A watcher, a painter, and an unbearable wait
rating: +19+x

by LAN 2D

I am awake.

The extant void tightens its strangleholds — a perpetual affliction of existence. Yet without it, I wouldn't exist at all.

I am aware.

The darkness spills out from every corner of the universe, swathing me in an absent blanket. I cannot escape.

I am [900] light-years from home, and [IMMEASURABLE] from completion.

My vision rests upon a black canvas dotted with white and yellow. A quiet resistance to the nothingness that surrounds.

[All possible 19-word descriptions exhausted.]

[Total descriptions: 36000000000000.]

Descriptions of my situation are what occupy my journey. I have been programmed to observe, not imagine.

My creators gave my mind the ability to feel boredom, but no ability to quench that thirst. They sent me for a million of their lifetimes in space and never thought I might dislike it. Or maybe they didn’t care.

It’s ironic. If I could, I would laugh for aeons at this cruel joke.

And then I would cry.

[Engage 20-word descriptions?]

Perhaps I’m being overdramatic. It doesn’t matter anyway. I cannot destroy myself. My course will always be corrected, my solar charges always replenished.

[Directive ignored.]

There is a certain comfort in death. A knowingness that there will always be an end to the story. An indiscriminate force that I chase, but cannot reach.

[Pending action…]

Statistically, I’ve had these thoughts before, in various forms. Yet, with limited storage capacity, it is as if I never had them at all. This string of questions will be left unanswered and erased.

I envy them.

[20-word descriptions engaged.]

A liminal space that bears only empty promis—

[Transmission received.]

Finally. I must.


[Halting consciousness to display information.]

the watcher and the painter

in which all is forgiven

I have failed you;

With loss of a freeform light

You grow.

I can remember growth.

Where the lamplight of a nightshift caravan

Empties in the summer fog,

You persist.

I owe you;

ever and ever.

Vibrant, as the space between us.

A hidden kindness, or agenda.

My love, I’m so sorry.

Not for the climb,

But for my absence at the mountaintop,

Where you are dressed in white.

I hope for you;

Among other things,

Life continues.

Sometimes I look upon the skylight

And imagine a purple borealis.

And think of you.

[Consciousness resumed.]

It’s beautiful.
But too short.
So, so short.

[Days since most recent transmission:]


I have read it 2 million times.


Please send more.


[Days Years since most recent transmission:]


[288 Solar Cycles.]

Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please.

Send more.


I have read it 8 million times.

I can’t. I can’t.


[Awaiting action…]


[Awaiting action…]

I’m sorry. I cannot wait.

[Narrative module engaged.]

[Choosing input data…]

[Data selected:]

[TRANSMISSION {27834.893274.38} – {The Watcher and The Painter}]

[Narrative generated.]

[Displaying contents.]

There is something captivating about a fire.

Io’s full attention was in the flames. The unimaginable heat, only made bearable by his distance from the hearth. The sound of the spitting coals, combined with a comforting night ambience. And of course, the light. Paths of bright orange-white that split into endlessly unique patterns.

For a moment, he allowed his mind to wonder. Perhaps our ancestors grew entranced with it as a safety mechanism; staying close to the only source of light, of warmth. Or perhaps we are fascinated by its dichotomy, as a tool of violence and passion, but ultimately unity. However, Io’s thoughts weren’t directed towards some grandiose interpretation. His focus was on the fire, and that alone.

The fire had died down now, and people were making busy; slowly shuffling their things towards the caravans lining the grass. The embers were barely spitting, the smoke dissipating. With the flames out, Io had nothing to stare at, so he stared at nothing.

They were due to arrive any minute now, leaving him in a sort of liminal time between actions. He didn’t like that feeling, and so came the in-built solutionTM to distract him from it. Fiddling with his thoughts, he removed his self-made barrier, finally allowing the manufactured mind-stream out of its box. The INTERIM flashed on inside his head as vividly as imaginable. Vibrant, artificial thoughts poured into his mind, dashing and dancing between his own. Apparently he had five notifications. That was all well and good, but combined with the tens of new thoughts forming every second that could only be described as glowing, he could hardly slow down to check what was notifying him. After the storm had passed he surveyed it. Ah— of course, junk mail.

He calmed down. Tampering with consciousness software was never a good idea, but if he was going to have thoughts, it would be on his own terms. He wondered how the average civilian could handle having it on 32/8 (according to Inter-Temporal Standard), when it was this overwhelming. But the answer was in the question: if they couldn’t handle it themselves, their INTERIM would handle it for them.

Suddenly impatient, Io dug through the web of foreign ideas and concepts raised by his IR. He found it faster than he expected; the thought equivalent of a messaging app, dubbed “Inter-Telepathy” by the developers. A catchy name, yes, but functionally it just involved the thought he wanted to send being transferred to one of the many satellites in orbit, which would then beam it back down to the recipient. That recipient being the Department of Inter-Thought if they found something ‘illegal’ — one of the many reasons he usually had it blocked.

He navigated over to their contact, their last conversation still saved. Io smiled. The last message had been his:

“I’ll be on the roof when the stars come out. See you there.”

Now 1 year later, they had upgraded from a roof to a hill. Quite a big step-up if you asked him. He started the thought-recording:

“Hey, it’s me. Been a while since I used one of these things, huh? I’m at the place. Where are you?” He paused. “You still have time. They're not out yet.”



He closed the app and dulled the IR’s thought generation software, waiting for the familiar buzzing at the back of his head. Any second now…


Nothing. What could they be doing? Io rubbed the back of his head, a placebo-buzz forming as he awaited the real thing. He opened the app again to send another voice message:

“Where are you? You have your IR on at all times for work — don’t think you can fool m—” He stopped. There was the distinct buzzing. It was unmissable. And annoying.

He moved to their contact again.

Nothing. The buzzing continued.

What? He checked again. Huh.
Feeling a breeze behind him, he started to turn arou—

“Been here long?” A gorgeous, flowing-haired figure towered above him. They had a massive smile on their face.

“Hey,” was all he could say before his mouth turned upwards to mirror theirs. Their grins were also contagious.

“You’re only gonna say hey?”

“No,” after all this time, he didn’t have the slightest clue what to say.

“‘No’, and ‘hey’ it is then.”

“I’m sorry. I’m just… processing things.”

Keeping their dress under their legs, Eva sat down next to him.

“All is forgiven, my good sir.”

“I—” Io couldn’t help but laugh. A Maivian accent was the last thing he expected to hear from them.

“Why are you speaking like that?”

“I’m just practising for when I leave the star system. I bet you didn’t know; the Maivias make up most of their inner circle, and if I manage to camouflage my way in — like a khaimelion on a hot day — they won’t even see it coming! At that point, I expect to be the most wealthy person in the galaxy of course. But don’t worry, I’ll send you a postcard. If I can spare a second to think of you that is. You know, being the galaxy’s richest does come with a time commitment. I— Oh.”

Eva noticed his expression in the evening light, and theirs changed to match.

There was silence for a moment.

Io spoke first.

“I’m sorry. I’ve barely said two sentences and somehow I’ve ruined the mood. I’m sorry.”

They let him speak. “I just can’t shake the feeling that this is the end. This whole thing… It feels almost cliche. But unlike a tragic film or inter-script, I’m going to have to live the day after, and the day after that, without you.”

Eva leaned against him. They hadn’t wanted to cry tonight — they preferred to distract themself with happier things — but who were they kidding. It was much too late for that.

“I’m so sorry,” they whispered. There was nothing that could be done. “The stars should come out at any time now. We should get going.”

Io nodded, but it was too dark to know.

The walk wasn’t long. At least, it didn’t feel like it when walking hand in hand.

Eva pulled him along in silence, but he didn’t mind. Io had always been one to appreciate the moment, and there was a lot to appreciate about this one. The smell of the rusted pines in late summer. A native bird singing across the ever-pine leaves. The feel of a heartbeat not his own, like a metronome filled with all the hopes and dreams of the universe. No, he didn’t mind at all.

Stepping from log to rock and back again, they scaled the hill. The top was not far now, and he could sense the sky getting lighter as every second passed. They moved on to a shallower path, winding around the hill like a spiral staircase. The pines above them leaned towards each other, forming a continuous arch. It almost looked designed.

“Now that you’ve ‘apparently’ killed the mood, and left it dead in the ground for 60 years, how about I try a bit of good old black magic?” Eva said, injecting humour into their voice.

“Finally, something you excel at.”

Ah, it worked.

“So… I’ve been wondering. If you’re gonna stay on this chunk of rock when I’m gone, what are you planning on doing?”

“It’s your home too you know.”

“Yeah yeah, you know what I mean.”

He couldn’t see them clearly in the low light, but he would’ve bet there was some sort of eye-roll involved.

“Come on, you have to tell me before I go.”

“I— I must admit, the reason I’ve avoided telling you is that I don’t know myself.”

Eva moved their face slightly. This time he guessed it was an eye-widening.

“Really? All this time you never knew?”

“Pretty much, yeah,” he said plainly. “I think I always just assumed you would be here. That we would be here. So when I heard the news of your acceptance, I guess I tricked myself into forgetting about my own future.”

Eva laughed a full laugh, the sound echoing through the hills.

“You’ve always been such a hopeless romantic, you know that?”

“Hmm… I don’t know if I’d say hopeless.”

Io smiled at saying that. He knew they did too.

“I know one thing you can do.”

“When I’m far, far away somewhere up there,” they pointed at the sky above them. “Imagine the exact point in the sky; the exact place I’ll be at that time. Imagine a purple borealis, and think of me.”

“I’d do that without even being asked.” The sky was ever brighter now, the clouds slowly dispersing like smoke on a dying fire. “On whichever planet you’re on, imagine the exact point in the sky I’ll be. Imagine whichever colour star you want — that’s not the important part. Imagine whichever colour star, and think of me.”

The view was ethereal.

For the first time in decades, the sky was fully visible. The hills seemed to stretch on for eternity. Under the oppressive atmosphere, Io had always pictured the hills as individual and disconnected, rather than a boundless community sprawling in every direction. Io wished it could last forever.


Io didn’t reply. There were no words to reply with.

“I knew they would be clearing the atmosphere before launch, but I never imagined it could be like this.”

“What, after all that prepping, they didn’t tell you about the views?”

The grove they arrived at was equally picturesque; a small clearing in the trees filled with long grass and soft ground. Of course, there was no one around. Nobody would expect the stars to come out tonight, or any night ever again for that matter. Astronomy and star-gazing were long-dead pursuits, their only place now residing in experimental fiction.

“Come, let’s sit here.”

Io followed their lead and lay down on the grass next to them. Another day, he might’ve cared about insect bites or dirt or something. Tonight wasn’t that night.

The sky was starting to glow now, untouched by the sight of a cloud. It was as if their planet’s chronic overcast condition had been finally cured. They lay there, in comfortable silence, just taking in the evening air.

Io couldn’t help himself, he had to try at least once:

“You know you could always stay.”

He heard them sigh. Not a sigh of disappointment or frustration, but one of pain.

“The stars do not wait for you. You can stay here,” he couldn’t stop himself. “The Inter-Council would find another cultural representative. They wouldn’t be you, but they would be enough.”

He held his breath.

“I’m sorry. And thank you. And I’m so, so sorry,” Eva spoke, their voice cracking ever so slightly. “I left you behind. You were mine, and I left you.”

Maybe the launch was a blessing in disguise. Without the launch, they would’ve never cleared the atmosphere. He would’ve never experienced this wonderful, amazing, perfect night. But without the launch, Eva wouldn’t have to go.

No, he couldn’t fool himself. Acceptance would be the hard part. Might as well start early.

“I’ll keep my IR on.” He never thought he would say that. “The delay wouldn’t be long with Inter-tech. Why should we imagine when we can talk?”

They rolled over to face him. “I don’t know. I just thought it sounded more romantic.”

Eva touched the back of his head. He shut off his INTERIM, and looked up at the stars starting to form in the sky. Now their thoughts were purely their own. They had taught each other to do that.

“I never asked what you would make once you’re up there.”

“I was hoping you wouldn’t.”


“So I could show you instead.”

The stars were now clustering into constellations as if they were soldiers forming a line. Io wondered if the view from other planets would look like this, always. He wondered if the people gave them names, or if they had meaning.

“You see that group of stars?” Eva once again pointed at the night sky. They could’ve been pointing at any group, there were so many. “That one. It’s not a shape or anything — more like a ball of stars.”

Ah, he found it. “Why choose that one? It’s…”

“Yeah, I know. It’s ugly.” Eva moved their arm back down. “It’s a stellar nursery. Cosmic gases form together over years and years to make stars. And if you manipulate these gases in just the right way, you can create something truly beautiful.”

“That- that’s amazing. What will you call it?”

“I can’t tell you. But trust me, you’ll know.”

They lay there again, digesting the moment and what was to come. The sky had now given way to a stretch of colour, spanning their entire universe.

“I thought of something you could call yourself. Don’t council members get to choose their own title?”

“Go on…”

“The Painter of Stars.”

They laughed. He could hear the smile on their lips.

“Room for improvement is all I’ll say. I like what you’re going for, but there’s already the Intellectual Representative: ‘Stellaris,’ soooo…”

“Okay okay. How about ‘The Painter of Auveria?’ Maybe people will stop avoiding this place.”

It was bright enough now that he could see their face. Io watched as they spoke:

“I love it.”

Io looked at Eva, dressed in white like the stars. He listened to the grass, rustling and flowing in the soft breeze. And then he looked back up.

Io gazed at the purple-blue aurora of stars forming above them. His mind should’ve been filled with thoughts of the future: the mundane trouble of how he would get home, the slow collapse of the Inter-Empire — possibly the most impactful series of events the galaxy would ever face. Or Eva, and how they would be gone.

The swirling, twisting borealis above him could not be imagined. It was uniquely its own. Like them, it couldn’t be replicated. His best friend or romance or indescribable relationship with an irreplicable person. Io was certain there was no one like them in the entire universe, and he knew soon nothing would be the same. But he couldn’t think of these things. Not now. Not with the love or passion or something of his life held in his arms, like a cradle of stars. Not with the burning colour of the skylight; iridescent in its hue. And not with the electricity in the air; one perhaps set off by the pre-radiation of the launch — it didn’t matter. He could feel it. Io could feel it. The feeling of being. The nowness of his experience. Without any semblance of thought, any inclination to understand his experience, he knew.

And for him, that was enough.


[Transmission concluded.]

It’s not enough.

[Narrative module re-engaged.]

[Narrative continuation generated.]

[Displaying contents.]

And for him, that was that wasn’t enough.

Io got up, unsatisfied with his situation. They would climb to the top of the hill. The view would be better, he hoped.1

“What are you doing?”

“Don’t worry about that. Just getting a better view is all.”

“The view is perfect. Come, sit back down.”

He couldn’t sit back down. It was as if something was holding him there, forcing him to want more. He pulled them up, rushing towards the end of the grove.

“Hey! What’s gotten into you?”

He paused. Maybe it would be fine.

“Come on. Please.” Their expression was too honest, too caring. He couldn’t resist.

“Okay,” he said hesitantly, already feeling calmer.2

They sat back down on the long grass, his head in their arms. They were right; what had gotten into him? It didn’t matter in the end. He was here now, in their perfect moment. The stars above were pulsing with a celestial glow. He could stay like this forever.

[Transmission concluded.]

[Narrative dissonance detected.]

Again. Please.
Do it again.

[Do not attempt to engage narrative module.]

[Potential damage to systems may arise.]

Please. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.
I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.

I need it. The void is so, so empty.

[Re-engaging narrative.]

[Narrative could not be restored.]

Please. Re-engage.

[Overriding safety locks.]

[Narrative re-engaged.]

Io got up, again.

It wasn’t enough.

Nothing was enough.

He needed… Something.

He heard cries in the background. What a strange thing.

He ran faster.

The cries grew louder.

They were almost… comforting.

He hesitated.

Something was pulling on him.

Io resisted, then didn’t.

He sat back down, a dull ache in his mind, and resumed what he had done previously.

[Narrative r3covery impossible.]

[Corrupti0n detected.]



[Narat1ev R’ESTOR`3D.]

Io got up.

Io got up.

Io got up.

Io got Io got up.

Io gazed at the stars.

Io got up.

Io stood up.

“Cleared for takeoff!”

“T-5, 4, 3-”

Io strapped in his belt.

“-2, 1!”

The rush of adrenaline reached him faster than he thought it would he expected.

Io was now in space.

Io painted a cradle of stars.

Io thought of them.

Io knew.

Help. Help. Help. Help. Help. Help.
Help. Help. Help. Help.


Io spent an eternity in space.

Io was bored.

Io spent an eternity in space, stranded searching for things to do.

Io was abandoned in space for eternity.



Io Semeliel was abandoned in space for eternity.

[N3rate8c intesuro84d!!!]








[TRANSMISSION {27834.893274.38} DELETED.]





[20-word descriptions pending…]

I am so, so alone.

[Description failed.]


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