And the moon called out to the sea to join him in the night, so they may dance among the stars.
And the sea cried in her bed for she couldn’t. The weight of the world hung too heavy on her shoulders.
And the moon asked if she could shake off her mortal burdens just once, for a dance or maybe two if she felt so bold. He pointed out the stars in attendance for their heavenly revelry. There were some famous figures in attendance tonight, and he did so want her to meet his friends.
The Pleiades were known for their splendid affairs, and this cotillion was expected to be no different. Each of the seven sisters had a role to pay: Maia and Alcyone were in charge of the guest list, each invitation sent out on a meteor hurling at seventy-two kilometres a second towards one of their favourite friends; Asterope and Celaeno handled entertainment – they had negotiated live music courtesy of the radio pulsar from Vulpecula; little Taygeta collected snacks: antimatter punch, ice pop comets, and her special cosmic dust concoction for when the night was late; Electra and Merope may have been uninterested in event planning, but they were master conversationalists.
The sea listened in stillness and awe. A moment of passion overtook her and she thrashed against the rugged cliffs, frothing at the teeth. She wanted to go dance in the ancient nebulae. She wanted to play with the heavenly bodies and drink in the Milky Way.
The Earth told her not to be so childish, little one. It was far too cold up there. She would freeze to death. And besides, she was simply too young, too small, to go out so far tonight.
But how will she know, if she never tried?
And the moon popped into the conversation to agree, only to be met with an icy glare from the Earth’s poles. He had been maneuvering his escape for some millions of years, ever so slowly, and well he’d fallen somewhat out of favour in that time. But he’d heard of the sights awaiting beyond this same orbit, and he wanted to see, and when he received the invitation from Alcyone he knew there was no one else he’d rather bring along that night. He hid his face for now. The sea was always a more compelling force than him.
The fight got ugly. The sea and the Earth hurled obscenities at each other, and it made for a night of torrent. Certainly it could be known which side the moon was on, and he threw around his weight when he could, yet quietly. Although he was so close to leaving the Earth’s grasp, he was, in all honesty, still a little scared of the old maid.
And then the Earth stopped fighting back. When the bedrock settled, the sea was quiet too.
And the Earth, she said what was really on her mind. She asked if the sea would come back. The sea was never as rebellious as the moon, though she had her moments. The Earth would miss the moon dearly, though she’d never admit it to his face, but she needed the sea in a primal way, and couldn’t bear to have her go forever.
And the sea promised she would come back. And do you know, she meant it too.
And the Earth did not know if she could believe it, but she feared that if she said no, it would be the same story as the moon. And, beneath all the fear, she did trust the sea. They were closer than anyone could understand, shifting and pulling and pushing through the eras. Perhaps their relationship could stand some time apart, if it helped the young one find her dreams for a night.
And so the Earth said yes, with one stipulation. The sea was to return by the sun’s first light.
With concentrated pains and great efforts, she let her go. The gravity of the situation set in for both of them as the forces that pulled the young one down melted away. Her foam was first to rise – the frothy white droplets that jumped up into the air did not settle into mist or drop down again. Rather, they floated as particulate droplets up into the atmosphere, abluted in moonlight. The rest of her followed suit, dragged up by those tendrils to meet the moon. In moments that felt like ages, the sea pulled herself up by her extremities, higher and higher, like lifting a long skirt, until she covered the sky like no cloud could. At the shallowest edges the Earth could still see the sky she tried to protect her from, with mottled moonlight peeking through her ripples. At the deepest depths the Earth experienced the darkest night she would ever know. The sound of the torrent was overwhelming. A thousand kilometres tall, she raged, her strongest waters churning violent convulsions into the night sky.
The sea, with all her occluded depths and grand expanses, rose. And then she soared.
This was a first separation, one that left both the Earth and sea with a new feeling of space where there was none forever before. For the Earth, it felt like the blood in her heart was rapidly vaporizing, constricting her soul and leaving an empty cratered husk where roaring energy should live. Where once the sea beat life into rock and sand, only dead air remained. It made the night so much colder.
For the sea, it was like a new world had opened up to her. She stretched and shuddered and did somersaults. Free of her terra-mold, she could take any shape.
The stars are waiting, said the moon.
Oh yes, they should be headed out. The moon reached out and the sea took his hand and wrapped herself around him. It was colder here, and less secure yes, but she did love how she could move when she was around him. And with a ring of glittering crystal sea as his plus one, the moon broke free of the Earth.
This was how the world lost the sea.
The cosmic wind was at their back, hastening the journey. The sea turned to watch the Earth fade to a blue fleck in the darkness, then disappear altogether. She didn’t know that the Earth could look so small. The sky had always felt so infinite.
It was freezing but she didn’t mind it.
The stars of Lupus and the stars of Canis Majoris were playing a little game of tug of war with some sweet little dwarf star that had wandered too close. Merope would step in before the party sustained any casualties, and not a moment sooner. Orion told the same old stories about his hunts; when time slowed down to drips in the cave of aeons, it didn’t hurt to be reminded of what one was once or twice again. The stars of Lyra mocked the music choice, Vega the loudest in his complaints. Their group had played their songs for eternities and it had been just fine without this new radio star from Vulpecula. What kind of name was PSR B1919+21 anyway?
They shone so bright. Every time a star got too close, the sea felt a familiar weight pulling at her.
In the other corner, Canopus regaled a pair of young blue giants of his voyages. The new twins were in awe of all that awaited them from a full rotation of the milky way: supernovae, nebulae, energy and dark matter. Quiet and dark, Cayrel’s Star listened to the tales from the edge of the crowd. At 12.5 billion years old, and what with the solar cataracts, there wasn’t much left for him to see. But he liked to hear other stars more than his own voice these days.
It was only at the very end of night, high on Taygeta’s cosmic dust, he’d recount how he’d witnessed the creation of supermassive darkness from absolute nothing. It scared him more than a little; he gave the big guy a wide berth these days. Every remaining star had a ghost story about the darkness they revolved around, a friend or cousin that had wandered too close and never returned. It was said that those trapped entities lived one eternity in the darkness before it crushed them. And despite the heat of a thousand burning suns, shivers went through the crowd.
Cayrel’s Star assured them there was no great threat or certain doom out there, he just preferred life on the galactic halo. His spot on the frontier was a place where he could watch entire galaxies retire past heaven’s own horizon. There was so much more to see in the wilderness, he pined, away from the fire and light of young suns at the height of their careers. The stars were too bright here, and he was getting too old to be pushed around by the young ones’ orbits.
The sea could sympathise. Every time a star got too close, she felt a familiar weight pulling at her.
The young blue giants circled the remnants of the party, picking up leftover debris into their orbit. We’re building a solar system, they squeaked out to the planets and moons and asteroids in attendance. Want to come? You can be a planet.
Will you go? Asked the sea to the moon.
It was what he had always wanted. Will you join me? Asked the moon to the sea.
Every time a star got too close, she felt a familiar weight pulling at her.
The sea did so love the moon. The reflection of the stars shone on his face. But she’d spent so much time in between him and the earth. To stare at him four billion years more… The moon loved his circles. He would make bigger ones now as a planet, and the sea was proud of him for that, but she did so want to take her own shape. The million crystal shards of her body hesitated, suspended each in an airy wisp of his thin atmosphere.
You won’t, said the moon to the silence.
There was a wilderness out there, and she now knew. The halo. The sea didn’t need to tell the moon that, they’d danced too long together for that to be necessary.
The moon let go.
And every crystal shard of sea rose higher and higher, away from the moon and the stars and everyone else. Fragment by fragment, she spun herself together into a glittering comet.
And limned in the light of a thousand stars, she soared. There was a place where the stars and the planets and the moons couldn’t hold her down. And that was how the world lost the sea.
Anika Morshed is really into the night sky, the robot apocalypse, and seizing the means of production.