“How can you be sure that that’s the right path?”
When she asks, her eyes are focused far off. Lingering in the dark. Clinging to the blank spots in space that neither of us can see into. That neither of us—her, with her newfound knowledge, and me, with my vast experiences—can see into.
We are blind out there in those places.
Tucked between the stars.
The darkness that those places are purveying.
But not winning.
Not if you don’t want it to.
That’s what I can see in her eyes as she looks. Not curiosity. Not wonder.
I shake my head at her. Already, she has made a critical error.
You don’t look between the stars for knowledge.
You look there for guidance.
The Stellar Path is not an easy one to find. Nor is it an easy one to traverse.
I explained that to her when she hired me. For guidance and protection, this young traveler hired me to take her down The Stellar Path. An old space pirate like myself shouldn’t be trusted, and yet.
She trusted me.
Or, perhaps that isn’t it. Perhaps its her desperation that agreed for her. That sought me out. That—despite my war-riddled appearance, my robotic leg, and my eyepatch—had her agreeing to hire me. When she stepped into that derelict saloon on that far off moon, she knew exactly what she needed. Knew exactly what she was looking for. And, for some reason, the thing she needed at the time was me.
She shouldn’t trust me. Most don’t. Not an old mutineer like myself. Harpooner of stars. Swallower of voids. They called me lots of things in my day. Lots. Back in my prime, I was ravenous. Bloodthirsty. Looking for the next canon to blast, or the next ship to obliterate. Desperately searching for the next adventure.
That all came to an end though. Not because of my leg, or my eye. But because of this:
The Stellar Path.
To walk amongst the stars…
Is there no higher achievement than this?
Is there something else that can bring such fulfillment?
Is there a greater adventure?
I have walked this path before. Been blessed enough to survive it. An old space dog like me should’ve been put down the moment I laid eyes—well, eye—on it. I’m far too unworthy to know its secrets. To see its wonder and taste its beauty.
I shouldn’t be the one in the know here. Shouldn’t be walking so confidently out into the void of space. Shouldn’t be allowed to walk among the stars. Shouldn’t be the one guiding this young lass.
And yet, I am.
And, truly, I know no one who can do this job.
Other than me, of course.
So as she asks, eyeing the dark suspiciously, I shake my head at her.
“The unknown is part of the path. There is no certainty that one can see, just faith. Walk amongst the stars, and they’ll guide you. Fail to do so, and the dark will swallow you. You have to trust in the lights you can’t see. That’s the lesson of The Stellar Path,” I inform her, checking our packs to make sure we have everything we need.
Except, we are missing one thing.
She is missing one thing:
I find her sudden uncertainty amusing. All this bravery to reach the farthest moon, to hire the oldest space mongrel, to face The Stellar Path. But now?
Now she is afraid to walk it.
Afraid of all the things her courage has built.
Afraid to use those things.
Afraid to make sure that none of her efforts have gone to waste.
“Don’t focus on what you can see—or what you can’t, for that matter—focus on the goal. On what you know,” I encourage her as I stand beside her. As we stare into the vast darkness of space.
I see her jaw working. Mulling over what I’ve asked her to do. I don’t know what she’s thinking—if she’s pushing herself forward or not.
So I decide to move first.
Show her the way.
Show her that there is no harm in taking a leap.
This is how you move forward.
Stepping out into the void of space, I walk confidently off the moon. Away from gravity, from solid ground. I step forward into the unknown, uncertainty not even a splotch in the distance of my mind. I step off the moon, right into space.
Galaxies beneath my feet.
I step away from the moon, and I can feel the stirring in the universe. Feel the way solar winds whistle through space, passing planets. Somewhere, there is a supernova, rocking its reaches of the galaxy. And yet, here I am.
Standing among them.
Among planets and comets and stars.
I stand among them.
An old mutineer.
A terror of the outer reaches.
A broken space pirate.
When I look back at her, she looks terrified. Or awed. Maybe something in between. As if she had expected me to float into the abyss or something.
I can’t help but smirk. Though I wrangle my amusement, convince myself not to laugh as I speak.
“You wish to save your brother. He has gone into the farthest reaches of the galaxy you say. I don’t know who he is, or what he’s doing, or why he’s gone into hiding. I don’t know who you are, or why it means so much to you, or how you’re courage has managed to be enough up until now, but I do know one thing.”
She looks up at me. Stops staring at my feet—which appear to be floating, though they are not—and stares at me.
And only then do I tell her.
“Your path is here. It’s now. The Stellar Path is never the same twice. Never holds the same challenges as before, never pulls punches. It strikes, and it strikes hard, because there is a price to pay to stand amongst stars. You must melt until the cinders of a star can no longer do you any harm. If you wish for answers—wish to find whatever it is you seek—then you must face the burning stars. You must face what it is to be without them. You must see the unknown, and not let it daunt you. You must walk, straight ahead. Regardless of what you don’t know, regardless of what you can or cannot see, you have to keep moving forward. Understand?”
She doesn’t understand.
I don’t even understand.
All I know is that what I’ve said is true.
How my mind comprehends it—how it can fathom such words—is beyond me. A farce, really.
But that doesn’t mean that I won’t continue.
That I won’t walk forward.
That I won’t hold my head high and face the dark.
I will fight, regardless of where the path takes me. Regardless of what I don’t know. Regardless of how many stars there are, if they’re hiding from me. I will continue to move forward.
Even if the way isn’t marked.
I will move forward.
And as I know these things, as they come to be inside my mind, I watch her raise her foot. Watch her take a stride.
And I know:
She will move forward too.
That’s all it takes, really.
In the next moment, we’re on our way. Walking off into the galaxy. Going on another adventure. Finding our way with only the knowledge of stars. Traversing the dark, trusting in the far-off light.
Walking The Stellar Path.