Chapter 6:

Little Friend

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

The spider-rat and I spend several cosy day and night cycles in the spruce.

Using the smart-fabric as a safety net, I can already move from branch to branch quite skilfully, without spending too much energy. Juicy larvae and spicy shoots help me restore my strength – my arms are now sure enough that they don't twitch all the time, only when I'm tired or angry.

So it isn't too hard to anchor myself to a branch with one leg, diving for the softer leaves, shoots and parasitic growths.

I hoard them carefully now, as I have noticed that the lower I descend, the fewer growths I see between the shoots.

I try to use Little-Friend's thread for climbing. The thread, only half a finger thick, carries my weight well, I just need to bolster it where I attach myself so the raw fiber doesn't stick to unwanted places.

Little-Friend disappears between the lower treetops once in a while, returning with prey. Most often, it brings me huge formicas with fist-sized heads, neatly wrapped in thread cocoons. I leave the raw insects uneaten, but I carefully gather their chitin shells. I plan to make armored patches for my clothes so the smart-fabric would last longer. Little-Friend's cocoons make for good holding pouches – I put them up in a row onto fresh string and hang the pockets diagonally across my chest. That way I can carry my supplies everywhere.

As the third day dawns, I realise we can't stay in the spruce any longer. We have descended as the bark's crevices run out of larvae, reaching a drier zone. The main trunk becomes thicker, harder and more knobbly and, around it, the next circle of trunks rises up toward the sky. The soft bellies of the clouds still seem within arm's reach, but their nourishing mist doesn't reach so far.

The needles prick dryly as I climb along the branches and I can't seem to manage to gather enough dew. But I desperately need water, because the cloud truffles that reveal the forest's secrets and help me find food also give me a powerful thirst. And without the life support suit's systems, my waste runs uselessly down the branches. I sacrificed a piece of the smart-fabric to make a water purification pouch. But it didn't really work, not without the right filter components. The resulting liquid was so vile that in my anger, I cast the whole failed experiment down toward the ground.

Snapping my fingers, I call Little-Friend to me, I scratch it below its thorax and point: lower, we need to move lower. I don't know how it understands my wishes – after our first meeting, I haven't tried bending it to my will any more. Maybe it's just that Little-Friend is very smart.


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