Through her centuries of experience, only one thing remained consistent in her world: Jaci was, and would forever be, the Moon’s only relative.
Relative was a loose term, since the Moon was a hunk of rock and she was human. Their relationship wasn’t based through blood—the Moon had no blood to share with her. As the only being bound by soul to the lunar body, though, she considered herself as close to the Moon as a rebellious niece was to an egotistical, overly-strict uncle. Sure, they had their disagreements and the uncle could be a real arsehole, but they were related nonetheless.
The status had its perks, though the day ahead didn’t tote many. As the Moon’s only relative, the role of representative fell on her unwilling shoulders. So, whenever a new decade rolled around and the Galactic Council called for a meeting, she was forced to attend up to ten hours of senseless bickering that made Earth politics seem like distinguished dinner party chat.
From a portal on the Moon, she teleported to the council’s waiting room. When Jaci’s feet landed on the carpet, she wobbled, nauseous. It wasn’t every day that she had her energy slingshotted through millions of lightyears. In fact, she rarely left the Moon’s surface at all.
Around her, the waiting room appeared as it had a decade ago. The chatter of various arcade games swallowed the air, drowning out the faint retro music tickling the overhead speakers. Figures stooped at game machines, their fingers flying over controls, the radiance of screens playing across their concentrated faces. Neon strobe lights lined the carpeted aisles. The fluorescents gleamed off cartoon portrayals of planets and stars, making the patterns glow.
A cursory glance around revealed no recognizable faces. Biting back a pang of disappointment, Jaci padded toward the nearest arcade game. She dug into her jean shorts and withdrew a coin, then slotted it into the machine and blinked at the Pac-Man menu. Her vision teetered between focus and bleariness as she maneuvered through the game. Exhaustion gnawed at her bones.
Another dream-filled night. She hadn’t had dreams in centuries. If they had been silly dreams, dreams filled with nonsense and magic, Jaci would’ve welcomed them. But these dreams were flashes, almost like forgotten memories. The more she experienced them, the more they felt like some strange destiny, a glimpse into the future.
A fizzling pop echoed through the room as another galactic representative appeared. Jaci’s eyes strayed to catch a lean figure sauntering toward her. As he sidled beside her, sudden heat rushed into her cheeks.
“Arcade theme again. Maybe someone should tell the council that we’re in the twenty-first century now, right, Moonbeam?” said Canin. His smile glowed with supernatural brilliance against the arcade’s dimness.
She turned back to her game, gritting her teeth against a growing blush. “If it isn’t Dog Boy. Didn’t Sirius send you to the last meeting, too?”
“I was made Sirius’ representative for this century. What can I say? I’m his favorite. I’ve got looks, charm, brains…”
“Brains might be stretching it.”
His laughter was an explosive noise, bright and beautiful like a supernova. Butterflies fluttered across her chest. Six centuries of friendship and Canin still had this effect on her, numbing her mind, turning her limbs to jelly. So many damn butterflies.
Like the other representatives in the arcade, his form glowed with a wondrous light. Canin’s aura, however, shone with an unmatched luminance that blazed across his coppery skin, his shaggy dark brown hair, and his multicolored eyes. Whether his radiance was caused by his relation to the brightest star in the Milky Way or simply because he was Canin, she didn’t know.
As Jaci turned to him, the smile slid off her face. She fell into the vibrant depths of his irises, swimming in thousands of colorful hues. Her breath snagged.
The wail of the arcade machine stirred her to her senses. Jaci blinked at the screen as the Pac-Man figure retracted into nothingness. Boxy red letters appeared: ‘GAME OVER’.
Frowning, Jaci restarted the round. Though her body leaned into the game, her mind lingered on the boy beside her. “A few months ago, do you remember me mentioning I was having dreams?”
Canin’s eyebrows pinched together. “Yeah. I thought you said they weren’t frequent, though.”
“They weren’t before, but I’ve been having them every night for a week now. I’m knackered after trying to find out what the visions mean.”
“Are you sure they mean anything?” She pursed her lips. Canin held up his hands. “Okay, fine, they mean something. Run me through these dreams again.”
Sighing, she paused the game and closed her eyes. The visions resurfaced in the darkness. “There’s this girl who looks like me, but she’s not a representative. Every time, I watch fragments of her life. I feel connected to her.”
“Who is she?”
“I’m not sure, but I think she’s on Earth.”
“You mean…Earth Earth?”
“What other Earth could I mean, twit?” said Jaci, rolling her eyes. “The place of Elton John music and expensive coffee and overdramatic sitcoms. That Earth.”
Canin frowned. “Do you think she’s—”
The arcade floor shuddered beneath their feet. A horn blared, drowning out Canin’s words. In a blink, the machines and sounds and lights winked away. The room expanded into a well-lit circular space. A silver throne emerged to seat her, its arms tattooed with marbled Moon phases. Eleven other thrones formed a circle—each sat like a digit on a clock, her position at six.
The carpet below her feet had hardened into a crystalline mural. A glassy reflection of the universe stared up at her. As she watched, the planets inched across the floor in orbit around the Sun. The walls rose into a vast oblivion yawning above. A spiraling eye of nebulas and stars beamed down from the heavens.
Jaci stared into the Milky Way, the colors of the galaxy clashing and swirling across her sights. No one actually knew where the council meetings were held, only that the destination was far beyond anything familiar. What corner of the universe had she been thrust into? How many lightyears had the meeting taken her from everything she knew?
At the circle’s one o’clock, Canin sat cross-legged on Sirius’ glistening throne. Other representatives had taken their own positions, each belonging to galactic bodies with enough power to reserve a spot on the council.
One throne sat empty as always. Across from her, only fire waltzed on the Sun’s pedestal. The sight reopened a wound in her, one she thought had healed long ago. Gripping the arms of the chair, Jaci tore her gaze away.
In the silence, a thunderous tone boomed from above. “Welcome to the second gathering of the Galactic Council in the twenty-first century. I am the Voice of the universe, tasked with its past, present, and future. Each of you was selected by your respective galactic bodies to represent them today, and each of you should consider such a task as the highest honor.”
Jaci held back a snort. Like the Moon had any other choice but me.
“So far,” the Voice continued, “this decade has been uneventful. Despite rising tensions between humans, our descendants have remained in the shadows. There is, however, one problem of late.
“With the exception of the Sun and Moon, each of your galactic bodies spawns frequently. These descendants roam the Earth among humankind, beads of light against the dull backdrop of the world. Some of them have proven dangerous in the past, hence why restrictions have been made.”
The attention of every council member swiveled toward Jaci. She dug her nails into the arms of her throne, fighting the urge to shrink from their gazes.
The Voice made a noise as though clearing its throat—whether unseen, all-powerful entities had throats, Jaci wasn’t sure. The scrutiny flitted away from her, allowing Jaci to breathe again.
“A recent scan of Earth has led me to discover the presence of five major-bodied Stellars residing within a small Arkansas town. Of these Stellars, only one has been claimed: a son of Sirius. The boy has caused chaos before, though he is strong-willed and good-hearted. The other descendants live nearby. While two or three powerful Stellars in one area is common, as Stellars’ auras are drawn to each other, five descendants near one another could prove catastrophic.
“Furthermore, one of these Stellars has been wreaking havoc. Over the past year, this descendant has stolen dozens of lives, including five souls in the town where the other Stellars have congregated. So far, only regular humans have died. If the Stellar were to take another Stellar’s soul, particularly a powerful one, the implications could be disastrous on a universal scale. This soul-stealing fiend must be identified and dealt with. Does anyone claim this Stellar or any of the other unidentified children?”
The words rang heavily into the silence, yet no voice rose to meet them. In the quiet, Jaci found her mouth opening. I should tell them about my visions.
The thought restored rationality. She clamped her lips shut once more. The Moon had told her to never breathe a word during Galactic Council meetings.
You’ve got a sharp tongue that could get me in trouble. You are there for attendance, and nothing more. One wrong word could damage my reputation forever.
Jaci knew her own tendency to muck things up, but to damage the reputation of one of the most respected galactic bodies on the council? The only way to do that would be to share some forbidden secret—and, as far as she knew, the Moon had none. It never broke any rules and never crossed any lines. Overall, the Moon was a terrible bore.
The dreams crept back into her mind, alongside the nameless girl. Through the visions, she had watched the girl grow up, had seen her doodle crayon drawings on walls and scrape her knees on pavement. It all felt so undeniably real. What if it was? What if the girl was more than a face in her subconscious?
But why would Jaci have dreams about her, of all the people on Earth? Why now?
The Voice’s irritated tone resounded through the surrounding darkness in the room. “Will none of you claim any of these Stellars?”
Jaci’s gaze darted about the circle. Canin sat with an air of confidence on his throne. Having already claimed one of the Stellars, he was off the hook. Other representatives swiveled in their seats, glares landing with accusation on their peers. Their lips remained drawn in tight lines.
She squirmed in the straight-backed throne, feeling the hard material dig into her skin. Unease prickled at her—Jaci couldn’t figure out why. Wasn’t she off the hook too? The universe had passed a law seven centuries ago against the Sun and Moon, forbidding them from ever having descendants again. They were too powerful—the abilities of their descendants only brought chaos and death. Surely the Moon wouldn’t go against such an order after all this time.
A gravelly sigh rattled the room. “Very well,” said the Voice. “If no one claims these Stellars now, then we will plan to meet again by the end of this year. I expect to know the identities of all four of these Stellars by Winter Solstice. Otherwise, we’re done here.”
Council members pushed off their seats. Jaci began inching off her throne, eager to squeeze in a few more words with Canin before they had to separate toward their own galactic bodies.
She blinked, and the room disappeared. The marble floor disappeared as grass sprang up beneath her feet. Trees sprouted to flank her from all sides. Their branches curled in an embrace above her head. The night sky peaked through gaps in the forest’s canopy. Starlight glimmered off the autumn-tinged trees, turning their leaves into flames. The sheer vibrancy and life made Jaci’s sights swim.
When was the last time she had seen this much color beyond a dream? Except, looking around, Jaci recognized the setting as the one of the same where her usual dreams took place. Her heart sank with disappointment. Then this was just another fantasy. She wasn’t really on Earth, wasn’t really feeling the evening air tickle her face, wasn’t really hearing the singsong chirp of cicadas around her.
It had been a while since her dreams had touched in the forest. Usually, they centered around an ugly-looking house with a bulky observatory rising like a pimple atop its roof. The scenery was a nice change. One aspect, however, remained the same as always. The girl.
She stood before Jaci, her freckled face paler than normal and her mouth swinging open. Wind tickled the tip of her silvery-blonde braid. Her wide blue eyes reflected the streaming moonlight.
Jaci swallowed a gasp. In all her dreams, never had the girl actually seemed to see her before. Jaci had hung about each vision like a silent spectator, not once seen or heard. Yet now, staring back at the girl she had watched grow up behind her eyelids, she knew without a doubt that the girl could see her too.
As Jaci gawked at the girl, information flooded her head. Suddenly, she knew exactly who the girl was—what she was. She knew the name tagged to the memories. She knew the identity behind the phantom figure of her visions. And the realization that the girl wasn’t just a dream shattered the last consistent fact in Jaci’s life.
With a blink, the scene faded back into reality. The throne rushed up beneath her and the chatter of people replaced the cry of insects. Jaci stumbled off her seat, unable to think, unable to breathe. As though sensing her astonishment, the attention swiveled back to her.
Amidst the shock, the Moon’s warnings chanted through her head. Don’t speak up. Don’t say a word. Don’t embarrass me.
Jaci took a deep breath, swishing the thoughts around like mouthwash. Then, flourishing a mental middle finger to the Moon, she opened her mouth. “I know the identity of one of the Stellars.”
A gasp rippled across the room. The Voice’s presence clogged the atmosphere, weighing on her shoulders with silent judgement. Jaci steeled her nerves, ignoring every lesson that had been drilled into her mind.
The Moon had lied. It had broken the rules and crossed the line. And she, the Moon’s only representative, would reveal it all.
“Her name is Lucine Callisto,” said Jaci, meeting the invisible gaze of the Voice, “and she’s a descendant of the Moon.”