are too low on the horizon. That’s as close to her as the light can get.”” Mother nodded in agreement.

“It would seem,” she said with a small smile, “that they are having second thoughts. Or, more likely, Orion is attempting a rescue.” I gestured widely in question, and Mother shrugged in answer.

“We’ll need to roll her into the beam, sometimes these magics are time-sensitive. Help me get her into the light.”

I stepped forward and lent my efforts to hers. The round, compacted form of the fallen star was incredibly heavy, but our strength is not that of mortals, so after a few seconds of straining we forced the ball of dark matter into motion. It trundled happily into the proper spot, the ground shivering beneath its great mass.

\As soon as the light touched Celaeno she became a silver-skinned woman with night-black hair clad in a simple shift, who stared at us impassively for a long second. She nodded, and with a flick her fingers the star sent a small shining thing flying gently towards my mother. Mom caught it one handed, then hissed and dropped it, shaking her hand from the heat. The sparkling gift lay steaming upon the ground at Mother’s feet.

Caelano then lifted one hand in what might have been a preoccupied gesture of thanks and ran, gracefully and quickly, straight up the beam of light into the sky. She moved so fast she blurred after the first few strides, vanishing from sight within a score of heartbeats.

“In your opinion, was that a good deed where we rescued an innocent victim,” my Mother asked into the silence of the brightening darkness, “or did we just send an assassin back into the aether to be avenged upon her own family?” I paused in turn to consider this and we stood looking down at the still smoking pecan-sized diamond that lay scorching the earth. I supposed that was what stars are made of.

“We would have done the same thing, thinking it the right thing, in either case,” I said at last. “So- does that part of it matter?” In answer Mother smiled and gestured at the remaining stars in the now unseen constellation.

“It may matter a great deal,” she said, “to them.”

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