Rebecca awoke sore, confused and groggy but because everything hurt, she knew that she was badly injured. Disoriented and afraid to move for the pain, even her thinking was disjointed and unfocused. What happened? Where am I?
She tried to open her eyes but her whole face felt numb and swollen. Her jaw ached and, so this is what a broken nose feels like. She tried to move her right hand and arm but the pain was immediate; feels broken, she thought. She tried to move her left, but, nothing, I can’t feel my left arm at all. She could sense her torso and legs, but only because she could feel each injury. What am I going to do? Lie still and try to think. What can I learn without seeing or moving?
She listened and could hear something mechanical winding down squealing with a broken metal-on-metal scraping, something else was hissing and maybe sparking. She could feel a mist, like cold wet fog, then dirt, leaves and sticks beneath her and then as her shock passed and her head cleared, she could feel both broken bones and light-hardheadedness. Wonder how much blood I’ve lost? This darkness — are my eyes even open?
“Stop. Stay away from it.” Rebecca’s attention was jerked to the new unfamiliar voice.
“No. It is injured and I might help.”
Who is that? Rebecca worried while pushing her pain aside for a moment. I can hear them so clearly they must be close. She had to be exposed and vulnerable. She tried again to open her eyes without success. She tried to move her arms, but the sharp pain almost caused her to scream. She pinched her mouth shut and took a slow, silent breath through her nose and noticed the smell of forest-like odors, lightly humid, cold but only mildly so, and soil. Smells like trees and tilled dirt. But I need a place to hide.
“You don’t know what it is and it may attack.”
“Insignificant. It has no claws or fangs. Its limbs are broken and it is barely aware, near death, like the others except this one still lives.”
“A needless risk.”
“Yet, I will attempt to help it.”
They’re talking about me, she realized. Need to hide, but how? I can’t move or see. I’m so screwed! Hurts even to think.
Her fear suddenly spiked higher as something touched her waist. Whatever it was, it wiggled beneath her, then fanned out in several directions and, slowly lifted her, causing everything to shift, everything to hurt even more and again she gasped to swallowed a scream. I’m completely helpless. Who are they? What are they going to do to me?
“You are injuring it further.”
“Necessary. I’m bringing it to safety away from that wreckage.”
Scared beyond comprehension, her boot caught on something as she was lifted, sending a bolt of sciatic pain across her leg, hip and lower back. Rebecca gulped a huge breath and collapsed back into a darker unconsciousness as something, someone lifted her, stabilized her motion and carried her away.
Rebecca had brief moments of awareness in the next few hours and while she still could not see, she could feel something touching her all around her body, soothing and cool tiny probes cleaning and dressing her wounds.
Once, she awoke and realized that, something’s different. No – no! Something is crawling beneath my skin. She was instantly aware enough to feel it all around her body. She expected pain but instead her pain was decreasing as it spread deeper between her broken insides like thousands of tiny tubes, extending themselves towards an injured area then repairing it and bathing it with a healing cream. Absurd, not possible, but that’s what it feels like.
There were also moments of disconnected, out of context words coming from inside her mind as her consciousness drifted back and forth like gentle waves at the beach. Just talking to myself; dreaming of magically getting better, healing . . . and she drifted back to sleep knowing at some level, she had no choice but to trust whoever was treating her.
= = =
Suddenly, she was awake and aware, most of her pain was gone, but now she had a burning thirst. What did they do to me?
“Sufficient. It will survive if we can solve its lost body fluid.”
“Not trivial. Can we harvest some from its dead peers?”
“Doubtful. It would likely be poison.”
Water, she thought, I need water.
“Surprised. It understands and speaks.”
“Indeed. Can you really understand us?”
Rebecca paused and tried to understand what just happened. Did they just read my mind?
Carefully, she directed her thoughts at them. I do hear you My name is, Rebecca. Repeat it if you can.
“Pleased. We did not know if you could either speak or understand. You are Rebecca. We found you injured in our field among others who did not survive the fall. You said you need water?”
Her mind spun. No one can read minds but . . . Yes, yes, she thought hoping they could still hear her. Water please. It will help my loss of blood. My body will make more from the water.
“Understood. I will provide.”
From the darkness, a narrow edge appeared at her lips and a few drops of sweet, fresh tasting water fell onto her parched tongue. Oh – so good – perfect. More please.
With each sip, she could feel the water passing quickly into her blood stream, restoring her moment by moment.
With all this, her memory began to return. With that came a wave of sorrow for her lost peers aboard the starship that brought them to this newly discovered planet. A possible new world thought to be inhabitable. They had just settled into orbit when something like a high speed cloud of rocks shredded the ship and when an alarm went off warning of an eminent reactor containment failure, everyone scrambled to the escape pods. But as the pods exited the ship, they too were pounded by the same cloud and most of the pods lost power or guidance or life support. Instead making safe descents to the surface, they fell to the planet out of control. Many burned up as they fell into the atmosphere while a few, retained enough functionality to slow their descent but none managed to land safely. Am I the only survivor?
“Rebecca must rest. There is much for the enzymes to heal. You need to be still.”
That’s got to be true, but I have lots of questions and somehow they speak English. How’s that possible? Can we talk if I stay still?
“Yes. We too have questions. You are the guest so you should ask first and then we can trade questions for answers.”
Rebecca, quieted her mind, amazed that she was going to chat with an alien through her mind. These people seemed friendly enough and amazing doctors but, where to start? Okay, how are we communicating? I’m only thinking and you hear me. In my mind, I can hear your voices and you speak my language. How is that possible?
“This must not be normal for you. It is common for us. There are others among us who have organs for making and understanding noise, but we do not. We can sense noise, but it is not helpful for conversations. If you were to speak to us with noise, we would not understand but thoughts are universal. There are four other species here we can talk to like this. So, it is common here.”
But how can you. . .
“Stop. We agreed to trade questions and answers. My question is, you fell from the clouds like the burning rocks. How is that possible?”
She paused to think, That question reveals much about what they don’t know.
Wait. Did you hear me?
“You were not speaking, I thought you were considering your answer.”
This is confusing. We don’t communicate in this way. So, you can hear me but not always.
“Is normal. We hear only what is directed at us and you only hear what we direct at you.”
This raises even more questions, but I need to answer your question. We did fall from the clouds but only because our pods were damaged by the rocks above the clouds. We normally can land safely, and we did not intend to land at all but our larger vessel was also damaged. We did not know what or who might be here.
“Confused. Where are you. . .”
Stop. Now it’s my turn, and — wait! Did you just smile? I think I felt you smile. There! You did it again.
“Stay still. The enzymes. . .”
“Is our way. We communicate feelings the same way as words.”
Okay, my question is simple. What is your name?
“No names for us. We recognize each other by our voices.”
I need to call you something. You were kind enough to heal me. Can I call you, ‘Doctor’? For us, this title is one of respect for the work a doctor does.
“I like the title and being called a healer. To you, I am Doctor. My next question is, where are you from? Never have we met anyone not from here. Your body is similar to some we know, but different. Those here who are shaped like you, don’t talk with us. We don’t think they can. We are all over the world so how could we never have met before?”
Let me consider how to answer. I think you are lacking information.
Gracious, there is no protocol for this. They seem kind and curious and definitely helped me medically, but it all could be a deception to get information. Their burning rocks from above the clouds. . . ? Maybe that’s what brought down our ship. I might have no real choice but to trust them.
We are not from this world. We came from another star and planet. Do you understand?
“Confused. Do you mean from another world?”
“Must have misunderstood. There is no other world.”
I suspected this. You know about the clouds. Do you know what is above the clouds?
“Rocks. They sometimes fall through.”
“And a great fire. It burns each morning, travels across the sky and then goes out when it reaches the mountains. We need its light and warmth so we are thankful that the fire restarts each day. You said another star and planet. What are these?”
Have you ever seen through the clouds, like through a hole? Have you ever seen what’s up there at night when the fire is out?
“Not possible. The clouds are always between us and the fire. Also, we don’t ‘see’ as you do. Your eyes confused our healing you but now we understand how to repair your eyes. We can read biological cells, but we don’t have eyes, so can’t ‘see’ above the clouds. We sense their presence; their moisture and temperature and depth.”
You are overwhelming me with new thoughts and questions and you’ve never ‘sensed’ a cloudless night sky. You would be amazed, but I want to try to answer your question. From above the clouds, you would observe the fire and could tell that it is very far away but is big enough to light and heat this world. We traveled here from further away, from a different fire and different world. We call these fires, stars, and the worlds we call planets. Our ships are very fast so we can make the journey, but it is a very long journey.
“Ships that carry you above the clouds? Not possible.”
“Almost impossible to believe. We have never imagined such things, but we observed you and your people falling from the sky. That too has never happened — so I think I have to believe.”
There is so much more I could tell you but, Doctor, you said you now know how to heal my eyes?
“Yes, we did not understand how your eyes turned light into such information for your mind. I can now repair them but now you are awake and it may be unpleasant.”
Unpleasant or painful?
“Unpleasant. Our healing doesn’t cause pain.”
Then there is no reason not to proceed. I need to be able to see to function.
“Understood. You will feel my touch around your face. Then you will feel my touch growing inside, but it should not be painful.”
“Can’t be sure. We limited experience. Others here that look like you don’t talk to us.”
It sounds like what you did earlier to heal my wounds.
“Correct. It will feel like that.”
“Heal its eyes. I have chores to finish before the fire goes out. Heal fully Rebecca.”
She tried to relax and prepare for whatever was coming but it still startled her as hundreds, maybe thousands of tiny hair-like tubes gently touched her face. To distract herself, she asked another question.
Doctor, How did you learn how to repair my eyes?
“We studied some some of your dead and some creatures from here who have similar eye formations. We had to catch one and hold it down as we probed its eyes. I reread your cells with new insight then we discussed what we learned and I’m confident I know how to do this.
“We learned of your eye’s ability to perceive distances as well as images. Now, I need you to lie still. Some of these structures are very small and my touch needs to be precise.”
Complying, she thought while making an unconscious ironic smile as she realized that she was adopting their speech pattern. but then was shocked as she sensed the hair-like structures burrowing through her skin, then her muscles, and bone. What a surreal feeling. It tickled the inside of her sinuses and she worried that she might sneeze. This is the most bizarre sensation I’ve ever experienced.
“Don’t move. Movement is risk.”
It took Doctor about an hour to complete his work. With the trauma her face had been through, she half expected Doctor to tell her he could not repair the damage after all, but suddenly, the tiny probes were extracted without any pain and Doctor was laying some kind of compress of moss and something smelly on her closed eyes.
“Done Rebecca. I have never healed such organic gems as your eyes. We have many things we consider beautiful and in our way, we sense and appreciate the wonder of how somethings fit together and work. Your eyes are miracles of creation. I can’t wait for you to tell me what you see — after a final hour of quiet rest.”
Let me guess, the enzymes again?
“Funny Rebecca. Yes, they are both in your eyes and in the compress. Let them finish and you should be able to stand and see again.”
No problem Doctor. I’m going to start a long list of questions I have for you. We have so much to discuss.
= = =
“Rebecca. Are you awake?”
Umm, yes, er, no. I guess I drifted off again Doctor. How much longer until . . .
“The enzymes are done. Please hold still while I remove the compress and clean your face before you try to open your eyes. I have one more thing to warn you about before you start trying to move around. Your body tries to maintain a certain level of heat and if you are cold, it works to warm you up. We realized that you needed to be kept warm to better heal, so I wove a shell to keep the heat in. You are lying on a thick moss that creates heat and scrubs the air so you were getting extra oxygen the whole time. It is strong but the lid will slide off easy when you’re ready to face the colder air.”
Thank you Doctor. I must have drifted back to sleep. All this healing is hard work but that moss sounds like the warm quilt I was dreaming of. Give me a moment to finish waking up. Can I move safely?
“Quilt. It is a strange but pleasant sounding idea.”
She heard Doctor removing the lid and cooler air washed over her. “Start slow. You may need some time to stabilize. You can open your eyes.”
Her lids were sticky but they slowly opened. Rebecca was on her back and looking up into a canopy of thick trees. I can see Doctor, I can see perfectly. Thank you.
“And Rebecca is smiling. I too can sense your smile.”
She sat up and found that her shell did look like a tightly-woven basket lined with the thick, soft, dry moss that matched a thick blanket of the same moss that covered her, keeping her warm and comfortable. Her shell looked rigid and well made, if not air-tight. How did Doctor make this so quickly? And this blanket material, I’ve never seen anything like it. Did he make the lining and the blanket at the same time? He’s been healing me so when did he have time to do all this?
She looked past her feet, out in a clearing was the remains of her escape pod. Well, I don’t think my pod will fly again.
“Good, Rebecca you can see your pod.”
She stood up slowly. Yes Doctor, I’m feeling stiff, but it should will walk off.
“And your focus? You can focus both up close and far away?”
Yes, yes. I think I see better than I used to.
“Pleased. I was hoping this was going to work. I know well how to read cells, but you are the only one like you I’ve ever met and could not be sure I was correct in my healing.”
Rebecca turned to see her surroundings. The trees were lush and well kept. It reminded her of a hiking park from her youth. One nearby tree had an enormous exposed section of roots and the basket was surrounded by runs from it.
Suddenly confused, she looked around again. Doctor? Where are you?
“You are looking at me. Are your eyes not working?”
They’re fine, but I don’t see you.
“You must. Your eyes are pointed right at me.”
She stepped out of the basket to see some from around the tree. Do I frighten you Doctor? Are you hiding behind the tree?
“Of course not. Funny Rebecca. I am the tree.”
Rebecca’s mind raced. But trees can’t. . . Doctor, you carried me, you and your friend. You touched me and healed me. How — no, it’s not possible.
“I can demonstrate. Look at your pod.”
She turned to look back as dark green roots grew from the ground beneath her crashed pod, lifting it while hundreds of others grew up and together they rotated the pod before setting it back down. She stepped out of her basket and knelt down to run her hand over the small roots which waved beneath her touch and when she stopped moving, she smiled as they gently grew and wrapped themselves around her hand almost too softy to feel until they unwound, gathered themselves into two bunches that formed the rough images of human hands and took and squeezed her hand as one friend might warmly greet another.
Doctor, I — I don’t know what to say. Again you overwhelm me. Your help and care and all this time, you were — you are — a tree.
“Surprised? You recognized me as one from your world when you opened your eyes. I again saw you smile. Trees from your world must not talk or heal or make friends.”
Doctor, you are a fairy tale come true, but I have an idea. Can I describe a chair and have you weave it? I want to sit here wrapped up in my moss blanket and have a very long talk with easily the most caring and interesting friend I’ve ever met. I’ve lost track of whose turn it was but I have so many questions for you.
“Likely simple. What is this chair you speak of?”