city of angles by stefan gagne

backThis is a non-canon fanfic written by Auran Lyrandar, with help from Counterpower. If you'd like to submit your own fanfic, just email it to me! Same rules as listed in the art and media gallery apply.

A Song for a Starlight Miracle

  1. A Wish to the Stars
  2. A Decaying Orbit
  3. A Single Star's Light

A Wish to the Stars

Melody stared up at the night sky through her window, lost in thought. Unfortunately, as much as the vista rarely failed to calm her down, tonight none of those thoughts seemed particularly happy. As much as she intellectually knew that teenage relationships rarely lasted, that didn’t seem to be affecting her feelings about breaking up. And almost certainly losing him as a friend, also, was just…

“Stop it,” she muttered aloud. She knew quite well how depressed she could end up being if she let her feelings loop around enough. A moment later, she started to hum.

That’s Deneb, Altair, Vega…”

A little voice in her head protested that singing about how she felt was the same as thinking about it. She mentally stepped on that though and continued.

I’ve finally found Orihime… but where’s Hikoboshi?”

Somehow, it was more comforting than just letting her thoughts run around in circles, even if the message wasn’t greatly different.

So please… don’t be surprised… and listen to these feelings of mine…”

She sighed as she finished humming. Now that it was over, that momentary distraction wasn’t helping any more. She returned her attention to the stars visible through her window, the first line of the song idly flashing back through her head.

Then she froze. She couldn’t find them

True, the stars didn’t seem that wrong at first glance. But none of the major ones were in their proper positions. And they weren’t really twinkling – they were just there, nondescript dots in the sky. And…

Two hours of staring later, she’d confirmed that they also weren’t moving along with even more minor discrepancies. That was about the point at which the First Action Response Team, summoned by a suspicious Outlands resident who’d noticed a new side road, finally arrived to guide a new family into the City of Angles.

A few weeks later, Melody was turning on her new computer. On one hand, she was willing to bet that online classes would be somewhat more convenient than the one-hour bus ride she’d taken every day back on Earth. That was helping overcome the shyness she was feeling at the thought of joining a new school. A little bit. Maybe.

The computer pinged as it booted up, and Melody quickly checked the webcam program. Her parents had picked this computer entirely based on those features, since she wasn’t really anticipating using it for anything else… Melody was hoping that the choice they’d made was actually good and not overhyped. Luckily, the program seemed to be very user-friendly, and the webcam image seemed to be clear enough to her. She managed to learn most of the features in short order, then pulled up her own camera’s feed again to check her own appearance before she showed anyone else…

The girl staring out of the camera program’s window was a very ordinary teenager. Black hair (tied up in twin ponytails) framing a face with brown eyes, a slightly crooked nose, and a slightly dimpled smile. Also a hint of acne, despite the new face lotion her parents had bought. For this introductory class, she’d chosen a plain gray jacket – she had plenty of unusual T-shirts, but she figured she’d give her classmates some time to get used to her (and vice versa) before she started giving them reason to ask about all the references on her shirts. She had left the anime posters up, though, and she momentarily wondered (as she noticed them in the camera image) if any of that anime had made it over to the City somehow.

But that was enough woolgathering. Class would start in fifteen minutes, and she wanted to be connected to the chat room well ahead of the deadline. She typed in the address, and after a moment’s hesitation clicked the button labeled “Connect”.

Apparently she was not the only one that liked to arrive early, so to speak. According to the chat interface, eighteen out of a possible thirty-one users were connected to this chatroom. The one username with an administrator icon – the teacher (“OPS281_Haverson [Music/HR]”) – was grayed out, offline. Melody realized that maybe contacting the teacher first and waiting to be introduced would have been a better idea.

Then several of those usernames started flashing, indicating that those classmates were typing something into a private chat window. Before Melody could even go about picking one, though, someone spoke up in the public voice channel.

“StarlightMelody? I don’t recognize that username; does that make you a new student?” a male voice asked. The program helpfully threw up a window labeled “Donny 385”, showing a boy slightly younger than her with short brown hair and an openly curious expression. Melody marshaled her courage and pressed the control key to transmit.

“Yeah,” she said, a little hesitantly. “I guess it’s a little sudden, but…”

“Not at all!” Donny (?) replied eagerly. “The City doesn’t care about anything like academic schedules… so is Melody your name, then, or is it something else?”

“It’s Melody,” she replied.

“You seeing anyone?”

Melody froze for an instant, startled by the blunt question. Before she could say anything, someone else jumped in.

“You don’t need to hit on the new girl THAT obviously,” a female voice added. The chat software brought up her image as well… and then everyone else’s as a general hubbub overtook the public voice channel. The grid of images wasn’t that helpful at figuring out which image went with which voice, unfortunately, and it did nothing at all for picking any one comment out of the cacophony.

It faded quickly, though, as everyone realized that nobody was being heard. And it gave Melody a moment to sort through the private chat messages she’d received. Most were simple greetings, although a couple people had decided to warn the new girl about the obvious dangers of their particular nemesis… of course, both sides of any such debate were trying to win her over. Melody shook her head and decided to stay quiet and listen for a while so she could learn for herself what everyone was like.

Abruptly, she realized that the public conversation had become intelligible once again – and that people were talking about her. “I bet Melody doesn’t mind!” Donny was saying.

“Hmm?” Melody muttered.

“It’s a perfectly normal question!”

“I suppose I don’t mind,” Melody said. Before Donny could reply triumphantly, though, she finished, “… but I’m probably not going to answer; I’m not available anyway.”

The girl from earlier (she’d privately introduced herself as Emily) jumped in again. “Well, Donny?”

Donny shrugged. “Can’t blame me for trying, can you?”

“Well… yes, I can,” Emily replied. “But if the new girl doesn’t mind that much, I’ll go ahead and leave you alone,” she finished, with a grin that removed a little bit of the sting from her words.

Melody briefly chuckled, then went back to reviewing the private chat comments. Then the next username on the list caught her eye. She froze for a moment, thinking back to her breakup before she was echoed in. Then she shook her head and determinedly reminded herself not to get too caught up in the past – or let every random little coincidence remind her of things she’d rather forget.

She went ahead and pulled up that student’s comment and profile… and this time her heart seemed to stop in complete shock.

She was aware, on some level, that the teacher had logged in and formally introduced her. She was also aware that several classes had gone by. She was even aware that Donny and Emily were starting to ask if something was wrong. None of it mattered; deciding how to react to her (recently ex-)boyfriend Alexander (or the City’s copy of him, at any rate) was attracting far too much of her attention.

She had the horrible thought that this Alexander could be very well aware of what she was thinking. Depending on when he was echoed in, he might have taken Melody’s earlier remark as confirmation that his girlfriend was still thinking of him. Or, if he was an earlier Alexander that hadn’t known that relationship, he might be just as discouraged as she’d intended Donny to be. She wasn’t sure which would be worse – feeling obligated to take up her shattered relationship again, or feeling sorry that this version of her friend would never even try.

And she still wasn’t even sure which problem she had, since she wasn’t confident enough in her own feelings to even look at any more of what he was saying. She’d just shut the private chat window immediately.

Then (for the second time today!) she was pulled out of her own thoughts’ fog by the realization that someone was talking to her.

“So, Melody, I know I provided a basic introduction earlier,” Mrs. Haverson was saying (both her homeroom teacher and her music teacher, Melody’s memory dredged up from somewhere), “but there’s something else I like to do with the chorus classes. Would you sing something for us?”

“Sing?” Melody blurted out, still somewhat distracted.

“Yes, any song you want,” Mrs. Haverson replied. “It can be something that helps introduce you, or simply something you like. And since it helps me determine how well you can sing,” she added with a twinkle in her eye,” I would prefer you sing it yourself and not send an audio file.”

“People have tried that before,” one student added quietly.

“What if I can’t think of something to sing?” Melody asked after a brief hesitation.

“Then that in itself will have to serve as your introduction,” Mrs. Haverson replied. “I won’t force you to find something to say.”

“And if that’s not the message I want to send?” Melody spoke up again.

“Then I’m confident you’ll find something to sing for us, even if it takes a few days,” Mrs. Haverson said, smiling – and with a gentle confidence Melody wished she could emulate.

Then she shook her head. She could. She knew she could. She knew she had. Yet, as always, she never could seem to bring herself to believe it. There was nothing to do but go for it and hope that this time turned out fine.

She clicked on Alex’s username and read the messages he’d sent. Then, as always, she silently told the fears quietly circling to shut up and started flicking through her music library.

“Just let me know when you’re ready,” Mrs. Haverson was continuing. “Even if that’s the middle of this class, or weeks from now.”

“Actually, I think now will be fine,” Melody said, putting a smile on her face in spite of the butterflies she could still feel circling around her stomach. And when Mrs. Haverson motioned her to continue, she started her accompaniment and started to sing.

Always kindly,
But strongly and directly
From far away
I’ve watched over you…”

Honestly, at this point it barely even mattered what Alex had said, although it was nice to know where she was starting from.

Even now, we’re still
A little ways apart
But someday, I’m sure
We’ll want to walk together…”

What was it that those people at Orientation had said? That their lives in the City could be whatever they wanted, even a second chance at doing things right? Well, she was going to take that second chance, in this way at least, and damn the concerns in the back of her head that wouldn’t shut up. Maybe it wouldn’t work, but…

Every time I look
At your face beside mine
My affection keeps building
I’ll love you, I’m sure…”

If it didn’t, it certainly wouldn’t be for lack of desire or effort on her part. And even if it didn’t work, she’d take what happiness she could get in the meantime. That was just how life worked, right?

Even now we’re still a little ways apart
But tomorrow, I’m sure…!
We’ll look at the same stars…”

She trailed off into silence as the last note faded… then she could feel her cheeks starting to heat up. When all was said and done, that probably was a fairly embarrassing thing to sing in front of everyone.

“Damn, I wish she was talking about me,” Donny muttered into the silence.

Melody smiled as everyone else laughed, then started typing into a private chat window.

A Decaying Orbit

Melody sank to her knees, panting heavily. “Are we far enough away now?” she asked.

Alex was looking behind them, frowning. “If not, we’ll see it coming soon enough to start running again.”

“Then I’m resting here for a bit,” Melody replied.

The two of them were in a long hallway which wouldn’t have been out of place in any hotel. The fact that the emergency door at one end connected to the bridge of some kind of ship was not typical, but that was the Sideways for you. Given the strange, twisted nature of these spaces outside of the inhabited portions of the City proper, odds were there was an even stranger surprise waiting behind the door at the other end of the hall.

And if it came without a Picasso, that would be even better. The one that had been chasing them off and on for nearly an hour now was bad enough as it was.

Melody proceeded to sit down and pull out her smartphone and headphones. Alex smiled at her as he pulled out a laptop to check his pirated mapping software. And Melody started thinking back as her music started playing…

What we see through a crack in the night
Is a vision of ourselves, reflected in a timeless sky…”

That first day of class was now several months in the past. In the conversations that had ensued after Melody’s song, she had learned that the City’s Alex had been echoed in more than a year earlier – before her relationship with the Alex she knew had started. The first conversation in particular had been… interesting.

StarlightMelody: So, do you want to go out?
DeadlyExplorer14: … you were singing about me?
StarlightMelody: … yes.
DeadlyExplorer14: I mean… I kind of like you, but… how did you –
DeadlyExplorer14: Wait.
DeadlyExplorer14: What happened in the year between me being echoed in and you being echoed in?
StarlightMelody: Well, it started about ten months ago for me…

Melody could easily remember how awkward she’d felt as she explained all the memories she’d had with Alex… to someone who was Alex, but different. And Alex didn’t waste any time pointing that out, either…

DeadlyExplorer14: Are you really sure about this?
DeadlyExplorer14: I’m not necessarily the same person you knew…
DeadlyExplorer14: And you’re… kind of like a dream I gave up on.
DeadlyExplorer14: I’m happy to have a chance at it again, but…
DeadlyExplorer14: I don’t know.
StarlightMelody: No, you’re right.
StarlightMelody: And I should probably explain what happened right before I got echoed in…

If we could realize that dream here
Then we could change, into who we’re meant to be…”

Still, they had decided to give it a try, despite Melody’s perpetual fears and Alex’s nagging doubts. The resulting relationship started out a little strangely, but was certainly happy. The initial excitement of a recovered dream had managed to carry both of them through their concerns for the first month or two.

Of course, that didn’t prevent problems from starting.

Even as all we’ve been through just disappears into the distance,
You just stand there on that rusted rail…”

Even with some forewarning of the problems they might have, courtesy of Melody’s experiences in the weeks before she’d been echoed in, they couldn’t avoid all of them. Melody tried, of course, but knowing what didn’t help them communicate or avoid unkind feelings didn’t always help her know what would work.

And there were times when it wasn’t a matter of knowing what was happening and being helpless to stop it, or even not quite knowing what was going wrong. Melody managed to completely misread some problems when Alex didn’t quite act like the person she remembered…

For his part, Alex refused to put too much stock in Melody’s warnings. His initial doubts about the year this Alex and Melody hadn’t shared were still there. And no matter how many times Melody managed to read the situation correctly based on past experience, those doubts always increased when Melody came up wrong. They never did go away entirely.

“‘I won’t let go again,’ I swear to the grey star
I’ll rewrite this verse…”

They were trying, though. They still shared plenty of interests, for example… and the City had added a new one.

Alex had always been an athletic type and a wanderer; he loved to explore new places and had no problem hiking for hours if there was a new vista to see at the other end of the trail. Melody had always had somewhat less patience for the resulting hikes, but now that she was in the City, she’d acquired a bit more curiosity about her new, strange home. She harbored a bit of a secret dream that she would one day find out why and how the City echoed in such faithful copies of real people – find out why and how she’d gotten her second chance, essentially. She was also very curious about how whatever created the city could replicate people so exactly yet with other things (most notably the stars she still looked at every night) seemed to come up with pale imitations at best. And she was perfectly happy accompanying Alex on his trips to see new places (often new parts of the Sideways) when it meant she’d have even a small chance at one day finding those big secrets.

She’d told Alex about that little dream, of course. The day she’d told him, he seemed surprised for an instant, then smiled back and told her, “We’ll just have to see what the two of us can find, then!”’

It was one of her newest treasured memories.

If we’re here searching for the meaning of life
Then we know that no one wants this evil…”

And Alex had given her one of her others. Melody tried to be patient when he insisted that they were different people and that she should stop worrying about what had broken her relationship with the Alex from Earth. At the same time, she was starting to admit that it might be true… particularly when the differences did something positive for them.

Six months after their new relationship started, Alex and Melody were meeting to go on another adventure – but right before it started, Alex pulled a box out of his backpack. “Here, this is for you,” he’d said. “Call it an anniversary gift.”

Melody stared. The Alex she’d remembered had never done anything like that. Had never given her any gifts at all, in fact – he’d liked to say that his words, and not any trinkets he came up with, could prove his feelings. She thought (a little bit guiltily) that it had probably contributed to some of her own resentment as the end grew near.

Now it seemed she wouldn’t have to worry about that problem. She carefully pried open the box.

Then she gasped. Inside was a bracelet – one with a tiny, high-capacity removable memory card and echo mapping hardware/software built in. It was an impossibly valuable gift for one teenager to be giving another. She looked up at Alex.

“Well, I’d feel much too guilty if your new interest in my hobby got you killed,” Alex had said. She had protested, of course.

“It’s my hobby now too,” she said. But, naturally, Alex had insisted she accept it anyway. And, to be fair, she hadn’t argued too hard.

“Besides, it’s not just a tool,” he’d continued, pulling a card out of his pocket.

Melody opened it. He’d taped two metal charms inside, of the type you could clip to a bracelet – a music note and an eight-pointed star. And there was a note:

“A ‘note’ about where we started from, and a ‘star’ that we hope to find,
Here’s to all the time we’ve had, and all the time to come.”

Melody laughed, and shook her head. “I don’t know what to say… I never expected –”

“Now will you admit we’re different than you remember?” he’d replied, with a laugh that took any possible sting out of the comment.

“Of course not!” she’d fired back, with a smile of her own.

But we find ourselves in the dark forest, in the deep darkness
Without quite knowing why or how…”

Even with advanced safety tools, their new hobby came with the ever-present risk of death in the Sideways. Melody and Alex had been lucky, in their six months of occasional expeditions – they’d encountered very little of the danger that the Sideways represented. But as they continued to check new maps and new places, they couldn’t help but acknowledge that other people were finding that danger, and that one day it might be them.

Melody had worried, at first, that her fears of death would drive her away from the exploration – and from Alex. After a month or so, she realized that exactly the opposite was happening, when she realized that oftentimes Alex was just as scared as she was. Their shared risks and fears were becoming another thing to unite over, and there was no way Melody was going to walk away from that.

But that didn’t stop her from feeling that fear of death. Nor did it stop her from worrying that she was risking her life for a stupid reason, no matter how much the rest of her brain told her it was acceptable.

She never had told Alex that, and she had no idea if he felt the same way.

Someday I won’t be able to turn away
From this land I’ve dreamt of…”

Without even quite realizing it, Melody had slipped into a daze, and a minute or two of the song had gone by without her really hearing it. She pulled herself out of the haze of thought that she’d slipped into… just in time for Alex to grab her and pull her along as he ran.

She had enough sense to run with him, and her headphones fell out as she abandoned her phone – as Alex had abandoned his computer, she noted as she looked back. She had a moment to protest, “My phone-!”

Then she noticed that the wall they’d been sitting against had changed color. Then she saw it change color again… and the Picasso that had been chasing them came through the wall in a mess of warped space.

Neither of them had seen one before today. This one was talking with a creepy little girl’s voice, crying in a plaintive, twisted, overlapping way for someone to play with. Just like a proper horror movie.

Unlike a horror movie, though, Melody didn’t trip and die pleading to the male lead for rescue. It was Alex who tripped – and there was no time for any reaction beyond an instant’s flash of realization in his face –

Then the Picasso’s spatial distortion overtook him and hid him from view. The Picasso’s happy laughter at finding a new playmate echoed out… and then the Picasso disappeared, for what reason Melody didn’t know. She could only stare at what that instant of distortion had done to what had been Alex.

A Single Star's Light

Melody staggered down another unfamiliar hallway, still lost in grief. And, she thought through the haze, lost for real; Alex’s computer had been destroyed by the Picasso, and almost all of their maps had gone with it. Their backup on Alex’s and Melody’s smartphones might have survived, but… she couldn’t even remember if that backup would have the maps she’d need, if the batteries would last long enough for her to use them, if there was anything else she could use… and she certainly couldn’t bring herself to go back and search for them, not if it meant getting closer to where Alex had died.

She hadn’t been able to do anything but run away.

And now it seemed all she could do was keep walking… and curse herself for that momentary stupidity that would probably kill her, or curse herself for not paying attention when it might have saved Alex, or more than anything else curse herself for ever believing that this second chance could work out.

The sensible part of her mind was busily reminding her that that instant’s irrationality was nothing to be ashamed of, that Alex had been watching out specifically so that she could rest and relax, and that her current despairing mood was no reason to condemn her initial hopes. So… she was also cursing herself for her irrational criticisms of herself.

She wasn’t quite sure why (or how) she was still walking, frankly, instead of curling into a ball and crying until she couldn’t think anymore. For that matter, she wasn’t sure why she hadn’t Picasso’d out herself yet. Looping and repeating thoughts did seem to be a hallmark of a Picasso, and she certainly seemed to have plenty of those… although, it occurred to her that she was probably broken enough for that to be normal even without her becoming some cubist abomination.

Most of all, she was wishing that she could still fix her second chance somehow – that if the world would change again, change enough, that she could still turn this into the happy ending she’d wanted. And she knew that it wasn’t possible anymore, and so her mood grew even worse, and –

Her spiraling thoughts were brought to a halt by a sudden green flash… she looked up and realized she wasn’t alone. The barely-leashed screaming terror that replaced the building despair was no improvement, though.

A green and black shadow of a young girl was (somehow) visible at the other end of the now utterly black hallway. The patron goddess of madness, believed to be responsible for most Picassos, Bedlam, was now facing Melody. One of the thoughts from before came back to mind… to change the world, twist it into what I want…

such an interesting // depressed // perfect girl
already here // already broken
but not me // different // not my madness
would you like to be my friend // my friend?
I can give you // what you want // your friend // your dream // your lover
and we can // live together // play together // search together
for the secrets // of this City // that you // me // you wanted to find…

In the face of Bedlam’s broken, playful voice, calling to Melody, all thought once again abandoned her. Half-formed thoughts and responses flickered through her head, but she was turning and running…

… Toward Bedlam?

it’ll be fun // perfect // not sad anymore
so let’s // be friends…

Bedlam was approaching… and no matter how Melody turned, Bedlam was still in front of her. Most of Melody’s brain was still locked up trying to process alternating shock, terror, and despair, but it also pulled one of those responses forward, almost without Melody thinking about it…

I don’t want to show this face to anyone… so just leave me alone…!!”

As the line of music rang out, a bright flash of red light drowned out all else.

The next thing Melody knew, she was alone in the hallway. Bedlam had left… Melody had a moment to think that she would probably never know why.

The next thing she knew after that was leaning against the wall, crying. For quite some time, she simply stood there, mentally reviewing the pain, terror, and despair of the last few hours and sobbing. All she could do was keep going through her dark thoughts and pray that her sanity would still be intact when she ran out of those…

Finally, it seemed like all the tears that were going to come had come and gone. There were still plenty of painful thoughts running around, along with a sort of weak, vulnerable feeling, but at least she could think properly now. And along with that, she thought she might have figured out why shed hadn’t turned into a Picasso yet.

Again, she found herself humming almost on instinct.

If this is a wish that can’t be granted
Then I just want these feelings to rise up through the night
And become a star, to shine in your eyes…”

Just having the wish didn’t mean that it was the only thing she could possibly want, even if it was what she wanted most. And she had known that it wouldn’t happen – even if that had been driving her despair further, it was also something she could admit. And maybe… that thought that it had to be true for real was also keeping her from turning cubist and embracing Bedlam’s offer.

Or maybe not. She really didn’t know. But by now, she’d regained enough control to prevent that line of thought from driving her off track. She kept humming, since she’d already started.

I won’t forget
These beloved, precious days
Along with your smile
This promise we exchanged is my sunlight…
I won’t forget… No matter what…”

… some of the tears from earlier came back as she hummed the end of the song. Then another red light flickered in the corner of her eye.

She turned, and saw that this time, the light was shining from behind a door… which, upon reflection, she couldn’t be sure had been there a minute earlier. Whether it was simply a quirk of the deep Sideways, a cubist distortion, or simply her grief-addled brain didn’t seem to matter now that she’d taken at least one step forward…

She went up and opened the door… and stepped into a massive planetarium.

The room was mostly dark, but dimly lit by the same red light that had drawn her attention to the door; it seemed to be coming from everywhere all at once. The projector in the center was lit and casting points of light on the dome above, but that was the only evidence of light or life in the entire room. The control booth, the seats, and everything else was dark, silent, and immobile.

Then Melody’s gaze was drawn once again to the dome… to the pattern of light above her that exactly mimicked the night sky she had never gotten out of the habit of watching, no matter how much of a pale imitation it was.

Again, she found herself crying. Somehow, she knew that this was no coincidence – this place was somehow connected to the City’s night sky. She’d finally found her dream… and she was seeing it alone, without her best friend by her side…

This time, like before, it took her a long while to stop crying.

Almost as soon as Melody’s thoughts returned to… well, a pale imitation of normal… she saw a sudden movement; a red shadow danced through the dim room.

She spun and stared… but there was nothing there. Just the projector, sitting there in the center of the room... and she found herself walking towards it, out of a curiosity which she decided would be better than worrying about this latest evidence that she was probably going insane.

The projector seemed somehow forlorn, seen up close. Better than half of its lights were extinguished, and it clearly hadn’t moved in quite some time. Melody stared at it wistfully for some time, lost in thoughts of the glory of the stars she could remember seeing from Earth…

… and then started walking towards the control room.

The control room was lit by the same dim red light as the rest of the planetarium, which wasn’t sufficient to read any of the controls’ labels. Assuming they even had them; Melody squinted at one label for a moment before realizing it was just a blank plate with nothing printed on it. And there were quite a few different buttons, switches… even some cables connected to what looked like a computer terminal. There was even something that looked like a printer connected to that computer... for what reason Melody couldn’t fathom.

She sighed. “Is there really any point to messing with this?” she asked herself aloud. Her voice, unused for much of anything for a little while, came out as a bit of a rusty croak.

Almost as if to answer, there seemed to be a little flicker of red light next to a row of switches. Some were flipped up, others were not… Melody sighed again and flipped them all up.

And the dome lit up with several times as many stars as it had previously displayed.

Melody gasped. She leaned forward to get a better look out of the control room’s window… and seemed to see a red shadow of a girl doing the same.

The rational part of her brain insisted that it was a trick of the light. But she knew better... it was almost like Bedlam, but more friendly and less… “present” was probably the best word. Like a shadow of an idea, instead of the full realization of that idea…

“Did it even have that many lights when I checked it earlier?” Melody asked rhetorically… and she noticed the shadow seem to turn. She shrugged, and decided to just accept it. “So, what should I do next?” she asked.

Several hours later, Melody stepped back from the (suddenly working) computer terminal with a sigh. With the help of her invisible benefactor, she’d figured out most of the control room’s tricks. Now, she was done… she stepped out of the control room and simply looked up calmly as the projector groaned into motion.

With the simple expedient of turning a few switches (combined with, Melody was certain, her own memories of the sky), the night sky the planetarium was displaying had become not a pale reflection of Earth’s but a very close approximation to the real thing. Melody stared at that simple glory for quite some time, imagining what the people back in the City proper might be thinking… and letting some more thoughts turn around in her head.

Most of them were still painful. She simply couldn’t stop herself from thinking that Alex would never see this place, or see the City under its new sky. She wasn’t sure how she was going to explain this to anyone – was it going to have to remain a secret forever? She also couldn’t stop worrying that something might happen to the planetarium... although that fear didn’t seem that powerful, in the face of the forces that were obviously moving to create this place. And somehow… she looked up, again.

This lonely night gave me courage
Polaris sparkled above me, no matter what…”

… she had something to take a little pride in, now. Maybe someday someone else would look at the night sky and draw some happiness from it. She wasn’t sure that would ever be enough to erase her dark thoughts… but it was a step forward, and then she could take another.

And if she had to turn that into a third chance, then that’s exactly what she intended to do. Although how to manage that was a little unclear… her stomach growled, reminding her that her survival time out here was limited, at best. She put her hand on her aching stomach.

There was a faint jingle. She looked down, and realized it had come from the charms hanging from her bracelet. Which she had been wearing almost without thinking about it for two months now… as it mapped out every inch of the Sideways she went through.

She smiled wistfully as her eyes filled with tears again… then she determinedly wiped them away and turned to head home.

Music Credits:

Kimi no Shiranai Monogatari (anime: Bakemonogatari, artist: supercell)
Kitto Koi wo Shite'iru (anime: Dog Days. artist: Yui Horie)
Philosophyz (game: Rewrite, artist: Runa Mizutani)
Shinkai Shoujo (Vocaloids, artist: yuuyu )
Hidamari Basket (game: Hidamari Basket, artist: Yoshino Nanjo)
telepath ~hikari no tou~ (movie: A Certain Magical Index, artist: Sachika Misawa)