The Fairy Folk first appeared in Andromeda Spaceways magazine issue #73, and was my first semi-pro sale.
“Parva?” Gef asked, rolling onto his back in the grass. He stared at a sky as clear blue as the sapphire implanted in her chest.
She picked flowers in the garden a few feet away and paused, listening to him. Gef found her stillness beautiful, the way she stayed unchanging for minutes or even hours. Sometimes she stared at the landscape as the day slid into night, enjoying the subtle shift of colors.
“What my dear?” Parva asked.
I need you. Unspoken. “Do you still see the fairy people?”
“Will you tease me again if I tell you?”
“I only wish to understand these stories you tell of them.”
“You only wish to determine if I am functioning properly.”
He did not reply. The rightness of her statement needed none.
“Yes, I still see them,” she said, when his response did not fill the void.
“Tell me again where they live.”
She gestured towards the forest behind their home. “They live there in the trees, eating acorns and mushrooms and living little lives. They are precious to me.”
Gef pondered the forest. Who would want to live in the greenness when they could live in the city, travel along smooth rails from work to shopping to home, take sub-orbitals to distance places. No one else he talked to had seen these people. He wanted to believe Parva, to trust her. But he could not prevent himself from theorizing that she suffered some sort of damage, undetected during routine diagnostics and maintenance.
“What do they look like, your fairy folks?”
Parva straightened, her hydraulics emitting a ping as her actuators thrummed in rhythm. Parva’s shell spoke in tones that Gef admired as much as her stillness. She moved to him and sat, running her fingers across his smooth, polysynthetic brow. “Why do you ask so many questions about the fairy folks?”
He pondered his answer. He did not want her to misunderstand his intent. I worry about you. Unsaid.
“I wish to see them,” he answered, after a pause that measured only micro-oscillations of cesium radiation. But Parva noticed. For her, a pause was the essence of existence.
“You do not see them because you do not believe,” she replied. “They can only be seen by those who believe, and those who live.” She took the same tone she did with her students, the newly built ones who sat in her classes. They opened their synapses, connected to her thoughts, and she filled them with knowledge, calmly and assuredly, breathing into them the stuff of fact which they absorbed and banked in quantum pathways and neural singularities.
Yet she believed in fairies. Gef found the two states dichotomous. “Do you see them now, Parva?”
“They are there. They are always there, watching us.”
She lifted his chin with white fingers and touched her forehead to his. “Because we make for them stories. We are gods.”
Gef prepared to leave in the morning, while Parva contemplated a cricket which had made its way into their home. She stood frozen in the kitchen, only her ruby optics moving, following the little creature as it hopped around the room and tried to find a place to hide or a way back outside into its world. She did not speak when he left, and he found her there when he returned home twelve hours later.
“Perhaps this is one of your fairy folk,” he said, plugging in for dinner.
She said nothing in reply, but she sat down on the stainless-steel rack next to his. She dimmed the lights and the cricket chirped happily. Gef tuned his optic nerve to enhance visibility, watching it spring and scurry around the edges of the kitchen until it came to a rest in the corner.
“They are always watching,” Parva said without saying, her words passing through the interface and speaking directly to Gef’s mind. He felt a throb in his capacitors. The intimacy of her thoughts felt painful and joyous, the way she spoke to him when no one else could hear. No one else spoke to him in such exquisite tones, even when they joined.
“They? The crickets?” he asked, trying to amuse her.
“The fairy folk,” she replied, but he sensed the changing rhythm of her fluids, the way her sense of humor ticked upward by his comment. “They watch us so they may learn more about us, and they tell stories of us that they pass on from mother and father to daughter and son.”
Gef contemplated this idea. He believed in the rightness of Observation, Theorization, Experimentation, and Conclusion, the four pillars of belief that all mindful beings must ascribe to for a sense of purpose. If Parva’s fairy folk did the same, that would be proper. “It is good for any peoples to subscribe to the Logus of Thought.”
“No, they do not subscribe to the Logus for they do not experiment to perceive the rightness of their theories. They make up stories about us, fictional tales about the great race that lives in vast villages and are gods, so that they may explain our ways and know us.”
“What good is fiction, Parva? What good are stories if they are not based on the truth of our observations, derived from countless experiments so we may truly understand?”
The pulse of her humor faded. “Why do we not share stories, my dear one? We bring order to chaos, and we build great things with which we thrive, but we don’t live. When will we learn to yearn?”
In the morning Gef went into the backyard and stared at the green things beyond the trim grass. He contemplated his questions about the fairy folk, and his concern about Parva. What was his purpose in these questions? Did she not need repairing? Should the damage go unchecked, would it spread to others and become a sequential failure of everything they know to be true and right? He found no answers in the growing things, but looking at them soothed his worry.
Parva came out and stood beside him. Her fingers slipped into his.
“What do you see?”
He focused on different wavelengths of light, zooming in and out. After a few arc degrees of the rise of the star that lit their world he said, “I see trees and vines, green growing things. Small birds and insects, a caterpillar climbing a tree trunk to find food. I see squirrels that forage for nuts and a cat who tries to sneak up on them and find its own meal. I do not see your fairy folk.”
She lifted his silver hand to her face and touched it to her cheek. “You must live, Gef. You must stop theorizing and experimenting and must begin living.”
“Once upon a time there were a people who lived upon a world much like this world. And the people were happy and they lived contented lives for they had everything they needed in abundance.”
“I have heard this story,” he said, dropping his hand to his side and unwinding it from her gentle fingers. His metal skin grew cold as the warmth of her touch faded.
“But the number of people grew ever more until they fought each other for what was left,” she continued. “The world grew too small for them, but in warring they built things, great things, wondrous things. One day they threw their gazes up, out to the stars, where they saw the answers. They flung their ships into the sky and fled the world to find new places where they could live and grow and love, and begin all over again, renewed.”
“That is a tale of the builders,” he said, stepping closer to the forest. “That is history, replaced with metaphors and ambiguation. I want to learn of these fairies of yours.”
She continued her story. “The people left behind their progeny, the long-lived ones made from clay and stone and the metals of the earth. They, too, grew numerous and thrived, but they did not war. They, too, built things, great things, wondrous things, until one day they came to rule the planet left to them, but they did so peacefully in ways the people had never known.”
A butterfly landed on her shoulder, so still did she stand as she spoke, her body not resonating to the frequency of her vocalization. He stared at the tiny creature, its body speckled with a fine, blue dust. He reached out to touch it, but it spread its wings and launched itself once more. It fluttered around the yard and disappeared into the forest.
“Is this a story that your fairies tell you?”
“Yes,” she replied, “this and others.”
“I do not understand,” said Gef. “What does this show the fairy folk? What do they learn from this story? How does it inform and instruct them?”
Parva did not answer, but she leaned against him and he felt the warmth of her shell as it dissipated the heat of her batteries. I am afraid for you. Unmentioned.
“There is a new facility,” he said. “The train will take you there.”
She broke her stillness with a nod. “I will go.”
Gef fed the spatial location of the facility into their home’s data banks. Do you love me? Unquestioned.
In the morning when the sun rose, the cricket stopped singing. Gef found Parva in the living space with a large glass jar resting on the table, the small insect inside it.
“Why did you place it in that jar?”
“I wished for it to be comfortable and have its own place within our home.”
“Should not its home be outside in the world where it lives?”
“I wish to observe it.”
Gef had no reply for that and could only nod. Observation was to be admired and commended for it was the dedication to finding the truth. It was better for her to be rooted in the real, not absorbing and repeating fictional stories which could be the broken fragments of a looping sub-routine. He did not want her to reinforce her damage.
“Have you made an appointment?” Gef asked.
“Yes,” she said. “Tomorrow.”
“I have three days of coordination and joining to attend. I look forward to my return.”
“I will miss you, my dear one,” she said, her focus entirely on the small creature inside the jar. One hand rested delicate, pale fingers upon the surface of the glass, the lightest touch of her composites, her intricate nerves signaling her brain about the texture of it, its composition, the temperature that it rested at. His neural feed lurched at her beauty. I will miss you as well. Unstated.
He took the afternoon sub-orbital and arrived at the joining two hours later. He focused on the task at hand, his mind linked to the others who strove, as he did, to make the world a better place. He did not think of Parva at all, or of her pet.
The broken jar lay in pieces, scattered across the kitchen floor, reflecting fragments of light into Gef’s optics. Parva sat in the recharging station, motionless.
“What happened, Parva?”
She let the pause breathe for more time than he could remember, as though she drew in air for non-existent lungs to speak with. “The little creature died. I broke open the jar to extract its body and took it to the fairy people to ask what I should do.”
Gef dampened the surge of concern that override the calm logic of his programming. He signaled the sweeper to clean up the mess and watched as the small robot trundled around the room on its six rubber wheels until it finished, returning to its alcove. The floor looked perfect, unmarred by tiny sparkles of broken glass. He sat down next to her and plugged in, feeding his memory files into the house banks, searching for hers. There was only one, an endless image of the jar from morning to dusk for three entire cycles, the cricket hopping around inside it. Until it died, coming to rest on its side. The image stopped, the remainder of the file scrubbed clean, no record of the broken jar, no image of her visit to the fairies.
She had not gone to her appointment. “I am sorry, Parva, but that is the way of living things.” He did not mention the missed maintenance. If she were damaged, he did not want to upset her. He held back from sharing all of himself with her, a sense of incompleteness dimming the joy he normally took in their joinings.
“I know,” she replied inside him. He felt empty without the pleasure of the sound of her voice in his thoughts. I want you. Unexpressed.
She opened her neural synapses to him and he entwined his thoughts with hers They held something back though, a piece they would not share with each other. He could not define what she prevented him from seeing, except to note its absence. He knew she felt his withdrawal as well.
When they finished and she removed her connection, he felt a great emptiness inside himself, a void that ached to be filled. He pulled up the schematics of a new power plant and spent the night hours computing the appropriate resources to complete the project in the optimal amount of time.
Parva left before he returned his consciousness to external sensors. Gef searched the house for her, then examined the door logs. She had exited the rear door twenty-seven point eight three minutes before star rise.
He went into the back yard. He did not see Parva, but the trees beckoned with brown limbs and green leaves. He walked close to border of lawn and forest, reaching a hand out to touch one delicate frond projecting from a branch. He felt its texture, the way it tickled the nerve fibers embedded in his metal framework. His optics magnified, and he traced the pattern of water flow through the veins of it. When he squeezed too hard, it crumpled, a drop of moisture clinging to his fingertips.
He noticed below the tree a mark in the loamy soil. He examined it, measured it using his eyes and his hand. It was Parva’s footstep, and he found another beyond the line of trees.
Observation, he thought. From this observation, I theorize that Parva entered the forest, perhaps to further observe other small creatures like her cricket. I will see if my theory is right by experimentation and following her trail. It took a tiny fraction of Hydrogen-7 half-life to reach his decision, and an eternity passed.
He followed her trail through the forest. She left clear marks for him, as though she knew he would come to her eventually. Down into hollows, up short climbs, and through a narrow cleft between two large rocks it led. He rose a long, steep hill and found her resting on her knees in a small clearing that overlooked the forest. In her hands, she cupped a clump of grass and the dead cricket.
“Parva, why did you leave? Why did you not keep your maintenance appointment?” He rested a hand upon her shoulder.
“The cricket died, Gef.”
“That is the way of all living things, my dear.” He thought to himself how beautiful the red glow of her pupils was, how perfect in their symmetry. I love you. Untold.
“We do not live.”
“We do not tell stories either, but you do.”
“Then maybe I am the first to live.”
“We do not live. Come home with me.”
“I will stay here a while,” she said, looking down at the dead insect in her hands.
“Will you learn more stories?” he asked.
“Yes, if they are willing to teach me.”
“Will you tell me the stories that they share with you?”
“Sit with me?”
He sat on the grass with her and they stared into the trees. “Once upon a time,” she began, “there came a being called the Targas, the great, fat sow of the world, mother of all things, who rose high above the ground on mighty legs, towering above trees, even above many low hills. Over time as she grew old, the Targas turned away from her children, the many small creatures who sprang from her fertile womb. In her hunger, she began to devour all, and the spore she left behind as she passed over the face of the world became death, for she transformed all that passed before her. She swallowed them with her great mouth and slavering jaws, ripping up the earth with her vast tusks, and spewing out the remnants behind her, the earth left sterile and hard.”
Gef built an image of the story within his neural pathways, theorizing and hypothesizing, until he observed it in focus. “They tell a myth of a resource collector who helped build our cities from raw materials?”
She did not answer his question. “One day, a young warrior named Samael rose from amongst the fairy folk and said, ‘I will face this creature and save our lands.’ He armed himself with such weapons and magic as they had and rode forth upon the back of a huge black bird. With sword and shield he faced the Targas, and the battle lasted for many days. On the first day, the Targas slew his mount, and during the fight Samael was struck down and grievously injured. With his last breath, Samael thrust his sword into the mother of the world and killed her, saving his people from destruction. Now they sing ballads to the courage and might of Samael, and many of the women name their first born after him.”
She said no more. He waited with her for a time until the rains began to fall, and then he returned home. He deleted his notations about the new facility and Parva’s appointment from the house records.
He joined on a new power plant, and as it was his first as lead, he gave it the name SAMAEL. When questioned, he said the acronym referred to its use as a solar accumulator. He did not want them to know about Parva and the fairy folk. They would insist she go to maintenance, and perhaps disincorporation.
The house felt empty without her to join with him, so he visited the forest each day and stood beside Parva, trying to see the things that she perceived. After several weeks, he noticed vines that wrapped her slender white legs, striving for higher light above the ground. The grass in her hands browned and withered, as did the shell of the cricket.
“Please come back with me, Parva.” He knelt beside her.
“The cricket died,” she said. “Samael died fighting the great sow, and the Targas, too, had to die. All things die, even the stories of the fairy folk. New ones are made when the old ones fade. You will learn this, my dear one.”
“I do not live.”
“But I do. Now I will die and you will carry me with you in your stories.”
The day her came to her and saw her eyes no longer glowed, he sat next to her, leaning his head against her leafy body. What he could see of her shell through her green covering was no longer clean, but marred with black stains from the vines. He found it as beautiful as he had the pure white.
He touched her brow, brushing aside the foliage, and kissed her with unyielding lips. “I love you.” Acknowledged. “I need you, my darling. Tell me another story from your fairy folks, Parva.”
Parva did not reply, so Gef listened to the crickets in the forest as they sang the song of their little lives. Then he spoke.
“Once, there was a fairy child named Parva,” he began.