This fall is turning out to be rather unusual in the Pacific Northwest. We have had very little rainfall and it has been sunny pretty much every day. Highly unusual for this time of the year in these parts.
Anyway, yesterday, as I was driving along the High Bridge Road, which winds along the Snoqualmie River valley, I suddenly noticed a hot air balloon up in air. Around here, we do get to see hot air balloons regularly in summer and sometimes even in early fall; but never this late in the year. That was definitely an unusual sight. So I took a picture (displayed in the sidebar).
(Sorry about the quality of the picture, the iPhone camera does not do terribly well in low light. On the other hand, it gives the picture an eerie quality, and I will be capitalizing on that further down.)
At the time I took the picture, I thought of giving it the caption: “Rare sighting of an airborne species that should normally be hibernating at this time of the year”.
But afterwards, as I looked at the picture again, it started looking more and more like it really belonged in a sci-fi story. The brightly lit balloon juxtaposed against the peaceful scene with a nearly frozen river and tall leafless trees standing quietly, waiting for nightfall. What would be a good story that would go along with this picture? Well, I am not really sure what the whole story is yet, but here is an attempt at writing just this particular scene in that that story. More like a draft, really. We’ll see how this experiment goes.
And please don’t read any political messages into this. No hidden agenda here. Just an amateur attempt at writing a story that fits a picture. As you will see, I don’t even have a name for the protagonist yet 🙂
As he came out of his evening mediation, he felt a certain unease. At first, he wasn’t quite sure what the unease was due to. He had not felt like this in a really long time – in fact, ever since he landed on this previously undiscovered, and hence, peaceful planet. It had been the perfect place for him to hide out from the empire.
He opened his eyes and looked up. There in the sky hovering over the trees was the reason for his discomfort. It looked like a hot air balloon, and while that by itself would have been an unusual sight on this planet since it was completely uninhabited (except for himself, of course), but that wasn’t the main reason. It wasn’t just some tourists trying to enjoy an evening floating high above the trees and the river. He knew what the appearance of that balloon meant – that his self-imposed but peaceful exile from the empire was over. The balloon would report back to the mother ship in orbit around the planet, a small craft carrying imperial soldiers would follow, and take him away.
But that was actually not his main worry. He knew that it would happen someday anyway. No place in the universe was too far outside the reach of the empire – certainly not for very long.
No, that wasn’t what he was worried about. His real worry was about the trees and the river and the squirrels and everything else on this planet that had given him company and comfort and peace these past couple of years. The poor creatures probably didn’t realize it, but their peaceful existence, which had lasted for thousands of years, was about to come to an abrupt end. Soon, waves after waves of imperial ships would arrive, survey the planet, map out its resources, make elaborate plans to exploit them, and then execute on those plans. They would look at everything on the planet either as a valuable resource, or as an impediment to its exploitation, and deal with each accordingly. The entire landscape would change in the blink of an eye.
And he knew that he would be responsible for all of that.
On second thoughts, was he so sure about that?
He thought about it a bit more. He remembered what his teacher had told him. “Punctuated equilibrium is the way of the universe,” he had said. Yes, you wanted the equilibrium to last forever, and it was a sign of intelligence for any species to figure out how to live in balance with its environment to make the equilibrium last as long as it could, but it was impossible to make it last forever. The equilibrium was going to be broken some day, and for this planet, that day was today.
He still felt the weight of responsibility on his shoulders. How long would the peace on this planet have lasted had he not landed on it? Moreover, what comes after the turmoil that was about to follow?
No one, neither him, nor the trees or the river, and not even the empire; knew that part. They would all just have to wait and see.
Or may be not.
May be he could do something about it? But what? What could he do to stop the exploitation and eventual destruction of this beautiful place he had learned to call his home for the past couple of years?
Well, I am as eager as you are to find out what happens next. (And before!) We’ll see how the story unfolds. I’d also welcome your ideas on what you would like to see happen in the story.