by Mary Anne Brenner
2014-16 The Last NEBADOR Writing Contest, first place
This story takes place before, during, and after the visit of the Manessa Kwi to Sonmatia One in NEBADOR Book Five: Back to the Stars.
"It's always morning here, silly crystal."
The young crystal giggled. "I know. Okay, Good Evening!"
"It's always evening, too," the older crystal said with a huff.
The young one frowned. "What if I said Good Afternoon?"
"Yikes! We'd be roasted back into stardust by the solar wind. No, thank you!"
"How about Good Night?"
"No! We'd be frozen solid and you couldn't even think enough to say Good Morning or anything else."
The young crystal sighed. "I guess I'll have to stick with Good Morning or Good Evening," she said.
"That would be nice," the older crystal said and went back to looking for stardust.
"I caught one!" a double crystal, a little ways away, screamed.
"What's in it?" the young crystal asked, curious.
"Hmm. Let me see. Some silicon, a little calcium, and a bit of helium."
"Cool. Helium's sweet. Calcium's not bad. I caught a little a while back, when the stars were in slightly different places, and that big rock on the horizon was about twice as big as it is now."
"I caught a grain from it, back when I was smaller," another crystal said, searching her memory, "and it let me grow bigger."
"I hope I can catch enough grains of rock, or bits of stardust, to let me grow big someday," the young crystal said with longing.
"Ooo!" the young crystal called out. "I just caught a grain from the horizon, with two bit of stardust stuck to it. Hmm, hmm. Lots of silicon, so I can grow a little bigger, and some calcium, hydrogen and helium, and ... what's this? ... could it be? ..."
"What? Tell us!" many other crystal voices, mostly young, begged.
"It's ... it's ... carbon!"
"Way cool!" another crystal cheered.
"Those don't come along very often," an older crystal said.
"I'm going to save it for something special," the young crystal declared.
In the middle of forever, that was always morning, and always evening, everyone had been silent for a long time. The young crystal could see her mother not far away, the big crystal that had caught enough stardust to grow another crystal on the side. It had fallen off when the ground shook, and the young crystal found herself alone, but still close enough to her mother to not feel lonely.
She could also see other small crystals nearby, her sisters, and a little farther away, a couple of big ones, her mother's sisters.
She looked up at the stars, and noticed that one of the shapes they made had changed since the last time she looked up.
"Caught one!" another crystal said. "Calcium and hydrogen."
Several crystals, including the young one, made sounds of happiness for their sister.
Once the celebration was over, the young crystal looked up again, and the stars had changed shape some more. She dreamed of catching more stardust someday, and while she dreamed, a hundred years passed in places where they had years.
"Are the stars crystals too, like us?" the young crystal asked anyone who might know.
"I don't think so," her mother said. "They're much brighter than us."
"And different colors," a very old crystal said. "A few are a little bluish, like us, but mostly they're white or yellow. Some are even red."
"I guess you're right," the young one said, gazing up thoughtfully and noticing more changes in the shapes made by the stars.
"What was that!" the young crystal gasped.
"What? Where?" several others wondered urgently.
"Something just swished by me, really fast!"
"Where is it?" her mother asked.
"I don't know ... it's gone now. It was moving too fast to see. I didn't know anything could move that fast!"
"I saw a flash of light," the biggest, oldest crystal said, "but whatever made it was gone as fast as it came."
"Where are my sisters?" a very young crystal pleaded with worry in her voice. "I had two sisters near me, but now they're gone ..."
"We're over here!" a pair of voices called from a long ways away.
The young crystal looked. "How did you guys get way over there?"
"At the same time as you saw something swish by, we felt something warm ..." one said.
"And it was such a nice, perfect warmth that we were attracted to it, and stuck to it!" the other went on.
"But then it shook and we fell off. We went for a ride!"
"What do you think ... half a meter?"
"Yeah, or maybe a little more!"
"Wow, I never dreamed I'd get to go on such a long journey!"
An older crystal frowned. "You're lucky your journey on that warm thing didn't take you into the light, where its too hot, or into the darkness, where its too cold."
"Yeah!" several other crystals agreed.
The two crystals were now about half a meter from where they would have spent the rest of their lives, if it wasn't for the fast-moving warm thing. They had no way to get back. The nearest other crystal was now almost a meter away. They looked at each other with worry.
But as the shapes made by the stars overhead changed again, the two crystals slowly settled down and realized how lucky they were. They had gone on an exciting journey. They were still in the part of the world where it wasn't too hot or too cold, and where grains of rock and stardust sometimes fell. And, best of all, they had each other for company.
The two crystals who had gone on a journey became very close friends, since they were now so far away from everyone else. They had to talk really loud if they wanted the others to hear, and that tired them out, unless some stardust happened to fall to give them more energy.
"I remember something," one said after gazing up at the sky for a few centuries.
"What?" the other asked, also looking up.
"A feeling I sensed when the warm thing shook us off. I think it was ... afraid of us."
"Afraid of us? That's pretty funny. We're just crystals, catching a little stardust, maybe a grain of rock now and then. How could anyone be afraid of us?"
"I don't know, but I think it was."
The two friends pondered this strange idea as they went back to watching the universe unfold.
"I wonder if I'll ever get to go on an exciting journey," the young crystal wondered aloud somewhat after the middle of forever.
Her mother thought for a long time, and the stars changed places some more. "That is not our nature, little one. There are stars that glow brightly. There are the rocks that don't move and the solar wind eats them away slowly. There is the thing that swished by, made a flash of light, and carried two of your sisters half a meter. I have heard of other things that move, but have not seen them myself.
"We are crystals, able of witness the passing of the eons, and ponder the shape of the universe. As far as we know, we are the only ones who can do that. It is a good thing to be."
In the silence that followed, the young crystal felt comforted knowing that she and her sisters could do something that stars, rocks, and the fast-moving thing could not do. As the shapes made by the stars above changed again, she continued to catch stardust, and slowly forgot her dream of going on a journey.
One day in the long stretches of forever, after the stars had changed their places a little more, something wonderful happened. A huge cluster of crystals, many times bigger than any that had ever grown from stray grains and stardust, was suddenly sitting in the sand. It hadn't crushed any of the other crystals, but was in a place crystals never grew because a big rock blocked all the incoming stardust.
"Wow ..." many crystal voices said at once.
"Where did you come from?"
"How did you get so big?"
"Are you a crystal, or something else?"
"How did you grow so fast?"
The huge new crystal knew she had to think and speak very slowly. She was glad she had transferred all her work to other archangels before leaving Kerusemia.
"I am Dorolora. I'm not really a crystal, but I can take the shape of anyone I want to talk to. I'm an archangel, and I'm the head of Angel Services for the local universe of Nebador, which is your sun and all the nearby stars you can see in the sky."
"Wow ..." the crystals, young and old, said again while looking up and saying the name they had never heard before. "Nebador ..." The stars above changed places some more while the new name was whispered from crystal to crystal all the way around the planet.
"Some angels' helpers stopped here a while ago, and they noticed that you might be more intelligent and aware than just rocks ..."
"Of course we are!"
"Rocks? How insulting to be compared to rocks!"
"We're way smarter than rocks!"
"Rocks are as dumb as they come!"
"We're crystals, the ones who watch the eons pass, collect stardust, and ponder the shape of the universe!"
Dorolora smiled to herself. "Yes, I can see that. Nothing like rocks."
During a moment of silence that was almost a year long, the young crystal found her courage. "I have a question."
"Yes, little one?"
"I think we remember your ... angels' helpers ... because they were the only things we've ever seen that moved so fast."
"Yes, they would have just been a blur to you."
"But we also remember that they were ... this is embarrassing ... they seemed to be afraid of us."
"Uh huh," the crystal who had felt the fear said. "How could anyone or anything be afraid of us?"
Dorolora chuckled. "It's just because they come from a world very different than this one, and would die here if they didn't have a ship and special suits. The same thing would happen to you if you went to their world."
"D-d-d-die, like a crystal that can't get any stardust?"
"... and quits growing?"
"... and goes dark?"
"Yes, like that. The angels' helpers who stopped here are called animals, and they need air and water and warmth, none of which you have here."
"Oh," the crystal said who had felt the fear.
"I guess that makes it okay," the young crystal said.
Dorolora looked at the young crystal for a long time. "How would you like to go on a journey, little one?"
"You see, I am here for two reasons. First, I'm going to leave you an angel."
Another pretend-crystal appeared next to Dorolora, this one only slightly bigger than the oldest real crystals.
"This is Belasolia, and she's going to be your angel for a few million years, to watch over you and teach you about the universe."
"Belasolia ..." the crystals began to whisper to each other.
Dorolora realized that they didn't know what a million years was. "Someday, a little later in forever, she will have to leave to learn new things and do other work, but then I will send you a new angel."
"So we'll always have an angel?" a large crystal asked. "And we can ask questions and the angel will teach us?"
"Always, I promise."
"Wow ..." many crystals murmured.
"That'll be nice," the young crystal's mother said.
"But what about that journey you said something about?" the young crystal asked after she got over her shock.
"The other reason I'm here is to invite one of you, or maybe a pair of friends, to go see the local universe of Nebador. And someday, when you understand it well, you can help us with the work we do."
The young crystal didn't know what to say for a long time. The stars in the sky changed their shapes a little more, and Dorolora waited patiently, with Belasolia beside her.
"I ... think ... I know what ... fear feels like ... now," the young crystal finally said.
Dorolora smiled to herself, but remained silent.
"Will I ... die?"
"Someday, as all mortals do, but not just because of your journey to see Nebador. We will give you a ship that will protect you any time you are in a place that's too hot or too cold."
"G-good. And ... did you say I could bring a friend?"
"Yes. Almost all beings who help us with our work come in pairs, or trios, of sixes, or whatever is most comfortable for them."
"Can I bring my mother?"
"No. It would be best if your friend was about your age."
"Um ... will someone ... someone young ... be my friend for a journey to see Nebador?"
Almost every crystal within hearing suddenly felt fear, and became slightly darker. The stars above moved some more, and Dorolora waited. After a long time, another young crystal, several meters away, slowly grew brighter. "I will!"
It was a little ship, and it moved between the stars very slowly. That was on purpose, because its captain and steward needed lots of time to think about what they had seen.
Actually, the two crystals didn't understand the ideas of giving and taking commands, so they just took turns doing everything. The young crystal preferred the hydrogen-flavored stardust, and her friend preferred the helium-flavored, but they were both very happy, whichever stardust packet was open that century.
They never saw the same mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, or insect twice. Every time they returned to a star station or planet station they had been to before, all of the mortal faces were new. But they were very happy to see Dorolora, Melorania, Belasolia, and other archangels and angels they came to know and love.
The pair of crystal friends became legendary, for somehow, in the centuries or millennia that they thought about the problems they were asked to study, they came up with solutions that no one else had thought of.