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Sunday, June 12, 2016

Journey of the Soul-Linker, Part 3: Dinosaur Hunting


You trot barefoot after Melly, who floats along on her jetpack through the shadows of the trees in the lengthening afternoon. After just a few yards she taps on another tree.

"Does everyone here live in trees?" you ask.

"T'ain't that we live in trees. We store stuff in 'em." She taps again, and twists a little knot in the bark. A slot opens, far, far up in the top of the tree--"go long," says Melly.

You're not sure what she means until clothing shoots out the top of the tree, rocketing off into the distance.

"Are you kidding me?" You mutter under your breath and take off.

When you find the clothes--a ragged, thick brown pants set and vest made of thick linen, and a lighter, white, baggy linen shirt--they've fallen into a stream. The light plays on the surface of the water as it bubbles and beats across the rocks in a merry way, but your clothes hang heavy, sopping and cold in your hands.

"Ah, sooorry about that," Melly says, emphasizing the "o" in her weird accent--is it Canadian?--as she pulls up beside you and draws a hair dryer from you don't know where. She blows off your clothes, you slip into them, grumbling a bit, and then without a word she leaves, and you follow.

The foliage begins to change as you walk. The leaves seem wider here, with more many-pronged star-shapes, and darker, long fronds, and ferns, and the whole underbrush becomes thicker and softer, and the trees shorter, and soon you break out over hilly plains…

Hilly plains covered with maiasaura! You recognize them by their wide, duck-shaped bills, and their hunched form and hooves. They stand on their back hooves to look around like meerkats, and then drop to trot on all fours, playing with each other and watching over each other, a huge family. Tiny craters dot the hillsides, each just a few feet wide and filled with eggs. Babies play among the hooves of their mothers.

You and Melly crouch in the shadows of the underbrush, just on the edge of the plains, speaking in low tones.

"I hate my job," Melly sighs.

"Wait, these are the dinosaurs you hunt? They're so peaceful!"

"Yeah. Without any predators we got plant-eatin' critters destroying all the forests. Local overpopulation." She unhooks a little box from her belt, and as with the mirror, begins unfolding it until it becomes a large metal claw. "The Forest Guardian before me f*ck'd up, and killed all the carnivores. Or he did what he had to ta protect the local villages without armin' them, I dunno how you wanna put it. But now I gotta clean up." She unhooks another little box, and unfolds a cattle prod. "It's a little like life, yaknow. Without struggle, without teeth, life gets overgrown."

"Overgrown with what?"

"Fat lazy stuff that eats your inner garden."

You're not quite sure what that means, but there isn't much time to think about it. She hands you the cattle prod and the claw. "Crush two eggs from each nest. No more, 'n no less," she says. "Based on my population studies."

"And what will you--"

Your stomach sinks as she re-folds her trident-sword into what looks suspiciously like a sniper rifle. "Imma take out adults."

You're going to vomit. No, this…this doesn't seem like something you want to do. "Isn't there some other way? Instead of killing them?"

Melly crosses her arms. "So you just got here, and you got a dinosaur population degree or somethin'."

"Well no but--couldn't you--relocate them or something?"

"To some place they're gonna mess with the ecosystem, 'cuz they don't belong there? Look, we already got some kinda magic disease spreading across the world, we don't need ta make it worse shipping animals all over the place. I love this herd. I love this world. I'm not too scared to show my love with a knife when it's needed." With that Melly bursts out of the woods, leaping into the air and firing up her jetpack again. She takes off into the blue sky over the herd, far enough away from the dinosaurs that they can neither see nor smell her. You watch her take aim…

There's a quiet zip, and with a mournful groan one of the graceful maiasaura tilts, and thumps to the ground, flesh bouncing like a sack of potatoes once before rest. There's no gunshot. The beasts near the victim dart away, surprised, but there's no stampede, either. 

Another zip. You cover your mouth with your hand as another giant pounds the dust with that same sad lowing. 

Melly flies over the herd like this, and you're counting in your head, unwilling to help her with her unnatural selection but unable to do anything else. Three…four…five…six…you don't want to be here counting, and you don't know where else to be! You're too old to cry over Bambi's parents--but are you, really?

Then, suddenly, one of the creatures breaks away from the pack. It looks to the falling beasts, and to you, you, huddling in the underbrush, doing nothing to help it at all, you, leering over its children like a pervert--

And it charges up the hill towards you.

It comes faster than you can think. You have no contingency plan for charging herbivore dinosaur. It's much larger, growing closer, and now you see muscled shoulders, and the sharp, heavy hooves, and and the sheer mass behind the lowered head, and the steam, almost, coming off the creature in its low, roaring, squealing, shimmering black-eyed rage, it all stuns you with terror no less beautiful than--

You need to run. Hello? Run, or something! 

There's a tree. A many-branched tree--low branches. Like the chestnut tree! You dodge to the side, and grab--and miss! You fall on your butt, and the dinosaur whirls to charge again--you grab again, your palm scrapes in the bark, your feet kick against the trunk, then step on a lower branch, then up, and up, and now you're climbing.

With a whump you almost fall out of the tree as it shakes under the impact of the maisaura's head smashing into it. You hold on. 

But then, the creature smashes again.

And its head splits open on the tree trunk like a rotten egg.

You shriek, more in surprise and disgust than out of fear, as brains and a black goo splatter over the base of the trunk, and the maisaura falls limp. It lies there, bleeding out, without even a twitch as your breathing returns to normal. All is calm. All is disgusting.

Your gasp is out of fear, though, when the black goo begins to ooze up the tree towards you. 

"Holy--"

You're peering squinty-eyed down at it, curious, until it reaches the lowest limb--the branch cracks, and shakes, and with a creak like the Tin-Man relieved by oil the branch begins to move. It reaches for you like a scraping claw!

"Ohhhh no." You climb higher. 

The ooze follows! The branches come to life in your wake, until the whole tree below you begins to shudder, to writhe, with a creaking that sounds almost like a scream, as if the dead beast haunts it. You climb--but now you're standing on branches that bend under your weight, and clinging to a top that sways and sways and tilts further and further and--

Your breath comes in scattered pants, pants that want to become nothing but endless screams, as the wind picks up and you're clinging to soft green thin branches and oh gosh oh gosh oh gosh what even is that oh gosh oh--?

You fall.

You scream.

Your body collides with a mass mid-air--it's like getting punched in the torso with a boulder--and as you're lifted over the treetops you find Melly straining to somehow keep you in her small arms. You cling to her shoulders, and the jet-pack putters under your combined weight.

"Come on," she grunts, and then swears.

The jet-pack roars to life, and you float over the plains to the opposite hill. The tree reaches for the sky with one last screech and then collapses over the forest with a thundering crash and a splattering wave of slick slime.

"What is that?!" you cry.

"That's the disease," Melly says. "That's what's ruining our world."

 ***

You're sitting on a hill overlooking the wasted plain. Melly's already sniped her adult quota, and her egg quota, too, apparently, and you've watched her zoom down to collect blood samples or to use her weird folding technology to wrap a dinosaur body up in her pocket, and she's taking notes and speaking into a recorder on her wrist over the blackened tree and maiasaura corpse, and in some ways it's fascinating work, but you're not helping. She's already killed most of the eggs she planned on killing, and their mothers and father roar at her, chasing under her, away from you, as she flies over their home.

The last nest lies at your feet. You hold the last dinosaur egg in your palms. You imagine smuggling it out, raising your own little baby dinosaur--why not? If it's a pet, it can't escape and mess up the ecosystem or whatever Melly said. You don't know how long this adventure will last, and every little girl's dreamt about riding a dinosaur! Why not?

It's human arrogance. You could spread the 'magical disease,' or something. You know about the zebra mussels, and the Japanese kudzu plant, and all the other invasive species that wiped out native populations because of humans who relocated wildlife without doing any research first. 

What did Melly say? Without struggle, without teeth, life gets overgrown. Maybe it means that other things, every day mundane nothings, and apathetic meaningless comforts, maybe cloud out your purpose, until you can't find it anymore, can't find what you're fighting for because there's nothing fighting back, until you're not doing anything that's even worth fighting you about. Then what? Muscle cells that aren't stimulated with work, with prodding from your nervous system, atrophy and die. On their own. Maybe that's happening to you. Maybe it's why you feel like…dying, sometimes. 

So you'll find something to struggle for. Conflict to drive your story. A goal to make it all worth it. For starters, you'll find out more about this magical disease Melly's on about, and you'll fight to end it. Until the planet can become a place where balance can be restored, and no one has to execute dinosaurs just for living. 

The soul-link begins to fade again, because you're only here to inspire your search for your fight in your real life, but before it fades, you lift the smooth, leathery weight in your palms, crouch over a sharp rock…and crush the egg.

You'll be back for the link next week.



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