This is a story featured in my first book collaboration with Miss Sharmishtha Basu: Gehenna Parables, now for sale on Amazon for Kindle for a steal at only $0.99. Do pick it up for the full collection! – Troy
The ceremony was completed, the Machine’s call to the starry void sent, and the straggling group of humans awaited its answer by the object of both. They did not go disappointed.
The first sign was a chittering sound, like a swarm of insane locusts chirping out of synch.
The next was the gathering nimbus on the altar before them, a pale green misty radiance that soon took the form of an unnaturally tall and slim woman.
Then, She was, the Rani of Stars. Avatara of the King of Shards.
She was garbed in jade green robes of strange yet oddly familiar make and cut, Her head crowned with a headdress reminiscent, vaguely so, of ancient Terran royalty.
But it was Her face that was the most striking: it was filled with distant star fields seemingly in faraway galaxies; nebulae, rogue planets, dead worlds, with brighter stars and nebulae in the place of eyes.
The humans remained where they stood, their gaze respectfully averted as the Rani spoke in their minds, in pictures. For she had no mouth, but a cluster of stars where her mouth should be.
But they would not have been looking, for to behold fully the Rani’s face meant madness and death. Instead, they remained attentive to her advice, eyes cast downward.
Except for Pradeep. He was a novice, inexperienced in ritual etiquette. In a sudden breach of protocol, he cast a quick glance upward, thinking he could quickly look away.
He saw the Rani’s face, and thus entranced, saw the heavens in Her visage. Stars aglow, worlds spinning in the void, alien galaxies, suns and solar systems being born in their stellar nurseries. He saw it all.
And he could not look away. It was far, far too late.
He screamed. He begged for mercy. He desperately tried to look away. He cried to his fellow humans for help.
And all the while, he could feel himself torn from his place on the floor, being pulled into Her star field, shrinking and screaming. The others remained silent and unmoving, fearful of meeting his doom themselves, but wiser.
Then, silence. The Rani stood as She prepared to leave, the humans filing out of the Calling Chamber to implement Her advice. They would survive the coming winter on this alien world after all, minus one colonist.
But if any were unlucky enough to look, they would have seen behind Her face the receding figure of Pradeep, drifting away in the vacuum of space between the stars, just before joining him in his fate.