Inspired by this question:

"I have been looking for this story since 1990.

A man goes about, dissatisfied by his man-made, mechanized life. He decides to try to find something real or natural. He goes as high up in the buildings as he can, but can only see buildings and sidewalks. He goes down into the basement, but can only find more floors down and metal stopping him from finding any earth.

Distraught, he finally decides to go for a walk and ends up in a beautiful park that he's never seen before. It is filled with green grass and flowers and birds and bees. He is overjoyed, until he realizes the bees are mechanical and so are the flowers, etc.

He has a meltdown and the ambulance is called. It arrives and the attendants turn off his switch; he himself was not "real" or "natural".

I found this in a sci-fi anthology. Any clues on what it is?"

I'm certain that I read this story up to the last two pages which were missing. I read it in an anthology in 1969. So the story is older than 1969. I have searched for the story all my life so I can finish it. I got to the part where the man picks up a flower in the park that he believes is real. But he fiddles with the plant (I think it was a red rose) and the plant comes apart to reveal wires and plastic. He then realises the bees are mechanical. I think he is about to use the wire to kill himself. My guess was that he would attempt to kill himself and that in the process would realise he was also artificial.

Does anyone know this story written in an anthology prior to 1969? It's very likely that these are the same , but I've been advised to ask these as a separate question.

  • 1
    It is definitely the same story as the man does indeed travel upwards hoping to find something real. I think he was a worker at a low subterranean level. Sep 6, 2019 at 23:32
  • 1
    You'd be surprised. I've seen obvious dupes turn out to be related (same fictional universe) but not the same story as well as those that are just straight ripoffs.
    – Valorum
    Sep 6, 2019 at 23:43
  • It is the same story though. The dissatisfaction that pushes the man to seek something non-artificial. The journey up through layers of buildings. The bees, the flowers etc. Even if one author plagiarized another, it's the same story. I wish I could find it. Sep 6, 2019 at 23:58
  • It's been answered (on both) now, so if it gets the acceptance from you and them, we can close one off as a duplicate of the other.
    – Valorum
    Sep 7, 2019 at 6:37
  • Absolutely fantastic! I'm overcome with emotion. I cannot wait to finally finish this story fifty years later! Thank you to whoever identified it. Sep 7, 2019 at 20:03

1 Answer 1


This is "Quest" by Lee Harding. It was originally published in New Worlds Science Fiction, April 1963. You can read it at the Internet Archive. If you read it in an anthology, it may have been Lambda I and Other Stories (1964).

The protagonist, Harry Johnston, starts out the story talking to the Divisional Controller:

"Something real," he said. "Something that hasn't been made by man. Something that isn't synthetic. That's all. Not to keep. Only to see. So that I will at least know that it is there. Where can I find such a thing?"

He starts by travelling around, but always comes back to where he starts; then he decides to go down, only to discover there's nothing not manufactured down there either.

"He had nursed the tiny hope that perhaps in the depths of the world he might discover rock and earth and soil in their natural condition. But there was nothing. Only the ever-present product of man's industrial genius. And behind the wall thrummed the energy of the mighty machines that made possible the existence of the miles of city overhead.

He turned around, defeated. "I think I'll go back."

"Very good, sir."

A sudden though occured to Johnston. "How far down are we?"

"Twenty-seven miles."

He repeated the figure to himself. "Is this the lowest level?"

"If you mean, does the city extend below us, no, it does not, sir."

Mister Johnson stopped and tapped the floor with the toe of one shoe.

"Then what's down there?

"Several miles of insulatory material."

"And after that."

"Hell, sir."


"An archaic term that describes the inner core of the planet. That is all. There is...nothing more."

He starts to trek northward on foot for several days until he collapses, and is convinced to take an air-car. The towers of the city gradually start to reduce in height and buildings spread out, but only briefly until another massive conurbation starts. He climbs to the maximum height and after hours he suddenly notices a spot of green.

Abruptly, the Great Park exploded across his eyes. He recoiled from the assault of greenery that filled his world, and punched the descent button eagerly.

He eagerly explores the park, looking at the trees and shrubs, marveling at the ants in the grass and the bird flying overhead. He finds a garden of flowers and meets the Caretaker. As he leaves the Caretaker's cottage he has the impulse to pluck a rose growing nearby:

By the doorway was a tremendous rose bush. Scarlet blooms burst hungrily towards the sunlight. A sudden desire swept over him and he stretched out a hand to pluck one of the flowers to carry with him, next to his heart.

"No." The cry from the Caretaker shattered the solitude abruptly.

But the flowers aren't real:

Defiantly he curled his fingers carefully around a thorn-free stem of a rose and plucked it quickly from the bush. He held it up in plain view of the Caretake and sniffed the delicate perfume arrogantly.

In his hand the rose withered and died. Dead leaves crumpled into a wraith-like, gossamer remnant of the texture of a spider's web.

He despairs and cuts his veins to kill himself, but he's not actually alive either:

His veins were empty, already collapsing.

And still he lived. The pulsating awareness buried within his skull had no need of the external carapace designed only to delude his conscience and his fellow men.

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