|The forest in the White Room|
In which Jeb possibly makes contact with the Arkship.
My mind roils on. Our ArkShip was said to have been locked in a struggle with an unknown entity when it dropped my settler ancestors off on Lotor. I feel hot and cold in quick succession, hot from fright and wanting to run, cold from terror and freezing in place. What if our ArkShip didn’t win?
I want to think it all through again in more detail, maybe find the solution already in my memories. I laugh. All this? In my memories? Even Soowei never made it off-planet. I need to explore. Find out more.
So I’ll need to leave something in this place where I stood, to show I’ve been here already. When it is walking in circles, it is about not getting anywhere.
I step from the path at the base of the wall into the forest. Grasp at the bottom end of a streamer of bark, to rip it loose from its tree. If I get a lot, I’ll be able to dress too. Missed it. My hand seemed to move through it.
Try again. Missed again.
Slowly this time.
When my hand is where I should be able to feel the bark rough and fibrous on my palm and within the cage of my fingers, there’s only a brown tint shading my fingers.
The trees are for looks only? Only half an hour ago I discovered that the floor is covered with nothing at all. That the tree litter I’m standing on is the hard plastic floor and I forgot that already? Am I even awake?
It’s even more necessary now to make my mark on something. If I had a knife I could carve a groove on the wall. I don’t have a knife. My hair isn’t long enough to bite off a length. My fingernails are, though a bitten-off sliver of a fingernail is very small. It will just get lost underfoot. Scratch myself hard enough to draw blood? It feels like my only option if I want to wake up.
I worry at the place where a corner of one of my fingernails is torn. Yes, it hurts. Get some blood finally. Write ZA. My call sign. It’s a kind of test. If the entity knows it, it will mean she won, knows everything about us, and is playing with me in the way that a cat plays with a grasshopper.
I slide to the right, between the close growing trees walling the wall and the wall itself, I hardly want to have the colour of the trees touching me. Wouldn’t you know it, I come to a place that looks like a corner. Not two separate walls coming together at right angles to one another, but a white plastic wall with a pinch pleat in it that forms an almost right-angled space inside an elbow. Because looking up I find that the pleat goes no higher than about three metres, from there on smoothing into the angled ceiling.
So I trace the seam down into the not-real forest litter. If I want to know how the floor joins to the whole I will have to get my hands dirty. Ha ha. Dirty with reflected colour from the not-real dirt. I haul the pretend soil back with my cupped hands. The soil that I heap up in front of me dissolves. The hole in the ground is growing.
Thigh deep is about as far as I want to reach down to dig without getting into the hole. Though what that really means is stepping into the place that is no longer covered with the pretend soil.
Shall I? I’m suspicious. I have been suspicious since the entity first opened her mouth. She is nothing like as logical as I imagined the Ark Ship’s intelligence to be. Events so far have been …very unusual, I decide to think of them.
A pink glow washes through the bit of the room’s floor that I just uncovered. My cold feet at the edge of the pretend forest litter are warmed.
I hope I didn’t show my surprise in any physical way.
I trek back to where I left my call sign for when I’m talking to the ArkShip.
There are more letters.
Stare. Stare. Stare. The letters don’t disappear. AZ. TheArkShip’s call sign for when it is talking to me?
I don’t want to have what I think it means in my awareness and I struggle through that. Because, what is this place if our own ArkShip can only talk to me secretly?
Then I see the impossible. The ArkShip’s call sign is written in red the same as mine. A substance that drips from the bottom of the uprights of the letters.
Someone must be in this room with me. I discount the entity, she isn’t flesh-and-blood. I search through the trees. The more I touch them as I slide between and around them, the more they fade. The ground, as I trample it, loses its definition and then also fades.
The room is empty and I am alone in it. I check the letters. Both sets are retreating. All four letters are inside the plastic now. Then they are gone.
I make ready to engage with the entity. I stand with my back flat against the stone doors.