Then said Gangleri: “Much indeed they had accomplished then, methinks, when earth and heaven were made, and the sun and the constellations of heaven were fixed, and division was made of days; now whence come the men that people the world?” And Hárr answered: “When the sons of Borr were walking along the sea-strand, they found two trees, and took up the trees and shaped men of them: the first gave them spirit and life; the second, wit and feeling; the third, form, speech, hearing, and sight. They gave them clothing and names: the male was called Askr, and the female Embla, and of them was mankind begotten, which received a dwelling-place under Midgard.” – GYLFAGINNING

The chronometer whirred and clicked, its display settling as the finest processors, circuits, and sensors of the 23rd century calibrated and calculated through a dozen references. The date: CE3125.10.02.2200. Tidy, and coincidentally precise; not a perfect landing. Managing an exact landing date was like trying to dock just so in the midst of a raging river. As soon as the craft slipped into timestream it was buffeted by forces human technology couldn’t neutralize…yet.

The pilot flicked a few switches here and there, various lights dimming and others coming on. He checked a few readings on the panel. Satisfied, he removed his helmet and activated the outside displays.

He was silent and staring for a long moment.

He checked the panel displays again. Launched a few probes which flashed and bounced backwards a few hours in time. Examined the data when all the probes were connected and beaming data in the current time-loc.

There was nothing but forest, field, tundra, and desert. Everywhere.

Although he was dismayed that his home city had long since vanished in the 700 or so years since his departure, the pilot reasoned that there was nothing particularly unusual about the possibility of changing cities or civilizations. But for the entirety of human civilization to disappear without a trace?

Grabbing his flashlight, popped the hatch and hopped down onto the springy forest floor. It was dark, the kind of broad leafy dark that the moon could barely penetrate. In his time, this was the edge of the city with tall narrow apartment complexes. In his mind’s eye he compared the buildings with the enormous tree trunks around him. How many years did it take for trees to get that large?

He strode forward, stumbling a little in his bulky suit, lost in his thoughts. It takes about 500 years for a city to disappear, he thought. There were trees of all sizes around him, some living, and some old and dead and rotting on the forest floor. He noticed the flashing of lights dimly in the canopy above. A meteor shower? There were muffled booms in the distance, like thunder.

It was only once the noise had faded that he realized just how quiet it was in the forest. He heard no sounds. Not of insects nor birds. Even the sound of branches creaking and cracking in the distance was absent. The voice of the forest was held as if in anticipation.

To the pilot, this realization made the trees seem more alive and more menacing. In the shadows he thought he saw movement, and he began to swing his light this way and that amongst the leaves. The leaves, he realized, were hands. The branches were claws. There was a whisper of voices as the alien vegetation reached for him, clutching at the folds of his space-age fabrics. He turned and ran back towards the ship.

Branches blocked his way. Hands pushed and stroked and guided him. There were… whispers. Savior, savior, savior…

And then suddenly, he stopped. The tree ahead was groaning, a human figure writhed from the flesh of the tree. She is smiling at me. Behind and around him other figures pulled from the trunks. You’ll come home with us soon. Thank you, thank you. There was a woody scent, memories of another trip in the ship. Memories of darkness, comets, and fire, earth and loam, of alien vines burned and dying even as they sprouted. The shouts of men. Lasers, bacteria, microscopic machines… and himself.

He stumbled back, not knowing where he was going. The smell was still in his nostrils. The chrononaut felt faint, weak, and confused… drugged. He felt a firm but gentle grip on his arm, supporting him. Dad… help me…

The familiar gentle figure buckled him into his seat, latched his helmet back into place and began typing instructions into the control panel and setting the destination date to mid-2374 CE.

“Dad… don’t go.” The figure turned and smiled. The pilot looked into his own face, which grinned back at him wistfully, before the hatch closed and the ship disappeared in a flash of light, carrying the pilot, and a cargo of tiny yellow seeds stuck to the soles of his boots.

Nightmare Fuel 2016, Day 2

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