Blinn O’nin scurried after Chancellor Onka, whose purple cape flapped like a lilac flame fueled by the anger in the man’s retreating footsteps. The leafy summer gardens of Onka Mansion went by in a blur, as Blinn dodged fat toadstools and hopped over slippery, moss-covered stones, trying to keep up with the sure-footed elder.
Regretfully, Blinn looked behind him to catch a glimpse of exotic foliage, committing the colors to memory. He doubted a chance to study rare botany would come again. If things kept going wrong, as they had at the mansion, he was sure to be fired before day’s end.
“Your pardon, please. If…if I may speak?” Blinn implored, gulping for air and hoping the man would stop, catch a breath, but the chancellor mounted the mansion steps. No doubt, Onka would slam the front door in Blinn’s face. Desperate, Blinn reached toward him. “Your pardon, my patron!”
At the very top of the stairs, the chancellor stopped. With a sharp click of a thin high heel, Onka pivoted around to face him. A look of aristocratic, sizzling displeasure etched the patron’s creased, high forehead and downward turned lips. His cold blue eyes narrowed a bit, as he stared down his thin nose at the botanist’s apprentice.
“I am your unfortunate employer, but I am most certainly not your patron,” Onka admonished, his baritone as lilting as it was barbed. “I am the Patron of Iltor Cosmos Academy and the most benevolent”–he placed a bejeweled hand to his heart–“most humble chancellor for those young minds of space exploration. Are you a young, bright mind? Hmm?”
Blinn swallowed and shook his head. He knew he wasn’t the brightest daisy in the field, but he didn’t mind. Well, as long as others didn’t mind, either.
“Now where is your boss?” Onka demanded.
Blinn didn’t exactly know. His gaze slid sheepishly away from his employer.
Onka groaned. “Where the devil is Gugar? Only he can help me. This is such a disappointment!”
“Begging your indulgence, sir,” Blinn pressed. “Perhaps I can help. I’ve been studying under Gugar nearly three years, and he trusts my abilities enough to send me here in his stead.”
“Yes, well–” Onka sniffed, fiddling with his pinky ring. “Only on the condition Gugar gets here as soon as possible. I can’t be kept waiting all day.” With a huff, the patron turned and commenced his brisk walk. Blinn hopped in step beside him.
“What should I tell him?” Blinn asked.
“Oh, I will show it to you. A water leak from the tube vases has spilled onto my beautiful white tiles.” Onka sighed dramatically and mounted the second set of steps to his grand home. “This way, in the foyer.”
The patron paused at the door to touch a beautiful Thedunan peach cactus, its skin glowing orange with soft fur-like needles. “In the Terran Botanical Collection. I really have no idea what is causing it. It’s persistent; that I can tell you. Ah, bugger me!” He pinched a Thedunan fly from the cactus’s needle and flicked it to the stone platform. It ended with a tiny buzz and crunch under Onka’s heel. “Pesky things.”
Lacking enough patience to wait for a servant, the Chancellor of Iltor Cosmos Academy opened the great doors with a dramatic, martyr’s heave and groan. He brushed his hands upon his gray tunic and entered the foyer.
Click, click, click went his heels upon the white tiles, as he walked between several tall, glass tube vases that were set up like magnificent watery pillars on either side of the walkway. Within each, the glorious foliage undulated, following the gentle swirling of water.
Blinn gasped in amazement and appreciation. He felt his eyes growing ever larger, as he ate up the beauty displayed within the tall pillars. He quickly glanced from one side of the walkway to the other, appreciating his boss’s award-worthy skills.
But some specimens where far older than others. Blinn squinted, scooting up to the edge of the walkway. Yes. Even he could see that these flowers had soaked too long. Trimmed limbs were the second defense against inevitable decay, his boss often preached, the first being the patent-pending treatment Gugar gave the water. Hidden behind the beautiful liquid colors–the oranges, reds, purples and blues–was a secret. Blinn caught the scent of that secret, and thought of pickles. Gugar was a genius.
Blinn pursed his lips as he spied a specimen from the Terran Botanical Collection. He peered through the glass and the blue liquid to count the limbs. Ah, but these were showing unaesthetic signs of age, wilted and curling. This flower would need a toe trimming.
Lost in his fond appreciation for Terran beauty, Blinn meandered past two more, pausing to gaze up at the floating grace of these prizes lovingly gathered from that special little planet in the Milky Way. This fine specimen was fresh, perhaps plucked from the surface a day or two ago. Blinn looked upon it and sighed, admiring the shoulders, the long neck, the sweet lips, and flowing blonde hair. Gugar had added just a hint of green to the water. The Terran collection was splendid. A triumph.
But it wasn’t perfect; as Onka’s impatient sigh reminded Blinn. The apprentice quickly went to his side, avoiding the puddle of purple water beside the glass pillar.
Onka cleared his throat, pointing a long accusing finger downward. “Idiot,” he muttered.
Blinn blushed, embarrassed for his disregard. No words were necessary. The mess was obvious.
“I’ll see what I can do,” Blinn offered, looking for cracks in the glass. Finding none, he covertly admired the specimen inside. Another lovely, this one with red hair, she looked like she was sleeping. Captivating. And she didn’t smell like pickles, either. She smelled wonderful. He envied Onka such readily available aromatherapy.
Onka turned away, his arms across his chest, and showed his indignantly straight back to the young man. “An underachiever. Just my luck.”
Stung, Binn scowled at the old man’s cape, then turned back to the water vase, ready to give it another inspection. Within, two eyes coolly regarded him with a level gaze. Surprised, he stepped back, his forehead furrowing. It sometimes happened that their eyes popped open unexpectedly; however–
He moved a step to the side. The eyes followed him. Two hands lifted to press with palms flattened and white against the glass. With a nervous cough, Blinn strode away from the glass tube and positioned himself in front of the patron so the old man wouldn’t turn around.
“Yes, of course, I will do my very best. I promise,” Blinn said with one eye on Onka and the other distracted by frantic waving from inside the tube.
Onka snorted. “Just call your boss. I expect him in ten minutes.”
Vigorously nodding, Blinn watched the man depart. He couldn’t think to face the–well, what was it? Even he knew the basics of botany and that–that thing–was not a plant by any stretch of the imagination. Plucked from its mother’s soil, it yet lived. It moved and–and flapped about like a fish. Improperly categorized, surely it should be in an aquarium. But should it, really? He’d seen no gills, either.
This was a predicament. The scandal of an improper classification would mean embarrassment for the chancellor, followed by dismissal for Gugar. Phoning his boss, Blinn went to the greenhouse to fetch a ladder and a full rain bucket. He walked back slowly–very, very slowly–hoping the specimen’s struggles would have ceased–and with it, his worries–by the time he returned.
Blinn had no such luck. Its vexed stare greeted him as he reentered the foyer. Climbing the ladder, he smothered the desire to gaze upon it, and instead, emptied the rain bucket without a glance at the glass.
He knew its head was close, and he shuddered, a terrible tightness forming in his stomach. He ignored this and looked at the glass column’s top. The tube would need another bucketful, he surmised, and went at a leisurely pace back to the greenhouse.
With no gills, the plant–oh, bother–the creature couldn’t last much longer, he assured his nagging conscience. No one else needed to know about this embarrassing blunder. Upon his return, he soaked up the spilled purple water with a towel, too timid to see if the thing had expired yet.
As fate would have it, he heard a muffled exclamation from inside the vase, then a splash. Suddenly several gallons of purple water fell over his head, completely dousing him.
Blinn swore as he shook his hands and wrung out the water from his tunic. A soft but nasty snicker came from above him. He looked up.
Propped up by its elbows, the petite specimen glared down at him from the vase’s rim. Just what he needed. His shoulders sagged. A climber.
“Serves you right,” it growled softly.
It could speak, and its voice was pleasant despite its anger. Something stirred in Blinn’s heart then sank downward to flutter within his stomach. A female? He shook his head, dismissing the thought, and tried to forget all that he knew about plants and girls.
A splash of water hit his shoulder. Summoning his courage, he wagged a finger at her–it. “Now see here, you–you vratati…”
She scrunched up her nose. “Vratatah–what? You get me down from here right now!”
He took in the red hair plastered to her face, the trembling lips, and chattering teeth. And the shapely rest of her. The last shred of self-deception abandoned him. Blinn’s cheeks grew hot with embarrassment. He couldn’t deny it: she was a regular girl.
“Don’t look at me like that,” she protested. “Now help me out!”
Not only a girl, she was just like the girls who bullied him constantly. No, not just like them–she was captivating, and unfortunately, impossible to refuse.
He clumsily stepped up the ladder and grabbed the limb she offered. “How did you do that?”
“You mean hold my breath? I scored a gig as a mermaid in Waikiki. But, lordy, this tested my limit.”
“Never-you-mind, Romeo,” she gasped as he helped her rise out of the water.
More water splashed everywhere, but Blinn realized this was the least of his worries. What would he do once she was out?
The Terran climber landed in his arms and the ladder tipped. Struggling to aright the ladder, Blinn grasped the vase. Ladder, vase, girl, and Blinn came crashing to the tiled floor.
“Oh…ow,” she moaned. She crawled off Blinn’s flattened body. Her knee jabbed him in the stomach, and he inhaled sharply through his nose.
Oh, she smells so good, he thought as she pulled away. He didn’t even care if his brain felt like paste in his skull. In fact, everything about her was just swell with him. If only he could keep her, he dreamed. Her species was much more fun animated!
“This has been the most awful experience of my life,” she whispered, as she rubbed her bruised knee. “The girls back home just aren’t going to believe this.”
Blinn lifted to his feet. He fought off a moment of vertigo, steadied himself, and looked into her eyes. She blinked.
“I’m Molly,” she offered. A dimple appeared on her cheek.
“I’m smitten,” he whispered. He grasped her slender arm. “I’ve got to get you out of here.”
Too late, the door burst open, and Onka and Blinn’s boss charged through. “What’s all this ruckus?” Gugar demanded, his heavy boots stomping the floor, his thick arms pumping him closer.
“What has he done?” Onka shrieked to Gugar. “My beautiful tile. Oh! My Terran flower!”
Molly scrambled to her feet and hid behind Blinn. “Please don’t let him touch me,” she whispered.
“Of course him,” she hissed. “His calluses chaffed my young, sensitive skin. A–And I think he hit me on the head!”
“This is most disturbing,” Onka fussed, fanning his face with his hand. With a look of pure revulsion, he glared at Blinn, then turned to Gugar. His hand shot out, index finger theatrically pointing toward Molly. “Fix that.”
Molly jumped up. “I’m not a that! I’m a person!”
“No.” Onka snidely laughed.
“She’s human, like us,” Blinn murmured, ducking his head. His less than brave protest didn’t impress Molly. She elbowed him. Hard.
“Not human,” Onka dismissed. “We are human. We travel the galaxies. You are a specimen.”
“I’m a girl!”
“No, you are a dependent species,” Onka explained. “You cannot survive beyond the roots of your mother, Earth. It is an entirely acceptable thing to pluck terrestrials like yourself, although I must say it’s a bit unnerving that you speak.”
Molly snorted. “Yeah? Why’s it such a stretch? I look just like you, for cryin’ out loud!”
“Well, regardless.” Onka waved his hand dismissively. “I am not going to get into debating taxonomy with a–”
“Taxa–what? Hey! Are you a tax collector?” she growled, then she frowned. “That might explain all this…”
“It is a fact that if plucked from the land of Terra, Terra the mother survives, but you perish. Such is our definition of plant: one that needs roots to survive.”
Molly curled her hands on her hips. “Oh, really? Is that so?” she challenged.
“Um, actually…” Gugar hesitated. Cupping his hand, he leaned over and spoke into Onka’s ear. “Actually, we hit them on the back of the head. Really hard,” Gugar whispered, but everyone could hear him. “Sort of speeds up the inevitable.”
“The inevitable?!” Molly shrieked, shaking her fists.
“This is ridiculous,” Onka scoffed. “As defined by the Supreme Council on Botanical Studies, you are a PLANT. A pretty, fragile flower I may keep. Like a rose, or a lily.”
Outrage filled Blinn as he put two and two together. “But you’re on the council!” Blinn took a step toward his employer.
“The fact that I am the Chairman of the Council on Botanical Studies has nothing to do with this!”
Blinn clenched his jaw, but his courage deflated.
“Well? Gugar, what are you standing there for?” Onka tapped his foot impatiently. “Commence with the ‘inevitable.’”
“No! Wait, wait!” Molly pleaded to Onka. “I have a name. It’s Molly! And I have a life, a family, a career! I’m more than just a pretty face!”
“Oh, yawn!” Onka said, as Gugar took several steps toward her.
“I’m no plant. Can a plant dance and sing? Look! I got gams!” Molly started to move her limbs in the strangest way, and a sound came from her vocal cords that caused Blinn’s throat to tighten up.
“I like the sunny side. By day and night, it’s the sunny side. Look up sailor, the red hue’s callin’. I swear on the morrow, we’ll all be bawlin’–”
“Please stop,” Blinn hoarsely begged as he covered his ears. That was a bit better, though he could still hear a little of her strange wailing. The legwork wasn’t so bad. And her smell. He still liked her smell, he reasoned, as he feared the ebb of first love’s tide had begun.
“So take my shoes off and tickle my feet. Been working so hard it’s a lover-ly treat. Yeah, honey! Boom, Boom! Tickle my feet–”
Blinn watched his boss with suspicion. Gugar was trying to sneak up behind Molly, but she cleverly side-shuffled away from him. Then Blinn looked at Onka. The old man’s lips were pressed into a thin line. He was listening to Molly, but seemed beyond displeased.
“Oh, baby, the ocean may be salty but not as salty as my–”
“Enough!” Onka shouted. His voice reverberated against the many vases, which echoed back in various pitches. “I’ve heard enough,” he said quietly.
Fighting back tears, Molly squared her shoulders and lifted her chin. “I can do better. This isn’t my first cattle call, and I swear by God it won’t be my last! Give me another shot.”
“There is…” Onka stopped to let out an exasperated sigh. “Well, there is no need.”
Molly looked down at her feet, her head hung low.
“My dear Molly,” Onka, the Chancellor of Iltor Academy, drawled out her name, his face suddenly gleaming with a toothy smile. “You have opened quite a world to my eyes. Tell me, are there more performers like you back home?”
Molly squeaked with relief and pleasure. Her face flushed happily. “Why yes, but I am the best.”
“Really?” he exclaimed as he took her hand and tucked it under his elbow. “How enchanting. Please, my dearest, let’s talk about this singing and dancing ritual a bit more, shall we?”
Both Blinn and Gugar watched mutely as the patron and his prized specimen walked out of the foyer and into his summer gardens. As the door closed, Blinn threw the purple water-soaked towel at his boss.
Within three months Terran time, Onka had a full busload of what he called his “enchanting flowers.” By the end of a year, he had converted the Iltor Cosmos Academy into the Iltor Academy for the Arts. There, over two hundred dancing women and men competed and rehearsed for the Iltor Follies, which eventually toured the galaxies on five separate circuits.
As for Molly and Blinn, Molly went on to be the star of the follies, and Blinn O’nin became her biggest fan. He followed the troupe as a sort of servant groupie. Though he never again got as close to Molly as on that first day, he watched her every performance devotedly with cotton carefully stuck in his ears.
Maybe it didn’t turn out to be true love, but it was enough for him. In fact, Blinn would tell anyone who might ask that he was happy. The dancing flowers of Iltor Follies were happy. And there was no doubt Onka was beyond happy. Of course, occasionally when a flower broke a leg or a contract, she might end up on display in Onka’s foyer, but Molly often said that aspect of the biz wasn’t much different from the shows back home.
I’d like to thank my content and line editor, Tania Cardenas. You are the very best! And I would like to thank my critique partners, Mary Hall Knapp and Leslie Dow, who always have great insight. I appreciate your time and feedback. I’d also like to thank my husband, Miguel, for his love and support.
If you enjoyed this short story, look for my fantasy series Teller of Destiny.
–A. H. De Carrasco
Copyright 2014 A. H. De Carrasco. All rights reserved. Content / Line Editor: Tania Cardenas. Stock images used in cover: via Shutterstock; Dmitry Laudin, Sanja Tosi, Mar.K.