In “Prodigal Sun” and its sequel, “High Steaks” – the two most recent additions to the Quantum Series, readers encounter a character unlike any other – Fred the Arborian… But who…or rather what, is Fred?
Of all the characters in the Quantum Series – or in fact any I’ve created, Fred has to be the most unusual! First, let’s address the ‘who’ part of the question: Fred is a friend of Cindy-Mei Winter – one of the Quantum Series’s leading characters. Readers first meet him in book one: “Black Sunrise” in a rather whimsical fashion if I say so myself! As for the second part of the question, ‘what’ is Fred – well, that’s a rather long story! (Here, hold my beer!)
How did I get the idea for Fred the Arborian? Many years ago I worked on what I thought was going to be a short story – and that evolved to become “Black Sunrise”! The scenes in that first book where Mei is talking to a mysterious someone on the rec-deck of the Alliance, who turns out to be Fred, was that short story. I suppose it just came to me. “It’s never been done before!” I thought, “A walking, talking plant!” So I thought, “Why not?”
Fred, more correctly known as Fred the Arborian, is – well, an Arborian naturally – and Arborians are a race which originates from a planet called ‘Arboria’. Arborians are sentient – and perhaps more importantly, mobile plants! Yes – plants!
Most people who enjoy a spot of gardening might confess that they talk to their plants, especially to their favorite ones, but it’s highly doubtful, I think, that any of them believes those plants actually understands what’s being said – as in the case of Arborians, who are sentient! Not only would an Arborian understand every word said – language barriers aside – but he, she or it might give the speaker a lengthy breakdown of why, in their opinion, they agree or disagree! In fact, Cindy-Mei often wonders how beings who don’t have to pause for breath manage to be so long-winded! Arborians, don’t talk very much by themselves – but once they get going, they tend to go on… and on.
Fred, basically, is a plant that can move and talk! The way I imagine him in a visual sense is fairly fluid. He’s often described as being a bush of fleshy green leaves between about a meter and two meters tall, in a fairly ordinary clay pot – at least while at rest. Now for those of you who might be thinking it’s rather difficult to imagine what a plant not at rest might look like, Arborians walk on their lower-most branches or vines while wearing their pots more than actually carrying them. I tend to imagine a lot of little leaves wiggling and vines and tendrils waving while Fred walks about!
Fred uses his movable leaves to see and hear, and also to show expression – often to imitate Human features and emotions like eyebrows wiggling or shoulders shrugging, and branches and vines as prehensile appendages! As such, Fred becomes a very versatile character indeed – and the more he interacts with Humans, the more verbose and talkative he seems to become – and moving his ‘hands’ while he talks doesn’t help!
Initially, I thought of using Fred just as a means of introducing an element of comic relief – I mean, imagine a serious situation going down, and then this …plant comes walking by, vines and branches wiggling all over the place, and carrying its own pot, perhaps whistling a tune and saying a cheerful “Good morning” in passing!
I think a sight like that would cause anything going on at that time to pretty much just stop, don’t you?
As a matter of fact, in Quantum– whenever he’s around – people tend to scream or faint, or study the labels on their drinks carefully! Sometimes, people resist or bypass the part of their own brain telling them “it’s a talking plant!” altogether, and calmly carry on whole conversations with Fred – which helps to add an extra dimension to the story, as you will notice in the following extract from “High Steaks”:
The jeepo stopped [at the roadblock] and the Corporal stepped up to the open window in Fred’s door.
“State your destination, reason for leaving Atro City and estimated time of return?” The Corporal tiredly asked his well-rehearsed question, looking past Fred at Marla in the passenger seat, without batting a droopy eyelid. He hadn’t even suspected the vehicle was a stolen D.R.A. jeepo… but oh well, it was a fairly common color on Deanna – which was probably the reason the D.R.A. had ordered their fleet of jeepo’s in that color.
“Skeggs Valley.” Fred said nonchalantly. “To visit a sick uncle.”
“A sick uncle, eh?” the Corporal asked with mock skepticism.
“Yes.” Said Fred calmly.
“Really? What’s his name?”
“Herb.” Fred replied, literally without blinking.
“I see. When will you……return?” Said the Corporal, his voice trailing off into a confused silence as the sight of Fred’s twitching branches holding the controls finally registered. “What the – ”
The startled Corporal hurriedly stepped backward, and gawked. The – thing behind the wheel… was just awful! How unnatural! He was sure that should be on the ‘undesirables’ list somewhere!
“Something wrong, officer?” Fred asked innocently, keeping his cool.
“Hold on just a minute.” The Corporal said distractedly, reading down the list on his clipboard, moving his lips as he read. Homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender, transsexuals, transvestites, effeminate males, masculine females, anyone wearing clothing inappropriate for their gender, any clergy not demonstrably of a recognized Christian denomination (i.e. Puritans), individuals of mixed alien-human species and or race, non-human aliens…hmm, maybe…
He squinted at Fred. All he really wanted to think about now was his relief arriving and getting a little breakfast and some sleep – and not necessarily in that order.
“Are you a non-human alien?” He demanded.
“No, officer.” Fred replied candidly. “I am a plant!”
“I see.” Said the Corporal, blinking a rapidly. “Yes, I can see that!”
“I thought it was obvious, officer!” Said Fred rather brazenly.
“Well,” Said the Corporal uneasily, “Better be careful, mister! Lucky fer you there’s nothing on my list ‘ere about plants – someone else might mistake you for a non-human alien! And I’m not an officer – I’m an NCO – I work for a living!”
“Yes sir!” Said Fred. “I’ll be very careful, thanks for the advice!”
“Open the gate!” The Corporal shouted to a slightly confused-looking private, who jumped nervously and obeyed.
“Thanks!” Said Fred, cheekily waving a free branch tip in farewell, and just as the trooper raised the barrier again, Fred took the jeepo smoothly past onto the open road.
Picking up where we left off, Fred – as mentioned earlier, is one of Cindy-Mei Winter’s close friends, in fact he’s extremely fond of her, Gary Beck her beau, and several other associates, including Dannielle Grauffis and the vampire Marla de Bris. Since arriving on Deanna (back in “Black Sunrise“) he’s set down roots in the local community, blended in, and taken odd-jobs like being a security guard at a local mall (undercover division)- or playing barman at “The Slipped Disk”.
More than just being a curiosity or comedy prop, Fred is also a voice of conscience and sometimes an instrument of justice. (There isn’t a medal from the Terran government riveted to his pot for nothing: A generally unknown hero of the abortive Ruminarii invasion of Deanna, Fred dropped a superkeg of sherry from a loderunner in orbit – bomb-like – onto the invading alien warship on the tarmac of Atro City spaceport.) Fred will go to unusual and often dangerous lengths to protect his friends – or to do what he feels is right.
Fred, as a member of the species Sapiens flora silicae, doesn’t seem to be burdened by many of the moral dilemmas or hang-ups most of the Human characters seem to have. As a result, his approach to knotty problems requiring decisive action is far more direct and pragmatic – and unusually effective. You could say he gets at the root of the problem!
Fred’s also a singular wit, dropping bad puns like well, dry leaves – and as several villains in the run of the series have found out – his main talents seem to be camouflage, and the art of surprise… with a side-order of revenge. It’s probably for this very reason – his ability to blend in as part of the background – that makes him such a valuable asset to the Deannan Resistance in the part of the story that comes after “High Steaks“!
If you’re eager to read more, you’re going to need to catch up! Fred is too – he’ll be waiting for you!
Cheers until next time!
A little about “High Steaks“:
Troubled times had come to the small Terran Colony planet of Deanna – and having amusing names for its sun (Ramalama) and two moons (Ding and Dong) hadn’t made this quaint little world immune to bad things. After a shock assassination, the three largest cities on Deanna have been overrun by separatist troops and the former Governor has gone into hiding! The quirky little world seems about to be enveloped in a destructive civil war – replete with a supporting cast of heroes, villains, aliens, victims, perpetrators, volunteers, vampires, war veterans, space battles, bovine torpedoes – and a little time travel on the side.
“High Steaks” is the sixth title in the Quantum Series by Christina Engela.
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All material copyright © Christina Engela, 2019.