Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Issue 62
Stories
Failing Constructs
by Alter S. Reiss
Pinedaughter's Grove
by Ville Meriläinen
The Robots Karamazov
by Marie Vibbert
For a Rich Man to Enter
by Susan Forest
IGMS Audio
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews
Vintage Fiction
A Crash Course in Fate
by Eric James Stone
Bonus Material

The Stars beneath the Leaves
    by Joshua Ogden

The Stars beneath the Leaves
Artwork by Rhiannon R.S.

The Robot, who hadn't decided on a name for himself just yet, was in orbit over a Time Shadow of the planet Earth of the year 300 SA, just before she collapsed on herself and everything that lived on her.

It was remarkably still, floating in the calm of space before it happened.

The sun shone down on the clear blue whiteness of the planet, shining spectacularly behind and around it, sending waves of light splashing over the sides and dripping wonderfully on the Robot. It pleased him to look at it, though it certainly was much more than just pleasing. The Robot was still having a difficult time understanding and naming the things he was feeling, for the ability to feel was a new addition to this being who was only meant to be a purely mechanical and unfeeling thing.

A Being, he thought.

The Robot looked at the Earth (which wasn't really there, a memory from years before then) and knew that he had a soul, and that the Earth herself did too, and that there were trillions of souls contained there, even though the people who lived there had surrendered them partially to the terrible war that caused the end of all of it.

The Earth was inside the Robot. He had gone through the Shadows of Time to make sure everything important was there, recorded and remembered, though not saved in their physical form. The Robot didn't have the technology to truly go through time. He could only see things as they happened. Time was constant and forever, however tragic it was.

Whether the soul of the Robot was the Earth or merely a consequence of seeing the beauty she carried, the Robot didn't know. But the fact that he had one, in some way because of her and her beauty, made him love her and made him filled with near complete joy.

The Robot watched in floating serenity. It truly is beautiful, he thought simply.

Then the sun broke its way through the Earth, taking her neck between its infected jaws and twisting violently, and she was all gone in a moment, in less time than should have ever been allowed.

Only I am beautiful now, thought the Robot. The memories he held of beautiful things were all that was left of the soul of the Earth.

He carried that unequivocated weight fueled by disgusting tragedy and terrifying hope through a warp that brought him towards a planet settled by people from Earth.

The Robot hoped that he might be able to lessen his load there.

Nobi was three. That's what he told everyone every chance he could. Some smiled impatiently. Others got mad for some reason, sighing and stomping away.

He had wandered away from his Ma, for no reason, just for fun, one night. None of the other kids did, so he thought he'd be the first one to go off on his own.

He crawled up the hill where the light came through the big hole in the ceiling of the branches of all the many tall trees, which covered everything and made up their sky.

He laughed, giggled, loudly with uncontained glee, then softer. He could hear his Ma shouting for him. She was looking for him. But he was right there. How silly.

It was fun.

He plopped himself down in the grass below the hole in the ceiling once he had crawled all the way up and to the center of it. He craned his head back as far as it could go.

There were lights. Whole strokes of them, lines and clouds and dots and strings and shapes. It was bigger and more glorious than anything he had ever seen.

He stared at them. His mouth was open for a moment as the light set in his eyes, glinting.

Then he smiled and squealed in delight, clapping his hands clumsily together.

One of the lights moved, slow. It blinked, not like the other ones.

Then, in a display of what must have been magic, a new, thin, bright light appeared and moved across the hole. Fast. He gasped, jumped.

Then it was gone. Fast.

Nobi couldn't believe it.

He was filled with a joy that would last the rest of his life.

He sat there giggling in the purest delight, tiny hands clapping, until his Ma finally found him and carried him home with a spanking and scolding.

He didn't stop laughing the whole way, head aimed towards the sky partially hidden by grasping tree branches.

The Robot was discouraged and afraid as he came out of warp in front of the sixth planet. The previous five had been like Earth, though not yet destroyed.

All the humans ignored the stars.

They fought each other for gain and for lust. There were wars on almost all of them, and the beginnings of them on the rest.

The sixth planet was called The Grove.

Nobi hungered for the stars.

Somehow, three years later, the wonder had stayed inside his heart and was desperate to crawl out. The ceiling created by the branches of the trees covered the simple perfection from his eyes, trapped him inside without any means of getting out into it. He didn't like that. He wanted to see everything he could, all the time.

He had a much harder time making his way back to the hill after the first time. People he didn't even know would often stop him when he tried. His Ma and Pa would spank him and sigh after people would carry him all the way back to his house. They explained that it was all nonsense, going out of your way and wasting energy to just look up, at nothing.

Nobi didn't believe them and was confused why they would say such silly things.

The Robot decided to stay.

The planet was almost completely covered in enormous, beautiful trees with long, intertwined branches, creating a kind of canopy only a few dozen miles below the atmosphere, which had initially deterred the Robot's search.

It was like a blanket woven tightly by a god.

At first, he had only stayed to admire the trees and their incredible colors. The planet was every color at once, the spectrum of every shade presenting itself gloriously to the universe, blending together yet being separate. The planet embraced diversity in the truest way.

The Robot had been flying closer and scanning the whole planet just with its visual sensors, just for fun, to distract it from the pressing work it was employed in.

It was certainly wonderful. The Robot had quickly begun to appreciate simple tangents from any main task in the name of beauty.

Just as the Robot was satisfied and about to warp to another of the planets settled by humans, it noticed a hole in the canopy.

He hovered down towards it, activating his more thorough scanners. The Robot fancied that it could be a star the way his scanners blinked against the blackness behind it.

Then he saw a child smiling, by himself and laughing, on top of an ancient and broken space vessel that was overgrown with grass, hiding its true form from anyone without enhanced vision.

If the Robot had had a mouth, he would have smiled along with the boy, seeing in his accumulated wisdom that there was something of great depth and importance in the lonely child's laughter.

He would investigate The Grove more closely.

"Ma?" said the boy.

"Yes Nobi," Clabi said, already impatient and preparing herself for the ridiculousness he always seemed to be prepared to spew over everything. What a strange child. Certainly her least favorite of the five children she had.

They were walking along the sloping wall of leaves, which was the border of the settlement on The Grove, hands held together, though Nobi was trailing slowly behind as she pulled him on.

"How come Pa and everyone just rakes and rakes all the time?"

"Well, if they didn't, we wouldn't have any food, now would we?"

"We don't eat the leaves," said Nobi in, what sounded to her, a very rude tone of voice.

"No, of course not. They are disgusting. Don't talk back to me that way. Our food falls from the trees after the leaves and becomes buried in them, so we have to sift through all the muck to get it. If we didn't, or if we couldn't for some grand reason, we would die and everything would be ruined."

"I wasn't talking back Ma. I just think it's silly to do the same thing all the time."

"There, you just did. Don't talk back."

"Sorry," Nobi said quietly.

They walked in silence for a few minutes, and she smiled blankly while they did, content with her ability to make her child pliable to her commands.

Life was easier and less exhausting without questions.

"But why do they do it every day?" Nobi said suddenly. Clabi winced, then tugged at him to walk faster.

"Because the leaves fall every day."

"Why do they do that?"

She decided to ignore him.

Nobi stopped then, and said, "Is it to make this?"

Clabi spun around and looked down in a way that she hoped was terrifying.

"Make what?"

"This," said Nobi, pointing to the mound that was the wall.

"Yes," Clabi said.

"How does Pa make the leaves fall?"

"He doesn't. They just do, and the men add the leaves to the wall."
"Why do we have it, though?"

"To keep us safe."

"From what?"

"Stop asking me questions."

"But from what?"

"Awful things," she said, almost spitting. She calmed herself quickly, seeing an opportunity to make him scared and obedient at once.

"Like what?"

Clabi frowned, giving up immediately in her parental endeavor. "What else do you need to know? We just never cross the wall. There are bad things over it."

"How do you know?"

"Stop asking questions! They're tiresome, they hurt my head."
Nobi flinched, then sighed, frustrated but not asking anything else. "Okay, Ma."

A victory. Clabi nodded to herself and regained her smile from before.

"I love you Ma."

She was the one who stopped this time, confused, almost angry, for reasons she didn't know and didn't care to.

"Why would you say something like that? Where did you hear that?" she said, bending down and putting her nose up against his.

"I don't know, Ma. Sorry." Nobi looked away.

Clabi nodded and stood up straight, turned around, and walked, Nobi being pulled behind her.

"Someday, you're going to be married, and you can't expect your wife to listen to you like this. That would be rude to her. As it is to me! I'm very tired, Nobi. I work very hard."

They got home, finally, in silence.

The Past was easily available to the Robot.

The Robot was built by scientists who were afraid the Earth wouldn't make it past the war which had plagued it for only five years, and they knew there were things the universe couldn't afford to lose along with the rest of the planet.

So they made a robot to go through Time to see and record everything of value, as most of it had already been destroyed during the war and there was no safe or smart way of finding anything remaining. So they made a Time Machine, a long-held dream of humanity to come to reality only as the world ended.

The last use of science for good; the rest of it destroyed the Earth.

He had read everything ever written, observed every painting and sculpture, watched every film.

And the Robot was intrigued by the boy he saw, though he didn't think it would be wise yet to reveal himself to the boy in case he wasn't positively the one who could use the things inside the Robot. Instead, he went through Time to see how The Grove had started.

Just for fun.

He had all the time he needed to do the important things, so he felt the extra journey was well worth it.

The Robot quickly fell in love with the old things of The Grove as it had from the old things of Earth, though as he got closer to the present, became as sad as he had been from visiting the previous five worlds.

As a teenager, Nobi lived one day and lived all of them, and was the only person who noticed or cared, or even thought about anything relating to purpose or reason.

The days went like this:

He was shaken awake by his Ma, a fruit plopped on his chest, then given a slammed door. No words. The people on The Grove hardly used them in their work, and everyone counted that as a steep advantage to being Leaf Rakers, though they didn't know anything else.

Everyone but Nobi, anyway. He began to feel as though he was insane for wanting to talk to people about anything other than what was needed to make the day's work go smoothly.

He dressed. He ate his fruit.

He walked outside his house and raked leaves, then piled them on top of the wall he was still so intrigued and challenged by. Nobody said a word, just burped or coughed or sniffed every once in a while. Sometimes he tried to talk to his Pa.

"Hi Pa," he said.

"Yes, Nobi, what is it?"

"How tall do you think these trees are now?"

His Pa stopped mid rake and looked through him, annoyed, unfocused.

"Why?"

"I was just thinking about it. They go up very high though, don't they?"

Pa looked around, annoyed. "Yes," he said, then looked at the ground and raked faster than before.

"But how high does it go?"

"They go high."

"Not the trees," said Nobi, exasperated in his attempt to communicate what he was feeling.

"What else could you be talking about?"
"I mean--everything. What are the stars?"

"Hush now, and stop asking questions that don't mean anything. It's very tiresome, and I don't need to be any more exhausted than I am. Maybe if you worked as hard as everyone else, you'd see the reason to shut up. Don't ask these questions if you're assigned a wife, that will make the whole thing harder."

They raked the rest of the day, Nobi hardly ever daring to ask questions, and only doing so when he was carried away in dreams of the world and everything beyond it, innocently not thinking before he opened his mouth.

Then he ate another fruit.

He raked leaves.

He ate another fruit.

He went to sleep.

He was shaken awake by his Ma.

The only thing breaking up the maddening, circular repetitiveness of it was his late, sleepless nights spent in secret on the hill, looking out of the ceiling of what was beginning to feel very much like his cage and out into something that felt real and important.

Only there did he feel able to breathe.

He knew there must be more than raking leaves and sleeping and eating, even though nobody else thought so.

Nothing but the stars convinced him of this, and it was harder to convince himself of his own sanity.

For a long time, Nobi hated the leaves and the work required to rake them along with everyone else.

The people of The Grove had come from Earth, and though he was already familiar with the Renaissance of humanity, the Robot decided to revisit it in order to find context for the world the boy had grown up on.

In the year 2350 AD, or 1 SA, the humans decided that it was far past time to expand beyond their thin atmosphere and join the rest of the universe. 'Nos oportet sicut astra!' they said, a people who loved the old languages. It must have felt romantic on their tongues.

"We must be like the stars!"

The population had been under control for almost fifty years by this point, with it staying steadily at one hundred billion. Very few people were qualified to have children, and it was decided who could by pollsters and statisticians who truly had the best interests and motives for humanity. Nobody argued; they didn't have a reason to.

Despite past achievement in frivolous technological advances, people and their families made sure to watch the sunset every night. It wasn't just a part of the culture; they all did it and knew they saw something real and beautiful.

Political parties didn't exist. Nobody questioned the government, for its services were hardly needed.

People were happy. But they wanted more, and at first, this was a good thing. It was a wonderful thing. They wrote poetry and sang it whenever they could. The Robot particularly liked this poem (though he loved them all) which was written anonymously, as they all were at that time:

With blurry vision, gasping hard,

I want to See, I want a 'More'!

And up above my head, too far,

Are Lenses, bright and small.

I jump, I scream, I cry,

I will the Sight to fall.

It's always been this way;

And all we've done is Search, then die.

If only certain flying Wings

Could float me Up and towards the Sky.

And maybe then I'd See enough

To live forever.

To taste the Fullness,

And Love, with fervor,

And be all Finished.

I'd Soar.

None of it was perfect, and they knew that. Not much of it made any sense; they just sang what felt beautiful and real. That was the only thing they wanted.

Though the population was enormous, logically too many people for the perfection that was the society, the Earth was a world of poets and artists and musicians and optimistic philosophers and lovers of life. They had almost exhausted their understanding of Shakespeare and Homer, Van Gogh and da Vinci, Mozart and Beethoven, Socrates and Aristotle; though they read, looked at, and listened to all of them over and over and over again, loving them all each time.

The humans didn't decide to colonize other worlds for a logistical problem. They did it because they were perfectly aware of their souls.

They did it because it was a beautiful thing to do.

They knew, as a consequence of loving art, that there was more than what they saw around them. And humanity, as one, wanted to see the universe more than anything else. They were trapped by the atmosphere and were clawing their way, joyfully, out of it.

Scientists were spurred on by the world and by their own ache to achieve wonderful immortality among the stars. The urgency was so great that no other technology could possibly bring them out into the universe fast enough except an engine which could travel at the speed of light.

The humans saw something wonderful, perhaps a glowing fruit (an allusion the people talked of often), hanging just beyond their grasp. Those who they sent to get it and show it to everyone else were called "Tall Ones."

Exaltation had come to humanity just three hundred years before the downfall of it because once they had found what they were looking for, they wanted even more.

Nobi had decided to finally leave his family by the time he was eighteen, something you might think to be difficult in a settlement as small as the one on The Grove (they only allowed the exact number of births that matched the number of deaths in a year, leaving them with around five hundred people on the planet), but they were more than okay with it and made the proper adjustments for it to be possible.

It made him sadder than anything else, to ignore them. He had hoped they would love him once he stopped trying to question them about important things.

But he knew now that there was no use trying to convince them of a love they couldn't see. He hoped that if he was married, whoever she might be, she would be able to see it with him. It felt like a chance, something to look forward to, the beginning of a real life.

Eventually, he slept outside every night under the hole in the ceiling, and his family didn't mind or even say anything about it, as long as he helped rake the leaves along with everyone else.

He began to wonder why he felt things nobody else seemed to be able to and began to feel a bitter loneliness that he couldn't comprehend the reason for, nor did he want to. He was afraid.

He walked along the wall, as close to it as he could, whenever he got the chance to. He was always drawn to it.

"What are you hiding out there?" Nobi would ask in a sad whisper. He was too scared to try and climb out, something he never admitted to himself but was finding harder to ignore.

A frustration found deeper inside his soul than he had dared to search through was beginning to claw itself up his throat and out his mouth, shouting. Contempt quickly replaced the interest he'd felt for the wall, and the hate of the leaves became much more realized and apparent.

He knew the key to life and love had something to do with the stars. He just didn't know how to get to them from so far below them, with the ceiling of the planet keeping him there.

The Grove was the last planet to be settled, though one of the first to be discovered.

At first, the Tall Ones thought it was just a large, colorful asteroid, which was all fine to them. They stopped and admired it for hours, making sure to mark it on their fast expanding navigational charts of the universe. They noticed with great interest that often the colors changed to a deep brown, and then back to all of them at once. But they left it there and moved on in their fast ships to find places where other people could live and wonder at the beauties outside the Earth.

As they returned there years later after having started settlements on countless other planets, they quickly realized that it was indeed a planet, just covered in a hard shell of colored trees with land beneath their boughs. The Tall Ones shouted together in excitement and joy, laughing at their silly mistake that they somehow made, despite all of their technology. But they were glad of it, for now, the planet was theirs, all theirs. It was something to be celebrated, even though they found there was no shortage of planets in the infinite universe that could sustain life.

But it was beautiful, and that was enough to fill them with delight. They clapped clumsily and laughed and giggled and danced and sang their favorite songs without shame.

They used a laser to make a hole big enough for their ship and landed it below the hole. They never flew again.

The ground was completely covered in leaves, several miles deep.

This was discouraging, but they noticed glowing spheres littered throughout them.

As soon as they tasted the fruit and were filled, they set to precariously clearing a town-sized circle with the laser and water hoses, intent on staying there for the rest of their lives, content with the work they had already accomplished and set on living simply and with an appreciation for that simplicity.

So they raked every day from then on, singing while they did, reading to each other and showing off paintings of the great blanket which they lived under once they had finished, loving the planet for giving to them everything they needed. They built houses out of the trees they had cut down to get their ship through, and the fruit kept them fed and hydrated. They explored the regions beyond their town, as they had cleared the leaves very far from the hole they created.

They felt responsible and happy to keep their new haven tidy and clear of the beautiful leaves that fell.

They gathered together every night to watch the stars through the hole they had created in the ceiling of branches. They knew where they came from and admired the perfection of that place, being perfectly content where they had landed after the long journey which had earned them peace.

Then, perhaps thirty years after they landed on The Grove, all of the Tall Ones had died. They died naturally of their incredibly old age and after having lived a life filled with love and appreciation for the things that were important. They died smiling and perfectly content, seemingly without feeling any kind of regret for the lives they had lived with a conscious purpose aimed towards simplicity and beauty.

The Robot then watched their sons and daughters and would have frowned if he'd had a mouth to be able to.

Levi, who was the leader of The Grove after his "captain" father died, stretched while he walked outside his door and onto his front porch, which, thanks to his slanted wooden roof, had a manageable layer of leaves on it that only came up to his ankles.

He looked down and frowned, then sighed, like he did every morning. He didn't ever notice the pattern.

He looked up slowly. Beyond his porch were terrifying, dark mounds that looked like sleeping trolls about to wake up with the sun and tear him apart.

He sighed again and walked into the midst of it all and started raking, slowly and without any kind of passion or love of the work he was to do for the rest of his life.

He raked all day, along with the rest of the men, while the women carted the leaves and put them on the pile that was growing, steadily and without any control, around their settlement. They had begun to call it "the wall", although it was actually just an organized mound pushed up against the suffocating blanket of leaves that covered the rest of the world.

Levi raked and raked and collected the fruit for his family, then slept and raked some more. For if they didn't, they would surely become overwhelmed by the leaves and starve, or drown, or be crushed by the sheer amount of leaves that would fall within just one week.

He sighed whenever he considered the discouraging responsibility he wanted nothing to do with, but had accepted as a result of necessity.

Bacteria and other cell life did nothing to help take care of the leaves. Nobody knew why. Levi's father had counted the fortitude of the leaves as yet another wonder of the planet that he loved. They eventually started using the leaves for clothing because of this.

He never forgot the books his father had read to him as a child. They constantly nagged him, driving his thoughts away from the daily task of making sure the settlement could survive.

He thought of his body and his soul, and the purpose of having the two of them combined. He wondered what life was for and why it seemed to be all for monotony. He thought of wonderful adventures and strange creatures and beautiful women and of love. He wondered where all of it was, and if he could ever find it. He wondered if he would go there after he died.

Levi constantly and guiltily cursed the foolishness of it all, silently. For what would be the use of talking to anyone else about any of it?

He cursed his father, the heralded "explorer of the universe," for landing them on this planet they all hated; he cursed the fruit for tasting the same, boring way every day; he cursed his wife for trying to talk to him when he just wanted to sleep after a long day of work; he cursed the useless, tiresome art and poetry that his father had left for them; and most of all, he cursed the leaves while he raked them.

Levi was unhappy along with the rest of the people who were born on The Grove; they didn't know anything else, didn't want to, and never would.

All of this boiled beneath his skin until one night, as he lay awake and unable to sleep as he considered what love felt like, he threw off his blanket hard onto his wife, waking her up, and ran into his father's old room, breathing hard.

"What are you doing?" his wife screamed down the hall, waking their newborn baby in her frustration. "I want to sleep!"

Levi didn't say anything.

He grabbed all the paintings he could find, every loose and bound piece of paper, and lugged all the boxes outside into a black world of falling leaves.

His wife cried with their child, whom she ignored, shouting that she had just barely fallen asleep and wouldn't be able to do so again easily, and how she really was exhausted from hauling leaves all day.

Levi woke the town and forced them to rake the leaves as they fell, to make sure and keep an area clear. He told the men to bring out the art of their parents.

They burned all of it there.

Levi went to sleep easily, smiling, feeling refreshed, like a weight had been removed. He could sleep now, and when he awoke he would be free from the plague of curious thoughts.

The Robot felt sad and heavy as it reached the conclusion of the promising history of the people who lived on The Grove.

The hate the man named Levi allowed himself to feel destroyed him and was passed down to his children after he died, frowning. Nobody talked about it. They just worked, ate, and slept, boxing themselves in slowly and surely with the leaves they despised as they let exhaustion and despair rule their lives, ignoring beauty in spite.

The Robot began to hypothesize about an inescapable cycle that was tragically ingrained in humanity.

So he quickly returned to the present, all hope left for success contained, bursting, in the boy who he saw laughing through the hole in the trees. He watched him for many years and was encouraged, although not yet quite satisfied, for the boy seemed happy enough with how things were. There was acceptance there that made the Robot nervous.

The boy watched the stars almost every night, and the Robot watched him back. The boy smiled blindly, and the Robot would have smiled back if he could.

Soon, Nobi was assigned to marry a young woman named Sobu. They were chosen, with twenty other couples, to create the next generation of workers for the planet.

But Nobi wanted to love her, to see her soul and like what he saw. It was the most important thing that he loved her, and that she loved him and the stars as much as he loved the two of them.

It felt like a chance to have something real, to act on the feelings that he had so long bottled up in shame.

He wanted to feel like he belonged somewhere.

She responded very uncomfortably to his request of them visiting together, alone, and agreed to go with him probably just to end the conversation. But Nobi had hope, and that made him happy enough in the moment.

So he took her to the hill and they lay beneath the opening in the ceiling, watching the stars, the light reflecting off of their faces.

The wedding was the next day.

They lay there in silence. Nobi thought it was best that way, so she could look up and properly see what he saw without any distractions or interruptions.

Assuming Sobu would naturally do the same, Nobi allowed his mind to drift off the ground and be sucked into the hurricane of light above them, as he had done countless nights. He had never gotten tired of looking at the stars.

Existence was a huge blob in the shape of light. Nobi smiled without knowing and felt happy in that moment, however long it was. Perhaps there was someone else like him. He hardly could hope, but as he watched the stars, he felt the chance grow more and more desirable, and desperately necessary.

He looked at the stars and they seemed to look back, and he knew there was something important there.

Time wasn't important. It may as well have just not existed, and he hoped she had come up with him.

"Nobi," Sobu said, slapping his shoulder, perhaps minutes later. He fell straight down and landed back in harsh reality. She looked uncomfortable and confused. "What are we doing here?"

He stared at her in crushed disbelief. "We're watching the stars," he said.

Her confusion deepened in her face, as if this was the farthest thing from what she thought they were going to do. "Why?" she said, slowly and bluntly.

"You don't see it?"

"I do. They're stars," she said.

"I mean, do you feel anything?"
"What?"

He sighed in uncontrolled frustration. "From the stars! You must feel something."

"I don't understand what you mean Nobi. I'm very tired, so why are we awake so late? We should be sleeping instead of sitting here as exhausted as we are, doing nothing."

Nobi looked at her and saw nothing looking back.

He rubbed his eyes and placed a half smile under them. "Alright," he said, getting up and brushing off his pants. He wanted to leave, didn't want anything to do with her, with any of it.

"Where are you going?" Sobu said.

Nobi didn't say anything and kept walking.

"You're just going to leave me here?"

"No," Nobi said without any emotion, doing his best to hold it back and away from this shell of a person who may as well have been anyone else. "You shouldn't be here. Go home. Please never come back here. Good night."

"I will see you tomorrow!" Sobu shouted blandly after him, ignoring his considerable displeasure, being ignorant of it.

Sobu got up and walked home minutes later after she had decided something. Though it hardly took any thought, it took the whole time she sat there to come to her conclusion.

What a strange man, she thought. So ridiculous and tiresome.

The leaves fell all around her, swirling through the air. She ignored them, swatted them away in annoyance when they got close to her face. She had never actually seen them fall before.

Well, she thought. A husband is a husband. I suppose it doesn't matter either way, if we were married or not. It's just how life is, I guess. My goodness, I'm tired. And we're awake so late! How strange.

She yawned.

She arrived at her house and went quickly to sleep on the eve of her wedding, any thoughts of love as far from her mind as the stars were.

Nobi went to the wall and tried to think of the best way to tear it down.

He poked at it at first, then punched it, then slammed his whole body against the mound, screaming at it and spraying it with his chaotic slobber, the spit dripping from his face along with his tears as he slumped down against the wall that he hated. He sighed raggedly in quick, desperate bursts, exhausted, his whole body and his whole soul.

There has to be more, he thought. There has to be something else. He looked towards the hill and the light that came down through it and cried softly.

Then the leaves began to fall around him.

One of them landed on his shoulder, then on his head and toes.

He watched them and wanted more.

A beast exploded inside him in bright red, blinding anger, an explosion, a huge tree creaking and falling.

He jumped up and swiped at the leaves as they fell, with his hands, his feet, his arms, his mouth, his head, any part of him that could attack the world, hitting at them and at nothing as fast and as powerfully as he could. He screamed and sobbed, hating the world for giving him nothing, nothing, nothing, there's nothing, he thought, over and over again.

He stopped suddenly, as a blinking star was falling through the ceiling.

It floated in complete serenity.

He stared at it, his eyes widening and feeling as though he'd like to clap and giggle childishly.

The star disappeared over the wall.

Nobi sat down again, a smile spreading across his face while he thought of what there was to do.

He watched the leaves fall, swirl, dance, laugh, and he thought, in wonderful simplicity, They truly are beautiful, aren't they? And he laughed along with the leaves and didn't sleep all night, staying there happily, being buried beneath the world with layers of the precipitating leaves and with his freshly optimistic thoughts of his future because of the stars.

He could almost see them in the lonely darkness.

And he knew, more than he had ever known anything, that he truly wasn't happy.

But he wanted to be, and he knew now that he had found a place to start towards achieving his desire.

He felt silly for hating the leaves his whole life.

The Robot was mostly convinced and hovered down through the hole and over the huge circular pile of leaves that closed in the settlement on The Grove.

If the boy was who the Robot thought he was, he would come find him.

The Grove was even more beautiful up close than it was from space.

The trees were alive, which was factual, but also apparent when the Robot flew next to the trunk of one. Although perhaps not conscious or willful, they were real and they were beautiful. The bark seemed to sing at him, whistled through the air and greeted him, welcomed him to the planet.

The Robot would have smiled back.

Nobi climbed the slope of the wall, which was really just a simple mound, in the morning before everyone else woke up.

He smiled the whole way there, even as he slid back down more than once.

The Robot saw him coming.

And he knew the boy was the one to give the Earth to.

Nobi could see the blinking light of the star floating over the mounds of leaves which had never been touched. He was at the top of the wall, higher than he had ever been, just before it slanted down, far far down, and then evened out with the rest of the leaves on the planet. And then the trunks of the endless trees went into the depths, deeper still.

He took a deep breath and smiled.

He had made it, crawling. He was on his way to making it out of the cage, and there was something beautiful waiting for him which would make the isolation he had endured worth it.

He felt like he was accomplishing something important, that the long journey he had been going on was ending. He was ready to start the next one towards happiness, which would be brought about by his pursuit of the beauty in the stars.

The boy jumped into the mound of leaves below him, laughing and giggling wonderfully the whole way down, sliding slowly at first, then much too fast down the hill.

The Robot shot into the air, knowing that the leaves wouldn't be enough to catch him.

He was too late, as he always had been.

Nobi fell, an insignificant leaf joining the rest, and died. It was a slow death; he slid into the pit, the leaves doing little to slow his descent, and broke most of his bones in a way that wasn't enough to kill him, but more than enough to cause excruciating pain for the rest of his life.

He suffocated there.

The Robot tried to find the boy that would provide life, but couldn't penetrate the pile of leaves without burning everything down with the engines that allowed him to fly.

The Leaf Rakers hadn't built stairs or any means to go down the wall. They were more than content with keeping everyone inside it, to suffer with them in the hell they had created for themselves as they ignored the stars.

Nobi was replaced with another young man at the wedding the next day, and his body stayed there, beneath the leaves, hidden from the stars, for the rest of time. The people on The Grove never had a war; they were too tired to start one, and never had a reason to. Passion is what creates art, but also what starts war. And there was none of that on The Grove; they were content in, but also ignorant of, their cycle of numbness.

Seeing that nobody could possibly be there to call for him, the Robot finally decided to remain nameless.

It was only another century before The Grove was the only planet left with any humans on it, all of the others dying for the same reason the Earth did. The Robot checked The Grove often, hoping for someone with whom he could share what he carried sacredly, and knew that he must return constantly until he died, however fruitless his attempts might be.

He used his monotonous free time visiting every inch of the universe, knowing that it deserved attention and respect and that he was the only one who could ever be able to give it.

He never became tired of seeing it all, though.

It's all so beautiful, the Robot would think. He thought that right up to when his parts, which had no replacements, became too old to function anymore and he died. The soul of the Earth inside him was gone forever, unwanted by a tragically ungrateful humanity who were all but dead and completely ignorant of the life they were without.

The stars still remained, constant and forever, shining gloriously and beautifully. They sat waiting, patient as they must be, for the next person who would look up. For surely someone would.

They waited, watching, for the time when things could start all over again.


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