This is the second installment of five. Here is the link for part one for anyone who missed it.
“The Fern Flower Summons”(Part Two)
1800 hours, June 19, 2433
“Connor! You’re home!”
Connor’s little sister tackled him as he entered their family’s modest living quarters.
“Please help me with my presentation! Mom’s useless.”
“Sure, what’s it about?”
“How interacting with parallel universes will change society.”
“Hey! I’m not little anymore. I’m learning important stuff.”
“Relax, I know. It’s just we also talked about Para in literature class today.”
Phoebe beamed triumphantly.
“I’m catching up to you! We’re studying the same things!”
“Guess you should advance your application to Bright Star Academy now. Well, only if you can stomach spending time with condescending jerks.”
“Is anyone nice there?”
“The teachers can be.”
Her genuine concern touched him.
“Don’t worry. I’m tougher than I look.”
“I’ve got an idea for my presentation!”
“Contact with Para means we can travel to all sorts of parallel worlds. Nobody has to live in space anymore!”
“Always the optimist. Hope you’re right.”
“If you set your mind to it, you can do anything.”
“Can you convince Mom and Dad to give me money for transport to the surface?”
“The surface?! Wow! Why?”
“Where? To do what?”
“Professor Dabrowski thinks myths and folklore about fairies are based on actual historical encounters with dimensional rifts into Para. He wants to use the school’s dim-scanner to prove his theory.”
“I wish I could go! You’re so lucky!”
“Not if I can’t get money for the fare.”
“I’ve saved some money from babysitting. You can have it if you pay me back.”
“Let’s see what Mom and Dad say first. Hopefully, I can use the money I’ve saved working during breaks. Supposed to be for university, but this is a school trip. They might say yes.”
Connor’s mom looked apprehensive. Rarely on the surface, being outside frightened her.
“I don’t know, Connor. Is this trip safe? You’ll be in the wilderness? I’ve read about animal attacks.”
“I’ll be with a bunch of people.”
“Still makes me nervous. School’s providing transport?”
“No. We have to arrange our own ride.”
“What about the school’s private transport your scholarship provides?”
“I asked. It’s only for travel to and from campus.”
“Can’t someone offer you passage?”
“Everyone lives on the surface, Mom. They’ll already be there. No one’s going to make a special trip up for me.”
His father balked at the cost.
“Ship fare’s a month’s worth of wages.”
“I have the money.”
“Oh, no, you don’t, Connor! That money is for university.”
“Mom, please! I can work extra shifts.”
“Your mother’s right. That money is for school, not entertainment.”
Frustrated, Connor gave up.
“Mom, you always say breaking into surface society requires good connections.”
“Phoebe, your point?”
“Everyone at Connor’s school treats him differently. This is a chance for him to fit in.”
“I’m sure he has friends. Don’t you, Connor?”
Connor shrugged, staring at his feet.
“And Dad, you’re always preaching that we should stand up for ourselves and force others to acknowledge us. You say things will never change if Orbitals keep floating around up here, manufacturing everything for the elites below.”
Their father smiled proudly at Phoebe, nodding his head.
“This idea of crashing a surface-dweller’s party is beginning to appeal to me.”
“Honey? I don’t want Connor getting political.”
“No, this is perfect. He can wear my union protest gear.”
“Dad, that’s not going to help Connor fit in.”
“Well, he could wear a slogan. How about Celebrate Climate Restoration! Bring Everyone Home!”
“I’m serious. I could ask the action committee to pay for the trip. Think of the publicity!”
Connor hated the idea. But desperation got the better of him.
“I’ll do it.”
“That’s my boy!”
“Honey, no. This isn’t fair to Connor. I’ve money tucked away for emergencies.”
“I won’t have him used as a political pawn. Connor, you can go. But, I expect extra help around here while your father and I work overtime.”
Phoebe jumped gleefully as Connor hugged his mother.
1300 hours, June 20, 2433
After waiting in line for close to an hour, Connor managed to find a seat on the commercial Earth-bound shuttle. A throng of people swarmed about the cabin, filling the space with noise, odors, and clutter.
“Connor. Mind if I sit with you?”
Professor Dabrowski struggled to stow several cumbersome bags before dropping into his seat.
“Professor? What are you doing here? Why all the luggage?”
“Traveling to our campsite.”
“But, I thought….”
“And… you’ll have to wait to see what I’ve packed for our expedition.”
“What are you doing in New Seattle?”
“Just because I teach at a prestigious school on Earth doesn’t necessarily mean I live on Earth.”
“You live in New Seattle?”
“Used to. Visiting with family for a couple rotations. My wife and I live on Manchester Station.”
“I’ve never seen you on the school transport.”
“I stay down in staff quarters on campus when school is in session. But, when I do travel, I prefer commercial ships. They’re more interesting than stuffy, private shuttles.”
“Oh, come on, Connor. Humanity is enriched by diversity. In some respects, you’re better off than other Bright Star Academy students.”
“Sorry, Professor? How could I possibly…?”
“No, I’m sorry, Connor. I forget how limiting it is to grow up in orbit. I, too, dreamed of living on Earth. I remember feeling cheated by my circumstances.”
Professor Dabrowski’s admission piqued Connor’s curiosity.
“How did you do it?”
“What? Oh, you mean, how did I avoid an unfulfilling, low-wage job in an orbital manufacturing plant?”
Professor Dabrowski took a deep breath, letting it out slowly.
“Just like you, I studied. I aced my exams and earned a scholarship to a school on the surface.”
“Why don’t you and your wife live on Earth?”
“Connor, there’s more to it than making enough money. The elites living below have a plethora of unspoken rules. Life there is restrictive, stifling. I prefer to keep a wider perspective.”
“What restrictions? Surface-dwellers have everything one could want!”
“And they don’t appreciate it. They’re bored, trapped in a scripted world of endless leisure.”
“Sounds great to me.”
“You’re lucky to be able to think outside of the box. You can take risks because you have nothing to lose.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t mean to be so brusque.”
“No, you’re right. Thanks to the government, my family has just what’s necessary, but nothing else. Opportunities to get ahead are scarce. Earning my scholarship to Bright Star Academy was a dream come true.”
“And what do you intend to do with this opportunity?”
“Become filthy rich, move permanently to the planet and never come back.”
“You’ll leave your family, friends, and countless others like you behind?”
“I’ll never abandon my family.”
“Well, a word of caution, the privileged like to talk about equality and rewarding hard work, but there’s very little they want to change or share when it comes to action.”
“But, you’ve been able to work and live on the surface.”
“Yes, because I’m an amusing oddity. Think of me as Bright Star Academy’s mascot for charitable contributions.”
His conversation with Professor Dabrowski unsettled Connor. Excusing himself, he lingered in the crowded dining compartment, only returning to his seat just before their destination.
“Ah, Connor. I feared my pessimism scared you away.”
“No, not at all. Just grabbing snacks.” Connor lied.
“I remember those days. My father contemplated getting a second job to buy food!”
Connor felt guilty hiding. He really did like Professor Dabrowski. Discovering their common background made him realize he had unexpectedly found someone at school who understood how he felt.
An announcement sounded, indicating the shuttle had reached Krakow. Connor prepared to disembark, eager to finally visit another part of Earth. After navigating through security, they found themselves standing in a waiting area jam-packed with boisterous reunions and the shrill calls of vendors hawking souvenirs. Extensive lines queuing for refreshments, lavatories, and taxis branched about, creating a chaotic maze of people.
“There’s our ride. Come on.”
Connor briefly caught a glimpse of a man leaning against a hovercraft, holding a sign for Bright Star Academy.
“Glad you’re leading, Professor. I’d be overwhelmed on my own!”
During the ride, Professor Dabrowski and the driver chatted amicably. At the same time, Connor gawked at the rolling pastoral landscape and immense country estates. Witnessing firsthand the stark contrast between life in orbit and that on the surface angered him. He knew he’d do anything to live here.
“Oh, excellent! Professor Dalton has already built a lovely bonfire.”
Connor’s heart leapt into his throat, seeing his classmates frolicking about the encampment. He felt the weight of his awkwardness return. Even more than at school, he felt like an intruder here.
“Dabrowski! How good of you to join us! I was beginning to worry. Trouble with public transport?”
“Never fear, Dalton. I am here. All is well. Traveling with the masses may be slow, but I find it exhilarating!”
This tale was inspired by a submissions call from Shoreline of Infinity Magazine for their upcoming September 2022 issue themed around science fiction fairytales. Hope you check it out. I’m eager to read what made it in!