Silversong was fading! The signs had been rather clear to me for some time. Her eyes were beginning to lose the sparkle and the charm that were her usual characteristic, and her gaze was often far away. When you spoke to her, she seemed to wait some while before speaking in answer, and it was as if she hadn’t actually heard you, and her answers sometimes were very disconnected from what you hoped for as far as relevance to the question.
I decided it was up to me to bring this to Commander Kandeliac’s attention. As the ship’s chandler I was well aware of the stock of lux available to our crew members, and I knew that we didn’t actually have enough to make it to Earth—our destination, our last assignment for this mission, and the one we all knew would perhaps be the most perilous before our return to Lux.
Kandeliac was in his cabin, resting, and reading up on some of the more disturbing situations which had developed since our last visit to earth three decades ago. Things continued to go in fashion “against us”— meaning that, we, the faerie kingdom, were held now in even more disbelief than ever. It was not easy, whereas, two hundred years ago, we still held some sway and power over the dominant creatures, the humans. Now they sneer at the idea that we even exist. Whether this was due to the overabundance of their religious zealots, or the manifestation of grievous popularity of what they now termed “materialist reductionism in science” was unclear.
Actually it was moot Kandeliac had told me because either way, our once prominent influence over them was, like Silversong, beginning to fade into the lost regions of the past.
“Commander, I wish to inform you that—”
“—That it seems to me that we’re losing Silversong. She is beginning to fade...”
“You know this?”
“I suspect it. She has taken to wearing dark glasses, she is evasive and reluctant to answer when queried, and she seems so... distant nowadays.”
“Steward Silversong is one of my most highly regarded crew members, Metaleaf. You should not make such allegations lightly.”
“I’m not, Commander, but it just feels to me that the symptoms are becoming undeniable. She needs Lux, or she will indeed, be faded before we complete the mission.”
“I made sure that she had the supply she would have needed before we shoved off. Now what could be going on that she should have run out of supply so quickly?”
“I do not know sir. Perhaps she has been abusing—I mean, over-doing it at meals.”
“And we have how much in our stores?”
“We have barely enough to make it back to Lux as it is once we leave Earth.”
Kandeliac scratched his chin and wrote something on a clipboard.
“I want Silversong to report to me at the start of her next watch. It would be terrible for us to lose one our most valuable and respected elders before we have a chance to return. The Oberon’s mission has been rather successful so far, don’t you think? And regardless what they say back at Central Command, no fairy is expendable. We never leave one behind. And I do not wish to return to Lux with a sick crewmate. Then CC will only ask questions, and for those I myself have no answer.”
I silently nodded. I left the Commander to his reading, and made my way to Silversong’s quarters.
When I found her, she was herself staring out the portholes toward the galaxy Andromeda. It was something many of us did if we felt homesick, although we were as much a part of this great Milky Way as any other lifeforms here. For some reason though, Andromeda held a mystical pull for us, much as it’s said the planet Venus has for humans. I quietly walked up behind her and tapped her shoulder.
There was barely a flinch or a budge, but slowly, she turned and faced me. Her wings were folded under her arms, and again the listless cloudiness of her eyes was frightening.
“Metaleaf. How kind of you to visit me. Have you brought my lux?”
I could not tell her that the lux stocks were actually so low for the ship that they were not being distributed on request any longer, but only to be used in extreme emergencies.
“Silversong, Commander Kandeliac would like you to grace him with your presence on your next watch. Immediately, before it begins.”
“I understand. Do you know what it is like, Metaleaf? To know you are fading? How little time we really have, when we begin we feel we have unlimited time. Yes, being immortal has its drawbacks too! Nobody tells you that one day you will fade. Everything is fine so long as you manage your lux correctly. But alas! I can feel it. You do not need to tell me you notice, I know, everyone notices. There is a certain spell that drops over you, like a curtain falling on a sudden scene, so quickly that the victim hardly realizes. But I have known this for many years now. I began hoarding my lux and taking it more often than I really needed. Perhaps this was my vanity that has brought me to this! “
“Metaleaf, I do not know, and do not know if you told the commander”—
“That I did.”
“Then that will be what he needs to discuss with me. How bright you are, Metaleaf! Lose never that bright spark within you! O for the woe of me, that my own should have flown so close to the flame! Now I must pay for it, I fear. Yes, Metaleaf, I will go to see the captain.”
I thought I saw one tear rolling down her cheek, but, embarrassed, I said nothing, turned, and went back to the inventories. I had much to prepare for when we reached Earth, for as chandler, I needed to bring all the essential elements for the great celebration when we returned to Lux. They would all be expecting it there—the pollens, petals, stamens, pistils of four dozen different earth flowers and plant seeds, and it was up to me to be sure our foraging parties achieved our goals.
Of course I was the correct one for the job. I had been to Earth before, and my training at the School of Knowledge well prepared me to know all the flora and fauna of Earth by sight as well as by name. How I love the cypress, laurel, pine, aspen, and olive! The pine, elm, poplar, birch and cedar! The maple, mulberry, hawthorn, ash and rowan! And long to taste my self of the nectar of hibiscus and roses! There are plants, indeed, in high demand back on Lux, and to think of the tons needed to keep the thousands of fairies who would be attending our King’s Celebration, my head was almost dizzy. But such high demand meant we would be busy yet for days, the Oberon moored in some sylvan glade, our cloaking fields on full stealth as my shore parties flew from dawn to dusk in search of the requisitions. But I had thought that all I need worry about ha been my task— I had no idea that I might be the one to discover Silversong’s ailment, and to bring it to Commander Kandeliac’s full attention.
Silversong had indeed been to Earth before, as Kandeliac reminded me. Kandeliac himself was too a veteran of our last great era of conquest of the humans... some four hundred years ago now, by the manner human time is reckoned. The retreat was sudden and no one held it against our King to have called it. But after thousands of centuries when we strode the Earth with impunity, until the age when the humans began to mock us and use us as figures of satire and literature, our patience had worn thin with these upstart creatures.
I mention that I have the power of speech with the other animals. And that, indeed, I might call any of them to me by name. These I know and mean are my favorites of all— the deer and rabbit, especially. How good it is when we are gathered near a favorite bush and they tell us how much they prefer it too! Or that they will let us get “first pick” of something, for they know we are both their shepherd and their superior, even though we be alien to their world. Our evolution suffered little from our time on the earth—indeed, there was a theory long held at the School of Knowledge that our own characters had been longtime impressed by the strictures of the earthly physic. So much so that it was often easy to get the humans to believe that we were a part of their world and not from so far off away in their space-time. One of our greatest (and final) accomplishments had been getting the humans to believe we were their ‘nature spirits” indigenous to their world! It surely helped our propaganda and our usual relations with humans, at least for a long long while. Until Oberon called the retreat, and left behind only few intelligence reporters. It was the morale of those we were most worried about, and were a secondary cause for the mission.
Those who had remained behind on the earth fought an ever uphill battle. Human psychologists and scientists had been busy for those four hundred years in convincing their fellow humans that in some fashion, we were not real. As most of us had fled, and there were few to challenge this assumption in the minds of most mortals, it might be easily seen how this could be believable in the mass. But there was also their science itself, which truly was our mortal enemy. The humans had declared their own positive dominion over their world, and entitlement to every thing upon or within it. So that they smelted metals and forged strange devices to transport themselves thereabouts. Nothing on the level of our interstellar technology, of course, but worrisome in the highest degree.
The humans had learned the composition of elements of their atmosphere and lithosphere and used this in order to better oppress not only each other, but all the flora and fauna which had flourished under our care. But even as they gained this knowledge, they undid themselves mightily with the characteristic chauvinism of ignorance, that even as they claimed this dominion, they should begin to foul their own nests, lining them with fancy paper (or gold) and depositing their wastes willy-nilly beside them. It was most unseemly, that a race that believed themselves so grand could act so outrageously, but we were never truly the shepherds of their condition—for as we could tell, their “science” led them ever further astray by the day from their original status as planetary stewards themselves. And above all it claimed that simply we “did not exist!”
All the same. My job was to bring back the food for the festival and not to quibble about what the Central Command considered the propaganda value of this voyage.