The fair folk and my family have a relationship that goes back generations. We’re not sure if they’ve been living with us, or just visit us at night, but they’ve been around, and making their presence known, sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly, for centuries. Only once or twice has any give family member ever actually glimpsed one of them, and each of us who has seems to have seen something different than everyone else.
Some saw little cherubs, with rosy fat cheeks, a nimbus of soft golden hair, and an effervescent glow about them, toddling around a corner and just out of sight. Others, miniscule fiery imps, with bodies of flame leaping free of the fireplace, skittering around the room to light all the candles about the room, then disappearing back into the roaring fire. One family member described rubbery green goblins with pointy ears and razor sharp teeth, hunched over as if over some nightly prey. Then there are the depictions of many long-armed, snub-nosed dwarves, all gathered around and pounding upon broken furniture. And, of course, there were more reports, some only drawings in family journals, others passed down by word of mouth from father or mother to son or daughter.
Despite the innumerable conflicting characterizations of them, they have always seemed to benefit us in one way or another. Broken furniture mysteriously repaired overnight. Empty coffers threatening starvation upon the family suddenly became full to overflowing, and harassing tax-men suddenly ceased calling. For our part, we always left little offerings for them, as tradition dictated – usually little candies or cakes, always something sweet.
We had lived in the same house for all those generations. It was an old wood-frame house sitting atop a hill overlooking Bad Toelz and the River Isar. Every Sunday we would be awakened by the sounds of church bells echoing around town and across the valley, and every November the horses came down the street, sporting flowers, braids, ribbons and garlands in their annual pilgrimage that is the Leonhardifahrt. The pastoral view from our windows revealed rolling green hills with the deep blue waters of the river Isar flowing past. And yet, even with the beauty of Bad Toelz, when the first real civilian apartments were made available on the space city Horizon, we leapt at the chance to live in space, to see the Earth from above, and we purchased a rather large condominium. It wasn’t long before we left our old roots behind and moved into our new abode in the sky.
It really didn’t take us long to settle into the station. At first it was odd trading in walls of wood, stone, and plaster for ones of metal and plastic. And it took even more getting used to stepping out or front door not into fresh air and greenery, but into a long grey hallway. We did have windows, which looked out upon a rotating panorama of stars, with the Moon, Earth, and Sun each separately rising, crossing our new black sky, and setting. When our homeworld was in the sky, that great blue, brown, and green marble with the white sworls filled a quarter of the sky. It was truly a magnificent site to behold.
We had given no thought as to what would happen with our familiar friends – they’d just been around but out of sight so much that they really didn’t come to mind. I suppose it might have seemed logical for them to not follow us – after all, every tale of the fair folk has them as enemies of technology, and not its adherents. And so, it really took over a month of us neither seeing nor hearing any indications of their activities that we actually began to wonder if we’d left them behind.
Silly mortals. We watched over their family for many of their short-lived generations. They always thought in their terms, never really understanding the way things truly are. Time they see through their eyes, on their short scale. One passing of the moon, and they thought we were gone. But, no, we followed. We found this clan to be of interest, and, plus, they gave us sweets. We like sweets.
They seemed to think that if we did not follow them in their tin vessel that we would not be able to. But what you mortals do not understand, is your world is not the only one. There are many, and we do not have to pass through the same void as you to pass from one to another. We simply step from one place to another, and we are there. And so we did.
Life in the station had its perks. There was no unemployment, for one. Station government saw to it that everyone aboard was put to work in some manner that matched their talents. Father was made a member of government, as he had quite the knack for leadership and organization. Myself, I was signed on to the station news service, hired to write scripts for the newscasters and copy for the online news journals. Mother became a trainer in the nearby gymnasium. We all liked our jobs quite a bit, though of course we each had some small things to complain about.
For mother, one of her complaints involved a rather smelly rotund not-so-gentleman who kept arranging to be in her classes, or to get personal sessions with her. He relentlessly hit on her, and constantly invaded her personal space. She was at the point that she was quite ready to refuse any further sessions with him when he just stopped showing up in the gym. We never quite figured out what happened to him.
The red-haired matriarch complained of a corpulent individual creating discomfort for her. We decided to investigate. We decided to pay him a visit.
The day the family’s fair friends took interest in the mother’s annoyance was a very bad one for him indeed. Completely blissfully unaware of the tragedy coming his way, he left the gymnasium that evening with his towel slung over his shoulder, shirt rising up above the bulge of his belly, sweat still dripping off his grimy forehead, and a jaunty tune whistling from between his pudgy lips. As he casually strolled down the corridors, people moved to avoid contact with him, as it was quite clear to all but him that no one really wanted to share in his copious perspiration.
Upon entering his apartment, he tossed the crusty yellowed towel upon a pile of other similar grungy garments and shuffled his way through scattered piles of pizza boxes, magazines, and other thoughtlessly cast-off debris. Making his way to the restroom, he closed the door and plopped himself down upon the toilet, its seat giving quite a groan as he did so. It was then, with his view of the rest of his apartment cut off, that the gremlins and sprites who’d been following him unseen went about their work.
Out from a crack in the wall, stepped a wizened little green creature, which immediately began to climb up the wall and across the ceiling with the agility of a spider. Its triangular razor-shaped teeth shown as it grinned widely, and its horizontally pointed ears wiggled as it began to worry at a sensor fit into the center of the ceiling. Nimble knobby fingers soon had the casing removed and it begin to gleefully pull wires from the exposed circuitry within. Sparks flew as it did so, bouncing off the detritus below.
First one, then two, then three of the sparks failed to fade to lifeless cinders, as they are wont to do. Instead, each one of the three sprouted miniscule barbed legs and arms which seemed to lack any feet or hands. The Lilliputian lights leapt from dirty socks to begrimed bed to disarrayed dishes and thence upon bestacked empty pizza boxes, trailing tidbits of flickering flames which bit deep into every bit of dungy detritus. Papers and garbage flared to life and soon a conflagration spread to consume everything within the room. The heat rose, and with it, the roaring crackle of fire.
When the bathroom door finally opened, it was to a veritable inferno, through which no path led to the condominium’s exit. With the fire sensors disabled, no one came to check upon the disaster until the portly man was already well and thoroughly cremated.
And with that our play was ended for the day.
As we never heard from mother’s harasser again, she was quite relieved she did not have to deal with him, nor confront management concerning him. Not soon thereafter, I had to cover a fire in one of the station’s apartments. The owner never stepped forward, and nobody was able to locate him. Ironically, station maintenance attributed the conflagration to a faulty smoke alarm.
A direct result of that was an immediate order by the governors to have all smoke alarms on the station inspected to ensure no further faults existed. Well, not immediate exactly. My father attempted to put through the order, but another bureaucrat decided that this was clearly an invasion of residents’ privacy and therefore must be blocked. There were some rather clamorous council sessions as various politicians attempted to use sheer volume to prove that their point was clearly the correct course of action.
This went on for some days until one of my father’s opponents chose to discredit my father by impugning his character, putting forth allegations that he was having an affair. He even hired a private detective to snoop about our family concerns. That got pretty annoying fast, as it’s rather difficult to trail someone unnoticed in a space station, so the detective and his lackeys were pretty obvious. We asked them to back off, but, they refused since we couldn’t offer them more money than their employer was paying them.
What our mortal friends didn’t know was those same stalkers invaded their dwelling space whilst they were absent. We took the opportunity to follow them to their masters.
The sleuths were careful to leave everything as close to how they found it as possible. It wouldn’t do to leave traces of their breaking and entering. Not finding any evidence pointing to the conclusion they were hired to reinforce, they exited the dwelling, carefully locking it behind themselves, then progressed in a most circuitous route around the station to meet up with their boss. Once or twice the paranoid professionals thought they saw something out of the corner of their eyes, but, when they stopped and turned to see what it was, there was nothing there but the usual pedestrian traffic about on their day-to-day business.
Contrary to the popular belief that all shady business deals must be conducted in some dark secluded area, such as a warehouse, alley, a curtained booth in a bar, or in an Italian restaurant, this is not always the case. This particular one, in fact, was taking place in the quite well-lit and quiet of one of the many observation decks. The detective for whom the sleuths worked as leaning against a guard-rail with his back to an enormous single-paned window which at that moment was framing a view of the cratered and pocked surface of the moon. Standing next to him, with his hands on the rails, and peering out the giant aperture, was an individual they all recognized as one of the station councilmen. Choosing discretion as the better part of valor, the three thugs chose to hang back and not interrupt the conversation.
What the conversation concerned is quite irrelevant, as its content never was shared or acted upon beyond the confines of the observation deck. No sooner had the three arrived than above the edge of the window, on the outside looking in, peaked the head of an olive-skinned creature, quite similar to the one which had made an appearance in the burned-down apartment. Its pointed ears twitched and it grinned a toothy grin, and then reached up with a clawed hand and began to rake the tips of its talons across the Plexiglas.
With a *screeeeech* the claws cut deep furrows into the glass, startling all five men in the lounge. They all turned and stared gape mouthed at the impossible sight of a living creature on the outside of the station, seemingly surviving quite well in vacuum. Another skriiiik and it carved deeper clefts into the pane, and the three ran forward waving their arms, screaming “Stop! Stop!” as if it could hear them through the bulkhead. It’s reply, to their dismay, was not to stop in its efforts of vandalism, but rather to raise its arm, shape its boney hand into a fist, and then, with a grass-crackling *thump* drop that hand down upon the pane with all its might.
Rapidly, cracks began to spiderweb out from the gouges the creature had cut into the glass. The men gasped in astonishment, and all turned to flee the room, only to find that the doors through which they had entered were all closed and sealed tight. Vainly, they pulled and pried upon the hatches. In their failure to open an exit, they began to pound upon the doors, screaming incoherently to be let free. Behind them, the cracks spread and widened until, with a snapping crash, the window gave and burst outward.
A gale wind briefly dominated the room as the air quickly rushed out. The detective, his thugs, and the councilman all grabbed hold of furniture, and all managed to stay firm where they were. And yet, it availed them not. Man doesn’t survive long in a vacuum.
The little mortals twitched like mice. It was amusing.
When we found out about the failure of the observation bay window, and the death of the councilman and his hired detectives, the city council tried to persuade the news service to bury the story. We refused, of course – freedom and responsibility of the press, and all. It caused quite a stir, and resulted in my father not only succeeding in getting the smoke alarm inspections passed, but inspections of every single window and porthole on the station as well. It also spiked an interest in news, giving us some great ratings for a while, but that soon died out when other such tragic events failed to materialize.
And continued to do so. In fact, the remainder of the year was rather bland. Exciting newsworthy material was as elusive as air in space. My articles became more and more monotonous, and soon we were doing pieces on the station’s sixth grade science classes running out of test tubes for their experiments. We really needed a change in pace – something dramatic was needed.
It saddened us to see our mortal friends in such doldrums. We elected to enliven events for them. For this, we searched thoroughly through their odd metal living environs, and soon we found exactly what we wanted. The power called to us.
At the very heart of the station lay its power source – a 200 terawatt fusion reactor. The great machine was constantly monitored by an array of sophisticated sensors and artificially intelligent computers. It was housed suspended in the center of a spherical supercooled chamber accessible by one of three hatchways. The enormous magnetic coils that generated its containment field thrummed with power nonstop. The reactor itself was spherical, with tubed blisters budding equidistantly from each other around it. These were the housing for the powerful lasers that were used to initiate the fusion reaction, and themselves were quiescent since startup.
Seven months from the date of the observation lounge debacle, one of the cooling chamber’s access hatches slid open with a soft hiss, and an inrushing visible cloud of warm air. Through the portal shambled three stooped figures, each with long, dragging arms. Appearing to stand about half the height of an average man, each gnomish creature had short pug noses, immensely bushy eyebrows, and forward-thrusting foreheads. Across the gangways they shuffled, scraping their knuckles across the frost-encrusted metal with nary a notice.
As the dwarves approached the reactor and its magnetic containment coils, they each began to hum, their pitch rising up and down, then up and down in short and shorter intervals, wavering around the same tone that emanated from the coils. Soon, they all found its note, and their humming stabilized into a single harmony, echoing throughout the chamber. Spreading out around the reactor, they raised their long arms in the air, then brought them down towards the reactor, stopping at waste level. As they did so, their tone rose in volume with a heavy *throon*, and the coils thrumming itself rose in volume in response. Again their arms rose and fell, and again theirs and the engine’s tone rose in volume. And a soft glow began to envelop the heavy magnets. A third time they repeated their motion, and a third time the harmony intensified. The glow grew brighter. Again and again their arms rose and fell, and again and again the chorus grew louder and the radiance brighter, until, with a BANG that resonated throughout the bulkheads of the entire station, the magnets bent and snapped.
Immediately the thrumming noise ceased.
But then, as the stooped figures turned to shamble back across the gangway and out the door, it was replaced by another, more ominous rumbling. The reactor itself began to glow red hot, and the frost on the gantries began to darken and melt. Brighter and hotter the engine grew, and louder, deeper, and more threatening the rumble became. Soon, cracks began to form on the surface of the reactor’s sphere, and through those cracks great beams of blinding light began to shine.
No sooner did those cracks appear than the reactor, its cooling chamber, and the entire station were engulfed in the great plasma ball of a short-lived miniature star.
We have to admit, we did not anticipate such power from the mortal device. We may have to be more careful when enriching the lives of our next friends. It is sad that we now have to move on, but their lives were always short as it was. We shall have to raise a glass of mead in their name.