11.9.1 - 20,000 Figs Across the Sea [Joe's Tale]

“So. Um. This is fun.”

“Walking in poorly lit, mysteriously crafted tunnels beneath the surface of the island?”

“Uh. Well, when you put it that way --”

“It reminds me of Sub-Level 9, just above the port-side landing craft docks.”

“-- is that a good thing?”

“Well, it could be.”


“It was a favorite unauthorized sexual contact zone for several of the engineering sub-castes.”

“I – UH --”

“I never went down there, of course.”

“Of course!”

“My department had a much nicer sub-level to neck in.”

"Left. No, the other left."

“I know which way is left.”

“What’s that, Joey?”

“Uh, I said, the next way is left.”

“Look, I’m blinking the damned drone running lights at you. Just follow the blinking lights.”

“Joey, that’s strange.”


“I think there’s a light blinking down there.”


“Oh. It’s gone now.”

“Huh. Weird. Um … maybe we should go that way. To the left.”

“The wall texture has changed again.”


“Before we turned, it was smooth, almost organic.”


“Before that, it was brickwork, like the basement of the Reeves Theater Building.”


“But this part is large, dressed stone, almost like a temple. Not like one of Kiln’s, but it has that same sort of primitive feeling about it.”


“Though it appears from different eras, some of the graffiti is consistent. ‘Killbot Was Here’ seems to be a regular, and somewhat disturbing, constant.”

“I think he was a WW2 hero. I wouldn’t worry.”

“You keep looking around, Joey. Are you sure you know where we’re going?”



“Nothing! It’s, um, an old Earth phrase, probably died out in the future. Uh, it means, um, it’s from a movie. About … uh … colors. That talk. And they make a colorful … map, four-color map problem, but I don’t need a map because I definitely know where I’m going. For your surprise. So … that’s what it means.”

“Are you alright? You keep banging your ear.”

“I think I got a bug in there.”

“Brr. Creepy-crawlies. The maintenance systems on the ship weren’t perfect, but by and large they dealt with flying and crawling insects quite effectively.”

“Must be nice. Well, place like this, gotta expect some strands of YEARGH, AGH, ARGH, GET IT OFF FACE UGH STICKING DAMN HAIR THIS IS STICKY WEB GROSS BLEAH NO NOT THE MOUTH UGH (huff puff huff puff) … Mette?”

“In here, Joey.”

“Sorry about that, cobwebs and hair don’t mix and I gotta lot of it. Are you … all … wow.”

“It’s … a ship!”



“Yeah, especially when you smile like that.”

“Yes, wait, what?”

“I mean, when you, while, awhile, yes, it’s been awhile like that. Um, down here. Obviously. Cobwebs, all over it. Um … surprise!”

“Thank you!”

“Wow … that’s … a hug!”

“Yes, and now do you know what we’re going to do?”

“Um … what?”

“Go inside!”

“Is that a space-metaphor for --”

“The ship!”

“Right! Yes! THE SHIP! Inside. The ship.”

“Of course! What else?”

“Nothing else, of course! Not unless there’s some other … um … ship going on here. Uh … do you think it’s safe?”

“Don’t worry, I have protection.”

“You --”

“I always have my trusty toolkit. Multi-sensor 9-aleph should spot any security systems before they fire off.”

“Oh, um, right. Still, maybe I should go aboard first, just in case?”

“A woman should always come on a ship first. Science has proven that. Greater staying power.”


“Just a warning, Joey. It might be tight in there.”

“Oh, uh, well --”

“I mean, you being so big and all.”

“I’ll … manage. After you then – WOULD YOU SHUT UP – the hatch, shut up the hatch after we’re inside, Mette, the only person with whom I am talking. So … no spiders get in.”

“Thanks, Joey. And … I’m glad you’re the first.”

“The – first?”

“To board the ship with me. I mean, as a friend, I’m glad we’re both here. But, also, as a good test of how it handles unbalanced weight.”

“Yes. Unbalanced. I HEARD HER. You. I heard you. Yes, good idea.”

“Are you all right, Joey?”

“Just the voices in my head, Mette.”

“Hmmm. Maybe you should talk with your therapist about that.”

“No, no. (knuckles cracking) I have a more direct treatment in mind when we get back topside …”


Alex will have Gatorade ready for Joey because apparently the thirst is real

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So, our first mission! I mean, as a team, in our own transport, outside of the city.

How did you feel about that?

Well, excited, right? Also – maybe a little worried, like, what might happen? Also a bit of a crazy time.

Well, I can imagine it would be hectic.

No, I mean crazy.

All … right.

Okay, let me start at the beginning. Well, not quite at the beginning, because the ride there was … well, the Excelsior looks really cool, but it’s not really designed for, um, a lot of people, for a long time, all enclose. Mette said it was kinda like the ships on her ship, little ships like tenders or lighters or launches or something like that. Anyway, she knew how to fly it, which was good, because my hands are kinda big for that, and I’m not letting Roddy behind the wheel, and Kiln’s still figuring out telephones, and I’ve seen Alex playing video games.

So you don’t have a backup for Mette?

Oh, she showed us all what to do. Just none of us agreed on who should do it besides her.


So we pop up off the coast of Costa Rica, and it’s all jungly and everything, once you get up off the beach. Hard to make your way through. But everyone’s, like, “Hey, Joe, this is right up your alley, cause jungle!”

How did you feel about being in less urban a setting?

Like I’d prefer to be a nature trail or something? Moving through jungle is hard. Being able to push my way through stuff is nice, but – well, I mean someone pointed out some monkeys, like it was, “Hey, your cousins!”


Well, they didn’t put it like that, but it was still like, “Hey, they’re monkeys, they’re getting by, why can’t you?”


And I’m all, "Excuse me, (1) they’re teeny-tiny, (2) they have prehensile tails, (3) they were born to the jungle. My kind of gorilla are more like from mountain terrain. We don’t, y’know, brachiate. Especially since a lotta trees couldn’t hold me, y’know?


But that’s when we ran across the strangler figs.

Strangler –

Yeah. Like, they grow up over other trees, using them as a structure, and their roots steal all the water and stuff from their host tree, and then the host tree dies, and eventually rots away, leaving this, like, a web, a latice of the strangler fig still in place.


I’ve seen 'em before, in Africa, the species over there. They’re an important part of the ecosystem, and animals and birds eat the figs, and the middle of them after the host tree dies are, like, shelter for animals and birds, too. But … it’s still kinda creepy, both to think about and sort of how they look.


So we’re seeing a bunch of these, and Kiln they’re all, “We had these back in the old-timey days, and, hey, food!” and climbing up this big one, and I feel like I’m supposed to be the one climbing trees, but not, like I said. But I’m also …


Well, they’re giving me the wiggins. Like, something deeply, profoundly wrong, and it’s like, there’s this one great big one, like I said, and it looked like – it did this, what’s that thing they do in scary movies, where the focus is going all wonky, or the thing is staying in place in focus and everything else seems to be moving around it, like it’s unreal?

A dolly zoom?

Yeah, that, like they do in “Lord of the Rings” all those times for “Something scary going on here.” Or “Quick and the Dead” in the gunfight.

I was thinking of “Vertigo.” Or even “Jaws.”


Never mind. So –

–But this was real, y’know? It’s like I could see it. And I knew, like I knew, something was out there, was gonna get me. And – and then …


It was like I was reliving it all. The soldiers, getting shot, the impact, like being hit by a sledge hammer, this powerful blow, and then the pain, the disbelief, seeing the world all spin around me and go white, and – and – being on this slab, I remember, stone, hard, cold – and the faces over me, like apes, gorillas, all in white, mad doctors, looking down on me, and the pain all through my body, and – and …


(Growls) That’s when I killed the tree …