At first there was pressure, so much pressure, squeezing in the darkness. It mounted and mounted, and finally the huge architecture of gas could take no more, and ignited - which was part of the reproductive cycle of the species - and things were rightly begun.
Hydrogen to helium, helium to lithium then to carbon, carbon upwards to iron, and a miasma of of other things, baked in mothers and grandmothers all the way back to the beginning of time itself, which itself was not a beginning, only another phase shift up the helter-skelter of reality, which is stranger by far than it is possible to know.
The little sun yawned, stretching out wisps of plasma a million miles long, regarding her etiolated body - a system of perhaps a dozen planets - with the first stirrings of consciousness. There were little rock planets, hot, tiny things like specks of superdense jewellery swirling around her head; and there were larger planets, gatherings of matter left over from her own body - her flesh and blood, and her ovaries, too, for like mammals, stars are born with all the eggs they will ever have.
This took a hundred million years, a minute lapse of time within the cycle of such organisms, and in that time the little star blinked and looked around, and realised she was regarded by a hundred million mothers, who twinkled and whispered to her in nursery rhyme pulses of radiation, and she basked in their regard. She was new and ancient at the same time - like every living thing the Universe ever has produced - and she was warm, and knew that things were well.
“Who am I?” she asked.
And her mothers shone back: You are Sol. You are youngest. And you are loved.
For a long, long time this was enough for Sol. The planets of her body zipped and flashed around her in their endless orbits, an accelerated echo of the dance Sol herself took amongst her mothers, as the galaxy itself spun. Sol looked up at her hundred million mothers, and out at her tiny planets - of which she was immensely proud, though she did not understand their significance - and felt that all was good.
But there came a time - six or seven billion years after her birth - when Sol realised her childhood was passing. She was young still, and vibrant, and she gloried in the vast substances of her body, as they collapsed into themselves, spilling out the light and heat that was life. Yet she sensed that these were finite, too. And for the first time she felt the relentless attrition of time, as well as its wonder. And when she turned to make an accounting of her mothers, she realised some had gone.
“Why are you sad, little daughter?” asked First, the closest of her mothers, who knew her best.
“I am sad because I understand now what death is,” said Sol. “Because I have seen now that many of my mothers have died already, and many more will one day die, too. And I have sensed the slow dying in my own body, and I am afraid.”
First scintillated softly to her daughter, a glimmer of love and laughter wrapped in a wave of photons.
“Little daughter, it is true: we all must die,” she said. “Every living thing must die. It is the price of the heat and the fury, and all things turn to stillness in the far depths of time. But you are young and you are fresh. You should not dwell on death and stillness. When that time comes, it comes. You cannot stop or stall it. But until it comes, you must live. For now is your time to live, and you do not honour your life by dwelling on death.”
At this, Sol was much comforted, and the fear of time and death was lifted from her, though not entirely. Many millions of years passed, and Sol was happy. She danced amongst her mothers, delighting in the slow sway of the vast Galaxy, and her part in it.
Then there came a time when Sol happened to be looking at one of her planets, and she realised something had changed.
“Oh!” she said, upset, for the planet had grown a strange sort of skin, a thin layering of minuscule creatures, so tiny as to be ludicrous. She would have thought it funny, were it not so strange and alarming. The planet was one of her smallest, a blue-brown rocky thing of which she was rather fond. But now it was coated in a greenish fuzz, and things were quite spoilt.
“Oh dear!” she cried, and quickly checked her other planets to make sure it wasn’t spreading. To her relief, it only seemed to be affecting the one so far.
“But maybe,” she thought, “it is a type of infection. Perhaps if I’m not careful, my whole system will catch it! What should I do? I wonder if I could give it a good washing?”
And she nearly did just that, for it would have been very easy to have stirred up a goodly pillar of fire from the deep, hot caverns within herself, and she was sure she could spit it out and rub the planet until it shone.
But Sol was a young woman now, not an impulsive child. So before she acted, she thought she should get some advice.
“Mother!” she called to First. “Oh, Mother! I need your help!”
And First called back, though it took Sol a moment to recognise her, because it had been a long, long time since they had last spoken, and her voice had grown strange and weary.
“What is it Sol?” asked First. Her words came strong still, but they came creaking and stained red, too, red with the thin-stretched light of age.
Sol explained what she had found on her little planet, and asked what it was, and what she should do about it. When she heard this, First chuckled.
“Oh, Sol,” said her mother. “It is nothing bad, my girl! It is but life. Life has come to one of your planets. It is a happy thing, for if you nurture it, then it may grow and flourish. And in time, other wonderful things might be possible.”
“Wonderful things?” Sol wanted to know. “What wonderful things?”
But First would not say.
“Take care of it, Sol,” said First. “Cradle it, and one day, who knows? It might be interesting…”
Then First trailed off, and Sol thought that her mother sounded strange and not as vibrant as she once had.
“Is all well with you, mother?” Sol asked.
First gave a laugh, but Sol sensed sadness in it.
“As well as can be expected, my daughter,” said First. “Though time marches on. I am not as young as I once was.”
“Can I…should I help?” Sol wanted to know.
“No, my dear, no,” said First. “Though bless you for asking. You have better things to do now than seeing to your old mother. Look to your little ones. Look to your planet.”
So Sol did.
The planet was covered in life now, and it was grown very strange. Some of the life was green and some of it was blue, and all of it seemed very hungry, either for other bits of itself or for Sol’s own light (of which she was tremendously proud). Some of the life had legs and other bits had none. Some of the life stayed where it was, while other of the life darted around as if it had the world to cover and no time to get there.
And, most interesting of all, the life was changing. Even as she watched, the life was in constant flux. It was always making more of itself, always changing shape and colour and even nature, so that the things that it could do were constantly new and fascinating.
Sol was so engrossed in her new hobby, that she was shocked when she heard her mother’s voice, calling her softly from across the vastness of space.
“Sol?” said her mother, and First’s voice was so soft and strange that Sol hardly recognise it, and she knew something was wrong.
“Mother?” she called back. “Mother, what is it?”
“It is my time, sweet child,” said First. “I am almost used up. Soon I will flicker and fade. And then I will die and rejoin the great darkness.”
“No!” shouted Sol. “That cannot be right!”
But when she looked at her mother, she saw that the old star was huge and red and that her light had grown very dim.
“It is right,” said First, and if there was sadness in her voice, there was no fear. “For I have lived a long life, and a happy one. And I have seen many wonderful things. And - most wonderful of all - I have had a daughter.”
And Sol cried and her mother cried and all the stars in the galaxy seemed to dim.
“What will I do?” wept Sol. “With you gone, how can I go on?”
“You will go on for her,” said First, and her voice was now a whisper, a spluttering of dying photons as her skin cooled and her core cooled and the heart of the old star failed. “You will go on for your daughter.”
And then the last part of First’s body was gone, and there was nothing more to burn, and her tissues began the long, slow collapse into themselves, and she died.
Sol was still for a long, long time. She peered inwards and accounted her own body, and reckoned her life, and knew that it was passing. She looked up at her mothers, and saw that they were passing, too; for many were gone now, a great many who she had loved and not noticed their passing, so engrossed had she been in her own little world. She was sad then, but she understood, too. This was the way things had to be.
Sol looked back to her planet, to her little cradle, and she found to her delight that the life had changed again. A new form was abroad, novel and varied and seemingly clever - at least, clever as a mould might be accounted clever. And deep in her soul, Sol knew this was right, and that a special time was drawing near.
She understood what she must do. She reached out, stretching her mind towards the minuscule creatures, sending out tendrils of influence and suggestion. And the life heard her.
Sol could feel them. They moved the Universe, in the special, tiny way that they were meant to, fulfilling that unique role that her kind had fashioned for theirs long, long ago.
Puffs of dust splayed up on the planet. They were small, too small for Sol’s purpose. And yet they showed her she was nearly there.
Sol marshalled her will, then let it loose in a wave of thought that crashed over the life. And the life understood.
An instant later, a thousand little bright packets of power shot out from the small planet towards the largest of her gas giants. There was an impact, a roiling of dust and light and power. Then, from a flash to a flame, and from a flame to a roar, and from a roar to a constant, howling explosion, the planet ignited, and was a planet no more.
There was a backwash of fire that covered the whole system in light, and all the little life was gone. But that did not matter.
The life had fulfilled its purpose, and Sol was happy, so happy because she knew that death and darkness, though they awaited her, were as old friends. She understood she had played her part, and that the Universe would run on without her, and that was right.
The infant star smiled up at her, fresh and so, so beautiful.
“Mother,” it said.