They were called floralflits, and looked like silky white tufts of cottongrass from the northern lands of Earth—if cottongrass grew to eight feet tall, had stalks like
milkbottle glass, and glowed in the dark.
Zoe watched, fascinated, as the silky hairs quivered and shook in the tiniest of breezes.
“They’re similar to the aspen of Earth, Zoe,” The Doctor told her. “The stem is modeled along an ellipsis. Though you wouldn’t know it to look at it, this is all a protective mechanism to keep it from getting scorched from too much exposure to the sun.”
Zoe stared at the seemingly limitless fields of glowing quite, and craned her head straight up where the sun hung cold and dying and still over their heads—a dying globe, they were warm only from the thousands of active geothermal vents on this planet’s continent.
“But there’s so little sun!” She protested.
“To you, and to I, perhaps,” He smiled. “But this planet is quite cozy with darkness. Here it’s the middle of the day.”
She stared as a tiny filament of milky white threads drifted into the cross-currents of air, a tiny seed anchored at the bottom. They fluttered like tiny mayflies before their faces.
“They’re quite beautiful,” She choked. Actually, they were heart-breakingly glorious. She wanted to romp like a heedless destructive brat, catching the silks in her fingers and tossing them into the air until it all came alive and spun with glowing white furry bits. But she told herself she wouldn’t; she was a Station brat, not a real brat; living things were too precious to squander–even if the whole planet was alive.
“Ah, aren’t they though?” The Doctor was smiling. The glows reflected on his deeply lined face and put points in his deep green eyes. “I’ve heard them described as soft lanterns of burning milk in the night.” He tipped his head to one side, eyes twinkling. “And as luminous skeins of silk, and yarns spun of moonlight. ‘Fairies’ goosedown beds’ and 'featherpillow lanterns’…Their beauty seems to be limited only by the imagination of the person describing them.”
She leaned against his solid chest, smiling a little as the flowers waved over their heads. He put his arm around her, and they both stood in silence a long time, absorbing the peace of the planet.
“Well,” Zoe said suddenly, “You’ve said how other people describe them…how would you describe them?”
“Oh, as long-stemmed feathery purple flowers, I suppose.”
“Purple?” Zoe laughed. “Don’t be silly, Doctor! They aren’t purple.”
“They aren’t to you, Zoe.” He protested mildly, without hurt. “But to me they are quite purple.”
“Really?” She stared at him.
“Well…yes.” He looked a little embarrassed for the first time, and coughed a tiny bit. “It’s quite a lovely shade.”
“But they don’t glow for you.” Zoe protested with a bone-deep pity for the strange, childlike man. “You can’t see them glowing so beautifully in the darkness.”
“No…but people speak of them so well, I can see them the way you do…when I do this.” And he closed his eyes. “I can see them in my mind.”
“But you can’t see them the way I can.” Zoe blinked a sting of silly tears. “Oh, it’s a pity, Doctor! They’re so beautiful! So…perfect!”
“They’re still beautiful to me.” He told her. “Only purple.”
Zoe was quite speechless for long minutes as the glowing wisps of floralflits tickled her cheeks.
“Describe them to me, Doctor.” She begged. “If people tell you what they look like, you can tell me what they look like to you.”
He opened his eyes for a moment, genuinely surprised at her, and then he smiled. “You know, no one’s ever told me to do that,” he mused. Then his eyes closed, thinking.
And on that planet, as the floralflits bloomed, he began to speak.