I spent a great deal of today attempting to write another short story for the Reedsy prompts contest this week. In the process of this, I learned two things. One, I’m really poor at following along with genre restrictions. And two, sometimes I have to accept that my writing won’t be what I want it to be.
I’m well-versed in not liking my writing, but not necessarily well-versed in having the outcome not match the prompt I started with. However, since I still overall enjoyed my short story, I thought I’d go ahead and just post it here.
Making a Botanist is the story of two men taking a journey from Earth to a new planet in a space ship: a botanist and an engineer. Both of them have strong personalities, but have oddities in common. It’s an exploration of people as they explore not only the galaxy but the personalities that surround them.
Hope you enjoy!
Making a Botanist
“-plants like those are exceptionally rare. The composition of the soil must have an affect on-” I’m freely expressing my excitement. I can’t help it. Sure, I’ve studied the plants from other worlds before, but this is my first time experiencing it firsthand. It’ll be another day before we get there, but the long trek is worth the wait. I know it will be. The plant samples we received showed the soil is marvelous. The nutrients it contains causes plants to rival large animals. It’s unlike any soil we’ve otherwise seen.
“A breath,” he states, interrupting my thoughts and my words.
“Pardon?” I stammer.
“Take a breath, please,” the please seems like an afterthought. But, I do as I’m told, just trying to get along.
“Now be quiet,” he demands. He’d barely spoken three words to me since we had boarded. That was over 24 hours ago. If he’d wanted me to stop speaking earlier, he could have told me. So why now? Did I reach his tolerance level? I’m not surprised if I have. Though I am surprised if his tolerance is that high.
“So botany isn’t your calling,” I begin again anyway, “you’re an engineer on a literal spaceship. I can’t blame you for finding it boring.”
“But I can blame you for boring me with it.” He states. Right. No, he’s right. My excitement can be overwhelming, but it’s unlike my colleagues. They wouldn’t know where to begin dissecting my monologue, and they study botany right along with me. As for most people, plants just aren’t that interesting, even though they’re the basis for life. The oxygen they manifest-sorry, I’m getting carried away again. When the mouth shuts, the brain opens.
“How did an engineer get stuck with me anyway?” I wonder aloud. He leans back, both of his arms covered in grease. The panel he’s been tinkering with for nearly a day is still sparking. Obviously he hasn’t come up with a solution for it yet. As if he’s so tired of me he’s willing to take us both out, he jams an arm back into the panel. He rips free a cord. And then it all goes black.
“Sir?” I feel around for him without hesitation. But my action is stilled when the entire wall lifts open. I stand in shock, mouth wide, as it ascends. The glow of the stars around us floods the room, lighting every crevice in a ghostly white.
“Let that entertain you for a moment,” he mumbles, returning to the panel.
Sirens wail over my head, screeching the news that he’s cut the power. I can hear feet slapping down on the metal walkway outside, but no one thinks to check our room. They may eventually, but for now, I’m glad they don’t.
“Have you seen this?” I ask.
“No,” he retorts. His reply is bewildering. For years, he’s worked on this ship and he hasn’t seen the stars from the window a single time?
“You have to,” I announce, spinning to face him. “You caused this mess anyway. You should enjoy it.”
“You caused this,” he retorts, not even bothering with me, “I would have fixed this panel yesterday if I could tune into my own thoughts, but the channel has been set to your botany prattle for the entire day. No matter how many times I reposition the antenna, your voice somehow interrupts every other program.”
“Television metaphors,” I snort, “somewhat old-fashioned, aren’t they?”
“Radios may be more advanced than they once were, but they’re still prevalent in our society. As it is, they’re not even half as aged as plantlife.” He corrects me. Apparently angering him is the only way to get him to speak. It’s merely coincidence that his flood of rage is so entertaining.
“If you’re so fascinated by television, then how about seeing the universe through a screen,” I offer, pointing towards the window. “The screen may be only a panel separating us, but the feed its relaying is incredible.” He sits back, tools clattering to his sides. I imagine he’s exhausted. I slept sometime in the last day, but I haven’t seen him so much as blink.
“Radio. I’m fascinated by radio,” he stands with authority, unzipping his jumper. Freeing his upper body, he throws back the top half. That’s followed by an aggressive stroke of his greasy hands over his hair. It slicks it back, his hair now smeared with black. I involuntarily take a step away as he marches towards me. If he notices, he doesn’t react.
His eyes laser in on the sight beyond the window. From where we’re standing, there’s not just stars, but a full nebula. The colorful dust and gas are a blend of blues and greens. I won’t be surprised if this is the most amazed he’s ever been standing here.
“It’s…nice,” he shrugs slightly. Then he spins back towards the panel.
“Nice?!” I’m aghast. How could anyone stare into the face of that nebula and not be shouting in awe? “How could you possibly work on a spaceship and be so dulled to the beauty around you? A blue and green nebula like that isn’t commonplace.” I’m still arguing, though it seems he has long since tuned me out.
“Really?” I step to block his path. Now I’m really overstepping my bounds. I met this man a day ago, and yet I act like we’ve been colleagues since before time. Being trapped in a room together tends to have that effect though, so I’ve heard. The other botanists warned me that the relationships with their “guardians” were hostile at best. And it was all to blame on the three days they spent cooped up in the same space.
“Move,” he growls, one of his grease-blackened hands threatening to grab my shoulder and shove me aside. I don’t budge.
“For a personal fascination in the human mind, I need to know why such a beautiful view struggles to even phase you,” I assert, though I can feel myself wavering. Where did this newfound, idiotic courage come from? He’s likely to grab one of his tools and brain me. He may even end me for good.
“I see that everyday,” he retorts. With his answer out, he seems to expect me to move. But I don’t. So he forces me aside. He’s already arms deep in the panel when I face him once again.
“You can’t appreciate something you see too often?” I mutter. Am I offended? Friends aren’t easy for me to come by, but he’d withstood my chatter for a day now. For a moment, I’d hoped I found someone who could tolerate me. I thought I’d at least found a companion with which to share the time. Even the other botanists aboard the ship can barely stand me.
“It has nothing to do with you,” he barks.
“I mean I know I’m a hard person to relate to, but-” I’m about to drop into one of my many rants, but his quick reaction startles me. In one swift movement he stands again, eyeing me. His eyes are vibrating just slightly, discomfort now present.
“I can’t appreciate it because I don’t know what color I’m supposed to be seeing,” he hisses. Oh. Now that changes my rant completely. “The same way I can’t tell one damn plant from the next. They’re all the same. I feel like I’m bathing in yellow. But if you tell a soul about this-”
“I won’t,” I immediately lift my hands in innocence. “I wouldn’t dream of it.” His shoulders relax some, but he glances away from me. I see now why he keeps to himself. Much like me, even amongst his own team, no one speaks to him. That’s part of what had driven up my hopes of kinship.
“That’s rare you know,” I swallow loudly, “if you were a plant you’d be a botanist’s dream.”
“Don’t call me your dream,” he says the words sternly, but then he lets out a low laugh.
“I could tell you. What it all looks like, I mean,” I offer. He tilts his head slightly. As his eyes swivel, he seems to notice his jumper is still undone. Tugging at the material, he contemplates rezipping it, but doesn’t. It must be 100 degrees in that suit. I wouldn’t want to wear it either.
“Having someone describe a scene I can’t see is aggravating,” he lowers himself back down to the floor and connects two wires. The lights flicker back on, the hum like that of a thousand bees floating in place around me. “I’m more amazed by the power of a simple object, not by its features.”
“And yet you claim not to be interested in the power of soil composition,” I pipe up, “I’ve been trying to explain it to you this entire time.” He turns a weary gaze on me and leans back against the wall.
“I haven’t listened to a single word,” he announces. No wonder he seemed so tolerant of me. But even if he claims that to be true, how had I been distracting enough to keep him from fixing the panel? I just watched him fix it in under two minutes.
“You’re lying,” I announce. That catches his attention fully, his eyes piercing mine. “You were listening to everything I’ve been saying. That’s why you were too distracted to work.” And he’d stopped me from talking, in order to show me that nebula. He knew I would like it, but he’s not a sociable type. Well, it’s a guess. But it seems likely. If I ask him the truth he probably wouldn’t tell me anyway.
“An entire civilization was built on that immaculate soil, of course the composition is rare,” he grumbles, “half the population was made solely of water. It’s not all that different from us humans. The nutrient abundant soil is just a decomposed, watery alien.”
“So you did appreciate my ramblings,” My elation at his confession pulls my mouth in such a wide smile, I swear I can feel the corners tickling my ears.
“It was like listening to the radio,” he seems to be at a loss. He really does appreciate the capabilities of objects over their form.
“I may make a botanist of you yet.”