Short Story

Dandelion Snow

Dandelion Snow

By Alex Claw

The dual moons hung heavily in the sky, bathing the world in blue light. Two men sat in chairs on a balcony overlooking a placid lake. The first man was older, his face seamed with age and his hair streaked with gray. The second man was young, his face still unlined and his hair still dark.
They sat in silence, their thoughts inward.

“They’re cutting it a bit close, aren’t they, Cullen?” Dyson, the older man, commented. He continued to look out beyond the balcony, as the younger man nodded.

“As close as they can get.” Cullen said, though his voice held a slight trace of worry.

Dyson pushed away his own worry and fear. There was nothing he could do about the schedule anyway. His place, for now, was right where he was, on his balcony and with his son.

The peaceful scene beyond the balcony was one of thick trees, tall grass, insects buzzing and birds swooping over a lake that reflected the moons and the diamond white stars in the sky. For nearly six decades, half the length the planet had been colonized; Dyson had called this place home. The beauty and bounty of it still amazed him, but he knew it hadn’t always been so.

Flowers were blooming on the edge of the lake, a riot of yellow under the moonlight. The season was heading toward summer, but he could make out the small cottony balls standing upon stems bent with the weight of the dandelion clock. Dyson smiled at the sight, a weed that had been brought when the first humans settled the first world, and upon every planet the human race had settled the flower had followed and blossomed.

Dyson picked at the stylized design upon the lapel of his uniform, many assumed it was a star, but in reality it was a dandelion flower. Colonists in some past era had taken up the design, as a symbol that even in the harshest environment flowers could still bloom.

“I remember when your mother brought you home,” Dyson began, “you were so tiny. I could cup my hands together and you would fit in it.”

The young man shifted in his chair. ‘Dad,” he said, embarrassed.

“I regret not being there, you know,” Dyson continued, “we used to be so busy back in those days. Working all day, all night, days on end. The mad rush to build and then build some more.” Dyson sighed, looking at his son, Cullen.

Cullen smiled weakly, “There were six of us, Dad. There was a chance you’d miss one of our births.”

“Your mother used to say the same thing. The way I see it, I missed the birth of my only son. But then again, you’re the only one who came to see his old man,” Dyson smiled.

“They’ve got their ships.” Cullen said quickly.

“No, son. I don’t begrudge your sisters for not seeing me. I understand their responsibilities and your own, but I’m glad we could sit here and enjoy the lake one more time.” Dyson said. “We raised you all here, but I don’t think your sisters truly appreciated this place. All the hard work and effort it took to build it.”

“They preferred their studies,” Cullen added.

“And their duty,” Dyson said.

Cullen blushed a bit. “There has to be some privilege to Rank, Dad,” he said. “Plus, I have nothing to do. Everything has been planned and planned again. Everyone knows their job.”

Dyson smiled.

“One more hour,” Cullen said. There was a wisp of sadness in his voice. He looked at Dyson, his young face creased with worry. “I have my doubts.”

Dyson nodded, patting his hand. “We all do. We would not be human if we did not have our doubts.”

“How did you overcome them?”

“I’m not sure I did,” he smiled softly.

“That’s very reassuring.”

Dyson laughed. “Worry and doubt will always be with you. The day they’re gone is the day you should be afraid.” He took a deep breath. “We have been planning this for a long time, it has happened before and it will happen again. Do not feel shamed to feel worry or have doubts, but do not let them consume you.”

“I’m scared.”

“I am too.” Dyson said softly.

“So much is changing. I know we have been preparing for this time, but…” Cullen’s voice faded away as he shook his head.

“You will do what you must, son, and you will do your people proud. Your mother and I raised you and your sisters as best as we could. We showed you how to be responsible, we showed you how to carry your burdens well, and we did our best to prepare you for what you would face. I hope we did right by you,” Dyson said, gripping his son’s shoulder.

“You’ve done well, Dad.” Cullen looked to the sky, his eyes blinking rapidly. “I can only hope I can teach my children half of what you taught me.”

Dyson smiled, clutching his son’s hands in his. “You will do good, son. You will make your mother proud. You will make me proud.”

“I hope so.”

“Thirty minutes,” Cullen whispered.

“I am glad that you were chosen to lead them. I would have had my doubts in other men, but not you.” Dyson said. “I had hoped your mother would be at my side to see all of our children commanding their own ships.”

Cullen closed his eyes. “So did I. The Universe has plans and schemes of its own. We cannot know what they are and we must to adapt to them.”

Dyson nodded at his son’s word. His own words spoken back to him. six children he had brought into the world, they had all put themselves into service to Tara Aster, the world they had made theirs. His wife had traveled into the world beyond before she had seen any of it.

“Mom used to love it out here,” Cullen said.

“That she did.” Dyson smiled. “When we were about your age, we used to go out late at night and swim until the sun came up. Though back in those days it wasn’t this sight we got here. The trees hadn’t grown in and there were days when the dust storms would make the lake more of a mud pit than anything else. I’m glad you never got to see that, son.”

“How do you mean?” Cullen glanced at his father.

“You got to see the best this world has to offer. You didn’t grow up when the dust storms or the hard rains, you didn’t have to choke to death in the mines or bad air, like my father did, nor did you have to suffer those dark days when we first colonized this world.”

They sat in silence staring at the stars. Such beauty and such horror they held.

“Do you remember the summer when you were eight?” Dyson asked.

Cullen smiled. “When we went fishing in the mountains. Sarah broke her arm trying to climb a tree.”
“It was also the summer when you and your sisters decided to build that raft and try to make it to the island in the middle of the lake.”

Cullen smiled again. “We made it too. Then almost made it back.”

“I remember being so scared, standing by the shore, helpless to do anything but watch as the six of you paddled your way from the shore. I could have yelled for you to come back, but I knew it was already to late,” Dyson said. “I was proud also, that you all made it. There was fearlessness and courage in all of you.”

“Being young and foolish can be seen as courage,” Cullen remarked.

“No it was not simply youth that fueled you. There is that core of courage and determination you and your sisters shared. The six of you worked together to reach that goal and you made it back, helping one another along the way.” Dyson set his hand upon his son’s shoulder. “You need to remember that, in the days to come. You need to trust the people with you and you must all work together. Things are not gong to be easy after this. You are the last generation on this world and when your children come to age, they will not grow up on this idyllic world, instead they will face a world that is hard and unforgiving.”

Cullen nodded. “I understand.”

“And I’ll be helpless to do anything, but stand on the shore and see you off.” Dyson said. “I will not be able to call you back, even if I wanted to. I would never do that.”

Cullen doubled over, his head in his hands as a sob wracked him. Dyson held him like he used to when he was a child.

“I’ll miss you, my son.” Dyson whispered. “I’ll miss you like I miss your mother. I’ll see you and your people leave this world. Never to know if you survived or not.” Dyson wiped his eyes, staring up at the dual moons. “They are out there, coming for us. We have so little time left”

“I wish you could come with us.” Cullen said.

Dyson smiled sadly to his son. “Your are the last generation, it is your right to begin your own future. Our generation is tied to this planet; our generation is tied to our own duty. We are the parents and we do what parents do for their children. We see them off. If we did our jobs right, if we raised you right, then we have no need to worry, for you will grow and prosper, and your futures will be bright. ”

A distant rumble filled the sky. Dyson and Cullen rose to their feet, eyes locked on the horizon.

“It begins.” Cullen said as the night’s silence was torn asunder with a thunderous roar.

A brilliant flash flared in the distance, a bright light that caused Dyson to shade his eyes. The rumbling drew stronger, the vibrations rushing through the land, causing ripples on the lake, and vibrating his flesh and bones. The rockets screamed into the sky on a pillar of fire and smoke. Birds began to chirp and sing at the false dawn, adding their own soprano voices to the deep bass of the rockets.

It was the beginning of the end.

He did not know if he should weep or rejoice. He simply felt an ache within him.

The rocket’s glare scarred the twilight sky. A million tons of iron, steel, plastic, blood, bone, and hopes burned through the heavens, lost forever to the welcoming embrace of the ebony sky. The first of many.

It was the finale of what had been achieved in over a hundred years. The fight against the world not theirs and the taming of it, turning a wild human-less world into a planet that blossomed with generations of children that knew only plenty and never knew want.

Yet there was joy within him. The spark of joy that his children’s children would know life and that even though the end was near, it would also mean a new beginning for a new generation. The shared dream of millions of men and women and a world would continue with those that launched themselves into the stars. Dyson stared at the nighttime sky; the rumbling of a second rocket and a million more dreams filled the air.

He would see them all leave.

He would watch what he built for the last sixty years finally take shape and ascend to the heavens. In the end he would be the last of the few to leave also, his great work done and one last task to accomplish. The spirits of his ancestors and the multitudes of billions that came before him stood beside him and he felt a great calm. He knew he would not fault in his duty, he was a parent and he knew the responsibility it entailed.

This had happened before and it would happen again, on other worlds, under different stars, in time beyond all human comprehension and grasp. There was only so much time and there was only so much one could do. They only had an ephemeral grasp on the world before the hard wind came and scoured it all away.

“Its time to go, father,” Cullen said in a barely audible whisper.

“I know, my son,” Dyson replied.

They hugged one another and knew they’d never see each other again.

Dyson strode the long metal corridors of the ship. His son was gone, but there still remain his duty. The deck and bulkheads was of bare unfinished metal, too little time for the finer details, but that did not matter to him. He continued forward, his thoughts focused upon the task ahead.

A large porthole appeared on his left, causing his determined stride to stutter and pause. Dyson stood before the view that displayed, the world of his birth and death. Tara Aster moved below, a riot of brilliant blues, greens, and whites. He felt a lump grow in his throat and his eyes begin to prick with tears.

He would never see his home by the lake again. He would never visit the grave of his wife again. He would never sit in his battered chair and watch as the dandelion snow fluttered across the meadows, the seeds spreading onward and outward, taking root and thriving. He would never return and he had no regrets.

There was no need for regrets.

His gaze shifted toward the darkness beyond the planet, the all-consuming blackness that held both hopes and fear. He could almost make out the glinting hulls of a hundred score of colony vessels preparing for their journey.

In his mind’s eye he could see them, the hundreds of ships, packed with men and women, with seed and knowledge, all ready to give life to a new world as their old world was lost to them.

How long had this been occurring, Dyson wondered. How many hundreds of generations had humanity been running from one world to the next, spreading out as they could. He did not know, but he knew his actions had been repeated scores of times down the long line of history, his forefathers and ancestors had stood in his same place. Their gazes looking sadly at a world lost to them and their eyes bright with the future they had helped secure. From Tara Aster to the fabled Earth of eons past.

He was not alone in his misery and that brought a small sad comfort. He knew along with the hundreds of ships that would leave the world, there were a hundred others that would stay behind. As one generation left, another would see them off with fire and death so that they could have life.

They were parents and they would do what parents did. They would protect their children and they would gladly die.

The Hard Wind was coming and Dyson felt a chill run through him. A hundred generations might have passed, but they were still sought out, they were still looked for. History and his ancestors only knew why they were chased from one star to another, why every human colony ever set up was eradicated. It was a mystery lost to time, but one that still plagued humanity with its horror.
The Hard Wind, the creatures that never spoke and never laid their case for extermination. They came and they seared their worlds and humanity fled before them.

Dyson resumed his stride. He looked into the faces of men and women that walked by him; they were seamed with age and their hair gray. Yet when they looked at Dyson, he could see the determined look in their eyes, the hard line of their mouths, the concentration they devoted to their jobs.

Cullen was leaving and so as the last generation of Tara Aster. They would find new stars, they would find new worlds, they would build new lives, and they would build a new future.
What more could a parent wish for.

They came out of the depths of space, a thousand score of them, a metallic mass that moved in horrifying unity. Dyson stood upon the bridge of his ship and looked into the eyes of the men and women who manned their stations. He saw the hardening line in their gaze and knew they would do their duty.

They did not fight for their own survival; their lives were already forfeit.

They did not fight for their homes or world below; those had already been given up.

They did not fight for glory or honor; only the young craved those and they were no longer young men and women.

They were parents.

They fought for the most basic thing, their children’s future.

Dyson closed his eyes and thought of his son and daughters, the life they had lived and the future they would have. He ordered the attack and whispered a last goodbye.

The Hard Wind had arrived and the metal mass of ships began to move. As their parents died in the depths of space, the children of Tara Aster were blown from their world and into vast black.
Their engines flared and the goodbyes were uttered and lost as two thousand ships drifted off. It was the end of one world, but it was the beginning of another.

The ships spread out, massive ships turned into a haze of motes and soon lost into the darkness. The Hard Wind had blown them and they would find root somewhere.

The Wind would always be there, but so would life.