Night fell, and the sky became suddenly black. Then, slowly, whether due to some unknown process or merely to his eyes needing time to adjust to the deep darkness, the familiar stars appeared.
“Marcellus, come see.”
At his father’s words, Marcellus turned his gaze away from the last glow of the sunset, and walked the few steps along the city walls to where his father was working. Iulus took a step back from the device, clearing room for his son to look through the eyepiece. He saw the flat, elongated disc of a star.
“That’s the one,” Iulus continued.
“Why do you say that? It looks no different than a hundred others.”
“Ah, but it is. I have calculated the relative motion of all the visible stars, from tables that go back 10,000 years, to men who stood in the dark taking measurements until their eyes failed and the next men took their places. “
“As you now stand…”
“Yes, but with my device. To these observations, I have added the spectra, star by star, noting the dark bands…”
“And, applying a theory of your own, have deduced speed….”
“Yes. And now, direction as well.”
The impossible blackness became somehow more black, the stars more bright. It was said that some, on the darkest mountain tops on the clearest nights, could make out more, fainter stars even in the blackness; Iulus’s device proved this true. There was no end to stars.
“That star,” he continued, “is moving directly away relative to us. According to my theory, based on the displacement of the dark bands in its spectrum, we would have been in it about 2 billion years ago.”
“What do you think stars are, father?”
In the darkness, Marcellus heard a mechanical rumble, the deep creaking of something large being moved. Siege engines, advancing under cover of darkness.
Iulus looked up into his son’s face. “No one really knows. The ancients thought them much like our sun, despite being able to make out the swirling shapes of a few of the brighter stars with their naked eyes. Some sort of atmospheric distortion, they said.”
“You have another theory, of course.”
Iulus returned to his device. “The stars are not mere balls of burning gas as we think our sun, that much is clear. They have structure. Some are discs; others are diffuse balls; a few are distorted, irregular.”
He looked back up at his son. “Sometimes, I can make out what look to be suns within the stars.”
Marcellus’s thoughts had turned to the battle that was soon to be upon them. They could hold out against a siege for a while, but, barring a miracle he could not believe in, the city he loved, and all within it, would soon enough be dead. Or worse. He himself would die, the young hero upon which the people’s irrational hope was focused, leading the defense of his doomed city. No amount of science in arms or any other thing could prevent it.
“I think,” his father hesitated, “that the stars are enormous collections of suns. Millions, perhaps billions, of suns.”
His son pulled his attention back to his father. “How would that even be possible?”
“The same mechanisms that formed our sun and its 3 planets could form many suns. That force that sends us spinning about, circling our light, could, given enough material and time, form many suns and planets…”
“Why would you propose such a thing? I see no problem your hypothesis would solve, even in theory.”
“Consider this: our best natural philosopher say our earth and sun must be at least 3 billion years old. I have spent my life studying the motion of the stars, comparing ancient and modern records. Almost all stars are moving generally away from us and each other. But only this one star, which we name Glosbe, moves perfectly away. If we imagine how things were two billion years ago, we would have been in that star.”
Marcellus was trying to appreciate the distraction. His father continued. “Our sun and its planets are alone and unique, we have long thought. Why should that be? Everywhere in nature we see repetition, variations on a theme. Why but one sun in what we more and more know to be an enormous universe?”
“What do you think happened, then? How did our sun come to be?”
Iulus fidgeted slightly. “Here I depart from firm science, and indulge in speculation: say the stars are huge collections of suns and planets and things unknown. Many appear to swirl. Perhaps suns are born within these stars, and,” he hesitated. He had always been a careful man. “perhaps some suns and their planets are flung away….”
“What titanic forces could fling a sun?”
“The same ones that hold our earth in its orbit. We see no limit in the scale of gravity. More and more mass would generate more and more force. Billions of suns would generate enough force to fling any number of suns away….” He stopped, almost embarrassed.
Marcellus considered. “This theory of yours presents many difficulties.”
“Yes. But I feel in my bones it is true.”
Marcellus heard a sound like a giant tree falling in the distance, followed by a growing whistling, followed by a loud thud maybe a hundred yards from the city walls. He remembered what makes that sound: a trebuchet. The enemy was finding the range.
Iulus didn’t seem to notice. He was back at his device. “Father, perhaps we should come down off the walls for the night.” Marcellus was considering what would be the pious thing to do. He couldn’t bear the though of what the enemy might do to his father if they took him alive. His father’s idea of honor would not allow him to kill himself. Attempting to escape might be possible, but only in the chaos of the inevitable sacking. He hadn’t planned on living long enough to consider that, as he would be expected to lead the defense. It would be unmanly to try to survive…
Thank the gods his mother and sister were both long dead. “Come, father, lets us return to our home.” His hand found the hilt of his sword.
(The science here is bad. But I liked the idea.)