Author: Jeremy Nathan Marks

When astronauts landed on Wolan, some shed tears of joy at what they found while others salivated. They appreciated their fluids touching the dulcet air of another world. And they cried and drooled because there was enough timber to last for at least one decennial cycle.

Nearly as wonderful as the abundance of magnificent trees was the absence of beings of appreciable size on the planet.

On Earth, the resource masters received reports of Wolan’s riches. Outwardly stoic, each privately rejoiced. Every sterling image of four-meter-wide trunks rising forty meters up to split into limbs three times the thickness of the thickest of humans, was the most encouraging find they had received in a very long time.

Some of the masters recalled a distant past time when trees on Earth were the size of Titans. Earth folk had walked among those Gods; they had touched them and experienced a wonderment no officer had known. There were, as yet no holograms capable of replicating the grandeur of magnificent vegetable flesh.

From decision command, the chief resource master issued an order to the culling crew. ‘Select a corner and make your first cuts.’

‘Aye, Sir Mum,’ the culler chief replied.

On Wolan, the astronauts concentrated on finding a quarter acre a short distance from their ship. When they sighted a good lease, they set up an infrared boundary so that any culler, approaching from any direction, would recognize the boundary.

The culling team unpacked their pneumatic axes and scaling gear and approached the infrared barrier. Crossing it, they noticed that the weight of their equipment increased. With each step they took in approach to those first trunks, the strain on their hands, wrists, forearms, elbows, and biceps grew until each culler was plagued by ache.

Since seasoned astronauts were accustomed to all sorts of strains, no one made comment. But what they were not prepared for was an incapacity at lifting their drills above waist level upon switch on.

Fourteen cullers, with fourteen pneumatic axes expelling air, stood immobilized.

‘Culler chief report,’ the chief resource officer called from Earth.

‘Sir Mum, we cannot lift our axes,’ the chief culler replied.


‘We cannot raise them north of our middies, Sir Mum.’

‘Drop the axes.’

‘Aye, Sir Mum.’ The chief turned to their team and ordered a lowering of tools. Each culler choked their axe and laid it on the soil.

‘Apply hand axe. Single indentation.’

‘Aye, Sir Mum.’ The culler chief walked to the closest trunk and unsheathed their hand axe. They had no difficulty removing the tool, but as they went to swing the blade toward the tree, the axe head rebounded from a spot in space. The head took the axe with it, both bouncing back, flying from the culler chief’s hand to the ground.


The culler chief picked up their axe. ‘Aye, Sir Mum. A pain radiates from my wrist toward fingers and forearm. It is the shock of impact. The axe did not touch wood.’


‘Aye, Sir Mum.’ The culler chief again readied to swing their hand axe, and again the head struck a point in space prohibiting trespass. The axe tumbled from the culler’s hand, completing several somersets before reaching dirt.

‘Ah,’ the chief culler winced, clutching their hand which began to swell, purpling in expansion.


‘Reattempted cut and axe re-met invisible barrier. Cannot lift axe with prime hand as hand, from wrist to fingers, swells.’



The other cullers, listening to the conversation, said nothing. Several remained in awe of the majesty of the trees, an awe that challenged the itch in their limbs to cut. Still others, not similarly overcome, grew angry at what they felt was arboreal insolence. Without awaiting order, they swung their axes at the trees but met with the same result. Half the culling team now clutched hands immobilized by pain and bruising.

The chief resource officer began a scan of Wolan’s surface. Expecting to find a hidden energy Foco responsible for the barrier, the officer found none. They commenced a subsurface planetary scan but that, too, produced nothing.

‘Sir Mum, what is the directive?’ the culler chief inquired.

‘Cullers will return to the ship. Chief engineer will prepare cannon. Captain, select target and fire.’

The cullers made haste and watched from their viewing screens as the ship’s cannon powered up. In the walls of the ship there was a surge of energy felt by everyone on board. It was a surge to which hey had grown accustomed during warp travel but not sub light speeds, much less in a stationary state.

‘Fire,’ the captain ordered. The gunnery office fired the cannon at a magnificent specimen standing 400 meters tall. The cannon had no effect on the tree.

‘Select a smaller specimen.’

‘Aye, Sir Mum.’ The captain located a sapling and ordered the gunnery officer to fire upon it. Again, to no effect.

A moment passed. Before the chief resource officer could advise, the gunnery officer turned toward the captain. As their pupils dilated, the gunnery spoke in their usual speech tone, but used words they never before would have had the temerity to utter: ‘I reject your attempt to designate us a name we have not chosen.’

In a trice, the captain heard the chief resource officer remark: ‘Captain, we reject your attempt to give us names we have not chosen.’

‘Sir Mum?’

‘I did not name you, captain. You are not at liberty to issue a claim.’

The captain, caught by the forest on his view screen, forgot to blink. With each mote that landed on their lenses, in each tear the ducts produced to wash away each blemish, pain infused the captain’s sight. It maundered into their being, that pain they had suppressed every time they heard themselves called captain. So damn singular, that title.