Star of Darkness, Star of Loss...

by Megan James © 2002

Johannes Kepler wiped his forehead with one ink-stained hand. He dipped his quill into the well, then let it rest there as he thought, trying to knit the ideas that swirled in his brain into coherent words.

A gust of wind forced its way through the cracks in the walls and chilled the room, giving brief new life to the low embers in the fireplace. The glow caught Kepler’s attention and he threw a handful of papers from a desk drawer into the fire to feed it until he could call for a servant to bring wood.

As the letters burned their words snapped and crackled in the air like icicles during an unexpected thaw. ... congratulate you ... your amazing discoveries... surely a scholar and astronomer of highest honor... with sincerest regards... Emperor... Kepler smiled. Ah, but what would the Emperor have to say to him when his new “Harmony of the World” was finished?

He returned to the half-finished manuscript. Where had he been? Yes, the periods of the planets’ orbits. Ellipses, beautiful ellipses, the squares of the periods of two planets proportional to the cubes of their mean distances from the sun. Yes, the other astronomers and the Emperor would embrace this. He had earned their trust and admiration. He dug through the papers. But this? Mi-Fa-Mi, the aria the contralto Earth sang its orbit, with Saturn and Jupiter on bass, Mars in tenor, Venus twin to Earth, and Mercury soaring above in soprano. Major, minor, their songs blending together in perfect harmony. How would the others react to this news, to the symphony of the planets?

The words weren’t coming. Perhaps it was time for a diversion, some harmless entertainment. With a quick look around, he slid a key from his pocket into a small door in a corner of the room. It opened on oiled hinges to reveal his toy, his pride, his Carriage of Time.

Its crucial parts - the vitality and the controls - he had salvaged from the damaged Time Carriage the Travelers had left with him years before. He had repaired it himself, following the inspiration of his dreams and the seafarer’s ditty it sang to him while he slept, using parts he sketched on paper and wrangled from the local blacksmith.

Where would he travel this day? To again watch the behemoth creatures thundering across the valley? To see the ice that once covered his homeland? Perhaps to the future? Humans might be amusing, might stimulate his thinking and writing. He attached the pads to his head and thought to it, told it to take him 500 years into the future.

The men he found were also astronomers, to his delight. They did not seem surprised to see him, or to hear that he had traveled from the past. They inspected his Time Carriage carefully.

“Look,” said one, “its drive came from an old model L20!”

The other man whistled. “They don’t make them like they used to, do they?”

They had heard of him. “Johannes Kepler? As in Kepler’s Three Laws of Planetary Motion?”

He dipped his head and smiled. “Only three? I had hoped for a few more.”

One of the men leaned toward the other. “And the ‘ingingSay anetsPlay.’ ”

He made a small circular motion with one finger near his head and raised his eyebrows.

The other nodded and raised his eyebrows in return. “Oh, yes, I remember. The ingingSay anetsPlay.”

They had a telescope, marvelous and wonderful. Above and beyond anything Galileo had ever imagined, surely. When Kepler stroked it he could hear its song, a rumbling bass. I am mighty, I am mighty, I make distant staaaars bow.

“Have a look,” the men told him. “Tonight will go down in history, make us as famous as you are. It’s only fitting you should be with us!”

“Have you found something new in the heavens?”

“Not quite. Tonight the theoretical becomes the discovered. Would you like to be the third man ever to see a black hole? Well, not the hole itself, of course, but its location? It’s pulling in the matter from a neighboring star.”

“A black hole?”

“A star fallen in upon itself, so dense not even light can escape its gravitation.”

Oh, glories! Something new, unspeakable wonder! Kepler trembled in his eagerness to place his eye to the viewer.

In less than a breath he jerked his head away a cry. “Aaaiii! No!”

The men grabbed his arms to support him. “What? Did you hurt yourself?”

He staggered back to look again. As the sight filled his view, the thin streams of light whirling into an abyss, he again heard the song of the black hole, the no-star, the star-that-had-gone. Echoes reached out to him; not a dirge, not a wail, but a thrumming refrain of loss, of desperation, a mother searching for a lost child.

Kepler’s knees shook and a sob tightened in his throat. “All gone,” he moaned. “All gone, and she can’t find them. All gone.”

“What nonsense is this? What do you mean?”

“It’s not a small star, not a star fallen into itself. It used to be a happy star, a full star, with planets crawling with living creatures.” He pointed to the telescope, urging them to look and hear for themselves. “But they were wiped out, smeared from life by the cruel blows of war. Oh, the grief! They’re gone, all gone! She looks, rending through our space in search of the netherworld where their spirits dwell, but she can’t find them. Hear, hear now the chorus! Gone, all gone! I will find you, I will find you, where-ere you go. I will find you. She’s torn a hole through space, and pulls the other star after her, and it cries aloud in fear! Can’t you hear it! Can’t you?”

Kepler didn’t know how he returned to his time carriage. He didn’t remember placing the pads on his scalp and thinking it through his trip home to his own time. He only knew he sat and wept.

I will find you, I will find you, where-ere you go. I will find you. Rachel, weeping for her children.

x x x

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