Zoe watches as lightning turns the world incandescent with starlight. And with each flash, she dreams that the city of Carnegie would somehow be revealed as closer to what she hoped for, to what she longed for. A world where she could finally stay. But with all its science and advancement, like no city she had ever seen before, Carnegie still didn’t have what she was searching for. And she so wishes that it would. So she watched lightning line the platinum mills, factories and industrial complexes between which pubs bustled, with drinkers oblivious that Koba was turning on the Renaissance Engine and everything they knew, was about to come to an end. Oblivious that Alexander was at their gates and that the Revolution would sweep them away. Oblivious of what Zoe would do no matter who won this battle. She remembered the night she first arrived in Carnegie and wondered what kind of woman or man she would come to love in this steam-filled metropolis. Had the smell of burning platinum made them proud and the steam made them vigilant, the innovation made them kind?
Zoe remembered drifting across these streets lit by the twilight of pale lamps, leading her to living, beating, breathing alleys filled with sweet smelling steam, from opium and shishah and platinum works, where she was drawn to a man thrown out of a pub, bloody and humiliated. She expected him to lash out in a drunken blur, but he didn’t. Instead, he just lay there, while people laughed and doused him with alcohol. Zoe approached, yelling out for them to leave. They scattered at her approach. She helped the man who was empty of shame to his feet and walked him to the street lamps, hoping the kind twilight would wash away his grief. He said his name was Alexander. He said it proudly, as though it were all he had in all the world. A name he had chosen, a name that someone, one day, would come to love. She asked what happened. He said it’s just what happened to him and he didn’t fight back because that’s what they wanted, they wanted to see his resistance beaten away; but he resisted them in a different way. He resisted them by being. She said that she thought that, that was amazing and she asked if he loved anyone. He said his kind were not allowed to love. Not allowed to move forward and make the world their own. They looked out across the darkness together and Zoe asked what the name of the city on the far side of the night was. Alexander said that place was forbidden, General Koba, who decided that non-Industrialists could not love, was putting up a wall, like he promised he would if he was chosen as the Chief Industrialist. So Zoe said, with an impossible smile, that they better hurry.
As they walked, Alexander asked who she was. Her skin lacked the glint of platinum, so she hadn’t slept in the streets or the underground, or in the mountains, so she wasn’t a Nosta, so at first sight, anyone would think her an Industrialist, but hers eyes were not the same as theirs. Zoe thought back and remembered the pale grey pupils of the victimisers at the pub and all those who walked by her, in comparison to Alexander’s deep, black eyes. Like the night, night eyes. Every now and then, they would look back at the cityscape and eventually, Zoe asked about the tower that wasn’t a tower, that towered, a terrible shadow dominating and terrifying. Yet beautiful. It looked like a man, a giant man made of metal. Alexander said nothing at first, so they walked a while longer before he said it. The Renaissance Engine. It does what Chief Industrialist Koba swore it would, what every Chief Industrialist promised it would and now it was going to be finished. It was going to put out the stars. They didn’t speak much after that, they just walked and Zoe held his hand, to show him that in a world of Industrialists, walls, beatings and Renaissance Engines, there was still kindness and warmth. And without looking at him, Zoe knew he was crying. Then, his hand slid out of hers and as she filled with laughter, she heard him gasp as the them stretched a field of flowers, coloured by what must have been the pollen of stars, all blanketing the remnants of wondrous machines and tools, the applications of which Zoe could barely imagine. They had walked into the night sky. Zoe did not ask what this place of stars and wonders and flowers was, which stretched on as far as cosmic, oceanlight. And then when their senses returned to them, they heard it, music. Brass and wind. So Zoe offered her hand to Alexander and said they should dance. So they spun and jumped whilst stars made of the shimmer of platinum which reflect nightlight lit the universe. And they swirled in the beautiful madness of making a choice, that they had brought themselves here, they had chosen to dance and though they barely knew each other, they had chosen to be together, in that moment. And once they were tired, they fell on the earth which was soft with platinum dust. The air was fragrant with flowers and sweet rust. Zoe glanced at Alexander and he was radiant with star pollen, otherworldly and beautiful, suiting his wide, dark eyes.
“Starlight.” Zoe said. Alexander turns to her. “I’ll call this the Kingdom of Starlight.” At that, Alexander sits up. The music had ended. “That’s what we used to call it.” He gets up. “There’s something I want to find.” They explore that place for much of the night, a place it had dawned on Zoe, was in fact once, a battlefield. The machines, these wonders, they were weapons. Flowers covered them and stardust comforted them, but the turrets and shells and tracks were unmistakable. This world, so heartbroken, had tried to heal the tragedy that had swept this land and so, made this place impossibly beautiful. This field of stars and wonder and flowers. The stars had moved across the sky when they found a group of people sitting around an iridescent fire. Or was it? They, like Alexander, were covered in platinum, shimmering with stardust. For a moment, they stared in their direction before resuming their hushed conversations.
“People live here?” Zoe asked.
“In the mountains, yeah, those Nostra who chose not to live in the cities. Where did you think the music was coming from- There!” Alexander suddenly cries out as what appears to be a firework – no a star, a star falls from the sky, leaving a rainbow in its wake. He runs after it and Zoe follows him. It’s during this chase, that Zoe realised just how vast this battlefield of starlight and flower pollen really was and she wondered if the night over Carnegie ever ended. When they finally arrived at where the star touched the Earth, Zoe realised, that the iridescent hearth the people they had found were sitting around, was actually this, a star, a fireball of allcolour pinched from the sky. Others were already there when they found it and they were all gazing at what the star had found. A giant, like the Renaissance Engine, but with feminine features. Perhaps of stone, perhaps of platinum. Perhaps of star ore. It glimmered like Alexander and his people, covered in flowers and roots. Zoe merely watched and waited, because she could tell, that’s what the star people around her, the people who called themselves Nostra were doing, they were waiting. The rainbow star which didn’t seem to burn the earth, rippled and sang, melodied and hymned, resonated with the giant’s crystaline surface. An echo emanated from the titan as the colours of the star filled the monolith, which became consumed with light and opalescence. And in her heart, Zoe couldn’t help, but say, welcome back. Children rushed up to the giant and touched her as she stirred, exclaiming that she was warm. The children turned back to Zoe, whom they gazed at with just as much wonder and approached her, asking if she would like to name ‘her’. Alexander explained that the names of Ancestors, as they called them, were long forgotten, so each time they found one, they gave it a name. Zoe hesitated for a moment, she was a complete stranger, outsider to Carnegie. But then, by now she had realised that these people, the star people, the Nostra, were outsiders too. She gazed at the giant, whose crystal eyes now filled with life and awareness and colour.
In her travels, Zoe had been to countless to cities and had become filled with many names. So she chose one from a place where a girl had she was alive and would not die. She could not remember the name of that land very well, it was long ago, but she thought it was Kahyber, or was it Pakist’tsan? So she named the giant whom the star people called Ancestor, Malala. And as the name left Zoe’s lips, Malala’s eyes grew wide with colour and she echoed so loud that the battlefield sirened and rippled with joy. The giant stirred and stumbled, shaking the world, creaking and echoing, humming, she was standing, getting up, up, up, she swayed and melodied and sung and she was up, on two feet. A colossal miracle. And as Alexander and his people filled with joy, Zoe, filled with tears at the impossible beauty of this place. Malala walked, stepping clear over them, but her next step did not touch the ground, instead she seemed to elevate, escalate, glide, fly, she was going to fly. And all the heartbreak Zoe had ever known, all the pain and sorrow, somehow began to heal in that moment, that just by waking, the giant was teaching Zoe to love again. She and Alexander took hands and watched light fantastic bloom from the Ancestor’s back. Wings, these were wings. Possibility, hope, chance, began to soar through Zoe’s heart and lungs and eyes and- fire. Iridescent fire and nebula-like smoke erupted from Malala as she let out a cry of impossible sorrow and pain and beauty- as a beam of red light pierced the night and was followed by shells, rockets which ripped through Malala, tearing her to pieces. Zoe cried out in sorrow and protest, for the universe to let her have this, just this. But no god heard her or Alexander or his people as Malala broke asunder and vanished into a rain of flowers which continued to cover the battlefield of blossoms born from the tears and blood of miracles. And before any of them could run, they fell to their knees as the undeniable violation of gunfire filled the air. Men who were not covered in stars approached, their insecurities fortified by engines and steam. And at their head was a strange creature dressed in aristocracy and spectacles, who Zoe could tell was neither man, nor anything else.
“Koba.” Alexander uttered.
“What?” Zoe shook.
“Listen, you have to run, but I promise, this isn’t over! You changed things! You don’t know, but I swear, you’ve changed everything! I will see you again!” He hugged her, covering her in stardust. She did not understand and yet she did. Their poetry would change this world, their poetry which was flowers and stars and fires and miracle giants. And she saw a star woman standing far from, be gunned down as she pulled out and waved a cloth, marked by what could have been a star or a flower. Zoe turns back to Alexander with a thousand, thousand hopes.
“Otganaya smert ee ji.” She said to him in a language she had long forgotten, in a place so much like this one. Outrun death and live. Like starlight.
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