Fiction: The New Fairy Science

Note: The story originally appeared at How We Lost the Moon, which is now defunct.

As dusk approached, two fairies debated the nature of their universe.

“Well, we both agree that the sun is a big ball of fire.”

“I mean, basically.”

“Okay. So let’s start there.”

“Fine. The sun is a big ball of fire that gives us light and warmth, much bigger than the Earth.”

“Bigger?”

“Yes, bigger.”

“Really? How much bigger?”

“I can’t say for sure, but hundreds of times larger, maybe thousands.”

At this the younger of the two fairies shook her head in denial. “You’ve got it all wrong.”

“What do you mean?”

“The sun is smaller than the Earth—not as smaller as it looks, because it is really far away, but smaller, to be sure.”

“That’s preposterous! The Earth revolves around the sun.”

“Oh? Now you’re the incredulous one?”

The older fairy brushed a tuft of orange hair out from in front of her eyes. “You’re just making things up.”

“Am not. I’m observing. It’s science.”

The older fairy guffawed. “I’m just telling you what I learned, what the elders have passed on and what people much smarter than you or I observed long ago.”

“How do you know that they were smarter than me?”

“If they weren’t smarter, why would everyone take the time to pass on what they taught about the world?”

“Maybe everyone was just afraid of thinking for themselves.”

Orangey shook her head.

“All I’m saying,” continued the younger, pink-haired one, “is that, whatever you were told and however things look, the Earth does not orbit the sun, and the sun is not bigger than the Earth.”

“Really? How do you explain the stars then?”

“I might ask you the same question.”

“I asked first. Plus, I’m not the one making up new traditions.”

“I’m not making anything up. It’s a discovery, an observation.”

“Fine, go ahead.”

“Alright. I know it might be hard to swallow, but I can tell you about the stars.”

“I’m listening.”

“The sky, as is evident during the day, is blue.”

“What does this have to do with the stars?”

“Hold on, I’m getting to it.”

“Fine. I can agree to that; the sky is blue.”

“But we can only see that it’s blue when the sun comes up. Obviously, the sun comes up under the sky, then, and illumines the inside of the vault of heaven. That’s how we can see that it’s blue.”

“No no. You’ve got it all wrong.”

“Let me finish. Everyone knows what you think already. Let me finish.”

“Okay, keep going.”

“So when the sun goes down over the horizon, then it’s nighttime.”

“Yes, yes.”

The younger fairy glared at the older from her perch on a psychotropic toadstool growing in the shadow of a massive (by fairy standards) military facility. From her leaf, the older one stuck her tongue out and clinched her eyes shut.

“So anyway,” continued the younger, struggling to keep the attention of her singular audience member, “the sky is a big vault, as I said, a dome. And beyond the dome is the brightness of eternal light. And the dome has holes in it. Ordinarily—during the day, I mean—we don’t notice the light shining through the holes because the light of the sun obscures it. But as the sun gets lower and its light grows dimmer, then we notice the stars and realize that the sun, far from being the brightest light in the sky, is in fact the weakest. The light of the stars, the light beyond the heavens, that light would blind us if we weren’t protected by the vault.”

“Ridiculous!”

“What’s ridiculous about it, other than that it’s untraditional?”

“Well,” Orangey paused for a moment to think about it, “I don’t know Pinky, I just don’t think you’ve thought this through.”

“Are you kidding me? I’m the only one thinking this through!”

“Your explanation could work for the sun and the stars, but what about the moon?”

“It’s a balloon.”

“No! Come on!

“If you’re just going to scoff, I can just save my ideas for someone with a more open mind.”

“Pinky, you’re making some outrageous claims already.”

“I am not! They’re only outrageous if you start from the prejudice that anything other than what the elders have taught is wrong.”

“What, so the elders don’t deserve any extra respect? They created our whole society. They ended decades of fairy warfare and prevented a nuclear apocalypse with their treaties. As you should know, this facility you work at and asked us to meet in front of stands as a testament to the warcraft of that age. In the first years of peace, they founded our great schools, and it was at that time that they deciphered the movements of the heavens. There were a few competing ideas for a while, but the Great Master silenced them all with the elegance of his theories. In fact, if I remember correctly, one of the alternative ideas was not so different from what you’re proposing.”

“I may have drawn some inspiration from the other masters, but my theory is unique, in a class of its own.”

“So what about authority? You don’t trust the wisdom of the ages?”

“It’s only wisdom if it proves true. Otherwise it’s just folly in drag.”

“No need to bring politics into this.”

“It’s a metaphor, a turn-of-phrase. You know what I meant.”

“So what’s so special about your theory?”

“If you would have let me finish, you’d know by now that my theory excels all the others precisely in the area you’re most concerned with: the moon.”

“Ah! Really? Well, then, explain away! … No pun intended.”

“Har har. The moon, as I said, is a balloon.”

“And snowflakes are powdered sugar.”

“I’ll have no patience for your climate skepticism right now, Orangey, give it a rest!”

“Fine fine.”

“The moon is a balloon.”

“Yes, well then, how do you explain the cycles?”

“That’s precisely where my theory prevails! The balloon is lighter than air, obviously, but it isn’t homogenous. It’s filled with two different gasses, one opaque and one reflective.”

“Mmm-hmm.”

“Now, we all know that the tides change every month on an identical cycle with the moon.”

“Yes.”

“Yes? ‘Yes’ is right! The changing tides affect the air pressure, condensing and contracting the opaque gas. Thus, when the tides are high, the air pressure rises, condensing the opaque gas and revealing the reflective gas, which shines with reflected, extracosmic light.”

“Wait wait wait. That’s not how the tides work. They are highest when the moon is full and when it’s new. You’ve only explained the full moon. The new moon should be the opposite.”

“It is, sort of. You see, the earth, at the same time, is expanding and contracting as well in response to the same pressure changes. But it’s not hanging in the air; it’s solid. So the effect is delayed … exactly two weeks. The equilibrium points are the half moons. And the new moon is when the earth has receded to its low point, which more than cancels—doubly cancels, in fact—the effect of the rising tides at the same time.”

“I don’t know. I mean, that could work … maybe … but I don’t see how it’s so much better than the ancients’ view.”

“It’s simpler. And the simplest explanation is the best explanation.”

“But both explanations accurately describe the events observed. Why wouldn’t I just stick with that of the elders? Why should you get to be the authority?”

“Well, at this point no one can conclusively prove their theory to be better than the other. But I think I have a way to do it.”

“What do you mean? Hey! What is that beneath your toadstool?”

This,” Pinky eagerly, if nervously, explained, “Is the launch control to a thermonuclear rocket.”

“What the hell are you doing with that?”

“Science!” said Pinky with a grin. With that, she sprinkled fairy dust on her interlocutor’s face, transporting the latter to a safe distance from the launch site. The sun, as it turns out, had just set, and the last light of dusk now waned as a thunderous quaking noise came from the now distant facility. Stars like glitter sparkled in the sky as a bright line shot up from the surface, through the ferns and lilies, over the tops of trees, beyond dark, puffy clouds, up and up, higher and higher toward the newly blackened vault.

“That crazy little troll!” exclaimed Orangey as her eyes followed the streaking rocket toward the so-claimed dome of the sky. And then, for one moment, it seemed that the line of flight stopped and a new star was born in the heavens. But another moment more and white cracks spread like spider-webs out from it across the sky until the sprawling, blackened vault disintegrated like crumbly sandstone and all the world was enveloped by an infinite and blindingly luminous light.