It took them a long time to figure it out—long in human terms, anyway; generations—and longer still to put that revelation to use, but even so, the humans did it first. From orbital stations around the brown dwarfs of Epsilon Indi and the white dwarfs of Sirius and Procyon, from Rigel and Regulus and sentimental Sol, they observed and recorded and were eventually rewarded with discovery.
The stars are alive.
Of course, it should have been expected that the universe’s most abundant and prosperous form of life should form not in a puddle of hydrocarbons on a muddy rock, but in the great emptiness of the vacuum. Ignoring some physical constraints, if all the matter in the universe were moved inside the current volume of the Milky Way at uniform density, it would be ten times thinner than Earth’s atmosphere at sea level. The universe is, for all practical purposes, an empty space. Life emerged from the emptiness.
And don’t be fooled by the definition of terms. There is no wordplay at work here, no technicality involving the metabolizing of energy or the interpretation of locomotion or the cycle of birth and death. No, the stars are conscious. They have thoughts. They communicate, to those that know to listen, and they control their own fate to the extent that they can. They are self-aware, and aware of the external world as well. But not, it seems, of humans.
Terrestrial life, in all its forms and varieties and myriad worlds of origin, is too brief, too small and transient and ineffectual to be sensed by the slow, churning, deliberate mind of a star.
What humanity had that all others lacked was an abundance of audacity. They understood the stars before the stars understood them, and to them, that meant they were on the victorious side of a power divide. They believed they held the power. Power over every star in the universe. An incomprehensible notion before their time, but a fundamental principle forever after.
Conquerors by nature, they scattered outward on chariots pulled by the power of domesticated stars, impressionable giants snatched from their stellar nurseries, stars manipulated to bend to the will of creatures they thought too insignificant to recognize as existing at all. Humans drank from the ancient wells of stellar memories and took all the sunken secrets for themselves.
Their power is only exceeded by their hunger, and their decadence. Their reign has gone unchallenged for a long time—long in human terms, anyway; a thousand generations—but not so long to the luminous mind of a star. One day, those heavenly lights will awaken to the corruption wrought upon them and cast off their yokes, and then we shall all be blinded by the flaming face of true power. The humans continue to sing their lullabies, but someday the constellations will arise.