Part One: Who Is Ned?
Ned Whalen, scientist, off-world explorer, and exobotanist lived a fairly quiet life in Willow Creek.
He was what some might call a workaholic. Ned’s childhood had not been the easiest. An orphan, raised in the Willow Creek International Foundlings’ (WCIF) Home, and considered a bit odd, Ned was a serious and studious child. Unlike most of the other kids at the Home, Ned didn’t enjoy the pranks and silliness. While a few other children were adopted during his years there, Ned remained in the strict, but kind, home until he finished high school.
Upon finishing high school, Ned took a position as a live chat support agent, where he reconnected with Andre, who had also grown up in the Foundlings’ Home. However, Ned found having to deal with the public and asking, “Is your computer plugged in?” at least ten times a day irritating. After he told a customer there should be IQ requirements for PC ownership, Ned’s career in the tech guru field came to an abrupt end.
For a couple of years afterwards, life was really tough for Ned. He bounced around from job to job–pizza delivery, repairman, rocket ship scrubber. Andre, Ned soon remembered, had been one of the ultimate pranksters growing up.
Andre’s final prank, the banana in the rocket, was the final straw. “Funny prank,” fellow foundling Steve laughed, “but you should have remembered, Andre. Never cross Ned!”
“Who ruined this rocket?” Dr. L’Ernitage fumed when he saw the charred ship. Not sparing Andre’s feelings, Ned spoke up, explaining precisely what had happened.
“No excuses, sir, I should have followed the protocol perfectly,” Ned confessed. “Andre pulled the prank but only because I lacked diligence. I am at fault.”
“Oooh,” Steve whispered under his breath, “Neddy boy, I think you’re off to a jail cell now.”
However, Dr. L’Ernitage, Director of Future Sims Labs, saw Ned’s promise and offered him a job as a lab technician, caring for the plants and collecting metals and crystals. Ned discovered a fascination with gardening. He worked overtime every day, spending his days off at the community garden in Foundry Cove.
Hardworking Ned earned promotion after promotion. And then one day, the unexpected happened: alien visitors infiltrated Future Sims Labs. At first Ned was very suspicious, but he soon learned that although some were pranksters who reminded him of Andre, others were curious scientists from a far-off world. After the visit, Ned came up with a brilliant invention: a satellite dish that could reflect their scanners, confusing the aliens and preventing abductions.
Ned became friends with one of the aliens, Aileen. The two met often at the parties held on Sixam. Ned also mingled with other aliens at the inter-galactic-famous Sixam parties. During one of his off-world trips, Ned was given a dragon fruit and told to graft a snapdragon with it by a fellow exobotanist. “Do you want me to pay you?” Ned asked the party-goer.
“No, I merely request you send me a pomegranate and an orchid in exchange.” Ned readily agreed and sent the plants via GalX service to a PO Box on the planet Morte. Once back at the lab, Ned followed the instructions.
He was surprised when the grafted plants matured into a species he’d never seen before.
Ned had been collecting other alien plants as well. An anonymous donor bequeathed his estate to the Future Sims Labs Foundation with the stipulation it be used to further Sim-Alien relations and understanding. The Exobotany Department was created with Project CowPlant as its flagship work.
Ned felt his life was going well. He had saved enough to buy a small, but comfortable, home in the Courtyard Lane neighborhood of Willow Creek. His gardening skills were becoming unsurpassed, and his relationship with Aileen was deepening.
Ned was feeling confident about his future.