A Taste of Nano

Here is an excerpt from tentatively titled “Celestial Bodies”:

The room was strewn with components. Circuit boards, wires, thumb drives, hard drives, processors, the works. There were no few tools besides, and a work bench to keep it ostensibly organized. In the center of the work bench sat a scattering of shiny, bevel-topped, crystalline chips mounted upon stainless steel studs. They were barely five millimeters across, and lit up when activated.

The inventor of these miraculous items pulled the safety goggles away from her eyes to inspect her product. She gently picked one up by the stud, examining the luminosity. “Let Operandi have my design, they’ll never produce these to my spec.”

She was delicate to look at, like spun glass or a snowflake, but despite her high cheekbones and ghost pale complexion, Frostiana saw herself as anything but delicate. She wore a leather bomber jacket over denim overalls, and military issue steel-toes that she’d gotten at a surplus store. Her white hair was her vanity, and that she braided in a complex design that cascaded from the nape of her neck to the small of her back.

A light strobed across the design embossed on her wrist. A tiny sparrow, wings outstretched in flight, very like a tattoo if the tattoo had then been studded with gems. She reached down and touched one of the gems. “What?”

“Uh…” The hesitant voice on the other end of the line was male, and familiar, despite the lack of syllables.

“What do you want, Graham?” Frostiana asked.

“For the world not to end.” He said.

That gave Frostiana pause. “Well, certainly we all hope that at the end of the day, Graham.”

“Some more than others.” His voice suggested this was a current concern.

“Okay, why don’t we skip this section of the conversation and move to the part where you actually tell me what’s going on?” Frostiana fiddled with one of the sprites on her desk, rolling the stainless steel stud in between her fingers.

“I had a vision.” He paused, as though waiting for her to laugh at him.

She stifled her laughter. “Okay, and what was it?”

“There’s something coming, and it’s going to cause an extinction level event for life on Earth.” His voice was as serious as she’d ever heard it.

She snicked on the visual component. Graham looked pale under his ambiguously brown skin. He looked haggard, as though he had gone on a three day concert bender at the Gorge. His hair was lank and unkempt. He looked terrible, even for him. “Where did you come by this piece of information?”

He paused. “I told you, I had a vision. I’ve been trying to work it out but I’m not sure about the specifics. I’m trying to warn you.”

“What am I supposed to do about it?” Frostiana asked haughtily. “I don’t have any more magic than you do.”

Graham sighed. “No, but there is someone who does. Someone that I can’t talk to. But you could.”

This time, Frostiana did laugh. “For Oberon’s sake, you’re giving me a quest, aren’t you?”

“Who else do I have?” Graham sounded distraught. “The human sensors won’t pick it up for days. And the way they’re behaving, they may all fight for a seat on the next ship flying out to a colony planet instead of trying some of their heroic behavior. I already told you, I’d do this myself but I can’t.”

She paused. “Why can’t you?”

He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Have you ever heard of Lysander Fairfax?”

“Should I have?”

He looked up, and his avatar looked right at her. “He’s only been on the planet for a thousand years, Frosty. I can’t imagine that you’d never run across him in all that time.”

She glared at him. “Well, Grammy, it turns out that on a planet with nine billion humans gumming up the works, I haven’t met the other three hundred and ninety-nine fairies left on this planet. Sue me.”

“It would just be easier if you knew him so I didn’t have to explain.” Graham sounded contrite.

“Don’t be lazy. Just tell me.” Frostiana examined her nails. One had a chip out of it. She frowned.

“That’s just it, there really isn’t time. Imagine… imagine if I asked you to go meet Robin Hood, except that instead of a human lifespan, he had fairy immortality. Imagine if he kept going on and on, adapting to human culture but continuing to be a hero.” Graham said, nodding as he warmed up to his idea.

“Why haven’t I heard of him then?” Frostiana cast around for something to deal with her chipped nail. She pulled open a drawer. It overflowed with tiny stainless steel studs and shiny lacquer cases to be fitted together. She pawed through the mess, looking for clippers.

“Well, you don’t survive by being findable, do you? It was different in the fourteen hundreds, they didn’t have social media websites that people upload half snipped pictures of possible sightings of the Sasquatch. They didn’t even have telephones.” Graham shuddered slightly at the thought.

Frostiana repressed her own shudder. She looked down, watching the colors on her sparrow cascade. Her sprites were her babies. She couldn’t imagine a time when she couldn’t have invented them.

“I mean, you know that better than most, right Frostiana?” Graham almost called her Frosty, but changed his mind at the last second. “That’s why you gave Operandi your sprites…”

“I didn’t give Operandi anything.” She flushed pink.

“Yes you did. If they’d rightfully stolen your design, you would be waging a one woman war against their entire line. I know it’s what you say, but you wanted someone to do all the work instead. And rightfully so. Let the humans do the work, while you get to stay in your office and design something newer, smaller, and faster.” Graham said.

“Except now you want me to find the world’s most elusive fairy hero in order to stop an extinction level event on our watch.” She found the clippers, and proceeded to shape her nail with fierce attention.

“Your other option is to watch as the world dies in a fire,” Graham offered.

Frostiana stamped her foot. “Couldn’t somebody else do this?”

“Sure. Let me just go through my Rolodex of fierce, smart, capable engineers who also have social skills…” He trailed off.

She growled. “All right, fine. But only if you tell me why you can’t do this yourself.”

“Um.” Graham paused, and took a deep breath. “I tried to kill him once.”

“You what?” Frostiana looked up, at Graham’s avatar. It was blushing.

“It was a direct order!” Graham flustered. “The Queen of the Fairies herself ordered everyone in the room to try to kill him. I didn’t want to, but you can’t fight the Fairy Queen!”

“I’m sure he would understand.” Frostiana pulled out a nail file to shape her trimmed nail. “You were under orders, it wasn’t personal.”

“You don’t understand.” Graham said, sounding terrified. “This is Lysander Fairfax, Knight of the Blue Rose, Laird of Lodainn al Lar, Captain of the Queen’s Guard.”

“If he was captain of the guard, why did the Queen order him killed?” Frostiana wondered.

“Court politics.” Graham said.

“Oh, come on, you told me you’d tell me.” Frostiana urged. She looked around her office. Hard drives leaned on towers for stability. A box sat open, its cardboard arms wide to expose the thin plastic sheets she used to create her circuit boards. A soldering iron sat cold on a shelf, with a length of solder curled nearby. She swore that she would clean her office, promptly forgetting once she did so. Her father despaired of ever teaching her how to clean. Her mother had left her father, only to return after some time to deposit a baby in a basket, then she promptly took her leave again.

Graham sighed. “All right, but after this, no more bedtime stories. I need you to get yourself out in the world and finding the unfindable, and we only have a short time. It was said that the Queen favored Lysander over the King, and that Oberon himself was beside himself with how best to get rid of this upstart. Oberon wasn’t one to just murder someone outright, despite his power. He liked to prolong the game, and to keep things interesting. With that said, he sent his satyr Puck out to follow Lysander, and discovered the sidhe handing a blue rose to one of the Queen’s handmaidens. Puck stayed long enough to confirm that this was no casual favor being handed out, and then he hurried back to Oberon to tell his tale.

“Oberon was swift in instructing one of his man-at-arms to tell one of the handmaids about the indiscretion. I just happened to be in the room when word reached the Queen.” Graham shrugged.

“I’d heard that fairy love stories end in tragedy,” Frostiana said. “I didn’t realize it was because there was so much meddling.”

Graham chuckled. “There’s a reason I stayed on Earth when Tatiana took the last of the fairies back to planet Avalon. I was in no way interested in continuing to stay in that world. The planet was nice, but the court politics weren’t.”

“And now you’re getting me embroiled in them.” Frostiana said.

Graham flushed again, his eyebrows snapping up and his eyes wide with surprise. “Why would you say that?”

Frostiana shrugged. “Well, if Lysander is one of the original fairies, then it’s doubtful he’s modernized. I hate old fairies.”

“Right, of course.” Graham’s eyes darted around the room. Frostiana knew it was his room he was looking at, not her. “I appreciate you doing this. There really isn’t anyone else fit for the job. You should probably get going, I think you’re going to need as much time as you can to focus on finding this guy. He’s not exactly the easiest person to track.”

“It’s not like I was doing anything important.” She let sarcasm soak through her words.

“I know, Frostiana, I know, but think of it this way. When you’re not spinning through the void, trying to breathe vacuum, you can congratulate yourself on a job well done.”