Tom Laichas



excerpts from
The Star Catalogue


As the Catastrophe enveloped Earth, engineers perfected city-lofting
rockets, adapting their designs from mid 20 th century science fiction
novels. They then excavated Earth’s cities from their ancestral soil and
encased them in high-density radiation-resistant Pyrex snow globes.

After generations devoted to nothing but this vital work, the cities of old
Earth left that planet to its fate and flew to New Earths, the very planets
upon which we now live.

Herein the reader shall find accounts of both the diaspora’s City-Planets
and of the human settlements remaining on Earth.

We dedicate this work to those who undertook the Pilgrimage, claiming
the City Planets for us all.

— The Authors



The Sun that Fears its Own Death

Moscow orbits a sun that fears its own death. This sun has seen
other suns bloat, redden, explode and, gutted, collapse. Moscow’s
sun hugs its hot core to itself, tighter and tighter, but this does no
good. Nothing can slow its burning.

The city’s dogs snarl, smelling the sun’s fear. The stench travels
ninety million miles through the inter-solar medium grease
Moscow’s streets. On the radio, nothing but sweat and static.
What this sun needs is some other living thing to hold it dear, to
hear out its fear, to help it die. But Moscow itself is a fearful city,
intolerant of weakness in its own children. The terrified star
disgusts the city.

Moscow’s Council writes words of contempt on oversized
notecards, folds them into paper airplanes, and launches them into
the sun’s trembling corona.

Yet, in secret, at night, when even the police sleep, some
Moscovites launch
paper cranes inscribed with love and condolence.

Because all paper burns alike, it is impossible to know which
matters most: the planes or the birds. Very possibly, neither will
change anything.



The Gibbous Sun

Montréal’s moon, like the Earth’s, eclipses its sun. Yet these occlusions
recur weekly, so that the sun itself has moonlike phases. Each is a season.

The New-Sun is wholly eclipsed. Its corona is pale. The New-Sun’s week
is frigid. Families huddle around firepits. This is a week of ice-fishing and skates.

The First-quarter-Sun is a freshening star, brisk with breezes and cold rains.
Leaves return to the trees in the First-quarter week. Montréal greens up.

Half-Sun is best for new life, for plantings and pairings. Chickens
roost and lay. Horses foal. Squash and beans slither up their poles.

Then comes First-gibbous-Sun, a hunchbacked sun, its southern pole hidden
behind the moon. Plantings done, First-gibbous is a week of masques and trysts.

Full-Sun is a Julyish week, its heat intolerable. No one works. Montréal
sleeps by day. The night-markets open at dusk. The stalls smell of durian.

Then the cycle’s downslope: Second-gibbous, Second-half, and Second-quarter—
a generous sun, when Montréal’s infants, conceived in First-gibbous, are born.

The cycles of solar eclipse yield five, sometimes six crops in an Earth-year.
A week of love follows a week of labor. A week of days follows another of nights.

And yet astronomers, announce, Montréal’s moon is gradually slipping away.
In just a few years, the eclipses will vanish. Every day will burn. For this reason

the city’s youth invent intense and dangerous pleasures. Under the Gibbous
they push every sense beyond gratification. Go to Montréal and you’ll see—

their eyes dilated, their bodies naked and lean, their faces masked
in painted paper-mâché, fists bare and bruised, fingers twitching, hands

boiling, scalding one another’s skin, scarred with anger: why were we born
why were we brought here — why do these seasons have to end with us.




Before launching from old Earth, the people of North Yorkshire
disassembled electrical pylons that carried 400 kv wires across the
moors. They stowed the parts in the National Railway Museum’s

After a long journey, the North Yorkshire snow globe made
landfall on Barnard Star’s fourth planet. There, the city’s people
reassembled the pylons, and strung them with wires. They criss-
crossed the new planet’s moors just as they’d criss-crossed the left-
behind landscape. When the project was done,. every North
Yorkshire family gathered together and sang in gratitude for their
safe arrival. Children fashioned miniatures of each pylon, holding
the sculptures in their chubby hands like metal bonsai. Since then,
the Thankful Pylon Sing is celebrated each year throughout the

Off-worlders find it strange that North Yorkshire would relocate
the utility pylons to a new planet or rehang wires which carry no
power, or sing round the pylons as if they were Christmas trees.
Yet the pylons remind North Yorkshire’s people of the old
girdered life, its aluminum giants, its ribboned insulated copper,
the a wonder of its age, now all lost.



I Just Want It To End

Buda launched from Earth without a hitch, but Pest did not. A wire
came loose, the subfloor engines failed, and that city remained
anchored in the mud of the Danube’s east bank.

Pest’s left-behind people wailed and wept. They went from church
to church to synagogue to mosque in search of a god who would
answer their prayers. But those gods had Earth behind, and
travelled the cosmos with Buda.

Despondent, Pest’s people gazed west towards their river and its
Buda-sized crater. Within a year, the Danube had drowned the
scar. It was beautiful, that round tranquil lake. Soon, storks and
curlews found its shores. Sturgeon, not seen for decades in these
parts, lashed their bony bodies through the water.

The old widowed city lived under her old sun, old birds in her
skies, old fish in her waters. A woman walked to the lakeside,
mourning the loss of a sister who had lived, before the migration,
in Buda

I want it all to end, she said.

Why? her companion asked. Is it really so bad, this lonely half-



Jubilee Year

In the Jubilee year, the City-Planet of Tallahassee abolishes all
debts, returns property to its first owners, lets fields lie fallow, and
proclaims liberty throughout the land. In the Jubilee year, any
person may receive a new surname, one dissociated from pedigree
and previous obligation. Any birth-fact can be altered: gender,
nationality, race, appearance. At the end of Jubilee, the people of
Tallahassee gather around a bonfire of contracts and vital records.
The fire burns for days just outside the city. .

In the Jubilee year, a committee of citizenry convenes to devise a
fresh language for Tallahassee. Eating utensils change. The city’s
history is reimagined. Then the city’s public buildings are
destroyed and rebuilt.

Off-worlders call the planet Tallahassee, but its name has now
changed six times. None of its people have even heard of Florida.
Having destroyed their own archives, their people are unable to
remember their city’s true history.

Knowing that at some point in their lives every debt will be
forgiven, the people of Tallahassee are extravagant. Old banknotes
blow uselessly around the city like leaves in the autumns of colder

No person in Tallahassee is pitied more than one who is born and
dies between Jubilee years. Such people, whose names and debts
and children never change, are buried in the sea so that they are
more quickly forgotten.

No one in Tallahassee is considered more fortunate than one who
commits a crime the day before Jubilee and who then is gifted new
fingerprints, irises, hair color and gait. On the eve of the Jubilee
year, travelers visit the City-Planet Tallahassee at their own risk.


Tom Laichas is author of Three Hundred Streets of Venice CaliforniaSixty-Three Photographs from the End of a War, and Empire of Eden. His recent work has appeared in SaltJabberwockBlue UnicornSoftblowDisquieting Muses QuarterlyStand, and elsewhere. He lives in Venice, California.