For a while, Adam lived in a dark world between dreams and reality where his mind played terrible tricks on him as he drifted in and out of consciousness.
One moment he was lying against the trunk of a red gum tree, starring into the dark jungle, and the next he was standing atop a towering crystal spire, fighting off a thousand bog monsters all at once as they swiped at him from below. When one of their claws caught hold of him, it broke his flesh and threw him from the tower.
He screamed as he fell towards the swamp below, flailing his arms helplessly. But as he grew closer to the ground, he saw a figure standing, arms held open as though waiting for catch him. It was Emma. She was looking up at him with angelic eyes and expression of pity across her face. When he fell into her, they became one and he heard her whisper something to him but couldn’t make out the words.
Danger. Wake up.
Adam awoke with a start, his heart pounding. It was the middle of the night, the time when the jungle was at its darkest. He saw that Emma was awake also, but the serene expression on her face had turned to distress and her eyes burned with an intense fear. He looked around wildly but saw nothing. Then he heard a sound. It was a loud thrashing that reminded him of something. Something he’d heard somewhere before a long time ago.
“It’s them,” Emma said, in a screaming whisper. “The ogres have come back for me. They want the baby.”
Adam couldn’t argue. The thrashing in the dark jungle sounded just like the horde breaking through the brush. He could almost see them slicing vines and branches as they trudged forward, leaving a trail of trampled jungle in their wake.
The sound grew louder with every second that passed and he pulled Emma and the baby in closer saying, “Stay still. Keep quiet. It’s so dark they’ll pass us by. As long as we’re silent, they’ll miss us.”
“They won’t,” said Emma. “They’ll find us. They’ll take our baby like they took that little one at the waterfall.” Adam looked curiously ay her as she continued. “They’ll rip it right from my arms and we’ll never see it again.”
“They won’t,” Adam said, trying to calm her. “They won’t find us. And if they do we’ll run. We’ll fight if we have to.”
“It won’t be enough,” Emma pleaded. “Oh, Adam, don’t you see? I’d sooner die than have them take me again. Promise me you’ll do it, Adam! Promise you’ll kill us all if they find us.”
Adam looked at her in shock. “No… I couldn’t,” he started. “That’s not how our life ends here. It can’t be. What’s it all been for then? What’s it all been about?”
Emma’s eyes were wide and hopeless and tears streamed down her face. She was overcome. “You have to. There’s no other way.”
They were getting closer.
The baby woke and started to wail. Its thin cries filled the quiet night and both he and Emma became frantic. They needed to silence it, or hiding from the ogres would be impossible!
“What’s wrong with it? Why is it doing that?”
“I don’t know,” Emma said and unfolded the frond. She pressed her hand over the child’s mouth, trying to muffle its cries but the baby was stronger than she’d expected and it pulled its face out from under her palm and screamed even louder. She picked it up and held it to her chest tightly, but careful not to smoother it.
“Maybe it’s hungry,” Adam said and he rooted around the jungle floor hoping to find a piece of fruit or a nut that may have come from above.
Adam pulled at his hair in frustration. That sound. It was taunting him, trying to drive him mad!
His hands touched something familiar then and he looked down to see a clump of silver-streaked rocks al around the tree. Digging his hands into the dirt, he began pulling out as many rock nuts as he could find, piling them next to the trunk.
When he was done, he had ten or twelve, not than he’d ever found in one place before. He looked at Emma and shook his head in frustration. “This is all that’s here.”
“It can’t eat those!” she said harshly. “They’ll turn it mad. It needs something better.”
She winced suddenly and her eyes went wide as though something sharp had poked her. “Ouch!” she said. “It bit me!”
“Here, let me take it from you,” Adam said, reaching to grab hold of the baby.
“No, wait. It’s… doing something.” The baby was silent again, the only sound a quiet suckling that only they could here. “I think it’s found what it likes to eat,” said Emma. “Just leave it alone now.”
Adam’s face scrunched in confusion and concern. The baby confounded him, but he was glad it had finally quieted.
The horde sounded like it was right on top of them. Another moment and it would emerge from the underbrush and be on them. He thought he could already see them in the shadows, his mind conjuring outlines of misshapen, bent figures with long strong limbs swaggering towards them in the darkness.
Perhaps Emma was right. Perhaps there was no point living in a world that refused to welcome them. If at every turn they were to be cast out, chased down and attacked, made to suffer for nothing other than existing, then maybe life wasn’t worth living after all.
He didn’t know if he did it out of a desire to protect or fulfill Emma’s final request of him, but Adam reached behind his back and pulled his spear from its sheath. He set a strong grip around it and looked at Emma holding the baby to her breast.
Slowly, Adam used the butt of his spear to pound the rock nuts, breaking them from their hard shells. When he was done, he passed five to Emma and told her to eat them.
She hesitated, but a look of understanding came to her face and she took them into her hands. Crying, she began to eat, the sweet substance underneath tasting bitter this time.
Adam finished his portion and turned back towards the jungle. The sound was louder and he could see shrubs moving.
His body came alive with the feeling of prickles all over his body as the rock nuts did their work on him. His mind began to settle and a upsetting grin came to his face.
Adam turned and pointed the sharp end of his spear towards Emma and peered back into the darkness to watch. Any moment now, the ogres would emerge in front of them. When they did he would be ready to end it all.
Hands shaking, he turned back towards Emma. She was looking down, intoxicated by the rock nuts now, humming to the baby again as it drank from her breast. She was so exhausted and focused she barely seemed to notice what was at stake. What was about to happen.
Tears came to his eyes as he watched her fuss and help the child. How could he do this? How could he harm something he loved so much.
He moved the tip of the spear away from Emma. Watching them both, he saw past his fear to a future that was joyous and good. It was a future that was far off to be sure, but one where they were both happy. It was a future so abstract it was like a dream. But he knew in his soul it was a future worth fighting for.
Determination took him and he wiped his tears and set his mouth in a line. Then he steadied his shaking hands and turned his spear towards the dark jungle in front of them, towards the approaching horde.
He balanced on the balls of his feet, ready to attack.
If they wanted Emma and the baby they would need to deal with him first.
Here they come!
A mass of thick brush and vines exploded as something cut through the jungle and came at them.
“Stay back, Emma!” yelled Adam as he shot to his feet.
Charging at full speed through the dark, he let a blood curdling war cry ring through the night and didn’t stop until the sharp end of his spear dug into something soft and fleshy.
A shadowy figure screamed out in pain and dropped to the ground. Adam screamed, ripped his spear out of it and, jumping back, reset the point forward, ready for another attack.
He saw another large figure step forward and cried out again, ready to attack, when a blinding white light flooded the jungle. Raising his arms to protect his eyes, Adam dropped his spear and stumbled back a few steps before tripping on a gnarled root. He hit the wet jungle ground with a sickening plop, losing his balance and slipping onto his back. He groped blindly for his spear, but it was out of reach. Trying to rise to his feet, he slipped again and could do nothing but lie down, lamely trying to see what was happening.
Voices grew around him, inaudible at first, speaking all at once, until a single yell cut through the din.
“Tipton’s down!” a voice called over the panic. “Let’s get a med kit here!”
“Bring me a patch!” another voice answered. “I’m okay, but my suit’s punctured! Damn savage tore a hole right through it!”
As Adam’s eyes began to adjust, he looked around wildly, trying to see where the voices were coming from. Finally, four large figures stepped forward and bent over him. When they did, bright spotlights blinded him all over again and all he could make out were long implements in their hands that looked like spears. He covered his face in anticipation of an attack.
“Captain!” one of the figures called when they saw him. “You’re not going to believe this!”
“What is it, corporal?”
A fifth figure appeared, joining the others in inspecting the thin, frightened boy at their feet covered with mud and looking up at them with wild, animal eyes.
“He’s human! How do you figure it, Captain?”
The one they called Captain clicked off his lantern and bent down so Adam could finally see him clearly. His weary, bearded face peered quizzically at him from behind the smudged visor of his helmet.
“It… It can’t be,” he started to say before looking past Adam to Emma who was still huddled against the trunk of the gum tree, holding the feeding baby to her chest.
He clicked his lantern back on, illuminating a spotlight around her. She recoiled and turned her face away and the baby began to cry.
The captain rose slowly and stepped towards the girl slowly. “My god…” he whispered, quickening his pace. “Emma, is that really you?”
Emma looked back towards the strange newcomer who knew her name. He knelt in front of her and touched her arm lightly, unsure if he should. Unsure if the young woman in front of him was real at all.
Studying his face behind the visor for a moment she found she began to recognize it.
“Father?” she said, her voice slurring and cracked.
“Emma. My god, what’s wrong with you? What’s wrong with your eyes?”
“Father!” she cried, grabbing his suit and pulling at it awkwardly. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry I left you! Pin said you were dead!”
“No, Emma. Stop. It’s me who should be sorry. I should have never let you out of my sight. But I’ve found you now.” For the first time, Captain LaFarge noticed the baby in Emma’s arms and called out to the others. “There’s a baby here! Call Dr. Evans. Tell him we have three for the med bay. Tell him she appears to be on some kind of drug as well. ”
“On it, Captain,” came the reply. “It looks like they’re both high as the stars.”
Lifting her up, Captain LaFarge moved back to where the others had already helped Adam to his feet and were inspecting him and providing some medical attention.
Then, with Emma and the baby in his arms, he began his long walk back to the cliffs, and the valley beyond, where the probe’s beacon had led them, and his team were currently setting up camp.
“I don’t know how you two managed it, but you’ve done it, Emma. You’ve survived. And you’ve found us all a new home. This moon will save us all.”
When Emma didn’t answer he looked down to see his daughter—thin and wild, more animal now than girl—had passed out in his arms.
Captain LaFarge set his mouth in hard line as he forged ahead through the thick jungle. She and Adam were safe now. And there was much to be done.
A new dawn was upon them, a child had been born. The first outside of lab in more than fifty years. The revelation changed everything. What had caused it? Was it the return to a natural world? Did the moon hold medical properties yet to be discovered?
Lafarge looked up at the raging red gas giant in the sky and wondered fleetingly if all this was the doing of some ancient being. Was it meant to be? Was it the conclusion of a plan set long ago, before time itself?
Perhaps there was meaning to the chaos of life after all. Either way, he was sure that this was only the beginning of a story with no end.
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