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Space Botany: A Story Fragment

Jane stopped counting days long ago. Once she was comfortable, the days didn’t matter as much. Neither did the nights, if she was honest with herself. The scrapped treehouse was holding up better than she ever could have expected. It was one of the great pieces of luck Jane had stumbled upon since she was left in the jungle by the rest of her team. It turns out scientists can be just as vindictive as any other group, and Jane found out the hard way.

If she was being honest, though, it was peaceful out in the jungle by herself. The “treehouse” she’d found was high up and safe from the genetically enhanced jungle cats that prowled the floor. There had been a snake problem, once, but then she built the greenhouse that let off pheromones, and was filled with some of the snakes’ favorite snacks (insects, smaller reptiles, etc.), and the “problem” became a few new pets. Rufus wasn’t pleased about the greenhouse, but Jane reminded him that he’d be even less pleased about dying a slow, venom-induced death, or worse — if she met that fate and left him to die of hunger. He snorted and turned away from her.

Rufus was another piece of luck Jane had been granted. He was supposed to belong to the whole squad, a sort of piece of home that kept them company while they tested and experimented and restored the jungle, but instead he latched on to Jane and never let her out of his sight. Jane reluctantly allowed it at first. Now they were surviving on one anothers’ life forces. Rufus would help her hunt, she would cook and make sure neither of them became sick. She was certain that without each other, both she and Rufus would be decomposing along with any number of other forgotten experiments left in the jungle by the stone-faced team that had abandoned them in the first place.

Rain began to fall, and Jane counted another piece of luck as drop after drop splattered against the force field some engineer had crudely built, likely decades ago now. She rolled onto her back and watched the rain splatter against the force field, taking some solace in the rhythm of the rain and the wind, the distant crack of thunder and the lightning that followed. Rufus barked, then whimpered, then sulked under the mattress upon which Jane lay. She let her hand fall over the edge of the bed so that Rufus would know she was still there. They both fell asleep like this, despite it being mid-day.

When Jane woke up, it was night. The stars glittered brilliantly against a cloud-free sky of solid indigo, lit by a moon so big Jane reached out to touch it. Jane reached over to the floor and picked up her tablet, thankful for once that she hadn’t had a family to leave behind when she set out for this excursion. Even if she had, the messages of “when are you coming home?” would have stopped abruptly when the team made it back to Mars, held a press conference, announced her death like so many others who’d mysteriously perished on this trip or another back to Earth. Now Jane reflected back on a life time of televised press conferences making just such announcements, wondering how many were true and how many others just like her she’d find, if she dared venture past the treehouse walls.