Our Flying Forest

Author: Beck Dacus

Kilometers above me, sitting stoic like a mountain, was Verenia. Her green bulk blocked my line of sight to the opposite side of the cylinder, like a hole cut in the sprawling countryside curving up over my head. Lazily she turned– or rather, we did, the massive spectrum lamps hidden in the mountains to my right panning over her leaves like a half-billion-ton rotisserie chicken. My wife Clea huffed her way up the hillock to me, hands still sheathed in gardening gloves.
She leaned her shoulder into mine. “Didn’t miss anything, did I?” she laughed, as if she couldn’t see the massive green cloud above us.
“No,” I said, sipping my lemonade, “but you were close. Three minutes.”
She craned her neck up at Verenia, slipping the gloves off her fingers. “Can’t believe today’s the day. Remember when we found her?”
I nodded. “Just a little V-type asteroid, wandering in an almost point-five ellipticity orbit. Station had to burn the engine for three months just to circularize it.”
“And the Dyson tree didn’t exactly take to her soil right away either,” she replied. “Too ferrous.”
I shook my head and chuckled. “She was a piece of work, day in and day out. Whole lot of freefall tilling, sneaking volatiles from the other projects,” I said, nodding up at the similar bulks in various stages of growth arrayed along Nursery Station’s spin axis. “But she was darn cute. Shaped like a kidney bean.” By now the Dyson tree obscured her shape, hiding her surface like a coat of fur.
Clea elbowed me in the rib and said, “Look!” The anchor gripping Verenia’s tip released, leaving her to float freely in the low gravity of the cylinder’s axis. Down changed direction slightly for us, just for a moment; the station’s engines were firing. Verenia began drifting toward aft in response, closing the distance to the nearest circular endcap. Once she had almost touched the wall, it began to iris open into vacuum, the rim staying close to her treetops to keep too much air from escaping. The pressure difference started to carry her out the massive airlock faster and faster.
I started shaking; my breathing picked up. My pupils navigated my ocular overlay and dialed up Rotann, the station mayor.
Clea snapped her fingers in front of my face, drawing my eyes in just such a way that I cancelled the call. “What’re you doing?” she asked me.
“We need to call this off,” I sputtered. “She can’t leave yet. I’m not sure her roots go deep enough, and she still needs pruning–”
“Donalt,” she said, putting a finger over my lips. “Calm down. Just look.”
With her other finger, she drew my eyes back up to Verenia. She was halfway out of the station now: for the first time, real, white sunlight shone on her. The illumination made her leaves stand out against the blackness, but it almost looked like they were stretching, reaching out for more sun. The decompression wind rustling her canopy gave her a vitality I had never seen, not while she was sitting on this station. The iris closed after her, leaving nothing but still air and a clear view to the other side of the cylinder.
This was the feeling I lived for: creating beautiful things like this, then letting them fly free. I hoped I never got used to it.
Clea looked at me. “Ready for our next one?”
I met her gaze, my lips curving into a smile. “Get out the tools. I want a really big one this time.”

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