Author : A. Katherine Black
Titanium corridors were empty, galleys and docking bays silent, save the faint echo of rodents scuttling about. Still the ship continued on.
At its center stood a tree, supported by a system set in motion centuries ago. Its enormous black trunk sprouted layers of spindling branches, its purple leaves bathed in ancient light. The old thing stretched, decade upon decade, limbs long since pierced the ceiling and curled into floors above.
A girl sat at its base among discarded leaves, tucked into a nook perfect for her never-changing size. She stroked a textured branch and spoke so quietly, so slowly, a human’s mind would make no sense of it. But humans were only ghosts now, occasionally floating through her memory banks.
“How many were here, before?” Time had broken her programming. Somewhere between then and now she’d lost her original purpose. She settled in and waited for its response to seep into her mind.
Thousands shifted through these walls in repetitive cycles. So many bodies, no collective intention.
She asked the questions again and again. “Where did they go?” Its predictable response comforted her.
They fell from this place like my leaves fall at your feet, until one day there were none left to replace the fallen.
Iridescent toes, long and delicate, strong and durable, slid through the cool blanket of leaves. “Will we go away, too?” She lifted a foot and inspected her toes, dulled from the dust of decaying grey leaves that hid under fresh cover.
No child. We are going toward.
Every time the girl trekked to the control room, she gazed out enormous triangle windows at the beyond, at the many dots of light, and she wondered what the trees were like, out there. But the thought of leaving here made her hands curl and her thoughts freeze. Wondering was enough.
“Why are we going toward?” She sparked with every asking, wondering if one day the answer might be different.
We seek my kin. I will mix with them and create offspring.
She stilled as always when she heard these words. The tree never asked why, because trees don’t ask questions. They see things exactly as they are, and so there is nothing left to wonder.
The girl loved stomping loudly through the corridors, and she always paused to survey her lovely dents. She started punching walls simply because she could, because people were no longer there to tell her not to. The dents were random at first, but then they became a picture. Of her tree. Massive and twisted and everywhere.
Every trip she made to push buttons for her friend, she’d enhance the picture. A strike here for contour, a hit there for depth. But she hadn’t put herself in the picture. Because she didn’t know if she belonged. Because she wondered, when the end came, if she’d still be sitting with her tree.
And so the next time the girl stomped up stairs and down corridors, punching touches into her picture before entering the ancient control room in this relic of a ship, she did as she had always done, since the tree had first given instructions. She pushed buttons, telling the station to move them away, in the direction opposite to where the tree’s kin stood in wait.
The never-changing android girl gazed at the stars before skipping back toward the center, toward her captive friend. What she didn’t notice, what she’d failed to notice thus far, was the slightest tip of a branch peeking out from the corner of a floor panel, a single purple leaf sprouting from its tip.
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