Size / / /

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“Shapa.” You say its name, the giant swirled with grey and shadow, god-sized out the window. In even endless space it takes up too much. It sits on your chest, like the letter from home that arrived here before you. A ribbon of gas twists away in the dark, strings flowing like music in your eyes. The words you know fail: Tidal locking. Stellar wind. Atmospheric loss. In the light of its parent, one side boils and the other blows away, fingers of dust reaching out, drawing it down until one day it fades. One day it will be nothing at all. But Shapa has a name.


Cia transits between you: a moon the size of home, a tiny hole in Shapa’s swirls. A cradle and a grave and a thing that can only be these things because it is alive, a breathing thing. Shapa has a name because Cia has a name. Cia has a name because Shapa gave it life: a million million passes through the wisps of Shapa’s breath slipped a gift through curves lit only by aurorae, at least to your eyes. Bucket chemistry, you think, a phrase your father taught you with derision. And here: a bucket the size of a world.


A’nak glint in the distance. They only glitter at this range, specks of light, but they’ll approach. The Cianae said you should come, should pack alloys and fibers and all the inertia you could carry to come, stay young in a bubble of speed to come, while all you knew behind you stayed, aged. They said that you should come—not for them, but for the A’nak. Your father, what was left of your father, said you should go.


Your father gave you a name. He shone like the sun and then burned like the library at Alexandria, a life of prose folding into an indecipherable poem with each passing day. When you were twelve and you asked him why we couldn’t go as fast as light, he called it the law, built a cathedral of principles, and sent you to mine a deep mountain of truth so hard it made your back ache and your fingers weep. When you hugged him to leave with calloused hands, he said something else: because you haven’t seen birds.


A dotted line divides space, and then another, appearing at once, sliding sideways, then fading away. A’nak locomotion: forward in time and forward in space, then forward in space and backward in time, then repeat—a ripple you can see, but not understand. A man like your father, but not like your father, built wings of wax and flew, and though the wax was questioned, the wings never were. A man like your father, but not like your father, held you, frail as parchment, read you the writing of his soul as he watched you go. He knew that he could fly with wings, he said to you, because he had seen birds. And now, in the shadow of Shapa’s gift, you have, too.

Richard Ford Burley (they/he) is a writer of speculative fiction and poetry as well as Deputy Managing Editor of the journal Ledger. Their second novel, Displacement, was published in hardcover in February 2020 by Prospective Press and is now available in paperback. They post updates (occasionally) at, and they tweet (unceasingly) at @arreffbee.
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