They slept alone in chandeliers like dying candlelight, their bodies glowing less each night. Amid the blackness of space their ship, The Last Constellation, resembled an opal ring. The rainbows rippling within its inset stone was the only evidence of their glittering forms. The ship traveled through the empty space and far from Hal’s home, now no more than a blue dot in the distance. But he did not know this because he too was asleep.
Lyra’s body burned blue beside Gemini, her short red friend. Gemini closed his eyes and reached his hand toward hers. It was a sweet but futile gesture. Their hands could never touch and so they entered the dome at arm’s length from the other. Suspended above were their remaining peers, awake but oblivious.
“Ahem,” Lyra said, drawing her peers’ attention.
“Excuse us, Lyra,” said one of the dull white lights. “Did you say ‘amen’?”
“No, Ursa Minor. I did not.”
“Perhaps you should pray. Because we have traveled a great long while for you and now we have to determine whether your trip was worth it.”
“Are we on trial then?” said Gemini.
“Of course,” said Ursa Minor. “And depending on what we find today, your lives may be at stake.”
Lyra and Gemini met eyes. This was as close as they could ever be.
In another part of the ship, a mechanical boy stirred in the dark. “Vroom, vroom, vroom!” the boy said, waking Hal. The onomatopoeia startled Hal more than the darkness, as he usually woke in the dark. He was, however, unused to company.
“Hello?” Hal said.
“Psshew-psshew, pew-pew-pew!” the boy replied.
“I can’t see anything. Is there someone else here?”
“If you can’t see,” said the boy, “then why don’t you just turn on your night-optic vision?”
“Well for one,” Hal said, “I don’t have night-optic vision. And second, I don’t know what that is even. Is there a way you could turn the lights on?”
“Oh, fine,” the boy said. And suddenly the room was filled with a pale purple light.
“That’s cool,” Hal said to himself and partly to the mechanical boy. “It’s not weird that I keep waking up in strange places. Last week I was in a tree full of cannibalistic birds. The week before I had to fight off those porcelain dolls. I can’t even remember when that whole slugs thing went down. And now I’m in a room that’s all,” Hal paused. “Very difficult to describe.”
And the room was difficult to describe. Junk, treasure, and discarded artifacts from across the universe were piled impossibly high against each of the room’s twelve walls. Hal and the mechanical boy were at the room’s central valley, but only Hal worried at the possibility of an avalanche. The mechanical boy continued to play as though indifferent to Hal and the world around.
“Rrrrreeewwwweeewwww … ka-poooowww!” the boy said, crashing the toy cars in his hands together.
Hal went to and knelt beside the mechanical boy.
“What’s your name?” Hal said.
“Robotic Automaton and Informational Network, Series Model 30-231294 Issue 95,497,817,” the boy said without looking up from his toys.
“Okay. How about I call you Rain?”
Rain did not reply. Only now did Hal inspect the mechanical boy. He was, though crouched, roughly the same size as Hal. He, too, had ten fingers and ten toes and in every way resembled what Hal saw in his own reflection. His polished, silvery skin glimmered purple in the light. Perhaps the boy’s least human feature were his lidless, lime-colored eyes.
“Phew. Well this has been really nice. This talk. Our talking. Are you starving or what?” Hal said. “I’m starving. What is there to eat around here?”
Rain responded by grabbing a piece of metal from the junk and tossing it into his mouth. Hal watched as the boy chewed and shifted the metal around until he tipped his head back and swallowed. Seconds later, a hatch in Rain’s stomach opened and out popped a toy airplane. Rain took the airplane in his hands and made the toy perform barrel rolls and loop-to-loops.
Hal took and tasted a similar piece of metal. “Nope. This is not food in any sense of the word. How can you eat this stuff?” Hal said. “I really just wish I had something to eat.”
Just as Hal punctuated his last sentence, the room began to spin and the purple light grew blindingly bright until Hal had to shut his eyes.
“Ahh!” Rain yelled, “Curse you night-optic vision! Switching to sleep mode.”
Hal wondered who Rain was talking to and thought it was strange the boy might be talking to himself. The light dimmed, the room stilled, and Hal opened his eyes to a steaming hot club sandwich in his lap. He lifted the top slice of bread, revealing sliced ham and turkey and tomato and lettuce and bacon and a thick slathering of mayonnaise. It was the most delicious looking thing that Hal had never seen before. Hungrily, he bit into the sandwich, incautious of the red-plastic sword holding the whole thing together.
Back under the dome, the trial had concluded. Lyra and Gemini awaited the verdict of their peers. Ursa Minor motioned her hand to silence their bickering. They were all very old and curmudgeonly, so getting them quiet was often difficult.
“Lyra and Gemini, the charges against you are severe,” Ursa Minor said. “While we slept, you took our ship halfway around the cosmos and far off our pre-determined direction. Your motives were selfish, arrogant, and misguided. And what did your rogue operation recover? One human boy. And so, it is the determination of your peers, that because of your having wasted our precious time….”
“No, it’s too soon,” said a yellow light from up above. “I thought I had more.”
But he did not. His once brilliant, golden body faded until it slumped over, blacker than the empty space around. The young, twinkling star had extinguished the last of his fuel. Every member of the Last Constellation gasped at the sudden death.
Lyra looked to her co-conspirator and laughed with relief. “The Intention Room,” the blue star said, “it works!”