Monday 3 July 2023

The Sky is Too Full of Stars by Edward Latham, a Tamarind Margarita with a slice of orange

 Harmony Dupond had two hearts, and they were opposites.

Each heart sat on the desk in front of her arguing over the piece of paper between them. Pulsating at the top of the paper were the words: Application for Permanent Residency on Mars. The hearts screamed.


The first heart was the one she was born with. It was her nature, her instincts, and it shone for all to see.

As a child, her mother always said she was stubbornly curious, and her heart was captivated by the workings of the world. She looked at the clouds and could name them. Cumulus, cirrus, stratus. She gazed at the stars and could name them. Orion, the Plough, Cassiopeia. She wondered what was out there, in the ocean’s deep blue, in the inky black of the night sky.

As she grew, she nurtured a flame inside her. It burnt with a passion to learn, to be at the forefront of humanity. What could be more exciting than creating a medicine never known, or discovering a galaxy never seen? To step where no one had stepped before. That was worth living for.

On the day of her eighteenth birthday, her CompanionBotTM rolled up to her, blinked, and asked:

‘What’s wrong, Harmony? You just got your acceptance letter to Bristol. That’s where you wanted to go, isn’t it?’ Its soothing green eyes closed and opened.

‘Hi CB, sorry, I was miles away. Look, the sky is so full of stars tonight, don’t you think? Don’t you wish you could be up there among them?’

‘I don’t know… It seems safer here, with you.’

Harmony patted the rectangular, silver head of the robot. ‘Thanks for caring. I’m fine. Chemistry is pretty daunting is all, and everyone says it’ll be super difficult. But imagine…I’ll understand the glue that holds these molecules together.’ She wobbled her arms around, and CB displayed a pixelated smile.

‘I’ll learn about electrons and radiation. If I work hard, I can probably make a real difference, like Curie, or Ada Lovelace.’

This was the first heart speaking. Its language was stars and flame, atoms and dust.

But life doesn’t listen to the yearnings of the heart.


‘They want to do some more tests, honey. I could be here for hours. You go back and make yourself some dinner; there’s a lasagne in the fridge. Don’t worry, I’ll be home later,’ her mother said.

‘But you just tripped over, surely they don’t need to do this many tests for a broken foot.’ Harmony brushed her black hair from her face, and her eyes shimmered with fret.

‘I know, I know, it’s annoying, but I’ll be OK. Go on.’

When the words ‘motor neurone disease’ were first spoken they sounded muffled, like they were gargled underwater or uttered through cloth. It was something that she’d heard in medical dramas or fundraising adverts. ‘Two to four years is normal. Some have up to ten and, in rare cases, longer.’

Harmony dropped everything, including her heart.

With a father who had bolted before she breathed her first breath on this planet, there was no one Harmony trusted or loved more than her mother. She hadn’t always understood Harmony’s curiosity, but she would take her in her arms and be proud of her for her passion and desire.

University was suddenly a long way away. She would have to do everything she could to care for her mum, maybe even get a part-time job to pay the bills.

What was a shooting star, full of gold and glory, had fallen to earth.


The second heart was the one she grew. When she could no longer look outwards, suppressed and stymied, it began to take root.

Where the first heart was its own miniature sun: whole, pure and bright, the second was multi-faceted and conflicted. This could be explained by its diet.

It began nourishing on the timeless feed of frustration and love. Her mother meant everything to Harmony, but a life spent cooking her food and changing her clothes was not the path she had hoped to tread.

A bubble of anger at the world would often swell in her gut and burst in a fit of ‘Why me?’ after which, she would feel guilty at her selfishness and kiss her mother’s forehead in recompense.

‘Minnie,’ her mother would say, ‘you know you don’t have to do everything for me — CBs are very capable these days, why don’t you let them help? You could go back and do your science, or find a handsome man to take care of you.’

‘Would you leave me if it was the other way round, Mum?’ would come Harmony’s swift rebuttal.

Over time, the dreams of the first heart began to fade, and she turned inwards. The second heart started to devour stories, ravenous to live through the lives of others, taking delight at losing itself for days or weeks in the romance of Austen, the horrors of King, and the mysteries of Christie.

It turned backwards too and became fascinated with the past. She saw beauty in the passage of time; the rise and fall of civilisations, and the way people look to their ancestors, taking inspiration from their success, but never learning from their follies.

She began to think the first heart was a silly, youthful fantasy — all ambition and no realism.

When CompanionBotTM rolled up to her at the age of thirty it said, ‘You’re smiling, but I can see your eyes are sad. Why don’t you come and look out the window with me? It’s a beautiful, clear night.’

‘CB, you shouldn’t always look upwards, it’ll hurt your neck, and the sky is too full of stars. Most of them aren’t real, they’re satellites shat out by corporate greed. We’ve got all the beauty we need right here.’ She held a hand to her chest.

This was the language of the second heart: Humanity and history, poetry and rust.


For the last few years, Harmony had been loosely aware of the increasing number of probes and crafts that had been investigating the colonisation of Mars, but she hadn’t really paid much attention to the news. That kind of thing didn’t hold her interest anymore, she would tell herself as a neglected, shrivelled thing inside her felt a jab; a needle prick amongst its numbness.

But when a huge media campaign swept the country, asking people to apply to be part of the first joint-nation effort to inhabit Mars, that neglected thing awoke.

It burst into life with the force of a love repressed for twenty long years. She saw a rocket ship hurtling towards the stars, and there were two of her onboard. One of them was ten years old, skinny, wearing a baggy, oversized top, and the other was herself now: slivers of grey showing in her dark hair, a knitted jumper hugging her body. They stood side by side, looking out the window at the majesty of the universe.

The first heart had gone supernova.

She’d hurried to download an application form and completed it in a blur. Now, sitting at her desk, the only thing left to do was sign it.

She hesitated — her mother. The second heart pushed forward and scolded the first.

You would leave her now? At her most vulnerable?’ it said.

No, I… she doesn’t need me as much now she’s in permanent care. She would be fine. She might not even know I’m gone,’ the first heart replied.

‘But there’s a chance. She might not be able to speak or move anymore, but she still has her consciousness some of the time. Could you live with yourself if she realised you hadn’t visited in months, that you weren’t coming back? Could you do that to the person you love most in the world?’

‘No. No, I couldn’t bear that guilt. But it wouldn’t be like that. She would want this for me. I’ve given most of my life for her, and she would never have wanted that. She’s always told me to go have a life for myself. This could be my chance; a new beginning. I could start again. She would want that.’

‘Perhaps, but why this? There’ll be nothing up there except silence and dust. You’d feel emptier and more soulless up there than you ever have here, on Earth. If you were to start a new life here you’d have your friends, you’d have a whole world of colour and vibrancy to explore. You could even find a partner, someone to love you. Up there you’d be one of a hundred lost souls. They’d all be waiting for the latest news from their families back home. There’d be no children, no elderly; it would be bland, monochrome.’

‘You don’t understand! I’ve always wished for something even remotely like this. A great adventure. To be part of something special. And I wouldn’t be alone – all those people going would feel the same as me. We’d be working together, challenging each other, and sharing in the experience. They’d have the same passion, and it would bond us closer than most people on Earth ever get.’

‘You’re hopeless! A misguided romantic. You think you’re all advancement and science, but you’re just a dreamer, a glory hunter!’

‘Well, you’re a hypocrite! You think you’re caring and want what’s best for us, but you’re scared! Scared to take the leap towards something that might actually make us happy!’

At that, both hearts went quiet and fumed. Harmony sat in contemplation with them for a while. Then, she put her arms around them and gathered them into her.

She picked up her pen and, for a moment, the nib hovered over the paper in quivering anticipation before it scribbled her name. With a release of breath, she muttered, ‘It’s time.’

She looked out of the open window and saw the sky was full of stars.


About the author 

Edward Latham is a new British author with a love of short stories and flash fiction. His works have been published in Secret Attic and Fictionette Magazine. In his spare time, he enjoys climbing rocks and other less climbable things. 

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