Hello and welcome to my first post of a new decade!
I’m kicking off with the first Storytime Blog Hop of the year, where writers around the world unite with a bit of story sharing. So put your feet up, grab a cuppa and click the links for lots of cool stories.
My story is one I wrote for the Indie Authors Advent Calendar a few years ago. There is a slight christmassy theme, but hey, what’s in a date? 😉
by Angela Wooldridge
“We’ve got this Yuletide festival coming up,” said Kai. “It’s supposed to teach us about different cultures, and make everyone on board feel like a community. Dad says it’s pointless, the contractors stick together and the long-haulers do too. This one’s kinda fun though. There’s a big feast and everyone gets presents. We get to decorate the community areas, like they used to back on Earth. Hey, maybe we should decorate you?”
She peered up into the leaves of the walnut tree she leaned against. “Would you like that? I saw a picture of a tree with stars and things hanging from it. I’ll bring some for you tomorrow.”
The idea took root as she made her way back to her family quarters. She’d helped out in hydroponics ever since her work experience stint there aged 10, three years ago. Reporting the day’s news to the old tree at the heart of the Deep Space Exploration ship, Hermione, was a secret habit she’d picked up from Webler, the old guy she’d buddied with at the time. When he’d died last year it had only seemed right to carry on.
* * *
“Dad, can I borrow some of the Yuletide decorations?” she asked at breakfast next morning.
“Sure.” He barely glanced up from the screen he was frowning at. “We were issued far too much.”
“I thought it’d be nice to put some around the ‘ponics section,” she said vaguely.
“Ok.” Then her words sank in, and he looked up. “Actually you’d better steer clear of there today.”
With a huge crew, chartered for generations of travel, growing their own food was imperative. If there was something wrong in Hydroponics, the Hermione was in trouble.
But Dad worked in Security. Why would he be involved?
“They don’t know yet. Something spread through the vents overnight.”
He was interrupted as his comms unit buzzed.
“How the hell did it get that far?” he barked. “Is it a bio hazard or an alien life form?”
He listened to whoever was squeaking in his ear. “Well find out. Fast. Sorry Kai,” he reached over and ruffled her hair. “I have to go.”
Kai worried about it as she cleared away the breakfast things, and couldn’t resist stopping at Hydroponics on her way to school.
“Hey, Kid! You can’t go in there!”
“I’ve got a delivery.” She waved her rucksack and dashed through the entry before anyone could stop her.
There was no sign of pursuit as she wove through the farm pods and on to the oxygenators section. Most plants on board had more than one purpose, and many of the trees were fruiting varieties.
The walnut tree stood on a small rise at the centre, its branches spreading out and up.
“I said I’d get you some decorations, didn’t I?” She scrambled up the short trunk, pulling a rainbow of coloured paper from her bag, and proceeded to hang stars and lanterns from the branches.
She jumped down, and brushed off her palms. The gaudy decorations took on a solemn beauty hanging from the tree.
“They suit you.” She patted the trunk, but there was no answering rustle. It was as if its attention was elsewhere.
Back at the exit, she squatted beneath the low hanging branches of a cherry tree to watch what was going on. A group near the bio-controls had taken the floor panels up and were peering below. She was so engrossed, she didn’t hear movement until someone grabbed her shoulder.
“Gotcha! You’re the kid who gave me the slip earlier!”
She was marched over to the others, who drew back to reveal a taller figure crouched at the edge of the hole.
Oh no, she winced.
“Kai? What are you doing here?” Of course it was Dad. She hung her head. “Wait there, young lady. I have to deal with this first.” He turned away.
She avoided the stares of his team. She tried so hard to do the right thing, now this would be what everyone remembered. But they weren’t paying attention to her.
“Is it organic?”
“Take a sample!”
“Wouldn’t that be seen as an attack?”
“And clogging up our vents isn’t?”
“Enough!” Dad’s order shut them up. “It hasn’t responded to the known galactic forms of address. We need a sample to figure out what it is.”
Someone handed him a cutting tool.
Kai edged away but gasped suddenly, unable to breathe at a sharp pain in her head. A mental scream shot through her brain.
“Stop!” She dropped to her knees at the edge of the floor recess. “Dad, you have to stop this!”
“Not now, Kai.”
He crouched in the floorspace, about to make a second cut in the mass spreading along the floor. It was immediately obvious to Kai what it was, but most of these people had never seen a tree let alone its roots. He laid his cutter against the root.
“Arrrghhh!” Kai screamed. Couldn’t they feel that? “Dad! Stop! Its alive!”
He drew back, shocked, not just by his daughter’s screams, but the unmistakeable flinch of the substance he was cutting into.
“What’s going on?” asked someone.
He held up his hand. “Kai?”
Trembling, Kai looked down at her dad. “It’s alive, Dad. It’s the tree.” She explained what she had only just begun to understand. “There’s a tree at the centre of the ship that provides food, nutrients and, most importantly, air. Over the years its roots have become enmeshed with the ecosystem; as the light, water and air it takes in to stay alive is recycled from our bodies and lungs, and the earth it draws from is composted down from our waste, it really has become a part of the ship. And it’s curious. A report a day from Webler and me isn’t enough any more. It wants to get to know everyone.”
* * *
“Merry Christmas, one and all!”
Dad raised his glass to take in the mixed group of people around the tree. They’d all brought a gift to hang from it, and, as if in thanks, it had showered them with walnuts. They’d appreciated the intention, and ignored the odd sore head.
“Happy?” He slung an arm about Kai’s shoulders, looking more relaxed than she’d seen him look in months.
She smiled. “It was cool to have a secret. But it’s even nicer share it. Merry Christmas, Tree.”
A branch waved and she felt a whisper of air across her face.
Here are the links to the other stories, Happy reading!
Sisters by Barbara Lund
Rogue Ring by Katharina Gerlach
Grim Failures by Bill Bush
Secrets by Gina Fabio
The Daughter of Disappearing Creek by Karen Lynn
The Gynnos Seeker Project by Juneta Key
Mugging Morpheus by Vanessa Wells
A Little Off the Top by Tyler Vawter
Shores of Lamentation, by Melanie Drake
Syrojax Lends a Claw by Nic Steven