The Little Star
by Nick Ozment
There is a place where stars are born, and it is very far from here, or else the brightness of that place would overwhelm the light of our own small star, the Sun.
This is a story about a star that was born in that place, who found out that though he was little as far as stars went, he had a very big thing to do. It took place a long time ago by human time, but for a star, it was only like yesterday.
The little star's name was Harbinger, which means "one who announces another's approach," though he did not know why he was named this, nor what his name meant.
Many stars are bigger than our own Sun, stars that appear to us only as white dots at night because they are so far away. There are stars so massive in size that they could engulf a thousand Earths. But Harbinger was brand-spanking new, and not much larger than a basketball.
Not long after he was born, and before he had left The Place Where Stars Are Born, he received a message from Star Maker, the special directions every star waits for before it sets out into the universe. He wasn't expecting anything spectacular, for he was very small even compared to any of the other young stars, so he certainly did not think he could do much. "Except maybe replace a light bulb that has gone out," he thought to himself. He suspected that if one were to look throughout the whole cosmos, a smaller star than he would not be found.
Imagine his surprise when the message came, and it said, "Harbinger, you have a very important thing to do," followed by directions on where in the universe he should go. However, it said nothing more than this. The shining little star was completely in the dark as to what this very important thing was.
But, wanting to do his very absolute best at whatever it might be, he quickly hurried off, out into the universe, taking time only to say a quick, excited good-bye to his caretakers and the other young stars that were still waiting for their directions.
As the light of the Place Where Stars Are Born became more and more distant, and he pressed further into the dark vastness of space on his way to the place far, far away where the message had said to go, fears began to creep into Harbinger's mind. He thought of Star-Eater, and shined a little dimmer lest that hunter of stars should find him - one lone, helpless, tiny star, light years from any bigger stars that might protect him.
Star-Eater, like all rotten villains who also happen to be great cowards, only preyed on the small and very young. With a big, older star he wouldn't stand a chance. Tiny stars, like Harbinger, he would swallow in one bite.
But Harbinger could not think of how much he feared Star-Eater for long, not when he thought of a second, far more terrible thing: The Darkness.
The Darkness was much worse. It was far more dangerous than Star-Eater, for it could swallow up the largest of stars in its inky black curtain, an expanse from which such an unfortunate star would never shine again. The star might flee for a short distance, but The Darkness would reach out and grasp it tighter and it would not get any further. The star would drown in darkness and go out like a dying red ember in a cold hearth. When one sees a falling star, that is another star that has been taken by The Darkness.
Harbinger sped forth through the universe, crossing many galaxies, each containing thousands of stars, on his way to one galaxy in particular. It was where his destiny awaited.
He was about halfway to the galaxy to which he was headed, in a particularly vast stretch of empty space, when it happened that he sensed he was no longer alone - that there was some other presence very close. A feeling came over him of fear and dread, for he sensed that something was stalking him. Timidly, he spun around like a glowing top, looking in every direction. Harbinger could see much further than people or even eagles; his eyes were as sensitive as powerful telescopes. But he saw nothing except for a large asteroid, floating silently through space many hundreds of miles away.
But then, spinning around one more time to be sure, he saw a red, fiery thing shooting toward him like a comet. He knew at once that it was Star-Eater, whose body always appeared to be burning, who had spotted him alone and helpless from a million miles away and was now pouncing on him to eat him. Quickly Harbinger looked back at the asteroid, a chunk of rock almost the size of our Moon. If he could reach that in time, he thought, he might be small enough to find some cave or crevice in which to hide.
In the blink of an eye, Harbinger shot across that gap between himself and the asteroid, and ducked down into a deep crack.
Harbinger lay there in the ditch, quivering, his light very dim. He was as frightened as you would be if you were to have a nightmare in which something was following you, then wake up only to hear the footsteps still approaching. Star-Eater was a horrible nightmare, and poor, shivering Harbinger could hear him drawing ever nearer beyond the ridge, and could hear his steady, raspy breathing growing louder, sucking in and spewing out the cold nothingness of space.
At length the noise stopped just above him. It was silent for a few tense moments, then a slight rustle caused him to glance up from his hiding spot. A taloned hand was quietly descending toward him. The claws spread open to snatch him up. Suddenly, before it could close upon him, the hand quickly withdrew, and at the same time there was a hideous shriek from above, a shriek, it seemed - of fright?
After waiting several moments and hearing nothing more, Harbinger hovered up and peered over. There was nothing but the rocky surface of the asteroid stretching out before him. Empty. Silent. Harbinger was sure the scream had come from Star-Eater, but what could have scared him off? There was not another star in sight.
Then a reassuring voice seemed to speak within him: "I am always with you." For a moment, he felt as if he were no longer floating, but in the palm of a strong, gentle hand. He remembered the message from Star Maker: "Harbinger, you have a very important thing to do."
It was all the answer Harbinger needed, and he continued on his way, no longer fearing Star-Eater.
Harbinger was nearing the galaxy where he had been directed to go, and now he honed in on one particular star, an older one that several planets revolved around. One certain planet orbiting this star Harbinger paid special attention to, because he knew it had to do with his being sent here. It was blue and green and teeming with life. Yes, that was his destination, though he still didn't know why.
He was very close to the star's solar system now, and was beginning to wonder what it was he should do next as he slowed to a halt on the outskirts of the system. It was nighttime upon the side of the blue planet that was now facing him, yet he was still so small and far away that someone on the planet's surface would not be able to see his little twinkling light in the starry night sky.
"Well, I'm here," he thought. "I'll just wait for further guidance from Star Maker."
As he bobbed up and down listlessly, Harbinger gradually began to notice something strange occurring. There seemed to be fewer stars to the left of him than there had been. And as he fixed his eyes on the ones he could still see, they gradually began to disappear too, as if something were spreading over them and covering them from his view. Sudden realization of what was happening dawned on him. In horror, he spun around and looked behind him. His eyes were not greeted with a familiar sight, a sky milky white with millions of stars. For the first time ever, he saw nothing but - darkness. Something wasn't spreading over all the other stars; it was spreading over him! The only thing Harbinger could think was why had Star Maker brought him right to the place where The Darkness would find him?
The Darkness closed in about him and engulfed him. He was being suffocated by the blackness; he could not even see his own light anymore. Then Harbinger remembered the soothing voice saying, "You have a very important thing to do. I will always be with you."
Well, where was He now?
There was nothing around Harbinger but silence; no calm, reassuring voice; no strong, gentle hand. The Darkness was all there was, he realized desperately - everywhere, all about him. No sound penetrated. Nothing stirred.
Then something deep inside him seemed to whisper, "Shine."
"But I can't," he thought.
"It's no use; I can't even make a little glow in this darkness. It's smothering me!"
"I'll give it one more try. Rrrrr! See, I can't do it!"
With every ounce of commitment he had, he strained to give out one little bit of light that would penetrate The Darkness, which had extinguished many a star of immense size. He did it out of a desire to please the One who formed him more than to try to save his own life.
He felt something stirring inside him. And to his own amazement, he let forth a light that so shined it burst out in every direction through The Darkness, cutting arcs through the black cloud that held him. He felt as if a greater power, a limitless energy source, were shining through him, his little frame only a beacon through which this energy was being channeled. The light was so intense that The Darkness dispersed, and became only shadows, which crept away.
At once, he sped along toward the little blue planet that spun in its orbit around the old and yellowed star. He got into place, and again let his light shine forth.
It was not a massive amount of light; there were many other stars who shined a thousand times brighter than he. But it was enough to do the job. Because he was so close to Earth, the light of Harbinger outshone the light of all the other distant stars in the night sky. And to a small, huddled group of wise men down on the planet below, he was a sign - a sign that a great and wondrous thing had happened on that little, seemingly insignificant planet. Thus Harbinger shone, a beacon to the wise men, and a sign in the heavens that a Savior was born.
"Harbinger, you have a very important thing to do."
© 2008 Nicholas Ozment
Original fiction debuting at Residential Aliens.
Discuss this story at ResAliens Forum at SFReader.com.
Nicholas Ozment teaches English at Winona State University. He is also an author of speculative fiction, primarily fantasy, horror, and magic realism. His short fiction and poetry have appeared in such print publications as Weird Tales, Mythic Delirium, Mythic Circle, The Willows, and online at Raven Electrick, Afterburn SF, and PseudoPod. His essay "Gandalf's Staff, Prospero's Books: The Ethics of Magic in Tolkien and Shakespeare" appears in TOLKIEN AND SHAKESPEARE: ESSAYS ON SHARED THEMES AND LANGUAGE (McFarland Press 2007).