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Into the Leaves

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#1
Neri Rashal

Neri Rashal

    6CO2+6H2O->C6H12O6+6O2

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Outer Rim

Astras Ko

Delaney Wilder

 

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It wasn't a planet. Not really. It had been, once upon a time. Now they called it the World Tree, Astras Ko, and Neri had never seen anything like it. A tree the size of a small moon, drifting in orbit between a dying star and a gas giant both trying to claim it. It was a unique slice of astronomical history- from a long term view, on the nature of stars and moons and planets, this period was just a blip. A tiny moment. A heartbeat before what was left of the planet would be snuffed out. From the perspective of a more ephemeral mind however, it would likely still be thousands of years before that happened, and as short lived, sapient species are wont to do, the focus was on the moment and the immediate future. 

 

"Must have been a big planet to support trees this big," Neri murmured to herself as she bounded across the (relatively) narrow, swaying branchway linking two branch cities. There were trams that traveled the 'Highways'- artificial constructs between the population centers that clustered high in the canopy and curled around the entire length of the trunk, but Neri didn't want to miss a moment of the view. 

 

Out beyond the branches was darkness. The tree large enough that it created its own gravity field and hold the thin atmosphere. Just enough to breath, though it wasn't as easy for the folks who weren't from here. Fortunately the lower gravity made physical activity almost breezy, balancing it out for the rare visitor. All the way out in the Outer Rim, Astras Ko wasn't a hotspot of galactic activity, and for that Neri was appreciative. The place was gorgeous, the people here finding balances between the needs of an evolving, melting pot culture and the tree itself. But then, when the population was mostly the survivors of the Wookiee, Caamasi, and Ithorian denizens of the original planet, what else could you expect? 

 

Neri had been here for only two days so far, settling in for what she planned on being an extended stay- she'd gotten permission to study the epiphytic plant life that had formed their own mini rain-forests among the World Tree's branches. No sampling, but she respected that. Her friend Ichy, an old contact from her days in the Alliance, had arranged with a few of his 'cousins' for her work there. She didn't actually think they were related at all, but then, the Ithorians had weird ideas about how that all worked anyway. 

 

Laima, the Capital City and where she had flown into- indeed where most people did- came into view through the foliage. Around the city, a shimmer of light, a bubble of thicker atmosphere, generated in most of the larger population centers for comfort. Not unlike the Hydrostatic Bubbles of the Gungans of Naboo, she was almost relieved by the time she got back there. Even with the lower gravity making it easier, she was starting to form a headache between her eyebrows from the thin air outside in the branches of the world tree. Tomorrow when she went out she'd bring a rebreather, she decided. Stepping in through the membrane, a slight tingle against her skin, and she breathed in deeply, with a contented sigh. 

 

"Perfect day," she murmured to herself, readjusting the pack on her back that had her instruments and journal in it. 


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#2
Delaney Wilder

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Neri Rashal

 

This place was insane.

 

Amazing. 

 

They had heard word of it months ago, but with the Sith Empire starting to beat its drum again? There was no way the Order could spare any of their senior Jedi Knights. That is where Delaney Wilder came in. AgriCorps. Nobody really gave a crap what they were doing, as long as the food came in on time. So. Brought a bunch of friends with him. They had the time of their lives among the gargantuan branches and leaves. 

 

It was insaaaane.

 

"Okay, and you are telling me there are on-scale organisms living in symbiosis with the tree??" She'd hear the voice, before seeing him. Excited as feth. Booming and loud. 

 

Only one man had that voice.

 

Muffled, soft response.

 

"Right, right, rumors, you have never seen one. Buuuut. It makes sense, doesn't it? Regular trees have to deal with parasites, symbiotic organisms.... why wouldn't it be dealing with them too? Just. Large versions of them." Eyes big there, thinking about that prospect. Gigantic parasites, squirrels, woooorms. 

 

Muffled further response.

 

"...a protected species list? But you just said they are just rumors! That is like putting a Leviathan on the protected species list of Manaan!" "Oh, the Leviathan was a mythological-" 

 

Cue explanation. 


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#3
Neri Rashal

Neri Rashal

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Pack resettled, she started the walk back in toward city center. But man, what a city. Green everywhere. The touch of the species that had made this place their home was clear in every facet. Plant covered balconies, small trees- cuttings she thought, of the World Tree- growing in pots along the avenue. The buildings were all natural materials, primarily made from natural deadwood, though there were places where homes had been carved into the tree itself. She'd already been told that it was only by permit, and new constructions had to adhere to very specific rules and limitations, so as not to risk the health of the World Tree. 

 

Maybe she'd retire here, she mused, slipping between two groups of people and stepping out into an open avenue. 

 

Familiar faces just kept turning up in the most unlikely places. 

 

"Wild, who let you out of your pen?" She asked with amusement. 

 

"Or are they doing Jedi field trips these days? Sleep away camp? Actually that sounds great, sign me up."

 

Delaney Wilder


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#4
Delaney Wilder

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Neri Rashal

 

"So, yeah, it was probably an over-sized Progenitor that lived on in their-" 

 

A blink, glancing over his shoulder and expression lit up. "Oh, excuse me, we can continue this later!" Clapping the man on the shoulder. Accidentally forceful enough to make him stumble back. Not that Wilder noticed. He was already turning around and stepping up to meet Neri. "Neri! Oh, you know how it is, Command is happy enough to get me out of their hair. I figure they are looking forward to a few weeks of no weird requisition orders." Bright smile, extending his hand for a shake. 

 

A snort at the mention of a sleep away camp.

 

"I don't even want to know how a Silver Jedi slumber party would look like." Wilder responded dryly, before looking her up and down. "See you still have all your limbs and legs. Haven't been killed yet either."

 

Leaning in a bit, whispering.

 

"Did you know there might be gigantic squirrels running in and out of the interior of the tree??Excited, eyes gleaming.


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#5
Neri Rashal

Neri Rashal

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Delaney Wilder

 

Shifting her pack slightly, shifting it with the other hand so she could meet his for a shake.

 

"That's why I like working for myself, up and at 'em whenever I want," with a grin. "I thought parties were a mainstay, did the grape vine fail me?"

 

She watched him with some amusement. As much as she loved what she did, it didn't shine up to his sheer enthusiasm for the topic. 

 

A blink and then a laugh. "I mean, this job is a lot safer than my old one, and this place isn't exactly Dxun or anything unless you know something I don't," a pause as he leaned in. 

 

"Giant.... squirrels? I mean, how big? Like, twice the usual size would still be giant, or do you mean GIANT giant?" Genuinely curious. "I could believe the first, but haven't seen any sign of something that BIG out there yet. Granted," looking thoughtful, "I've only been here a day, but it seems a little far fetched."

 

More of a skeptic than him, clearly. 

 

"You here for long?" Continuing to walk toward city center. "I originally planned a week, but I might stay longer."

 


Edited by Neri Rashal, 09 July 2019 - 12:21 PM.

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#6
Delaney Wilder

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Neri Rashal

 

"Oh, yeah, we talking about squirrels the size of a hill basically." Delaney confirmed as he set to follow after her. "I mean, yeah, a little bit. But." A pause there as he looked around during the walk. The sheer alienness of the place. Oh, they lived in a big Galaxy and basically anything could be out there. He knew that. It was still different though, to actually be here, rather than just hear stories of horror and wonder. 

 

"We are literally standing on a branch of a big ass tree floating through space, Neri." 

 

A scratch of his chin. "I am basically ready to accept anything else that comes with it." If the tree was huge, why couldn't the natural animals be huge too? From the way the folk were describing the tree... they hadn't explored half of it. 

 

Part of it was the difficulty. 

 

Dealing with the Gulag Plague, refugees coming and going from the endless wars, it was hard enough sometimes to just keep your head up. Then came the sheer maintenance to keep these cities alive and functional. A different part though was the superstition, or hell just their beliefs, because who knew how real it was? "Oh, yeah, I will be here for a while for sure."

 

"They basically gave me a monthly stipend and told me to go Wild."

 

A grin at his own joke. 

 

"You have a place to stay yet? There is a nice hostel me and the others are staying at. Close to the center, nice vegetation all around. There are still rooms open, pretty sure."


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#7
Neri Rashal

Neri Rashal

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Two Days Later.....

 

Well this trip hadn't gone at all like she'd been expecting. Yesterday she'd parted ways with Delaney to meet engagements she had already lined up and honestly to inject a little space there. Could she have invited him along? Sure. Had it been tempting? Absolutely. 

 

All the more reason to not. 

 

They'd talked and she'd been clear she wasn't looking for a thing right now. So why was that actually difficult? Cause he was so easy to be around. Easy to talk to, didn't make demands. Should make a casual thing, something she didn't normally like, perfect right? 

 

Small part of her had wondered if she shouldn't just pick up her stuff and come back another time. Sever this.... whatever THIS was.... cleanly and injected not just space but half a galaxy of space. 

 

Then other parts had argued, mostly about the chance she'd be walking away from- not Del, but Astras Ko. If she left now, what opportunities would she be leaving behind? 

 

Yeah, that was the reason. Of course. 

 

Though it was still that perpetual twilight that blanketed the world tree, local time set them just around 'dawn', as the two set out, hiking along one of the branchways in the direction Del had said a population of sentient, singing, moss was supposed to be. 

 

"Look I just hope it's better than the last time I ran into sentient moss- hang on, is it sessile or ambulatory? Cause if its ambulatory I might have to rethink this whole outting." Only partially joking as she resettled her pack to sit more comfortably between her shoulders. 

 

Delaney Wilder


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#8
Delaney Wilder

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Neri Rashal

 

Had Neri shared any of those concerns with him, he would probably have suggested to be the one doing the leaving.

 

After all- there were other AgroCorps employees doing investigations. His presence wasn't crucial. He just enjoyed it, loved it, but the last thing Del would want was to make her feel uncomfortable. Sadly (or maybe thankfully?) Del didn't realize the extent of her concern. Instead there was blissful ignorance as they trundled through the streets together. 

 

Sometime ago Delaney discovered that the branched streets?

 

They pulsed with light sometimes at night. 

 

Not always. Not everywhere. Always at night though, so he was wondering how that worked. "Hmmm?" Blinking, dragging his eyes away from the minuscule lights bopping up and down the 'catwalk'. "Oh. No, no, sessile moss! By all accounts the forest, they place they live in, hasn't shifted (expanding or shrinking) in living memory. Which makes you wonder all kinds of stuff."

 

"Does it regulate its own growth? Stemming it or encouraging more during particular seasons? Does it just consume enough to maintain its mass?"

 

Getting excited at the thoughts. 

 

Up ahead came a hanging walk-a-way, bridging one branch with the other. That did make Del gulp. Peeking over the edge. "Sheesh...."


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#9
Neri Rashal

Neri Rashal

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"Okay that IS weird cause you would think it would shift at least a LITTLE. Unless the locals are helping maintain it."

 

It didn't occur to her that the MOSS was deliberately maintaining it. Despite her field of study, or perhaps because of it, Neri had particular sets of biases and assumptions- and most of them didn't involve this kind of plant with a culture. Plants, with few exceptions, didn't do that. Even when he said that, it seemed unlikely as a conscious decision. Honestly she suspected the sentience of the moss was overblown by the locals. 

 

"This place doesn't really have seasons, not anymore though. Maybe the current climate after the cataclysm is only marginal for it? Just enough for it to hang on but not enough to spread? That's a delicate equilibrium and usually collapses the next time there's the slightest shift of any kind..... might be we're here in a perfect timing sense- I know they said living memory but from a galactic and evolutionary standpoint that's barely a heartbeat."

 

A flicker of amusement crossed her face. 

 

"You okay with heights, Wild?" 

 

Neri didn't pause, but she did slow down if he did. 

 

Delaney Wilder


Edited by Neri Rashal, 06 August 2019 - 08:49 AM.

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#10
Delaney Wilder

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"I actually asked them about that- they seemed shocked at the idea. Which is odd, considering.... well.

 

Gesturing around them.

 

"They had less issue setting up their living zones. So, at the very least they believe the moss is truly sentient." Which admittedly didn't have to mean much. Maybe it was just superstition. Could be! But, hell, they were literally exploring a giant tree floating through space. Del already decided he wasn't going to discount anything. What would the point be?

 

Seem like the 'rational' man?

 

Screw that, there was nature to explore. "Mmhm, yeah, certainly possible. That would make us very lucky though. Imagine- being here, right in this place, this moment. It's a one in a million thing." A glance towards her. Small smirk there. Lucky in more than one way, but he wasn't going to put it into words. 

 

Not here anyway. 

 

They had business to do, after all. 

 

The reminder of the height made him shaky again. "Uuuuuh." A gulp. Looking down again, knuckles whitening there against the rope. "Yeaaaaah. Nooooo." Shake of the head there. "Wanna hold my hand? I will try not to squeeze it too hard." Might have sounded like a pass at her. If not for the fact he looked a little bit white around the edges there. 


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