“Ma’am?” She looked almost young enough to be my daughter, if I’d had one—attractive, slim, barely up to my shoulder. The green hair was odd, especially here, but at least she was in civvies. “Nobody told me I had a visitor, who are you?” She had to belong on the base; this place—Air Force Flight Test Center, also known as Groom Lake, Area 51, and Neverland among others—has the tightest security in the United States. She’d been waiting in my office, green hair and all, when I got back from the briefing.
“I’m here to offer our help against the attackers.”
The briefing had been grim. An alien fleet had materialized well within the orbit of Saturn, in the constellation Eridanus. They knocked out half our meager—and secret—space forces and landed heavy hits on Earth before we knew what was happening. “Surprise attack” would be a massive understatement; for all the popular myths about this base, we didn’t even know there were alien lifeforms out there.
“You can call me Titania,” she said.
The name sounded Russian, but the Russians—and almost everyone else on the planet—were already helping. What was this? Another thought came to me and I made it a joke.
“Titania as in Queen of the Fairies?”
Her eyes flashed. I’d always thought that was just an expression, but I’m sure I saw a glint of green. Then she grinned and the room seemed to brighten. “My grandmother, if you must know.”
“Ha, ha.” I thought she was playing along, but this really wasn’t the time for jokes.
“Seriously,” she said.
Okay, I had a nut case on my hands. I didn’t know how she’d gotten in but I reached for the phone to call Security. “Ma’am, I don’t have time for this, I’ll have to ask you to leave.”
She stepped over and pushed the phone down into its cradle, her strength surprising me. She stared down at me.
I’d been sure she was shorter when I first came in, and the green glimmer in her eyes was back. There was a strength here that I found strangely attractive.
A hint of anger edged her voice. “No, you listen, Darling.”
She wasn’t being familiar; that’s my name, General Darling.
“We don’t have time for this. The Earth is our home too. It’s in danger. You need our help.”
We needed all the help we could get. I still had no idea who she was or what was going on, but she was right. Hell, we all knew Earth was done for if we didn’t find some way to resist the Eridani.
“But—but—” I hate when I stammer. “Who are you?”
She sighed. “I told you. My name’s Titania, and yes, my grandmother is Queen of the Fairies. I’m a fairy.”
I choked back my reply.
“What, you were expecting some diminutive Barbie with a minidress, Wilma Flintstone hairdo, and dragonfly wings?”
I blushed. “Well, maybe butterfly wings.”
“Disney has a lot to answer for. Okay, look, we’re wasting time, the second enemy fleet is on its way. If it takes a demonstration...” She did something with her hands and the air around her sparkled, like the transporter effect from Star Trek, then she faded out and the sparkles condensed to a spot of light which hovered in the air above my desk, like ball lightning. It—she?—darted off and did a quick circuit of the office, buzzed me once, then dispersed into a cloud of sparkles again. Titania stood before me. “Convinced?”
I couldn’t say anything. My mind kept looping on the audience response in the children’s play: “I do believe in fairies, I do believe in fairies.”
I sat down, digesting this. “Okay, yes, I’m convinced.” There was still the Eridani. “How can fairies help?”
“It’s not just us fairies. The rest of Earth’s magical folk are in the same danger, worse than anything you humans have done.” I must have winced at the word “magical,” because she paused, and then said, “Look, if it will make you feel any better, think of it as Arthurian magic.”
“Leave Great-Granddad out of this. No, silly. As in Arthur C. Clarke. ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,’ Clarke’s Third Law.”
“Oh.” That did make me feel better. “So you just showed me some very advanced technology.”
She shook her head; her green hair sparkled with rainbow highlights. “No, I just said if it makes you feel better, you can think of it that way.”
“Oh.” I stopped feeling better.
Titania muttered under her breath. I caught something about “muggle-wumping mundanes;” I’d probably been insulted.
I pulled myself together. “All right, Titania. We’ve got half the space force we had yesterday and smoking holes in the ground where Buenos Aires and Lawrence, Kansas, used to be. If you’ve got something that will help us fight back, I don’t care if it’s Bigfoot, Rumplestiltskin, or the Wicked Witch of the West, let’s have it.”
“Now you’re talking, Peter.”
I hoped she’d gotten that from the nameplate on my door.
She sat down and leaned across my desk. “Okay, here’s what we’re proposing...”
Convincing the senior command group was tough. We had to do a few more demonstrations like Titania’s, what I called her “Tinkerbell trick.” I only called it that once in her hearing; I had donkey ears for the rest of the day.
We made spaceships from almost any vehicle that could hold pressure—mostly aircraft, since some of the magic folk didn’t like the iron in submarine hulls. I had asked Titania why they couldn’t just create ships by magic. She’d given me a dirty look and muttered something about “pumpkins” and “midnight.” I didn’t press the point.
They lined the ships with oak panels—a legion of dryads are owed Earth’s highest honors for what they did to ensure a sufficient supply of oak quickly enough—and loaded barrels of dirt aboard. I didn’t and still don’t understand the significance of all that, but Titania insisted. The gremlins— Titania said they were a kind of boggart, whatever that is—didn’t care, they love technology in their own mischievous way.
“Titania, how are we going to get those ships to the Eridani?” I’d asked when she’d explained the plan.
“Oh, that’s the easy part.”
“Easy? Even if we could lift them all to space, we’ll need a faster-than-light drive to get to their homeworld. Until they showed up, all our scientists thought that was impossible. Half still do. We still don’t have any idea how to do it.”
She grinned at me, flashed green eyes, and winked. “Magic, of course.”
“What, you wave your—” she didn’t have a wand, “—hands and poof, the ships are there?”
“No, silly. Fairy dust. We sprinkle it over and through the ships, and they’ll fly. And yes, magic will let you go faster than light.”
“I thought it was called pixie dust?”
Titania scowled. “That’s another thing Disney has to answer for. Pixies don’t fly.”
I changed the subject.
Later, we had two physicists trying to figure out fairy dust, investigating its quantum properties and so on. Bad idea. One ran off to live as a hermit, the other ended up in an asylum, stark raving bonkers.
The plan was simple. We couldn’t hope to win in a frontal assault, and if the Eridani realized we were mounting that level of defense, they’d pull out all the stops and carpet bomb Earth with dinosaur-killers. The Faerie, though, are masters of the hidden, the subtle, and the devastating. It’s fortunate for humans that they usually keep it amongst themselves.
There’d be a two-pronged counterattack. Our conventional space forces would put up what resistance they could, with the enemy’s gunners and navigators confused by fairy misdirection and will o’ the wisps. Then there were the gremlins.
My first meeting with a gremlin had been in my office. Titania introduced us: “This is the head gremlin. Call him Murphy.”
“That’s a joke, right? The gremlin’s name is Murphy?”
“No, you couldn’t pronounce his real name. I can’t even pronounce it, so call him Murphy.”
I looked at Murphy, who already had my desktop computer half disassembled.
“So what is your real name?” I asked.
He told me. Titania was right, I couldn’t pronounce it, or even imagine how to spell it. Then Murphy grinned and stuck out his forked tongue. So that’s how he’d made that sound.
“I’d expected someone—well, furrier,” I said.
They both scowled at me.
“Oh. Disney again?”
Titania shook her head. “Spielberg.”
We discussed battle plans while Murphy absentmindedly tinkered with my computer. The gremlins would be our behind-the-lines commandos and saboteurs. They’d wreak havoc with enemy control and communication systems. Things would go so wrong as to make our Murphy’s Law look like a rarely honored custom, yet the damage would seem entirely accidental, unfortunate, and most certainly not the result of enemy action.
Murphy finished with my computer and reassembled it.
I gestured at it. “That’s been flaky lately. Did you chase your buddies out? Will it work better now?”
He smiled and shook his head. “Sorry, that’s not us, that’s just Windows.”
The plans worked. The second Eridani fleet appeared but soon lost cohesion. Enemy ships wandered off alone to where our defenses could pick them off, some suffered spontaneous catastrophic mishaps, and many of their shots went wild. The third fleet was ragtag when it arrived; by then we already had gremlins in Eridani space. They were enjoying themselves. There was no fourth fleet.
Later, after Titania and I had welcomed back the last of our forces as they landed on the dry Groom Lake lakebed, we stood for a while looking up at the clear desert night sky.
Titania looked over at me. “I never paid much attention to astronomy. Where were the Eridani from?”
“Fifty-eight Eridani, about forty-three light years away.”
She looked up at the sky again. “Where?” She moved closer to me.
I put one arm around her shoulders and waved the other toward the constellation, toward a loose row of five stars. I pointed. “Second star on the right.”
“And straight on till morning,” she said quietly. It sounded wistful.
“Nothing.” She sighed. “Sometimes I wish you weren’t mortal.”
“I’ve wished that a few times myself. Mostly in combat.”
“Oh, Peter, that’s not what I meant.”
I knew that, but what could I do?
She turned toward me. “This place is misnamed, you know, Neverland.”
She shook her head. “Never mind; I have to go. Goodbye, Peter.” Then she kissed me.
I was still catching my breath when she faded into a cloud of sparkles and disappeared.
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Copyright 2009, Alastair Mayer. All rights reserved.
Alastair has been writing science fiction on and off since second grade, but began seriously pursuing it just within the last few years. He thinks he inherited a gene for SF from his father, who published Arthur C. Clarke's first stories. He has been a pilot, diver, astronaut candidate, software engineer and technical writer, and tries not to take himself too seriously. While his focus leans toward hard science fiction, he also enjoys writing light-hearted pieces in almost any genre.