SUNFLOWER IN YOUR WINDOW
“Why would anyone ever believe in god, in afterlife, in any… bullshit of that sort!” Teessasheeg looked past her father, out of the window. Her gaze searched for answers in their small garden and in the bright night sky. “I don’t care, dad, I really don’t care! Buddah, Allah, Jesus, fuck them! Fuck them all!” It was a very old sky, and if you don’t treat Jesus like she does, that would be a two thousand and one-hundred-year old sky since his birthday. But she’s only known it for fourteen years.
Her father had no relation to religion or church or so he always thought.
He sat on the furthest corner of her bed trying to be level-headed and composed, just as he always was, especially at his job that required him to behave, “What does it have to do with that, Teessa?” He tried to look at her, to look understanding so that he could be understood; but he felt that he was on the verge of the breakdown – his eyes only could see the bandage wrapped around his daughter’s wrist.
“Everything, dad! It has to do with everything! I mean…” she tried to help herself explaining using her right hand – she would’ve used the left one too, but the cut on her wrist still hurt badly, “this thing we do, humans, all of us! It’s a snowball of useless beliefs we’re building up waiting to be crushed! And the snow is brown and yellow! Why?”
“I…” Vitsel Sabad had an equally hard time channeling his thoughts, “I always thought that my work helped people see the world for what it really is. And there’s… no need for gods, priests, and superstitions to lead us through life, to make it wondrous, enjoyable.”
“Dad,” she lifted her eyes to stare at him, “why do we live?”
“Teessa,” he coughed twice, “the meaning of life is anything that you choose it to be. That’s the beauty of it.”
“No, dad, no,” Teessasheeg had her answer ready, “The meaning of life is that there is no meaning. Meaning is nothing but a byproduct of our evolution, that’s all. Other animals don’t even think about it. They only know the drive to multiple and that’s that! But we came up with ‘the meaning’ thing and now we paint everything,” she slapped the wall twice, “with that… stupid thing! What’s the point of life when it always ends in death?! You know,” she moved closer to him, cutting the distance of the bed that separated them, “you are the smart movie scientist, the one that the Prime Minister consults with, but you still chose to have a child. I thought that you were smarter than that.” She moved back to her pillow and hugged herself.
“Well, my dear, if I had chosen differently, you would’ve never had this thought!” he pointed at the skylight of his daughter’s bedroom, “See, at least you can amuse yourself knowing that your father is an idiot.” Vitsel winked.
“You’re not an idiot, dad.” She smiled, “I… I’m really sorry for what I’ve done to you and mom, I really am. It wasn’t some teenage… resentment. I know that you would miss me; I know that you love me. But love is always about one’s own ego, and if you really love me, you’d understand my intentions.” She spread her arms and shook her shaved head, “But, once again, love is our social pact, I guess, so I have to stick to the rules. Constant constructs!”
“You are smart beyond your years, kiwi. I could not disagree with you. Maybe I should, the way your mother does. But I won’t.”
“I felt really stupid when I saw blood coming out of my wrist. And scared. So… I am kind of glad that I didn’t go all the way through.”
He hugged her and kissed on the short hedge that was her hair, “You try this thing again, I’ll kill you myself.”
They shared a sardonic laughter. Perhaps they understood each other too well for their own good. Vitsel turned off the lights and went out of the bedroom, outside, into the dark garden where the first flowers of this year awaited for the new day to come: thoughtless, machine-disciplined, but alive and with a strong intent to go on and multiply forever. He breathed in the scents of nocturnal April and smiled, unable to control his tension. He looked at the sky for a while: they shined at him – meaningless stars, all thousands of them, so beautiful in the way that humans evolved to perceive beauty. He stared at them for a couple of minutes. They weren’t staring back.
White meat and vegetables, a fruit drink, a sandwich from time to time – Vitsel enjoyed his usual lunch at his workplace canteen. He worked here for fourteen years, studying stars, planets, and the vast empty space between them. He got this job after Teessa’s birth and his wife always said that those two events were correlated.
“Vitsel,” a wooden tray with the logo of their Facility landed in front of his face, “have you ever thought that we’re stuck?” It was Munkatar, his brand new colleague, young, fresh, and annoyingly cocky.
“What?” Vitsel’s face was grotesquely confused.
“Roll out the deaf brigade!”
“No, no, I heard you. I mean: what the hell do you mean? Stuck with research? We don’t run anything that complex currently–”
“I’ll explain,” Munkatar was not that interested in eating. “We launched man into space, landed on the Moon, launched hundreds of probes, all that stuff, discovered black holes, understood how their work, theorized about wormholes, found none of them, launched supersonic planes, got rid of them, relaunched supersonic planes, planned a Moon base more than a century ago, planned a Mars base a century ago, and for the last hundred years we still moved nowhere… you see where I am going with this?”
He saw where he was going with this and he wasn’t feeling the same way. He wasn’t feeling the opposite way either. Vitsel always had his own view of things. Perhaps that helped him progress in his career.
“I don’t think that we’re stuck. Being stuck means there’s an interruption to the movement.”
“And?” Munkatar was not touching his food.
“There’s no movement, Munk. We’ll never leave this planet. Orbiting would always be our species biggest space achievement.”
“Jesus Christ. And I thought I’m a pessimist.”
“I am a realist. We’ll never see proper sci-fi space travel. Nor will our children or grandchildren. Maybe a useless trip to Mars and back. But I doubt that,” he finished his main course.
“Vitsel, you’re not a dreamer,” Munkatar leaned on the back of his plywood chair.
“I am not, Munk. Can you imagine that bloody thing?”
“The colony ship!”
“It’s a man-made planet! By the time they would construct its last part the first one would become obsolete. And we can’t even mine an asteroid to get the ore. And it’s of no use if you can’t process it. Space travel is overrated anyway. Living on a thing that can’t be fully self-sufficient, running some sort of gravity spinner that can break down any time, tugging another ship with spare parts and radioactive fuel. It’s a nightmare.”
“Now I know that we’re stuck here because of people like you, Vitsel!” Munkatar started laughing.
“Sure,” Vitsel switched to his sandwich.
“No, really, I bet you hate your job.”
“I love it dearly. I just think that we've already scored the goal with our little blue planet.”
“A little blue dot. Lost in the magnificence of space.”
“Yeah, but all the stuff happens here. I don’t get that “tiny unimportant speck in the Universe” crap.”
“And by the way, as far as I know, it’s the safest place for us humans to be: ‘roids and volcanoes are not a threat anymore; pollution is at its lowest point for the last three hundred years. We got rid of plastics. Oceans are clean, population numbers are under control. Even the global bloody warming is slowing down!” he looked as if he was trying to remember something else, but then nodded to himself – there was nothing else to remember, “Yeah. We’re settled.”
“Don’t you want to see the galaxies, the nebulas up close? I would die for that tiny dot to become an abstract painting that I can see in detail, scary in its indescribable gorgeousness!”
“I surely would love to see them up close, but we both know that it would never happen. So I’m perfectly fine here on Earth. I’m not even sure if I want to visit the Space Station.”
“Wow…” Munkatar exaggerated his disbelief, “Alright, but what if our gracious leaders told us to send humans to colonize space because we all are about to die?”
“We would probably be able to manipulate our DNA or terraform planets by the time they would ask that…” he paused himself. “But I’m not sure that we’ll get there. Anyway, the last time I checked our surroundings, we were cruising through space free of any threats."
“Vitsel, Vitsel. Surfing down the happy street. No worries, no concerns.”
“My daughter tried to kill herself yesterday. That’s my concern.”
“Yeah. And the fact that I totally get her reasons for suicide is my worry.”
Vitsel trusted his daughter. He trusted his wife. But he always doubted himself. He came back home with a tiny seed pack. He walked around his one-storey house and entered the back garden. Teessasheeg sat in her room, in front of the window. There was a guitar in her hands, but she was not picking or strumming – she caressed it looking at the sunset.
“Aye, kiwi, come here.”
“Sup, dad?” she put the guitar on the bed and ran out into the springtime warmth.
“I bought you a child.”
“Oh, the Sabad cruelty! Why me, why me?” the girl lifted her arms up to the sky, looked at her wrist, and wondered no more.
“Here it is,” he gave her the seed packet.
“I love sunflowers,” her dark eyes studied the instructions on the paper.
“I know. It will be in full blossom by the end of July. If you handle it with care.”
“Do I have to wash the dishes still?” she smiled with hope.
“These things are totally unrelated.”
There was no hope left in Teessasheeg Sabad.
Asleep but awake, an early summer dream through the waves of heat and wind coming through the window. A white blanket to cuddle with so she won’t be led astray in her sleep. She must be near, somewhere, as perfect as the day they met. Was something wrong or maybe just not right, but it is Saturday tomorrow so he can sleep through his feelings…
Vitsel broke away from the insomnious dreaming. He turned his head to the right – yes, she is perfect even in her imperfections, and this is the way he always perceived her: a being bearing that designated meaning of his choice. There could’ve been another one, but he never thought about it. She is Cyan Sabad.
He wouldn’t bother her. He moved quietly, measuring every step, and it never mattered what he crossed – his life or his bedroom’s wooden floor. He’ll sneak out to gaze at the ever-changing kaleidoscope, the silent spectacle of the firmament. He won’t look inside his daughter’s window – he thought about her often enough not to annoy the teenager with his presence. There was a strange feeling he only shared with his wife – it was a feeling of pride. He rarely talked about Teessasheeg at his job, or mentioned her grades, hobbies, and achievements. He never discussed her “future” with anyone, even with Teessa herself. He wasn’t a proud father; he wasn’t proud of himself – he was proud of her. Whatever she would do, any good, bad, or stupid choice she would make, he wouldn’t doubt her motives. He knew that she was the voyager.
Now, in the middle of the night, she’s probably searching for a path through her dream.
“Oh,” Vitsel saw Teessa staring north, “you alright?”
“Dad! No! Dad, what the fuck, dad?” she was worried and tried to whisper so as not to wake her mother up.
“Hey, come on, stop swearing,” Vitsel tried whispering too.
“Look! Look! You see?!” she ran around him, put her arm on him, and pointed with her finger at the stars.
It took him a second to realize what she was talking about.
“Okay, there must be an orbital interference.”
“Of what size?!”
“Stop screaming into my ear.”
“ ’Scuse me.”
She was probably right.
“Okay,” Vitsel took a few steps to the right, a few steps to the left, “is there a cloud?”
“No, there isn’t! I’m standing here for fifteen minutes!”
“Nightmares?” he tried to find her face, but only found her arm on his shoulder.
“No. I was checking in on my sunflower.”
“Sweet! How is it?”
“He’s doing quite well. Much, much better than my Polaris that is fucking gone from the fucking sky!!!”
“Watch your mouth, Teessa!” Cyan Sabad was awakened.
“Can’t really blame her, there’s a star missing.”
“Orbital interference,” Teessa’s mother knew her husband’s lingo well, “with my sleep.” She walked outside.
“Wow, looking furnace-hot, mom!” the girl made a suitable face, examining her mother’s nightgown.
“You, sweet-talking kiwi, you,” she kissed the girl’s shaved head. “What’s up with your fucking sky? Looks like any other night to me.”
“I gotta check something.” Vitsel returned inside. He felt weird – there was something ridiculous about this whole situation. His greedily obtained knowledge told him that there could be no way for something so important for the whole of humanity to disappear without a trace, so he went to his workstation.
“Shouldn’t we see a nebula? A splash? A schmick-schmack?” Teessa’s head inserted itself through the sliding doors. “A silent ‘poof’?” she poofed. “A bang? A four-hundred-something light year crackadoo?”
“We should. But there is none,” Vitsel was turning white. “I’m getting messages literally from everyone. It’s gone. The North Star is gone.”
It was an improvised canteen meeting with a dozen of heads expressing a range of varying emotions, for example: fear, excitement, confusion, and inability to comprehend the disappearance of the most important star in the Northern Hemisphere.
Vitsel tried to fish some sense out of it all to come up with a full picture, but his head was not feeling it. He just sat quietly, gazing at the cloudy morning.
"Alright, fellows, let's relocate to the conference room," The Boss was here.
So they did.
"I guess, everybody knows by now that Polaris is gone. It happened precisely at twelve A.M. today... GMT, of course. And judging by the data we gathered from all our probes with some photographic ability, and I mean all of them, it is really gone. Unless it is blocked by an object that we cannot detect by any means."
She followed the makeshift report with precise details and visual information. Everyone was interested, yet everyone understood the obvious - it wasn't necessary: the star disappeared and not the way they usually do.
"If anyone has any ideas, feel free to share."
"I think it's aliens, Ma’am," Munkatar shared his idea. No one was sure if it was a joke or not, but no one laughed - everything seemed possible today.
"Not going to argue with that, but I would like to have a further explanation."
“Well. They were running some kind of project… probably.”
“Have we checked for the gravitational effects on neighboring objects?” Vitsel interfered.
“Doing that right now, Vitsel, but at this moment it’s all business as usual. What’s on your mind?”
“I have zero idea, Vizier. Can we be sure that it’s the first such case?”
“We’re gathering that data too.”
“I have a gut feeling that it’s just the beginning.”
The Boss looked even more serious than before, “And that’s what scares me. Because I have that feeling too.”
At least the house was still there. Vitsel got off the tram and looked at the building – yes, it is the same house he’s left every morning. Or is it? He did his usual walkaround and appeared in the backyard.
“Dad! Did you figure it out?” Teessa flew out of her room, “I glued myself to the scopes, but I don’t think that I saw something new. The social networks are going nuts!!!”
“Yeah, I know. I’m glad I don’t have any,” Vitsel stared at the summer sky – it still was too bright to see any stars, especially those that ceased to exist. “I don’t understand a thing, honestly. I am totally confused. The Agency has to come up with an explanation quickly… but we can’t, because there is no explanation. It’s not even a panic… if you ever wanted to see confusion materialised, you should visit the Facility, kiwi, it’s a weird place right now.” He checked his daughter who still wore her oversized t-shirt she used to sleep in, “Did you skip school?”
“It’s Saturday, mister scientist!” she knocked on his head. “Hello, hello!”
“Nobody’s home!” he tried to avoid her knuckles. “Where’s your mum?”
“An urgent call from the hospital… she had a bad sleep and I’m mad at myself because of it.”
“Kiwi,” Vitsel put his hand on her shoulder, “you and your deconstructive brain should’ve already forgiven yourself. You know you did nothing wrong. A missing star is a thing. A big bloody thing.”
“Saving someone’s life is a big thing too… and you better have a clear mind when you’re doing it.”
“Look who’s talking!”
Teessasheeg turned away to hide her shameful smile.
“She had a shitload of night calls. She’s used to it.” He led her inside the house glancing at the sky over his shoulder just in case.
The official statement read that the disappearance of the North Star cannot be described with modern science tools available to humanity and listed several possible, yet doubtfully plausible reasons. The Facility faced quotidian meetings that required something from someone. The regular, usual work was constantly interrupted and seemed unimportant. Was there a thing to find? Yes, there was. The thing was a star, or (to be precise) a triple-star system. Was there a way to find it? There, probably, wasn’t.
No, there must be a way. It is logical; it is the way this Universe works. We might not know everything, but we were on this steady course towards the ever unfolding knowledge. It is the way of science, the way of experiment, the one that never betrayed and always worked. Vitsel never treated science as a substitute for religion; it was the method of understanding the things around, a key to the mechanics. Religion, he never cared much about it.
He was hugging the pillow with one arm – he and Cyan never knew how to sleep touching each other; they would’ve slept on different beds but they only had one. Sofa in the living room was usually treated as the place for guests, so Vitsel opted out of sleeping on it. Some people would consider it a place for someone’s guilty sleep, but none of the Sabads ever did something to be sent out to spend a night in the living room. It was a content family, despite Teessa’s life-threatening impromptus–
He felt a light touch on his arm. He opened his eyes and saw Teessa’s: it happened again.
“Ladies, gentlemen, everyone in-between and outside, tonight, at twelve A.M. we lost Vega and Sirius… CONGRATULATIONS,” Vizier Okos, or, as everyone in the Facility called her, The Boss, addressed her employees. She was about to ask her usual “any ideas” but stopped herself midway through inhaling. “Alright, fellows… I give you this weekend to come up with something, because even the AI is struggling. I think it’s a creative task for a creative human mind. You have your data access so… ‘till Monday, dismissed!” She showed everyone at the door and she meant it. Except for Vitsel – he was beckoned by her index finger. “Bestow upon me knowledge, wizard, all-knowing, all-wise.”
The wizard was not that all-knowing for he shook his head, “I don’t know, boss, I really don’t. Every night I’m turning in my bed, like a cosmos-designated tumble dryer, and my head is all over the place. Maybe we need to step out of our scientific methodology to understand these things. The only problem is that there’s no other methodology available.”
Vizier sat on the desk, “Vitsel, I don’t see why those stars would stop their disappearing from now on. It’s not even the sky that frightens me, it’s the Earth. You saw how the people reacted to the North Star. And now imagine what will happen after we lose Orion, or something else. There is zero sense in this all from an astronomer's point of view. But,” she showed him her finger one more time, “there’s too much sense if you are a mere earth-dweller who gets a kick out of conspiracy theories.”
He sat beside her on the same desk – they used to do this quite often during their time in the university, “Someone’s playing with our minds.”
“Exactly,” her fingers snapped.
Teessa tried studying the bright midday sun, but it was too shiny to look at; she tried anyway. The tram quietly whizzed through the city, moving towards their house. The movement was steady and smooth, and if it wasn’t for the girl’s multi-beamed star-earrings swinging like two golden pendulums, one could’ve thought that they weren’t moving at all.
“It all will end with the Sun disappearing, innit?” she looked at her dad.
He turned his face away from the biggest star in the sky to look at Teessasheeg, “Broadly speaking, it will.”
Vitsel shrugged – not the best answer, not the worst. Not really an answer.
She looked at the sun again, “Every night at twelve A.M. I’m looking at the sky. I’m scared of another star or, maybe, constellation disappearing from the sky. My heart is beating unevenly; I’m getting cold, getting goosebumps. But every time I’m getting outside, sitting in our garden, I feel... cathartic. There’s only me, the dying Universe, and my sunflower… that boy will reach my height pretty soon,” she turned her head and smiled at her dad’s shoes. “Sometimes I’m spending an hour or more, sometimes I’m crying, because it is so beautiful and full, and empty, and scary in its unpredictability, all at the same time.”
Vitsel’s head nodded – he knew everything she was talking about. He knew that feeling really well, yet there was a weird sense of nostalgia, as if it was impossible for him to surrender to this emotion anymore. His time was over; it was his daughter’s turn to feel the infinity.
Yet, one thing was different – he never was scared of the stars. Lost in space, he was – it’s not about them one by one, not even about the systems. Its beauty is in the picture, in the feeling, in the pitiful attempt to comprehend the scale of one’s existence; you surrender to this discomfort so you could be carried away by the endless.
“So soon, the Sun will be no more. And then the Moon will crash into Earth. United again in this neon black gloom.”
“Christ, Teessa!” Vitsel slapped his head – that was too much to hear even for him, even from his daughter, “Let’s grab some ice cream.”
“You want to sweeten our demise?”
“I’ll pass…” she closed her eyes for a couple of seconds. “But maybe if you’d buy me three different scoops for the Sun, Moon, and Earth–“
“I’ll buy you the whole Solar system.”
“Yes!” She put on an imaginary crown, “Trickmaster Sabad always has it her way!”
“Yeah, yeah, it was your cunning plan all along.”
This was one of the oldest shopping centres in the city – somewhat distasteful and archaic by contemporary standards, but Teessa liked it for these exact reasons – it was a reminder of the times when people used to shop for everything without using their mobile or stationary devices. Despite its old-before-it-was-opened architecture, modern society tried to correct everything with lush amounts of vertical greenery, and it kind of worked. It also saved the building from being demolished.
Teessasheeg wasn’t sitting straight, for she consumed two thirds of the Solar system. She placed a couple of plywood chairs together and lay down on them, observing the darkening sky, trying to process the sweet fat that she stuffed herself with, thinking of the mistakes of the past, fitting the one that she just committed into the hierarchy or her errors.
“Oh, shit!” A loud burp accompanied her attempt to lift herself up, “ ‘Scuse me.” Her finger pointed up in an attempt to attract her father’s attention to the sky.
“I saw a sunflower made out of stars!”
“Hell no, not again,” Vitsel looked up. “This is ridiculous. Wait.” He saw the same old stars – there weren’t too many, since it wasn’t that dark yet. “I don’t see any sunflowers. I don’t see any flowers. Or suns.”
“Stars are suns too, by the way.” Teessa tried to turn her head in different directions to change the perspective, “It was there for a second. Now it’s gone. Am I going bonkers?”
“Sunflowers in the skies are just too much, kiwi. Ice cream does wonders these days.”
Teessa slept the way her father did, going from thought to thought, falling into dreams, surfacing to reality, unable to recognize for a few seconds where she was present. She was not looking for reasons or explanations; she was not that concerned with the end of humanity. There was a feeling that it is what she would witness and witness soon, as if it was inevitable and, in some strange way, normal, almost casual. It wasn’t bothering her that much.
But she wanted to know who was stealing the stars from the sky.
Teessasheeg went outside – her ‘child’ now had the look of a proper sunflower, albeit not of a fully blossoming one. As the plant lost the track of the sun, he stood mindlessly confused under the light of the stars, the one that wasn’t that endless anymore. Teessa checked the time – it was eleven fifty-nine. She took the watering can and showered the black soil around the bulky stem.
The ray flowers tore the night, leaving a dark hole that sucked the light in. Teessa moved her head to the right and looked at the horizon, unobstructed by her sunflower. The sky was blossoming with the stars, but none of them resembled flowers.
She put the can down and sat on the bench that she helped her father craft when she was six years old. She closed her eyes and drifted into the summer night. The aroma, the scent of summer night, the sounds of life around her; she could spend the whole night here, until the morning dew leads her into the new day.
Teessa’s eyes opened wide with horror when she heard the whisper. She jumped from the bench and turned around to locate the voice-bearer. The girl was ready to defend herself and her family from the intruder, no matter the cost.
From left to right there was no one but trees and plants. The house on the other side was all asleep: even her parents’ door was closed this time. She realised who she should watch. Her skinny body started shaking as she slowly lifted her eyes.
Thousands of stars were moving, swirling one after another, forming, painting a picture in the sky for the teenage human to gaze upon. The petals were glowing and rotating back and forth, covering the distances that a human being could never cross in a century or millennium. Teessa fell on her knees. The sheer incomprehensible scare of the night made her break down into tears. She wept, unable to see anything but the stars that blazed above her. She was a witness to a thousand years wide sunflower.
Vizier Okos and Vitsel Sabad sat in front of the Prime Minister. The room with a giant wooden table saw many of them, but Vitsel thought that this one was definitely the last one and had a nice laugh about this thought. Not in the open, of course.
“So,” the PM clapped. He shifted his eyes between Vizier and Vitsel, “What can you tell me about this whole ‘Interstellar Object Sighting’ situation?”
Vizier adjusted her black tie, “The IOS occurs at random times throughout the day, but only when some amount of stars is observable. So it gradually moves across the Earth as the night falls, let’s put it this way. It can occur in different points of the planet, but we’ve yet to find any pattern. For example, the first sightings were happening at July 2nd, in the regions closest to the Greenwich Meridian–“
The PM smiled proudly and if he could he would’ve done it loudly.
“Then they’ve spread all across the globe. The next day there were no sightings, but they occurred again on Fourth of July all across the United States of America. As it was mentioned in the reports, it is rarely seen by adults. I’m talking about extreme rarity. None of mine employees have seen them and the same goes for our colleagues from other countries. Zero sightings from any astrophysicists… from any scientists. Also: astronauts, pilots – nothing.
It is worth mentioning that every person sees a different thing, perceivably, depending on their age. For example–“
“Doctor Okos, pardon for the interruption, but can the reports made by youngsters be trusted? Can we have a certain proof that those objects that cannot be photographed or shot on video are not some very elaborate prank?”
“That should be of no concern: if teenagers with their access to the internet are always up for some mischief and perhaps could go for such a thing, though it would be a very difficult scheme to plot, the same thing could not be said of toddlers.” Vizier took a sip of water, “My daughter is three years old. She asks me when the ‘starry elephant’ will appear again and sing her a song. Children, in general, are enjoying those sightings very much.”
The PM lifted his eyebrows.
“They draw pictures of the things they see, and usually these are different animals, especially those they have a special affection for. The stars sing lullabies in different voices: sometimes it is gibberish, sometimes they make perfect sense. It probably depends on the child and the level of their development.”
“Okay, that’s interesting.” The Prime Minister undid his tie, “what about your children, Doctor Sabad?”
Vitsel took a long breath, “My daughter is fourteen; she saw a giant sunflower in the sky… she grows one in the garden. She suffered an emotional breakdown. It said one thing, ‘Watch me.’ ” Vitsel shook his head from one side to another, “She’s a very smart girl, a little bit gloomy, but she knows a lot about stars and that’s why she’s scared. She doesn’t view it as a good sign.”
“But is it a sign?”
“It literally hurts me to say that, but...” Vizier took another sip, “yes. We think that is a sign. A sign from a conscious entity.”
“You mean… an E.T. ?”
“A conscious entity that has an ability to manipulate the whole Universe, as if it was its own sandbox. Or, “she lifted her index finger in her usual fashion, “an ability to manipulate the minds of the whole planet. “
“You mean… God?”
“ ‘God’ is a little bit too precise and too vague of a word to use.”
“Okay, alright,” it was too much for a man in charge of the whole country to hear. He would rather have a war or referendum on his hands than the IOS situation, as it was christened in the media. “You mentioned that some adults saw these images in the skies.”
“They did. The elderly, mostly, “Vizier touched her tie again, “We’ve yet to correlate why some people witness them and some don’t. We need to study the brain activity during those sightings, but it is nearly impossible, considering the randomness of these events.”
“But what are they seeing?” the man raised his hands in question.
“An unimaginable anthropomorphic horror.”
The proud and lonely sunflower embraced the midday sun, just as it always did. A single guitar chord excited the air around it but never disturbed the flower. Another chord followed, then another one. A quiet teenage voice tried to hide behind the music,
“And there you are
Alone but willing
And to be giving
Our only star
How soon you’re gonna leave me?”
Teessa coughed, clearing her throat from her nervousness. “I know, sounds cheesy as hell,” she was addressing her sunflower. “I’m working on it.”
She placed her fingers on the fretboard, trying to find an original sound. Her plectrum strummed once again and the strings didn’t disappoint – it wasn’t even a chord, just a collection of intervals. Each note built one on top of another, creating a sense of something infinite. The girl smiled and nodded to herself; the sunflower reacted with nothing.
Something moved, cracked, or fell down inside the house. Teessa gave that noise some sense, “My folks, probably. Don’t go anywhere.” She put the guitar on the bench and ran inside her room, then into the main hall, “Mum, dad?”
There was no answer. She felt a light breeze around her feet – the kitchen window was open.
Teessa turned her head to the left and to the right; her senses became alerted. She felt that she wasn’t alone, though she knew that it is impossible to feel such a thing. She jumped towards the kitchen counter, grabbed the chef’s knife, and dropped down. Her ears listened again, but the whole house was silent. The girl turned around.
“I’ll give you a chance to escape before I murder you!” the “kiwi” head peeked over the kitchen top. “I know that you’re there. And if you’re not a nebula or constellation, I’m slicing you into pieces!”
Her yell was loud enough for the whole house to hear. She waited for a second, then for another one. Her heart, pounding louder than ever in a series of uneven, unmusical bursts, pumped the adrenaline through her body, making her anxious and nauseous.
“I don’t care about the sentence!”
“Yeah?” a male voice came out of the bathroom, “I don’t care about it either!”
The fear stung her in the gut. She hoped that she was paranoid or crazy, but though it still could’ve been possible, someone really tried to steal their belongings.
“Great! I’ll start with your eyes, then! Let’s see how you’d like robbing houses in the blind!” Teessa hoped that her voice was not giving away her fear. Or maybe it was adding to the show.
“Don’t be an idiot. We’re all gonna live in the blind soon!”
“Correction: we’re all gonna die in the blind soon. As soon as the sun turns off – that’s it. La fin.”
“La fin. The end! Learn some French, you bastard!” Teessa slapped the counter.
“Okay, I will.”
“Dead men learn nothing!”
“Hey! I’m armed too… by the way!”
“Yeah, with what?”
“With a gun!”
Cold sweat covered her shoulders, “No one robs houses in the middle of the day with a gun!”
Teessa exhaled thrice. She jumped on her feet and ran towards the bathroom. Her body flew into the door with all of its weight, but the robber locked himself from inside. She kicked twice; the door moved in different directions but the wooden panel withstood the teenage element.
“Open the door, you piece of cunt, let’s witness your gun!” she kicked the door again.
“Mental! You are fucking mental, lass!”
The police officer sat in front of Vitsel and Cyan. They sat at the other side of the dining table. The uniformed man finished writing something in his pad.
“Don’t think that he was targeting you. Just the neighborhood in general. It’s a usual thing since… this all,” he circled with his index finger, pointing at the ceiling, “started. Crime is on the rise. The force is on the decline: people are quitting at an alarming rate. We’re actually thinking about the community… hm… self-policing initiative. But before that you’d better think of a dog. Or a fence.”
Cyan and Vitsel answered nothing. Not that the robbery was a bigger surprise than the IOS, but in a way, it was.
“Not a very nice forecast, I know. On the other hand, you don’t need a dog with this kind of a child. That was really impressive. Just tell her to call us straight away, before she gets shot. The gun was loaded.”
Cyan slowly turned her head to look at Vitsel.
“What? She’s your daughter too!”
The dark eyes stared at the ceiling. The stripes of light moved slowly and that movement was barely recognizable to a human eye. Then they changed their shape and started dancing with the night – the wind picked up and moved leaves in the garden. Teessa knew that she would not fall asleep until the sunrise. This day was too much for her brain to process and let the teenager rest.
The moon opened up on Earth with its reflected sunlight. A white ray fell on the girl’s face.
She stood under the night sky – it was losing stars one by one and in groups. The usual pattern was gone by now and became a patched blanket of celestial cloth.
“Talk to me,” she looked up and spoke without saying a word.
The dark sky wasn’t answering.
She repeated herself but the stars were silent.
“Talk to me, please. Speak up.”
The moon said nothing.
“Starry, starry night
Paint your palette blue and gray
Look out on a summer’s day
With eyes that know the darkness in my soul…”
The girl was singing inside her mind, playing the music, remembering the chords of a hundred and thirty-year-old song.
“Shadows on the hills…”
The girl stopped playing the song in her head for a second, then started again from the next verse,
“Starry, starry night
Flaming flowers that brightly blaze
Swirling clouds in violet haze
Reflect in Teessa’s eyes of cosmos blue…”
She switched the words the way her mother sang them to her. In a soundless motion, the stars began to swirl. Teessa was shivering. She was excited, moved, driven to the edge of her emotions, but not as scared as she was before. The stars: yellow, white, red, blue, all of them moved, knowing where to, forming the unreachable, insurmountable patterns only for her to see.
“You’re into Van Gough, aren’t you?” she smiled.
“Only as you are.” She heard the voice again – a million voices whispering at once so frightening, yet at the same time, comforting. She thought of her parents’ voices mixed together and turned into an endless choir. Or was it her own voice multiplied by infinity?
“Am I the chosen one?”
“Like everybody else.”
Teessa turned around, dancing with the movement of the stars.
“Do you like our songs?”
“I do. What are you?”
“I am not.”
“What do you mean?”
The stars formed multiple swirls to the side of the Moon, rotating around the centers, flickering with each rotation, bursting into splashes, flowing into star rivers, turning the sky into Van Gough’s painting.
“I cannot be the way you are.”
“Are we going to die?”
The girl froze in place. Her thoughts and emotions denied each other, slowing down her ability to produce a clear thought.
“Everything dies. I will not hurt you.”
“Then… what are you waiting for?”
The voices disappeared as quickly as they appeared inside her head. The stars and patches of the dark space between them were placed in their usual places. They moved nowhere.
Vizier and Vitsel observed the park around the ancient observatory. The way the day looked was the weirdest thing for both of them to comprehend – generic, usual, and on a sunny summer day like this, almost perfect. It wasn’t the day, it’s the night that made the whole population of the Earth go a little crazier every twenty-four hours.
“Vitsel,” Vizier turned her head and looked straight into Vitsel’s eyes, “when is the right time to quit one’s job? And take into the account that you’ve worked all your life to get that job.”
Dr. Sabad was the right man to ask, “Now. I would’ve told you differently any other time. By now I’m telling you – now. If you really want to do it. If you can’t take it anymore.”
Vizier turned away, “Am I that selfish?”
“As any of us are. New Zealand?”
“Yeah. The retirement came earlier than expected. But so did death.”
Vitsel turned into a human-sized bobblehead – his thoughts took his self-awareness away.
“I would’ve never believed that we would end like this.”
“Well… at least the churchy guys were wrong too. And I mean, all of them.”
“Of course they were!” Vizier joyfully slapped him on the shoulder, “So… you want my place, partner?”
“No!” Vitsel jumped up, “No, Vizier, no!”
She closed her eyes, threw her head up, and smiled at the sun, “You’re getting it, my boy. Don’t worry, you’ll get free reign. Soon there will be no one to take it from you, or to put someone in your place.”
“You,” his finger pointed at her in a rude manner of a twenty-year-old friendship. “I borderline hate you.”
“And that’s why you’re my china!” she was smiling still.
Cyan covered her eyes with her hands: long fingers trained to perform the tiniest of the tasks; nails, always cut short and never painted.
“I’m the main double-shifter now,” she spoke to her hands and to Vitsel. Though, mostly, she spoke to no one. She just wanted to get rid of the words, “My nurses quit! Both of them! We’re about to ask other patients for help. I was assisted by my very own professor today. Such a fucking honour.”
Vitsel poured himself a glass of milk. Cyan removed her right hand from her face, grabbed the glass and finished it in a few gulps. She put the glass on the table and closed her right eye again.
“People are getting euthanised left and right. We don’t have enough machines for the queues. And, let me remind you,” she opened her eyes, they were tired, they were red, “that your folk told them not to panic. But no one cares about scientists anymore, because kids and pensioners are the modern day prophets.”
She turned around on the chair and stood up on her third attempt.
“I need to wash my life away.”
“Can I speak to it?” Vitsel sat in front of his daughter and her guitar.
Strum. “I don’t know, dad.” Strum, strum. “I can ask.”
“Please. I’ll ask you, you’ll ask it.”
Strum. “I’m not sure if it is… ‘it’. I think it is… ‘I’? “
Vitsel rubbed the back of his head, “Okay.” He glanced at the tall and handsome sunflower that looked mightier than ever. Vitsel stood up, “Wake me up if you… sort it out?”
Vitsel moved towards the house. The strumming stopped. Teessa put the guitar on the bench, “Dad.”
Vitsel turned around.
“Have you ever thought that I’ve just gone mad?”
Teessa smiled, “What if I did?”
“Then half of the world did too. And I’m not sure if I’m in the sane part.”
Vitsel closed the bedroom door behind him. He spotted Cyan’s underwear on the bed and quickly got rid of his clothes, dropping them down in a sloppy pile. He stepped inside the bathroom, hiding his footsteps behind the noise of falling water. Vitsel gazed at the seductive silhouette of his wife behind the frosted glass of the shower cabin, studying her figure from different angles.
“Jesus!” Cyan screamed as soon as she felt her husband’s hands touching her body.
“It’s me, Cyan,” Vitsel stepped away for a moment.
She turned around and slapped him on top of his head, “Vitsel! Give me a warning next time, Jesus Christ, you scared the hell out of me. Dumbus!”
Vitsel smiled. He grabbed his wife’s hand and kissed it, “Sorry.”
“Apology accepted if you kiss me here…” the last word turned into a gasp – Vitsel’s lips reached Cyan’s neck, making her utterly vulnerable. “Wait,” she breathed the word out and gently pushed him away, “close the window.” She pointed at the fanlight.
Vitsel turned around and reached for the handle. His wife’s hand slapped his buttock.
“That’s better,” she pulled him back towards the shower wall, “I’ll keep it quiet,” she lifted her chin up to let him kiss her neck again and again, “but maybe I won’t.”
“Teessa knows how kids are made, don’t worry.”
Cyan pushed him away; this time she wasn’t so gentle, “Vitsel, you fucking creep!”
The man laughed, “I’m joking, come on, we always keep it quiet,” he looked at the makeup-less face of his wife – it was getting older and that, somehow, made her even more desirable. “But Teessa knows how she was created.”
“Yuck, Vitsel! Nice way to kill the moment!” she knocked on her own head.
“You need to disengage. I’m talking from a scientific point of view.”
“I’m disengaging at my job, cutting people’s flesh open. And my flesh wants something very different when it comes back home! It wants to engage, Vitsel!”
“Mine too!” Vitsel pointed at the lower part of his body.
“Yeah, I can see it,” Cyan bit her lower lip.
Vitsel stepped forward. His body leaned into Cyan. She opened her eyes wide but then closed them as an unimaginably sharp feeling of warmth spread across her body.
“Can you feel it?”
Cyan moaned her answer into his ear.
They lay on the bed in an entanglement of two people and blankets. The bright moon illuminated one part of their room, keeping another one in the dark. Cyan moved, the blanket moved, and Vitsel moved too. She ceased the motion, and the world around her stopped.
“Can we take a vacation?” Cyan was very quiet.
“We can quit. Like Vizier did.”
“Can we?” she turned around – now her leg was touching Vitsel’s arm.
“No. We can’t. We can’t have a vacation. We can’t quit. We never quit.”
“Because we don’t quit.”
Cyan hugged her pillow and nodded. Vitsel slowly caressed her left calf. He closed his eyes just for a moment – he heard her muffled sobbing.
“I’m sorry,” the woman wiped her tears with both hands. “She’ll never meet anyone, Vitsel! She’ll never kiss a boy or a girl! Her only friend is a sunflower!”
“Come on, come on,” Vitsel broke out of his own blanket and lied beside his wife, “Teessa thrives when she’s alone. She’s fully self-sufficient. She’s brave, she’s proud. Alone but never lonely.”
“I know, I know,” Cyan tried to stop herself from crying, but the tears streamed down her cheek, getting into her mouth, “But we’ve found each other, Vitsel. Everybody falls in love… everyone deserves a chance. She won’t have any…”
He kissed Cyan’s hair and embraced her.
“My poor baby…” Cyan repeated her words, hugging the pillow. Vitsel tried to comfort her with the warmth of his body. The pillow slowly returned to its usual form, as every new repetition depleted Cyan’s words of meaning, becoming less and less audible. Their breathing evened out soon, inviting them into heavy dreaming.
Until Teessa woke her father up. She led him out of the bedroom and pointed at the night sky where no more than a hundred stars were present.
“You don’t see what I see, but it’s really beautiful. ‘I’ is ready for your questions.”
Munkatar occupied the whole conference room with his presence. His gestures were wide and so were his eyes. Nobody knew why, but he started wearing shirts and ties since Vizier relieved herself of her duties. He danced behind the lectern, trying to fish some common sense out of his colleagues.
“I’m telling you, you are going insane!!! This whole thing is nothing but a mind trick! We only need to isolate the observer from any interference and we’ll get the pure data! I don’t understand how can you believe this bullshit! The stars are all in their place, for fuck’s sake!”
“You are getting carried away, Munk,” somebody threw a paper cup at him.
“Hey, cut the crap! I’m trying to deliver my point here!”
“I’ve got your point, Munk,” Vitsel, dressed even more casually than usual, entered the conference room. “We’ve already tested the thing you were talking about.”
“I know what you’re going to say,” Vitsel pointed at one of the seats and took Munk’s place behind the lectern. “Yes, we are dealing with a mind trick of sorts, that is true. The only problem is that this trick is our whole existence.”
He looked at every one of his employees, carefully scanning each face. He knew them for a long time and cared for many of them. Some of them he didn’t know that close, some of them he didn’t like. But right now it all was not that important.
“Ladies, gents. You all can take an indefinite leave. Soon our profession would be of no use. That works for any other profession too, to be honest with you.”
Vitsel sat in his office with his feet on the desk. It wasn’t his office. He felt no attachment to it. It belonged to Vizier for a couple of years, but now he was the designated owner. It felt too easy and undeserved. There was no value in his position. Vitsel threw a paper ball into a rubbish bin but missed, “Damn it!”
Munkatar pushed the door on the edge of its constructive capabilities, flying into the office.
“Vitsel!!!” he yelled at his boss.
“Munk, how about some manners?”
“What the hell are you doing? Your analysis of the situation is based upon the words of your own child who’s clearly out of her mind!”
Vitsel felt that Munkatar tried to offend him. But he found the whole situation very amusing.
“Munk, I can assure you that my research has more than one source of information.”
“Who? Other children? Demented creakers from care homes?”
“You’re driving our profession into a cesspit!”
“You can find another employer,” he threw another paper ball and missed again. “Oh, crap!”
Munkatar hit Vitsel’s desk with his fist, “I don’t want to leave, I want answers!”
Vitsel pointed at the chair, “What do you want to know?”
“Everything!” Munkatar sat down.
“Be more precise, please.”
“Okay!” The man took a deep breath. He adjusted his tie, combed his hair, and spoke, “Why are… how can you be sure that this whole situation is not a case of mind manipulation that targets the vulnerable strata of the planet’s population – children, the elderly, religious people. Mental patients, probably, too. Have you checked on them?”
“We did; they were not affected as much. You don’t read your reports as I can see.”
“I have an important job to run, Vitsel!”
“The data we’re receiving is not corrupted. It’s our perception of it that is corrupted! The only thing that we’re missing is the way this third party manipulates our minds! The wave-length, the type of transmission, the particle—“
Vitsel leaned forward and stopped Munkatar with his hand. “Your assumption is not incorrect, Munk. In a way, it’s almost entirely correct. And even that thing about the way of manipulation, that is also correct. In fact, we have found the way the “third party” manipulates our minds.”
“What is it?!”
“It is beyond our understanding. But not beyond our comprehension. See the difference?”
“No. You’re being vague as fuck.”
“Exactly.” Vitsel looked around the office. He felt a weird urge to laugh out loud. He was talking about the fate of humanity, but the wooden panels, his chair, Munkatar’s chair, the glass door, his large desk, everything made him think of an old-school furniture factory or the principal’s office. There was no weight to his words. It was just an obligation.
“We can only grasp the concept of it, because we are at our species’ dead end. There’s no need for something to exist after it’s run out of its potential. Look at us! How many people live their lives creating their goals, hoping for something, aiming for the achievements, only to become a pile of ashes in the end? This thing, it’s not even a god. It’s an element that can, for once, process the information. It’s an event without any real goal. You are looking for a meaning in something that exists without a concept of meaning! And I think that it’s the main reason for destroying us that way. It operates within our emotions but not within our logic, because our logic is limited, but our emotions have no measure. And it really does target the vulnerable minds, because it searches for that sharp emotional response. This “third party” manipulates the fabric of the Universe from the outside. It’s not present here and it doesn’t correspond to our laws. But it tries to comprehend us. It wants to comprehend. Oh, and it doesn’t call itself ‘it’. It thinks that it’s ‘I’. ”
Munkatar slowly stood up. He adjusted his tie, “I doubt that you would recommend me to another employer.”
Vitsel’s shrugged with a big smile on his face, “Why not?” He flew another paper ball – it was a three-pointer, “Bang!”
“Doesn’t matter. Farewell, Vitsel. I can’t work for a madman.”
Munkatar has left the office.
Teessa looked at the sunflower who looked at the setting sun. It was getting older or maybe it was ready to die. The crown of dry ray flowers surrounded the circle of giant black seeds. The girl sat with her guitar, going through chords and progressions. Vitsel and Cyan walked out of their room and sat down on the bench in front of Teessa.
The girl cleared her throat. The doorbell rang.
“Sorry, I’ll be back in a minute,” Vitsel excused himself.
The girl gave him a thumbs up.
“Yes?” Vitsel opened the door.
The man in a military uniform stood at attention, “Doctor Sabad, the Prime Minister wanted…”
Vitsel returned rather quickly, “Another invitation to the shelter.”
Cyan, “Cool.” She waited for her husband to sit down. “We’re ready, kiwi.”
She was singing to the sun, to her parents and their garden. She was singing to her sunflower.
She wanted to tear its head off to eat the seeds, but she decided that there was not that much sense in doing so. Nor was there any sense in keeping the flower in its current state of existence. And there definitely was no sense in saving the seeds for another year. Whatever the choice, the choice had no sense and no real meaning.
She was singing about the sun, about her parents and their garden. She was singing about her sunflower.
Teessasheeg Sabad finished her song and put the guitar on the bench, neck up, just like she always did. She walked up to her sunflower and tore its head off, sat on the bench, and put it on her knees, sharing the seeds with her parents.
Vitsel and Cyan kissed their daughter goodnight. The girl stood up and gazed at the last glimpse of the sun. As the only star disappeared from the horizon, she observed the night sky: it was pristine clear, without a single trace of a star, galaxy, nebula or another planet. There was nothing but the Moon. It took the place of the sun for the night. It shined brightly, moving very slowly. Teessa sat down and took the dead sunflower in her hands.
The Moon stopped. It turned around and showed its dark side to the Earth. Then it quickly turned back and moved, but not across the sky. It was speeding up. It was getting bigger and bigger, occupying more space with every second. The moon was moving towards the Earth and Teessa.
“I am time.”
“Is it… just for me?”
“No, I am for everyone, Teessasheeg Sabad.”
In a fraction of a second, the sky became dark. The last trace of the starlight disappeared. There was no Sun for the Moon to reflect anymore.