Starlight Moonwhispers sat among her people in the middle of the Goldwell oil company’s lavish New York City headquarters and looked around the lobby. There were sleeping bags strewn about, small gas stoves to boil water and cook with, and a poetry reading going on near the elevator bank. Mothers were nursing small children, and older kids were running about the marble hall, chasing each other and laughing.
About a hundred people had, like Starlight, barricaded themselves in the lobby in order to protest the oil company’s continued operations. They had been there for six days straight and had refused all offers by the company to come to some sort of compromise. Starlight Moonwhispers had led them all here. She had told them of her visions, her clarity – that if they made a stand in this place, at this time, they would set in motion a revolution that would free their Mother Gaia from human bondage. The local TV stations had been running her videotape all week:
…and it is only when we accept what we are, we human beings, that we will truly know the love that our Mother, Gaia, has for us. She wants us to thrive and be well, to live in peace and harmony with all nature. But the work of evil that Goldwell and other greedy, anti-life corporations do is what ultimately keeps us from knowing Gaia’s love. They rape our Mother with their oil rigs and wells. They suck the life out of Her and burn it into the air, fouling Her precious lungs with the burned filth of Her own body. Is it any wonder that we have earthquakes devastating cities? Is it any wonder that we have floods wiping away homes? Is it any wonder that the Earth Herself is rising up against us? No, it is not.
But our group, the Heart of the Earth, is committed to putting humanity on the right track. We will not leave this place until Goldwell and its vampire brethren dismantle their operations and commit their resources to the development of clean, renewable power that shows our Mother Earth the gratitude that She deserves….
The media had been in and around the occupied lobby for nearly as long as Starlight’s group had, and she was not shy about giving interviews. Every time she was on camera, she repeated her message and made sure she was heard.
The police waited outside the building, waiting for word from the executives at Goldwell. Their CEO had gone on The Biff Browley Hour and said that he was curious to see how long they’d stick around. “Frankly, we do everything off a cloud network right now,” he said. “We could probably run the company from Starbucks if we wanted to. So as long as they stay entertaining, I say let ‘em have their fun.”
A young girl, no more than fifteen, approached Starlight nervously. She had taken to dressing like her leader – long, flowing clothes that were made only from natural fibers, without any leather or animal products. Her dark hair twinkled with little beads, and she went barefoot everywhere. She smelled of patchouli. “Starlight,” she said. “Some of us were wondering…” The girl looked nervous, and Starlight tried to recall her name. Something about moss, maybe? “Some of us were wondering if you were going to have another of your sacred meditations today.”
A few times a week, Starlight Moonwhispers meditated. When she came out of her meditations, she told of the Spirit of Gaia, an entity that communicated with her on an astral level, soul-to-soul. She spoke of this spirit as uplifting, empowering, but terribly, terribly weak all at the same time. It was pale and thin and frail, but there was an inner strength that Starlight could see through her enlightened eyes. Since she started doing the meditations – and coming back from them with inspiration for the group – others had been asking to meditate with her, to learn from her how to experience a oneness with the Great Mother herself.
Starlight smiled and brushed a long lock of red hair from her eyes. “Of course, sister,” she said. She stood up, smoothing down her flowing skirts. “Brothers and sisters!” she called out, and her melodic voice rang through the lobby. Everyone stopped what they were doing and looked to her. Some with curiosity, others with awe. Her visions had assembled them here. They had brought them to the houses of the powerful, and now they would guide them further.
“I plan to embark on another spiritual journey soon,” she said, “and all who wish to join me are welcome.” She spread her arms wide, letting the hand-made shawl hang from her shoulders. “Let us all experience the oneness that is unity with our Great Mother!” The crowd started to applaud, and some of them followed as she stepped over backpacks and sleeping bags to get to her preferred meditation spot, a landing on the staircase that went up to the second floor. She had a meditation pillow set up and a glass of purified water. She arranged her skirts around her and pulled her hair into a long ponytail. As she did so a few other people gathered around on the landing, sitting cross-legged in spots of their own.
When she was ready, Starlight looked at each one of them in turn. “We are all connected,” she said. “The pure energy of Mother Earth is in all of us, and we are in Her. Calm your mind, focus on the light of true love, and seek a oneness with our Great Mother.” She sat with her back straight and her fingertips touching, and then closed her eyes. A moment later, she began to chant the mantra that she had been given from the fragile, yet strong spirit of her planet. “Ommm Muuuummmm Annamummmm…..” The others started chanting with her, all of them familiar with the sacred words that she had brought back for them.
In her own peaceful and warm darkness, Starlight chanted and focused on the words and her breathing. She focused on making it to that place inside her that was a white light, a shining and incorruptible place in her heart. After some amount of time, she was aware that she couldn’t hear herself chanting anymore, and took it for a good sign. Soon, the darkness would be pierced by light, and she would once again commune with the spirit of Earth.
She always looked forward to these meetings, but feared them as well. The spirit she saw – it was ill. Fragile. In great pain. What if one day she came here, and that spirit was gone? What if it had died, or left, abandoning humanity to the whims of an unforgiving world? Starlight was vaguely aware that she had shuddered at the thought, and that was when she felt something new.
It felt like she had just dropped from a great height, and she screamed, not sure if she was only screaming in her head or out loud. Whatever it was, she screamed as she fell through the darkness, moving but not moving, and not at all sure how she knew that she was moving in the first place. There was no wind rushing up to greet her, nothing she could see. But she knew she was falling, and she dreaded what would happen when she stopped.
And then she did. Again, without knowing why or how she knew. And when she stopped, her vision began to clear and the darkness burned away as if it were a late-morning fog.
There was metal under her bare feet, and the smell of oil in the air. Great towering machines vanished in the darkness above her, and ruddy light slipped through the cracks between them. The sound of things moving – huge, metal sounds – assaulted her ears, and she cried out against the grinding and the thumping and the sound of parts sliding against each other and squealing in protest. It was a factory. Huge and impersonal and horrible, and Starlight felt sick to her stomach. “Hello?” she said. “I… I don’t think I’m supposed to be here!”
Starlight yelped and spun around. The woman standing behind her was short and muscular and holding a large wrench. She brushed a curl of hair out of her eyes and glared at Starlight. “What’re you doing here?” she asked.
Starlight tried to gather herself. “Well, I’m…” She couldn’t finish. She knew what she wanted to say – that she was in the middle of a mystical astral journey to see the spirit of Gaia, but somehow she’d gotten lost – but as she thought about it, she looked at this woman and, for the first time, realized how ridiculous that sounded. “I’m lost,” she said, looking down at the metal catwalk she was standing on.
The woman rolled her eyes and nodded. “You’d have to be,” she said. “Follow me.” Without waiting to see if Starlight would follow, the woman turned and walked away. She led Starlight to what looked like a massive master control room. Pipes stretched about everywhere – some of them steaming, others with frost all along their length. Where there weren’t pipes, there were great, oily gears, turning at a steady pace. Nearer the floor were huge ovens that blazed white-hot and fed their heat to boilers that must have been twenty feet high. The noise was indescribable, but Starlight found she could still hear the woman when she talked.
“Okay,” the woman said, standing by a nest of levers and buttons. “Tell me where you were going when you got lost. Let’s see if we can’t help you find your way back.”
Starlight wrung her hands. “Well,” she said. “I was meditating with my brothers and sisters, and trying to contact the spirit of Mother Earth so that I could commune with her some more.”
The woman held up a grease-covered hand. “Waitaminit,” she said. “You were trying to contact who?”
“The spirit of Mother Earth,” Starlight said. “Gaia.” She smiled and twirled her finger in her beaded necklace. This was familiar territory. “I have been communing with Her for several years now. When I meditate, she comes to me and I feel the great pain that we humans have inflicted on her.” To her credit, tears began to well up in her eyes. “She’s in such pain and so fragile,” she said, her voice beginning to crack. “I just wish I could do more!”
The woman just stared at her for a moment. Then she put her hands on her belly and laughed. Her laughter rang around the factory, bouncing off pipes and walls and coming back to her. She laughed so hard that she nudged one of the levers, sending a boiler up a little hotter and turning a small set of gears a little faster. When she noticed, she was still laughing and wiping tears from her eyes, but she adjusted the lever back to where it was.
“Oh, that was good,” she said to Starlight. “Seriously, that was really funny. Good work.” She reached out to pat Starlight on the arm, but the other woman shrank back.
“I hate to tell you this, kid,” she said, “but you haven’t been communing with anyone.” She tossed the wrench in the air, flipped it and caught it. “Maybe the inside of your own head, but that’s it.” She reached up and started adjusting a pipe fitting.
Starlight stared at her. “What do you mean?” she asked.
“Kid,” the woman said. “I mean you made it all up. It was a dream or a hallucination or something.” She gave the pipe another twist and faced her again. “Good news, though. If you wanted to commune with the spirit of the Earth then, well, now’s your chance.” She shoved the wrench into a loop on her stained jeans. “What do you want?”
The truth of it took a while to sink in, but eventually Starlight said, “You’re the Earth Spirit?” The other woman nodded. “You’re Mother Gaia?”
She shrugged. “That name sounds a little pretentious, but sure. Mother Gaia. Whatever works.”
“But that can’t be,” Starlight said. “You’re not…” She looked around. “This isn’t… You can’t be!”
“Yeah, well, I am,” Gaia said. “So what did you want that was so important you had to come down here and bug me?” She gestured to the lever that she’d bumped. “You just inadvertently caused an earthquake, by the way” she said. “Hope you didn’t know anyone in Peru.”
“No!” Starlight said. “This is all wrong!”
Gaia crossed her arms and leaned up against a steam pipe that was wider across than she was. “Why? Because I’m not all frail and fragile?”
“Well… Well, yes,” Starlight said. Her confusion was fogging her thinking. “I mean, we’ve done so much damage to the Earth with our strip mines and oil rigs and pollution – I just thought…”
She stopped as Gaia stepped closer, seeming to examine her face in minute detail. After a minute, the other woman’s eyes went wide and she leaned back. “Oh,” she said. “I get it now – you’re a human, aren’t you?
“Yes!” Starlight said. “And I’m trying to undo the horrible, horrible damage that we’ve done over the years.”
Gaia smiled, reached out and patted her on the shoulder with a grease-stained hand. “That’s adorable,” she said. “Go home.”
“You heard me,” she said. She gestured around to the vast machinery around her. “Do I look like I’m in any trouble?” she asked.
“But.. but the ozone layer! And global warming!”
Gaia sighed and took Starlight by the arm. “I’m gonna show you something,” she said. “You ready?” Starlight nodded, because if she had spoken she almost certainly would have said “No.”
A moment later, they were standing on a vast plain of ice, with wind howling past them, scouring the surface. The sky was cold and clear, and there was nothing but ice and sky anywhere in sight. Starlight rubbed her arms, but then realized she wasn’t actually cold. She turned to Gaia for an explanation.
“Everything was like this,” Gaia said, and she spoke softly. Even with the howling wind, Starlight could still hear her. “From one pole to the other, the world was a great snowball.” She looked over at Starlight. “For five million years, nothing but ice, wind and more ice.” She took Starlight’s hand, and the scene changed again.
The ice was replaced with land, and the air stank of rot and death. Starlight looked at her feet, and found that she was standing on the husks of great and strange insects, the likes of which she’d never seen before. The air around them was still and quiet.
“The third great dying,” Gaia said. “I nearly lost everything – from the land and the sea alike.” She reached down and picked up one of the dead insects. “So many wonderful things vanished, never to be seen again.” Her voice caught as she dropped it back onto the ground. “You have no idea what it was like then,” she said.
Starlight tried to find something living in that wasteland. She couldn’t. “How did this happen?” she whispered.
Gaia shrugged. “Things happen,” she said. “The universe is a tough place.” She patted Starlight on the arm. “C’mon, human,” she said. “One more.”
There was a dinosaur only a few feet away, stumbling across ash-covered ground, and Starlight’s hands flew to her mouth in shock. It was a towering tyrannosaurus, one of the largest hunters the world had ever known. And it was very clearly dying. Its great, pebbly skin was covered in open sores and lesions, bleeding through the coat of ash. Its ribs protruded from its chest, and Starlight could see nearly every bone in its body.
Without a sound, the great dinosaur stopped walking, fell over, and died.
Gaia went to it and ran her hand over the rough, ashen skin. “I really liked these guys,” she said. She looked back at Starlight. “Nearly two hundred million years, the dinosaurs were it. They ran the food chain.” She patted it and stepped back. “Then a meteor, a few volcanoes and…” She gestured around. When she looked over at Starlight, the girl was on the verge of tears, trying not to look at the dead dinosaur. “C’mon,” Gaia said. “Let’s get out of here.”
They were back in the factory, and Starlight was crying. “What were those things?” she said. “Why did you show them to me?”
Gaia sat on a tall wooden stool that had appeared in front of the control station. “Girl, you humans haven’t even begun to live. You’ve been around what – two hundred thousand years? If I’m being generous?” She laughed, and it was a dark laugh. “You really don’t know anything about the universe yet. Wait until you’ve been around half as long as… as cockroaches.” The smile that blossomed on her face was warm and genuine. “Wonderful critters, my cockroaches,” she said.
“Point is, the planet got turned into a snowball: it survived. Nearly every living thing got wiped out: it survived. It got slammed by a huge damn rock: it survived.” She stood up and lifted Starlight’s chin in her hand. “The Earth doesn’t need you to save it,” Gaia said. “It’ll do just fine with or without you.”
Starlight sniffled. “But what about the ozone?” she asked. “The sea levels rising? Global warming?”
Gaia shrugged. “We’ll adapt,” she said. “That’s the game. You kids have lived in a time of relative peace and tranquility, and you think this is how it’s always been.” She laughed. “Well, you’re so wrong about that, I don’t even know where to begin.” Her smile faded. “Point is, the planet will adapt. Life will adapt.” She sat back down again. “Although, if we’re being honest, you probably won’t.”
“Humans are delicate,” Gaia said. “Too much change, and you won’t be around much longer as a species. Which would be pretty pathetic if you ask me – I mean, even rats have been around for about five million, so if you don’t have a problem not outlasting rats?” She shrugged again. “Knock yourselves out.” She stood up again, reached up, and tapped a dial. “If you need to fight for something, don’t fight for me.” She grinned. “I’m a big girl. Fight for your species.”
Starlight opened her mouth to speak and found that she couldn’t. Gaia had one hand on a lever and the other held up. “I’m afraid that’s all the time we have,” she said. “Good luck to you.”
She pulled the lever, and Starlight’s eyes snapped open.
The people on the landing were still sitting, still mediating. One or two of them had fallen asleep and tipped over. Everyone else in the lobby was still going about the business of the occupation.
Her feet unsteady, Starlight stood up, and the young woman who had approached her before looked up from her meditations. “Sister!” the girl said, and everyone else opened their eyes and looked up at her. The young girl came over and took Starlight’s hands. “Sister,” she said again. “Did you have a revelation?”
Starlight looked around at all the people in the lobby and wasn’t sure what she was doing there. They looked so alien to her. So small and so fragile.
She shook her head and said, “Yes.” She brushed the hair back from her face and stood up straight. “Get me a video camera,” she said. “It’s time to adjust our message.”