While perusing the news recently, I came across a top-ten list of glitzy jobs, which can, in reality, be quite horrible. Top of the list was publishing/writing.
Beyond entertaining us, I don’t think the reporter hoped to dissuade anyone from pursuing a demanding, onerous career. But, the cautionary article reminds us there’s a reason we refer to one’s profession as work.
I love writing and equally hate it. But, I cannot ignore the call to create.
Submitting stories to publishers for consideration is a rite of passage for aspiring authors. Experiencing rejection is inevitable. Knowing this helps, but it still stings.
After thinking it over, I decided to post the first story I felt brave enough to submit for publication. It also holds the distinction of being the first rejection! It will forever remind me of dipping my toe into the maelstrom of professional writing for the first time. Ha! Perhaps I sound dramatic, but I’d ask you to forgive me for indulging a freshly bruised ego!
This past Monday marked the beginning of August and the ancient Gaelic holiday, Lughnasadh. It’s midsummer, and the harvest times have arrived. I often revisit Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream around now and consequently find myself musing about faeries. It seems to be an apropos time to share my sci-fi/fantasy mash-up tale about a twenty-fifth-century young man’s strange encounter with the fey on the summer solstice.
The original short story is a bit long to post all at once on my blog. I will dole it out over a series of shorter episodes.
“The Fern Flower Summons”(Part One)
1900 hours, June 20, 2507
The orbital cities encircling Earth dominated the twilight sky like a bejeweled girdle of brilliant light, occulting even the brightest stars. Beneath them, an old man gazed blissfully across a meadow, admiring the fireflies.
“More this year. A good omen.”
Peering beyond to the forest, he frowned.
“Jeeves, Alfred, I’ll continue on alone.”
The servant droids waited with the luxury hovercraft.
“What’s this about?”
“Faeries and flowers.”
“Sir has solemnly observed solstice for eleven years now.”
“What does Sir seek in the forest?”
“I know not, but he always returns disappointed.”
0600 hours, June 19, 2433
Earning the opportunity to attend an elite academy on Earth had been difficult. But Connor had succeeded. Knowing most people struggled to afford even a brief once-in-a-lifetime vacation to the planet underscored his good fortune. But, before long, Connor realized obtaining a scholarship to Bright Star Academy didn’t equate to earning social parity with his surface-dwelling classmates. After weeks of failing to fit in, ignored by most and taunted by some, he became increasingly self-conscious about being the only Orbital at school.
Catching the academy’s private shuttle down to campus in Buenos Aires required waking a couple hours early, but Connor didn’t mind. He thought that being able to ride aboard the luxury transport made up for it.
“Good Morning. How’s New Seattle’s future poet laureate?”
“Morning, John. Tired and hungry.”
On the first day, Connor thought the shuttle pilot was teasing him but soon realized the man spoke with a sense of comradery. John explained Orbitals had to stick together when navigating amongst the surface folk.
“Hop in. Tonya’s serving up coffee and the usual surface-style breakfast.”
Connor noted only one other person in the cabin, an unfamiliar professor, sipping coffee and reviewing his papers. He settled into a plush, spacious seat next to a large window. Connor loved observing the stark, inky contrasts of space gradually morph into the hazy, soft blue of the planet’s atmosphere. While selecting something from the menu, he heard a warning chime.
“Unexpected magnetic field disturbance. Possible solar wind uptick. Departure delayed approximately twenty minutes.”
“Damn!” Connor muttered.
He hated being late; it only accentuated that he lived in orbit. Two of his classmates relentlessly bullied him because of it. Connor fretted, anxiously watching the minutes pass until the shuttle gained permission to leave.
“Finally! I just might make it in time.”
As the shuttle neared Earth, Connor saw the Andes looming far off in the west. Below, green, gold, and brown patches of farmland spread across the extensive Pampas. Buenos Aires lay further off with the Rio de la Plate estuary glittering behind it. Connor longed to explore these places, but his travel documents only allowed him to attend school.
He grew up with stories about a dark past when people fled a toxic, used-up planet for an artificial sanctuary in space. Time and technology promised a chance to return one day, but most were still waiting. His father, like many, argued against continuing the draconian resettlement restrictions. Connor wasn’t interested in politics, but the flights back and forth to school had opened his eyes to the vast disparity between life on the planet and that above.
After landing on the school grounds, Connor sprinted to class, eager to get there on time. Just outside the door, he paused to catch his breath. Hearing disorderly chatter, he peeked inside, finding no sign of Professor Dabrowski. Confused, he checked the time only to discover how late he was. Quietly entering, Connor tried unsuccessfully to avoid attention while taking his seat.
“Incoming! Falling from orbit fast!”
“Nope, space junk.”
Snickering percolated the unsupervised classroom.
“Hey, Orbit. Trouble landing?”
Connor sunk further into his chair, reddening.
“Security quarantine you again?”
“Probably took one look at your face and sent you to decontamination.”
Connor ignored the taunts knowing any reaction only prolonged the harassment. Relief washed over him seeing a disheveled man jog into the room.
“Class, sorry I’m late!”
“Good morning, Professor Dabrowski.”
The salutation stopped the old man short. Warily scrutinizing the room, he smiled.
“Yes, it is a lovely morning. I confess I had my doubts.”
Shuddering dramatically, he scowled.
“Administrative meetings. Wretched things.”
Post-apocalyptic literature heartened Connor, giving him a reason to continue attending Bright Star Academy. While his privileged classmates sneered at Professor Dabrowski’s antiquated mien, Connor basked in it. The old man’s appearance harkened hundreds of years back to the 21st century. Eschewing modern fabrics, the teacher’s clothes consisted of scratchy, natural fibers incapable of acclimating to the environment. The man actually endured perspiration.
“Before beginning, I’m delighted to inform you of a last-minute opportunity to earn extra credit this weekend!”
The class groaned.
“Now, none of that. I expect you’ll feel differently learning what Professor Dalton introduced to the faculty today.”
“A dimensional scanner.”
“How’d the academy pull that off?”
“Aren’t dim-scanners classified?”
Professor Dabrowski raised a hand for silence.
“Fortunately, our headmaster worked intimately with the scientists involved in humanity’s first contact with Para, our interdimensional neighbor.”
“Professor, didn’t Dean Choi lead the Orbital Collider Project before coming to Bright Star?”
“Professor, what’s the Orbital Collider Project?”
Disbelief punctuated the air.
“What? Am I the only one in the dark?”
“Probably not; I applaud your bravery in admitting it. Allow me to illuminate. The Orbital Collider is where astrophysicists first created a stable micro-singularity, making it possible to interact with parallel universes.”
“Oh yeah! Like Para! I knew that.”
“Yes. Well, done. Now, due to these connections, Dean Choi’s been invited to join the I3 Taskforce.”
Someone raised a hand.
“Yes, sorry. The Interdimensional, Interspatial, Intertemporal Agency.”
“Can I use the lavatory?”
Rolling his eyes, Professor Dabrowski nodded.
“Professor, how does this relate to the dim-scanner?”
“The headmaster’s tasked the faculty with finding ways to incorporate this new technology into the curriculum. Professor Dalton and I volunteered to pilot using the dimensional scanner with students.”
“Well, upon hearing communication between worlds is possible, myths and fairytales immediately came to mind.”
“Those are children’s stories, Professor.”
“I’m convinced there may be a kernel of truth to them. Let’s consider. Is it possible stories of fairy circles, hidden kingdoms, and magic portals were simply primitive attempts to make sense of frightening encounters with interdimensional beings?”
“The dim-scanner, Professor?”
“Oh, yes! We’ve organized an excursion to my ancestral homeland of Poland, during which we shall endeavor to reenact the ancient rituals of the summer solstice. Professor Dalton will assist students in deploying the scanner to capture fluctuations in dimensional radiation throughout our visit. I, for one, am quite eager to learn if any of the old customs will have any measurable impact.”
Connor’s pulse quickened, wondering where he’d find the money to go on the trip. He knew he’d have to find his own way to the surface. Unlike his peers, his family didn’t own a transport.
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!