Maegan Dobson Sippy: Mission Flora

We have great fun at our Duckbill Workshops–and we hope the participants do too! And as usual, so that you can share some of the fun with us, we publish stories from the workshop in the blog. Here is the first one!

Flora squiggled out from under her bed, having tucked her new specs into a dark corner behind a dusty box of Lego.
“That should do it, she muttered to herself, as she smoothed down her now-crumpled school skirt. “I don’t think that anyone will think to look there.”
Following Buster as he padded lightly down the stairs, she grabbed her rucksack, tiffin box and face mask from the hallway.
“Bye Ma! Bye Pa!” she shouted, taking a minute to affectionately ruffle Buster’s soft fur.
“Flora, wait!” she heard Pa call from the kitchen. “Did you remember to pack your new reading glasses?”
Busted. Flora shuffled reluctantly into her parents’ study, and began noisily moving around their ancient collection of books on extra-terrestrial intelligence, in what she hoped sounded like a good impression of searching for the much-loathed pair of sparkly, purple specs.
“Found them!” she shouted in the general direction of the kitchen, as she spotted a small green pair on the desk and pocketed them.
Now, why didn’t they have decent colours like that in the kid’s section of the opticians, she wondered, as she slammed the door behind her and ran towards the bus.

First period was astronomy, Flora’s favourite. Though she wasn’t alone. In her school on the campus of the Alien Diplomacy Centre, it was the hour most of her fellow middle-schoolers looked forward to the most.
“I want to see attempts at solving the shortest path to reach planet Dao 5 above your desks right away,” began Mrs Singh, surveying the eager faces of class five.
“Easy,” thought Flora, as she used her stardust pen to trace the answer out in bold yellow strokes in the air directly above her desk. The ADC space craft would follow in the wake of the Aakash comet, before attempting to fall into Dao 5’s field of gravity. With this being Earth’s final chance of bringing home White Blood Cell replica powder, they’d been nothing else on the satellite transmissions for days. The entire human race was collectively holding its breath, hoping that this time they’d encounter a friendly race. A race willing to share the WBC replica powder that they so badly needed to develop a vaccination for the epidemic.
“Fast work, Flora!” smiled Mrs Singh, as she passed down the aisles of students.
Giggles came from the row behind, and though she couldn’t hear each and every word, the stares of the girls at the back of the room felt like they were burning a hole in Flora’s back. Was it her imagination, or did she hear the words ‘specs’ and ‘disease’? Ever since she first wore the purple glasses last week, it seemed like Reema, Anu, Susan and the others had decided that she wasn’t girl gang material anymore. And Veer had told her on the bus that he didn’t want to sit with her, as he’d heard that her immune system had been compromised …
“Whatever,” Flora tried to repeat to herself.
Focusing on holding back the tears that were prickling behind her eyes, Flora pulled out the green pair of glasses from her pocket. Maybe it was just the purple, sparkly pair that seemed to give people the impression that she was diseased. Anyway, Mrs Singh’s next exercise required her to read the textbook, and there was something about this green pair that Flora liked.
Nope, they didn’t seem to be making reading any easier, thought Flora, glancing up to focus on what Mrs Singh was saying, and realizing that her teacher had somehow turned green. Well, not fully green, but she certainly had a greenish tinge …
“Weird,” thought Flora, as she pulled the book closer to her nose. “Maybe reading with the wrong glasses is making my dizzy.”
But it wasn’t just Mrs Singh who had become colourful. Surveying the two rows in front of her, Flora could see that the back of her classmates’ heads were framed with yellowy-orange halos. And turning towards the back row, she was presented by a block of red-tinged former friends.

It seemed like everyone had heard the rumour, because no-one would sit with Flora at lunch, either. Resigned to working her way through her tiffin boxes alone, Flora ate slowly, hoping against hope that she was doing a good job of looking like she didn’t care. She was so absorbed by the task of blocking out the rest of the lunch hall, that she didn’t notice Rahul until he was already sat beside her.
“Cool specs, Flo,” he said through a mouthful of paratha. “When did you swap them?”
But Flora couldn’t answer. She was too busy admiring her cousin brother’s greenish glow. Her new specs really were cool.

Rahul, Chacha and Chachi had come over after school, to watch the news about the Dao 5 mission with Flora’s parents.
“All your work is finally going to be appreciated!” Flora could hear her Chachi telling Ma from the kitchen.
Flora didn’t know about that, but she hoped that Mission Z would discover friendly aliens this time. If she really did have ‘the disease’ then she’d need some of the powder that mission hoped to bring back in order to raise her immunity.
“Approaching Dao 5, Earth’s final hope in its mission to source WBC-replica powder, the ADC team was unable to extend diplomatic ties, as they were greeted by a hostile alien force earlier this evening,” began the news reader. “With hostile races now confirmed as occupying all five of the target planes, the government is considering its next step. Early reports indicate that the mission will be transferred from the Alien Diplomatic Centre to the Army.
There was silence in the room.
“Well, I’m glad we didn’t go to the centre to watch the news with the others,” joked Flora’s father, in an attempt to break the loaded atmosphere.
“Cho!” interrupted Chacha. “Your alien identification system worked perfectly. It’s not your fault that there were no green aliens to be found. Who would have thought that all five planets would have hostile races?”
Flora listened to the conversation with interest, her ears pricking up when she heard ‘green aliens’.
“What’s the use,” she caught Ma saying, as the four adults moved back towards the kitchen. “If the mission goes to the army then no-one will trust diplomacy again.”

That night, Flora barely slept, and when she did her dreams were full of red aliens, who mysteriously morphed into Susan, Reema and Anu before her eyes. Were the green glasses linked to Ma and Pa’s big project? Surely they must be. Even if they were, though, the project seemed to be doomed. There were no friendly aliens to be found.
But observing the world through the green glasses certainly made everything a lot simpler for Flora. On the bus she steered her way towards Ravi, whose parents had just been transferred to the ADC, and who was giving off a friendly green light. She stuck with Ravi though first period – English – and managed to avoid interacting with any of the old girl gang until Physical Education, when Mohan Sir paired her with Anu for the warm up.
Flora squirmed internally as she watched Anu peel herself away from Susan and Reema, and head reluctantly in her direction. This was not going to be fun. Flora might know that she didn’t have ‘the disease’ – Ma had checked her white blood cell count just that morning – but it wasn’t as if Anu would believe her. And while she’d removed the green specs when she’d changed into her gym kit, her instincts told her that there was a whole lot of red around her.
“We’ll start with headstands – take turns, and don’t forget to support your partner while they’re trying!” shouted Mohan Sir across the gym.
“Phew,” thought Flora, quickly inverting into a perfect headstand. Headstands were her speciality. Which was lucky, because she wasn’t expecting much help from Anu.
“Now, swap!” bellowed Mohan Sir, after checking and correcting posture.
Now it was Anu’s turn to squirm. Balance wasn’t exactly her strong point.
“I need you to catch my legs and hold them tight!” she whispered to Flora … promise you will?”
“I promise,” replied Flora, holding out her arms reassuringly. “I’ll catch you!”
The rest of the period passed uneventfully. Anu seemed to have decided that Flora probably wasn’t diseased, and as they worked on a gymnastics floor routine, Flora almost forgot that she’d spent the last week playing the role of chief outcast. The light feeling lasted as she showered, changed and rushed off to astronomy, donning the green glasses as she slipped into her seat.
Something had changed. Could she be seeing correctly? The whole classroom was awash with green. No red, no yellow, no arrange. All green. Flora removed the glasses, blinked, and put them back on again. No mistaking it. Everyone had become green.

Lunchtime came, and Flora wasn’t sure what to do with her discovery. The thoughts crowded around her head, refusing to be ordered. She watched Anu, who was polishing off her second sandwich, across the table. Could she trust her?
“Are you mad at me for being a jerk last week?” Anu ventured, barely making eye contact with Flora.
“Actually, no …” Flora replied. “But I might need your help.”
Anu looked up in surprise. “Help?”
“I need to speak to Samir Uncle,” replied Flora, who had decided that the best course of action was to go straight to the top.
“I don’t know … Pa was home this morning, but he leaves tonight for the emergency meetings,” Anu ventured.
“Then we have to act fast,” said Flora.

By the end of final period, Anu was up to speed. She’d tried Flora’s parents’ alien identification glasses, and confirmed that Flora’s suspicions were correct. People didn’t have to remain one colour. They changed. And they changed green fastest when you were kind to them. Anu was convinced that their discovery could help her father negotiate one more chance for the ADC team. But she wasn’t convinced that he’d take them seriously – or even that they’d be able to reach him in time.

The bus journey had never seemed to pass more slowly.
“You have the print out, right?” asked Flora, for the umpteenth time.
“I have the print out,” Anu reassured her, hoping that she was right in thinking that her Dad would be more likely to read it than he was to actually listen to her. “And I’ll make sure that he gets it.”
Flora watched her friend sprint away from the bus stop towards home, hoping against hope that she was right.

Dinner that night was a somber affair at Flora’s place. Rahul, Chacha and Chichi had stayed at their place, and Ma and Pa’s gloom hung heavily over the table.
“Can’t we watch the 9 pm satellite transmission?” asked Flora, as she cleared away the dinner things into the kitchen.
Pa shrugged. “Go ahead,” he said. “We’ll be in the other room.”
“ADC mission extended,” the newsreader’s voice boomed out of the transmitter. “A breaking new discovery has led to the WBC-replica mission staying with the ADC, who are confident that they have a fool-proof way of extending diplomatic ties with Dao 5’s aliens.”
Flora could see her parents out of the corner of her eye, approaching the transmission point in disbelief. She beamed, taking the green glasses out of her pocket.
“There’s something I need to tell you about these …”


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