A Patch of Night
- By S. J. Fujimoto -
I drifted alone through the void, feeding on dying starlight. I absorbed it through my surface. My world was infinite blackness dotted by points of twinkling, distant light, and I was content.
Imagine my surprise when I met someone else out there.
Sensing another consciousness was a jolt, ripples running over me. Unfamiliar signals activated within my mass. Thoughts, feeling assaulted me. For the second time in my life I felt panic; however, unlike the time living starlight seared me, my instincts didn’t tell me what to do.
My mass flared out in a writhing flood of rays. How was it possible, meeting another intelligence? Could it harm me? Could I eat it? I flailed, trying to grab at the presence.
Don’t be afraid. I won’t hurt you.
I slowed, but kept my arms at the ready. “Where are you?” I asked.
A moment, if you please. The presence fell silent but remained close. I spun about in place, extending my senses in search of the intruder. In a moment, I had it: a solid rectangle, tumbling toward me from below. It was not mineral or ore but something organic. The shape flipped past me and abruptly halted at my side. I had no time to observe it closely; the rectangle split open to reveal an organic being, small and bipedal, in a space beyond.
Hello there! the other greeted mentally. It extended a limb tipped with tiny digits. Won’t you join me? I dare say we could both use some company.
Confused, I reached toward the being. I could crush and devour it without a second thought, but since it didn’t appear to mean me any harm, there was no point in doing so. I touched the rectangle and the space inside it. For something apparently two-dimensional, it held a remarkable amount within. The energy inside made my feelers tingle pleasantly in ways I had never experienced. The solidity within was strong and unyielding.
The being reversed, giving me room. Accepting the invitation, I slithered into the new space, pouring myself through the rectangle. On the other side, a heavy force slammed down upon me, pooling me over a flat surface. I quivered, shocked by the assault.
“Apologies,” the being said, not with its thoughts but through invisible waves emitted from a hole that opened in its top-most extremity. “The gravity in here must be very strange to you.” It leaned over me, appearing much larger than before.
Even so constrained, my senses spread out over this eerie new space. Many rectangles surrounded us, some fixed to the same surface upon which I lay while others drifted above. Other solid objects cluttered the space: platforms in squares and ovals, some standing on four supports and others on one. Some of these platforms held smaller round objects that emitted hot vapours from small protrusions, their purpose beyond my comprehension.
“Can you stand?” the being asked. It noticed where I was looking. “My tea sets. I have so many now!”
I pushed against the force, and found it yielded when I put my strength into it. Deducing that the being’s shape gave it an advantage in this location, I drew in my mass and compressed it, extending four limbs: two to stand on and two to gesture with. I formed a top extremity for myself in crude approximation of the being.
I took a wobbling step, then another. How strange to move under my own power, or to halt completely. The sudden freedom was disorienting.
My host nodded. “Very impressive. You adapt quickly. You even have a head now.”
The vibrations it made when its hole opened were profoundly disturbing even though it seemed friendly. What are these waves you’re making? I asked it.
The being gestured to its head. “Sound,” it answered. “I project it through my mouth and it travels through air. We call it ‘speaking.’”
I split my top-most extremity open, reconfiguring my internal mass to draw in and expel air. “Sound . . . Speaking . . .Mouth . . .”
“Look at that, you’ve got it!” Its mouth split and curled up at the corners. I forced mine to do the same, which drew loud, repeated vibrations—sounds—from the other. I read joy from its mind, so I tried making the same sounds, provoking further reaction.
The being calmed down and I went silent, too. It moved to one of the platforms balanced upon four rods and placed itself upon it.
“I’m called Mathesis Ilm Trilby,” it said. “Do you have a name?”
Name. I looked at my limbs, searching for an answer, but nothing came to me. Why should I have one? “No. Never anyone to communicate with until now. No name in memory.”
Mathesis Ilm Trilby nodded. “Makes sense. But we’re communicating now, so it would help to have a name to use. May I offer a suggestion?”
I had nothing better to do and was curious how it might name me. “Yes.”
“‘Night’ is the name that comes to mind when I look at you.”
Night? The word wasn’t familiar. “What does this mean?”
Mathesis Ilm Trilby leaned toward me, the object upon which it sat emitting sound as it moved. “You’re like a patch of night torn from the sky and set adrift through the cosmos, twinkling with life.”
“This does not answer the question.”
“Then I just have to show you!” Mathesis Ilm Trilby sprang from its spot, dashing to one of the many suspended rectangles. “Follow me!” it said, pulling open the rectangle and throwing itself through. Beyond, I perceived a solid surface instead of the emptiness of space.
“What is this?” I asked, motioning to the rectangle.
“A door!” came the answer from the other side. “I’m very fond of doors because they allow you to leave a place and enter another. Imagine that!”
I looked at the “door” and the way it framed what lay beyond. Somehow the space I was in was separate from deep space and the surface Mathesis Ilm Trilby had ventured out onto.
Slipping through the door, I found the surface there covered with an organic field of thin, pointed shapes. They brushed my lower limbs, leaving moisture on them. Behind me was the door, attached to nothing; it stood in place with nothing supporting it.
“How do you like the grass?” my host asked, indicating the wavy organic carpet. “Grass, wild and uncut!”
I planted a limb with digits down into the grass, letting the tiny blades poke me. Shivering at the sensation, I raised my head and looked up. A darkness like space spread out high above us, a multitude of stars mere points dotting it like frozen sparks. So this was what it was like on a planet with atmosphere. I had always wondered but feared being caught by gravitational forces.
“Look at it,” my host said, throwing its limbs wide. “This is night! It’s what space looks like from behind an atmosphere, while the planet is facing away from its sun!”
“This is night . . .” I repeated. It was so . . . different to see the stars like this. Distant with the solid ground beneath me, and I could see everything without drifting. A new perspective.
“Night . . .” I said again, and took off, propelled by my lower limbs. My mass shifted as I moved, my limbs broadening and flattening. With a leap I soared into the air, gliding beneath the sparkling night. Moving in an atmosphere was strange, but it was also pleasant in its own unique way, the air rushing past me.
“Night!” I called down. “I am Night!”
The door appeared to my left, keeping pace with me. Mathesis Ilm Trilby poked out and waved.
“I would like to stay here for a while!” I said.
“I thought you’d like it!” my host yelled back.
“Thank you, Mathesis Ilm Trilby!”
“You can call me ‘Mathesis’ if you want. No need to say the whole thing, friend.”
Friend? I had a friend?
I weaved and flowed through the atmosphere, a patch of night torn from the sky, no longer drifting but moving as I willed; no longer alone but with a companion. In my excitement, I failed to take note of my surroundings.
A vast beam of light struck my new face directly, causing my senses to explode. I flew on without guidance, struggling to regain equilibrium. My body rippled in stinging pain as it tried to adjust.
“Night?” Mathesis asked from somewhere. “Is everything all right?”
My senses returned. I perceived a field of electricity beneath me, endless lights lining a sprawling grid from which towering, glistening structures rose. Columns of harsh light stabbed the sky, roving aimlessly. They danced and burst around me. My surfaces burned and my senses whirled.
What is this? I mentally screamed, continuing to fly. It hurts!
It’s a city, Mathesis thought, alarm creeping in. This is where people live . . .
I swam about in the air. Every direction brought only more pain, more confusion. Get me out! Please!
All right. Just hold still for a moment . . .
I couldn’t keep my shape any longer. Limbs dissolved back into my own form and I plummeted. My awareness turned straight up, as far from the light as possible, and I was stunned by what I found.
The night sky no longer had stars.
My consciousness ceased.
I awoke, my senses returning slowly. When I was complete again, I discovered I was back in the door space with Mathesis beside me.
“Ma . . . the . . . sis . . .” I said, struggling to make noise.
“Night?” It turned to me, placing its digits on my still surface. “Are you feeling better?”
“I will be fine. I think.” I rose, slowly easing myself back into a bipedal shape.
Mathesis lowered its head. “I’m so sorry, Night. That planet is inhabited and has reached a technological level where their cities flood the night with light. I first brought you to a countryside to show you a clear night, but didn’t think to warn you about city lights.”
“It is fine,” I said. “I failed to explain how light can hurt me. The light of a star up close will destroy me—once a planet faces its star, direct exposure will kill—but the city light still hurts and disorients.”
Mathesis fixed its sensing organs on me. “Do you wish to return to space? I can show you to the door back. Or you can stay with me and travel to other dark places.”
Back to space, all alone, without the freedom to move. No, I no longer wanted that. “Stay with you,” I said. “But I want to see more of the planet at night.”
I left my resting place and walked to the endless doors. “I want to fill the city’s sky with stars again. I want to tell them to look up and see what they forgot.”
Mathesis followed me. “If that’s what you want,” it said. “It will be hard work, finding a way to clear their nights once more. It would give me something new to do . . . for a while at least.”
“Thank you, friend,” I said, and turned to a door. Not only had I found a companion and freedom, I had also found a purpose.
© 2019 by S. J. Fujimoto
S. J. Fujimoto received her bachelor’s degree in Africana Studies from California State University, Northridge, where she also served as a copy editor of the student newspaper. Her work can be found in Anathema and she can be followed on Twitter @S_J_Fujimoto.