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The Learned Astronomer

Bailey lives in between the land and the sea, writing weird, emotive tales about animals, monsters, the feminine, the sublime, and the strangest of all creatures, mankind. She writes and performs Gabriela & The Inn Between, a scripted fiction podcast set at a vaguely magical bed and breakfast. Keep up with her and her work on Twitter, Instagram, or at baileyloveless.com.

His comet speeds past the supernova generated by the exploding core of Star B-15810's. It was lucky he got here just in time. His quadrant of space is relatively new, way beyond the 4% of the universe visible from Earth, and he furiously jots down his observations of the explosion before the comet takes him too far out of range. He notes the new neutron star's temperature before it fades out of sight, measures the number of particles blasting away through space, does his best to preserve this moment in words and numbers.
10 billion years, and it all ends in a glorious moment, he thinks with a shudder, checking his instruments as he flies away from the blast. This is the third supernova he's seen, and he is not sure that he will see another. There's no way around that one day his comet will fail and fall, that his calcium will return to the stars, and he will go on only in the data he has transmitted. But he hopes for one more, always one more, for there is so much more to know.
The comet continues on towards Star B-15811A and B-15811B, two young binary stars in desperate need of further cataloging. Their twin lights come closer into view, and he pulls out his telescope to see how close-knit the two stars are in orbit. B-15811A is the larger of the twins and glows a soft blue, but it is the smaller, pink sister star that grabs his attention.
Because there's a girl doing ballet.
She leaps up and down on the star's squishy surface as if it were a giant pink bouncy ball. Her indigo hair shines bright with constellations. Measuring the elements around her, they read that she is full of starlight and salt. As his comet approaches, her laughter echoes in his ears. She turns to look at him. Still pirouetting on the peak of gravity, she waves, her sapphire eyes wide with surprise but not alarm.
"What are you doing?" she calls.
"Collecting data," he calls back. "About the stars while I can. I need to learn all that I can you see before my comet will fly past."
"I know all about these two. What do you want to know?" she says.
"Age, temperature, orbit, you know that sort of thing," he says with a wave of his hand, glancing at his readings.
"That one would like to see a balloon someday," she says, indicating B-15811A, then pointing down with her toes, "And this one likes it when I dance. It tickles."
"Oh," he says, unsure of what to do with that information.
"Have you traveled far?" she asks.
"My calculations say that I've come nearly 3,000 light-years to be here," he says puffing his chest up. "But I've cataloged over 100,000 stars during that time."
"Sounds amazing, but also a bit tiring," she says, and he is disappointed that she is not more impressed. "That's a lot of stars to remember, so I guess I'm lucky I only have these two."
Her eyes dart down suddenly. "What was that?" she says, cupping a hand to her ear. He strains but hears nothing. The girl looks up at him with a brilliant smile that makes him quiver. Pointing towards Star B-15811A, she says "They say you can stay there if you would like to rest. They say you are a boy will love them as much as I do."
"Who does?" he says, checking his calculations and confirming B-15811A's six-month rotation.
"The stars," she says.
"You can hear them?"
"Of course. Can't you?" she says with a kind laugh. Then she closes her eyes, smiling as she twirls midair, her skin aglow with a pale pink blush. "They're always talking, whispering, if you listen close enough."
It this moment that he falls in love with her, and with trembling in his heart, he pushes away from his comet. Hurtling through space towards the star's milky blue surface, he is not afraid when he looks at her. He will live on this one binary star for many years and know it better than all the rest. He will build a house and he will learn her name. He will rotate around her, and she around him, and every six months, he will see her smile.
10 billion years and it all ends in a glorious moment, he thinks as he falls closer and closer towards the star. But for the first time, he truly understands a supernova when it explodes.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, November 14th, 2022

Author Comments

This story was inspired by a favorite, short poem of the same title by Walt Whitman, and the B at the beginning of the stars' names is a nod to another boy in literature who traveled through space to learn about life and love. I'm thrilled to have this story, which means so much to me personally, be my short story debut and first work on the DSF rocket. Like my main character, I am the sort of person who needs to be reminded on occasion to take a risk, get out of my head and beyond my books, and just go live.

- Bailey Loveless
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