by Mary E. Lowd
Originally published in Beyond Wespirtech, November 2023
It was so beautiful that the weight of it made her feel weak inside. She cried, and no one knew why. No one else could hear the music. But Brianna could hear it inside.
Brianna’s parents didn’t understand. They thought their child simply had an artistic sensitive soul, and perhaps, she was unusually susceptible to sunstroke. They tried to keep her inside on sunny days, especially in the middle of the summer. But Brianna craved the sun. It made her cry, but it also made her giggly and manic. Sunlight could make her happier than anything else — that voice whispering in her heart, rising and falling, raising expectations, holding out a moment longer than she thought she could stand, and then resolving. The music Brianna heard was the fabric of her life.
It was a constant battle between Brianna and her parents to keep her out of the sun. Her parents dressed her in long sleeves, turtlenecks, and unfashionable hats. When it got too hot for that, they slathered her in sunscreen. Brianna insisted that she didn’t need protection any more than anyone else, but her manic tears when the sunlight hit her skin scared her parents more than a small child’s clumsily chosen words could persuade.
So, Brianna learned to hide her feelings and let the music flutter inside her secretly. Until she learned to write.
As soon as Brianna figured out how to capture and codify music on her computer, around the age of nine, she disappeared from the world. Her parents were busy with her younger siblings by then — a toddler and a new baby — and were proud that their daughter could keep herself busy, especially in such a productive way.
Brianna shared only snatches of her music with her family. As she got older, she’d offer the occasional short composition for extra credit in an art class at school, and her teachers were always encouraging. However, the growing folder of music files on Brianna’s computer might have stayed a personal treasure trove, a private solace untouched by the world, if her father hadn’t convinced his sister to move home to Earth XI from planet Da Vinci. She brought her own family with her, including Brianna’s cousin.
Michaela was a year older than Brianna, making the two of them closer in age than Brianna was to either of her younger sisters. They immediately became best friends. Cousins and friends is one of the best types of relationships that can exist, when it works out well. Cousins are not quite as close as siblings, so not in competition for attention from the same parents, but more closely bound to each other than friends who don’t share overlapping family ties.
Michaela was more normal, more social than Brianna, and she soon drew her cousin out of the shell she’d built for herself out of the music from the sun. Michaela delighted in Brianna’s compositions, and the two of them found ways to sing those celestial songs together, bringing them down from the sky and translating them into human, biological, earthly voices. The power and mystery of their celestial origin, though, remained infused, inextricably embedded in the melodies.
The two girls, singing together, could bring any audience — family, friends, even other kids at school — to tears with their haunting, joyous, unearthly songs. For by the time Michaela and Brianna sang the songs together, they were no longer merely the voice of a star. The two girls left their stamp on the celestial music. First Brianna had to simplify and codify the complex, intertwining melodies she heard, for a star is such a large creature, it can sing of many sensations, many feelings at once. Brianna’s work with the music was always to simplify it. Then Michaela added words.
Brianna wasn’t used to thinking in words; her world, her mind had been filled with the overwhelmingly large voice of a star for her entire life, and stars don’t think or sing in words we recognize. She could make sense of the feelings, maybe, sometimes, but they didn’t exist as words for Brianna. They existed as sounds, feelings, pure, untouched by human ideas. Michaela, however, took Brianna’s simplified versions of the star’s songs and fit pleasant, lilting lyrics to them. She had a knack for rhyming and clever turns of phrase. Occasionally, Brianna found herself frustrated with Michaela’s lyrics, as sometimes they changed the nature of a song as she’d originally heard it.
When a star’s feelings — gigantic and stretched over centuries — get condensed down to petty human understanding, something is necessarily lost. But something else is gained, and even as Brianna found herself frustrated by Michaela messing with the star’s songs, she also recognized how much their parents — and their parents’ friends, and any other adults they sang for — loved the little human stories that Michaela plastered over the surface of her star’s deep, profound feelings. For she did think of Soliri — the yellow star that Earth XI orbited — as her star. She was the only person, as far as she knew, who could hear it.
Their music was a true collaboration. But only Brianna knew it was a collaboration between three — an ancient yellow star, a little girl who could hear the star, and a little girl who happened to be good at writing poetry. Occasionally, Brianna felt a fraud, watching Michaela write her lyrics from scratch. The melodies might be what made their music extra special, extra haunting — worldly beyond the years of two teenaged girls — but Brianna knew that she didn’t write it by herself. She had a muse, and without the muse, she didn’t know if she could write music at all. She needed Soliri. The star’s voice had been her invisible, imaginary friend her whole life long.
As the girls got older, so did Brianna’s younger siblings — Denise and Carla. As soon as they were old enough, Brianna recruited them to what had become her and Michaela’s band — The Star Girls. Their voices were similar enough to Brianna’s that their vocals blended together into harmonies almost as celestial as the ones that streamed down from the sky with the golden yellow starlight. The four-girl band became a world-wide hit before the first one of them reached the age of twenty.
Their fame spread beyond the Soliri star-system, and as soon as Brianna’s youngest sister, Carla, was old enough to travel without their parents’ chaperoning her, Michaela arranged for The Star Girls to go on tour. She reached out to asteroid amphitheaters and concert halls on faraway worlds, in different star systems. She arranged the entire tour. And then she told Brianna about it.
Brianna was struck with terror to her core. How could she leave Soliri? How could she fly on a spaceship through the darkness between stars? She wouldn’t be able to hear the voice that had sung to her from before she could even remember. The voice that had been more constant, more soothing, more essential than even her mother’s. She couldn’t. She couldn’t leave that voice behind.
But Michaela, Denise, and Carla were so excited about the idea of touring all the neighboring star systems, and the payments they’d been promised for performing were — excuse the pun — astronomical. Neither her sisters nor cousin would stand for Brianna shutting the idea of the tour down, and so she tried to toughen herself up. She prepared herself to hear silence, a lack of sound so deafening that she would be lost, abandoned and bereft. She felt terror, but she did her best to hide it.
And then the day of the first interstellar flight came.
Brianna had packed long-sleeved turtle necks, long pants, and layers upon layers of sweaters. She hoped to trick herself — bundle herself up so tightly that the pressure against her skin would trick herself somehow into believing the sun’s songs simply couldn’t reach her through the fabric.
Brianna paced the viewing deck of the space trawler that Michaela had booked passage for them on. She couldn’t hear the sun’s songs as loudly as she was used to, but then, the sun had always grown quieter at night, when the bulk of an entire planet blocked it from singing to her. She tried to hum along with the soft fragments of song that still ebbed and flowed along the corners of her brain like a low tide when the ocean pulls away from the shore.
Brianna kept her eyes on the star-studded darkness outside the ship’s wide windows, hoping that if she could see the stars — even if they weren’t her star, the sun that had sung to her for as long as she could remember — that her mind wouldn’t fall totally silent. Michaela and her younger sisters teased her about her nervousness, and she tried to laugh it off, pretending she was simply afraid of the upcoming hyperspace jump.
And she was afraid. Deathly afraid.
When the space trawler jumped to hyperspace, the stars in its windows stretched and spread like speckles of cream smeared across rich, dark gingerbread.
And the sound in Brianna’s head distorted, skewing and slowing, dropping away. She wanted to scream, but she didn’t. She clapped her hands over her ears, but she’d never heard the sun’s singing with her ears. It had been deeper, all the way through her, filling every part of her with its resonance.
…the music was gone.
Brianna dropped to her knees, still clasping the sides of her head, wanting to tear her empty ears away. Her sisters ran to her, cajoled her, trying to pull her from the viewing room back to their own shared quarters, trying to avoid the embarrassment of whatever scene this was that their sister and bandmate was trying to cause. But Brianna shook them away. She stared through the window, staring as hard as she could at the stars streaking by in the distance.
…ever so slowly…
…she started to hear their voices.
Other voices, from other stars, that had been singing all this time, but she’d never been able to hear them.
Her own star, Soliri, had sung too loudly for her to hear these more distant voices over it. But now…
…oh my goodness…
…oh my stars…
There were so many voices, joining together, coming apart, harmonizing, and sometimes purposely fighting each other with discordant chords. There were stars that had held grudges against each other — singing out their war songs, while people lived on the planets that circled them, totally oblivious — for thousands and thousands of years, enough time for entire civilizations to rise and fall. Other stars sang to each other of loves so great they could wash over a minuscule human’s life like it was a single grain of sand and the love was ten thousand thundering oceans, forty thousand blustering rain storms, and countless creeks, rivulets, and rivers. An entire ecosystem, all in a fragment of song.
Brianna’s face, wet from tears, broke into a smile. Her smile — this one moment of relief and joy — was such a small thing compared to the feelings of a single star, and Brianna could hear them all. Well, maybe not them all. But so, so many stars.
Brianna’s sisters and cousins were relieved when she seemed to get over her fear of space travel, but new conflicts arose. Now that Brianna could hear more music than she’d ever heard before, more different songs, she felt compelled to write them down, to capture as much of the celestial music as her ears, mind, and hands could convert to notation on a page. Michaela wrote words to match the new melodies, but she also complained: the new songs were different than the sound that had helped The Star Girls rise to fame.
Wouldn’t it be better to write the same sorts of songs? The music they were known for? The music their fans expected?
But Brianna could only write what she heard, and Michaela had dragged her away from Soliri.
Regardless of the artistic tension between Brianna and Michaela, their tour mostly went well. They played to sold-out amphitheaters and concert halls. Entire asteroids rocked with the rhythm of their songs. Denise and Carla basked in the attention of their fans, and Michaela threw herself even harder into writing lyrics for the new music Brianna seemingly composed. When they were onstage, with massive crowds of all kinds of aliens cheering them, Brianna’s sisters and cousins practically glowed. They danced; they twirled; they waved their arms at the crowds and beamed as the crowds threw their arms, tentacles, wings, and whatnot into the air and roared back their approval in response.
But Brianna felt alone. Among all the fans she’d met, not one of them seemed to understand the deeper meaning of her music. Not once did anyone guess that the melodies came not from her, but were only channeled through her, streaming into her from the starlight that filled even the darkest corners of the galaxy.
Brianna began to consider giving her tenure as a musician up. She would always hear the music — she didn’t know how to stop that, even if she’d wanted to. And she didn’t want to. She loved the way that the conversations of celestial bodies filled her life, buoying her up, reminding her how small and fleeting every moment can be. You have to treasure them. A human life is but a blink of an eye to the life of a planet, and the life of a planet is, at best, a short-lived companion to a star, like dogs and cats are to us.
But those moments are all we have.
Yet, why write the music down?
Why share it with audiences who didn’t understand?
Brianna could let the music wash over her, let it stream through her fingers like the water of a river, playing against her skin, cool and refreshing, bright and exciting, but always gone as soon as you feel it, always moving.
She had almost sworn to leave The Star Girls, a promise she kept secret to herself, when they came to the last star-system on their tour.
Denise and Carla were already scheming about how soon their next tour might be, and Michaela had finally accepted Brianna’s new and changing styles of music. But Brianna simply didn’t see the point of sharing music with people who clearly didn’t understand it, listeners who were mostly interested in her cousin’s trite lyrics. She planned to tell the others of her departure from the band at the end of their final concert.
Then she stepped out on stage, prepared to sing in harmony with her sisters and cousin. The audience looked different from any audience she’d seen before. Among the various mammals, avians, insectoids, and reptiles, there were clusters of creatures she didn’t understand. They burned with a light of their own. They swayed as she sang, matching the deeper, slower rhythms of her songs, rather than the bouncy, catchier rhythms that Michaela had laid atop them.
Brianna peered into the audience, trying to understand what she was seeing. She didn’t understand, but she could tell: it was important.
The dancing, swaying figures who burned like fires changed color over the course of the concert, glowing different colors for different songs. It almost seemed to Brianna that they matched their colors to the colors of the stars who had inspired different melodies. White for white dwarfs; red for red giants; blue for the one lovelorn ballad inspired by a blue super giant; and yellow — comfortable, familiar yellow — for the songs inspired by her own home-star, Soliri.
As soon as the concert ended — Brianna couldn’t wait — she climbed straight down from the stage into the crowd. She pressed her way past delirious fans of all species, until she made it to the closest cluster of the aliens who burned.
“Who are you?” Brianna asked, not caring if the question was impertinent and tactless. She had to know. She had a connection with the people, some way, somehow, even if she didn’t know yet exactly what it was.
With some translation help from some of the more humanoid members of the audience around them, Brianna was able to learn about these strange, alien people.
Strange and alien… except, at a deep level, they understood her better than anyone she’d ever met before, even her own cousin and writing partner who had shared everything with her for years. Almost everything. For Michaela couldn’t hear the music of the stars.
The Flaenos were native to the current star-system — a binary system with two white dwarfs — and like Brianna, they could hear the music of the stars.
“We live among the clouds of a gas giant–” one of the Flaenos explained, pointing towards the sky above the amphitheater’s atmo-dome. The gas giant was too far away to look like anything but a star, but Brianna knew it wasn’t one. It didn’t sing. “–and we hear the conversation between our stars, waxing, waning, which one sings more loudly, but always singing to each other.”
“Yes!” Brianna agreed. “I can hear them too.” She’d heard the two white dwarves singing of their love for each other since long before the space trawler they traveled on had entered this star-system. Their love was strong; their shared song was lovely.
“But until your music–” The Flaenos’s flames shimmered, shivering with the intensity of its feelings. “–we did not know other stars sang too.”
Of course, the Flaenos had never heard other stars sing, since they couldn’t spend much time on other species’ spaceships, being so physiologically different, and they hadn’t invented interstellar spaceships of their own yet. They’d felt no call to leave the singing of their own binary stars, singing that was loud enough to drown out all the more distant stars, just as Soliri had drowned out more distant celestial voices for Brianna until she’d left on tour.
Another Flaenos joined in, speaking faster than the reptilian alien who’d been translating could follow. Soon, Brianna was surrounded by living flames, each encased in a transparent spacesuit that kept its fire safely ensconced in its natural atmosphere. They poured their hearts out to her, as well as they could given that they didn’t speak Solanese and Brianna didn’t speak Flaenish. But they shared a deeper language. The language of the stars.
Brianna stayed at the amphitheater all night, and she convinced her siblings and cousins to go with her, the next day, to the Flaenos’ gas giant. She couldn’t visit their world exactly; she couldn’t breathe its atmosphere or withstand its crushing pressures. But the Flaenos had a small space station in orbit that they used for interacting with other species. Many of them of came to meet her. Brianna realized her music had touched an entire world. And yes, she knew her music had meant something to other listeners as well… But it hadn’t meant the same thing to those listeners as it meant to her. She didn’t feel a connection through her music with them. It felt hollow. And she’d been ready to give up, leaving music behind.
Hearing the Flaenos tell her about how much it meant to them to hear the voices of other stars reflected in the music Brianna wrote down, unmarred by the lyrics Michaela laid on top… It meant everything to Brianna.
Brianna decided not to give up on her music. The stars’ music. If the stars had chosen her — somehow — to be their scribe, then it was not for her to turn the role down.
The Star Girls finished their tour and returned home to the star-system of Soliri where the sunlight felt like a child’s lullaby to Brianna. Pleasant, safe, and deeply comforting. But her mind was filled with the melodies she’d heard as they traveled, and she had much work to do, writing it all down.