Map of a distant galaxy

Soul bait - scifi story

“Have you been to the Oracle? What’s he like? What did he tell you?” Three questions asked at once, in one breath.

“When I came to her… it’s she, not he, mind you… she was making pancakes. People say she’s as old as the world itself, but to me she looked like a girl. A pretty girl with clever eyes. There was nothing mysterious about our conversation either. We ate some pancakes with sour cream and had a chat about video games and Star Wars. I tried to find some hidden meaning there, but couldn’t. I doubt she’s an Oracle.”

“Maybe you just didn’t understand her message, Agi?”

“Maybe…”

As he walked away, Orlia’s eyes followed him, watching him intently, catching every glimpse of his blond head in the crowd. Then it began to rain, the incoming storm rumbling far away.

***

“It was my dearest wish. Travelling to the stars, saving people, being a hero…” Arten was drowning himself in tears and ale. It didn’t help.

Orlia sat across from him, watching him silently through the misty haze of cigarette smoke. His eyes, red and swollen, met hers once again.

“But I need a map and a spaceship. Gods… why was I born in the age where people cannot build such ships?!”

“Arten, you’ve had enough.” Orlia shook him by the shoulder in an unkindly manner. “Why didn’t she give you a map? Have you even thought why?”

He was too drunk and miserable to answer. He wept inconsolably, stopping only to sip his ale, and muttered again and again about how unfair his life was.

***

“Have you heard anything about the Oracle, Alisan?”

“I have,” he answered in a cheerful voice, his eyes playfully squinted, his smile broad. You have to be his friend to know the truth behind this happy mask, and the truth is sad. “But I don’t indulge in fantasies. I’m not going to visit her. I want my dream to stay with me, as beautiful, unattainable, and unbroken as it is. It brightens my life, and I cannot ask for more.”

“I disagree, Alisan,” Orlia shook her head. “I cannot live like this. I just can’t…”

She pondered her words for a long time, seated on the roof under the sky full of stars, so beautiful, so unattainable, like a dream. Orlia was strong and brave. She couldn’t imagine staying here, on this little lonely planet, among mundane things.

Should she go to the Oracle? Is she ready? Wouldn’t it be better to wait for a while, to prepare, to… No. The fire in her heart will burn out then, leaving only ashes. It’s now or never.

***

A long time ago there was a house. Time destroyed it, almost leveled it to the ground, leaving only the door. It hangs on one hinge, creaking in the wind, and there is nothing interesting behind it if you look through the doorway, just dirty walls and barren land. Who in their right mind would walk through this door?.. But it’s the only place where you can meet the Oracle who, the legends say, gives galaxy maps to the dreamers. Believing this with all her heart, Orlia stepped through the doorway.

The small kitchen is full of sunlight. There is an aluminium pan on the table, full to the brim with yeasted dough. For pancakes.

A girl enters the room. The Oracle…

What should Orlia tell her? What should she ask and how? Not a single word falls from her lips.

“Ah, Orlia!” the Oracle smiles. “Be a pal and help me with the pancakes.”

And she’s gone again. The little kitchen is empty. And yet it’s full of stars, stars shining so brightly they burn through the mind itself.

Orlia takes a ladle and makes pancakes on the frying pan, one by one. The dough runs out, the pile of steaming pancakes grows. The Oracle returns carrying a thermos flask full of hot tea.

They sit still. It’s cold in the kitchen. Thin white steam is rising above the opened thermos flask and a pile of hot pancakes.

“I cannot stand this anymore…” Orlia closes her eyes and buries her face in her hands. “The stars… everywhere I look I see the stars… Even in these pancakes… the fried patterns on them, the little holes, they look like stars and nebulas to me, as if there is a pile of galaxy maps right there on the plate… Am I going mad, Oracle?”

“Not at all,” the girl smiles. “This is exactly what you think it is: a pile of maps. Chose the one you like best and begin your journey.”

There city behind the door was gone, and as soon as Orlia had stepped through the doorway the door itself disappeared as well. There was no way back. It suddenly, unexpectedly hurt. The miracle happened, the dream came true, but the feeling was bittersweet.

The pain mixed with happiness as Orlia, draped in a long brown cloak, stepped onboard her starship and the ship’s computer greeted her with a huge three dimensional galaxy map, the one she chose herself. Millions of stars twinkled in a holographic image, millions of roads were open for her. There was so much to learn, so much to see, so much to do. There were great deeds ahead, and new friends, and enemies…

Will you forget your little grey homeworld, Orlia? Will you ever try to find it on your map? Nobody knows. What’s really important right now is that another impossible dream has just come true.

(October 30, 2005)

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English is not my native language.
If you see an error or a typo, please, tell me. I will fix it.