Chapter 5:

Someone in distress

Keio (9-K-O-512)

Time: Daytime, afternoon
Location: Giant spruce, top
Health: Weak but rested
Additional effects - enhanced nature-vision
Energy reserves: Somatic interface offline

When I open my eyes, only a short time has passed. The bright star is still high in the sky, behind the diffuse cloud-veil. But now the air around me vibrates in an entirely different way. My sight has become sharp as never before and I see oversaturated forests far below - growing, living, pulsating.

Somehow, I can tell just by looking, that’s the tree that provides the healing leaves, that’s the clearing where the moonlight-moss grows, but over there… oh, that is a dead spot that you’d better stay away from …

Soft whispers fill my mind as the forest unfolds its secrets.

Even the giant spruce speaks to me, speaks the tongue of shades, flavours, deep natural pulses. As I place my palms against the trunk, I sense the presence of a bountiful meal nearby.

Little by little I manoeuvre my improvised hammock downward, until I find some stiff grey spots spread along the bark.

Near those spots my head almost explodes from nature's secret signals.

I pry some bark off the trunk and find a handful of pink plump larvae shining back at me. I pluck the little wrigglers off the tree, bite their heads off, and suck out their tender meat with gusto.

I continue my descent and empty out even more larval nests. Somehow it feels as if the spruce approves of my cleanup.

With my belly finally full, I set the hammock into a resting position and settle in for a nap.

This time I awaken into the deepening twilight. The forest’s whispers still echo all around me, even more loudly than before. With the falling darkness, a gallery of unfathomable vibrant colours has come to life.

Part of me wishes to stay up here forever and admire the ethereal view from afar; part of me wishes to venture to the ground and discover the forest’s secrets head-on. And somewhere deep down, a timid inner voice is asking if anyone else from the ship could have made it and where they might have ended up…

Before I can give the other survivors any more thought, I pick up an odd wail amidst the forest’s murmurs. While inaudible, a living creature’s lament clearly reaches my senses. The source must be somewhere nearby.

I examine the branch-carpet below…

There it is! Just a few growth circles farther down!

A multi-legged creature struggles to break free from the tangled saplings.

I lean closer and give the branch a gentle tug.

The leg bundle freezes.

Now I can trace the creature’s glowing life-shape against the dark: eight limbs on a segmented body, sizable jaws, various other appendages.

Clearly an arachnid of some sort! On the ship, we’d draw spider silk for the smart-fabric assembly. If I could get on good terms with this specimen, then perhaps I’d be able to get some materials to patch up my glide-suit?

I keep moving downward.

Soon I see why the creature’s trapped - a piece of smart-fabric has woven itself into the saplings and bound the arachnid by its back.

“Wait up, little friend,” I think to myself. “Perhaps we can help each other out?”

As I get closer, the arachnid… arachno-rat… senses my presence. It flails frantically and traps itself even further.

I must find a way to calm it down…

I hunt down some maggots and spin a piece of smart-fabric into a string. I tie the string around one extra juicy maggot and dangle it in front of the arachno-rat.

While the creature is busy with its treat, I keep sneaking closer and closer. Behind its eye-cluster I sense a special patch that’s bursting with life-force. If I get close enough to touch the radiant spot, I’ll be able to turn the creature to my will. I’m not quite sure how I know this but I do.

I fasten a corner of my suit onto the branch, throw a few more maggots to the arachnid, and creep on.

The branch is already bending under our combined weight - but then I make it.

I bare my palm and lock it onto the arachno-rat’s head. Our life-shapes flare up as one for a moment. Then it’s safe to let go - I know the creature will follow me anyway. I pet its bristles and give up the final maggot-treat.

Now that the arachno-rat has calmed down, it’s not too difficult to free it from the fabric. As I untangle the final threads, the creature drops from the branch and bounces down into the unknown.

I worry that I’m about to lose my new-found friend.

But before I lose sight of it completely, the arachnid’s legs spring into readiness and it throws out a glistening lifeline. After a moment, the little friend’s bristly legs show up on the branch next to me.

The arachno-rat pulls up beside me and, as if showing how it’s done, suspends itself from a bigger branch; I follow its lead and hang up my hammock.

We swing there, side by side, waiting for the morrow.


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