From atop the cliffs, the tumult of sea at night seemed remote, too far away to ever hurt anyone. On the horizon, a string of lights revealed freighters waiting their turn to enter port, some twenty kilometers to the north, like they had for thousands of years. Brilliant lights shone all along the curving shore in that direction, only fading as they came closer, through one sedated coastal town after another. The breeze brought a chill, and the smell of salt, while up the promenade traveled mixed music from merry-go-rounds and beer gardens. It was peaceful at this end. The few floating lamps kept trying to cluster where people did, to the chagrin of those seeking the dark on purpose.
The bazaar was closing down as I wandered past. Less than one hour to midnight. I rubbed the smoke of barbecues out of my eyes and watched the crowd. A neko family, with two kids chasing each other's tails around the padded feet of their parents. Locals, by their clothes; tourists tended to be more extravagant, like the half-mechanical fairy with huge vivid eyes in a face like a porcelain doll, and delicate wings nearly brushing the ground.
I belonged to both worlds and neither. No-one would notice if I got lost wandering down a side street, never to resurface again. But there was no getting lost on the town's simple grid, squeezed as it was between the sea and nearby lake that mirrored it in the small. I knew exactly which turn would take me to the park at the center of it, with its dozen benches clustered around the founder's statue.
Two or three other people wandered the alleys, ghostly in the patches of light filtered through the crowns of old trees. They all ignored me as I picked a place to sit down. All but one.
It was a human-shaped patch of night sky, wearing a hoodie with the zipper at half mast, that let a myriad stars shine through, impossibly distant in the negative space. This... person? was otherwise well-wrapped in cargo pants, big running shoes and a pair of gloves. They stopped in front of the bench and gestured at me. I don't know sign language, but the intent was obvious enough.
"By all means, sit down," I said. "There's plenty of room."
They did so, leaning against the backrest as if to admire the spectacle of the Milky Way overhead. Silence descended again, apart from one stubborn cricket. I caught myself staring at the visitor and corrected myself, but a moment later it happened again. They turned slightly as if to meet my gaze, and fished a mobile out of the pocket. A speech bubble popped into my field of view.
Enjoying the sights?
My ears grew hot. "Sorry."
No worries. I could have picked any other bench.
I'm... not from around here. Striking up a conversation can be hard.
"Yeah, it can be."
They didn't answer.
"Oh! I'm Lexi. What's your name?"
Which one? Let me think. A moment passed. Sometimes I'm called Silence-Of-The-Sky. That's easier to translate.
"So where are you from, Sky? Can I call you Sky?"
Sky gestured vaguely at the celestial lightshow. All the way across. And sure, if you like.
"You've made a long trip. Are you on a pilgrimage?"
At first I was. Now... This time the pause was longer. What about yourself, Lexi? You were looking for company. Why come to this deserted corner?
"Being in a crowd just made me feel more alone."
Well, you're not alone now. Sky looked up from the mobile, then resumed typing furiously. Wait, please. At worst, it's better than nothing.
"Do you even know what it's like?"
There was another pause. Let's just say my use of the word "I" is a liberal translation. At least it fits better than "we".
"Oh. I must seem very boring to you."
Sky sent a smirk emoticon. What was the saying... "I've seen things you humans wouldn't believe." But you know what?
The opposite is true as well. Don't underestimate yourself.
"You're only saying that to be polite." I felt a sudden urge to yawn and rub my eyes.
Sorry. Didn't mean to keep you up.
A virtual watch face winked in and out of existence. Late o'clock.
"It's not your fault. Let's walk."
Along main street, people were retiring for the night. Groups of teenagers. Old couples. Chatting. Smiling. A little boy riding a robot spider kept turning to stare at Sky, until he almost fell off his steed. We seemed to agree on which way to go without exchanging another word.
"That's my corner," I said at length, pointing along the all too familiar road that went on and on in dim lamplight. "Staying with relatives."
I have a room at the Cosmos, up the street.
"Good choice. Uh... want me to come pick you up in the morning? We can hang out together or something."
Can it be tomorrow night, please?
It was by muscle memory that my hand found its way through the ironwork of the gate to open the latch. An old ritual. I sat on the entrance steps, barely tired, and looked up at the flimsy clouds drifting across the firmament.
"What's the point?" I asked. "What good can possibly come out of it? Out of anything?"
But the starry sky had nothing much to tell me.