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Delphinium, by Sarah Gans

Updated: Mar 24, 2019

You wake up in the morning with the sunlight. Not real sunlight, because such a thing doesn’t exist where you are, but the artificial sunlight the Instructors program to seep into your room at the appropriate time in the morning. There are no classes today, so when you look up at the electronic clock on the wall, it reads 10:01 am. Even with no classes to go to, the Instructors can’t have you waste the day away.

“Open window,” you whisper. A rectangular panel next to your bed moves against the wall, revealing your surroundings in the vast darkness of space. Your room is positioned on the west end of the Hub, facing the Red Moon. You sigh before commanding the window closed.

You look over at your roommate as she groans, throwing a pillow over her eyes to shield from the sunlight. Her legs move under the covers, kicking up a package and a few envelopes that must have been placed on the edge of her bed when you both were sleeping. It is only then you remember that it’s Mail Day.

With renewed energy, you sit up, comforter pooled around your waist. You see you have a few brown packages and even fewer envelopes, but one white envelope catches your attention because it’s covered in many colorful stickers.

You smile. Gina, your sister, must have sent it to you.

You lean forward, stretching your hand out to grab the envelope. Your fingers run along the raised stickers, pictures of butterflies and flowers and little cartoon suns. Gina printed your name and coordinates in her neat script.

You tear open the envelope, and a small packet tumbles onto your lap. You ignore it in favor of reading the letter your sister wrote:


I hope this letter comes to you soon. It’s mom’s birthday. It was a whole family event-- even Dad’s Uncle Lex showed up. Wasn’t the same without you, of course, but everyone understands you’re studying to save the world. Only two weeks off in a five year Pilot Officer training program? There has to be something wrong with that.

Mom and I are hoping to head up to you on Visiting Day this year, but you know how sick she gets with space travel. And the trip is just so long! I’m sending this gift to you to tide you over until we can visit. I know how much you miss the flowers.

Reach for the stars,


Picking up the packet that fell onto your lap, you examine it more closely and realize Gina had sent you a packet of dirt and seeds for a flower called Delphinium. You tear open the packet and spill the dirt into your hand. Your fingers glide over each individual seed as you think back to when you last saw these flowers. Almost two years ago, when you first left for training. You remember standing on the top of a colorful hill with your mom and Gina. The patches of tall, indigo flowers were in full bloom all around you. You smile softly at the memory, before it’s quickly wiped from your face. A much more somber memory intrudes into your thoughts, but you push it away.

You pour the dirt from your hand into the half-empty cup of water on your nightstand from the night before. You plan to care for and grow the Delphinium over the next few months. I must write to Gina, you think. Ask her to send me more. You swing your legs off the bed, stretching and standing up. You put on your robe so you can walk the halls of the Hub to get breakfast. You’re about to leave.

But then you see something.

A hint of green, sprouting from within the soil. And then more than a hint of green. Suddenly, your cup of dirt and water contains a small sprout.

“Max,” you say, walking over to your roommate and shaking her awake. Max turns over to face you, eyes half open. “The flowers are blooming!”

“What?” Max says, still rubbing sleep out of her eyes. She looks over at where you’re pointing. The cup of dirt is covered almost entirely with sprouted leaves. “Where did those come from?”

“Gina sent me a packet of seeds. All I did was pour the dirt into a cup of water!”

“Are you saying those stems were seeds just a minute ago?”

“Where’s Carmen? She might have some idea.”

Max pulls out her Messenger and clicks a few buttons. She’s sitting up in bed now, still looking in shock at the young flowers. You watch them as you wait for Carmen. You hope she isn’t in a Lab, as she usually is on Free Days. Carmen is taking an accelerated course on Planet Inhabitation, and knows a lot about Earth’s nature in relation to space and other atmospheres. You’re hoping she might have some idea why the Delphinium is growing so quickly.

The flowers extend above the top of the cup when the door clicks and Carmen arrives in full gear. She has her goggles pushed up over her hair, making it very messy. She’s in her green lab coat, but she takes off her handling gloves and drops them on your floor as she enters the room.

“What’s going on?” Carmen asks.

“These seeds my sister sent me—they’re growing abnormally fast,” you say.

Carmen steps forward for a closer look. She falls onto her knees to be eye level, and you do the same. When you’re down at that level, you can see the flowers moving. A hint of purple is showing as one of the bulbs begin to open.

“Lights off,” Carmen says.

The artificial sunlight turns off, and the plant begins to wilt.

“Lights on,” you say, beginning to panic. The lights turn on, and the flowers stand up again. You sigh in relief before turning to Carmen.

“Well,” you say. “What the hell is happening?” Carmen looks thoughtful.

“This lighting,” she starts, “is probably similar to the lighting we use in Lab. When we’re learning how to grow sustenance on foreign soil, we use light-emitting diode technology in place of Earth’s sun. I think using Earth soil allows the flowers to grow much more quickly. That’s fascinating! I need to tell Instructor Silver.”

Carmen stands up quickly before you can ask any more questions and is out the door in seconds. Carmen often thinks more quickly than she can speak, and you stare at the door as you process what she said. The flowers are growing! The Delphinium that reminds you so much of home will be in full bloom in minutes, if they continue growing at the same rate. You look up at Max, still on her bed, watching the flowers with interest.

“Do you think anyone has tried growing flowers in their room before?” you ask.

Max speaks up quietly. “Maybe no one here misses them the way you do.”

The memory of the hill comes back, but this time you’re placing the Delphinium on your father’s grave. He died in the middle of winter, during a week off from piloting his Voyager ship. It was some freak accident, where the snow was so thick that the two drivers couldn’t see the other’s car in the storm. Your father was buried on the hill and you picked the Delphinium on your way to visit him the following spring. You were eight years old.

A decade later, you applied to the Pilot Officer training program, the same program your father completed many years ago. You’re often worried that your father’s legacy was the only reason you were accepted.

Your thoughts are interrupted as you hear two knocks on your door before Carmen enters your room with Instructor Silver. You stand to greet them.

“Instructor,” you say. “These are my flowers! I only got the seeds this morning.” You are pointing to the Delphinium, which is now towering over your nightstand. The plant is half a meter tall with the small, indigo flowers blossoming all over the stems.

“Brilliant,” says Instructor Silver. “Carmen here was just explaining to me her hypothesis, which I believe is correct. Our technology is designed to regulate the growing process of greenery on foreign soil, but Earth’s soil does not need the same care. These lights just speed up the life cycle of the flowers.”

“We could have a full garden in a mere hour!” Max exclaims, clapping her hands together.

“And lose it in another,” Instructor Silver adds. “Their growing process may be sped up, but the decaying process will be the same. How long has it been since you planted them? At this rate, I cannot imagine the flowers will last much longer.”

The clock reads 10:38 a.m when Instructor Silver exits your room, Carmen following just behind to finish her lab. The door shuts, and the sound echoes in your head. It’s much louder than usual. You stand frozen in front of the Delphinium, heart beating fast and ears ringing. You blink once, hard, in an attempt to keep your emotions in. You take a shaky breath.

“Nova,” Max says, with an edge of uncertainty in her voice. She sounds apologetic. You hate it when they sound apologetic. The petals near the top of the plant begin to change. No longer their bright indigo, instead, a muted purple. Almost brown. One breaks away and falls onto the surface of your nightstand. You look away.

“It’s fine,” you say to Max, offering a weak smile. It isn’t.

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