To Dream of Stars: An Astronomer’s Lament

by on Oct 5, 2009 in Short Fiction | 2 comments

By Peter M. Ball

The first time he sees the Royal Observatory he is three days shy of his twelfth birthday. It’s spring, a clear night, the stars unveiling themselves in small groups as the sky overhead grows dark.

The tower rises from the hills, dominating the uneven horizon, a crooked silhouette against the twilight. The glowing dome at the tip points at the emerging stars, the length of the tower twisted like the four-joined finger of a great and alien hand. He feels the strangeness of the building, a discordant note casting echoes in the chambers of his heart, but the otherness calls to him regardless. John Flamsteed is promised to God in both body and spirit, but he knows his heart and mind now belong to that tower forever.

“Eyes off it,” his father orders, cuffing the boy across the back of the head, and John falls forward, clinging to the horse’s mane to keep himself in the saddle. The older Flamsteed rides on, glaring at the observatory. “It’s evil,” his father says, “and dangerous yet. You will not look at it. You will not even think of it, or the creatures that dwell within. Do you understand?”

John Flamsteed nods, used to obedience without understanding. His father sees evil where other men see nothing, though perhaps this once John can see the hint of corruption his father fears. He averts his gaze, but the tower remains. It looms on the fringe of his vision, a constant threat. The sight of it pulls at his heart, luring him as though he’s been hooked on a silvery strand of twine wrapped around the tower’s domed tip.

They have three days of business in town, just long enough for John to hear the stories. He absorbs them, one by one, the details coalescing as he weaves rumour and folk-tale together. There are those that tell him the yellow texture of the tower comes from tiles made of dragon bone, that its twisting mass is held upright by prayer and dark magic. The accusations of magic perturb him, an affront to both God and reason, but he listens and nods and asks again when the moment presents itself. There are folk-tales aplenty to hear, but none to satisfy his thirst for comprehension.

On their final night in town, his birthday, John Flamsteed skulks out of the room he shares with his father. The moon is a thumbnail sliver overhead, a sliver so brief its presence barely registers against the scattered wash of stars. John Flamsteed stumbles through the unfamiliar streets, toes catching the rough cut cobblestones, tripping his way into the open fields and the hills beyond. The air smells fresh and clean, but the aftertaste is sour. He climbs the unfamiliar slopes, his young body straining against the rough terrain hidden by darkness.

The Observatory serves as a compass, allowing him to orient himself against the empty darkness the tower casts against the endless stars. Eventually John stands at the base, staring up at a tower tall enough to brush against sky. John Flamsteed examines the pale shingles, stands close enough that he can reach out and touch their worn exterior with the tips of his young fingers. They feel like the smoothed edge of a predator’s incisor, noble, deadly and beautiful in a single moment.

He thinks of the stories the townsfolk tell about children raised to the Astronomers Royal, kidnapped and replaced by changelings, stripped of their humanity by the Astronomer’s training. In the lonely light of the thumbnail moon, John Flamsteed makes a promise. He will return here, one day, free from the shackles of his father’s assumptions. He will give himself over to the stars and the Others, all in the name of God and his country. Damn the impossibilities, he will enter the tower and join the ranks of the Astronomers Royal.

* * * *

All he can see is the long teeth, clusters of bone-yellow fangs that shine as they jut away from her gums. His eyes are closed but the image stays with him, echoing through his head as he waits for the first teasing bite. He can feel the length of her tongue, the cat-lick rasp of it as she works her way along his thigh. The image of those teeth growing larger and stronger as the tongue works up his leg, the damp warmth of her breath sliding over him. He wonders what it will feel like, that first piercing bite. What will happen when she starts ripping and rending his flesh while he’s trapped beneath her bulk.

The Other begins her work. There is no hint of teeth in their interaction. No teasing bites or sharp incisors against his skin, but the quiet menace of their arrangement lingers. It is difficult to forget those teeth, even for one such as him, trained and equipped to handle the intricacies of the exchange.

She raps his forehead with a six-knuckled hand, uses the brief flash of pain to focus his attention. He forces his eyes open and meets her gaze, staring into her gold-flecked pupils that have seen more than he can imagine. He ignores the quiet menace of her grin. This is, after all, what he longed for as a boy. It would not do to fail the public trust after all he has done to earn it.

“Focus,” she hisses. Her voice is awkward to listen to, a croak full of slant inflections and awkward syntax. “You are not here. Your thoughts on the moment must be here. Very important. Focus.”

She lowers her head and the tongue works its way across the plump line of his stomach, leaving a trail of sticky fluid in its wake. He forces himself to focus, to keep his eyes on her. He lets the image of her teeth dissolve.

“It’s important,” she says, murmuring, the tongue working at the fold of his belly button. “Must be present. Must be here. To lose focus would be bad, very bad. Very bad for both of us.”

And Flamsteed swallows, just once, acutely aware of the way his Adam’s apple bobs and dances with the gesture. He focuses on the moment, on the rasp of the tongue and the needle pricking as she suckles, the pain that starts boiling through his chest. He focuses on the long teeth and the tongue built for sucking marrow, the tongue that coils around him like a serpent as the Other explores his body. He keeps his focus and he watches her, gives himself over to the moment.

“Good,” the Other says. “Good. All is well. Now stay with me. Stay with me. Stay with me through the pain.”

* * * *

He learns the danger of ambition early. There is a stray moment as they rode home; his father asks about the future and Flamsteed answers honestly.

“I wish to become an astronomer,” he says, and the statement is followed by the stinging pain of a backhanded blow, the whistle of the wind as he tumbles into the dirt.

“Foolishness,” his father says. “It is an insult that you consider such a thing.”

And perhaps it is. John Flamsteed curses his own inattention, the foolishness of revealing himself so soon. It’s easier than acknowledging the foolhardy desire, that he wishes for something that cannot be earned, that can only be bequeathed by the Other taking a child at birth. His lip drips blood as he climbs back into the saddle, dark spots staining the cracked leather. His father’s dark eyes are on him, blazing with the angry flame of the Almighty, and John subsumes the pain with practiced ease. He will not seethe in front of his father, will not allow himself to be distracted by thoughts of the tower.

He looks forward with due attention, keen eyes tracing the winding road leading him to a future filled with grain and trade and the secrets of malt. His father lectures him through the endless hours it takes to reach home: on the evils of the tower, on the devilry of the outsiders who journey there, on the taint that lingers over those who live in its shadow. As always, the lecture revolves around the same words: “Better we had destroyed the place when his Majesty fell in the war. Better that the heavens had remained the palace of God alone.”

And through it all John Flamsteed nods, dabbing his bloody lip until the dried crust forms. He probes the small wound with his tongue, feels the tiny spark of pain that exists beneath the chrysalis of hardened blood. He can endure this, if it is necessary. John Flamsteed defines himself by his ability to endure, to survive the rigors of life as his father’s successor.

And that night, as he slumbers, he dreams of the tower. The Royal Observatory, the stars above it, the quiet thrum of its walls when he placed a palm on its surface. He wakes an hour before dawn, sweating and heavy under the covers of his bed. One hand is raised to press the wound on his lip, to let the pain burn beneath the fleshy pad of his fingertip.

* * * *

The sharp nails pierce his flesh, digging in below the surface, drawing out a feeling that’s almost pain, right on the edge of it, a sharp bite that reminds him of stabbing his finger with the nib of his finest pen. John Flamsteed remains still, his breathing shallow, trying not to disturb his lover’s concentration. He feels the fluid seeping into the membranes of his skin, spreading out like an ink-splotch on wet paper.

Something in the back of his mind, some scrap of his brain that struggles to retain a semblance of the ordinary, tells him that he should be panicking. It’s a voice he’s learned to ignore many lovers ago, a voice that’s subsumed in the name of duty. Flamsteed lies back, soaks into the hard mattress. He sighs, unsure if it’s prompted by pain or contentment.

“Turn,” she orders. This one’s voice vibrates like a mosquito’s wing, high-pitched and delicate. He rolls over and feels sharp fingernails walking the length of his back, each step another needle-prick. There is a faint stirring of real pain now, down beneath the layers of muscle; a dull ache in the hollows of his bones, the first real register of his body protesting the intrusion.

“Still,” she says, caressing the nape of his neck. One finger lingers on the hollow, the point where cranium and spine connect, the same place a hunter strikes when he wants to kill a rabbit. Flamsteed knows better than to tense, knows the pain it will earn him if he attempts to resist penetration. His body stiffens anyway, an ancient reflex he thought conquered years ago. He wonders if it’s a sign of age, this inability to control his base reactions. It is only a matter of time before his role is assumed by a younger man, before his wrinkled flesh will refuse to obey him or absorb the rigors required by his duties.

“Now,” she says. His neck is stiff when she penetrates, the crisp point of her nail cutting through the taut sinew. The pain that washes through him is magnificent, a sweeping agony that leaves him with the coppery taste of blood in his mouth. Something drips from his nose, making it hard to breathe. He grits his teeth and draws breath through them, waiting the pain out. The nail is removed, a swift withdrawal accompanied by the wet suck of flesh drawing closed.

A moment later he is numb, the pain driven out by a sweep of frostbite that leaves him shuddering. The universe resolves around him, points of pale light superimposed over the walls of the room, silver-white spots that gradually congeal into familiar constellations.

For a few brief moments, he can feel the universe spreading through his capillaries. He runs his fingers across his ebony skin, tracing the pull of the stars as they rotate around him. He understands, for the first time, the way they pull against the universe, each star determined to draw everything in and shine, alone, as a perfect centre. Once he orients himself, it’s possible to make out familiar constellations and old discoveries, the faint glow of 12 Monocerotis and 24 Tauri, the powder-bright dot of 3 Cassiopeia more distinct than he’s ever seen her.

He wishes for a sheaf of paper, some means of annotating the exact locations while he has them in such close proximity. By the time he inks a quill they are gone, fading away until his wrinkled flesh is as pale as the moon against the midnight sheets.

“Done,” she says. She brushes her nails against one another, sets them tinkling like crystal chimes as she rises. “Your reward, Astronomer, for all you have discovered.”

Flamsteed simply nods, weary. He wants to say something, to thank her, but the words do not come.

* * * *

His father’s house runs on strict cycles: six days for business, one day for faith. John forfeit’s sleep to his ambition, embracing the freedom to watch the heavens while his father slumbers. He begins his career without details or training, no numbers or names or theories to build on. Life in father’s household has no room for stars, no books beyond the accounting ledger and the Bible on the shelf.

Flamsteed builds his first star chart from the night sky visible through the bedroom window, a square frame surrounding three-hundred-and-twenty-nine sparkling dots of light, each memorized and catalogued without the help of paper. Travel with his father becomes a curious pleasure after this, allowing him to study the night through unfamiliar portals, quilting the celestial maps together like the scraps used in a patchwork. His understanding grows as the years pass, each patch constructed from the safety of a new bed, each memory as square and neat as a window frame. He tells no-one what he’s doing. The stars he studies for himself alone.

He encounters his first book on astronomy at fourteen, its yellowing pages full of crudely sketched constellations, archaic and constructed without the benefit of the Other’s machines. John is fascinated by the childish depictions of the sky, the graceful waltz of the heavens superimposed on straight lines. He closes his eyes and transposes the dots of ink to the sky, tracing their patterns on the canvas of his mind for later study.

He reads for an hour, savouring the experience, the elder Flamsteed discussing business in a nearby parlour, too engrossed in the deal to register John’s absence. John commits the pages to memory, as easy as breathing, aligns them with the patchwork he’s built over the years.

He acquires his first true book on astronomy three years later, each page pristine and carefully choreographed, the work of the Royal Observatory and the Astronomers whose ranks he still dreams of joining. Flamsteed hides it under his bed, stores it in a small crate still touched with the sour scent of old grain, the book wrapped in waxed paper to protect it from mildew.

It is not long before it’s joined by other tomes, by telescopes and star charts he constructs in the night.

* * * *

They have bypassed the formalities, the flagellation that leaves red welts spiralling across his back like the distorted arms of a newborn galaxy, his limbs crisscrossed with cuts and red lines of inflamed flesh. Flamsteed grits his teeth against the pain, against the soft suckle of her lower appendages. She is pulling herself forward on long and muscular tentacles, each looping grasp giving her new purchase, dragging her bulk through the viscous liquid until she can settle it over Flamsteed’s torso.

Tears are permitted in this encounter; discreet trails of saltwater flowing over his craggy cheeks until they merge with the viscid muck of the pool. The salt burns at his raw skin, painfully warm against the cool weight of the sea-green slough covering his body. She moves easily through the thick liquid, reaching out with one of her lower appendages to trace the line of his tears. Flamsteed doesn’t flinch from the bone-hooked tip of her tentacle, doesn’t shudder as she runs it across his softened flesh.

He rakes the squamous bulk of her body with his fingers, acutely aware of the futility of penetrating her scales with his blunted, human nails. One hand working its way down the double-boned ridge of her spine, the second caressing the open expanse of her torso. She thrums beneath his touch, a dull echo deep beneath the cavernous mass of her chest, extremities writhing in a politely simulated act of pleasure. Flamsteed rakes again but cannot break the thick flesh. She will be disappointed, he knows that. He remembers her from her last visit.

They proceed, politely, playing out the exchange that’s expected of them. Flamsteed chides himself for the lack of foresight, for making contact without preparing the required prosthetics, for limiting himself to merely human physical abilities. He has reduced the exchange to simple choreography for the first time in a decade. They will replace him now, dubbing him too old. The thought terrifies him more than he can say.

Flamsteeds nocturnal studies manifest in exhaustion, prompting others to regard him as sickly for the remainder his childhood. His father deems him too weak for college, igniting furious arguments with his son.

Flamsteed clings to his dreams. Letters are written in secret, the necessary books acquired by friends and smuggled into the house. By the time he is permitted to walk into Cambridge Halls, twenty-three and handsome despite his nocturnal pallor, he possessed more knowledge than many who propose to instruct him in the ways of the stars.

He petitions the Queen and the Royal Observatory every year after graduation, his letters echoing the sentiments of a hundred other astronomers who have studied and dreamed as he has. There is a call, a hunger, pervading the Empire, for the secrets of the conquering Others and the Astronomers who serve them.

At thirty, John Flamsteed is the first man to be accepted into the ranks of the Astronomers Royal, his petitions supported by a catalogue of undiscovered stars that’s unmatched by any within or without the Royal Observatory. He is first full-grown human to be initiated, the first Astronomer raised outside with an understanding of humanity.

He meets his first Other in the Astronomer’s tower, deemed ready after three years of training and preparation. The Other looms over him, her pale face like a narrow sliver of moon, silver stars shining from the empty canals of her eyes.

They taught him the rituals needed to control his instincts in the face of the unknown, but he feels fear despite the training, the dry taste in his mouth and the chill running through his trembling legs. There is something primal there, a quiet voice screaming for him to flee. It takes courage to stand at the ready, to stare into the endless void of those eyes.

He takes comfort in the void, the gaze that resembles his beloved stars.

Most Astronomers fail in this moment, unable to sublimate their fear. It is death to fail, he knows this, and Flamsteed forces himself to stay, to remain steady as the luminous hand strokes his clenched jaw. The air is thick with humidity, the Other’s wildflower scent mixing with the flickering taint of tallow. He forces himself to breath normally, to ignore the lightning-sharp tingle that accompanied the Other’s presence. He holds firm as she caresses his face, leans in to study him like a prize horse, forcing his mouth open to check his teeth.

There is no offering in this first encounter, no contact beyond the gentle touch of her fingers, but the solemnity of the moment digs deep into Flamsteed’s chest. This, John Flamsteed is sure, lies at the very heart of the evil his father saw in the Observatory; this moment when man may brush against the divine without seeing God behind it.

* * * *

There is an afterglow with this breed, an ambient luminescence that projects the path of her stellar journey across the domed ceiling. John considers the unfamiliar stars, watching a new sky spread out, magnified by the complex array of curved lenses and glass arrays built into the dome.

There is a beauty to its endless tranquility, to the stars that twinkle in the boundless regions of space, and in their absence are spaces that even the Others do not visit. Even after all these years, after all the homage and services he’s performed, this sight awakens the same quiet awe within him.

The Others tell the Astronomers that the darkness was infinite, stretching on forever in an eternity of empty space. It is only in this room that Flamsteed can comprehend what that may mean. He thinks about the endless, the subtle thrill of pleasure with every new quasar that is found. Thirty years in the observatory and there is still no end to it, no point in the eternal distance that could be the end of a long journey.

And for the first time he wonders if the Others truly do come from stars, all of them connected as the Others claim.

Or whether the gaps in their knowledge speak of some other truth entirely.

* * * *

John Flamsteed delights in charting unfamiliar stars, studying them and recording them in the neat ledgers that line the walls of his cell. Innumerable ledgers, leather-bound and hand-crafted, their pages filled with neat script and a careful record of what has been found. The legacy of three-dozen years of Astronomy in the name of the Queen, so many years of research and still so much to find.

He is forty-five when he meets the first Astronomer to train as he has trained, another outsider named Edmund Halley whose brilliance has given him access to the tower just as John earned his own place among the Astronomer’s Royal. Flamsteed is forty-seven when he first hears the name Terra Optimus whispered in the halls, forty-eight before he realizes that the dissidents have sympathizers amongst the ranks of the Astronomers. John Flamsteed struggles to comprehend the logic behind such a group, to comprehend a world without the Others and their gifts of the stars and the Observatory; it seems tantamount to madness.

Yet he contemplates the possibilities late at night, ignoring the insistent tug of sleep just as he’s done since childhood. He fills his journals with sketches in addition to the charts and the stars, recording notes about all the Others he’s encountered. Every night he considers the question, what if, conceiving of ways to continue his work if he was suddenly bereft of the Observatory and the Others and the gifts they have offered him.

Later still, in the moments before sleep, he offers up silent prayers that his plans are never needed.

* * * *

He finds Edmund Halley waiting for him in the main Observatory, the younger man paging through Flamsteed’s journal. There is something about Halley that Flamsteed finds disagreeable, an unfamiliar cockiness that seems unseemly, even here. The sight of him touching the annotated pages of the journal fills Flamsteed with fear. He fights the itching need to slap the leather covers closed on Halley’s fingers.

“Halley,” Flamsteed says, the deep croak of his voice causing the younger astronomer to start. Despite his five years of service in the tower, Edmund Halley is not yet ready for anything. It isn’t a good sign; the ability to react, to adapt without surprise, is vital to the astronomer.

“John,” Halley says nervously, one hand scratching the back of his head. He shuffles across the room, right hand extended, thin lips drawn into a tight, controlled smile. Flamsteed takes the offered hand, shaking it with disdain, his skin crawling as he makes contact. As though Halley were one of the Others, Flamsteed thinks. As if he were just as alien as they.

“I’ve been reading your journals,” Halley says. “Impressive work, I must say. You’re to be commended on your diligence.”

There is no passion in Flamsteed’s cold stare, just a quiet distaste that the conversation has lasted this long. Halley refuses to wither beneath John’s gaze when Flamsteed doesn’t respond.

“Well, yes,” Halley says. “Impressive; a work of genius, if you’d prefer. There has been talk, among the younger astronomers. Some rumbles about distributing your notes.”

“For the good of the Empire?” Flamsteed says.

Halley smiles and nods, ignoring the dangerous tone. “Yes, for the good of the Empire. Quite right.”

It is a cool day, even behind the insulated stone of the Astronomers’ tower. John Flamsteed blinks in the momentary silence.

“No,” he says.

“John.” Halley looks around, as though preparing to share a secret. “John, this is important. This isn’t about us, the astronomers. Your journal represents the most significant catalogue of Other forms known, details beyond the dreaming of any Astronomer half your age. We need this information, urgently.”

John Flamsteed’s anger is a quiet spark, smouldering with urgency. “No,” he says firmly, leaving no room for discussion.

“John,” Halley says, but he stops when he hears the hint of a growl in Flamsteed’s voice.

* * * *

He is permitted to meet Her Majesty when he is fifty-three, escorted via carriage to the aging cathedral that has become her throne room. There is a silence beneath the hammer of the horse hooves, an empty space that leaves John Flamsteed alone with his thoughts.

He watches the great building through the window of the carriage. It was God’s place, once, but the cathedral now houses the stuff of stars. It is the home of Her Majesty, first among the Other-kin, the great lady who brought the Other to England and awarded the Astronomers her tower. As the carriage thunders into town, the great cathedral looming in the forefront of his vision, John Flamsteed is surprised to find himself weeping.

Her Majesty is a leviathan of pale flesh, her vast bulk expanding to spill over the arms of her throne. She does not speak, but her presence weighs against Flamsteed’s mind like the roar of the ocean. You are the Astronomer Flamsteed.

“Yes.”

You are the first of a new breed, the first willing to sacrifice in exchange for knowledge. It is a great thing, Lord Astronomer, a step forward for your people.

Flamsteed stands in the ancient church and stares.

There were concerns about your appointment, about your ability to survive the rigours required of the post. Was it worth it, Lord Astronomer? The sacrifices you have made?

Flamsteed can feel his stomach boiling, the nausea rising up like steam escaping a kettle. He keeps his mind calm, contemplating Her Majesty’s question in secluded pockets of thought, places he has learned to keep hidden from the mental prying of the Other. It occurs to him, for the first time, that he does not wish to know the answer to this.

“It is a difficult question, Majesty. You ask me for conjecture when you have rewarded the Order for their pursuit of proof.”

The mound of flesh boils, folds in on itself as Her Majesty rolls forward. Flamsteed watches as a great eye forms amid the flesh, a violet orb shot with a fistful of stars.

We ask for opinion, Lord Astronomer, nothing more. Indulge us, we command you. Give us your answer.

His scars ache, a hundred niggling bites of pain that stretch out across his skin, the cost of too many nights in the open chambers that look up into the stars. There is a hollow feeling that accompanies the pain, an emptiness that spreads through his limbs like the endless dark of the night sky.

“You gave us the stars, Majesty. Is there any price that is not worth that?”

Her Majesty’s great eye stares at him, an open window to the universe. Flamsteed stares back and wonders which of the multitude of lights she descended from.

* * * *

She towers over him, her body composed of insect limbs and chitin skin that gleams in the candlelight, her faceted eyes studying him with detached interest. It is a new breed of Other, the first unfamiliar genus he’s seen in years.

John Flamsteed holds his breath as her needle-sharp proboscis penetrates the flesh below his nipple. There is pain, there is almost always pain when dealing with the other, but he expected the heavy appendage to gash flesh like a knife-blade rather than sting like a mosquito bite. He waits with apprehension, breath burning in his lungs, offering a quiet prayer that this time the narrow length will find the space between his ribs. He watches her burrow through the flesh and the layers of muscle, searching for the fleshy sack of his right lung. He cannot breathe until the lung is penetrated, cannot draw breath until she is ready to breathe with him, but penetration takes time and he can already see the star-filled sky of his childhood encroaching on the fringes of his vision, narrowing his perception to a single tunnel that shrinks until there is nothing more than the faceted eyes that keep staring.

The penetration occurs, a popping sensation that leaves him deflated and lethargic. He starts heaving his chest, trying to swallow air, but all he can feel is the quiet pull of her proboscis, the sucking sensation as she breathes in the air of his lungs. He forces himself to concentrate, forces his body to recognize that he isn’t choking, but the empty sensation in his chest will not be ignored. He struggles, just a little, enough to give her pleasure. He forces himself to remember the stricture, the litany that all Astronomers are taught before they are paired with their first Other: we are the servants of the universe, sacrificing ourselves for the gift of the stars; we exist for her pleasure, for our knowledge relies upon their pleasure; we do not ask, do not question, in this moment we belong to her, always to her, and we are their lovers. This is the price we pay to keep our people safe. This is the cost of learning about the darkness.

Flamsteed forces himself to ignore the unspoken advice at the end of the litany, the careful implication that every Other is female. To consider them anything else is unthinkable, even among men who touch the unthinkable day after day.

She reaches the moment of pleasure, quiet moans vibrating along the needle that penetrates him, the black heat of her climax filling the air with the fetid stench of rotting eggs. Flamsteed twists beneath her, pinned on the delicate needle that penetrates him, holding his tongue while he waits for the moment of release.

* * * *

Flamsteed is dead fifteen years when the Observatory falls. It is the beginning of the revolt, the end of Her Majesty’s rule. The yellow-tiled stone ruptures with the force of a dozen explosions, each carefully placed at important junctures that will bring the great tower low. The long finger of stone bends, twisting as it falls. The stones warp and crumble under their own weight, bearing the crystalline tip of the great tower down until it shatters against the earth. There is a slow inevitability to its fall, like a breath long-held suddenly free to be exhaled. The tremor of its impact roars through Greenwich town, shattering windows and kicking up dust. Flamsteed does not live to see it, but it is his notes that make this possible.

They say it was Halley who fired the first shot, setting taper to the fuse that brought the tower down. They say it was Newton who waged the great war, who brought weapons and worse to the rebels who fought to take Her Majesty down. They say little enough of John Flamsteed, remembering him for less, but the Astronomers Royal continues even after the fall of the Others. We chart courses for the ships we discover and negotiate treaties with those who come after. We prepare Britannia for the other worlds, for the depths of space and beyond. We use Flamsteed’s work to determine from where the next attack will come. He studied them and understood, charting their strengths and desires, treating them like the stars he so loved. We say it was Flamsteed that provided the means of Her Majesty’s death, for all that it was Halley who put plan into action.

On the anniversary of his death we lie flowers on Flamsteed’s tombstone; white lilies resting against a yellow stone taken from the tower he loved.

We mourn him and revere. We promise we shall not forget.

Peter M. Ball is a writer from Brisbane, Australia, whose work has previously appeared in Fantasy Magazine, Strange Horizons and Apex Magazine. His unicorn-noir novella, Horn, was published earlier this year by Twelfth Planet Press and he can be found online at petermball.com.

2 Comments

  1. This is simply wonderful, and the first time I’ve come across Peter Ball’s work. Thank you, Apex! Just to correct a small error, (I had to track him down), your link to his site should be petermball.com Cheers.

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  1. Al Snow’s Advice for SF Writers « Apex Magazine — Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror eZine - [...] “L’esprit de L’escalier” in issue 17. Read “To Dream of Stars: An Astronomer’s Lament” in issue 4. Peter M. Ball…

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