Science fiction meets fairy folklore in this short story about a young man’s struggles to find his way in a dystopian future.
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.
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!”
“Shall we get started, Dabrowski? I have conducted baseline scans for dimensional radiation, but I’m depending on you to guide us through these archaic rituals.”
The literature professor set his suitcases down near the bonfire, opening one with a flourish.
“Now, everyone, gather around. I’ve had costumes specially fabricated for this experiment. I think you’ll find them quite amusing.”
Connor’s classmates bunched forward, shoving him aside.
“Don’t touch anything, Orbit!” someone whispered.
“Yeah, careful! I hear Orbitals are allergic to everything down here. You could go into anaphylactic shock.”
“It’s like Orbitals aren’t even human.”
“Probably why resettlement restrictions exist. It’s for their own good.”
“Nah, if we let everyone back, it’ll ruin the climate again.”
Mortified, Connor fled to another part of the circle.
“Tonight’s the eve of the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Humanity has long revered the solstice, believing it a time when a portal to the fey realms opens.”
“Fey realms? Professor, is that another name for Para?”
“Yes, I suspect so. Now, I’ve brought along plenty of traditional Slavic costumes for anyone wishing to dress the part. The academy has graciously provided funding for replicas made with transforma-cloth. You’ll find everything adjusts to fit.”
“Professor, they’re so garish!”
“Ah, but that was the style.”
The students began picking through the pile of multicolored garments as Professor Dabrowski opened the other suitcase to reveal a jumble of clippings.
“Now, we have violet, rosemary, vervain, thyme, hyssop, mugwort, lavender, and St. John’s Wort.”
“What are we doing with flowers, Professor?”
“Making wreaths. These plants were believed to be magical, especially on Midsummer Night’s Eve.”
“Providing protection from wayward spirits or conversely attracting good luck. Some even claimed such herbs could help find true love.”
“What kind of field trip is this?”
“Don’t be gross!”
“I think it’s romantic!”
“Ladies, gentlemen, please control yourselves. Remember, this is a school function.”
“Professor, how’re a bunch of flowers going to find true love?!”
“Glad you asked! Simply weave them into a wreath and toss it into the river. If your suitor retrieves it without getting wet, rest assured knowing their love is true!”
“Why can’t we get wet?”
“Because of the rusalka.”
“Spirits lurking beneath the waters eager to lure helpless young men and women to their doom! Remember, the veil between worlds is at its weakest tonight!”
“I’m not afraid.”
“You’re an idiot.”
“It’s not real.”
“Para is real.”
“Yeah, this is just a superstition.”
“Ah, but we’re here to test that conviction. Are these truly just fairytales? Other dimensions and parallel universes hid around every corner. Science has proven this. Contact with the inhabitants of Para has cast everything into doubt.”
“You’re scaring me, Professor.”
“Rest assured, you’ll be completely safe provided you remain dry. In the event you fall into the water, our bonfire will ward you from harm. Its flames summon kindly faeries keen to bestow aid and good fortune.”
“Really? What kind of aid, Professor?”
“Success during the coming year or good health.”
“How about passing all my exams?”
“A worthy aspiration for all my students!”
“Professor, what’s special about the fire?”
“It’s the bravery displayed about the bonfire that’s important.”
“Our ancestors leapt the flames hoping to prove themselves worthy of otherworldly gifts, favors, and secret knowledge.”
“Like hidden treasure?”
“Most sought help procuring the fern flower, a rare blossom found only on Midsummer’s Eve.”
“And if you find it?”
“Discovery grants a wish.”
“We should try to find it!”
“Yeah, where do we look, Professor?”
“I should warn you. The flower is guarded. Legend says only true desperation reveals its location.”
Connor wondered why any of his classmates would ever need to find such a flower. Wishes were meaningless when you already had everything, he thought.
“Remember, everyone, make time to acquaint yourself with the dim-scanner. I’ve collected rather unusual readings with Professor Dabrowski’s arrival and subsequent lecture. Perhaps there is something to all this nonsense. Sorry, Dabrowski, no offense intended.”
“None taken, Dalton. You are, undeniably, a consummate man of science. Leave the imagining to me!”
With instructions given, the students dispersed. Some plopped near the fire with armfuls of cuttings for making wreaths, while others danced about waiting to jump the bonfire. Connor sat on the outskirts quietly surveying the antics. He found himself distracted by the countless fireflies flickering about in the surrounding darkness.
“Finished my wreath. Protect me as I toss it into the river, Brad?”
Connor watched the couple stumble off, giggling. As usual, everyone ignored him, but tonight he didn’t care. Leaning back on his elbows, he stretched his legs and gazed across the meadow. Above, the lights from Earth’s ring of artificial structures twinkled brightly. While trying to locate New Seattle, his eye was suddenly drawn to a glimmering glow near the forest’s edge. It appeared to him to be another fire. Startled, Connor jumped up to get a better view.
“Do you see that?”
Several heads turned toward Connor.
“Are you talking to us?”
“Ah…yes. Do you see that light?”
“They’re called fireflies, Orbit.”
“No, in the woods. See the light changing color?”
“I don’t see anything. You feeling ok?”
Out of character, Connor grabbed hold of someone walking by.
“Tell me you can see that!”
His classmate angrily brushed Connor’s hand away.
“Let go of me, Orbit! What do you think you’re doing?”
“What’s your problem?”
“I… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean….”
“He’s hallucinating or something.”
“You shouldn’t even be here.”
Embarrassed, feeling trapped, Connor’s eyes darted about frantically. Spying Professor Dalton, he rushed over to the man.
“Professor! Professor! Professor Dalton!”
“Connor? Whatever is the matter?”
Connor glanced quickly again to the forest seeing the light still blazed conspicuously. His stomach clenched, realizing he alone could see it. He paused to recollect himself.
“Sorry, Professor. Nothing’s wrong. Just a bit excited to be here.”
“I should say so.”
“Professor, I’m curious. Has the scanner picked up any indication of an actual dimensional rift developing nearby?”
“Why yes, Connor. I owe Dabrowski an apology. The readings are off the charts.”
“Any idea where?”
Surprised to hear such eagerness in his student’s voice, Professor Dalton quickly scrutinized Connor.
“Well, multidimensional radiation is high everywhere, but it increases significantly on this side of the bonfire.”
“Is the scanner difficult to use?”
“No, not at all. Give it a go, Connor. It’s straightforward enough once calibrated, which I accomplished painstakingly earlier. Simply point and press this button to capture a reading.”
“Have you scanned closer to the forest?”
“What? Well, no. I’ve focused my attention around Dabrowski’s activities.”
“Professor, may I sample levels further away from the bonfire?”
“A budding scientist, eh Connor? By all means, but let’s not stray far. Lady Science demands controlled methodical inquiry. Remember, our objective is to uncover any correlation between concentrations of dimensional radiation and reenacting superstitious practices.”
Walking several paces towards the woods, Connor took a measurement.
“Interesting, Connor! This warrants further investigation. Unquestionably, this uptick in energy suggests the presence of a nearby weakening of the division between our universe and the next.”
“Perhaps, the bonfire really does provide some kind of protection.”
“Interesting. Dabrowski will be delighted to hear this.”
“Where is Professor Dabrowski, sir?”
“He’s down by the river. The notion of treacherous spirits skulking about is absurd, but youthful shenanigans are not.”
“I’ll tell him what we found. Thank you, Professor!”
Convinced the source of the distant glow was multidimensional, Connor rushed off, determined to confide in Professor Dabrowski. Having misjudged the distance and his ability to navigate the darkness, he stopped to recover his bearings. His heart sunk, realizing the light had vanished. As Connor searched for it, the dazzling radiance rematerialized in the field before him. Staring in disbelief, he couldn’t shake the feeling it beckoned to him. Mesmerized, he stepped tentatively forward.
Startled, Connor halted. Rooted in place, he trembled, doubting his sanity.
(don’t stop now)
(follow the light all will be revealed)
An unbearable urge to enter the woods welled inside Connor. But, he found the light’s retreat into the dense undergrowth disconcerting. His courage failed at the forest’s edge.
“What do you want?”
(to help you connor)
“How do you know my name?”
(your mind is easy to read)
“Why couldn’t anyone else see the light?”
(you are the one chosen)
(you endure great unhappiness)
“Why should that matter?”
(is it wrong to remedy harm inflicted)
“No, but I don’t understand. Who are you? Why do you move deeper into the woods?”
(the gift resides there within)
(indulge your curiosity bravely follow the light)
“Why should I trust you?”
(risk abides in every action and refusal to act)
“What will I find?”
(what you already suspect)
“The fern flower?”
Connor wrestled with conflicting emotions. Endless possibilities ran through his mind. Although the offer tempted him, experience had taught Connor nothing in life was truly free. He supposed interacting with another dimension could have unforeseen consequences. Faltering, he tried to decide whether to play it safe and return to the bonfire or accept the risk, follow the light and take his fair share of wealth and privilege.
“Stay there. Don’t move. I’m coming.”
Connor tramped forward, pushing through the brush until he stepped into a hollow filled with radiant light emanating from a floating orb of energy. A large oak stood in the middle, its branches thickly overhanging to create a secluded grotto. Nestled between the tree’s gnarled roots, a beautiful woodland fern grew. Fine motes of light drifted down from underneath its fronds, coating the ground with glittering dust. A golden stem extended up in its center, bearing a magnificent flower.
Connor watched the luminous sphere descend and merge with the blossom to cast an array of iridescent light through its translucent petals. Connor felt an intense heat radiating from the bloom.
(rarely do mortal eyes gaze upon the ferns fiery blossom)
“I… I am honored.”
(do you know the magic it holds)
“Professor Dabrowski says it has the power to grant wishes.”
“If I wish for something, will it happen right away?”
(the magic works subtly until time brings your desire to fruition)
“How’s this possible? Magic isn’t real in this world.”
(what you call magic is simply energy capable of shifting reality bringing desired aspects from countless parallel universes into this one)
“I want to be like my classmates. I want to live on the surface. I want to be respected and admired. I want the life they have!”
(ask for limitless wealth the rest will follow)
Connor crept closer to the fern. Variegated light illuminated his body as he fell to his knees. Tentatively, he extended a hand to touch the flower.
“Do I pick the blossom?”
(fear not the bloom is imperishable utter a wish pluck it forever yours to keep)
The crack of snapping wood and crunching leaves startled Connor out of his reverie. He vainly searched the surrounding darkness, his eyes struggling to adjust. He suddenly suspected someone had followed him. The thought angered him.
“Hello? Who’s there?”
(a woodland creature ignore it make your wish)
Connor recalled his mother’s fear of wildlife.
“Animal? It sounds huge.”
(the hour grows late)
Detecting a trace of irritation in the voice’s tone, Conner again reconsidered accepting help from the multidimensional entity. But, his qualms fled as he turned back to behold the flower’s ethereal beauty. An intense desire for wealth and status reconquered him.
“Yes, of course. You’re right. I’m sorry.”
Energy pulsed up his hand as he grasped the flower, numbing his entire arm. The stem resisted his pull.
(state your desire to reap the bloom)
A dazzling flash accompanied by the crackle of arching electricity interrupted Connor’s wish.
“Wait! Stop! Say nothing! There’s something you need to know!”
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.”