The lightening had been worsening all night, and Estran had finally gotten the call just after his second sleep.
“Sorry to wake you” the voice said on the other line. “But you must come now. The stars will appear soon.”
He had been groggy, but the word “stars” woke him out of his slumber. Tonight might be the only chance in a millennia to see them. He threw his robe over his head, which was also patterned with stars, and cinched the wide belt snug around his waist.
The backyard of Estran’s cottage opened some yards from a sheer cliff overlooking green mountains. He traced the edge, hurrying along in the driving rain, his head tucked into his hood. Bursts of lightening drove like knives into the darkness overhead, making the air smell like rotten eggs and burnt circuitry.
Estran was a good mile from the Observatory, further than most of the other Watchers, and by the time he reached the narrow suspension bridge that led to the towers, the lightening had turned deadly, striking at the ground around him like hungry forks. He gripped the braided railing of the bridge with both hands and carefully stepped onto the swaying wooden planks.
A gust of wind and rain drove sideways, causing the bridge to sway. Gasping, Estran clung to the rope, daring not look down at the expanse below, but instead squinting straight ahead, ignoring the hard rain that pelted his face.
Up ahead he could see the Observatory — two towers with a facades like human ribs. The ribs were surfaced with mother of pearl, glinting in the bursts of lightening. He pressed forward, his robe now thoroughly soaked and clinging to his legs.
As he neared the Observatory, he heard the great gears inside began to grind, and the two ribbed towers opened like wings. He hurried towards the opening and slipped inside. The doors closed behind him with a thud.
Estran was no stranger to the Observatory, but it felt different on this night. Inside, the excess electrical energy had charged the support beams, causing them to glow like his robe. The great cavern seemed unusually large, which Estran knew was a sign that the change was readying and perception was becoming distorted as a result. He felt small, unworthy. He was not the best Watcher, nor was he the smartest.
A drop of water struck the marble floor just in front of his bare toes. He looked up and saw a fissure in the glass where the storm ranged outside. To his surprise, the drop rose off of the floor, hovered, then was drawn backwards, towards the fissure in the ceiling. Estran followed it, his eyes wide. So it was true. The other world could pull them in.
“Estran! Over here!”
Cyrila stood at the rear of the cavern where she propped open a small door with her sandal. Her robe was patterned with tiny stars just like Estran’s, like all Watchers, though hers flattered her figure.
“Did you see the rain going backwards?” Estran said. He looked back at the fissure. Another drop.
“The rain, oh yes — you must secure yourself. Hurry!”
Knowing she was right, Estran slipped through the door behind Cyrila and entered the heart of the Observatory. The Watchers had gathered along the padded railing that traced the curve of the dome where glass panels offered a 180 degree view of the sky and surrounding mountains. They wore harnesses over their clothes and had secured themselves with ropes tied to metal hoops in the floor. They talked in murmurs, jotting down notes in their bronze astrolabes.
Taking his place next to Cyrila, Estran stepped into his harness and tested the rope to make sure it was secure. It was. He pulled his astrolabe out of the interior pocket of his robe and adjusted the telescopic instruments. He looked up at the sky once again. It was still ablaze with lightening, but Estran could see that the bolts were beginning to dance, to form a spiral.
“Do you see that?” Estran said.
Cyrila took his hand and squeezed. She was not afraid to admit she was scared.
The spiral of lightening began to swirl, faster. Then, he watched as a hole formed in the sky. Suddenly, he felt himself grow lighter. The rope tugged at his waist. Stunned, Estran let go of Cyrila’s hand.
“The magnetic attraction is increasing.” Cyrila too was pulled a few inches off the ground.
“No, I think the force of gravity is changing,” Estran said. “It’s growing stronger just below the hole. This other universe must have a stronger gravitational pull.”
“That would mean that the ones who disappeared will not come back.”
“I think we always assumed so.”
Cyrila nodded, her mouth forming a hard line. Estran should not have been so callous; her legacy included one of the persons who had disappeared a millennia ago.
Rain slashed at the dome. He gripped the astrolabe with one hand and put the other on the glass to steady himself. The hole had grown larger, and the sky looked as if was being pulled apart by great retractors. At the edge of the hole was Lambda’s lightening, but inside was a new patch of sky — another universe, filled with tiny, still lights, so numerous that Estran couldn’t begin to count them.
“Are those …”
“Stars?” Cyrila finished, floating higher than Estran. She brought her astrolabe up to her eye to examine them.
The other Watchers, their ropes groaning, began to clap. “Stars!” they cheered.
“So it’s true,” Estran said. “There are stars in the other world. That universe is younger. It has not yet expanded as much as ours.”
“And to think,” Cyril said. “That once, eons ago, there were stars in our sky too.”
Estran stared into the other world. He wondered what it was like to witness stars every night. The people there must be great dreamers. Or perhaps they took them for granted.
He could only wait and see.