The First Alchemist: Text Version

Alchemist Number One

The Year 420, After the Peace Fare Virus

A planet far from Earth

“Good night, Fritzie. I love you. Sleep well.” Hilda felt almost like what she harbored as a dream of motherhood from her far away memories of life on Earth.

“Story, mommy. Story please!” Fritzie was doing well up on the mountain. She sometimes didn’t want to admit it to herself, out of fears that the situation might change, but she felt good too.

“Ok, Fritzie. A story.

“Once upon a time, that means a long time ago, that means on Earth, before humans came to live on other planets, there was a boy named Brandon. He was a little boy, and he found all things interesting. He loved music, and making art, and playing games, but he loved the outdoors too, perhaps more than anything else.

“Even though he had only lived through about eight summers at the time of this story, he used his skills of observation to a greater advantage than most adults. He also knew how to move very quietly in nature. Between those two accomplishments, he made a lot of opportunities for himself to see birds and insects and snakes and lizards and the like up close, and in detail.

“He kept a notebook made of paper. The computer age waited in the future. He decided that every day, he would find time to walk the same path through some woods and a field where a lot of different kinds of plants grew. When he managed to sneak up on a bird or squirrel, he drew a picture of it. He did not know how to read or write, so he had only his pictures to remind himself of what he had seen.

“One day, he found a striped caterpillar on a milkweed plant. He had heard that these black-and-white-striped caterpillars eventually turned into big orange and black monarch butterflies. We don’t have butterflies on this world. The monarchs were big insects with beautiful colored wings that lived on Earth, where daddy and I were born. Brandon did not have anything to take the caterpillar home in, so he watched it munching on the milkweed, drew a picture, and left it in peace.

“The next day, he found it, or another one like it, on a milkweed plant a meter away. This time, he was prepared. He again watched it, and as he had been taught, he watched it until he noticed something different from what he had noticed they day before. Instead of paying attention to the colors of the caterpillar, like he had the day before, he watched how it moved. He made a series of pictures showing a caterpillar next to a leaf. Each picture had a little less of the leaf left. He actually got to see the caterpillar poop. It was green, the same hue as the milkweed leaves, but darker.”

Fritzie giggled softly.

Hilda continued, after gently rubbing Fritzie’s arm.

“When he was done with the drawings, he picked some milkweed leaves and put them in a jar, along with the caterpillar.

“Now most people know that when the caterpillar stops eating and attaches itself to the stalk of a plant, it’s ready to transform itself into a beautiful green chrysalis and then into a butterfly. And, most people who go to the extent to keep a caterpillar to watch, have noticed the beautiful, light green chrysalis which becomes visible after the outer striped skin falls off. Most people notice that the green tapered cylinder becomes less cloudy over time, and less green, eventually showing the new butterfly inside of a delicate glass like casing. But some people, who are really observant, have also noticed that there are tiny gold spots that form on the chrysalis as well.

“Well, Brandon was very curious. His family did not have much money, and he wondered if he could collect the gold from the chrysalis. But he did not want to hurt the butterfly.

“Every day he drew the chrysalis and the developing butterfly. He noticed that the widest part of the chrysalis had the center part of the butterfly. The head and body were wrapped around the top wide part of the chrysalis. He noticed that the gold spots were concentrated at this wide ridge. The butterfly had gold eyes and a line of gold spots along its tummy.

“Well, he decided to go back to the milkweed field to try to find more caterpillars or chrysalises. He succeeded, and had the beginnings of a gold mine! Or so he thought!

“Sadly, his attempts to use the butterfly gold mine for security to buy a new house for his family did not go very far.

“But, discouragement had no place in Brandon’s life. For the next few summers he started a new butterfly gold mine. He hoped the banker would see the light. Finally, at age ten, his parents decided that they could put off teaching him to read no longer. Brandon had been hounding them to teach him anyway. Soon, he started researching the lives of insects. He found out that the gold spots were simply the dried tears and sniffles of the monarch butterflies, royal beings, crying for their lost freedom, not yet aware of the greater freedom that awaited them in flight.

“So Brandon cried too. No gold mine, no new house. But his tears dried quickly, as he ran off to celebrate his freedom to breathe in the fresh air of the summer afternoon. And he rejoiced when he saw a sparkly gold rock! But this time he knew that the gold he would probably end up with was the gold of new knowledge and understanding of the natural world, and probably would not be accepted as a down payment for a new house!”

“Thanks mommy,” Fritzie said very sleepily. “Better let you grown ups worry about money, whatever that is.”

Hilda walked softly out of the sleeping area. Karl had a cup of tea poured for her.

“He’s asleep?”

“Will be in a minute, if not.”

She sipped her tea. “It’s hard to come up with stories that make sense on this new world.”

“What do you mean?”

“I realized too late in the story that we don’t have banks, gold, money.”

They both laughed.

“We can live without it, can’t we?”

Karl put down his tea and got up to pick Hilda up, because he could, and gave her a hug.

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Shona

Engineering consultant by day, science fiction writer in off hours.

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