(photo by tim caynes)
(Part of Project Unicorn: A Lesbian YA Extravaganza, updated twice weekly, on Mondays and Fridays, with a free, original, never-before-published YA short story featuring a lesbian heroine. Every story is a work of genre fiction [Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Dystopian, Post-apocalyptic, etc.].)
by Jennifer Diemer
I catch the seed in my hands. It grazes over my gloves, weightless, roughly round—and green, like the trees in Zavi’s book. I’m not certain that it is a seed; I’ve never seen one this close. Only the Verdis are permitted to plant and propagate. Besides, I haven’t been earthside in five years, not since my parents signed me up for this flight. Their convenient means of dealing with my inconvenient presence. There wasn’t a lot of green in Lumino, anyway.
And there is none at all here. My eyes have gone dull from all of the silver and black, white and grey-blue.
Sometimes I ache for green. When I’m not aching for Zavi.
The seed rises from my palm; I cover it with my other hand, enclosing it completely. I peek between my gloves, marvel again at the living green.
I never realized that I dreamed in color until I boarded this ship. It’s normal, Zavi promised me, to have strange dreams when you’re skyside, but my dreams aren’t strange so much as tragic. They make me long for impossible things: green grass under my bare feet, green forests so thick with trees that I have to turn sideways to brush between the trunks.
Once I saw a willow in Zavi’s book and cried myself to sleep, because there are no more willow trees, not even in the Garden Museum at Capital City. It’s not a priority, my father told me, when I asked him why we were letting the trees die. They’re fragile, and they claim too much space, and we have all the trees we need at the oxygen farms. The trees’ time, the Green Time, is past.
I can’t help thinking that I was born out of sequence, misplaced, too late.
I close my fingers over the seed and turn, slowly, toward the entry chute. Zavi—floating on her tether a hundred feet to my right—peers over her shoulder at me and propels herself in my direction.
What’s up? she think-speaks.
I found something. Let’s go inside. I want to show you, I tell her, and she nods, brown eyes curious behind her helmet shield.
Side by side, we boost into the chute, and when we burst through the tube and insert our boots into the metal traps, Zavi punches the combination on the containment keypad. Doors slide out, cut off the tube, and another door clangs down to seal up the space top to bottom. The lights snap on, and the grav sinks until we’re heavy enough to undo the traps and remove our helmets.
I fling off my gloves and unstrap my neck belt with one hand, then flip back the helmet. My sweaty hair clings to my forehead; I push it away with my wrist.
“Look,” I whisper, as Zavi—already stripped down to her black boardsuit—comes near, resting her chin upon my shoulder.
“What is it?” she whispers back. “A rock?”
“No, I don’t think so.” I take a deep breath and catch Zavi’s scent: hot and loamy, like the Verdis’ greenhouse back in Lumino. My mom took me there once on a water delivery, and I’ve never forgotten the way the humid, glass-walled place smelled—or felt. A wet heat upon my skin. There’s little to feel here on the ship, shut up and controlled as it is.
Except when Zavi’s close, like she is now. Then I feel…too much.
“I think,” I say, turning the green sphere in my fingers, quirking an eyebrow, “that it might be a seed.”
Zavi narrows her gaze for a moment, then slants a smile at me, stepping around to take the seed in her own hand. “Mir, a seed? Seeds don’t just float around in space.” She holds the thing near her eye, squinting. “You’re right, though. It’s definitely not a rock. And I admit—I’ve never seen a seed in my life.” Her shoulders rise and fall in a shrug.
Zavi grew up on this ship; she’s never been earthside, not ever. Her mom gave birth to her on board, then died. Her dad, the former flight commander, died a few weeks later (of a broken heart, everyone says), and orphaned Zavi became the crew’s adopted daughter.
I bite my lip as I remove my remaining gear, letting it fall to the floor. My boardsuit always feels so thin, barely there, when I lose the heavy helmet and equipment. I tug at the zipper on my chest—it slid down when I stripped—and regard Zavi with a small smile. “Should we show it to Commander Luc?”
“Give it to him, you mean.” She closes her hand over the seed. “No, he’d just take it, put it in a capsule and forget about it. I say…” Her eyes capture mine, glittering. “Let’s plant it.”
“What?” I take a step back, shake my head. “No, we can’t—”
“Why can’t we? It’s probably not even a seed, only some space junk. Nothing will happen. Nothing will grow.” She stares at me for a heady moment. Then a grin slinks over her face. “Probably.”
She rolls the seed into my palm.
“It’s your call,” she smiles, resting her hands against my hips. Electric sparks zing all throughout my body. Her black, short-cropped hair shines as she tilts her head near. “You found it.” She taps my forehead with her own. “You choose.”
My heart is beating so hard, I’m sure she can see its outline through my boardsuit. A sudden courage—and my longing, my verdant dream—compels me to breathe, “Yes. We’ll plant it.”
Zavi gapes, then laughs. “Well, this will be an adventure.”
We’ve broken at least five hundred rules. We stole the door code for Storage Unit T—Zavi distracted the commander while I hacked his system—snuck into the unit and are now snooping in every crate, agonizing over the time passing by, searching for—
“Dirt!” Zavi exclaims, and I slap a hand over her mouth, even as I scoop out a handful of the brown stuff and grin. Our eyes lock, and I hold my breath.
“Are we really going to do this?” I watch the soil slide between my fingers. “If we’re caught, I’ll be kicked off, dropped who knows where. And I’ll never see…” I swallow. My mouth is so dry.
“Hey, Mir,” Zavi says, sliding her arm over my shoulder. “If you’re kicked off, I’m coming with you.”
I look at her quickly, startled. “Are you serious?”
She doesn’t answer, just holds my gaze. Then she moves close, slides her cheek against mine, and I feel her lips against my ear: “Promise.” Her mouth moves into a smile.
It’s growing. It’s growing.
It really was a seed. I snatched it from space; who knows where it came from? Who knows what it’s going to do, to be?
I can’t breathe.
Zavi crouches beside me, leans forward on her knees until she’s face to face with the not-possible-but-somehow-growing sprout. “When did this happen?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know.” I sit down on the floor beside her, cross-legged. “Sometime during the night? I woke up and opened my closet door to change and—I mean, it’s not…It can’t be growing. It’s only been one day. Don’t plants take a long time to grow?”
She shrugs and touches the newborn leaf with her fingertip. “Depends on the plant. My mom’s book doesn’t go into much detail. Can’t, I guess. Only the Verdis are supposed to know that stuff.”
“Yeah,” I sigh, leaning back. “Only the Verdis are supposed to grow plants, and we’re growing a plant, and I think we should just take it out on our next recreation drift and…let it go. Then no one will know. They’ll never know. We’ll be safe.”
Zavi’s face stills, and her mouth draws into a thin line. She stares down at her hands in her lap and speaks very softly. “Is that what you want, Mir?” Her shoulders slump, and she turns to face me. Her eyes move over my face, restless. “To be safe?”
“Zavi, I want…” My nerves falter. I want you, I think-speak, but she can’t hear me, isn’t wearing her helmet, and, anyway, that’s beside the point. We have to deal with this plant, this terrible, miraculous, lovely green thing straining to live. In my closet.
My earth-starved eyes water at the sight of it. I blink and swallow, and I know: I can’t let it go. I can’t give it up. It’ll die if I release it back into space. It’ll die like the trees, like the willows.
I sigh and, summoning the last trace of bravery within me, put my hand on Zavi’s knee. “We need light,” I say. “Lots of light.”
I wake to a dream.
I’m not sleeping—I know I’m not—but there’s green all around me, above me, trailing over my bunk, twining around my wrists, my ankles. I’m curled on my side, and the bed is tilted, pushed up by the undergrowth, nudged half off the ground by the trees—
By the trees.
I sit upright, tearing leaves with the sudden movement, and open my eyes wide.
A forest. I’m in a forest.
No, I’m awake.
Frantic, I pinch myself, dig my nails into my palm, and I stare at the red welts on my skin, stunned, because I’m definitely not asleep, not dreaming, and there are trees in my room.
Except…this isn’t my room. It’s bigger, wider; I can’t make out its boundaries, can’t even see the ceiling overhead because of the trees, the leaves. The green.
The plant, I think. The plant did this. It couldn’t have; this is impossible. But it’s happened, anyway. And Zavi needs to see—
I crawl over the vines on my mattress and lower my feet to the mossy floor…or ground, I guess. Dirt. Earth. I can’t think about it, can’t let myself try to figure it out, because I’m this close to hyperventilating as it is, so I plunge into the forest and aim toward the door, where the door should be…
Where the door still is. I scrabble for the latch, drag the door open.
And I see silver and black: the long, narrow corridor of the ship. And Zavi. She walks toward me, teases—”Morning, lazy bones”—smiling her warm, sly smile, but her face changes as her eyes examine me, as she comes near and stops, leaning against the wall, looming.
“What’s wrong, Mir?” Her hand smoothes my hair back and comes away with a bit of leaf. She lays it flat in her palm, shaking her head. “The plant? Did it die? Should we have watered it more, stolen more lamps—”
I put a finger to her lips, and she cocks an amused brow, puckers her mouth against my skin. A kiss.
I swallow and take a few deep breaths. “Zavi, promise not to scream, okay?”
Her brow arches higher, but she nods her head and takes my hand, squeezes into my room behind me.
“Shh.” I pull her further in and follow the trodden path back to my bed. We sit down awkwardly on the leaning frame.
“I don’t know.”
“Yeah. A forest.”
“Mirelle! A forest?!” She faces me, eyes wild and shining. “Trees? Real trees? I’ve never seen… I never knew…”
It’s then that I remember Zavi hasn’t ever seen a tree before, besides the ones in her book. A sort of giddy excitement bubbles up in me, watching her gaze all around us, watching her hand trace over the bark of the trunks, watching her fingers slide over the glossy leaves.
“It’s too beautiful,” she breathes. “I want to live here forever.”
Tears stand in her eyes. She’s staring at the trees—numinous, aglow—but I’m staring at her. Even amidst all of the green, at the center of my dream-come-true, I’m longing. For her. I breathe in the lush air, and the words come naturally. I’m dauntless, unafraid. “I want to live here with you forever,” I say simply. I bow my head and toy with a curling vine in my lap.
“Mir.” Zavi tilts up my chin. The awe in her eyes has been replaced by something new, something that makes my heart forget to beat, something that makes me feel as if I, too, am a green thing, a sprouted thing, growing, leaning toward the promise of her sun.
“Oh, Mir,” she sighs, and a tear glides over her cheek as she reaches out to catch my own tears on her finger. “I’ve wanted… For so long, years, I’ve wanted—May I please kiss you?”
I don’t answer, can’t answer, because I’m already kissing her, and the contact is electric, fire. I pull back, stunned. But Zavi grins and reaches for me, claims my mouth with her own. She’s so soft, and her hands entwine with mine, and then her arms enclose me, pull me close—not close enough—and I’m breathing Zavi, breathing green, and I feel like I could float away, I’m so light, so free.
“Let’s stay,” she whispers in my ear, her finger tracing stars over my bared shoulder. “Let’s stay here. Let’s never go back. That’s not our world. It never was.”
I shudder beneath her touch and open my eyes to find her staring at me—eager, solemn, awaiting my reply.
I lay my hand against her cheek, and she leans in to me. “We planted a seed,” I whisper, “and it grew us a world.”
“Yes,” she smiles, kissing my hand.
“We’ll make our own rules.” I laugh. “Or no rules. We’ll take turns naming the trees. We’ll care for them and kiss”—I take her lips, savor them—”in their shadows.”
Zavi smiles at me softly, pressing a hand to my heart. My lashes flutter.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” I whisper. I hug her close, and then we’re hand in hand, turning sideways to brush between the thick trunks. We run and run. There’s no ending to the forest, to our world, in this dream-that’s-not-a-dream. I caught the seed because my hand was open; we planted the seed together, and it grew. There’s no logic to it—a forest on a spaceship?—no method, no way to predict what’s to come.
It’s like drifting into space without a tether and hoping that you’ll somehow float home. I can only wonder. And trust. And love Zavi.
“I love you,” I say, and she sweeps me off my feet. I squeal and laugh and wrap my arms around her shoulders, arching down to kiss her.
“I love you, Mir.” She grins up at me. “I have since the moment I first saw you. Before you came, all I knew was empty space, black sky. But I fell in love with the earth when I fell in love with you.”
I unfurl against her.
When we find the willow tree, I tilt my head back and smile, and Zavi holds me beneath the dripping green, and everything’s new—I’m new. I don’t know where we are, or how, or why, but at nightfall, we’ll dream a new dream beneath our own sky.
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