This is the fifth installment of five. Below are links to previous episodes for anyone who missed them.
“The Fern Flower Summons” (Part Five)
Stumbling to his feet, raising a hand to protect his eyes, Connor squinted into the unexpected glare. Off to his right, he could discern a frail old man’s silhouetted figure walking toward him within the brilliance.
“What? Who are you?”
“Someone you should trust.”
“I don’t understand.”
(connor time runs low)
“Wait! Where is that light coming from? Is that another fern flower?”
(connor a better life awaits take it)
“Ignore the voice! Yes, by God, it is another fern flower! Listen to me, Connor! You’re making a mistake!”
“What? I’m so confused! How do you know…?”
(connor the bloom fades)
“Using the flower is a mistake. What you’re asking for is wrong.”
“Asking for my fair share is wrong? You don’t understand. It’s humiliating how they treat me, my family, everyone living in orbit!”
“I know how you feel. But, this isn’t the right way.”
“You don’t know how I feel! You don’t know me!”
“I do because I remember. The exhilaration of stepping into a new world intoxicated me. I gave in to the temptation, ignoring the warning I felt, the warning you feel now. My greed destroyed me, leaving only anguish, robbing me of the joy I sought.”
“Who are you?”
“I’m you. I’m what you become. I am your future.”
“It’s true. Trust me, Connor. Wanting for nothing, having everything life offers is a lovely dream, but….”
“You’re lying, trying to trick me out of what I deserve!”
“No, I’m trying to save you and prevent me from ever happening.”
“This is crazy! The flower won’t give me what I want? The voice lies?”
“The voice speaks truthfully, but it does not reveal the cost of wishing.”
“Choosing this path will provide you with unimaginable wealth. But, you can never share it.”
“And that’s a bad thing? Surface-dwelling snobs hoard everything without consequence!”
“Connor, you will gain what you wish but lose everything you love. The fern flower’s power can never be used to help anyone else, even friends and family.”
“Hey! Disembodied voice! Is this true?”
(using the flower to help others will negate its power undoing your wish)
“Will my wish hurt my family?”
(no your good fortune need not come at their expense)
“See! I can make things better for myself. I’ll explain everything. My family will be happy for me. They’ll understand. Finally, I’ll be able to help them if there’s a real emergency. I’ll give everything up when I need to.”
“Connor, altering reality is dangerous. It changed me. I didn’t want to acknowledge it, but I began to think of myself as invincible, above the law. Justifying my actions became easier the further I slipped into the world I created for myself. But, it all came crashing down when Phoebe…when she….”
“What about Phoebe? Why are you crying? What happens to her?”
“I had the power to save her, but I hesitated. Addicted to the life I created, I feared losing the flower. I reasoned the odds of helping her were slim. I told myself I would sacrifice everything when all other options ran out, but I waited too long. She died unexpectedly from complications during an experimental procedure. My greed subjected her to needless suffering.”
“What? I’d never allow that to happen!”
“Connor, I’ve lived a privileged life, but I can’t say I enjoyed it. I’m ashamed to admit it, but my memories of enduring ridicule have always prevented me from doing the right thing. No matter how I tried to have it all, the flower has consistently denied me the true treasure of sharing my life with someone else.”
(infinite are the paths the flower offers with foresight you may choose differently)
“Yes, you’ve given me the warning I need.”
“No, don’t do this.”
“Why shouldn’t I enjoy the good life while I can? If I make wise decisions, nothing bad will happen.”
“Think of Phoebe.”
“I’ll write all this down! I promise to remember! I’ll be better than you!”
“Will you? Is it worth the risk? Will you accept wealth, power, and status now, knowing people you love might suffer and die because of it?”
“But, the voice says I can take a different path.”
“I beg you! Walk away from this evil!”
(it is time to choose)
His future self’s warning frightened Connor. He rejected the possibility of ever becoming this wretch. But, the thorny seed of doubt had been planted. No matter how he tried to pluck it out, the grotesque image of a bleak, lonely future grew, threatening to overwhelm him. He shook, cried, and stamped his feet as he gazed between the ugly old man and the exquisite flower.
“Connor, all the universes have to offer isn’t worth a damn thing without someone to share it.”
(will you take the flower)
Connor hesitated, hoping to ascertain the true strength of his character. He desperately wanted what his other classmates possessed but feared the uncertainty. He knew he couldn’t rule out the danger of making the same mistakes.
“Connor, reflect on the happiness you have now being amongst friends and family. Contentment comes in many forms.”
He recognized the truth in the old man’s words, realizing he only yearned to be accepted. Suddenly, he understood if Bright Star Academy couldn’t give him that, somewhere else could. Fate had dealt him a difficult hand, but he suspected changing reality should happen, moment by moment, throughout one’s life.
“I’m afraid I must decline. Some things are just too good to be true.”
0500 hours, June 21, 2433
Connor found himself abruptly standing in the meadow overlooking the school campsite. His teachers and classmates gathered quietly about the fading fire. He entered the circle and sat down next to a fellow student whose name he couldn’t remember.
“Where’ve you been, Connor?”
“Got lost. Thought I found something. Turned out to be nothing.”
“Well, you missed the excitement. Freddy fell into the river, trying to fish a wreath out. He almost drowned! Ironic, he’s so athletic but apparently can’t swim.”
“Must’ve been quite the sight.”
It occurred to Connor his classmate spoke to him normally without any hint of derision.
“Wait…why… why are you talking to me?”
“Ouch! But suppose I deserve that. Hey, I know I shouldn’t let those jerks intimidate me. And I’m sorry, Freddy and Brad give you such a hard time.”
“It has made things kind of rough.”
“Well, you seem like a nice guy. Anyway, I’m tired of letting them decide who’s cool and who’s not. Personally, I could care less if you live in orbit.”
“Now, I need to apologize. I’ve no idea what your name is. In my defense though, I don’t talk to anyone.”
“Nice to meet you, Nathan.”
Professor Dalton interrupted the quiet of predawn as he jumped up and down excitedly.
“Amazing, Dabrowski! That last spike in multidimensional radiation topped everything! I hope it didn’t damage my scanner. It’s completely silent now. I’m not even picking up the background levels we saw yesterday afternoon. Whatever it was, it’s gone now. But, I must say this has been a worthwhile experiment. Plenty of data to publish!”
“Ah, sorry to hear that, Dalton. Perhaps, the approaching dawn drives the denizens of Para away. Look, the sun’s beginning to rise.”
Connor smiled eagerly, facing east to witness his first sunrise. He couldn’t help but feel as if he had passed some test. He didn’t expect his difficulties to vanish, but he felt hope again.
1200 hours, June 21, 2507
Jeeves and Alfred waited, watching the sun climb higher and higher.
“It’s 12:00. Sir, has not returned. What does this mean?”
“Sir has found what he sought.”
“Per his instructions, seek out our new master in New Seattle.”
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!