Oh yeah, now I remember why I don’t do much spacey type fiction. It’s a pain in the gears. You have to spell out all the things you get to assume in stories that happen on Earth. Like breathable air, having a sight-based sensory system, whether plants have a gender. Sigh. I wish I could have had more than a week to research this properly.
Also, I will never again post half a story before the other half is written. I had so many ideas for this half, but they all required changes to the first part – foreshadowing, adding characters. I felt really constrained by what I’d already written. Bleh. Lesson learned on that front. On that happy note, here is the second half of The Long Game.
The wind blew over the Dome bringing a chemical message to the Black Lianas.
“It is time.”
Astrid stood at the podium and paused in her speech. She looked out at the Family, and smiled. So many of the faces reminded her of Terse, some had Artifiss’ lopsided smile, and a few even had her own bright blue eyes. At 157, she was the only colonist left of the original landing crew.
“Back on the Golden Arrow,” she continued, “people often lived into their hundreds, so our Great-great grandfather, Jollowen Podlov, was still alive when I was a little girl on the Golden Arrow. There the only sky was the black of space and its hard white stars.”
Out here on the bleeding edge of civilisation people didn’t often live to a single hundred. Accidental deaths were common: the Family had never quite figured out how to handle the native flora. They’d learned that they couldn’t eat it and they couldn’t trust it.
“We’re here today under the orange sky of our new home. Not so new anymore,” she smiled, “for some of you, it’s the only home you’ve ever known. “Our Great-great grandfather told us stories about the cerulean sky of Earth. He said it was the colour of my eyes. I never quite believed him. But my first glimpse of the sky here, on Arrowhead, was an absolute wonder. I knew we’d come to the right place. Even if it didn’t match my eyes.”
There was scattered laughter and enthusiastic clapping.
Unhurriedly, the Lianas flexed and relaxed, slowly contracting through their entire lengths and then releasing again, squeezing the hard shell of the Warren. They were there to breach the Warren, while the warriors eliminated those who scattered from the wreckage.
From above their heads there was a profound creaking. Astrid steadied herself against the podium. She had heard this sound more and more often lately. Her grandson, Jollo, had assured her that the weight of the vines was well within the load capacity of the dome, but it still made her uneasy. A few people looked up.
The Madagascar Tree didn’t have a name, but it did have a theory. If the theory was correct it would change the way they dealt with the vermin. This particular Madagascar Tree was close to the Warren and sensed the vermin as they came and went. The biting beetles and the pterodactyl-monkeys had always been there. They were small annoyances.
But these vermin had appeared out of nowhere, they were big and they were organized, and the Madagascar Tree was convinced that they were intelligent. Maybe not on the order of rooted creatures, but intelligent. The other warriors did not agree. The chemical messages they sent on the wind indicated disbelief and scorn. He was sure that if he could get hold of one, he could prove that they were sentient. But they never stayed still long enough.
Arc was exhausted but mostly unhurt. Zera and Vallon had left him to rest near the Airlock control room. Vallon was leaving to inform the Family about Caron’s death, but Zera pulled him aside.
“I think something is happening. The trees are coming for us,” she said.
“I’ve never trusted the native plants. No one does,” Vallon ran his hand through his hair. “But they are just plants after all.”
“You heard Arc. The Tree tipped him in. But there’s more: the pressure on the Dome is increasing. It looks to me like the vines are trying to crush it.”
Vallon raised his eyebrows. Zera took his hand and lead him over to a display terminal.
“I can show you. I’ve had a lot of uneventful nights monitoring the Airlocks. The pressure on the Dome has been going up. It comes and goes in these crazy-long, slow motion waves, but each wave is stronger.” She pulled up the relevant datagraphic and highlighted the dome integrity data.
“You see? I think there’s a reason no one trusts the flora here. It can’t be just the strangeness – everyone but Astrid was born here. The signs are there, but our rational minds aren’t putting it together.”
Vallon pursed his lips and considered. The deep bass creaking sounded again through the walls of the monitoring room. Zera and Vallon looked up, although they could only see the metal panelled ceiling. Vallon looked back down at Zera, and raced out of the control room out to the open park space where the Family was gathered.
The Tree had wanted a specimen and now he had one. It was nothing like the creeping beetles or the pterodactyl/monkeys. He didn’t intend to kill it, but he had. Its neural structure was apparently housed in its topmost parts, utterly at odds with the rooted intelligences, who kept their nervous systems safely underground. At least many others could be spared by his discovery.
The Madagascar Tree released its message directly to the Grandmother. He feared that the wind wasn’t favourable for it to reach her. But he persisted.
Jollo helped Astrid seat herself at one of the tables. When she was settled he headed over to the food tables to fetch her dinner. Vallon appeared suddenly from behind the Golden Arrow building, running from the west side of the dome. He ran for Astrid. Jollo was the head of the colony, but Astrid commanded respect nevertheless.
“Astrid Podlov, something’s happening,” Vallon began. “Caron has been killed by one of the Madagascar Trees. They’ve gotten very close.”
Astrid kept her voice down, “What do you think is happening?”
Vallon leaned in close and told her Arc’s story, and Zera’s interpretation.
“Go get Jollo,” Astrid ordered. “He’ll probably want to evacuate into the Golden Arrow’s emergency quarters.”
Finally, the Madagascar Tree received confirmation: the Grandmother had released its message to the Madagascar Trees and to their close cousins, the Black Lianas. “These are not witless beasts”, it said (more or less). “These are intelligences. No eradication. Negotiation is appropriate.”
The Lianas unhurriedly released their grip.