(From the continuing Langford Joh Saga)
By William Alan Rieser
Langford seldom ate. The fabulous Prail throne sustained his bodily requirements without limit. On those occasions when he did want something to nosh, it was more out of habit than need. After indulging himself, the new Manic Lord would engage those scanners he used to read the dreams and dramas of absent friends, so that memories would remain potent in his imagination.
On one occasion, he happened to be probing a sequence of events in the mind of his old, foliant buddy, Byl Troif. That it happened to involve Earth induced him to give it more weight than he normally might have done. That it presented a potentially interesting outcome proved irresistible.
* * *
The mother, an exotic, willowy dancer long feted amongst her sister Bromeliadae, was far removed from epiphytic considerations, a rugged individualist by preference. Most were awed by her perfect breeding as seen in her sinuous display. She eschewed support of any kind, determined to be dependent upon none, be they rich and corpulent, soaked with excessive flow or simply available for the taking, however mundanely. Clinging rapidly degenerated into a less than suitable posture, for she had flowered into a perfumed, architectural magnificence of her own, fully capable of self-sufficiency. Her blossomed talent was well appreciated and lauded, regardless of whether the observers lived with her and saw it every day or were mere passers-by.
It was the children that taxed her concern, for the three could hardly fend for themselves in their tenderness. Their nourishment and education were hardly guaranteed. When beauty began to fade and her artistry suffered its first diminishment, she knew the remaining days in the sun's spotlight were short. She reached a fatal withering with an approaching culmination that could not be denied. She pronounced her joy fulfilled.
The nursery staff, in order to preserve the young ones, separated them from the mother's clutching arms and cradled them temporarily and singly, but near each other where they could still sense her lingering radiance. She continued to sustain them, even from a distance, and trained them in varied arts, gracefully caressing the vapored sustenance of life from the very air. Supplication she taught them with a new reverence and respect for the solar deity. Their roots were demonstrably preached with extolled virtue, schooled with a constant replenishment of mystical waters. Finally, the tutoring and mothering ended with soft demise. Yet even in death she gave of herself, providing a lasting memento of her caring and love, far more than dreams of beauty, rather her chromatic, photonic will, the legacy of her progeny.
The first air fern was sold to a household, the second to a plastics extrusion manufacturer and the third to a government employee. The brethren never breathed each other again and their paths diverged in ways never contemplated by the mother, in spite of her omniluvial wisdom. Of the three, it is probable that the first one sold lived most to its mother's expectations, for its buyers were not unaccustomed to breatharians. They, a human male and female, lived modestly in a small house in the country and knew much of subsistence living. A bark brace was provided for the epiphyte, not for parasitic reasons, but to give it a sinewy base of operations. It respired and grew well. If the air was too dry, no moisture available, the fern was sprayed with a cool refreshing mist or bathed in a tiny pool of vibrant aqua. Not so for the others.
The second was hung crudely in a factory office. It never again tasted air, but struggled mightily to absorb Freon from a bulky atmosphere conditioner, facing it alone across a bare room, devoid of green. Though the bromeliad stretched and begged for light, the overhead, over-bright luminescents gave little in return, surrounding the fern with wattage in a field of polarized electrons. When the child
began to shrivel and repel, the office workers thought to assist the stunted brownling with soil, tap-watering it every day, not knowing the futility. They were good people, caring and loving, but ignorant. Because of their lack of knowledge, the child fern died prematurely, starving and collapsed.
The journey of the third was the most dramatic, perhaps unique. Its handlers knew all there was to know of fernery and breathing, for they were scientists. There would be no lack of air or moisture though the sun must needs be artificial at times in their conception. The bromeliad was placed aboard an exploration craft and sent into the vacuum of space. It flourished, in spite of the conditions, for sunlight, when in proximity, was filtered to the fern through an elaborate system of silvered and golden lenses.
Unexpectedly, the craft was thrown off course, colliding with a tiny meteor. It was captured by a hitherto unknown dimensional warp field. Whatever the impetus, the craft soft-landed unintentionally on a sphere where it cracked open. Beings found and rescued the fern, exposing it to a new sun with different air and moisture. The nutrients absorbed had a profound effect on its development, for the epiphyte began to grow beyond its native capabilities. Soon, it exceeded the dimensions of its alien home and had to be carefully institutionalized. Then, once it outgrew the need for its birth platform, the fern eclipsed its genetics. The institution proved to be of insufficient size.
By the time the beings recognized the truth of the matter, it was too late for anything like a reasonable solution to the problem. Understandably, they were unaccustomed to such growth, especially amongst plants that demonstrated the ability to receive atmospheric culinaries. The fern mutated logically into a more appropriate form, a one-of-a-kind entity, replete with original organs, nervous system and endoskeletal structure. As sap flowed sanguine in its veins and capillaries, synaptic coordination became manifest. It achieved primitive sentience, teaching itself survival possibilities and accomplishing a rudimentary but satisfactory form of locomotion.
Clearly, the scientific community was unlearned in carnivorous greenery. When the first botanist attacked, intending destruction, the bromeliad defended itself successfully, wounding the being critically with thorns recently grown as part of its formidable armory. Large fleshy leaves imprisoned and smothered the former plant enthusiast and he was wholly absorbed, the fern afterwards exhibiting a
It did not wait for another attack, realizing the foolishness of allowing its food enough time to consolidate or escape. It wisely assumed the offensive, capturing a small family, swallowing ample sustenance to empower its proportions into a giant stature. This situation did not last, for the beings massed around the mutant and covered it with a net that paralyzed its unsophisticated movements. They tried
everything to affect or kill it, but could not. For every method utilized, the fern found a contingency to save itself from ruin. Finally the entities, distraught with their lack of progress and horrified by the unlimited prospects, forced the fern into one of their own craft and launched it into space. There the ship was deliberately exploded. But the fern, by this time, had achieved full flower, having reproduced thousands of spores.
The children now float patiently and thoughtful in space, housed safely in preserving husks, each determined to find their own system where they will undoubtedly continue to exercise the lessons learned from the third, gleaned from the mother not so long ago on Earth.
* * *
"Whenever I anticipate a little ennui, I have only to think of my old acquaintances," said Langford to his son, Iron Feather, after examining and explaining Byl Troif's dream. "A new universe is kaleidoscopically arranged for my perusal."
"Will you be doing something about the children?"
"Interrupt a new form in its life cycle? Certainly not! Not unless they get rambunctious with me personally or harass my friends."
"Didn't you say you were guarding this galaxy?"
"I am, but its basic rule is change. The ferns are a part of that, son. Besides, though I don't often have a chance to entertain myself any more, an ongoing serial does have its attractions."
"Yes. I understand. But some day, that one just might become a blockbuster."
Story © 2003 by William Alan Rieser firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo-Illustration © 2003 by Ray Dangel email@example.com
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