Adder’s Crystal

Adder's Crystal
Illustration by Rita Fei

Adder stared quizzically at the dried and brittle thing in her line of vision, which had been a flower only three months before. A cold northern wind blew the delicate husk of its stem from side to side like an old disjointed fence post caught in a tornado.

A great mass rose from over the horizon. Lifted by a force as incomprehensible to Adder as the changing of the seasons, it charged into the open sky and disappeared. But that was long ago, Adder was just a little girl. She could remember watching the spectacular rocket launches, finally heading to mars after a long and problematic testing period which yielded some animal and human deaths. “Isn’t it exciting?” pronounced Adder’s mother. “A whole new world, a whole new start for all of us.” Adder couldn’t understand what it meant at the time, nor did she presently believe that her mother understood it. The memory left a strange feeling in her chest and a bitter taste in her mouth.

Adder picked up her sheep-leather handbag, opening it up to make sure it contained her portable welder and laser cutter. This small pouch which hung over Adder’s right shoulder held multiple tools capable of completely dismantling cars, tractors, even airplanes, and Adder was naturally very protective of it. “C’mon Whiskey!” called Adder. A small red creature somewhere between a fox and a ferret ran out from behind a beautifully hand-crafted cedar door. He jumped up to greet Adder with as big of a smile as a small fox-like creature can put on their face. Whiskey climbed up Adder’s leg and rested on her shoulders.

“Where are we going today?” A ghost spoke directly into Adder’s temporal lobe. A small non-intrusive and removable device helped Adder hear the speech of Whiskey. “Vivendelstein Veien. There’s something out there, something we can take apart and use,” replied Adder as if she were speaking to her co-pilot.

“Taking me with you?” asked Whiskey hopefully.

“Have I ever gone anywhere without you since we met?”

“I’ll take that as a yes.” Whiskey happily twirled around Adder’s neck and under her sheepskin coat as she threw it on.

It was true. Adder had never left Whiskey’s side since the Christmas morning she found that beautiful creature. Half dead and curled up underneath a balsam fir tree, wolves had chased them into the old fenced-off helipad area where roughnecks had once been flown out to the oil platforms. Nowadays, well-kept and automated greenhouses occupy the space. The wolves prowled as they saw fit, emboldened by the lack of the large metallic beasts that once patrolled the streets of the city.

Adder threw on her biodegradable cellulite raincoat that she had printed herself in one of the suspension baths in the community longhouse. Today would presumably be rainy. Just as rainy as any other day in southwestern Norway, thought Adder. Stepping outside, the sun shone through the clouds and hit the front door of Adder’s shared housing. It lit up their faces with a divine warmth that signaled that spring was well underway. She looked around at the houses in her neighborhood and smiled at the sight of numerous vertical garden beds exploding with green pungent delicious-looking food. A chicken ran past her door, screaming in its chicken way. The neighbor’s dog quickly followed after. Adder grabbed him by the collar without hesitation and walked him over to Olav’s house to put him inside the fence.

“Oh Adder! I was just thinking about you!” squawked Olav. Adder jumped.

Bushes of a myriad different types of berries cascaded over the side of Olav’s house. The berries were complemented by a backdrop of numerous boxes of vegetables and budding fruit trees alongside a handsomely designed greenhouse made from recycled windows.

“Have you heard? The interplanetary web has come on for the first time this year. Can you imagine? I remember in my days when you could just jump onto any old computer and access infinite information at any time. Any old thing, you could just type it in and you’d have your answer. That was before your time I suppose!” Olav chuckled. “Anyhow! The Mars colonists have just sent word from the Red Planet! Come, come inside Adder!” Olav was a short, big-bellied and overly jovial fellow. Someone who you could easily consider might be related to Santa Clause or Chris Farley, although slightly less animated.

“Oh, please Olav, I don’t want to hear about those deserters,” Adder started with a tired disinterest.

“I know, I know, Adder, but aren’t you just a bit curious? Come sit, I’ll make you a cup of coffee. Some travelers from the Canary Islands recently stopped by and had some very nice things to trade! It’s not very often that we see things like coffee in this part of the world anymore. Come, come inside Adder.”

Olav was right. Adder reluctantly entered his house, coerced by the promise of exotic treats.

“Would you like something to eat? I’ve still many jars of apple compote lying around and a tub of yogurt I made out of the milk from Jorgen’s sheep. Seems to be a nearly inexhaustible supply.”

“No, Olav I’m sorry I really don’t have time, there is something out by Stokkavatnet, the lake out west. I have to go see what it is before the rust gets to it and it’s too late.” Adder reached for the doorknob.

“More old junk eh!? I can’t believe they keep finding this stuff. It just shows how polluted with power and greed the people of the old world had become. But listen, Adder! I’ve been having some issues with my battery system that is being fed by the solar and wind units around town— but my batteries being charged by the local hydro are fine. I walked in to check the batteries a few days ago and noticed that they were only half-charged but had been connected to the local smart grid for the entire night.” Olav explained with a shine in his eyes like a father to his daughter. Adder knew Olav knew how to fix the problem, he just wanted to keep her around for a bit longer.

Everyone was related in Adder’s world. Whether it was by blood or dirt. What bonded them was the land, and a shared vision. Society had changed quite drastically since the fall of the capitalist empires of the past. This movement brought great change and new perspective to the people who chose to pick up the pieces. In the time since Adder was a girl, society had already started to suffer from energy shortages and extreme conditions resulting from the changing of the great cycles of water.

“Have you checked the bipolar junction transistor?” called Adder as she was halfway out the door.

“I’ll take a look! You know, your mother was asking about you, Adder!” called Olav as he took the pot of boiling water off of the fireplace and poured it into his teapot.

“I quite like that man!” exclaimed Whiskey. Whiskey said this every time they left Olav’s house.

Adder drifted off as she rode her bike towards the lake.

She remembered crying on the couch of her childhood home. Her mother softly stroked her hair as she held her in her arms.

“I don’t understand why,” she sobbed.

“Don’t you and dad love each other anymore?”

“Yes my sweet Adder, but our lives have taken different paths. What is done is done and there is nothing I can do to change it now.”

Adder cried out. She felt as though her heart were being ripped out of her chest and cut into tiny little pieces, then tossed into the vacuum of space.

“Why can’t you change it, mom? Why!?”

“Things are difficult for all of us right now, my sweet Adder. We are all having to make hard decisions. My only hope is that maybe when you get older you will understand. Please know that I love you and I would do anything for you, this is not the end.”

Adder cried.

“You know,” chirped Whiskey “I do love you quite so much Adder”

Adder shook her head out of the memory.

“I love you too, Whiskey.”

As they approached the lake, Adder turned into a small road past a bridge that led into a large white house that was overgrown with vines and different sorts of berry bushes. In almost every house and along the street she could see electric cars parked one after the other, as if every person living in this neighborhood had owned a car. She walked around a hedge and came upon a white one which had apparently driven through a large glass window overlooking the yard of the house.

Adder took out the laser cutter from her pouch. Whiskey curled up into a cozy little ball, holding the space left in the sheepskin pouch where her laser cutter once was.

She cut off the top of the electric car to get to the battery and the magnetically motorized axles that lay beneath. It was important to be careful to set the plunge depth of the laser correctly so as not to cut into the car’s battery. This could cause lithium leakage or worse. The main thing they were after were the axles, the lithium battery would not last very long (although they had discovered ways of recycling lithium batteries and extending their lifespan by quite some time). Batteries were now made mostly out of synthetically generated lignin polymers similar to those found in trees and are entirely biodegradable. Using a small device made of quartz she lifted the enormous axles from the body of the car.

Positioning the magnetic axles carefully behind her, she set her quartz tools in specially designed leather holsters on her back. The axles and the batteries hung suspended in the air close behind her as she rode her bike to the communal mechanical workshop to drop them off.

After riding home, Adder arrived at the longhouse. A bit late for the hootenanny that happened once or twice a month, depending on people’s moods. She saw her dad dancing in the crowd, barefooted and as free as ever. He turned around as if he could feel her eyes on him, and with a smile so wide that it could have split the fjords.

“How you been, girl?” Riley rubbed Adder’s shaved head.

Riley was a tall skinny man with a prickly unshaven face. He had dirt under his fingernails and in the valleys of the prints of his hand that just wouldn’t wash away anymore no matter how hard he tried. He wore a dark green pair of overalls, his nice pair, which was still relatively dirty for being the pair he wore out. His feet were dirty from walking around in his and others’ gardens all day. It was clear he was not particularly concerned about his appearance.

Adder looked at him for a second before leaning in for a big hug while Whiskey peeked out of the sheepskin handbag to see who it was.

“How’s Whiskey doing?”

“He’s good, still comes along with me everywhere I go.”

“And you? You keeping busy with that techy stuff you’re always getting into?”

Adder smiled at him. “Still building automated gardening units.” She nodded with her whole body.

They slowly walked out of the longhouse as they talked, lightly kicking rocks that lay in their path. They sat down on a bench carved out of a long tree lying on its side. Riley looked up at the stars. Adder followed her father’s gaze.

Riley took a deep breath. “You know when I first came over here from the States to be with your mother, every street had three or four street lights on it. In the city you could hardly see the stars.”


“Yes, Adder?”

“Why did mom go to mars and leave us here? I still don’t understand it.” Adder said as she frowned, her voice turning into that of a lost child. There were tears in her eyes. It was the first time that Adder had asked her dad this question. She had been burying these feelings for so many years.

Riley sighed “Adder, your mom was afraid. She, like many others, couldn’t imagine a life without the technology that made things so easy back then. The people who left to mars thought that slowing down meant going back to the stone age. For them degrowth meant death.”

A tear rolled down Adder’s cheek. “I don’t understand how someone could leave their family behind. How someone could forsake the planet where they live, the place that gave them life.”

“You were so young Adder, we didn’t know what to say to you. Those who went to the red planet had an unquenchable thirst. Their desires took hold of them and carried them all the way to Mars. But even back then, Adder, you knew what was right. You were such a bright little girl.”

“I wanted to stay with you dad. The earth is our home, we have to protect it.”

“And you knew that even back then, Adder. You believed in people and you believed that people can choose to do the right thing, that we can create a beautiful world that works for everyone and is just, not only for people but for all creatures.”

“I believed in you dad, that’s why I stayed.”

“And I believe in you Adder.”

Riley took out a stone from his pocket that glowed with a deep purple light, like the milky way galaxy in the middle of a winter night.

“Do you know what this is?” asked Riley.

“It’s a crystal?” replied Adder.

“It’s not just any crystal, Adder, it’s a heart stone. The Norwegian people used to give this to their children at their coming of age ceremony. It’s part of a culture that existed in this part of the world a very long time ago, during a time when most of the population of Norway were farmers. Back then the land was shared amongst everyone equally. This stone was given to the children when the community believed they understood the principles of reciprocity with nature that were essential to their survival back then. I want to give you this stone as a reminder of your decision to stay on earth and as a hope that those same principles will live on.”

Adder leaned her head on her father’s shoulder as the joyous sounds from the longhouse rang out into the night air.