With a Palette of Rock and Magma by Carol Scheina

The planet couldn’t suppress the shiver of excitement rippling over its surface when a transport landed in a ring of fire and smoke. Its first visitors! How air-light their steps, so miniscule and fragile. It tried to stay stone-still as they ambled about.

Look! the planet thought. See my ravines? Like rivers of stone. That mountain’s three peaks took centuries to shape.

The creatures seemed especially interested in the cube-rocks, which pleased the planet. It had experimented with so many different shapes before finally deciding on that one. When the planet shook, the cubes would bounce and tumble into delightful little stacks and piles that glowed red in the sunset, casting shadowy stripes on the clay dirt.

A creature picked up a cube.

Beautiful, no?

The creature split the rock in two and peered inside.

The planet’s horror traveled as violent shudders upon its crust. The creatures sprinted for their transport, blasts of flame sending them on their way.

After some contemplation, the planet steeled itself for such curiosity next time. Above all, it wanted the creatures to return, to see its work. As an invitation, it shattered earth, shifted rock, filling the atmosphere with clay dust. The wounds oozed hot magma, and the planet shook at the pain, but the rock cooled and healed in time. The end result: a maze of stone walls, with stone-red patterns to guide visitors down dusty walkways.

Come walk my paths, it urged as ships flew by. Come see what I’ve created.

When a transport finally landed, the planet didn’t make a shiver. The creatures explored the maze’s corners and angles, leaving footprint paths in the dust. More came. They built squat, gray homes, disrupting the patterns the planet had worked so hard to create. The planet eventually saw beauty in the play of light and shadows the new structures made.

In time, the planet learned their noises meant words. People, they called themselves, and they didn’t talk about the maze’s dusty pathways or the mountaintops or the curling ravines. People looked up, wondering about the next star system to discover.

The planet decided to make something new to bring their eyes back planet-side. It worked under a foggy river, where its movements wouldn’t harm the squat homes. Pushing and pulling, heating and cooling rock to make a head, arms, legs. It shrugged itself to make gentle waves, pushing the stone person onto its dusty shores.

People shouted upon the statue’s discovery. “Who made it? There’s life out there!”

No, it’s me, the planet thought. Hot rock bubbled inside it. What do I have to do to make you happy?

The statue was packed onto a transport and flown off-world for study. Other transports scanned its surface, looking for other statues. Finding none, they pointed at distant star systems, the numerous launches imprinting deep black rings on the planet’s rocky skin.

Its core flashed hotter.

One particularly forceful launch toppled part of its maze, rocks crumbling into dust.

The planet’s built-up furor exploded from the top of the three-peaked mountain. Black clouds filled its skies, people cried their fear alongside the sound of red rocks crushing gray buildings.

The planet shut the sounds out, retreating deep into its flaming core. It burned hot for a long, long time. When it emerged and examined its crust once more, it found airy dust, broken squares of rock, crumbled shades of ash and dulled grays.

Forgive me, it wanted to say. No one was there to hear anyway.

The planet’s melted sorrow poured out onto the surface of the world. Wondering if the people would return, its surface smoked and creased with hopeful shivers, at times bursting in anger at itself for frightening its audience, then sending breaths of feather-light rocks drifting onto its surface. The land cooled and scabbed. The planet felt drained out.

The new surface was unlike anything it had previous created; a story of its experiences. Nothing like its young, early work, or the stuff it had made trying to please the people. This was something all of its own. The planet trembled at how it had grown in capabilities.

Come back. Come see.

Ships passed, vanishing into the dark.

Why were the stars always the prettier sight? If it burned bright like one of those sparkling orbs in the dark — but no, that wasn’t in its core. This is who it was. It gently pushed and pulled at rock and magma, sculpting new hills and quiet beaches. It lost itself in expanses of green fields quivering in sighing winds. The lands shifted far slower than they once had, heartbreak in every land crease, but also a pride as it continued to raise its hills.

This is who it was.

A transport landed in a ring of smoke and fire, and air-light steps touched its surface once more. The planet held its breath, not wanting to scare the people.

“It’s changed so much,” one person said. “Nothing like the old pictures.”

Another stood in place and looked.

Do you see my hills? the planet thought. Do you see my shores?

“It’s beautiful,” the person said. “Perfect to paint.”

The planet’s core released a single hot tear, deep underwater, sending soft waves foaming white on peach-sand beaches. A small sigh of its joy. Then it pushed on a landmass for a new piece of art that would take centuries to form.

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