Dreams of Starlight

By Saki Channing



It’s not stealing. I’ll just use a few marks to buy the newest issue. Science journals can’t be that expensive. Father will never miss it--I’ll just say the inflation got worse. Anyway, it’s my fee for going all the way to Nürnberg to pick up his supplies. I just won’t buy any cake at lunch.

A wisp of smoke in the distance told me a train was coming from the Nürnberg direction. I rocked back and forth on my heels impatiently. At least it meant my train would come soon.

I stared down the track towards the train, watching its blackness expand against the vivid green fields on either side, its smoke cutting through the blue sky. The sun was shining hotly on the back of my neck. I rubbed it, smiling. The April rains had finally dried up and May was well underway. It was the spring of 1922, in Germany, and I was eighteen years old.

The train pulled up to the platform, stopped briefly, and chugged on its way. To my surprise, I saw it had deposited a passenger, a large man with a blond beard and round glasses that reflected the sun into my eyes. He was wearing a brown overcoat that was too much for the weather, and pulling a small leather trunk. He looked around, as if lost.

The man spotted me and spoke to me from across the tracks.

“I’m looking for a town called Waldorf,” he shouted.

“This is Waldorf,” I shouted in reply.

The man pulled off his glasses, wiped them, and put them on again. I didn’t blame him. There was nothing in sight but fields and a couple brown lanes. Waldorf isn’t much of a town. There are just farms, and the houses that go with them, and a pub at the crossroads.

“Perhaps you could help me then. I’m looking for a Dr. Adler.”

Just then my train came with a whistle and I had to step back as it came up to the platform. The doors opened but I didn’t get on. The few other passengers looked at me expectantly but I ignored them, and the train left without me.

“That’s my father!” I yelled, as the train pulled away.


My older brother Janich was weeding in the garden out front. He wiped his brow and squinted at us as we approached, but didn’t even stop us to ask questions as I led the stranger in the house. A man of few words, my brother, especially in front of strangers.

Father was in the basement, as usual. What he did down there was anyone’s guess. We weren’t allowed inside. I’d snuck in on numerous occasions during my childhood, of course, but all I’d seen were bottles of strange-colored liquid, metal instruments whose function I could never figure out, and tables piled with drawings. Even the drawings didn’t make sense. They were diagrams, spirals and intersecting circles with equations marked all over them, but what they meant I had no idea. They looked like my geometry homework, multiplied to the tenth power.

I banged on the basement door. He didn’t answer, again as usual.

“There’s an important guest!” I yelled at the top of my lungs, banging again.

A moment later my father opened the door looking harried. There was three days worth of stubble on his cheeks and his eyes were red.

“You’re back already? Did you get what I asked?”

“No, Father, it’s still morning. I didn’t go to Nürnberg. I met him on the station.” I realized as I motioned towards the stranger that I hadn’t asked his name or given him mine.

My father’s face turned white when he saw his guest, then he broke into a rare grin.

“Hans!” he shouted, throwing his arms wide. He and his guest embraced; then my father turned to me.

“Franzeska, make coffee and refreshments for our guest. Bring them here. We’re not to be disturbed otherwise.” He pulled the man named Hans into the basement and slammed the door in my face.

I found Jan hanging in the kitchen door. “Cheska,” he said in the slightly pleading tone that meant he wanted something but was too lazy to say what.

            “I met him at the station,” I said, answering his unasked question. “His name is Hans and he said he’s a friend of Father’s.”

In reply Jan scratched his head and left for the garden. I smirked. I lived in a house alone with two men and neither of them was capable of having a conversation.


After I served their coffee I went outside and squatted down in the daffodils next to one of the small basement windows set into the stone foundation of the house. I made my father keep them cracked open for air, which was convenient now because I could hear everything Father and his friend were saying. Jan gave me a look when he passed, hoe in hand, and raised an eyebrow, but didn’t talk or join me.

“...closed off like this. What if something happens to you? All this would be lost. Unless you’ve passed it on to your children--”

“No, no,” Father was saying. “I tried, but the boy has no aptitude or interest in anything but growing cabbage.”

That’s a rude way of describing a talent like Jan’s. He keeps the farm running all by himself. We’d probably starve if he didn’t, the way the prices keep rising.

“What about your daughter?” asked Hans smoothly.

I could imagine my Father dismissing that with a wave of his hand.

Hans laughed. “You’re so old fashioned. There are plenty of women in the sciences now. You could send her to Zurich.”

My father mumbled something derisive and Hans laughed again. They switched their talk to something else. Something that had to do with Father’s mysterious drawings and liquids, no doubt. I tried to pay attention, but they may as well have been speaking Greek. At times I suspected they were. I heard some ‘gammas’ and ‘perihelions.’ My feet began to fall asleep, so I got up and went to the fields to bother Jan.


I sat on the front stoop. The night was clear and the stars were shining brightly, clustered around a Cheshire cat moon.

Footsteps sounded behind me.

“May I join you?” asked Hans.

I nodded and moved over. He sat down beside me on the stoop.

“Humans and stars are made of the same substance,” he said, looking at the sky. “Maybe that’s why we are so fascinated with them.”

“Atoms?” I asked, looking at my hands, then up.

He chuckled. “Where did you learn about atoms? Not in class surely.”

I shook my head. “The school library has scientific periodicals. I read them, sometimes, when I have a free hour.” Or I used to. Maybe if I got a job, I could afford a subscription. But where could I work? The pub?

“You took the Abschluss already, didn’t you?” he asked. “Or do you have another year of school left?”

“No, I took it two weeks ago.”

“How were your marks?”

“Good.” Top of my class in physics, foreign languages, and chemistry.

“Did you ever think of attending a university?”

I rested my chin on my hands. Of course I’d considered it.

“I have some physics treatises with me, if you’re interested in reading them. Perhaps we could discuss them afterwards.”

My head shot up and I nodded eagerly.

He laughed again and got up. “I’ll leave them on the table.”


I set the bottle of peppermint schnapps on the table, then took a seat beside Hans. Hans had been with us for two days, and already we saw more of him than our own Father. Hans at least sat with us after dinner.

“What did you think of the treatises?” asked Hans as Jan poured the schnapps.

“I haven’t finished all of them, but I have some questions.” I pushed one of the essays towards him.

“Aaah, Mach and Otswald.”

“Why’d you give me this one? Einstein disproved their theory, didn’t he? Atoms exist.”

Hans looked disappointed. “You have a good mind but you’re already afflicted with the same small-mindedness that plagues the scientific community.”

I felt like I’d been slapped. Small-minded?

“Just because part of a theory has been disproved doesn’t mean it’s lost significance. And Einstein isn’t omnipotent. Look at it once more. What are they really trying to say?”

I scanned over the treatise again. I hadn’t taken notes on this one, but now I wished I had.

Hans turned to Jan and started a conversation about fertilizer. I half listened as I read. Hans was doing most of the talking. Farming was one subject that Jan would talk about. I’ve seen him lecturing the old men in the village on new kinds of fertilizer. But he wasn’t saying much tonight.

Does he not like Hans? I wondered. But then, my eyes caught it.

“I found it!” I said, banging the table. Jan frowned at me.

“It’s energy, isn’t it?” I asked excitedly. “They’re saying that only energy is physically real.”

Han’s mouth stretched into a grin, and the candlelight glinted off his spectacles.

“Genau,” he said. Exactly.


Hans stayed with us well into the summer. I made up the guest room for him, and I began to feel like I knew him better than I knew Father, who still kept his normal hours in the basement.

That was fine with me. Father was becoming even more irritable, which, according to Hans, was a sign that his research was going well.

“Your Father is a genius, and geniuses are eccentric. That goes double for when they’re close to a breakthrough.”

“But what kind of research is it?” I asked for the millionth time. Hans kept giving me physics treatises to study, but I had a feeling Father was working on more than equations down there.

He laughed and ruffled my hair. “You wouldn’t get it even if I told you, at the level you are now. But don’t worry, we’ll let you in on it eventually.”


“And I’ve been studying even more than I did in school, but he still won’t tell me what they’re up to,” I complained.

Jan straightened up and wiped his brow. I handed him a handkerchief from my seat on the fence.

“You spend too much time with him,” he said.

I laughed. “So? What’s wrong with that? All he’s doing is teaching me physics, which is what I want. And he says once I know enough he’ll let me help with his and Father’s research. Who knows, maybe I’ll even get to go to a university.”

“You should go to a university. But, you shouldn’t trust Hans.”

“Why not?” I scowled. This conversation was making me uncomfortable.

He didn’t answer. I sat swinging my legs for a while, fuming.

Stupid Jan, always acting like he knows everything, then being all cryptic about it. Like when we were kids, and Father used to let him come down to the basement, but he would never—

“Jan, you know, don’t you!” I realized. “Father used to take you into the basement, and I overheard him telling Hans that he tried to teach you his research, but couldn’t.”

Jan gave me a mean look but I stared him down.

“I don’t know what they’re doing,” he said, looking away.

“Don’t play dumb--”

“But I know they’re trying to do something people aren’t meant to do. You shouldn’t involve yourself in their sins.”

Sins. That was an odd word choice. Jan wasn’t religious.

“Just be careful,” he said. And I couldn’t get him to say anything more on the subject.


“You’ve finished Einstein’s Special Relativity paper?”

“Yes,” I said proudly, displaying my pages of notes.

“Do you understand it?”

“Yes.” I was especially proud of that.

He looked at my notes, his eyebrows raised in surprise. “You really do. This is a hard concept for most people to wrap their minds around.”

“Size doesn’t matter and time is relative to the observer,” I said happily. I loved Einstein.

“Yes, but remember Einstein isn’t perfect. Take it a step further.”

“What do you mean?”

“In this he says time is relative to the observer. What does that mean, if you put it to practical use?”

Huh? “It means...I don’t know.”

“If time changes with the observer, it means there is no absolute time. What we call time is just an arbitrary measurement we use to explain the universe. It doesn’t move in a straight line. It doesn’t move at all.”

“Then...it doesn’t exist.” But that doesn’t make sense. I looked at the cuckoo clock on the wall.

“The way we measure time gives us the illusion that it moves. But what if it were the opposite, and we are the ones moving?”

I thought about everything I’d ever read about time. Einstein talked about space-time, as if it were one thing.

“If it’s us that move,” I whispered. Then aloud I said, tentatively, “Space and time are still, and we move through time the way we move through space.”

He nodded. “Follow it through.”

“And in space, we’re able to go any direction we want, except for up because of gravity. So, if time is the same, we should be able to move around in it anyway we want to, only, maybe there’s something like gravity that stops us!” My voice grew faster and stronger as I went on.

“What if gravity didn’t exist? Remember Mach?”

“That’s right! If all we are really is energy, then gravity wouldn’t affect us, not any more than it affects light anyway. So, we should be able to go any time and any place we want--”

“Every time, every place, exists right now, right here.” Hans got up and clapped a heavy hand on my shoulder.

“Keep working. You’re almost there.”


The silver moon hung so low over my head, trembling in my tear-blurred vision, as if it were about to drop. I reached an eager hand...

Too far...

My eyes opened to sunlight streaming in from my window, but it did nothing to wash the stardust from my eyes.

It’s been a long time since I had that dream, I thought, rubbing my forehead. I’ve had this dream ever since I was small, and it’s always the same. I’m walking in a strange place, where the land is pale gold, and I can’t tell if it’s day or night. But there are two moons hanging in the sky. In the dream, I can feel the ground beneath my feet. I can feel the cold air as I inhale. It always ends in the same place. I fall backwards, and stare at the moon, and then I wake up. And every time I wake from it, I feel sad and distant, as if part of me is still in that strange place, stuck.


“I want two eggs and brötchen with marmalade,” said Jan, coming in for breakfast from the fields.

I grunted and banged a water-filled pan on the stove. I didn’t notice that my hand was still on the iron handle until it grew hot and burned me. I yelped and jumped back.

“What’s wrong with you today!” exclaimed Jan, jumping up and grabbing my hand. He pumped cold water over it. “You’re a million miles away.”

I nodded absently.

“Did you have another one of your dreams last night?” he asked quietly.

I nodded, surprised he’d remembered. I’d told him about my dreams before, when I was about twelve, but he’d never said anything about them. But, I guess he’d been paying attention after all.

“Normal girls dream about princes in shining armor, don’t they?” He looked at me for a long time, smiling, but his expression was sad. “Anyway, don’t tell Hans about them.”

“Don’t tell Hans about what?”

We both jumped. Hans was standing in the doorway, an odd smile on his face. How can such a huge man move so quietly? I wondered as I moved away from Jan and busied myself with breakfast.

“Don’t worry,” I said, thinking fast. “He’s talking about another Hans. One from school, who’s courting me.”

Jan unfroze and went back to the table. Hans followed him, chuckling.

“So, you’ve got a beau. I’m not surprised. But, if I may say so, I think you’d be wasted, tied down to some country farmer.”

“I don’t really have many prospects otherwise.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” he said, catching my eye as I set the breadbasket on the table. “With the progress you’ve been making...” he trailed off. Jan was glowering so hard you could almost see the dark cloud around him. Hans smiled weakly and changed the subject.


That night after Jan went to bed, I took a lamp out to the porch so I could study and look at the night sky. I get an odd feeling when I look at the stars. I feel like I’m missing something important. The feeling always gets stronger after I have the dream. So I stare at the stars and feel too big for my skin.

“You’re still studying? I wish my students at the university were as dedicated as you.”


“I started out as your father’s research assistant, you know,” he said, sitting down beside me. “At the Institute in Zurich. I was just like you, fascinated with every new development. Although there wasn’t much going on then. Physics became much more interesting when Einstein came into the picture. Back then, though, your father was doing very exciting, very radical research. Too radical. He quarreled with the board of directors over it and left the country. Snobs, all of them. They sit in ivory towers and turn their noses up at anything revolutionary.”

“Why’d he end up here?” I asked. Why would anyone willingly come to Waldorf?

“After he lost his tenure, your father and his research became a laughingstock and he disappeared. I stayed at Zurich to finish my education, then stayed there because of the war. It’s taken me this long to find your father. Once I learned where he was, I couldn’t stay away. Your father’s research is too important fall into obscurity.”

“So what is his research? Can’t you tell me yet?”

He smiled. “I’ll do more than tell you. I’ll show you.”


“This is a monumental event,” he said as we went inside. “It’s our first experiment since your father left the Institute. We need a third person to record observations from a different angle.”

“But I still don’t know what you’re doing--or what I’m supposed to do.”

“Don’t worry,” said Hans, opening the door to the stairs and pushing me through. “It’ll come naturally. Just observe.”

My father scowled when he saw me. I felt like I hadn’t seen him in ages. Stubble covered his chin and his face looked pale, his eyes overly bright. He sat before a Bunsen burner, the flames shining through the red liquid in the jar above it, staining his gray whiskers crimson. The basement was very different from the last time I’d snuck in and seen it. The tables were pushed to the side and the floor was covered in chalked diagrams. I examined them closely. They looked just like the drawings I’d seen before. I looked up and saw that the ceiling was covered with chalk signs too.

An odd thrill ran through me. Intersecting ellipses wove in and out of each other on the floor and ceiling in a pattern that was, I felt instinctively, mathematical perfection. Jewel-like equations and symbols were strung along the lines. I recognized some of the symbols from my own studies, but others were unknown to me, and most of the equations were beyond me.

Hans put a hand on my shoulder. In the other he held the beaker of red liquid my Father had been working on.

“Drink this,” he said. I looked to my father, who was still sitting behind the Bunsen burner. He looked away.

Hans laughed at my hesitation. “It’s not poison. It’s necessary for the experiment, to protect from radiation. We’ve already had some.”

I hadn’t seen them drinking any, and I couldn’t imagine what kind of radiation could come from this experiment. The only strange things in the room were the chalked diagrams.

Maybe Jan was right, I thought suddenly, but I shook the thought away. I was finally about to find out what was going on. I couldn’t back out now. Forcing a smile, I took the beaker and drank.

The red liquid was awful and stung my nose and throat with fumes. It felt like accidentally inhaling a whiff of ammonia. But, though I gagged at the end, I managed to get it all down.

“That’s a good girl,” said Hans. “Now, I want you to observe the experiment carefully from the center of the circle. Pay attention. We will need you to report afterwards on what you saw.”

“But what am I looking for?” I asked as I positioned myself in the center of the diagram, careful not to smudge any of the beautiful chalk marks.

“You’ll know when you see it,” said Hans, smiling.

My vision blurred for a second and I swayed. I tried to ask what was going on, but I didn’t seem to be able to control my tongue. It felt like the moment between sleep and awake, when you imagine yourself doing something but your body can’t move. I became aware of a blue glow, lightening the room, making the shadows on my father’s face squirm. I looked down long enough to see that it was the chalk drawings that were glowing.

Then the world exploded.


I uncurled myself from the fetal position, the floor cold beneath me. The air was cold too, much colder than I remembered the basement being. I paused on my hands and knees, staring at the floor. The chalk marks were gone. Then I realized that the floor my palms were touching was not stone, but a dull gray metal.

I stood up quickly, too quickly, for I got lightheaded and had to sit back down. As I gained control of my breathing I froze. Sitting before me were two people, but they were not my father and Hans.

There was an old man with gray whiskers like Father’s but much more well kept, wearing spectacles and a tweed suit. Sitting next to him and clinging to his arm was a girl maybe a bit older than I, a pink ribbon holding back her blond curls. They were staring at me with open mouths.

I backed away from them, scrambling on my hands and knees, and I hit a hard, freezing surface.

I turned around and stopped breathing. The wall curved outward in a concave lens, as if I was on the inside of a giant eye. And it was clear, affording a view of outside.

Outside was darkness, pierced by white stars, burning coldly and so close. Too close. There was no feeling of distance at all. They were just beyond the glass.

Waves of vertigo swept over me and I had to look away from the view that was both beautiful and sickening.

This is a dream. I’ll wake up in a moment. Or else, they gave me a drug that’s addling my mind, making me hallucinate.

Except…can I not feel the cool metal beneath my hands? Can I not feel my heart beating? Are there not people in front of me?

I looked at the two strangers again. They looked like normal people. Even their clothes weren’t that strange. They were both still staring at me, mouths open, as if I were a ghost.

Maybe I am a ghost. Maybe Hans and Father murdered me. But, my heart’s still beating. So I’m not dead.

And this can’t be a dream. I’ve never seen anyone like them before. This place--I’ve never seen anywhere like it before. Even if that drink they gave me was some kind of mind drug, this can’t be an illusion. Dreams and illusions come from experiences, don’t they? Don’t they?

My heart thumped so hard it blurred my vision. That explanation...doesn’t explain the dreams I’ve had up till now.

Except...this place, it seems familiar.

Every time, every place, exists right now, right here.

Hans. I gritted my teeth. That bastard.

“Are you alright?” the old man was saying. Somewhere in the back of my mind I registered that he was speaking English.

Good thing my marks in English were good.

“She looks like she’s going to be sick,” said the girl.

She was right. My stomach lurched and I threw up red liquid and my half-digested dinner. That was real enough.

I managed to back away from the mess before I passed out.


“Where did that girl come from?” asked a rough voice.

“It’s just Ms. Edie. She’s not feeling well, that’s why I’m in here, to attend to her.”

“Ms. Edie has blond hair, not brown--”

“My good man...” A door shut, cutting off the voices.

A door on the other side of the room opened and the blond girl appeared.

I bolted up, but the room spun again so I fell back down. I looked around to orient myself.

I was in a bed, covered with white sheets and a pink blanket. We were in a different room, a small room with no view of the outside. There was a desk and chair; both made of a white, smooth material that didn’t look like wood. Clothes, pictures, and cosmetics cluttered every surface.

That was comforting. This was a teenage girl’s bedroom, just like mine. Perfectly normal.

“This is your bedroom?” I asked.

“Whose else would it be?” She picked a pair of stockings off the back of the chair and deposited them in a drawer.

“Feeling better?” she asked, rather awkwardly. I suspected she was trying to be kind.

“I’m still dizzy. And I still don’t know what’s going on. Or what this place is.”

“It’s a ship. Outbound from Ganymede. Destination Robinson’s World.”

That didn’t explain anything.

“Ganymede...that’s one of Jupiter’s moons right?”

She sniffed and crossed her arms. “That’s my homeworld you’re talking about. And we’ve been independent from the Jupiter Republic for three years now.”

Great, I’d offended her somehow. Maybe my English wasn’t as good as I thought. I pulled my covers up higher. What the hell was this place? I shivered, though the room wasn’t cold.

The door opened again.

“Well, I managed to convince him there isn’t anyone in here but you,” said the old man.

“What is she!” hissed Edie, flinging a hand in my direction. “She just appeared out of nowhere! You’re the professor. Explain that!”

The old man smiled. “There’s nothing to be afraid of. I’ve been waiting all my life for something like this.”

“Like what?”

“I suspect...” he paused for dramatic effect, “that she is a space phantom.”

“Don’t start that again!” snapped the girl. “She’s not a ghost. Ghosts don’t puke. And she doesn’t know what’s going on either.”

“I’m right here,” I said.

“Yes!” The old man fell to his knees by my bedside. I sat up and edged away from him. “You are here! So, are you a space phantom? Why did you come here? To observe Human life?”

I didn’t like being interrogated like I was the weird one. My head spun again and I gagged.

“Not on my sheets!”

But there was nothing left to throw up. I slumped over my knees, chest heaving, and the world went black again.


Alright. I can’t keep fainting every time something weird happens. I just have to accept things as they are, even if I can’t explain them, I told my reflection in the mirror. I was brushing my teeth, a comfortably familiar activity.

Now that I’d had time to think about it, it didn’t seem so strange. Well...it did, but...it’s not like it happened randomly. Hans and Father must have tried out their experiment on me. I bit down on the toothbrush angrily. So much for all that talk about making me his apprentice. He was just buttering me up to be his guinea pig. And I fell for it completely.

Stop thinking about him! It won’t do you any good, here. Right now, you’ve just got to focus on getting your bearings.

Edie and Professor Wellington, the girl and the old man, weren’t that bad. They’d taken care of me while I was sick. The third time I’d regained consciousness, we’d managed to have something resembling a normal conversation. We’d all introduced ourselves. Edie came from Ganymede. The Professor, her tutor, originally came from Earth, like me, but not from Earth in 1922. I thought he was from England, from his name, but he said that nations don’t exist anymore, and the world isn’t the way it was when I lived in it. The year was now 527 N.O. but I didn’t know what that meant. Professor Wellington said he was going to calculate it for me. They listened politely when I told them I come from Germany, 1922, and how I think I was sent here. Professor Wellington was fascinated by the description of Father and Hans’ experiment. He said there was nothing like it in science today. Then Edie sniffed and said only people from such a savage era could come up with an idea like that and use a person to experiment on. Then she mentioned a war and the Professor hushed her and suggested I go freshen up.

So here I am. See, not so bad.


The days I spent with Edie and the Professor on the strange ship seemed to blur together. We danced circles around the crew members, so that they wouldn’t know there was a third passenger. We had tea every day in the observatory, which was the room I’d first appeared in. I had to get used to it gradually, but after a few days I could stare out the eye-like window for long intervals, and started to enjoy the feeling of looking down at the sky.

Sometimes when we went to the observatory, the view out of the window was a throbbing, opaque white. This, the Professor explained to me, was when the ship was in a ‘jump.’ So Einstein’s theory of relativity was true, but Han’s was right too--it didn’t go far enough. Space, like time, was relative, and a starship could ‘jump’ through space the way I had jumped through space and time, only this method wasn’t instantaneous.

The white nothingness disturbed the Professor and Edie too. When the ship was ‘jumping,’ they hit a button and a picture of fields of flowers would appear over the window. They said it was a painting made of electricity.

As my life on the ship fell into routine, strange things became familiar. While the technologies were way beyond anything I’d ever seen or imagined, their uses made sense. It was, after all, still a Human society. I began to learn more about Edie and the Professor, and to rely on them to teach me about this new time and world.

“Space phantoms are a documented phenomenon,” the Professor was saying one day. “They appear out of nowhere on ships in deep space. Many people believe these appearances are hallucinations caused by space fever, but there are theories that there are collective intelligences that live in the ether. These intelligences observe us, and take on human form in order to contact us. That’s what I thought you were, at first...”

I listened, fascinated, teacup in one hand. Edie sighed and lounged on the couch, obviously bored.

This feels as normal as eating breakfast with Jan, I remember thinking suddenly.

But, as comfortable as my new life became, as familiar as the Professor and Edie became, something felt off. Sometimes, I thought it was that I must be homesick. But my life in Germany was so far away, it felt like it had happened to someone else. Sometimes, I thought I must be in some kind of shock over what had been done to me, but I didn’t really feel angry with Hans anymore. My new life was so full of wonders that I couldn’t feel anything but a grudging gratitude towards him.

Mostly, it was a nameless feeling that settled in the pit of my stomach and in my hands. Once in awhile, when I’d reach to pick something up, my hands would pause and shake, and I’d be filled with fear that my hands would pass through it, that I didn’t really exist. Other times, I was afraid that this wondrous world around me was only a dream like the ones I used to have, and that I’d wake up in my bed with the spring sun in my eyes. Sometimes it was a feeling that this had all happened to me before. But underneath all of that there was a sense of urgency, of sand pouring through an hourglass.

Once, as I lay my bedding out on the floor of her room, I asked Edie, “Do you ever have a feeling that you don’t exist? Or that the world doesn’t exist?”

“Every day,” she said, to my surprise. “I tell myself that I’m not here. That I’ll wake up in my own bed and this will all have been a bad dream.”

I thought that was a funny thing to say. “Why are you on this trip, anyway?” I asked.

“I come from Ganymede. We’ve been independent from Jupiter for three years. My family has been on Ganymede since it was terraformed. We opened the first carbon mines, and we helped win independence and start a new government. So, I guess, when the Jupiter Republic wanted revenge, my family was a good target. They boycotted Ganymede carbon. My family lost everything. Professor Wellington, he isn’t being paid. He volunteered, to go with me. Ganymede isn’t safe anymore, so my parents sent me away. Robinson’s World is newly colonized. I can find work there.”

I couldn’t think of anything to say. I lay down with my hands behind my head, staring at the slightly curved ceiling.

“You don’t need guns anymore to win a war,” she said. She leaned over the edge of her bed to look at me. “There was still violent war when you lived, wasn’t there? Germany--that was Hitler’s war, wasn’t it?”

My heart thumped oddly and I felt sick. “Hitler...he’s that politician from Munich. My brother says he’s a radical.”

“Oh, that war didn’t start till the thirties, though, did it. What time were you from again?”

“Nineteen twenty-two. I...I don’t think this is something I should know about.”

She looked at me for a long moment, then laid back down. “I guess not. Sorry.”


“Maybe this one will fit,” said Edie, holding up one of her dresses.

I changed out of the one I had been trying on before and took the new dress from her hand. The problem was, Edie was much taller, yet skinnier, than me.

I was halfway into the dress when the entire ship rocked, knocking me onto the bed. Both of us shrieked then listened as a series of hollow bangs sounded from far away.

“Is this normal?” I asked in a whisper.


Just then a crewmember burst the door open; I didn’t even have time to hide.

“We’re under attack! Report to the inner cabin!” he shouted, then slammed the door. He hadn’t noticed me.

“Attack by what?” Edie whispered. The door opened again. It was the Professor this time.

“Come on girls, let’s go.”


We sat huddled in the inner cabin, a small, gray, windowless room at the center of the ship for a long time, wearing spacesuits that were kept in a compartment along with emergency rations. Eventually, the hollow banging became sporadic, then stopped completely. But there was still a tension that gripped us all, and there was still no word from the crew telling us that it was safe to come out.

“Who are we being attacked by?” asked Edie once it had been quiet for a long time.

“I don’t know, but...we’re in Reregan space,” said the Professor.

“That can’t be. There hasn’t been an attack since the treaty--”

Edie’s words were cut off by a large bang. The entire ship rattled, and suddenly I was floating. My stomach lurched and I flailed my arms and legs, trying to get back to the floor, wherever it was. The walls, ceiling, and floor were the same. What was once a room became a featureless cube.

The Professor grabbed the back of my suit, stabilizing me. “They’ve shut the gravity--”

As if cued, the gravity came back on, only from a different direction and much stronger than normal. We fell to the new floor and lay pressed against it, the pressure increasing until Edie and I screamed.

            The gravity reversed again and we fell back onto the original floor. I banged my elbow hard and my arm went temporarily numb.

“Have we crashed?” asked Edie. Her lip was a little swollen.

“It appears so,” said the Professor, surveying his glasses ruefully. Their frame was bent, and there were red marks on his cheek and on the bridge of his nose.


“I’m not sure. Probably one of the planets in the Rere System.”

“A planet?” I asked as I rubbed my elbow. Butterflies started to flutter in my chest. “We’ve crash-landed on an alien planet?”

“You actually sound excited about it. Geez,” said Edie, scowling. She stood up and adjusted her suit.

“Anyway, for now all we can do is wait for the crew to contact us--”

“What if they’re dead?” asked Edie, cutting the Professor off. “We should see what’s going on.”

I got up and stood beside Edie. The Professor looked at our faces and sighed.


The ship’s corridors were dark, lit only by blue emergency lights. The floors were slanted. It was eerily silent. I missed sounds I had never noticed before; the humming of the ship running, the whispering of the air recycler.

We checked each room as we passed, but found no one. On Edie’s suggestion, we decided to go the observatory.

As we walked, the feeling of displacement, of urgency, returned to me. It throbbed within me, growing stronger with each step, until I had to force myself not to run.

The Professor noticed I was feeling off and put a reassuring hand on my shoulder as we entered the observatory.

The view out the eye-like window was not starlight this time, nor white nothingness. It was a landscape of pale gold and ochre, set against a starlit indigo sky. In the distance hung a silver moon.

My breath left me and I dropped to my knees, shaking.

“Cheska! What’s wrong?” The Professor shook my shoulders.

“It’s just like...in my dream.”


“Take a helmet and air pack at least!” pleaded the Professor. “Human’s can’t last long in that atmosphere.”

“I won’t need it,” I replied. In my dream, I didn’t use one.

“Just take it!”

“She’s crazy,” muttered Edie. “Just let her go out and die if she wants.”

I turned to Edie but she was facing away.

“Edie,” I said, but she wouldn’t look at me.

The professor pressed the helmet into my hands. “Please. If you must go outside…don’t stay out long. Look around and come right back.”

I couldn’t tell him what in my heart I knew. I wouldn’t be coming back. I let him put the helmet on me and activate the breather.

“Thank you, for everything,” I said, my voice hollow-sounding inside the helmet.

The Professor wiped his eyes. Edie stood still, her shoulders stiff, her head down.

I felt a million miles away. I tried to smile, but couldn’t, so I just nodded and went outside.

I walked on the surface of the alien planet. My footfalls felt lighter than usual, barely pressing into the springy ochre turf. After a few steps I took off the helmet and breather and let them fall to the ground. The air really was thin; even when I took deep breaths it didn’t seem to fill my lungs. And it was cold.

I was used to cold, but this cold was different. It didn’t beat at me from the outside like a rough wind, or numb my nose like snow. It crept into me slowly, running alongside my veins like the liquid ice of mountain springs, digging its blue fingers into my chest.

I felt I walked forever, though I couldn’t have walked far. I only looked back once, to see the ship embedded in the ground, dull metal and immense and strange, a fallen behemoth. I felt a pang of sadness, thinking of Edie and the Professor, but I didn’t look back again.

Every step felt right, as if I had taken it before. I knew, if I walked in this direction, I would come to the edge of a cliff, and I knew what I would see when I got there. Were those dreams I had guides to what I should do now? Or had I been dreaming something that had already happened and I just hadn’t known it at the time.

Maybe time is always still, always there, and we are the ones who are moving, transient, through it as we wander over land. Maybe we can move any way we want to in time, the way we do in space, but we all just march in a straight line to the ticks of a clock because we don’t know any better.

I came to the precipice and stopped, suspended over a valley of miniature golden meadows spotted with stunted trees. A silver river wound sluggishly through it. I could see this all clearly, though the sky was black. I couldn’t tell if it was day or night. Maybe day and night didn’t exist on this planet. To me, it will always exist in this moment of twilight.

I turned my gaze upwards and it was caught on the two perfect spheres almost eye level in the sky. The smaller sphere was red, like iron after a summer rain, wrapped in bands of blue and studded with spheres of white.

But the other was a silver-lode moon so close to the one I knew. And it hung so low it seemed about to drop. I reached an eager hand, as if I could touch it and discover it was liquid as mercury dripped down my hand.

The sky was encrusted with stars that were bigger and brighter than any I had ever seen. As I watched, two smaller stars detached themselves from the firmament and flew off together.

Another ship? I wanted to scream out at the pilot, but I had no breath left. Suddenly, just seeing one alien planet wasn’t enough. I wanted to be in that pilot’s place, with the entire universe at my fingertips.

The world spun, and I found myself lying on my back, my breathing shallow, looking up at the silver moon. It really did look like it was going to drop.

I tried to get up but again, my body wouldn’t move. So I gave up and stared at the sky, tears freezing into beads of ice as they left my eyes. So beautiful. I’m seeing Heaven while I’m still alive. How many people can say that?

I’ve come to the place where my dream led me, followed my footsteps to the place the dream always ends. For me, there is nothing more than this, nothing beyond the moon, nothing behind me. There is only right here and now. So this is it. I would have liked to live a bit longer, to see Jan and the Professor and Edie again. I would have liked to see at least one more planet.

But there is nothing past this moment. Here is where the dream ends.

I took another breath, but it felt like nothing was entering my lungs. The world was exploding into bright sparks before my eyes. I braced myself for what would come beyond, my arms open wide.


“What did you see? What did you see?”

I blinked my eyes, seeing only flickering, hazy blurs of light and shadow. I was still lying spread-eagle on the ground, but the surface beneath me was hard and even, not soft and alive.

Warmth began to return to my body and my fingers twitched. My eyes focused and I saw Hans and Father standing over me, both men pale with eyes burning with hunger and curiosity. They looked just like I had left them, weeks ago.

“Am I dead?” I asked, and found I could breath again.


“Was it a dream?”


“Thank God.” I closed my eyes as a lump formed in my throat and my eyes tickled with warmth.

“What was it like? What did you see?” asked Hans feverishly. “Did you get a glimpse of something?”

I opened my eyes and looked past him. The chalk marks in the ceiling were black now, as if they’d been burnt into the surface.

“More than a glimpse.” Everything was just as I’d left it. But I’d been gone weeks and weeks.

Silly, I’m still thinking of time the wrong way. Even after all I’ve seen.

“I thought I was about to die.” I was supposed to die. That’s where the dream always ends.

“I’m sorry, Cheska,” said Father.

“Aren’t you grateful--” started Hans, but I cut him off with my eyes.

“Send me back.”

My Father gaped and Hans’ lips curled into a smile.

“Send me back.”

How can I live now that my dream is over? They stole it from me, my last moment. That was supposed to be my last moment. No other could be that perfect, under a mercurial moon, on an alien world.

I looked at Hans once more, his eyes shining with tears and triumph.

“Send me back. Please.”



© 2005 by Saki Channing.  Saki Channing is a Polysci/Asian Studies major in her last year of university in post-apocalyptic New Orleans. A typical college student, she subsists on ramen and spends most of her time procrastinating.


For comments and concerns email her at: saki_channing@lycos.com