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The Planetarian's Tale

13 August 201802:36PMfictionscicommhighlight

"Have you ever seen a star, kid?"

The kid nods. Who hasn't?

"No, a real one. Outside."

Confused, the kid shakes their head. Stars live inside, everyone knows that.

"When I was a lad," the traveller begins, "you used to be able to see the stars at night."

The kid's eyes roll. They'd asked for a proper story. This was a fairy tale.

"Before the City crept its way out here, before the smoke and light came, you could see entire galaxies stretching out over our heads."

"But they built, and they built, and they built. Blocks became houses, which became offices, which became skyscrapers. And eventually, they scraped the stars right off the roof of the world."

"People complained, of course. We knew what we were losing, even then. 'The Dark Sky movement', they called themselves, and they told us we were losing the dark. But progress is progress, and progress marches forwards. People cared. Just not enough."

"Instead, we built a fake sky to sate them. We sold them tickets and told them stories of what used to be theirs by birthright. The sky became a luxury, a novelty, and we convinced them it was the same thing."

"It's not the same. Not even close."

"Stars aren't fuzzy blobs you can reach out and touch, that you can catch and hold in your hand. They're cold and bright, and sharp - so sharp it hurts.

"They do their best with software and lenses and xenon, but all they'll ever have is fuzzy wishy-washy things stuck inside a basement.

"A real star is a true point source. It's a pinprick tickling your retina, an impossibly razor-thin edge honed by billions of kilometres of dispersal and backed by the energy of an entire sun. The starlight that hits your eye is a single, uninterrupted beam that stretches from you out into the universe, splayed out thread by thread to the very limit of human perception."

"The night sky is the crispest, highest definition thing in the universe.

The traveller falls silent and stares into the distance. The kid lingers, awkwardly, realising they're intruding on what's fast becoming a private moment.

"At night, we used to see stars."

"And they say, kid," he says as he picks up his pack, "That if you get far enough away, you still can."

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