Ghosts of Space

Shortly before the Wood, I’d re-watched the Aliens movies. There was a famous line in there about how our parents told us monsters weren’t real, but in reality there are monsters. Of course, the deeper punchline being that maybe it’s actually our fellow humans that are the real monsters.

When humans had lost the war against the Wood, and had been absorbed, we’d breathed a collective sigh of relief. No more war, no more monsters.

We had lost the war, but won peace and immortality.

But we had forgotten about the ghosts.

And in the Wood, ghosts had an outlet. In the Wood, ghosts had bodies.
I was watching one now, near the water. It had formed from algae and other bits of plant and plant-like pond sludge. I wasn’t sure, but I think it was a woman. It was looking for something, combing through the water with distorted arms and fingers. Reaching, stretching, frantically. It was crying. Looking for a lover? A child? Its thoughts were closed to me, but its intent bled through. Someone important had died here.

A lot of humans had died in the war, but many from suicide and murder, not in the fighting.

Maybe she had drowned her child before the Wood had taken her family.

Before she had known the truth of the Wood.

I moved my consciousness closer.

The ghost’s head jerked up, looked at me. It wailed and tried to run, but its body began to fall apart as I reached out with root and branch.

Come back to us, I urged her. I could sense the bits of her mind falling to the ground, becoming lost. Ghosts barely had anything left to them to begin with, and couldn’t afford to lose any more of themselves. Pieces of her broken mind became open to me as they hit the ground and vanished.

Memories of terror, of being chased. Holding someone small and squirming. Then, holding someone small under the water until that someone stopped moving. Going into the water, then feeling a rough grip around an ankle.

And then she was gone.

Nightmare Fuel 2017, Day 4

Monument

The Wood cradled the monument of the Pilot-Savior. The time ship was one of the last remnants of the Old Humanity, preserved in tribute.

The Wood didn’t need to preserve it, just as it didn’t need to tolerate weather. Those were choices. The guts of the machine had long been deciphered and stored to memory and disseminated amongst the trees. Even with the best efforts of preservation, the ship was finally showing its age.

Probably, it could have lasted even longer, but the Wood had since moved on in its thinking and had decided it was time to let the ship itself disappear into history.

Probably, that was for the best. The device was the engine of the Wood’s salvation. But it was also a token of destruction.

Pilot-Savior did not agree. Even now, the ghost of his human self sat in the cockpit, stroked fingers over broken panels and the gaping holes of missing buttons. He felt confused sometimes, but not regretful.

We could do it again, he thought.

Not necessary, too dangerous, whispered the Wood. There were a few dissenters, but most were concerned about the unusual death caused by erasure of their own time-lines. You could be immortal in the Wood, as long as the Wood survived and most humans were loathe to risk their comfort and immortality.

It didn’t matter. Inside the ship there was a very special seed, growing from the Savior himself. The seeds of the Wood would fly into space, but not his. He had other futures to explore.

Nightmare Fuel 2016, Day 17

New Ground, Old Ground

If Sarah had to guess, she figured she probably hadn’t been human for a couple thousand years. Maybe once or twice for the practice of it, but like most of the rest of humanity, humanity itself had become something of a nuisance after the Merge. In fact, she was pretty sure the last time she’d been human had been to greet the Pilot-Savior when he exited his Time Engine all those hundreds of years ago, when she helped to ensure he would bring the alien seeds back to a time when human resistance would be less troublesome, and bringing with the infants the inherited knowledge of the Lost Purging.

Finally, after untold tens of thousands of years, the alien trees found a home and against all odds had survived and flourished. The original time-line had been erased by the Pilot-Savior and a permanent time-loop kept it active. An amazing and unprecedented coincidence that humans had developed and deployed a time machine at just the right time. The Wood didn’t believe in Fate, but the humanity in the Wood marveled— and wondered.

The hard nut-like shell around her cracked open easily. Sarah had a moment of deja vu… not of her own memories, but of past journeys of the Wood through space. They had landed on thousands of worlds, merged, and threw their seed to the stars again and again.

This time, Sarah had been sent alone. There was an anomaly here. An empty shell where a civilization once roamed. She slipped a few fingers through the crack, tasting the atmosphere. Alien chemistry sent signals, but did not decode into anything dangerous. No radiation or toxic chemicals or attacking organisms burned her senses. She pushed the shell back and stepped out, leaving it behind.

Days of exploration did not reveal much else. Empty, blank walls refused to reveal secrets. Following her orders, she decided to reproduce and sank her tentacle-like roots into the road beneath her.

But from beneath, something reached up— and grabbed.

Nightmare Fuel 2016, Day 14

Birth

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