Mica had always been a quiet child. His Dad referred to him as his little Plato, because he was always deep in one thought or another, yet rarely voiced his internal processes. At school, he ate lunch alone in one of the study rooms, as a way to avoid the routine bullying from some of the more simple-minded students. The fact that he never said anything back to them only fuelled their anger. If he would only cry and cower like the other kids, he would surely escape with a small punch on the shoulder. But Mica would just sit there, silent and almost smiling, as he took the abuse. This, of course, riled up any prospective bully and often resulted in a bloody nose on Mica’s part.
Mica found that the more time he spent alone, the more books he could read. Mica loved reading, by age nine he had read over four-hundred novels and had moved on to reading textbooks designed for freshman highschool students. His accurate reading age has been widely debated by several educators, but the average often falls somewhere around the fourteen or fifteen mark. His Dad was a hard-working single parent, and because of this, Mica learned to become incredibly self-sufficient. He enjoyed cooking for himself because it meant more reading, albeit cookbooks, and the only thing that inhibited his ability to be a culinary master was his height. He discovered that constantly shifting a step-ladder around the kitchen effects some of the more time-sensitive aspects of meal preparation.
Some parents would’ve been worried about Mica’s lack of verbal communication skills. Mica’s Dad was either not at all concerned or simply didn’t have the time to be. Either way, he loved his little Plato. When he looked into his sons’ eyes, he could see a galaxy of thoughts, and he didn’t mind if Mica didn’t want to share them. Besides, a small part of him was concerned that he wouldn’t be able to keep up with him intellectually. One morning, when Mica had been eight, he had found him reading a chapter of a textbook on distillation, he then realised that he wouldn’t have the slightest clue how to help him with that piece of homework. Fortunately for his father, it wasn’t homework. Mica was reading up on the subject for fun. You’re perhaps starting to understand why he was a child who was frequently targeted by bullies.
You’d think that a boy like Mica would take home a report card that featured phrases such as “a pleasure to teach” or “an active learner”, or even “what a child genius, somebody call Mensa!” In fact, it was quite the opposite. Teachers didn’t enjoy having Mica in their class, as he always declined to vocalize his knowledge and always kept himself to himself. On most occasions he would be at the back of the class, reading about a subject entirely unrelated to the 5th-grade curriculum, much to the frustration of his educators.
One teacher, Mr Potts, felt as though Mica could greatly help in the education of his peers, if only he would raise his hand for a correct answer once in awhile. On a particularly balmy day in the summer term, Mr Potts refused to carry on with a lesson until Mica verbally answered the history question asked of him. Mr Potts was fully aware that Mica knew the year that the Boston Tea Party had taken place, but Mica refused to answer the question. Instead, he defiantly continued to read his copy of Les Miserables, which drove Mr Potts over the edge. If you ask Mr Potts today, he’ll blame the heat as to why he flipped his own desk over in anger. Both he and Mica knew the accurate reason.
His teachers were right, in a way. Mica should’ve been more vocal in his classes, he was a child wise beyond his years, who was frustrated by those around him. This frustration manifested itself in prolonged bouts of solitary isolation. Mica couldn’t understand why the other children in his class weren’t reading the books he was, but had he raised this question to them, or answered those that the teachers asked, maybe they would’ve all understood a little more about each other, and grown as people. Either that, or they would’ve all united against him, pulled his shirt over his head and taken his self-prepared packed lunch.
One evening, toward the end of the school summer holidays, Mica carried out his nightly routine of building a blanket fort, to read inside. He may have been well-developed mentally, but ultimately he was still a nine-year-old, and nine-year-olds love blanket forts. He typically built his “fortress of knowledge” at around nine thirty, at which time his Dad would enter and wish him a universe full of sweet dreams. Mica would then read for hours on end, by torchlight, until he couldn’t keep his eyes open any longer. This evening was no different, well, other than the Scientist landing in his backyard.
It was around a quarter to midnight and Mica’s eyes were starting to become rather heavy. He had just blinked a blink that lasted for a few seconds longer than a blink should, when he was jolted awake by a crash, followed by a shatter. He surmised that the din had come from behind his house, so he exited his fortress and made his way over to the large, rectangular window that faced out onto the backyard. Through the window he thought he could see a giant light bulb on the lawn, but he quickly decided that he must be hallucinating due to exhaustion. So he opened the window wide, to allow some fresh air to reach his brain. A few seconds of bleary eye-rubbing and deep breaths revealed that what he had seen was indeed real.
Mica was fascinated and amazed by the sight from his window. On the lawn was an incandescent light bulb that easily had the circumference of a large boulder, the exact sort that would chase Indiana Jones down a long tunnel. Below the gargantuan bulb was a basket, much like the one you would find attached to a hot air balloon. Upon closer inspection, Mica could see the wires that connected the bulb to the basket. This was a hot air balloon! Mica was amazed and was about to run out into the garden in pursuit of active curiosity, when a body rolled out of the turned-over basket. He instinctively hid beneath the window, before he was seen by the stranger. Slowly, after a few moments and deep breaths, he peered over the lip of the windowsill, to find a woman staring back at him.
‘Oh! Perfect!’ The woman called out as she climbed to her feet. ‘Little boy! Can you come down here and give me a hand?’
She spoke with what Mica recognised to be a British accent, which somehow made her more comforting. Mica stood to his feet, but did not answer.
‘Come on young man, I don’t bite.’ Suddenly, the filament of the giant bulb started to spark erratically, which caused the woman to fall backwards once more. ‘No no no! You’re not due a service for another three-hundred years. Don’t you dare fail me now.’
The bulb ceased its sparking and returned to a soft glow, as though the bulb was conscious and her words contained a great power.
The woman looked back up at Mica. She had dirty blonde hair and a face that you couldn’t possibly pin an age to. At some angles she looked to be in her mid-forties, yet at others she seemed not a day over thirty. She wore a stained white lab coat, that had seen better days. Mica suspected that it had once been a clean white lab coat, but that time had happened. To him, she looked like an old scientist, the sort he would find on the reverse-sleeve of one of his high school textbooks; dusty, yet somehow trustworthy.
‘Seriously, you’re just going to keep gawping at me whilst I repair my vehicle? Where are we?’ The Scientist pulled a device from her pocket, it reminded Mica of his Dad’s smartphone, ‘Oh, America. That explains a lot.’
‘Who are you and why are you in my yard?’ Mica blurted out, as he quickly covered his mouth with his hand.
‘Oh. He speaks! Typically American of you to be worrying about who exactly is in your garden, instead of helping them, but at least he has a voice.’ The Scientist walked away from the wreckage and closer to Mica’s house. She spoke in a shouted whisper, ‘Why don’t you help me and I’ll tell you exactly who I am. This isn’t stranger danger,’ she paused and gestured to her body, ‘I’m a woman, you’ve got nothing to be afraid of.’
Mica looked at her quizzically, with his best Sherlock Holmes stare. He’d already made up his mind that he was going to go down into the yard and help this woman, he just wanted her to think otherwise. She didn’t look dangerous and her vehicle was like nothing he had ever seen. At least, nothing he had ever seen outside of his sci-fi novels. Given the burns and stains on her coat, and the fact that she had crash-landed into this very situation, Mica decided that the Scientist was more of a danger to herself than anyone else. ‘Okay. I’ll be right down.’
‘Brilliant! Thank you.’
By the time Mica walked out into his yard, The Scientist was already struggling beside the basket of her bulb balloon. She was struggling alone, trying to tip the wicker contraption back onto its’ base. He rushed over to help her, fastening his denim jacket as he ran, Mica then grasped the opposite side of the basket and lifted with all of the strength his tiny frame could muster. The Scientist smiled at him as they worked as a team, her smile was as infectious as any Mica had received, so he couldn’t help but reciprocate. After one final heave from the pair, the basket was upright once more.
‘There! That’s better.’ The Scientist looked pleased with their work. ‘Now, let’s see what we can do about this pesky bulb.’ As she spoke these words, the bulb gave off a couple of soft glows. Mica thought it was as though the bulb were sighing, which would of course be impossible.
‘Who are you?’ Mica asked once more, realising he never received an answer to his initial question.
‘That’s a complicated and perhaps irrelevant question to answer.’ She responded bluntly, she spoke in a way that no adult had spoken to Mica before, he liked it. ‘Hand me that toolbox from the basket.’
Mica obeyed but couldn’t shake his curiosity. ‘Well, what do I call you?’ He asked, as he handed her the relatively small toolbox.
‘Questions. So many questions. Too many questions if you ask me, which you will, because you’re asking so many damn questions!’ She was practically glaring at him, this shook Mica a little and he cowered the way any ten-year-old would. ‘I’m sorry kid. It’s just- it’s been a long time since I’ve spoken to a child.’ She sighed and looked into his big eyes. ‘What do I look like to you? What do you want to call me?’
‘You look like a scientist.’ Mica said, without any hesitation.
‘Excellent. I’ve always admired a lot of the scientists you have down here. You should call me that. Now, what do I call you?’
‘Mica,’ he responded as he processed what she had said, ‘What do you mean by down here?’
‘Ah. I knew that I-’
‘-Are you from Canada?’ Mica interrupted.
‘Yep. Canada. That’s exactly it. Couldn’t be more Canadian if I tried, ay.’ Her accent was poor at best, offensive at worst.
‘So what’re you doing in my yard?’
‘Well- I was on my way home when my balloon crashed here.’ The Scientist seemed extremely pleased with her answer.
Mica could sense she was withholding some information, but he didn’t know what. He didn’t even care at this point, now that he had spoken to the Scientist, she seemed friendly enough, and her wreckage was now the focal point of his thought processes. ‘So,’ he said, with quite a lot of authority for his age, ‘How do we fix this?’
‘Now you’re asking the right questions Mica!’ She excitedly scurried over to her giant bulb and pressed her head against the glass. ‘Fortunately for us, the glass hasn’t cracked anywhere. Then we’d be in quite the pickle.’
The Scientist crouched down beside the bulb and opened up a small hatch in the screw threads, this revealed a labyrinth of wiring that Mica couldn’t make sense of. He was bright for his age, but this contraption contained engineering beyond anything Mica had read about. She seemed to pull at the wires indiscriminately, as he handed her various tools upon request. Mica recognised some of the tools she was using, others seemed completely alien, so she had to describe their physical appearance instead of calling them by their name.
‘You mean you’ve never heard of a Cumberwrench?!’ The Scientist asked in complete shock.
Perhaps the strangest thing about the repairs being carried out was the way the bulb emitted glows whenever the Scientist tinkered with one of the wires. Mica could swear that it was laughing at one point, as though it were being tickled by her touch.
‘Okay, now this is going to hurt a little.’ The Scientist said.
‘Oh. Should I take a step back?’ Mica asked.
‘Sorry kid, I wasn’t talking to you. You’re perfectly safe.’ He watched with an extreme curiosity as she pushed a green wire into a blue wire. Sparks flew and the bulb let out flashes of light, each one brighter than the last. ‘Hold on girl. You’ve got this.’
The bulb seemed to scream continuously, but it could’ve just been a phantom electrical noise from the inner-workings of the contraption. Eventually, each flash of light lasted longer and longer, and the screaming sound subsided. Mica stood back in awe as the bulb began to slowly rise up from the ground.
‘Ah! Yes! Come on you beauty!’ The Scientist let go of the wires and started to leap around in a sort-of goofy victory dance. She grasped Mica by the hand and held it up high in celebration. ‘We did it Mica! Look a her go!’
Mica was amazed by the fantastical scene in front of his eyes. He watched as the giant lightbulb floated higher and higher into the air, and with every passing second the light emanating from the bulb grew brighter, until it shone as bright as a coastal lighthouse. Then, as the lightbulb became vertical, Mica said something that made him sound like a normal nine-year-old; ‘Woah.’
‘Woah is exactly right. What do you make of that Mica?’
Mica had no words. The deep, dark blue of the night sky acted as the perfect backdrop for this enchanting glow of light. The balloon seemed to simultaneously (and impossibly) enhance and drown-out each and every star in the sky. He thought that the balloon had as much right to be among the stars as the stars themselves. Mica was so distracted by his fantastical surroundings, that he didn’t notice the Scientist had climbed into the basket, until she addressed him from that location.
‘Well, thanks for your help Mica. You’re a good neighbour, and definitely one of the better Americans I’ve met.’
‘Wait. Where’re you going?’
‘Home. I’m running awfully late as it is.’
‘But, you can’t just- go. You only just got here.’ Mica felt as though he could express himself properly around the Scientist, thoughts were popping into his mind and he was actually saying them. It was something about her smile, it was comforting.
‘I’m sorry Mica. I have places to go, people to see. In case my obnoxiously extravagant vehicle didn’t spell it out for you; I’m quite an important person.’
Mica thought for a moment, as the Scientist turned away and pulled on a few cables that hung from the base of the bulb. He thought about all the times his Dad had tried to get him to do something he didn’t want to do. ‘Well, cool. I’ll see you around I suppose.’ He said casually, as he turned away from the balloon.
‘Is that it?’ The Scientist replied, ‘People typically beg for a ride or something.’
‘Oh. This happens often? You should probably get a bulb that doesn’t crash so much.’ The bulb glowed a furious red, seemingly in Mica’s direction.
The Scientist became extremely flustered as she watched Mica walk back towards his house. ‘Okay. You can come for one quick ride. I’m feeling generous tonight.’
Mica turned back around and exaggerated an examination of the balloon. ‘Where to? Canada? My aunt lives in Canada, so I don’t really want to visit again.’
‘Canada? Oh right, Canada! Well, we could go there, or we could go somewhere in the opposite direction entirely?’
‘No not Mexico. I meant- Oh just climb aboard and I’ll show you.’
Mica ran excitedly towards the basket of the balloon, he couldn’t help but crack a smile at his effective use of reverse psychology. The Scientist reached out her hand and helped him inside, he fell on his behind as he boarded.
‘Watch yourself, we can’t have you getting clumsy where we’re going.’ The Scientist pulled on some more cables and pulled out her smartphone-like device, she danced her fingers over the touch screen and declared, ‘Liftoff!’
Mica felt the basket raise off the ground, so he got to his feet and stood on his tiptoes in order to peer over the edge. They were already around ten metres in the air and the balloon showed no signs of slowing down, if anything, they were speeding up. The Scientist placed a gentle hand on his shoulder and said ‘Don’t lean too far over the edge. This vehicle can do a great many things, but there’s no helping you if you fall.’
He made a mental note of the warning but continued to look down below him. His yard was getting smaller, and he could now see the roof of his house. Before long he could see his entire street from a bird’s eye view, and after a minute of ascension, his entire town was just a glow of dim lights below his very feet.
‘Wow. This is incredible! How does it work? Is it like a balloon? It can’t be, there’s no fire, it’s moving too fast. Okay, is it like a helicopter? But without the rotary blades? How would that even work though? Wait, I know-’
‘-Slow down Mica.’ The Scientist spoke with a calming voice, ‘You’re going to give yourself an aneurysm trying to figure this one out. Besides, you haven’t even seen the best part yet.’ She made a few adjustments to the software on her handheld device and they began to move faster.
Although Mica could see the clouds rushing by him, he didn’t feel as though they were moving particularly fast. He had read all about the various forces, including gravitational, and he thought that the two of them ought to be feeling at least something right now. Once they were well-above the clouds and showed no signs of slowing, Mica became a little nervous. ‘Isn’t it dangerous to be up this high?’ He turned and asked the Scientist, ‘I mean, shouldn’t we also be quite cold?’
‘Don’t worry about it. We’re perfectly safe, as long as we stay in the basket.’ She then sat down on the wicker floor and patted on the material beside her. ‘You should probably take a seat though. We’ll be safe once we’re on the other side, but passing through an atmosphere is always going to be a little bumpy.’
Mica’s eyes widened as his stomach turned in both fear and excitement, he sat down opposite the Scientist and held onto the side of the basket. ‘You’re not from Canada are you?’
‘Not in the slightest. Now hold on tight!’
The bulb started to flicker, not as violently as it had done on the ground, but still as though it were facing some kind of interference. A great electrical whooshing sound emanated from the interior of the bulb as Mica gritted his teeth and closed his eyes tightly shut. The whole thing was like bad aeroplane turbulence, the sort that causes the pilot to switch on the fasten-seatbelt sign and makes you worry for a brief moment that crashing is indeed a possibility.
‘How’re you holding up Mica?!’ She had to shout to be heard over the sound of the bulb, and her voice vibrated as she spoke.
‘I think I might puke!’ He gagged and his cheeks bulged almost cartoonishly.
The Scientist reached into her coat pocket and pulled out a paper bag. ‘Not in my ship you’re not!’ She thrusted the open bag into his hands and he began to heave.
The Scientist rolled her eyes, ‘Amateurs.’
The mechanical whirring slowed down and the sound from the bulb reduced itself to a small electromagnetic hum. As the Scientist stood to her feet, the light from the bulb returned to a bright and consistent glow.
‘Did you throw up?’
Mica looked down into the bag, wiped his mouth and nodded with some shame.
‘Give it here then.’ The Scientist reached out and took the disgustingly heavy bag from him. ‘You also might want to stand up, and slowly.’
Mica stood to his feet and the greatest impossibility he had experienced yet revealed itself to him; they were in space.
The lightbulb balloon was among the stars, brightening the sky as though it were a star itself. Mica couldn’t help it, he had to, he looked over the edge of the basket and saw a view he never dreamed of being able to experience, a view that a tiny percentage of our species has had the privilege of seeing in-person. Mica witnessed the Earth from above, and it was wondrous.
‘Here. Watch this.’ The Scientist gestured and nodded at the bag of puke in her hand. ‘It’s going to be gross but also really cool.’ She held the bag in her throwing-arm and hurled it into space.
‘No! Don’t!’ Mica called out, but he was too late. For a second, the bag flew through space as though it were a football thrown on Earth. Then, it just stopped still and started to float. After a couple more seconds, Mica’s fresh hurl began to float out of the bag and into space, like an oozy, chunky jelly.
‘That breaks several space-hygiene codes but it was absolutely worth it. Look at it jiggle!’ The Scientist watched the floating puke in amazement, Mica had other thoughts and suddenly he became very pale. ‘What’s wrong kid?’ She asked.
‘How am I- how’re we breathing right now?’
‘Don’t worry, you’re safe, you can take deep breaths. Looking at you it feels like that would be the best course of action.’ Mica took some long and purposeful inhales as she continued, ‘The bulb gives off a sort of- I don’t know- forcefield I think would be the word. It’s how we’re breathing and talking, and it’s how I was able to throw your sick bag all the way out there. Which, by the way, you better not need to do that again, that was my last one.’
‘I’m good.’ Mica rallied himself, as colour started to return to his face.
‘Excellent. You’re going to need to be.’
They travelled through space in silence for a while, largely because Mica had become used to his surroundings, and the Scientist didn’t want to interrupt the feelings of awe she had provided him with. Mica thought about how fast they were moving, he could see stars and planets in the distance, each of them rushing by in a matter of seconds. His Dad had shown him movies that referenced jumping to “light-speed” or “warp-speed”, so he concluded that they must be travelling at one of those. Eventually, he broke the silence, ‘So, where’re we going?’
‘I hadn’t really thought about it too much,’ the Scientist responded whilst fiddling with her device, ‘I was thinking a lap or two around the galaxy and then get you back in time for school.’
‘It’s the summer vacation, I don’t have school.’
‘Damn. That’s a shame. School’s brilliant. I remember I couldn’t wait to get back to school. You know, I think I was the only kid in my class who looked forward to a Monday morning.’
‘Well, I go back in a week, and I really don’t want to.’
‘Why?’ The Scientist almost sounded concerned, she put her device back in her pocket and looked intensely at Mica, ‘You seem like a bright spark, school should be a piece of cake for you.’
‘Well. It’s not.’ Mica turned away from her and looked out into the vast emptiness of space.
The Scientist walked up beside him and leant on the edge of the basket, she joined in his pensive stance and expression, and spoke without looking away from the stars. ‘You know, school ends eventually, and it gets easier.’ She spoke from a place of deep understanding. ‘The things other kids say, the things they point out as weaknesses, they become strengths when you’re an adult. Then you shine brighter and fly higher than any of them.’ She gestured to the bulb above their heads and looked to him for a response.
Mica sighed, ‘They’re just too stupid to learn what I’m learning, they don’t understand and so they attack me for it.’
‘It’s not their fault though. We’re not all the same, trust me, there’s a great variety of people out there.’
‘But why does their stupidity have to get in the way of my growth?’ He asked as he turned back to her.
‘Woah. Time out. Starting to sound a smidge like a supervillain’s monologue there Mica.’ She unknowingly took a small step away from him.
‘I just- I don’t know. When I’m at home, I can read and learn much faster than the other kids. Then, I get to school, and they can’t even answer questions that kindergarteners could answer.’
‘Well, have you tried helping them? You sound like you could be teaching the class if you wanted.’
‘They can’t be helped.’ Mica sighed, as a bright blue comet whizzed by the balloon.
‘Now, come on. Education is the backbone of any society. Even America. They’re not going to get any brighter if you don’t help them shine.’
Mica turned around and leant against the basket, he looked up at the giant bulb, ‘You’ve really got a thing for lights and brightness don’t you?’
The Scientist shrugged her shoulders, ‘It’s sort of my thing.’ She mimicked his pose and looked up at her giant, glass contraption. ‘Seriously though Mica, talk to your peers with kindness and respect, or their ignorance will only manifest and grow.’
‘How am I supposed to do that when they always beat me up after I say anything to them?’
‘Tell me, and be honest, do you speak to them in the same way you’re speaking to me now?’
‘Figures. Kid, nobody likes a smartarse.’ The Scientist returned to her device, she held it up against a patch of sky, and appeared to begin scanning the air, as a shop assistant would a barcode. ‘Uh oh.’ The mood in the basket suddenly shifted and the Scientist started to frantically pull at some of the cables.
Without dropping their speed too much, the balloon shifted direction, which made Mica feel a little queasy again. ‘What’s happening?’ He asked.
‘We’re taking a slight detour. I was going to show you the outer-rim of the Milky Way. But- I’ve got some work to do.’ She looked at Mica, who seemed perplexed by her prior sentence. She began to think out loud, ‘Should I take you home first? Probably.’ She looked at her device. ‘But I don’t think we have time, so I guess it’s bring your random human child to work day. Okay. Let’s do this!’ She made a few more adjustments to the dangling cables and the lightbulb shone an almost blinding light that then flashed off and on rapidly. Mica gripped onto the side of the wicker basket so tightly that his knuckles started to turn white. ‘Hold on! And be prepared to ask a lot more of your questions when we reach the other side.’ She winked at Mica, and under a flashing light, they were off.