Serenity Johnson yawned and kicked her brother’s bed. “It’s sundown.”
As required by any teenager in good-standing, Malcolm Johnson merely grumbled and turned over.
Undaunted, Serenity sleepily rubbed her eyes and walked over to the window, working the blinds so the last vestiges of the day’s sun streamed across Malcolm’s closed eyes. “Hey, Physics Boy, wake up, or I’m going without you.”
Malcolm grumbled again and reluctantly rolled out of bed, stubbing his foot on the rental’s bed post and yelping in pain.
“Shsshh!” Serenity hissed. “Or you’ll wake Mom and Dad. 21 hours in a plane and they deserve to sleep in, even if they’ve got their day and night mixed up.”
“We were on that plane too,” grumbled Mal as he hopped on one foot.
“Yeah, but they’ve been to the Southern Hemisphere before. They’ve seen sunsets here. We haven’t.”
Mal squinted at his sister in the growing gloom. “I’m pretty sure sunsets look the same regardless of what hemisphere you’re in.”
Serenity sighed. “You’re hopeless. Sunsets, yes.” Then a twinkle lit her eyes. “Stars, no.”
Now it was Mal’s turn to sigh. “All right, give me a minute.”
The two Johnsons approached the top of the hill adjacent to the family’s rental as the sun dipped below the horizon. Serenity was bouncing. Mal was hobbling, but he was doing so with a bag of cookies he found in the rental’s pantry.
“Slightly stale, yet quite satisfying,” he mumbled through the crumbs. “Will you wait up?” He looked skyward and frowned. “D’ya think these clouds will go away?”
Serenity wrinkled her nose in the twilight. “I see some sky. Help me look for the first star of the night.”
“Star light, star bright…or something like that,” Mal proclaimed as he joined Serenity at the top of the hill. “Why are we doing this again? The stars in our hemisphere are just fine.”
Serenity eyed the cookies. “Share…if you know what’s good for you…”
Malcolm shrugged and opened the bag for his sister. “Fine. Find Sirius. Or Arcturus. Or something bright like that.” He plucked another cookie out for himself and looked down at the dim lights of the rental amid the almost-dark of the remote landscape. “But do it quick. I want some real food soon.”
“Always with food,” Serenity mumbled as she continued to look between the clouds. “Those are northern stars. Or at least I’ve already seen them. I want something I’ve never, ever seen before.”
“You’ve seen pictures,” Mal chided.
“Doesn’t count,” she said as she grabbed another cookie out of the bag. “I want a star that my own eyes have never, ever seen before. Ever.” Her eyes twinkled again. “Them I’m going to make a wish on it.”
Mal stared at his sister. “You’re totally kidding, right?” Serenity didn’t take her eyes from the sky. “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight…you’re serious?” Serenity didn’t flinch. “You dragged me out of bed for this? You could make a wish any night we’re here during vacation!”
Serenity shook her head. “How many people make a wish upon a star THE FIRST TIME THEY EVER SEE IT?” She looked at her brother’s silhouette in the growing darkness. “By the time you’re old enough to make a wish, you do it on a star that you’ve seen since you were a baby. In the same night sky you’ve grown up with. For people who do travel to the other hemisphere, how many make a wish the first night they see the sky? Huh? Any of ’em?”
Mal frowned. “Hmmmm. I don’t know, Sis…”
“Listen Quantum Kid, nobody does it, ok? But I am. I’m going to find a star that I’ve never laid eyes on, the first one, and I’m going to make my wish. Do you want to help me, or keep feeding your face?”
Mal chuckled and shoved another cookie in his mouth. “Both.”
“Good.” Serenity looked skyward again. “Clouds! Clouds, clouds, go away!”
“Ok, what are we looking for? The Southern Cross?”
Serenity nodded. “That would be a good one, but for the clouds…”
Mal frowned. “Now you’re going to make me think, and I’m not awake enough to do that…geez, and I thought we were trying to escape academics on vacation?” He screwed up his face in concentration. “Achenar? Fomalhaut? Hey, how about Alpha Centauri or one of the Magellanic Clouds?”
Serenity shook her head and started pointing up. “Cloud, cloud, cloud and cloud.”
“What would be that?” Mal pointed to a break in the clouds.
Serenity estimated the angle from the zenith and the horizon and tilted her head. “Close to where the Carina Nebula should be.”
Serenity snorted. “Only the coolest nebula next to Orion…some would say even cooler.”
Mal squinted. “Is that what I think it is?”
Serenity gasped and her jaw dropped open. “Is that a star or am I imagining it?”
“No, not imagining it…what star would that be?”
The twinkle re-entered Serenity’s eyes. “I’m not sure, but if that’s the Carina Nebula, I hope it’s Eta Carinae…that would be awesome!”
Mal chuckled and shook his head. “My little sister, the walking star almanac and wikipedia page.” He smiled openly. “There be a star little sis! Better get on with your wishin’.” Then he looked thoughtful. “Guess it wouldn’t hurt to join. What are you wishing for?”
Serenity smiled through the twinkle in her eye, which now matched the single visible point of light in the dark, cloudy sky. “I can’t tell, or it won’t come true.”
Such is how it came to be, the two young Johnsons amid the growing darkness of a night sky upon which neither had ever laid eyes. For it is said that every night sky holds a certain kind of magic, a connection between the sky watcher and the infinity of the night sky itself. It is an infinity buoyed by stars, seemingly endless and invitingly twinkling in the darkness. That moment – the metaphysical moment of seeing a star for the very first time, and recognizing that you are seeing it for the first time – that magical moment connecting humanity with the heavens, came upon the Johnson youth that evening, at that moment.
And they each made a wish.
Suddenly, the heavens began to swirl around them. Winds, which had been nonexistent even a moment ago, blew strongly and encircled the siblings. “Mal? Mal!” Serenity reached for her brother. “What’s going on?”
“I don’t know! This is one sudden and weird storm!” The two bunched together as the winds whipped around them. “I can’t see anything!” A tendril of wind reached for the bag of cookies, only to be smacked away by Serenity.
“I don’t like this!” Serenity yelled. “What can we…?” A loud “CRACK” issued from seemingly everywhere at once, and complete darkness joined the winds to engulf the pair.
Then, as quickly as the ruckus started, it ended, with no wind and a gentle diffuse glow illuminating the inside of…well, something…
“Where are we?” the Johnsons asked each other in unison.
Serenity looked around. “What happened to the hills? To the sky?”
Malcolm frowned. “It looks like we’re inside some kind of ship…”
The Johnson duo jumped.
“I am Eta Carinae.” The creature looked specifically at Serenity. “I believe you called?”
Serenity sputtered. “W-w-w-what?”
“Your wish. You wished on me, didn’t you?”
“I, uh…” Serenity continued her sputtering. “…uh, yes?”
“Good. That’s why I’m here.” The creature looked at them both. “You can call me Eta. Everybody does.”
Malcolm regained his voice. “Where are we? What are you?”
“I told you, I’m Eta Carinae! You wished on me! It was the first time you’d [Eta pointed to Serenity] ever seen me with your own eyes, and you made a wish on me. So, here I am. You’re in my spaceship. Nice to meet you. So, when’s dinner?”
Serenity and Malcolm exchanged looks. “This…this is monumental! Humankind’s first alien contact! This is huge! And you’re asking about dinner?”
Eta shrugged. “First time for you, maybe, but we’ve been doing this for millenia, all over the galaxy. And I’m hungry.”
Serenity and Malcolm exchanged another look. “Who’s ‘we’…?”
The Johnson teens jumped again…after all, it’s not everyday that an alien jumps in front of you with cookies. Your cookies.
“Uh…what are you doing with my cookies?” Malcolm stammered.
“That’s V838 Monocerotis. But you can just call himV838.” Eta said, then eyed the cookies. “Those look good, what are they?”
V838 smiled. “Or you can just call me V8. Everybody does.” V8 shook the cookies. “Tell me, what are these ‘cookies’?”
Malcolm looked to Serenity. “It…it has our cookies.”
Serenity balked. “Cookies? You’re thinking cookies? Eta Carinae is one of the biggest stars in the galaxy, but it’s unstable. It can blow its top at any time.” She smiled at Eta as Eta looked at her quizzically. “And V838 Monocerotis is the “light echo” star that flared up years ago in that beautiful swirly picture.” She smiled at V8, who was looking at the cookies. “Don’t you find it odd that Eta’s eyes are the shape of Eta Carinae’s homunculus nebula and V8’s eye looks like, well, the V838 light echo?”
“Sis,” Malcolm responded, “what I find to be really odd is that these two stars are standing right in front of us and we’re in a spaceship!”
“Ok, good point,” Serenity mumbled.
Suddenly, chaos ensued.
A red blur appeared out of nowhere and stole the Mint Milano’s away from V8.
“Hey, M. Monopole, come back here with those cookies!” With a huff, V8 went off in pursuit.
Eta shuddered at the sound of multiple crashes. “Magnetic Monopole, you come back here this instant!” Crash! “V8! Watch the Heisenberg Calibrator! We can’t handle any more uncertainty coming from that thing!” The red streak flashed by with the cookies and a wide grin. “Monopoly, put down that bag! No! Not on the Reimann Surface! It could slide away for ever on there! Sheesh…!”
The red streak flashed by Malcolm again, but not quickly enough to protect the cookies. Malcolm grabbed them.
“Meow!” M. Monopole wailed and jumped up and down after the cookies, which Malcolm held up out of the creature’s reach.
“Thank you!” Eta glared at V8 and M. Monopole. “Is this how you want to act in front of our new students?”
“Students?” Serenity and Malcolm asked together.
“Well, you just said that you wished upon me, didn’t you?”
“Hah! Good!” Eta smiled. “Excellent, actually. I’ve always wanted to work in this solar system, and on this planet particularly.” The interior of the ship became partially transparent, revealing the beautiful twilight of the early outdoor evening. “Beautiful, beautiful, albeit with pretty rudimentary, basic and somewhat flawed knowledge of science and technology.”
“Huh?” Malcolm aksed. “Did you say you’ve always wanted to ‘work’ here?”
“For at least several of your millennia,” responded Eta, smiling. “It’s about time someone asked.”
Serenity shook her head. “I didn’t ask for this! I just made a wish!”
V8 smiled. “But your wish sent things in motion. It brought us down here. To teach you. To teach you all.”
Mal shook his head. “But how? How did your ship get here? How did you know what Serenity wished for?”
“Ah, now that’s OUR technology, not YOURS,” said Eta. “I can tell you about YOUR technology, what YOUR body of scientific knowledge contains, but not about OURS. That’s too much for you.”
“Too much for me?” Serenity asked.
“Not just you,” V838 interjected, “to much for everyone. Every human.” He winked, which was something giving that he had one large eye that continually emitted a light echo. “It would blow your socks off! And, we’d get in trouble.”
“Trouble?” Mal asked. “Trouble from who?”
“Shhhhhsh!” Eta whispered. “Uh, no one. No one at all. There’s nobody out there policing us.”
“Yeah,” V838 cleared his throat, “there’s no terrible, all-powerful force about this high,” he indicated about three feet tall, “who could do nasty things to us if…”.
“Enough!” Eta interjected. “It’s just not right. We’re not here to give you our science. We’ve answered your call to help you understand your OWN science.”
Serenity raised her eyebrows. “I didn’t wish for that!”
“Nonsense,” Eta replied confidently, “of course that’s what you want. That’s what all of your society wants. And we’re gonna give it to you!”
“Uh, well, thanks, I guess,” Mal hesitated, “I’m not really sure anyone really wants to hear about their intellectual deficiencies from two aliens named after stars…”.
“Pshaw! Hogwarts!” replied V838.
“That’s ‘Hogwash,’ you celestial show off,” winced Eta. “He reads too many Harry Potter books.”
“They have Harry Potter where you come from?” Serenity asked.
“Yes, but you have not experienced Potter until you have read him in the original Klingon!” V838 guffawed, to complete silence. “It’s a joke. Haven’t you watched your own Star Trek movies?”
“Anyway,” Eta interjected, “we are at your beck and call. Just wish for us, and we’ll be there.”
“Anywhere?” Serenity asked.
“Anywhere,” Eta nodded. “And anytime.”
“And why again,” Mal asked, “should we ever call to you? So we can be knocked down again?”
“Oh no, silly,” V838 chuckled, “the first time always takes the most effort. Now that we’re around, it’ll be nothing! Just make your wish again, and we’ll be there!”
“Hmmmm,” Eta paused, “V8, we must start reading their scientific news and articles. I fear they may be worse off than I initially believed.” Eta faced the Johnsons. “We need some time to thoroughly review the collective scientific knowledge of all humanity.” Eta looked at what may have been a watch. “Can you give us until tomorrow morning?”
V8 nodded, yawning. “Yeah, we’ll need time to take a nap, too.”
Malcolm stammered, “A couple of hours…the collective knowledge of humanity…”
“Oh, and that’s after dinner.” Eta eyed the cookies. “They do look good…”
“Oh please, please, please…we need to fully understand these ‘cookies’!” V8 reached for the cookies.
“Uh, ok, here…” Mal released the cookies to a beaming V8. “But now what do we…?”
“Thanks!” V8 continued beaming as he rummaged for a cookie. “First things first…dinner and cookies!”
“Call us!” Eta intoned with an antiquated gesture of holding a phone to his “ear.”
“Woof!” said M. Monopole.
And in a blink, the Johnsons found themselves alone on the top of the hill, staring into the twilight. They both looked up, and they could swear that the Eta Carinae star blinked back at them.
“Did…did that really just happen?” Serenity asked.
“I think so,” Mal responded, “notably because I no longer have my cookies.”
They shared a silent moment. “Should we tell Mom and Dad?” Serenity asked.
Mal laughed. “And risk getting sent away? No thanks.” He looked thoughtful. “Let’s give it the night, and try calling them in the morning. Either they’ll show, or they won’t.”
Serenity nodded. “This won’t be boring, will it?”
Mal smiled. “Nah, not boring at all.” He nodded to the rental, now shinning with lights from the kitchen. “How about some dinner?”