Giants of the Jungle Planet
Robin walked through the jungle. The moon was bright above the thick canopy of trees. The other crew members walked with her.
The planet had massive amounts of oxygen from the forests covering its entire surface. The crew took small breaths to stop from getting intoxicated off the very air. The gravity was lower than Earth’s and jumping over large roots and fallen branches was no trouble at all.
A few of the younger ones had quite a bit of fun jumping several meters off the ground when they first landed an hour or so ago. They quickly got themselves high as kites and the Captain ordered them back on the ship while the rest explored.
Robin felt significantly more reserved. There was something troubling about the planet. Even at first glance it was clear it was more like Earth than any world humanity had found previously. The others were quick to rejoice that they had found a place so perfect for human life. They wanted to rush straight back to Earth and proclaim a new sanctuary from the alien onslaught. To think! A world they don't know about! True asylum from the coming destruction, they claimed!
She was glad that the Captain did not share their sentiments. Before every man, woman, and child able to board a spacecraft rushes to what they think will be their salvation we ought to know a little more about the world, he said. Robin agreed.
She brushed back her shoulder length brown hair before hopping over a fallen branch a full head taller than she. She lost her balance when she landed atop it, just for a moment. She steadied herself, and one of the others gave a whoop. When she was younger she might have attempted a bow. Made a real show out of it. Instead she smoothed the creases out of her silver jumpsuit and jumped off the other side.
The moss beneath her boot sank when she hit the ground and moisture leaked from it like an old sponge. She looked up to see if she could see where the branch had fallen from. The trees rose so high she could barely make out the tops of them. Some of their trunks were fifteen meters in diameter.
The air was thick with a fog, obscuring their vision. The moonlight cut through it wherever the branches allowed it, but the ghastly stuff was thick wherever they didn’t. It smelled of rotting wood with a hint of sulfur.
As they trudged forward, Robin noticed the complete lack of animals. There seemed to be a thousand different plants, yet no creatures of any sort. There were no buzzing insects or scampering rodents. To be sure, it was an alien world and the absence of such creatures should have been no surprise, but the oppressiveness of jungle made it seem strange. Plants without animals? Every part of Earth’s habitat was formed by these two forms of life relying on one another. This planet seemed so similar to Earth that this difference was exceptionally strange.
Of course, Robin didn’t hail from the Mother-World. She was born and raised on Mars. Mars had been terraformed a century before she was born though. The Earth trees and Earth creatures turned out a bit different when adapted for Mars. Great white oaks grew from the dark red soil, cats grew rougher hair to brave the sandstorms, and so on.
Except these trees weren’t like that. They were just like on Earth. Of course, they were far larger than any Earth trees and, well, there was something else. Something Robin couldn’t quite put her finger on. Something she didn’t like.
The party circled around another tree that must have been growing for centuries, if not millennia. The stench from the fog hung low and hung strong as the mighty branches above gave it no escape and the moonlight no entrance. The Captain walked forward with purpose.
As much as Robin wanted to explore the world, she was beginning to wonder where the Captain was taking them. They had collected no scientific data along the way. They had taken no samples, nor conducted any tests. She was chief scientist on the expedition, and she felt she was ignoring her duties.
Just as she began to wonder what possible reason they might continue any further she heard the Captain’s voice boom over the stifling silence.
“All right, we’re heading back!”
They arrived at their craft. When it had left it was a glorious sight. The ship shone in the midday sun when they had taken off six months previous. It was tall and slender, like a dart, ready to be thrown into space. Here it felt tiny. The trees all around the small clearing they had landed in made the ship seem an almost meaningless object. It still shone bright under the moonlight, although that now appeared more a testament to the moon’s great strength than any impresses of the powerful alloys used in the ship’s construction.
The last of the party filtered out from the trees. There were nineteen of them in total, including those still aboard the ship.
Bobby, a young mechanic, stood next to Robin. He was a bit shorter than her, and younger. He was just out of university, and this was his first expedition. To find a living world on your first trip, thought Robin, what a thing to happen. She felt like he hadn’t paid his dues yet, to be part of such a discovery, but knew this was irrational.
She’d been on many voyages, having graduated and joined the Planetary Exploration Force almost a decade ago. Bobby had nothing to compare it to. Yet here they both were, on the first world able to support human life any man or woman had found in almost twenty years, despite the desperate search for new planets since the war started.
“Any clue why we just trekked clear across this hunk of dirt and then came right back?” he asked her, running his hand through his thick black hair and readjusting his glasses. The forest’s fog clung to both.
“No, but I’m curious myself.”
“I still say we just go tell Earth. The sooner we can get to carving out a piece of this here planet where we might be able to live in peace, away from those damned aliens the better! It took six months just to get here! Who knows what might have happened by now!”
Robin could remember when unexplored planets were still just a week’s journey. “A few more days won’t make the difference. And besides, I’m not sure it’s safe here. This world is … off.”
Bobby looked confused, but she left it at that.
“We’ll continue after some sleep,” said the Captain so all could hear.
A few of the crew looked confused. Sure, they’d been walking for a few hours, but they’d just gotten here. There was so much to do!
“I want everyone fully rested when we start things off tomorrow,” the Captain added, noticing a few sour faces.
Most didn’t care though. They were a little stupid from the oxygen and they hadn’t walked so far in six months. A little time back in their bunks seemed like a very pleasant idea.
Robin approached the Captain. His big white beard looked so at home on his lined face she often wondered if he was trying to fit the old sea-captain stereotype.
“What’s going on, Cap? We get here, don’t do any tests, and go on a hiking trip?”
“I wanted to see if I could get a proper feel for this planet. Something’s not right.”
“I’ve got the same feeling. I just don’t know what you meant to find by wandering around for hours.”
“You’re a scientist, Robin, but it’s nothing that your tests will find. I know that as surely as I know that something’s wrong in the first place.”
Robin scowled. Everything she knew told her that she must figure things out one hypothesis at a time. To just try and feel something out went against her nature.
“All the same, I’ll get started on a few tests while you sleep. We need to do them and there’s not much use waiting.”
“Sleep now. If you work you’ll need to sleep when the rest of us are working and I want us together.” She opened her mouth to protest. “I don’t want you staying up either. I need you thinking straight. In this air it’ll be real easy for any of us to lose our focus. You start pulling all-nighters and you’ll be useless.”
The Captain sighed. “Look, I’m making a risky decision by not turning right back around with nothing more than a soil sample and a description so people can come and start living on this rock. I need to sleep on this. If I’m wrong, we can’t afford to just let Earth sit around while the aliens could wipe us out at any moment. I’ll give my instincts one day, but if they waver then I can’t in good conscience keep us here any longer than absolutely necessary.”
Everyone else had migrated back onto the ship.
Robin shifted her weight. “Okay, Cap.”
She entered the ship, bid the Captain good night and climbed the ladder up to her bunk. Bobby was already snoring in the bunk across from her.
Space on the ship was limited, so each crew member had only a bunk and a footlocker at the end of it. There was no room to stand up. One simply crawled into their bunk from the ladder leading up the tall craft.
Robin yanked off her boots and pulled off her jumpsuit and shoved them into the locker. She lay there thinking she’d never get to sleep knowing a new world was just outside the metal confines of the ship. A minute later she was deeply asleep.
“Mommy said not to go in there,” said Robin. Her sister didn’t seem to care.
“I just wanna take a peek, Rob. Mom won’t know.”
“No! Lauren! Let’s just go back to the house!”
She looked backwards through the Martian forest. Through the trees she could just see the white house where she was born.
Robin stomped her foot on the dark red dirt. “Mom’s gonna be mad! I’ll tell!” She was worried about her sister. Lauren was looking at a hole at the base of a big tree. It was just big enough to crawl into but was so dark she couldn’t see anything inside.
“If you do, I’ll tell her that you broke Aunt Rena’s vase!”
“Look, just don’t go in there! It’s scary! Please?!”
“Don’t be such a baby.”
Lauren crawled into the tree. She disappeared into the darkness.
“Lauren! Lauren, come back!” Lauren didn’t answer. “Lauren!”
Still no answer. Robin looked back at the white house beyond the trees. She wanted to go tell her mother, but then Lauren might tell about the vase.
“Answer me, you jerk!”
Robin dropped to a crawl, dirtying her dress. With a deep breath she stuck her head through the hole. She couldn’t see anything. It was too dark. She tentatively put a hand forward, expecting more ground. She found none, and was off balance. In shock she tumbled down, down, down. She screamed, but no one heard her.
She hit the ground with a thud. She wasn’t hurt though. Not a scratch on her, no bruises, and certainly not any broken bones. She barely realized this impossible fortune however as it was pitch black, and she was terrified. She wanted to cry out again, but that somehow seemed like it might make things worse.
Right before her was a little plant. Something illuminated this, and only this. It was no more than a weed, just a stalk with a couple little leaves. It was all she could see around her anywhere.
The light seemed drawn to it. Robin stared at it. She was still very frightened, but there was something about this little plant. She no longer thought about the dirt beneath her, nor the darkness surrounding her. She felt humbled.
Robin became less important before it. It was all that truly mattered, she realized. This revelation was a natural extension of all she had ever known, now that she knew of this plant. She was nothing. Her sister was nothing. She could see the plant in all its majesty.
Compared to it she was so small and it was so big. She looked up at it. Its stalk reached into the sky and she was still stuck on the ground. So high she could barely see its leaves anymore.
She noticed its bark. So thick! Its massive trunk was protected by this powerful armor. She looked back up. Its branches hung high above her like massive arms.
It was all so marvelous.
Robin woke up to the sound of the Captain’s voice on the ship-wide COM.
“Emergency meeting. All crew are to meet outside immediately.”
Robin shook her head and tried to focus on what she had just dreamt. The first part had happened to her when she was just a little girl on Mars. When she entered the tree her sister had jumped out and scared her. They had both gotten in trouble when Robin ran back to the house crying and Lauren told their mother about the vase. She never actually found any——
The tree. Dear God, the tree.
“I said immediately! I want all crew outside now!”
Robin refocused and looked around. Bobby was already gone. Everyone above and below her were pulling on their clothes and climbing down. No one was talking.
Robin pulled on her jumpsuit and laced up her boots. She climbed down the ladder and walked back into the thick air of the jungle. The sun was less bright than the moonlight, but the jungle seemed less menacing under its yellow glow. The trees looked even bigger than they did the day before. How quickly I forget, she though.
A minute later, everyone had joined her.
“Is that it?” asked the Captain. “Is that everybody?”
“I was the last one out,” said Rena, the medic. “Nobody’s up there.”
“Where’s Bobby?” he asked. A quick look around revealed that Bobby was not among them.
“He wasn’t in his bunk when I woke up,” said Robin.
The Captain looked grim. “Our engine has been sabotaged.” Everyone looked appropriately aghast. “Ally, Brian, see what you can do.” They were the other mechanics. “Everyone else will split into three, four person teams and search for Bobby. Myself and three others will stay with the ship. Everyone take their pistol.”
“That son of a bitch.” Philip trudged through the jungle quickly. His gaunt face was contorted in barely suppressed anger.
“Calm down, Phil,” said Melissa, soothingly. “You’ve got to watch your breathing.” She tried to place her dark-skinned hand on his shoulder. He shook it off and kept walking.
“And besides, this is all some kind of misunderstanding,” said Beth, a stout, chubby woman. “Bobby was real adamant about going straight back to Earth! Kept saying how excited he was that he could get his parents and baby brother to safety!”
“You knew Bobby pretty well, right Robin?” Melissa asked.
Robin was following the rest of her scouting party quietly, deep in thought.
She had dreamt about that time in the Martian forest once before. It was right after Lauren was killed in one of the first alien attacks. In the first dream, Lauren had crawled into the tree just like she really had, just like in the dream last night. When Robin had crawled in after her, instead of Lauren popping out to scare her, an alien burst out in her stead.
She had woken up with a start that night, many years ago. The image of the slimy creature coming towards her was burned into her memory. Robin always felt that when she had dreamt of Lauren crawling into that tree and didn’t come out, that’s when her sister truly left her.
And why had she dreamt of the tree within the tree? It was clearly one of the trees from this jungle. Before, they just made her uneasy. In the dream she felt reverent of the tree. She felt inconsequential, inconsiderable, and endlessly irrelevant in comparison to it.
She had felt like she was a dust speck before a God.
“Robin?” Melissa called again.
“What?” said Robin, shaking herself of her thoughts.
“Bobby. You knew him pretty well, right?”
“Yeah. Bobby mentioned to me specifically he thought we should just turn right around. I don’t know where he went, but I can’t imagine anyone more upset that the rocket is inoperable than him.”
“Where’d he run off to then?!” Philip wheeled around, furious. “His tools are found having cut through the primary propulsion modulator, and he runs off who-knows-where and you’re telling me he wanted to go home?!” He waved around his pistol. Its long, golden barrel flashed in the sunlight. “If we find him I’m sticking the dangerous end of this in his face until he comes up with the best goddamned explanation I’ve ever heard!”
“Breathe slowly, Phil,” Melissa warned.
He steadied himself and put his gun away.
“There are other possibilities,” Beth said carefully. “There may be aliens on this planet who didn’t take too kindly to our landing in their jungle. Maybe one snuck in and decided to bust some stuff up. Bobby always left his tools around anyhow.”
“Come on, Beth,” Melissa countered. “We didn’t exactly leave the door to the rocket unlocked. There’s no sign of break-in and the damage was done to one little mechanism that would cripple us the worst amongst a hundred.”
“Well … maybe it was someone else on the ship,” said Beth.
They paused. It had occurred to all of them of course. What if someone else had done it while they slept and framed Bobby? Someone could have used his tools, knocked him senseless and thrown him in the jungle somewhere before slipping back into bed.
“Why though?” said Melissa. “Why would anyone do that?”
“Why would Bobby?!” cried Beth.
“Look,” interjected Philip. “Bobby’s missing and no one else is. I’m not planning to shoot him the second I see him, but the little bastard has a lot to answer for. If he’s got proof it was someone else then he’s off the hook, but until then——”
“He’s innocent until proven guilty, Philip,” said Robin.
“We’re going to die here!” Phil screamed back at her.
Again, everyone froze.
“What?!” he continued. “You thought we could just magically fix him taking a lasersaw to one of the most important and complicated parts in the ship?! We’re all going to get oxygen poisoning and our lungs are going to rot from the inside out! And it will all be Bobby’s fault! We’re done for!”
Everyone was quiet as Phil once again tried to steady his breathing.
“It’s this place,” whispered Robin.
“What?” asked Beth, rattled.
“There’s … there’s something wrong with this planet. I could tell yesterday. So could the Captain. That’s why we just walked around. He wanted to see if he could figure out what it is that’s … I don’t know.” It upset her not to be able to express what she meant, but she just didn’t know how to put the sinking feeling the world filled her with into words.
“This place makes me feel ‘off’ too,” Beth said. “It certainly gave me a weird enough dream last night. I just figured it’s finally being somewhere new.”
“Wait, what did you say?” asked Robin.
“I had this really bizarre dream. It was from this time when I was little and I got locked in my parent’s attic by accident. That really happened, but then, just in the dream, I found this tree. Like one of these trees, right? And it was, I don’t know, it was so humbling. I’d never felt power like that before.”
“That’s crazy,” said Melissa.
“No, I mean, I had a dream a lot like that. With the tree and all.”
“Me too,” said Robin.
“We should keep on moving,” said Philip dismissively.
“You don’t think it’s significant that we all had almost exactly the same dream, Phil?” asked Robin.
“I think dreams aren’t real.”
“Did you have one?” Robin was curious now.
“It doesn’t matter.”
“So, yes then?”
“I said it doesn’t matter!”
“Why don’t you want to talk about this?”
“Because every second we spend yacking about our imaginations is a second we don’t spend looking for Bobby, and I want to find the little traitor and see if we can set a few things straight before we all die!”
“This could be relevant to what happened to Bobby! If we’ve all been affected by something here then maybe it did something to Bobby too!”
“It was just a dream!”
Before they could argue further, the personal COM crackled on Melissa’s belt.
“We found him!” spoke a voice over the COM. The words were filled with static and hard to make out. “He’s barely alive.”
“Everyone report back to the ship,” came the Captain’s distinctive, but just as garbled voice.
“Good,” said Philip. “Now maybe we can figure out a few things.” There was violence in the words.
The four of them came back to the clearing to find everyone else gathered in a circle. In the middle of it was Gina, the medic, and Bobby. Bobby lay on his back, eyes wide. Only his mouth moved, and it did so slowly, whispering incoherently.
The Captain noted that everyone was back. “What can you tell me, Gina?” he asked. He looked grim.
“We found him slumped against a tree. He’s totally catatonic other than that he hasn’t stopped rambling. We picked him up and carried him back here.”
“Does he have any history of mental illness?”
“Totally clean. His extended file doesn’t even show any family members with issues.”
“Have you understood any of what he’s said?”
“No, not really. There’s an obvious tone to a lot of it though.”
“Was he drugged?” asked Brian, another mechanic.
“I can’t tell,” said Gina.
“I think it’s pretty obvious what happened here,” Brian went on. “Somebody got tired of Bobby. They figure they can use one of his tools to slice through whatever, poison Bobby, and toss him out in the woods. They destroyed something we can’t fix though, and the sick bastard who was planning to go back to civilization a hero without the poor kid who annoyed them is now stuck here!”
“Like hell,” said Philip. “The stupid grease-monkey thought he’d try to break something, so he could fix it again and look like a hero himself. But he knew he couldn’t fix the primary propulsion modulator after sticking his lasersaw through the thing, so he runs, scared. He gets himself wasted on the air and passes out.”
“Bobby wouldn’t do that!” screamed Brian.
“He’s an idiot, and we’ll all die because of him!”
“You never liked Bobby! You set him up!”
There was a flash of gold. The two had their pistols pointed at each others faces before anymore words could be exchanged.
“Enough!” roared the Captain. “Before I throw the both of you through my engines!” The Captain didn’t take out a weapon. He didn’t need to. His ferocity brought the two back to their senses, if only slightly. They lowered their guns, but never took their fingers off the triggers nor their eyes off their mark.
“There’s another possibility,” said Robin. “Everyone in our party had a dream about, well, about a powerful tree. Did anyone else have a similar dream last night?”
Everyone looked at each other, and nodded slowly. Yes, something like that, I suppose that’s what it was, they murmured.
“You were scared, alone, and then there was the tree,” Robin went on. “Powerful. Godlike.”
“I woke up feeling like I lost something,” said Beth. “I wanted it back. I … I can feel just a bit of it just standing here. Like an echo I’m straining to hear. Just barely there.”
“None of this matters,” said Philip. “We went over this. We were thinking about the forest when we went to sleep, that’s all!”
“What if it’s more than that?” said Robin. “What if there’s something here that’s affecting us and it hit Bobby harder than the rest of us? What if … the trees drove him crazy?”
“They’re just trees!” screamed Philip. “If he’s crazy, it’s his fault!” He was breathing heavily and was a little off balance. He pointed his gun at Bobby’s limp form. “He’s killed me!”
“Don’t you point that thing at Bobby!” screamed Brian.
“Phil is right!” hollered someone.
“Kill the traitor!” screamed another.
The Captain turned and punched the man who had spoken last in the face. He dropped. He didn’t get back up.
“Drop the gun, Philip!” screamed Brian.
“I will handle this, Brian!” said the Captain.
“Finish him! He killed us!” said some other woman, also pulling out her pistol and pointing it at Bobby. Beth pulled out hers and pointed it at the woman. “Put it down!” screamed Beth.
There was shouting everywhere. Kill him! Stop! Shut up! Traitor! No! Wait! Finish it! Shoot him!
“Everyone just calm down!” hollered Robin.
The Captain pulled out his gun and shoved it in Philip’s face. “If I have to tell you one more time——”
Just then Bobby reached up and grabbed Gina violently.
“They are as giants!” Bobby screamed. His voice was unnaturally high-pitched. “And we are nothing!”
Gunfire was everywhere before anyone could blink. Philip put a slug through Bobby’s chest. The Captain shot Philip in the face. Half a dozen others started firing, scared and intoxicated. Bodies hit the dirt everywhere.
“No!” screamed Robin.
Robin felt a sharp pain on the back of her head, fell to her knees, and everything went black.
“I’m telling Mom!”
“I’m telling about the vase then!”
Lauren ran through the white Martian trees back toward the house. She always was faster. Robin ran after her, fearing what would happen if Lauren got there first. If Mom knew about the vase would she care that Lauren had popped out the tree and scared her?
Robin ran as quickly as she could. Her boots hit the ground heavily and her long, adult legs took great strides, but Lauren and the white house never got any closer.
“Lauren! Wait!” Robin stopped for breath. The air was thick with oxygen, but she still felt winded. Lauren was just too fast.
She looked back. Right behind her was the tree with the hole in its base. Dread filled her. No good had ever come from entering that hole. There wasn’t anywhere else to go though. Robin’s head throbbed.
She walked through the hole. She didn’t fall this time. Nothing jumped out at her. She just walked. It wasn’t dark, but she couldn’t see. It didn’t bother her. She just had to get away.
“She broke it, Cap! She hid the pieces!”
Lauren got there first. She always was faster.
“Is this true, Robin?” asked the Captain. “You broke Aunt Rena’s vase? Ship can’t take off if Bobby’s lasersaw cut through Aunt Rena’s vase.” He wasn’t mad, just disappointed.
“I didn’t mean to!” wailed Robin. “Besides, Lauren jumped out of the tree and scared me!”
The trees were everywhere. Each one was bigger than the one she looked at before. Each one was taller. Each tree was wider. Each and every tree was greater than she.
“Don’t go in there,” said Robin, although she didn’t know why. Her sister was dead. They were all dead. “It’s scary. Please.”
She was so small. The ground was right beneath her head. She felt it. She tried to lift her head to be closer to the trees all around her. Maybe if she was but a tiny bit higher. The trees. So far away. So big.
Everyone was dead. Corpses were everywhere. She raised her head a little. That hurt. She put it back down. The world spun around her.
So many dead bodies. Clunk. She wanted to get up. The trees were all around her. She raised her head again. Clink.
Lauren? No, that’s not Lauren. So many bodies. Chink. That’s some other woman. What was her name? Not Lauren? No. Someone else. Chink. It didn’t matter. The trees were closer. Clunk.
Robin got up slowly. She was wobbly, and could barely see. She was standing in a circle of corpses. Each one lying where it fell. Gina had fallen on top of Bobby. Brian was face down in the dirt. Philip, now faceless, lay next to her. The woman she had been looking at was the one Beth had threatened. Beth had put a round through her throat. Beth.
Robin looked up at the spaceship. Beth swung at the ship with an axe. Clunk. The craft, being made to withstand space travel, was barely scratched. She swung again and again nonetheless. Clink. Chink. Chink. Clunk. Clink.
Robin shook her head to try and stop the vertigo. She stepped forward and stumbled. She tried to ignore the trees. That took a lot of effort.
“Beth.” Clink. “Beth, what are you doing?” Clunk. Her pudgy arms swung the axe again. “Beth, where are the rest of them?” Chink. “Where is the Captain? Beth, the Captain.”
“As giants,” Beth said softly. Chink.
“Why are you hitting the ship, Beth?” Robin was almost to her. It took so much effort to walk, to stand, to not focus everything on the trees.
“Because then trees.” Clunk.
“You’re not making sense, Beth. Please. Make sense?” It was a plea. Sense seemed like such a fleeting thing, and she wanted to grasp it, seize it, but it slipped between her fingers and she had to grab for it again.
“The trees. Giants. Ship, will just, ship will just, just, away.” Chink. Beth’s eyes never left the spot on ship she was scratching at with every swing of her axe. Clink.
Robin stumbled away. The trees were everywhere. She moved towards them. So big. She tried to focus. She should stop Beth. No, no use. Let her continue fruitlessly if she so desired. Robin just hoped Beth wouldn’t break her own arms. The Captain. She should find the Captain.
She put a hand on a giant to support herself. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply. Focus, she thought. Where might the Captain have gone? If he went off some random direction she’d never find him. If he wanted to walk familiar ground, there was only one way he’d travel: the same path they had forged last night.
Robin oriented herself. She glanced back at the corpses of the men and women she had lived with for the past half year. She looked at Beth. She was such a good natured woman, now mindless smashing an axe against her ship. She looked up at the trees. With great effort she stepped between their mighty forms, trying only to keep her senses.
Days passed. Or it at least seemed that way. Robin didn’t get hungry. She didn’t get thirsty. She just kept walking. At all times she felt like she couldn’t get anymore tired and keep going. She felt like any second she would collapse. But she didn’t. She just kept walking.
Moving seemed the only thing to do. She had to get to the trees. She had to get away from the trees. She had to find the Captain.
The moon seemed to shine less brightly than it had the first night. The fog hung more thickly. The moss and soil were waterlogged and less solid. The rocks were slippery. The trees seemed even grander, even stronger. Every time Robin considered them, even if only for a moment, she was more in awe of them, and she had to shake herself from it.
This is what made Bobby lose his mind, she reminded herself again and again. This is what made Beth lose her mind. This is why we’re stranded. This is why we’re dead and dying. For they are marvelous. No.
She dared not make leaps in the low gravity that would have been simple her first time down this path. She traveled the long way around fallen branches for hours it seemed, then had to find the path again.
She walked slowly, but never rested. She would never get back up if she allowed herself to sit.
Every once in a while she saw shadows a long way off. Figures. She called out to them, but never got a response. Sometimes they ran off, leapt, and crawled. They never made a sound. Other times she realized that it was a bush of some sort that had looked like a man.
She kept walking and eventually found what she sought. The Captain sat on a rock, staring at his feet. Hair covered his whole head. His beard was frizzy, shaggy, huge. His arms hung at his side.
“C——Cap?” she said weakly. She sat down before him. When she did her head swam and burned. It didn’t matter. She had found the Captain.
The Captain didn’t move. “Captain?” No longer focusing on the motion of putting one foot in front of the other, her senses refocused. She saw only the Captain. And the trees.
“I.” When he spoke it was slow and clear. It was not Bobby’s frantic squeal that invoked the violence, nor the mutterings of Beth as she brandished her axe. “See.
“The world of giants.” She listened closely. “So we find our Gods amongst the stars. We search for freedom and are rewarded with servitude. For. The giants. I. I once thought the ship was of strength. Now only to show me what weakness is. And I. I am weak. For the trees are as giants and we are nothing. And we are as nothing.”
The Captain was a tree. It was not a sudden realization. It was as though she had always known this, for it was obvious. Great branches for arms, a chest like a trunk, and hair that broke off in every direction, gathering, reaching. The trees surrounding him made him seem tiny, but he was far greater than she.
The Captain got up, but did not raise his head. His steps were slow and each one carried his full weight. “As giants. And you are small.” His branches reached out for her.
She shuffled backwards and fell. He continued. Vertigo consumed her. She looked about and could no longer tell which tree was the Captain. She pushed off the ground and ran, jumping, scrambling.
All that surrounded her was divine. It was greater than she. “Let me go!” she screamed desperately. Everything she had went into it. “I can’t! Please! Just, I, please! No more!”
And in response, the trees stood mighty, as giants.
She kept running.
The simultaneous urges to get away and to supplicate before them were overwhelming. She could barely see.
She leapt over rocks and branches, heaving herself meters off the ground and throwing all her limbs out in front of her to land, then shoving herself forward again with no thought to injury. Her jumpsuit was torn apart and her body was bruised, cut, and wrenched. She kept running.
“Stop! Please! I don’t want to! I don’t want to anymore!” Her voice was twisted and desperate.
And in response, the trees stood mighty, as giants.
She lost all concept of who she was. Her name did not come to mind. She tried to focus on herself, to know, but the trees were what mattered. They were what hunted her. What she must hide from. Gods, each and every one of them.
A thought of the white house in the white woods came to her, as a flash, and was gone again, but the feeling lingered. “Let me leave! I just want to go home!”
And in response, the trees stood mighty, as giants.
She couldn’t feel her body anymore. The sensation of her boots violently hitting the wet dirt and sinking ever so slightly were lost to her. The burning pain in every one of her joints and muscles could no longer be recognized. Nor her blazingly fast heart blasting within her chest. Nor her lungs, pumping, pumping, pumping deep the air she breathed in as quickly as she could. The only feeling she could manage was fear and reverence of the trees.
And in response, the trees stood mighty, as giants.
She came upon a fallen God. Without a thought she leaped off a stone. It buckled beneath her and she was flipped over. She flew through the air and hit the side of the huge branch on her way down, flailing her limbs wildly. Crashing off the bark she hit the ground and bones snapped with a sickening crunch. She tried to get up, but her leg and spine had snapped in several places.
And in response, the trees stood mighty, as giants.
She lay there, breathing heavily. She was overcome by the beauty of everything around her. The power. The will. Everything. To be the only single thing not a God. Seeing infinity and not moving from the spot. Everything. Every single thing.
“Lauren,” she whispered, straining her voice. “Don't go in there. It's scary. There are Gods in there. And they are as giants.”
And in response, the trees stood mighty, as giants.