Air howls away, screaming through vents as the airlock equalizes with the space outside the bulkhead. The depressurization completes and the bulkhead door opens. Keeping your boots magnetized, you bind the seed to yourself with the harnesses, then reach back and hook your suit to the boarding arm guideline.\n\nA few careful maneuevers and gentle thrusts from your suit's pack and you're drifting along the boarding arm, away from the derelict vessel, the great black seed [[safely in tow]].
The exterior of the thing is smooth and lustrous, almost more like some kind of obsidian than any sort of plant life. You unfasten the couplings that attach the large insulated glove of your suit to the sleeve, slipping it off to expose your hand. You press your palm flat against the surface of the seed. It's warm, and there's a kind of moving pressure, like liquid rushing quietly along the opposite surface as you [[touch it|touch1]].
"I'm getting a [[heart-beat]]."
You tap a switch on your belt console and your soles demagnetize. Thumbing a small joystick on your belt fires your pack thrusters and you begin drifting lazily forward, drifting along the boarding arm, [[drifting]]...
You can feel her [[breathing]].
//"Captain? Captain, this is Simms, please respond!"//\n\nSimms' voice breaks in and shatters your reverie. It is high and tight when it comes through your suit's receiver. The sound of confusion, of disbelief. Perhaps of panic.\n\n"I'm here," you say, staring at the sheet of obscure data in your hand before dropping it to the table again. "Go ahead."\n\n//"Captain, I'm in hydroponics, right near medical. There's something here you have to see, Lauterbach and Tyson are on their way. You need to get here as fast as you can."//\n\n"On my way," you say before turning and making your way back out the door and to the main corridors that wind through the belly of the [[great empty vessel]].
The air leaves the small airlock chamber in a rush, replaced quickly by the coldness of space. The bulkhead door opens, exposing you and your crew to empty infinity. Were it not for your magnetic soles, you would drift forever. You try not to think about that.\n\nThe long, thin boarding arm stretches forward from above the open bulkhead. Lauterbach goes first, hooking her suit to the guideline and demagnetizing her soles. Then with a single gentle thruster-fire from her suit's pack, she begins her steady flight [[toward the silent vessel]].
You stare at the prompt on the console, paralyzed.\n\nA dozen times the size of a skyscraper. You imagine the derelict vessel crash-landed on a barren planet surface, imagine standing before it and looking up, craning your neck, incapable of seeing the top, the dead gunmetal expanse of it stretching infinitely off in all directions.\n\nYou imagine climbing in through a hatch on the side and entering it, imagine that whole great still body with its uncounted iron veins all full of silence, of perfect [[blackness]]...
"Too early to tell," Simms says into his transmitter, slowly moving the needle toward the fleshy surface of the seed. "Should know better [[in a minute]]."
Your throat seizes. Your heart is clenched with a great rush of sadness, then washed over by a warm tide of love and relief. You stare at her closed eyes and feel comforted. Memories of cool grass and cloudless night skies and warm, damp garden soil and greenhouse heat fill your lungs and your veins and your forehead. You place a delicate hand on the woman's brow and brush back a lock of wet hair.\n\n[[Simms approaches]].
You remove your helmet and begin making your way back to Medical, [[shedding your suit]] as you go.
//[[Fight him. Kill him.]]//\n\n[[(No.)|resist]]
Your mother's hospital bed hangs suspended in the center of Hydroponics, the blue hospital sheets binding her sleeping form to the mattress. Simms splashes chemicals across her, dowsing the sheets, her face, matting down her hair.\n\nYou look at him and he turns to you, [[grinning insanely]].
The Cradle of Eve
You stare.\n\nSimms shakes his head, shrugging lightly. Concern softens his features. "I'm going to cut her open and I'm going to fuck her. I'm going to cut up all of the shit inside her. Going to watch her bleed while I'm fucking her."\n\nHe turns to look at you, as though awaiting [[an answer]].
//[[Kill Simms|killsimms2]].//
You feel her arms raise gently, almost imperceptibly as she starts to [[embrace you]].
You wait for multiple minutes, staring impassively at the dead body of your former crewmate. It occurs to you that you should be feeling more when you look at it. You trained with him, worked with him for months. He was kind and dependable.\n\nIt doesn't matter. Every time you begin to feel remorse, you remember that he was going to hurt the seed, and that exultant gratification and warmth courses through you afresh.\n\nHearing footsteps, you turn to see Tyson entering. He walks in and holds out the large surgical saw he retrieved on his way back through Medical. Looking past you and seeing Simms, he drops it and [[rushes past]].
You rush on through empty space, the derelict growing impossibly more massive before you as you near it. Soon its titanic black side fills your field of vision, and in the wide cave-mouth opening of the breached airlock bulkhead, you once again catch sight of your crewmates. Their arms reach out to you and pull you in, and you detach yourself from the boarding arm guideline.\n\nYou plant your feet and remagnetize your soles. Lauterbach commands the bulkhead door to shut. The airlock chamber repressurizes. Simms, Tyson and Lauterbach remove their helmets. You follow suit.\n\n"Good job, everyone," Tyson remarks.\n\n"Everyone ready?" Lauterbach asks.\n\nYou [[nod]].
Simms [[cuts again]].
You step nearer to the comatose woman as Simms continues preparing whatever instruments he can salvage. Her mouthless face is tilted toward you, the lids of her almond eyes shut in the throes of some deep cosmic slumber. You lean down close, scrutinizing her thin, smooth flesh, watching the tiny rises and falls of her chest. Your eyes return to her face and suddenly you recognize her, the epiphanic realization of who she reminds you of coming forward [[all at once]].
Lauterbach opens the interior bulkhead. Magnets hum, metal slides and creaks. The doors open onto a deep, watery darkness illumined only by the pale and feeble runner-lights that line the corridors.\n\n"Jesus," Simms breathes. "Where is [[everybody]]?"
You feel like you're [[falling in]].
"Tyson's right," you decide. The crew turn their heads toward you.\n\n"There's no one on the ship and the only indication of anything strange happening aboard is this thing. It's not a coincidence. To do anything but destroy it and leave quickly would serve no purpose but to put us in danger."\n\nTyson nods his head affirmingly. Simms and Lauterbach look at each other for a moment, then exhale and look to you, nodding.\n\nYou and your crew begin to [[make a plan]].
Cradled within, arms crossed, eyes closed, is [[a woman]].
You walk quickly, hoping to arrive at the airlock before your crewmates. As you make your way through the dark bowels of the drifting ship, their idle radio chatter crowds the still air.\n\n//"What do you think she is?"// Lauterbach asks. //"Ugly bitch, isn't she?"//\n\nTyson laughs. //"I say we shove her out the airlock, watch her spin."//\n\nLauterbach cackles. //"We need to wake her up first though. I bet she'd shriek all the way into the sun."//\n\nTyson brays. You keep your silence. When you arrive at the airlock you retrieve your helmet, get it situated and fastened, and [[wait for your crewmates]].
You look to your mother. The seed hangs suspended, motionless, impassive.\n\nYou look at the corpse of your former crewmate, then to the bloody glass container in [[your hand]].
//"Captain? Captain, this is Simms, please respond!"//\n\nSimms' voice is high and tight when it comes through your suit's receiver. The sound of confusion, of disbelief. Perhaps of panic.\n\n"I'm here," you say, shutting your eyes and turning away from the painting. "Go ahead."\n\n//"Captain, I'm in hydroponics, right near medical. There's something here you have to see, Lauterbach and Tyson are on their way. You need to get here as fast as you can."//\n\n"On my way," you say before turning and making your way back to the main corridors that wind through the belly of the [[great empty vessel]].
//What the fuck are they staring at? Haven't they ever seen a [[sick woman|close behind]] before?//
//"Captain,"// Tyson's voice cuts in. You cut him short.\n\n"Tyson, I want you and Lauterbach to meet me at the airlock as soon as Lauterbach gets done making the adjustments. We're abandoning ship."\n\n//"Roger,"// Tyson responds.\n\nYou walk back to Hydroponics to retrieve the discarded glove of your suit, then make your way [[back to the airlock]].
A single point of red light glides silently across the night sky, off to some nameless place in the galaxy. Your mother's feeble arm lifts from the bed, pointer finger extended.\n\n"Look," she whispers.\n\n"Another spaceship," you say.\n\n"That's... three in one night... kiddo."\n\nYour mother's hand lowers gently back to the bed. Her eyes drift shut.\n\nThe [[last breath]] flees your mother's lungs.
"Simms," you begin, "I want you to find whatever combustible materials you can. We're going to need a lot. Avoid anything explosive." Simms nods and departs.\n\n"Tyson, I need you to find our igniter. Preferably something we can use at a distance. A torch, a lighter, anything."\n\n"Roger," says Tyson, leaving behind Simms.\n\n"Lauterbach," you say, turning to the woman, "head to engineering and see if you can bypass command protocols and initiate self-destruct. Set it for five hours. I want to be thorough."\n\nLauterbach nods grimly and walks off without a word.\n\nAlone, you turn to [[face the seed]].
Your mother died in a hospital bed a long time ago. It was difficult to accept it then, but the fact cannot be argued.\n\nYou close your eyes and press the igniter on the hand-welder.\n\nYou remember that day in the garden, your mother's tears and soil-covered hands. The deep sadness she felt that her death would serve no purpose. Her wish to do something for another world, even something small.\n\nYou lower the flame to the chemical-drenched roots and prepare to [[spread your mother's ashes]].
//[[See you soon, kiddo|The End]].//
The blazing red sky becomes punctuated by a single tiny flash of bright orange-white, surrounded by a thousand shimmering white motes of dust.\n\nThe squat gray creature stares at the spectacle. A warm wind blows over the plateau.\n\nIt is the first time any creature on that faraway planet has ever stopped and contemplated something [[beautiful]].
You dial your access code into the console to indicate the affirmative, and your vessel immediately begins firing its maneuvering thrusters, gently pivoting itself sideways and sidling up to the derelict. Lauterbach's fingers fly over her console and the vessel rocks with a single heavy 'thunk' as the boarding arm extends from the side of the [[hull]].
"Suppose we sever the cord up at the top?" Lauterbach suggests.\n\nSimms shakes his head. "I don't think that actually serves any vital function, except to keep the thing suspended. My guess is it has all it needs to sustain life right there inside."\n\n"Could cut it down and pitch it out the airlock," Tyson states.\n\n"Maybe... but what if another one grows in its place?" Lauterbach observes. Simms nods, as though he was thinking the same.\n\n"[[We burn it]]," you say.
It is not [[your mother]].
You take your clean, sweaty hand away from the seed just as Simms re-enters the room, an armload of diagnostic and analytical equipment in his arms.\n\n"I can run some basic analyses with these," he tells you, "but if you want to get //real// involved we're going to have have to move it to the Science sector."\n\nYou look up to the sinewy black bundle of fleshy cords from which the seed is suspended.\n\n"Will that [[hurt it]]?"
The Hydroponics door leads not into a room, but a jungle. The walls, the floors, the tables and shelves and freestanding garden units have all been completely subsumed by lush green-yellow overgrowth. Vines of every description, broad leaves and flowers with no Earthly counterpart all line the walls and dot the ceiling and decorate the floor. The air is vibrant with sharp, pungent, floral smells and heavy with a thick, damp heat that pushes into your suit and draws sweat instantly up through your pores.\n\nAnd at the center of the overgrowth, suspended from sinewy organic cables, hangs a lone, enormous black [[seed]].
It isn't long before Tyson and Lauterbach appear from the darkness of the ship's hallways, both looking slightly harried.\n\n"It's ready," Lauterbach says. "I set the autopilot to initiate half an hour from now. The engines will kick on and propel the ship at an angle that'll take it out of the sun's pull. It'll shoot right past."\n\n"[[Good]]," you say.
The giant ship spins on, heedless, [[dying]].
//[[Kill them both]].//
The seed grows warmer. You can feel it [[yearning]].
You shift yourself forward and begin crawling toward Tyson. He's muttering Simms' name over and over again. You take the bloody bottle in your hand again and hold it at your side. Tyson turns, sees you and the blood spattered across the front of your suit. He jumps toward you and tackles you to the ground, pinioning your arms [[at your sides]].
Whoever lived in this room must have been a painter. At least a dozen acryllic paintings of landscapes are hung helter-skelter across the walls, all of them quite impressive and pleasing to look upon. They depict scenes from Earth, all of them picturesque, even dreamlike-- here a lighthouse overlooking a New England coast while a storm rolls steadily in, here a sun setting over a serene lake, here a winding woodland stream babbling ceaselessly beneath a [[cloudless night sky]].\n\nThere is another painting on the easel, this one still a work-in-progress. It is [[different]] from the others.
The four of you stare, awe-struck, before after several moments Simms remembers the purpose for cutting the seed open. He turns on his suit-light and bathes the woman in brightness, examining her.\n\n"God..." whispers Lauterbach. "What //is// she?"\n\n"She looks human," says Simms, leaning into the exposed inside of the seed and [[examining her closely]]. "But at the same time... she doesn't."\n\nTyson stares.\n\n"She's attached," Simms states, gently sliding his hand between the woman's back and the far interior surface of the seed. "Some kind of roots. We need to [[cut her out]]."
You look at the soil between your fingers, remember the warm garden of your childhood. Your mother's hands churn the soil. You listen to her speak about those [[alien fields]].
You roll your head back and look to the frightened face of your last remaining crewmate. She stares at the scene lain out before her, the unrecognizable corpses of Simms and Tyson, her blood-stained Captain.\n\nShe tries to say something, but only manages a weak, confused [[murmur]].
"Simms is right," you decide. The crew turn their heads toward you.\n\n"This is, first and foremost, a rescue operation. This thing is the first indication we've had of anyone alive on this ship. It could be that whoever activated the distress signal in the first place is in there, waiting for aid. We cut it open, help them, and abandon ship."\n\nSimms nods affirmingly. Tyson and Lauterbach look at each other skeptically, then turn to you and nod.\n\nWithout a further word the four of you set to work [[cutting the seed]].
You plunge your hands into the soil of your childhood garden, wrapping your fingers around a writhing black root. It infects the garden. Your mother's flowers are dying. The root is poison. You squeeze it. You dig your thumbs into the throbbing flesh until it erupts and bilious black slime pours out, and you keep squeezing, and you squeeze until the root [[stops moving]].
"What worlds you will find," your mother muses quietly, "what strange worlds, what bright and verdant new Earths... what fallow fields must lay in waiting there, with their rich, deep, [[alien soil|alien2]]..."
You move as quickly as your bulky suit allows, making your way to medical by following the blue line trailing its way through the lightless halls of the ship. Up ahead you can hear the voices of your crewmates chattering, confused, incredulous. You pass through medical and turn a corner to see them all gathered before an open doorway, over which a sign indicates //HYDROPONICS// in large block letters.\n\nThey turn to look at you as you approach. Then, without a word, they step aside to let you [[see]].
//[[I don't want to die]].//
You watch clear, flammable liquid drip from the tip of your mother's sleeping nose. Simms stares at you.\n\n"Captain?" he asks. "Captain, [[what's wrong]]?"
[[She dies]].
Thirty-two years ago the exploratory vessel Wayfarer 1 embarked for Proxima Centauri. It was the largest spacefaring vessel ever created at the time, with a crew compliment of 300 biologists, astronomers, geologists, astronauts, doctors, and technicians. It was roughly a quarter of the size of the derelict vessel inside which you now stand. A vessel this size should have a crew of no fewer than a thousand, possibly several thousand depending on the original nature of its mission.\n\nIt is, by all appearances, completely empty. You and your crewmates are [[alone]].\n
"Could be [[anything|paintings]]."
A sudden loud humming fills the dark corridor and blue light splashes across your face and the front of your suit.\n\n//"Think I got it,"// Lauterbach's voice declares.\n\n"That did it," you respond. "Thanks."\n\nYou press the call button again and this time the maglift door opens. You step in, the door shuts, and you're lifted through the interior of the ship and deposited on [[the bridge]].
For a long time, you find nothing. The only break in the monotony is the occasional crackle of your suit's receiver as Lauterbach, Tyson and Simms radio in to report on the similar fruitlessness of their respective searches.\n\nAfter a time, however, you come across an [[open door]].
Your vessel shrinks behind you, rapidly at first, then slowly. You hang in emptiness, your vessel far behind, the giant sleeping monolith far ahead, the red light of the hidden star filling the cosmos like a feverish haze.\n\nFor a terrible moment, you seem to be going [[nowhere at all]].
A minute later, the arm pierces the hull of the derelict, attaching your vessel like a parasitic umbilicus.\n\nThe four of you suit up and enter the airlock.\n\nIt begins to [[depressurize]].
//Don't let him hurt me, [[kiddo]].//
You consider the situation for a few moments, staring at the sheer black side of the seed as you think.\n\n"Run a biometrics analysis," you say to Simms. "Try to determine what's inside of it. Lauterbach, head down to engineering and see about diverting as much power as possible to the Science subsystems. Tyson, head over to Science and see if you can't find any records of this thing being brought aboard."\n\nYour crewmates confirm their orders and disperse, leaving you [[alone with the seed]].
You grab Simms' wrist just before he punctures the side of the seed with the syringe. He looks at you, quirking a brow, letting his arm go lax.\n\n"Captain?" he asks. "[[You okay]]?"
//Good work, kiddo. He was going to [[burn me]].//
He begins at the top, puncturing the smooth, fleshy hull of the seed, immediately drawing a steady trickle of dirty, pungent fluid. A smell like lake shores and cut grass begins to slide through the humid air. He cuts downward, slowly, each added inch of incision increasing the flow of the fluid from within the seed until it comes to a pour. It splashes to the ground and sinks into the loam and the roots. Finally he stops, allowing the last drops of fluid to pour away. He slips his hands into the wound, clutching at either side of the incision. He pulls. The wound opens, exposing the [[dripping innards]] of the seed.
//"Captain? Captain, this is Simms, please respond!"//\n\nSimms' voice is high and tight when it comes through your suit's receiver. The sound of confusion, of disbelief. Perhaps of panic.\n\n"I'm here," you say, shutting your eyes and turning away from the sight of the dead crew. "Go ahead."\n\n//"Captain, I'm in hydroponics, right near medical. There's something here you have to see, Lauterbach and Tyson are on their way. You need to get here as fast as you can."//\n\n"On my way," you say before turning and making your way back down the maglift and to the main corridors that wind through the belly of the [[great empty vessel]].
//[[Kill her]].//
You lean forward slowly, pressing your ear to the smooth hull of the seed. You can hear the heart-beat within it, strong and steady. There's another sound too, quieter, somehow familiar. You listen.\n\nSomething quiet, gentle, [[recognizable]]...
You will not kill Tyson. [[You refuse|at your sides]].
//"Hang tight,"// says Lauterbach's voice through the static of your helmet's receiver. //"Should be pretty easy to open."//\n\nYou, Simms and Tyson remain where you are, watching the shrinking form of Lauterbach drift on and on toward the enormous black wall until she becomes little more than a mote of dust upon a wide black canvas.\n\n//"She still has emergency power,"// Lauterbach's voice declares. Then, quietly as though to herself, //"Thank Christ."//\n\nYou [[wait]].
You enter Medical and retrieve the prostrate body of the woman from the examination bed. You take her in your arms back to Hydroponics, hold her close as you step up and into the open hull of the black seed. You lay back, resting her gently beside you and [[pressing your bare skin to the white roots]].
A minute goes by, the three of you staring fixedly at the small white aphid in the distance. Then, behind the white speck, a black aperture yawns open. The speck disappears.\n\n//"Got it,"// says Lauterbach's voice. //"Cleared to board. See you three in a minute."//\n\nTyson hooks up, demagnetizes, drifts forward. After a minute, Simms follows. Both of them have already begun to shrink, disappearing against the dark sheet of the vessel as they approach.\n\n[[Time to move]].
The light from your suit floods this small crew compartment, revealing a single narrow wall-cot, an easel, and walls covered in [[paintings]].
The dark clouds above the crimson plateau break apart and drift away, revealing the baleful eye of the lowering red sun. The new-fallen rain heats beneath the rays of crimson sunshine, evaporating, filling the air with the scent of warm ozone.\n\nA squat gray-skinned biped pads its way across the flat expanse of red rock, its snout lowered, its flat tongue sliding over the rock and collecting water and algae for the creature's sustenance.\n\nThen, from far away and far above, there is a sound and the creature [[looks up]].
You drift [[closer]].
He has a scalpel in one hand, his crash pack in the other. He sets the pack down on the bed beside the woman's head. He looks at you expectantly.\n\n"What are you going to do to her?" you ask.\n\nHe narrows his eyes and frowns, tilting his head contemplatively.\n\n"Well..." [[he begins]].
//[[Kill him|killtyson2]].//
The great engines of the dead ship explode to life. In the wide stillness of space, the vessel begins to move, pushing away from the influence of the furious red star.\n\nThe woman's head slowly tilts to the side, resting against your shoulder.\n\nThe wound of the seed begins to mend itself.\n\nWhite roots work their way underneath the skin of your back, embracing your spine, kissing your nerves, drinking your blood.\n\nThe seed begins to [[fill with fluid]].
The surgical saw bites into the side of Tyson's neck. He croaks once. Blood erupts from his quivering lips. He drops to his knees, taking the saw with him as he slumps to the root-covered floor.\n\nYou choke back a sob, [[looking toward the seed]].
You flip a switch on your belt console and your forward suit-light blinks into bright illumination. The corridor before you stretches away, further into the body of the giant cruiser. You follow the painted lines along the walls of the corridors, allowing them to lead you to the [[crew sector]].
"Captain," Lauterbach says, gently.\n\nYou turn your head. Everyone's looking at you, concerned.\n\n"It's alright," says Simms. "We're all nervous, I think."\n\nTyson nods. "Hard to wrap your head around something so huge. But we'll be alright. Perfectly routine, I'm sure."\n\nYou want to believe that. [[All of you do|beeps]].
You take your hand from the hull of the seed and stare at your clean, wet palm. Your heart is beating. You failed to notice Simms returning, and he's already bustling about the room, pouring out chemicals on the plants and vines and marshes and [[clean blue sheets]].
by <html><a href="" target="_blank">Kitty Horrorshow</a></html>
"We need to [[cut it open]]," says Simms. "A heart-beat means something's alive in there, and it's big enough that it could be a survivor. If it is, we have to help them."\n\n"We should [[run some tests]] on it first," argues Lauterbach. "There's no telling //what's// inside that thing or, if there //is// a person in there, whether cutting it open would hurt them or not."\n\nTyson shakes his head grimly. "We need to [[destroy it]]. All moral obligations aside, you can't tell me a missing crew of several thousand and the discovery of this... //thing// aren't related. We could be endangering ourselves."
The final weight of the comatose body slumps against you, cut free from the wall of the seed. You look at the space she'd occupied and see a line of fleshy, flacid white roots dividing the seed's inner lining. Her body is light and warm.\n\n"Let's get her to Med," Simms suggests. You nod and follow him. Tyson and Lauterbach follow [[close behind]].
//[[I missed you, kiddo|The End]].//
You lay your head against your mother's hand, listening to the long, steady tone that declares the end of her beating heart. The sterile smell of the hospital bed fills your nostrils. Your tears soak into the sheets, dampening your cheek.\n\nYou [[close your eyes]].
The maglift doors slide open and the comparatively wide expanse of the bridge stretches itself out before you. You step into the compartment, warm and bright from the nearby red giant, and survey the scene. Like the corridors that brought you here, the bridge is entirely devoid of life. There is evidence of it having been occupied once before, however-- clipboards and papers lay strewn across the floor and atop control consoles, mugs of dark coffee sit cold and half-drunk beside pivoted seats. It is almost as if everyone simply got up and walked away.\n\nYou turn your eyes to the forward viewport, looking out at the [[baleful red sun]].
//"What's going on?"// Lauterbach's voice asks desperately from your suit receiver. //"Tyson, respond. Captain? What's happening up there?"//\n\n"Disengage the gravity right now, Lauterbach. We have to get out of here //now.//"\n\nSomewhere deep in the far darkness of the ship, a humming stops that none had heard before. Objects all throughout the room begin to hover gently, floating weightless, rising from surfaces as though ascending to heaven before stopping mid-air and hanging.\n\nYou reach down and pluck the surgical saw from Tyson's neck. Then you drift upward begin to [[cut the seed down]].
Arriving in Medical you immediately lay the woman down on the nearest examination bed. Simms sets about readying equipment for diagnostics and resuscitation. Lauterbach and Tyson can only stare at the prostrate form, marveling at its inhuman features and [[perfect stillness]].\n\n"Lauterbach," you say, catching the woman off-guard. "Go see how much power you can divert to the medical sub-systems."\n\nShe nods and leaves quickly.\n\n"Tyson, do me a favor and check Science, see if there's any record of who this woman might be."\n\nTyson leaves without a word.\n\nYou [[approach the examination bed]].
Simms follows your gaze up to the ceiling and purses his lips, then shakes his head. "I don't think so. Those look inert to me. My guess is they don't serve any purpose except to keep the thing suspended."\n\nYou nod. Simms opens up a case of medical tools and extracts a large syringe. Standing, he [[approaches the seed]].
//The dead tower fell through the black and empty expanse, spinning forever in perfect silence with the great and beautiful and furious red eye of nearest heaven burning behind it. It was silent and hollow as an ancient bone, and throughout and within it twisted a thousand thousand empty hallways where angels feared to tread.\n\nLike lambs we looked on, unknowing. Like fools, we [[approached]].//
//"How's it coming up there, doc?"// Lauterbach's voice asks through both your and Simms' receivers. //"Think it could be a [[survivor]]?"//
Your mother turns slowly to face you, her eyes empty and distant. You stare at her for a moment, unsure, then hold out your left hand to show her the letter of acceptance from the California Academy of Stellar Exploration.\n\nShe looks at the letter and a smile comes slowly to her lips.\n\n"Oh," she whispers, then //"Oh"// again, more wistful, more joyous. You grin proudly.\n\n"That's wonderful," your mother says gently, smiling to you again. You can hear her sincerity, but there's a sadness to her smile you're not used to seeing.\n\nShe [[turns away]].
Her skin is thin and smooth, nearly translucent, pale green-yellow in complexion and scored everywhere by thick, dark green veins. Her mouth and nose are hidden beneath a fleshy veil that grows from either side of her jaw. Her eyes are narrow and almond-shaped, closed by impenetrable somnolence. Her dark hair lays wetly against her skin. Her featureless breasts rise and fall with the slow rhythm of her breath. Her arms and legs are narrow, her stomach concave, her hips wide and smooth.\n\nShe looks achingly vulnerable, and disquietingly [[familiar|a woman]].
[[Five hours later]]...
You plant your feet once again on the airlock floor of your own vessel, magnetizing your boots and drawing the seed in through the open bulkhead. You turn to look over your shoulder once again at the gargantuan black mass of the derelict cruiser. Terror and sadness and regret all threaten to rise again, but the warmth and love of the seed quickly stifle them all. The seed is safe, plucked from out of that cold darkness by [[your hands]].
[[(I'm sorry, mother.)]]
Half-way to Medical, your suit removed completely, you begin [[removing your underclothes]].
"Lauterbach," you say to the transmitter in your suit.\n\n//"Yes, captain?"// Lauterbach's voice responds after a moment.\n\n"You make it to engineering yet?"\n\n//"Yeah, what's up? Everything okay?"//\n\n"The maglift to the bridge doesn't have power. Anything you can do for me?"\n\n//"Give me a minute,"// she says. You wait in silence, eyes fixed on the closed maglift [[doors]].
She begins to [[cry]].
"Tractors locked in yet?" Lauterbach asks.\n\nYou nod.\n\n"Good," she says. "Thing would knock us out of the spiral arm like a giant baseball bat if we tried to get near it like that."\n\n"You never know," quips Tyson. "Could be a strike."\n\nYour eyes pass over the baleful red giant beyond the spinning derelict. The underbelly of your vessel groans as the tractor whirrs to life, invisible arms slowly steadying the free-spinning giant.\n\nYou turn back to the [[console|approached]].
This was how your mother's hands looked that day in the garden. You watched her churning the soil with her fingers, the damp earth clumping together and breaking apart in her palm. You remember the sound of her gentle sobs. Even now you hear them, their quiet pain and hopelessness, that childish [[desperation to live]].
//"Captain?"// Lauterbach's shrill voice screams through the static of your receiver. //"I heard something, is everything alright? What's going on?"//\n\n"We're fine," you respond. "Change of plans. If you were to divert all available power resources to propulsion, would you be able to get this ship clear of the sun's gravity field?"\n\nLauterbach hesitates for a moment before responding. //"I... think so. There might be just enough fuel, but we wouldn't be able to use any kind of guidance. We could get it out of the well and that's it."//\n\n"Alright," you say. "[[Get to it]]."
Simms cuts [[again and again]].
You watch the blinking light dart across the deep, velvety, billion-star-sequined canvas of night, trying to imagine where it's headed, what its purpose might be.\n\n"That's three in one night, kiddo," mother says.\n\n"Where's it going?" you ask.\n\n"Who knows? It's probably going off to explore, like the others." She sighs wistfully. "You have no idea how lucky you are to have been born when you were. This is a great age to live in. We're finally wading out into that deep water, keeping the pace with starshine. Touching new skies."\n\nYou listen to your mother speak, hearing the tightness in her throat as her candid, unbidden poetry slides past her lips. That was the moment you decided to be an astronaut.\n\n"What do you think's out there, mama?" you ask.\n\n"[[I don't know|could be]], kiddo," she says.
Your mother places a single seed in your hand, then points to the hole in the soil. Delicately, you place the seed at the bottom, and she buries it.\n\n"You just helped create a life," she says, smiling proudly. You smile too.\n\n"Just like that?"\n\n"Just like that, kiddo. A seed is the beginning of a whole new world. Our world was nothing but sand and emptiness once. A seed changed that, and look at everything now."\n\nYou stare wonderingly at the patch of soil your mother covered up, imagining the seed down inside of it growing into a [[whole planet]].
"It's so quiet," Simms observes.\n\n"It's space," says Tyson. "Everything's quiet."\n\nLauterbach laughs. Simms shakes his head.\n\n"I know that," he says. "Still... something so massive... to see it spinning like that... it doesn't seem right that it should be so quiet."\n\nYou turn your attention back to the [[console|approached]].
Your mother's hand points skyward.\n\n"Ursa Major," she says.\n\nYou scoot closer to her, cold grass tickling the back of your neck, trying to get under her arm to see exactly where she's pointing.\n\n"The big dipper?" your ten-year-old self guesses.\n\nYour mother smiles. "That's right. What does its name mean?"\n\nYou compress your face in thought, racking your brain. "It means... little bear?"\n\n"Ursa //major//."\n\n"Big bear."\n\nShe laughs and nods, dropping her hand to your knee and squeezing it.\n\nA moment passes and up goes her arm again, pointer finger projected, tracing a slow line across the map of heaven.\n\n"Look," she whispers. "Another [[spaceship]]."
The four of you stare at the anomaly. It is beyond anything any of you have ever encountered, anything you've ever been prepared for. Your mind reels as you consider your recent findings, trying to clutch some plan or solution from the aether of confusion.\n\nAt the center of the room, the black seed waits in [[silence]].
"Lauterbach's right," you decide. The crew turn their heads toward you.\n\n"Something unprecedented happened here and it resulted in the loss of several thousand people. We need to be extremely cautious in everything we do here. We're not going to do a single thing without gathering as much information as possible."\n\nLauterbach nods affirmingly. Simms and Tyson look at each other for a moment, then nod to you in acceptance.\n\nSimms [[awaits your orders]].
You weave your fingers between those of the woman and press your cheek to her brow.\n\nYour eyes shut. Soon, you are submerged.\n\nThe ship drifts off, away from the sun and on toward strange worlds, toward bright and verdant new Earths, with fallow fields laying in wait with their rich, deep, [[alien soil]]...
//Yes. [[I am]].//
The exterior of the thing is smooth and lustrous, almost more like some kind of obsidian than any sort of plant life. You unfasten the couplings that attach the large insulated glove of your suit to the sleeve, slipping it off to expose your hand. You press your palm flat against the surface of the seed. It's warm, and there's a kind of moving pressure, like liquid rushing quietly along the opposite surface as you [[touch it]].
Tyson struggles to keep you pinned, but you manage to slip an arm free. You jam your knuckles into his throat. He turns and rolls off of you, choking and coughing. You grab the bottle and swing it into his stunned face, destroying it. The bottle shatters, glass tears your former crewman's visage with a dozen different blades. He drops. You begin to [[choke him]].
You turn the key on the console, initiating your vessel's approach subroutines. The tractor's gradual influence continues to slow the spin of the lightless vessel [[ahead]].
As Simms approaches the seed, you begin to feel fear coming from [[deep within it]].
//[[Kill Tyson]].//
Your bleeding hand gropes along the ground until finally coming to rest on the emergency hand-welder Tyson had procured and returned with. You take it, pull it up into your lap, then lay still. Urgings in your head continue to compel you to acts of murder, but using every ounce of mental fortitude you have remaining, you defy them. Lauterbach stares at you.\n\n"Abandon ship," you mutter.\n\nLauterbach stares miserably at you for a long few minutes. Then, stepping back out the door, she turns and disappears into the darkness of the [[empty ship]].
"Simms!" Tyson screams. "Jesus Christ, //Simms!//"\n\nYou approach Tyson from behind. He wheels on you.\n\n"By God, Captain, [[what did you do]]?"
"Let's hear it," you say into your suit's receiver.\n\n//"It's a report from an exploratory mission sent to the third planet in this system. Looks like they found this thing in a jungle in the southern hemisphere, got some interesting beta wave readings off of it, and decided to bring it aboard for further study.//\n\n"Good work," you respond. "New plan. I need you to bring me something to cut it down with. Lauterbach, prepare to disengage shipboard gravity."\n\n//"Captain?"//\n\n"We need to get it [[off the ship]]."
Tyson too was a good man. You ate dinner with him and his wife Debrah most Tuesdays. He was warm and quick to laugh. His son, David, entered CASE last year, hoping to follow in his father's [[foot-steps]].
You push yourself away from Tyson's corpse, gasping and sobbing.\n\n//"Captain?"// Lauterbach's voice calls from your suit's receiver. //"Captain, what's happening? Are you okay? Simms, Tyson, anyone respond."//\n\nYou can only [[sob]].
You step forward, standing beside Simms at the opening of the seed.\n\n"Just hang on to her," he says. "She's going to fall forward a little more each time I cut."\n\nYou nod and wedge your way between Simms and the side of the opening. Simms delicately shifts the woman's weight toward you and you tilt your head, accepting the weight of the torpid body, pressing your hands to her sides to keep her still.\n\nSimms [[cuts]].
Simms returns with all of the medical supplies necessary to resuscitate a wounded person. Tyson and Lauterbach soon follow, carrying an assortment of cutting implements of varying degrees of cruelty between them. Simms appraises the instruments, decides on one, and approaches the seed.\n\nHe begins to [[cut]].
It's the childish fear of being threatened, of not wanting to hurt.\n\nIt's the fear your mother felt [[that day in the garden]].
You take the crash-pack by the handle and swing it upward with all your might, smashing it into the underside of Simms' jaw and knocking him senseless. He groans loudly, eyes wide with confused terror, blood and teeth smeared across his chin. He [[falls back]].
Tyson goes first, whipping past you as though dropped from a sideways cliff. His skull smashes against the edge of the still-opening bulkhead door, shearing away flesh and whipping blood to fly off and freeze in vacuum. His body pinwheels into infinity.\n\nLauterbach follows, feet-first, sucked through the door and flung off into the cosmos, her arms reaching impotently for the guide-rail of the still-attached boarding arm.\n\nYou [[close the bulkhead door]].
With a single jerk of your arm you thrust Simms' hand back against his face. The needle of the syringe dives beneath his eye, piercing his lower eyelid, lobotomizing him. He goes limp and crumples to the floor in a twitching heap.\n\nMixed fear and gratitude and comfort wash over you, emanating from the unknown heart of the seed. You feel a curious sense of exultation. You feel like you just saved a life.\n\n//"Found something here, Captain,"// [[Tyson's voice]] declares.
You reach forward and take the glass bottle from Simms' hand. He surrenders it compliantly. You swing it, smashing it into the side of his skull. The thick glass remains whole through the impact, and Simms crumples instantly, sprawling on the floor. You drop ponderously to your knees and begin caving his skull in with the bottle, smashing and smashing and smashing. His ruined mouth gives up a series of wet, gurgling coughs before his body goes limp and still.\n\n[[You stand]].
"Mom?" you ask, stepping closer to her before lowering yourself to your knees at her side.\n\n"It's so wonderful. My baby. To think," she says, her voice a lilting breath, weak and strange and lacking its normal music. She rakes her fingers through the wet soil of the garden patch, back and forth, back and forth. You watch, mesmerized.\n\n"What worlds you will find," she muses quietly, "what strange worlds, what bright and verdant new Earths... what fallow fields must lay in waiting there, with their rich, deep, alien soil..."\n\nShe half-turns toward you and smirks. "Maybe you can take my ashes to one of those worlds... spread me in the soil and let me help some [[strange new plant to grow]]."
The red line that runs along the corridors takes ever deeper into the stomach of the leviathan ship, then turning and leading you toward the front of the enormous vessel. Eventually the corridor you're taking terminates in a shut maglift door with a label reading //BRIDGE//. You press the call button but receive [[no response]].
//Yes you will. You will, because [[I say you will]].//
//The End.//\n\n<html><small>Thank you for playing!\n\nThis story was inspired by "Kaleidoscope" by Ray Bradbury, <a href="" target="_blank">this song</a>, and dreams of strange gardens in faraway places.</small></html>
//It's okay, kiddo. It's all okay. You don't have to cry. You don't have to spread my ashes now. Just [[take me home]].//
Simms narrows his eyes to look through the forward viewport. The derelict continues spinning, its forward section passing before and eclipsing the red giant that draws it slowly and inexorably in. There's no way of knowing how long the distress signal has been cycling, nor if the great vessel's life support systems remain in operation. Regardless, it's our duty to investigate, if even a chance exists that a [[life]] might yet be saved.
//[[I don't understand]].//
//"Should have Science up and running any minute,"// Lauterbach's voice [[shrieks]].
You stare at your mother, speechless. You have never in your life heard her sound so fatalistic.\n\n"Mom, what are you..."\n\nYour mouth shuts. You stare at your mother's downcast face, her own eyes watching the soil as it churns beneath her thoughtless fingers.\n\nThe doctor's appointment. You had forgotten.\n\nLong moments of silence pass before you finally lift up your voice.\n\n"What did they say?"\n\nYour mother's fingers [[clutch the soil]].
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"What in the hell //is// it?" Tyson asks.\n\nLauterbach and Simms both shake their heads silently.\n\n"Simms, see if you can get a read on it," you say. Simms nods and steps forward, detaching a corded probe from his crash pack. He takes a knee, sets the pack on the floor and opens it, switches it on, delicately touches the metal tip of the probe against the exterior of the seed.\n\nA minute passes. Then, "I'm getting vital signs, Captain."\n\nTyson and Lauterbach look at each other. Simms [[turns to you]].
Everyone turns to look at you. Lauterbach immediately begins shaking her head.\n\n"No way, Captain. Even a controlled fire is risky on a spaceship. A conflagration would break so many hazard protocols I don't even know where to start counting. We'd have to set the entire Hydroponics lab alight."\n\nYou nod. "That's right. That's the only way to be totally sure. Besides, we aren't planning on staying on the ship. It's a lost cause. Our top priority is to destroy this thing and get off the ship immediately."\n\nLauterbach processes your argument, eventually nodding. "Alright. [[What's the plan]]?"
You step forward and reach up, hooking the belted clip of your suit to the boarding arm's guideline.\n\nThe back halves of your feet, still magnetized, cling to the metal floor of the airlock. The front halves are billions of miles separated from solid ground in [[every direction]].
"We need to find out what happened here," you say. "Quickly, if possible."\n\nLauterbach nods. "I'll head to engineering and see if I can dig up the flight records, or maybe kick a few systems back online."\n\n"I'll head to medical," says Simms. "If there are survivors, that's where they're most likely to be."\n\n"I'll see if I can find the mess," says Tyson. "That's where we're drilled to go in case of interior emergency."\n\nYou nod, and the three strike out into the darkness. You decide to make your way towards...\n\n[[The crew quarters]]\n[[The science sector]]\n[[The bridge]]
//"Oh,"// you whisper to yourself. //"Oh, no."//\n\nThe arms of one of the bodies waves morbidly to you from the coldness of vacuum as it twists and spins, twists and spins. It floats gently, steadily, inevitably on toward the red giant, along with the two thousand other members of the giant spaceship's crew, all of them formed into long and twisting belt, a cosmic funeral procession, spiraling away into space, caught by the gravity of the hungering star.\n\nBile rises hot and acrid in your throat, threatening to leave you forcefully, when your suit's receiver [[crackles to life]].
//You never did [[spread my ashes]], did you?//
Her heart [[beats against you]].
The painting depicts some kind of alien jungle, thickly crowded with slick and threatening plant life. The sky is heavy and venom-green. In a clearing in the center of the copse is a pit, unknowably deep and impossibly dark. Even despite the incompletion of the painting, it seems alive somehow, almost unbearably realistic.\n\nYour eyes are drawn toward the pit. You feel compelled to stare, as though if you did so long enough shapes would eventually form in the blackness of the [[void]].
You stare at the dead body of your former crewman. Cloudy fluid weeps from the wound made by the scalpel. You stand upright and turn away, looking to the body of the woman on the table.\n\nYou feel an abject exultation, a pride at having protected something so precious.\n\nThough her eyes remain closed, you feel a similar sensation radiating from the woman, an empowering sense of gratitude.\n\n[[Approval]].
Simms immediately heads back to Medical to gather medical supplies in addition to what his crash pack contains. Lauterbach and Tyson leave quickly, heading to Engineering to look for tools usable for the cutting of such an object.\n\nYou stand alone in the lush jungle of the overtaken Hydroponics lab.\n\n[[Alone with the seed]].
The green line running along the lower half of the right-hand wall makes its way down dozens of corridors, leading you through the labyrinthine bowels of the empty vessel. The sounds of your breath and footsteps are your only company. Eventually, after an amount of time likely shorter than it felt, you come to the double-wide doors of the ship's research and analysis laboratory. They're already open when you arrive. Cautiously, you [[enter]].
"Tractor stabilization complete," Lauterbach announces.\n\n"Beginning final approach," Tyson calls, taking manual control.\n\n"Crash-pack and first aid kits charged and resupplied," Simms confirms.\n\nDarkness fills the cabin as the derelict goes still, its megalithic bulk blocking out the sanguine light of the red giant.\n\nThe console [[beeps]].
Your hand begins groping about at your side for the bottle. Shards of glass pierce the glove of your suit. Lauterbach stares at you.\n\n"Captain?" she asks weakly. "[[What's happening]]?"
You flip the switch on your belt, magnetizing your boots. You hook your arm through a nearby railing for support and reach behind yourself, smashing the glass on the Emergency Bulkhead Control lever, flipping it to Open.\n\nLauterbach screams. Neither of them have time to [[magnetize]].
The air hisses out from the seal around your neck as you detach the helmet, removing the bulky space-suit and walking to the forward compartment of your vessel. You take a seat, thumb in your command codes, and run the command to retract the boarding arm. You hear a low, muted 'ka-thud' as the arm breaks away from the dead vessel and begins to withdraw.\n\nWhen the arm is safely withdrawn, you look over your shoulder. You can just catch a glimpse of your precious cargo, strapped fastidiously to a wall of netting in the far back of the cabin.\n\nYou look down at [[the console]].
The elevator doors slide open and a wall of cool, sterile hospital air pushes in. You step out into the intensive care ward and walk the familiar path to your mother's room. You open the door and find her awake, her head turned to look out the window, her dim eyes fixed on the starry sky.\n\nYou shut the door behind you and she turns her head, looking to you and smiling.\n\n"Hello, sweetheart."\n\n"[[Hey, mom|mother]]."
[[Lauterbach screams]].
The task takes some time. It is made more difficult by your weightlessness. You saw at the suspending vines for roughly ten minutes before Lauterbach appears in the doorway.\n\n"Captain?"\n\nShe looks to you, then to the bodies of Tyson and Simms hovering gently off the floor, free-floating orbs of their blood and viscera drifting through the humidity. She puts a hand to her mouth, stifles a cry, and turns around, disappearing into the darkness of the corridor.\n\nYou [[continue to cut]].
//[[Kill Simms|killsimms1]].//
You flip a switch on your belt console and your forward suit-light blinks into bright illumination. The corridor before you stretches away, further into the body of the giant cruiser. You follow the painted lines along the walls of the corridors, allowing them to lead you to the [[science sector]].
//[[Kill Simms|killsimms3]]//.
It takes you several hours of careful maneuvering to guide the great seed through the dark inner workings of the derelict ship. Eventually, and with utmost care, you manage the task, bringing it with you into the airlock. You never once hear from Lauterbach, which is fine. The seed is with you, unharmed.\n\nYou begin using a series of emergency harnesses to mummify the seed in belts and straps. Then, re-attaching your helmet and magnetizing your boots, you [[depressurize the airlock]].
"How's tricks, kiddo?" your mother asks, slipping her skeletal hand in yours as you take your seat beside her bed. Her skin is cold tissue paper. Her breath is a dusty whisper.\n\n"Can't call me kiddo anymore," you tell her, trying to smile. "It's Captain now."\n\nA smile starts to form on her withered lips.\n\n"My tour of duty starts next month. I did it."\n\n"Do you expect that to surprise me?" she says. Still, she can't help but grin.\n\nYou laugh and shrug, squeezing her hand. She squeezes back, then turns her head to [[look out the window again]].
The fear grows. It's a bright, hot, [[panicked fear]].
//It's okay, kiddo. This is [[even better]].//
Tyson is screaming. You reach down and retrieve the saw. The seed trembles, fear reverberating from it like a low note hummed by a tuning fork. He is standing much too close. He is erratic.\n\nHe will [[hurt the seed]].
You look at your hand where it rests against the side of the black mass, look at the [[soil]] caked between your fingers.
The crew sector is several levels, each filled with multiple hallways, all lined with dozens of cramped personal rooms. It would take hours to search them individually by yourself, and most of the doors are securely locked, holding only silence behind them. You set yourself to the task of walking up and down the halls, looking for anything obvious that might hint at the [[fate of the ship]].
"[[I'm going to fuck her]]."
The exterior of the thing is smooth and lustrous, almost more like some kind of obsidian than any sort of plant life. You unfasten the couplings that attach the large insulated glove of your suit to the sleeve, slipping it off to expose your hand. You press your palm flat against the surface of the seed. It's warm, and there's a kind of moving pressure, like liquid rushing quietly along the opposite surface as you [[touch it|touch2]].
[[(No. I will not.)]]
"Are you sure that's the right thing to do?" asks Tyson. "What if that thing was some kind of... I don't know, chrysalis?"\n\n"Humans don't need chrysali. Neither do plants. We need to get her out of there, get her into Medical and try to revive her."\n\nLauterbach hands Simms a knife. Simms takes the knife, reaches back behind the woman, and begins to cut.\n\n"Need a little help," he calls back after a moment. "Need someone to hold her."\n\nTyson and Lauterbach stand reluctantly. You [[walk forward]].
You flip a switch on your belt console and your forward suit-light blinks into bright illumination. The corridor before you stretches away, further into the body of the giant cruiser. You follow the painted lines along the walls of the corridors, allowing them to lead you to the [[bridge]].
You walk to his sprawled form and set your heavy, booted foot down on his wrist. His hand opens and you retrieve the scalpel from his palm before plunging it deep into his staring left eye. His legs kick and he gives a high, gurgling scream before [[going still]].
You eventually [[cut it free]].
Warmth. Relief. Gratitude. Love.\n\nHe [[could not be allowed to hurt the seed]].
Something outside the viewport, nearer than the sun, catches your eye. You walk forward and narrow your eyes to see. A number of objects, tiny and legion, silhouetted against the star's crimson backdrop. The first thing that comes to mind is an asteroid belt.\n\nYou [[look closer]].
Flickering white lights bring the darkened corners of the laboratory incessantly in and out of vision. You walk slowly through the area, examining notewalls filled with scientific cryptography, abandoned clipboards with hastily hand-scrawled notes, spectrographic analyses and magnetic field scans and bio-electric signal readings tacked to every free inch of space in this unusually cramped section of the ship.\n\nYour gloved hand falls delicately atop a sheet of paper. You work your bulky, suited fingers and eventually manage to [[pick it up]].
The ruby star floats grand and imperious, dominating the viewport with its immensity. Its light recalls late Earthbound dusks after long days of rain, when the whole sky would turn crimson and furious before settling into a warm, rejuvinating night. You think about the terrestrial planets in solar systems that orbit stars like these, how their days might always be like that, no matter the time. [[Always dusk]].
Your hands begin to shake and you drop the bottle. You can't take your eyes from Simms' crumpled shape. Gradually you lower to the floor, laying back on your shaking hands.\n\nMinutes pass, and Tyson returns. Seeing Simms, he immediately rushes to the [[dead man's side]].
"Never forget that, kiddo," she tells you, drawing a line of dirt across your forehead with her soil-covered thumb.\n\n"[[You can start whole new worlds]]."
You clutch the letter in your left hand and open the greenhouse door with your right. Heat and the smell of ozone assail your senses, invigorating you as you step across the threshhold and make your way deep into the house of darkened glass. You make your way to the far back. Your mother is there, on her knees in a patch of soil, her hands dirty up to the forearms. A garden spade lays discarded beside her. She's been digging with her hands.\n\n"Mom," you say, half-gasping, barely able to control the words. "I did it. [[I got in]]."