“I don’t think we can just jump to the conclusion this is made by them,” Kalani said. “Vines can grow at alarming rates when the are not controlled in their natural environment. When I get back to the Saracen I need to remember to call Bay’son Kabalirian. He is a guy I knew back in the academy and an expert on terraforming. The tensil strength of these vines could be a game changer for places that need habitable structures but want all natural materials. We need to find a piece of the root of this thing and cut it out.” Standing up Kalani was already heading towards the cliff. It was disconcerting walking on thin air even if she knew something solid was below her feet. Sheer determination and a fixed focal gaze up allowed her to move forward and not freak out by looking down.
“You mean me… I need to find you a root right?” Jarred said with a slightly snarky sarcastic tone. “You ain’t digging anything up with those nails.” he said as he couldn’t help but tease her some. “Besides I am not going to let this grow in my ship… it’ll wreck my panels and warp my hull.”
“It’s a plant not Godzilla. It is not like it can attack or anything,” Kalani said in a soothing tone. “Your panels will be fine I promise. Besides, there are all kinds of fun engineeringy things we can do with it back on the ship in a controlled environment.
“If I am able to grow some of this back on the ship, you wanna help me figure out how to make biodegradable tents with it and present it to the captain?” Kalani needed to keep talking and walking. If she stopped either, she might not get moving again.
“Are you even listening! No… vines… on… ship! This stuff gets out of hand we will become crushed and then who does that look bad on? You? Maybe… but it mostly looks bad on me!” he said knowing he would get the brunt for doing this for her.
“Species only become invasive when they don’t have something to keep it in check. I won’t grow it until I know what can control it silly. What kind of terraformer do you think I am?”
“You are not going to terraform my ship! That’s final… I know where you live Ms. Kane.” Jarred said, with a stern almost commanding officer voice. “If I have to I can give you a stern talking to.”
“Promises promises,” she bit her lip looking up at him. The way he was looking at her now made Kalani want to do something that would require a house call. What would she have to do to have Mr. Alindor show up ready to deliver what he was promising?
Tucking a lock of hair behind her ear, Kalani took a shallow breath. Commander Alindor, her heart pounded a bit faster seeing him at her quarters. Standing in the door way he seemed to loom over her. The foot difference between them mean Kalani had to look up to see him. His eyes held a smolder behind them as if he were containing a simmering anger ready to boil over. Meeting his gaze Kalani moved slightly to the left allowing him entry into her room. I was told you wished to speak to me Sir.
Instantly his hands were on her biceps pressing her back to the wall. Door…lock a Jarred like voice replied in her mind filling in the dialogue she needed. Miss Kane you and I have some business to take care of as I promised. You have not been a good little officer. I said no vines but did you listen the Jarred voice asked raising an eyebrow. * No you did not now you are forcing me to come to your quarters but no I did not come to talk to you. I came to dress…you down.*
Oh whatever Kane he is not that lame and has better pick up lines. If you are going to fantasize about him at least make him say something he would say and not something you would hear in a Galaxytime Movie. Drop the dime store dialogue, stop standing there with your dippy daydream face and stop flirting with him. Say something…anything that does not lead to the horizontal mambo, her inner voice yelled trying to break Kalani out of the Harlequin Romance she had running through her head.
Shaking her head slightly she looked down turning red. There had to be some sort of rule for what her mind was doing to him even if they were off duty and on a date.
“Weather is nice this morning,” she threw out the first neutral comment she could think of. Bringing her hand to her face, she scratched her nose trying to cover her face as inconspicuously as possible until the blood drained from her cheeks.
“Ma....yeee....pa,” a voice yelled waving his hand as if Jarred and Kalani needed to hurry their crossing of the translucent bridge. More and more onlookers appeared next to the sentient creature that was motioning them forward. It was easier to see the gathering crowd was waiting for Jarred and Kalani by the way they stared and made random gestures to each other as if having private conversations. The sound of the words ma yee pa could be heard sporadically being called out by various people.
“God I hope they are not going to make a fuss about us again this morning. I had rather a nice time last night just chilling out by the campfire.” Kalani began to prattle on happy to have something to take her mind off walking the ravine.
“Well they haven’t eaten us yet so we have that going for us.” he said as he began following closely behind her.
A slow and initially small rhythmic ripple began to resonate below their feet. At a steady but increasingly more perceptible rate the ripple evolved into a bounce much like one was riding a harmonic wave. From a distance, the shimmer would show the ripple-bounce was growing into peaks and troughs as the amplitude of the wave increased exponentially.
Kalani could feel the more spongy like give of the walkway but rolled her eyes. “Jarred stop bouncing. This isn’t a trampoline and while I know you are an engineering god, this is not deck plating.” She didn’t want to chastise him but the bouncing was making her a little more uncomfortable.
“I’m not bouncing! If you get scared again you will cling to me and drag us both to our deaths and that is the last thing I need,” he said, knowing she would take him down.
“You’ll cling to me and drag us both down,” Kalani mocked Jarred’s tone much like two children would in primary school. She rolled her eyes as if another but flashed him a waning smile in the process.
“You know, I could just push you… no one would know… these guys can’t testify… ‘Oh no Captain Knight… she just fell after she lost footing… it was horrible they ate her afterward and no body will ever be found.’” Jarred said in a mockingly sad tone as he decided to playfully jump once just to see her reaction.
“I’d give them heartburn,” she joked back hip checking Jarred slightly as they walked.
Behind them, the once glistening and shimmering path was starting to disappear. What could only be described as fog or a mist was moving across the ravine following the exact path of the road Jarred and Kalani were on. The sunlight glinted off sections of fog as if prisming off the delicate petals below Alindor and Kane’s feet. A soft but high-pitched moan or growl seemed to be clinging to the wind. The way sounds bounce off the canyon’s walls it would be hard for someone unfamiliar with the planet to know what direction it was coming from especially when it was competing with more and more vocalization by the sentient creatures in front of Jarred and Kalani. A loud crack of thunder boomed in the distance.
“Ma yee paaa!” More and more of the sentient creatures yelled and began to gesture much more wildly to Kalani and Jarred. Several even ran from their spot on the cliff to a area on the bridge and back. The imagery would remind one of a sprinter trying to get from one spot to the other as fast as possible.
“Ma yee paa,” Kalani said with a total lack of enthusiasm waving a hand forcing a fake smile. “Mayass don’t run before cawfee,” she playfully imitated the prosody of what the beings were using and substituted her own words.
“You know we need to leave this place eventually? We can’t explore forever… we have to call for the Saracen.” Jarred said in one of his more serious moments. The wonder was drawing slim to an extent as he began to think more on where they might have taking all their stuff. “If we dont’ find where they kept our transmitter we might become permeant residents here.”
“Would that be that bad? Being stranded here with me for all eternity,” Kalani asked in a playful tone but something in her eyes hinted at wanting a more serious answer. This weekender was nothing like she had intended. The planet was supposed to be uninhabited by sentient life. It was the main reason she let Jarred do things to her that frightened the fish but somehow a weekend of lazy mornings and aerobic nights was not what she had gotten.
“Honestly?” Jarred said as he stopped looking around he couldn’t help but see some idylisim here, before his eyes locked onto Kalani as he gave her a sweet and goofy smile.
“No lie to me. I love that.” Kalani wanted her words to come off silly and flippant but instead, it rolled off her tongue in a sultry purr daring him to raise the corners of his lips from goofy to determined. No matter how Jarred looked at her, Kalani had a hard time not taking it to places only adults’ minds went. She was coming on so strong with every comment but couldn’t control it for some reason. She had to play it cool and not desperate.
Before Jarred could answer a clap of thunder reverberated throughout the canyon again causing Kalani to look behind her. The mist had turned into the dark rolling clouds of a storm brewing behind them. Seeing the storm approaching paired with the tribe’s frantic actions began to concern Kalani. Her mind began to slip into analytical mode. The key that made Diphylleia grayi so fascinating was that when it was wet it went translucent. What if this plant did something different? Nature developed in lockstep with need. This version of Diphylleia grayi seemed to use its translucency as camouflage when dry so what happened when it got wet. Bending down Kalani spit on a small section in front of her foot. The drop of saliva instantly turned the invisible bride black where the liquid touched it shriveling up the corners and making the spot brittle and flaky. Looking back at the approaching cloud Kalani felt a lump form in her stomach.
“Jarred, maybe we should run,” she stood up carefully moving over the hole she had created in their path. Now the bouncing of the path made sense. Like a tension bridge that began to vibrate up and down before structural failure, their bridge was beginning to do the same thing.
Jarred nodded as he looked around. “Maybe that’s a good idea… go go go!” Jarred said loudly as he began to chase behind her.
Her heart began to pound as she moved faster and faster with each stride until she was in an all out run. The wind whipped stronger around them with small droplets of water beginning to just dust their skin. The fact the tribal beings were not venturing out on the bridge to encourage them only made Kalani realize how precarious she and Jarred’s position was. “God please don’t let my career end in another demotion for killing a senior officer,” she prayed as she ran. Her breath came in deep pants as her lungs burned trying to keep up with Jarred’s long stride but also not trying to slow him down.
“Your career? I can only have so many romantic interests in my life die/vanish before I start becoming a person of interest!” Jarred countered as he tried to keep pace with her but dodging holes as they came about.
“Your last relationship made you a person of interest,” she asked with piqued curiosity. The old saying went that if things were too good to be true they probably weren’t. That would be Kalani’s luck. “My last boyfriend shot me in the forest and left me for dead,” she countered hoping his story did not match hers.
The bridge was slowly crumbling below their feet. Instead of the rock, hard smooth surface they started their stroll on, the ground was becoming brittle like loose gravel on a hill.
The bridge was slowly unraveling from the platform of the tree trunk before their eyes. It was only ten feet but that ten feet could have been a mile.
“Jarred…what do we do,” she asked pausing on the edge of the precipice.
“Jump… go on already jump!” Jarred said as he can to a halt behind her as he lightly shoved her hoping to encourage her leap.
“Wait…what. Kane’s are not jumpers. I can’t jump that far,” Kalani voiced her concern at Jarred plan yet there was no other choice.
“Oh yes you can, remember it’s white men that can’t jump worry about my landing not yours… now jump!” Jarred said as he pushed her once more to get her to leap.
Running as far as they could, Kalani jumped with everything she had in her. Her feet landed on the platform but just barely with her heels hanging off. Strong and furry hands reached out grabbing her patting her on her arms and shoulders in a congratulatory manner.
As she landed Jarred began to make his own running path as he made the leap shortly after her as he rolled to the ground as he began to catch his breath.
“Guess Kane’s are jumpers,” she laughed leaning forward with her hands on her knees to catch her breath. “And maybe you are right. Maybe we should look to see about getting off this planet before it kills us.” Her tone was light and joking even through the deep gasps of sucking in air from their run.
“This would be the best thing that ever happened to me…” Jarred said as he looked over at her, he could tell she was confused as he tried to catch his breath and lower his heart rate.
“What would? Surviving death,” she asked confused directing her gaze towards him. “Good plan. Keep our goals low.” Even though she could not breathe, Kalani hacked out a few choking laughs. It was hard not to find the fun with Jarred.
“No earlier, you asked how bad this would have been? It would be the best thing that ever happened to me to be stuck here with you forever… cause you have been the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” he said as he leaned in to kiss her cheek before he stood up and began to try and stretch, he felt achy all over and he needed to let the statement sink in for a moment as he knew he just opened a big sentence for her to digest.
Kalani stiffened and held her breath in shock pulling apart the entire conversation. Every nuance, emotion, gesture, word, an action played back in a swirl. He said he liked her. He said he enjoyed this weekend. Did he actually agree to do this again or was she reading into things. Straightening up she imitated his stretches processing what he said and how she felt about it. The long silence between them meant Jarred was expecting an answer. Kalani struggled to find something to say. If they had been alone she would have answered him with a lip lock that led to a more official way of agreeing with him. Surrounded by the mini Yeti brigade she needed something snappy to say. Something for him to pin his hopes on and follow through with later. She let her eyes drift up and down his body taking in his comment. “No....shiiii..tis that.”
All flirty pretenses slipped away as she noticed something moving near his foot.
As she looked down at the platform, she noticed something. Small tendrills were already budding from the broken wisps of where the translucent bridge stood. Kneeling down, Kalani brushed a tendril gently with her fingertip causing the direction of growth to shift slightly for a second before moving back to meet up with the other tendrils starting to twist among themselves reforming the start of the bridge.
“Oh my god Jarred. It’s growing back....like exponentially.” The speed at which the vines were intertwining as exceedingly fast. While it would take hours for the bridge to return to the state it had in the bright sunlight, it would repair itself. “Give me your pocket knife,” Kalani reached up motioning for him to put it in her hand. “This may look like Grayii but it acts like the Korean vine Kudzu only Kudzu grows a foot a day maxing out at 60 feet a season. Kudzu is kept in check by temperature. This vine must be by water and thank god. At the rate, it grows it would take over anything in its path in a day. I got to get a sample to study for later.”
“What, do you think I carry a pen knife tapped to my thigh that I have been concealing? We are practically wearing loincloths and togas here sunshine… I ain’t exactly got many places for storage.” Jarred said as he looked around.
“Mhhhmm hmmm,” Kalani mumbled watching the vine with rapt fascination as she waggled her fingers still expecting Jarred to produce the item she requested.
To the side, he found a rock that the tribesmen seemed to use to grind that had been made to a fine edge. They had tools to build what they could, this must be also how they cut too he thought.
“Here, try this,” he said as he handed her the sharpened rock.
Grasping the rock in her hand, Kalani began to stab at a small section on the side as if the rock was an ice pick. Jarred was right. The did not have that many places to store a sample so it would have to be small and easily portable. Maybe she could hack off a piece and tie it around her wrist. The scientific properties of this specimen were too great to just leave things alone.
“If that thing takes over my ship you might just have to stay at my quarters in lockdown for months… I hope you could live with that kind of punishment… yeah… just you me and wine… scratch that beer… maybe rum.” Jarred said with a smirk as he put his hands on his waist as the rain began to cool his body.
“Don’t tempt me. I might just do that if it means we get to spend more…aw what the hell,” Kalani sank back on to her heels as the rain began to dissolve her vine’s tendrils. “Jaaaaaarrr eeeed,” she tossed the rock. “This sucks. How am I suppose to get a sample now?”
“Bah galla me showmu,” one of the beings spoke up patting her on the shoulder. Looking at Jarred he gestured for the man to follow him. Slowly stepping back he repeated the phrase and made wider hand gestures.
Moving back from the platform would reveal a pile of what at first seemed like debris from a wreck. Closer inspection would reveal it was the tattered, broken, dinged, and dented supplies Kalani and Jarred beamed down with two days earlier.
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