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Author's Note: Written for Firefly Friday fic challenge #1.
by Tara O'Shea
The stars were a myth. A fairy tale. He'd never believed in them.
The night sky to him was an endless expanse of grey-blue, the haze reflecting the lights of the streetlamps and buildings back at him. There were no pinpricks in the curtain of his night, to chart a ship by. The stars were as fantastical as giants and been stalks, as unbelievable as unicorns and dragons. As unfathomable as Apollo in his chariot or Asgaard's rainbow bridge.
Until he was eight years old.
His grammar school homeroom class had gone trooping off with Mrs. Nelson and Ms. Kelly—his favourite two teachers—to the planetarium stuck out on the end of a pier into the ocean, where the wind whipped so hard that you were worried you'd blow right off into the swells. They somehow managed to get sixty kids to adhere to the buddy system and not go wandering off through the steel and marble halls. Now, it seemed like a miracle. Back then, it was just routine. For some reason city kids on Demeter were so used to being herded around like cattle that they didn't even seem to notice.
It was a crowded world—one of the early settlements, built up so quick it seemed destined to follow in the wake of Earth-that-was and be burned out and empty long before her sisters and brothers were completely tapped. Wash had always figured that folks just hadn't quite learned their lessons yet, when they'd terraformed and settled on Demeter. That maybe paradise would be the furthermost outpost from the Core. A planet where you could look up at night and see a sky pocked with stars. Stars so bright you could see by. Stars that crowded so close together it was impossible to believe how big the spaces between them really were. Spaces so vast you could go a week or a month or a year between gravity wells.
He'd been paired up with Billy Cardman, a fellow runty little kid with black hair that stood straight up no matter how often his mother attacked him with a comb and spit. Billy had gripped his hand so tightly in his sweaty palm that the first thing Wash had done when they'd sat in the gigantic round room as wipe his hand on his pants over and over. Billy had looked hurt. Wash hadn't cared. He'd been too busy staring at Ms. Kelly, who was pretty the way his mom was pretty. Her red hair was smoothed into a thick, fat braid, and she had imitation tortoise-shell glasses.
Then they had turned out the lights, and projected a holo of the galaxy on the ceiling, and Wash had felt like he was drowning. He knew it was special effects—in his heart he knew that it was all some joke, that nothing like this could really exist beyond that grey shroud his world had been prematurely wrapped in. That it couldn't be real. It had to be a dream.
He'd kicked the red plush seat in front of him, leaning back so far that he virtually disappeared into his chair so that he could see it all. Drink it all in.
When he was eight years old, Wash discovered that he wanted to believe in fairy tales.