Authors: Ahmet Zappa
How they managed this without even trying was a wonder to Piper. She herself strove for an effortless state of being on a stardaily basis. But the lightkus proved too difficult and limiting. So Piper went with sunnets, rhyming poems that could be any length and meter but needed to include a source of light.
The last staryear, when Piper was a relatively new first-year student, the holiday hadn't gone quite the way she'd wanted. She had labored long and hard over those holo-texts then, too. She'd wanted to reach out to every single student at Starling Academy. She'd wanted each student to feel good after reading her text; appreciated, even loved, she'd hoped.
She wrote one epic poem but it turned out to be so long and so serious no one bothered reading it. A hot flash of energy coursed through Piper, just remembering it. She'd felt like crying for stardays after.
This staryear, she was determined to get it right. She decided to focus only on students she knew well, and that meant mostly the Star Darlings. She tried to make the poems fun and light, too. Zippy, you might say. No one would think Piper particularly zippy, she knew. She tended to move slowly and unhurriedly, taking in her surroundings to be fully in the moment. But of course she had her own inner energy. And maybe this year she would manage to get that across in her poetry.
Piper leaned back against her soft pillow, closed her eyes, and visualized each of her friends' smiling faces as they read her special words of encouragement. Well, maybe Scarlet and Leona wouldn't exactly be smiling. Even with her failed mission well in the past and band rehearsals on again, Leona was just beginning to bounce back.
As for Scarlet, she'd had an amazing kind of mission. After being booted out of the Star Darlings, she'd brought back wish energy and basically saved her substitute SD, Ophelia, in the bargain.
Still, it was hard to get a read on Scarlet. Piper wasn't sure what the older Starling was really thinking. One thing was crystal clear, though: Scarlet didn't like rooming with Leona. And Leona felt the same about Scarlet. Even when those poisonous flowers were removed from the girls' dorm rooms so they couldn't spread negativity, those two just couldn't get along.
Yes, there was a lot happening at the academy, and on Starland itself. That recent blackout after Cassie's mission, for instance, had thrown everyone off balance. Even the teachers weren't immune. Headmistress Lady Stella, usually so calm and sereneâand an inspiration to Piperâseemed a little edgy. And the head of admissions, Lady Cordial, was stammering and hemming and hawing more than usual.
Now, more than ever, everyone needed to be centered and positive. So really, this was the perfect time for Star Kindness Day.
As Piper thought about everything, her stomach did an unexpected flip. Maybe she should send a positive poem to herself! She stretched to pick up her Star-Zap without lifting her head, then tapped the self-holo-text feature.
Piper's picture popped up in the corner of the screen: a serene, faraway expression on her face, thin seafoam-green eyebrows matching long straight seafoam-green hair, and big green eyes looking into the distance.
For the holo-photo, Piper had pulled her hair back in a ponytail. The ends reached well below her waist. Her expression was as calm as when she swam in Luminous Lake. And that was how she wanted to feel now. Centered and peaceful and wonderfully relaxed. What poem would bring her that mind-set?
Like the calm at the center of the storm
â¦Piper began writing. Then she paused. What rhymed with
The Little Dipper Dorm
, where first and second years lived!
Like the calm at the center of the storm,
Floating like a breeze through the Little Dipper Dorm.
Again, Piper stopped to think.
With dreams as your guiding lightâ¦
(Piper was a big believer in dreams holding life truths.)
Your thoughts bring deep insight.
It wasn't her best work, Piper knew. But it was getting late and she was growing tired. Piper liked to get the most sleep possible. After all, it was the startime of day when the body and mind regrouped and reconnected. Sure, she'd had her regular afternoon nap, but sometimes that just wasn't enough.
Piper focused on dimming the lights, and a starsec later, the white light faded to a soft, comforting shade of green, conducive to optimal rest. Piper shared a room with Vega, but each girl's side was uniquely her own.
Piper knew Vega was getting ready for bed, too. But it felt like she had her own secluded space, far removed from her roommate and the hustle and bustle of school. Everything was soft and fluid here. There wasn't one sharp edge in sight.
Piper's water bed was round; her pillows (dozens of them) were round. Her feathery ocean-blue throw rug and matching comforter were round. Even her leafy green plants were in pretty round bowls. And each one gave off a soothing scent that calmed and renewed her.
“Sleep tight, good night, don't let the moonbugs bite,” Vega called out.
“Starry dreams,” Piper replied softly. She heard Vega opening and closing drawers, neatening everything into well-organized groups, and stacking holo-books in her orderly way. Everyone had their own sleep rituals, Piper knew, and she did admire the way Vega kept her side neat. A place for everything, and everything in its place.
Piper reached to the floor, scooping up another pillowâthis one had turquoise tassels and a pattern of swirlsâand tucking it behind her head. Then she realized with a start she was still wearing her day clothes: a long sleeveless dress made from glimmerworm silk. It could, in fact, pass as a nightgown. Piper's day clothes weren't all that different from her night ones. But Piper believed in the mind-body connectionâin this case, changing clothes to change her frame of mind.
Piper slipped on a satiny nightgown, with buttons as soft as glowmoss running from top to bottom. Then she misted the room with essence of dramboozle, a natural herb that promoted sweet dreams and comforting sleep. Next in her bedtime ritual came the choosing of the sleep mask. That night she sifted through her basket of masks, choosing one that pictured a stand of gloak trees. It showed a wonderful balance of strength and beauty, Piper thought.
Finally, Piper picked up her latest dream diary. She wanted to replay her last dreamâthe one from her afternoon nap. Frequently, those dreams were her most vivid. At night Piper listened to class lectures while she slept, studying in the efficient Starling method. And sometimes the professors' voices blended with her dreams in an oddly disconcerting way.
Once, she felt on the verge of a mighty epiphanyâa revelation about the meaning of light.
What is the meaning of light?
was a question that had plagued Starling scholars for hydrongs and hydrongs of years. And the answer was about to be revealed. To her!
But just when Piper's thoughts were closing in on it, her Astral Accounting teacher's voice had interrupted, monotonously intoning the number 1,792. And Piper felt sure that wasn't the right answer.
But that afternoon's dream proceeded without numbers or facts or formulas: Piper was floating through space, traveling past planets and stars, when a Wishling girl with bright shiny eyes and an eager expression grabbed her hand. Suddenly, the scene shifted to the Crystal Mountains, the most beautiful in all of Starland, just across the lake from Starling Academy. It was a sight Piper looked at with pleasure every starday. But now she was climbing a mountain, still holding hands with the girl. As she led the way up a trail, the lulling sound of keytar music echoed everywhere, and she laughed with pleasure as a flutterfocus landed on her shoulder. Another flutterfocus settled on the shoulder of the girl.
“It looks like a butterfly!” the girl said, as delighted as Piper. “But sparkly!”
“And they bring luck!” Piper answered. But with each step the girls took, more and more flutterfocuses circled them. Now the creatures seemed angry, baring enormous sharp teeth. “What's going on?” the Wishling cried. She squeezed Piper's hand, beginning to panic.
“I don't know,” Piper said, keeping her voice calm. “These aren't like flutterfocuses at all! They're usually quite gentle, like all animals here!” Maybe if she could say something, do something, the flutterfocuses would return to their sweet, normal ways. “Concentrate,” Piper told herself, “concentrateâ¦.”
Perhaps if they reached the plateau at the very top, edged with bright-colored bluebeezel flowers, the flutterfocuses would settle down.
Meanwhile, she held tight to the girl, pulling her up step by step. And finally, there was the peak, just within reach. She opened her mouth to tell the girl, “We're there,” when a blinding light stopped her in her tracks.
“Oh, star apologies!” Vega had said, turning off the room light with a quick glance. Vega was very good at energy manipulation. But she wasn't very good at realizing when Piper was sleeping.
Thinking about it now, Piper wondered why the dream, which had begun so well, had turned so unpleasant. She didn't want to call it a nightmare. First of all, she'd dreamed it in the middle of the day! Second, Piper believed that even the scariest, darkest dreams held meaning and could bring enlightenment. Piper felt sure this dream meant something important.
A Wishling girlâ¦a difficult journey filled with danger and decisionsâ¦It was obvious, Piper saw now.
“I'm going on the next Wish Mission,” she said aloud. It would be a successful mission, too, since in her dream, she and the girl had reached the mountaintop. Her smile faded slightly. Well, they had just about reached the top.
“What's going on?” Vega asked groggily, hearing Piper's voice.
“Nothing,” Piper said quickly. Practical Vega wasn't one to believe in premonitions or dream symbols.
Once, while Vega slept, Piper had tiptoed over to watch her face for signs of emotion as she dreamed. Vega had woken up and been totally creeped out to find Piper mere micronas away and staring. The girls generally got along, and they were friendsânot best friends, but friends. And it helped for Piper to keep her sometimes strange insights to herself. She didn't want to upset the delicate balance.
Now, thinking about balance, she decided on a new bedtime visualization. She pictured a scale she'd seen in Wishling History class. It had a pan on each side, and when they were balanced, the pans were level. Adding weight to one would lift the other higher.
In her mind's eye, Piper placed a pebble first on one pan, then the other, again and again, so the scale moved up and down in a rhythm. Piper felt her head nodding in the same motion as she drifted off into another dreamâ¦.
As soon as the first glimmer of morning light landed on Piper's face, she opened her eyes. It was Star Kindness Day! She had a sense of expectation; something was about to happen.
She glanced at her Star-Zap. A holo-text was just coming through from Astra:
LET'S ALL MEET AT THE RADIANT RECREATION CENTER BEFORE BREAKFAST.
Piper half groaned. She loved going to the rec center for meditation class, but she doubted Astra wanted them all to sit still and think deeply. Most likely, she wanted to organize everyone for an early-morning star ball game. Well, Piper could be a good sport, so she made her way to the center, only to find the place deserted.
Then Leona holo-texted:
I'M AT THE BAND SHELL. AREN'T WE SUPPOSED TO HAVE A PRE-BREAKFAST BAND REHEARSAL, WITH AN SD AUDIENCE?
Immediately, the Star-Zap beeped again with a message from Cassie:
NO! WE'RE SUPPOSED TO MEET AT LUMINOUS LIBRARY!
Not knowing what to do, Piper went to the band shell, then to the library, then searched across the quad for the Star Darlings. But everywhere she went turned out to be wrong. Her Star-Zap beeped again and again, with message after message, louder and louder each time, until Piper shut it off with a flick of her wrist and realized she'd just turned off her alarm.
It was another dream.
Piper quickly entered it into her dream diary. She'd have to analyze it more, but it seemed to focus on mixed-up communicationsânot a good sign. Frowning, she looked toward Vega's part of the room.
“Are you going to the Celestial CafÃ©?” she called out.
Vega looked at her strangely. “Of course. It's breakfast time.”
“Just making sure,” Piper said. “I still need to take a sparkle shower. So I'll see you there.”
The sparkle shower made Piper's skin and hair glimmer brighter, and she felt its energy like a gentle boost of power. But the dream lingered, making her feel somehow off-kilter. She couldn't shake the feeling she'd show up at the cafeteria and everyone else would be having a special picnic breakfast at the orchard, or by the lake, or anywhere she wasn't.
By then, Piper was already late. No one would be concerned, though. Piper was frequently the last to arrive. She often needed to go back to her room to retrieve a forgotten item. But sometimes it was simply because she liked to take her time. Even now she paused to add a few more notes to her diary, while the dream was still fresh in her mind. It always helped to get everything down in writing, though she could usually remember details for at least a double starweek.