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Beware the child in green bunting

Authors: Pinkskin
Categories: Adventure
Episodes: Set after The Dorcons
Show Year: Y2
Rating: PG-13
Date: 2012
The Alphans encounter a planet covered by a huge rainforest, with trees over a mile high. Humans have been there before though, and their outpost destroyed. When the Alphans investigate, their eagle crashes leaving them stranded…
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This not-for-profit amateur/fan publication is for entertainment purposes only, and is not intended to infringe upon the rights of Gerry Anderson, ATV, ITC, Polygram, Carlton, Granada Ventures, or any other current copyright holders of Space: 1999 or Midworld copyright Alan Dean Foster 1975.

(*with apologies to David Welle)

To Catbird* for encouraging me to write this, correcting numerous errors, and being my inspiration in life for the last twenty four years.

Moonbase Alpha status report, Dr Helena Russell recording, 2014 days after leaving Earth orbit. After months of drifting through empty space, hopes of finding a new home have again been raised, with the moon predicted to pass within range of two of the seven planets that make up an approaching solar system.

Interest has been further heightened as the first planet due to pass close to the moon's trajectory was bright green, and spectral analysis indicated a high concentration of oxygen, making it a likely candidate to support life.

John Konig stood in the middle of Command Centre, watching the seemingly featureless green sphere on the big screen, trying to remain emotionless, as his people had faced so many disappointments over the last five and a half years of their journey.

"Commander" Sahn spoke up from the communications station "I am picking up a very weak transmission from the planet"

Everyone in Command Centre turned to Sahn, as the lack of any signs of anything other than the vastly abundant plant life indicated by the oxygen readings had given the impression that the planet was uninhabited.

"What have you got Sahn?" Konig spoke calmly "There is a repeating sequence of twelve tones, sent every ten seconds" Sahn carefully adjusted the tuning of Alpha's powerful communications receiver in an effort to clean up the signal.

"Put it on speaker please Sahn" said Konig. Sahn pressed a button on her station, and a thin reedy almost musical sequence of tones, heavily laden with static filled the room. "Commander" Maya, Alpha's Psychon Science Officer spoke up "I believe that it may be a distress signal of some kind, though the actual information the signal carries eludes me"

Konig folded his arms and stood behind Maya's console "can you locate where the signal is emanating from?" Maya manipulated her controls "The signal originates in what appears to be a circular metal structure deep beneath the vegetation canopy, close to the equator". "Could it be a crashed ship?" Commander Konig again stared at the big screen, as if looking for inspiration.

"If it is, it must have crashed there a considerable time ago, such in fact that there is no visible disturbance to the vegetation" said Maya.

"John, we must send a rescue Eagle to check it out, there could be people down there, desperate for our help" Tony Verdeshi Alpha's often impulsive chief of security added.

"Agreed" said Konig, though the distance would make it a two day trip, and at that range, require a refuelling Eagle, but it would give Alpha some information in advance of conditions on the planet, and if there was a possibility that the crew of a crashed ship could be recovered alive, that would be a bonus. "Take yourself Tony, Alan as pilot, Maya, and Dr Russell and a couple of security guards; I want you to lift off within the hour"

As Eagle four approached the planet, the spectacle was incredible; almost the entire surface was green, save for a few white peaked mountain tops at the Polar Regions. Maya gathered information at the computer station as Alan eased the Eagle into the thick atmosphere, plotting a descent course to the source of the transmission below.

"Animal life is abundant here too" remarked Alan, as the Eagle descended, giant birds resembling the ancient pterodactyls that graced the skies of prehistoric earth wheeled around below them. "I'd give them a wide berth" remarked Tony from the co-pilot's seat. "Too right mate" said Alan, veering away from a flock of blue birds, whose scales reflected the sun with a dazzling flash of colour.

"We are above the site of the transmission now" reported Alan "but I can't see anything, just a vast canopy of trees, there is just nowhere to land an Eagle"

"The transmission is exactly one point four kilometres below, according to surface reflection radar" said Maya. "wow, that makes the trees a mile high, we have some pretty tall Eucalyptus trees in oz, but that is like forty five times taller" was Alan's astounded reply "and we can't hang around here on thrusters for too long, or we won't make it back to Alpha"

Tony activated the comm link to Alpha, as they were due to check in anyway. "I'll speak with John, he may just want us to turn back, though we could maybe use the laser to fell a couple of trees to make a landing possible, and the cover does seem a little more sparse in the region of the signal".

Moments later John Konig's features appeared on the pilot module's monochrome display screen. Tony briefed him on the situation, and the limited options available, stressing the need for a quick decision.

"If you used the laser Tony, would there not be a risk of causing a catastrophic forest fire" said the Commander. "I don't think so John" Tony replied "Maya tells me that the humidity is close to one hundred per cent within the canopy, it's like the stratified rain forests of Earth's Amazon region"

"Ok then Tony, you have the green light to clear the minimum space required to allow the Eagle to land, call in again when you are on the ground. Konig out" the commander ended the transmission to allow Tony and Alan to have full concentration for the task in hand.

In the passenger compartment behind them Helena nervously checked and re-checked her medical equipment. Maya had been noticing Helena's somewhat out of character behaviour, and her unusual silence. Throughout the two day trip, Helena had been sociable, even joining in card games with security guards Easter and Tate, but now she was withdrawn, her face ashen.

"Helena, what's the matter" Maya asked her friend. "I have a very bad feeling about this mission" said Helena, "It started when we entered the atmosphere, and it's getting worse, it's almost as if I can feel a presence around us"

"It will be ok" Maya replied, concern showing in her exotic features "Alan is the best pilot we have, and so far all we have encountered is oversized vegetation, and bird life, nothing that's a threat to us" Helena forced a smile "I hope you are right" she said.

In the pilot module, Tony Verdeschi had the Eagle's laser trained on where he thought the trunk of one of the enormous trees obscuring the signal source might be, and fired a three second burst on full power. The result was chaos, a cacophony of sound, deafening even through the bulkheads of the Eagle, and a surge of movement as a myriad of strange creatures ran in panic throughout the canopy, followed by a geyser of superheated steam and debris. There was little effect otherwise.

"Fire again Tony, a longer burst this time" advised Alan, his eye on the Eagles fuel gauges. Tony fired a second time, this time keeping the laser on for a full five seconds, its maximum capacity. This time something happened, through the steam and smoke a clearing became visible, as a tree that would dwarf man's tallest structure on earth toppled sideways into its neighbour, making a deafening noise, and a shockwave that forced Alan to react quickly to keep the Eagle stable.

After a few seconds the steam and smoke subsided, and part of a large grey metallic object became visible more than a kilometre down in the trees.

"Do you think you can land on that thing Alan?" queried Tony.

"Won't know till I try" Alan replied, as he began the descent.

"That's absolutely incredible, life on this world appears to be free from the normal checks and balances that govern the pattern of evolution" said Maya who had entered the pilot module, and was crouched behind Alan and Tony, staring in rapt fascination at the sides of the forest through the viewing ports of the Eagle. As they descended the branches were getting bigger and bigger, as they passed the halfway point in their descent, many were wider than the Eagle and already the light was beginning to fade.

As the surface of the object came into view it became apparent that it was a structure of some kind rather than a ship, and it was very badly damaged.

Large areas of the structure had been melted, showing a glimpse of the wrecked interior, being colonised by countless species of plant life. It reminded Tony of pictures of RMS Titanic he had seen following its discovery on the ocean floor.

Alan touched the Eagle down on a relatively undamaged spot near the centre of the structure, figuring that was likely to be the strongest point, and gradually rolled back the vertical thrust. There was some creaking and moaning as the structure settled with the additional weight of the Eagle as Alan shut down the thrust completely.

After checking in with the Commander, Alan, Tony and Maya entered the passenger section to put together their gear to explore the structure, and check for survivors. Helena was still pale, but picked up her medical kit.

None of them were ready for what hit them as the Eagle door slid open, the heat, humidity, noise and smell were overwhelming to the senses, as was the gloom, for the only light was coming from the break in the canopy far above them and it made the whole place feel like being inside of some unimaginably vast cathedral.

"Well, would you look at that" exclaimed Tony. "With this humidity I recommend no more than twenty minutes outside the Eagle" said Helena.

The Alphans stepped out onto the cool, hard alloy surface of the structure, Easter and Tate watching the forest walls around them nervously. "Ok, let's see if we can find a way in, stay sharp and keep close together" said Tony. The noise from the forest was increasing steadily, as the forest dwellers returned after the trauma of the laser and the Eagle landing, and this was making Tony nervous.

A few meters forward were the first of the melted areas, and Maya knelt down to investigate. The metal had indeed melted, and there were signs of molten metal that had dripped into the interior below.

"I am at a complete loss" Maya exclaimed "If this had been done with a laser, the surface would have vaporised, likewise with a particle beam, but it's as if the melted areas were somehow placed in a furnace, it does not make sense. Such a weapon would be unbelievably inefficient!"

"I think I've found something" said Alan - who was looking at what appeared to be a hatch recessed into the surface "Perhaps this is an emergency escape or something" he traced along the edges with his fingertips. Suddenly there was a click, and with a quiet hissing sound the hatch dropped down, and slid soundlessly out of sight.

A ladder was visible, stretching down to the interior. Alan reached into his pack for a torch and snapped it on. The ladder extended for about twenty feet, and lead to a room that did not appear to have been compromised by the plant life.

Alan, Tony, Maya and Helena descended the ladder, leaving Easter and Tate to watch over the Eagle, and their escape route. The hatch led to a control room, with one wall covered with instrumentation and video screens. Motes of dust swirled in the beam from Alan's torch as he swept it around. Everything was dark, except for one panel, where a red indicator blinked on and off steadily. There was a large curved desk in the centre of the room, at which sat the desiccated body of a man, still dressed smartly.

A nameplate on the desk bore the man's name, in English: "Hansen"

After the initial shock of the discovery of the dead man, Tony was the first to regain composure and speak up "It looks like this was the last survivor, he must have sealed himself in here, then suffocated when the power failed"

"What a way to die, in the dark with no air, sat at his desk waiting for the end" Helena's voice was shaking as she went on, "Whatever trashed this place must have been a formidable enemy, we shouldn't hang around"

Suddenly laser fire from above diverted their attention and Tony ran for the ladder to check out what was going on. "Be careful Tony" shouted Maya. Tony neared the top of the ladder and shouted to Easter and Tate to apprise him of the situation before risking exposure to whatever they were shooting at.

"Tate is down" said Easter "He's been shot in the leg by some kind of poison dart, and is in a bad way"

"Where did it come from?" asked Tony

"There was a loud pop from the edge of the forest, opposite where we felled the giant tree, and then that thing was stuck in Tate leg. He went down real fast after that, I fired a few shots, but I have no idea if it did any good"

Tony thought quickly, over the past few years on Alpha there had been far too many combat situations, and thinking on his feet was something he had gotten used to. He needed to get medical attention for Tate, and he needed to do it now. "Easter, get down, and put your pack in front of you and use it as a shield, we are working on something".

Maya was already ahead of him, and had unclipped a service panel beneath the instrumentation, yielding an aluminium cover large enough to use as a shield. She passed it up the ladder to Tony, who slowly lifted it through the hatch in front of him, as he climbed all the way to the top. Stepping out onto the surface of the structure, and keeping the panel between himself and the open forest, he made his way over to Tate, and checked his neck for a pulse.

The man was dead, his skin already turning purple. It had been less than three minutes, faster acting than cyanide. He reached for his comlock and called Maya "I have an idea" he said "I'll make for the Eagle, lift off and land a few meters beyond the hatch, putting the Eagle between you guys and the assailant, the structure here should still be good enough to hold the weight"

Tony broke the connection, and returned the comlock to his belt, grabbing the fixings to the panel firmly he slowly made for the Eagle.

There was another loud pop from the forest, followed by a loud clang and sharp vibration to the panel. He looked down, and a dart, tipped with a large black thorn had partially penetrated the aluminium, at around groin level. Tony's resolve tightened further, and soon he was at the Eagle's entrance door.

He thumbed his comlock to open the door and dived into the Eagle, the discarded panel falling to the surface with a loud clatter, keying the door shut as he did so, the couple of seconds it took the door to slide shut seeming like an eternity.

He shivered, as his sweat began to cool in the air conditioned atmosphere of the Eagle, as he clambered forward into the pilot module, and strapped himself in.

Alan, Helena and especially Maya began to relax a little at the sound of the Eagles engines powering up, followed by fits of coughing as the Eagle passed over the hatch, causing a cloud of stirred up dust and choking rocket fuel vapour to fill the room.

After a few seconds the sound of the Eagles thrusters faded and the creaking and slight movement of the structure confirmed that the Eagle had set down.

The three Alphans emerged from the hatch eyes streaming, coughing and spluttering and gulping in the fresh air, as Tony emerged from the Eagle. Easter was on his feet, staring at Tate's lifeless body in shock.

"Alan, help me get Tate's body into the Eagle" said Tony, an edge of tightly controlled fear in his voice, "and let's not stay in the open, the locals here appear to want us dead"

Within a few moments everyone was back in the Eagle, its door safely shut. Helena (her own anxiety level barley manageable) examined Tate. "Some kind of nerve toxin I think, extremely potent. I don't have the equipment here to analyse the chemistry, but I think we should treat Tate's body as a bio hazard for the time being"

Alan and Tony then began the grim task of placing Tate in one of the body bags that each Eagle carried just in case. When the body was securely stowed, they made their way to the pilot module to contact Alpha. Tony didn't intend to stay on this planet a moment longer than they had to.

Commander Konig listened to Tony's account of what happened, and the death of Tate. "Tony, get back to Alpha as fast as you can. I'll despatch a refuelling Eagle now to meet you halfway" the Commanders face was business as usual, but Tony knew he took the death of any Alphan personally. This planet had turned out to be another disappointment, and a deadly one at that. "Right" said Tony, as Alan began the pre-flight checks.

Far above the canopy, two ovoid gas bags the size of the structure below were floating towards the clearing; they were a pale translucent blue, with rippling fins that moved them slowly through the air. Beneath each bag lay a mass of rubbery looking tendrils, with longer tendrils with a mirror like appearance, hanging down from them.

The photoid floaters (as they were known locally) had been attracted by the noise of the Eagle, and moved towards a possible food source.

In the pilot module of Eagle 4 Alan Carter finished his checklist, and brought the crafts engines to life. Pushing forward the vertical thrust lever, he lifted off from the surface of the structure, and steadily started climbing.

Outside the Eagle the noise from the lift off had renewed the attention of the floaters and they descended towards the source of the sound. One long tendril dipped, and curled around the Eagles centre section.

On-board there was a sudden jolt, and the craft stopped ascending. "What the?" exclaimed Alan, as there was a hysterical scream from Helena in the passenger section. "We've hit something" said Alan. Tony peered upwards through the viewing ports, catching sight of the blue-green sky being reflected by the tendril that had hold of the Eagle.

"No, something has got a hold of us" said Tony. Alan increased the vertical thrust, mindful of the fuel consumption. The noise grew as the Eagles vertical thrusters increased their output, but it had no effect. "Going to maximum" said Alan, as he pushed the vertical thrust lever fully forward.

They ascended for a few meters, before the floater compensated and they again came to a stop "Fuel consumption at this level is unsustainable" shouted Alan above the noise "going to try the main thrusters".

The Eagles main forward thrusters fired, delivering thousands of pounds of forward thrust. "Increasing" Alan's face was covered in sweat, his hands white on the controls. A loud metal groaning began, as the crafts airframe was stressed beyond its design capacity. Suddenly, the grip gave, as the tendril was torn off.

"Oh Shit!" Alan exclaimed, as he shut down forward thrust and applied reverse manoeuvring thrusters - a fraction of a second too late, and the Eagle slammed into the opposite forest wall, about half way up. The world exploded in front of him, as they tore through the unimaginably dense forest. The control panel above Tony's head erupted in flames, and the pilot module filled with smoke.

To Alan it seemed to go on and on, though really it could only have been a few seconds. Finally they ground to a halt.

Alan instinctively reached for the fire extinguisher in the pilot module, putting out the flames, and punched the button on his flight harness to release it. "Tony?" he exclaimed "I'm ok Alan" Tony replied, "That wasn't one of your best landings, let's check everyone's ok".

The passenger section was a mess, equipment was strewn around and there was a large section of the hull above them open to the forest, where something had snagged it and peeled back the aluminium shell like a tin can. "Maya are you ok?" said Tony "you are hurt" Maya had sustained a deep gash to her forehead, and her Psychon blood, a unique shade of bright red dripped slowly down her face. "I'm not badly hurt Tony, it's Helena we need to worry about, she's unconscious, and I think Easter has a broken leg"

Alan went to attend to Easter, who was clutching his leg, but trying to make light of the situation. "We will get you fixed up mate" he said, picking his way to Easter "we'll get some painkillers into you, then fix up a splint"

The situation with Helena was worse, much worse. She was deeply unconscious, and her hair was matted with blood, oozing from a laceration on the top of her head. Tony wished he had paid more attention at Alpha's compulsory first aid training. "Tony, we need to see if her pupils are responsive" said Maya, who had, as always, paid attention in first aid training (and just about everything else) "I'll find Helena's medical kit".

She returned a few moments later with Helena's pack, and pulled out a small flashlight. There was barley any response to shining the light into Helena's eyes, and Maya knew this was not a good sign, but all she could do is clean up and dress the wound the best she could and wait.

With the hull compromised and the power down, the temperature and humidity were rising rapidly. Tony wiped away the sweat that was already getting into his eyes and announced "We need a plan of action"; to no one in particular. "Rescue from Alpha is at least two days away. Maya see if you can get the Eagles communications on line, as Alpha is out of range of the comlocks. Alan, we need a defence strategy, we know the locals are hostile, and it won't take

long for them to find us".

Alan paused briefly his task of dismantling one of the equipment racks to furnish a metal support that would serve as a splint for Easter "Tony, we need to go outside and check the Eagle is secure, if she is sitting precariously on something, we will have to evacuate, and take our chances, it's a very long way down".

Tony didn't like the sound of that, even with their lasers they were likely to be picked off one by one by their unseen enemy, who no doubt knew the forest like the back of his hand.

"And I have been thinking of a way to do it" added Alan "one of us suits up - the Kevlar based space suits should be more than a match for the poisoned darts, and the batteries are good for 4 hours, that will provide life support, and prevent the wearer from dying of heatstroke"

"Good idea Alan" said Tony, feeling the weight of command upon his shoulders, "I'll go"

With Maya's help Tony struggled into one of the orange spacesuits, the task a chore at the best of times and he made for the door. Cranking the emergency door release handle, the door slid back slowly. He opened it just enough to cause the steps to fall into place, and let the bulky space suit through.

Once he was outside Maya cranked the door shut quickly, and set her comlock to the suits voice channel. "Tony do you read me" said Maya, "Loud and clear" replied Tony, his breathing and the suits air recycling system a loud accompaniment to his voice.

Tony looked out, mouth open in astonishment. They had landed on something.

He luxuriated for a moment in the cool, canned recycled Alphan air in the suits reserve, then descended the steps to the "surface"

The Eagle had skidded to a halt on what appeared to be a branch of a tree, slightly wider than itself. Both front landing pods were gone, and a trail of destroyed plant life stretched some 200 meters behind them. In front the branch stretched out into the distance, with hanging vines and an explosion of brightly coloured flowers of every description imaginable. The noise was unbelievable, even though the suit had no external sound pickup.

Tony walked slowly around the wreck, another Alphan resource lost; he doubted that it could be salvaged from its resting place. He noted that the antenna array had been torn off, and wondered if Maya would be able to jury rig something that would enable contact with Alpha. If not they might well die here, it was dawning on him rescue would be neigh impossible anyway, particularly with the giant gasbag things that appeared to be attracted to the noise of the Eagles, rescuers would not be able to hang around for long enough to get to them.

Tony also realised something else - his orange spacesuit was attracting insects. Something akin to a green dragonfly was attempting to sting him in the arm, with a long needle like proboscis. The suit was holding up well, but this was going to be a problem, as he would need to make sure none got inside the Eagle, as for all he know the green dragonfly venom was as deadly as the poison darts.

"Skypeople, I would talk with you" Tony thought he imagined it at first, but it was definitely a voice, from within the forest to his left. He wondered what to do, to be heard he would have to take off his helmet, and risk insect bites, not to mention poison darts and losing the climate control. Maya's voice in his helmet speakers told him the others had heard it too.

Ok, he didn't really have a choice did he? He brushed off all the bugs he could see, and unclipped the helmet fastenings, and twisted it sharply to the left. This shut down the suits systems with a whump as he removed his helmet.

"Show yourself" Tony shouted to the forest in the general direction he heard the voice from. For a few moments nothing happened, then, unexpectedly a man appeared out of the forest in front of him. He was dark skinned, and short, dressed in a green woven cloth of some kind, his hair turned grey with age, and brandished a weapon, a meter and a half long tube of green wood, narrow at the business end, and wider at the stock, with a trigger mechanism of some sort. He had a quiver slung across his shoulder, containing a number of the deadly black thorn tipped darts.

The two men regarded each other for a long moment, then finally the newcomer lowered his weapon, and announced "I am Born. I am part of a small tribe that live here to guard our world against the Skypeople, who came here long ago to destroy life and rob our graves. But you are different, which is why I would talk before killing you. Why are you here?"

Tony replied as slowly and as clearly as he could; "I am Tony Verdeschi, the leader of our small group. Our world has come close to yours by random chance, and we came here to investigate a call for help that was being sent by a machine in the structure nearby on the floor of your world. We found only destruction, and the dead body of a man we believe was called Hansen" then you killed one of us in cold blood, Tony thought to himself, but kept his mouth shut.

"The Hansen-chieftain" Born replied "We never found his body, but it is good to know that he is dead. How many of you are there?"

"There are Five of us, including myself, and one who your people killed. Two of us are hurt, one badly when our Eagle crashed" said Tony.

"Eagle?" Born replied.

"Our ship that carried us" Tony hunted for a way to explain "beyond the sky from our world"

"Shh shuttlecraft" Born struggled to remember the unfamiliar word "but now it's broken, so you are stranded here?"

Tony wondered how Born knew the word "shuttlecraft" and concluded it must have been something to do with his contact with Hansen's people "Our friends will try to rescue us; they will come to the structure in less than two days. Let us have safe passage and you will never see us again"

Born considered. There had been too much death. He would not kill again today. "I would see you all first"

Tony shouted over to the Eagle "Please step out of the Eagle and meet our new friend. It's ok"

Presently the Eagle door began to slide open and Alan descended the steps. Easter followed, Alan helping him, followed by Maya.

Tony introduced them "Born, this is Alan Carter, Thomas Easter, and Maya".

Born found himself staring at Maya. She looked uncomfortable and eventually said "I am from a different world than my friends, but I am one of them now"

Born looked away. Today had been a very strange day indeed. "You said there were five of you"

"One of us was badly hurt in the crash; she sustained a wound to the head and is unconscious"

Born then said, despite his better judgement, "We will take her to my home. Felicia, our healer will tend to her"

"We will need to make arrangements to carry her" Tony replied".

"My Furcot, Ruumahum, will carry her" Born stated.

Tony couldn't possibly imagine what a Furcot was; however, any chance to save Helena had to be taken, even if in Tony's mind it was a slim one. They also needed to keep Helena's head stable, to minimise any further trauma. He explained this to Born, who nodded his agreement. Travel through the forest was not going to be easy for them either, even if Born's mysterious companion could manage to carry Helena, and Easter was going to need a lot of help.

I'll improvise something, said Alan, as he and Maya headed back into the Eagle. Around fifteen minutes later they emerged carrying Helena between them, on a makeshift stretcher made from two lengths of heavy duty trunking, with the cloth covering from some of the Eagles seating between them. Packing material had been secured either side of her head with tape, as a crude neck brace. She remained deeply unconscious, and Maya wondered if she would make it to the jungle dwellers home alive.

Born remembered his first encounter with the Skypeople, and his initial disbelief when they explained to him that they knew not of Furcot kind in their world, and clearly these people were the same. He could not live without Ruumahum, nor could Ruumahum live without him; it was the way things were. Every person had his or her Furcot, and every Furcot had a person. They watched out for each other, throughout life until death. When a person died, their Furcot would not live long, and vice-versa.

Born turned towards the forest and whistled softly. Alan thought he saw something, when suddenly a large green furred creature burst from the forest and landed deftly at Born's side. Several of the Alphan's reached for their weapons, when Tony, relying on gut feeling shouted "No, I think its ok".

Ruumahum regarded the Alphans through his 3 dark eyes "More Skypersons" he announced in a rich baritone that held an undercurrent of malice. With the build of a large bear, but with six limbs instead of four, he was well adapted to life in this world.

Tony took a step backward as he regarded the Furcot "My god, it talks" he mumbled to himself.

"Ruumahum", said Born as he turned in the Furcot's direction "These people are different; I do not believe they came here to destroy and steal from our world, rather they came out of curiosity, but have become trapped here. We will treat them as guests, and keep them safe until their friends come for them. One of them is very sick, and I need you to carry her home"

"Can do" replied the Furcot; still sounding uncertain "Dark soon" he added, looking upwards.

Born knew only a madman would travel through the forest at night "We must travel quickly" he said, assuming from what he had seen that these people would be as slow and hesitant as Hansen's people had been.

With Born's help Tony and Alan secured Helena in the makeshift stretcher to Ruumahum's back, using strong nylon cord from the Eagle, knotted under each of the Furcot's two bellies. "Can you manage" Tony addressed the Furcot uncertainly "Can manage" he growled back, without a moment's hesitation.

Meanwhile Maya had added padding to the crutch for Easter from the Eagle's seating, and with the effects of the painkillers in full force, he found he could get along reasonably well as long as the surface was flat.

"Follow me" Born announced, "I will find a path that even a small child would be able to follow" Tony bristled somewhat at this remark, but said nothing. "Who does this pint sized Tarzan think he is?" muttered Alan. "Tarzan?" queried Maya. "Tarzan was a fictional character that appeared in a number of books and films" Easter replied, having a passion for old movies "He was a small child who was left alone in a dangerous forest when his parents were killed, and was raised by Apes and other animals, he grew up highly adapted to his environment"

Maya found this fascinating, it would explain a lot, she thought.

Born started ahead, following the huge wooden highway, referred to by Born as "cubble", the Alphans following, with the big Furcot behind, senses alert for danger. After some hundred meters or so the trunk of the huge tree emerged in front of them, thousands of years old and encrusted with a multitude of life, of every shape and colour imaginable. Born struck out to the left, and presently they reached the edge of the branch.

Born grabbed hold of one of many hanging vines and roots that filled the space between the tree branches, "Only hold the morham vines, many of the others will kill you" he showed the Alphans the pale yellow vine, half the thickness of a man's arm.

"Use it to travel the gap to the next cubble" He held on to the vine tightly, and launched himself across the gap of several meters to the next branch, swinging in a manner not dissimilar to the depictions of Tarzan on the silver screen (but without the irritating yodel).

Tony glanced at Easter "Do you think you can make it?" he said. "So long as the painkiller lasts, I think so. I'll go first" He handed his crutch to Alan, and grabbed the vine tightly "You are going to have to give me a shove." Tony pushed him hard, and he swung across. Born grabbed him the other side, and he winced as his splint hit the cubble.

"Ok Maya, your turn" said Tony. Maya looked horrified; she had never done anything like this in her life. She looked into Tony's eyes, the way she did when she wanted to get her own way with him "Tony, I could...."

"No you could not!" Tony's voice was firm, but sympathetic, "Our new friend here would freak, and that's putting it mildly, if he saw what you are capable of"

Maya could see his point, of course. She grabbed the vine, took a few steps back and launched herself. She landed on the other side, and only just remembered to let go before she swung back. Alan followed easily, and Tony threw Easter's crutch across, before following himself. Ruumahum jumped across effortlessly, even though burdened with Helena's weight on his back.

They traversed several other gaps in a similar manner, before they noticed the light beginning to fade further, and it started raining, as it did every night on this world.

"How much further Born?" Tony asked.

"Not far now" the hunter replied.

As they walked forward, the tree in front of them seemed different somehow, even bigger, seeming to spread out in front of them, but with a barrier of vines with large flowers of bright pink, with huge pollen pods within.

Maya moved forward to examine the unusual blooms. "Be carefu!" Born shouted, "a single touch on the sensitive surface of the pollen pod will send a cloud of dust in the air, which will kill you where you stand"

Maya moved her hand back quickly.

"This is home" Born announced. The Alphans looked puzzled. Born approached one of the flowers, and spat directly into one of the blooms, avoiding the swollen pod.

Then something remarkable happened, the flower Born had spat into closed in on itself, and with a slithering noise the vines started to move, curling upwards and sideways, forming a path deep within the tree. Born strode forward quickly "Hurry" he said.

The others followed, Ruumahum shooting past with a speed that belied his bulk.

Tony glanced behind and noticed the vines relaxing and slithering back into position, forming an effective defensive barrier.

Home consisted of a spacious open area, surrounded by large hollowed out wooden spheres, that appeared to be the dwellings themselves, many with a curtain of woven leaves for privacy. Several men walked towards them, pointing the same green tubular weapon as Born carried threateningly.

Born spoke up "These Skypeople are not of the same tribe as the Hansen-chieftain! They mean us no harm; two of them are hurt, one is near death. I have said we will keep them safe until their friends come for them, and that our healer will tend to the injured. I will not break my word".

The men lowered their weapons. Born's words carried respect here, for it was at his insistence a new tribe was started, very far from his original home, where they could watch and wait and be ready, should the Skypeople return. If he said these were not of the same tribe as the Hansen-chieftain, then that was indeed so.

"Please fetch Felicia" Born said to one of the men, who slung his weapon back over his shoulder, and rushed to get the old healer.

Helena was untied from Ruumahum's back, and placed on a soft pallet of dried leaves in the place of the healer. Felicia wondered if it was too late already, there was swelling to the brain, and sometimes a person hurt in such a way would never wake up. She reached into her capricious apron, and pulled out a small leather pouch, sprinkling a little of the scarlet powder it contained onto the small pile of kindling that she always kept ready at her hearth.

She pressed her thumb against the powder, and a few seconds of her body heat were enough to cause the dust to explode into flame, as she jerked her thumb away. The incendiary pollen was the defence mechanism of a certain tuber, and was the best way to make fire the persons had.

The old woman searched through the shelves at the rear of her place, and eventually found the black capello root she was looking for. She broke some off and ground it into a powder in an old gourd, long blackened and charred by fire. She heated the powder for a few minutes over the fire, then added water to it. It hissed and sputtered, and turned a dull purple colour.

Satisfied, she poured the liquid into a little leather sack, and tied the sack tightly to a thin, hollow cane, sharpened at the end. Holding the cane against Helena's arm, she squeezed the sack until the liquid began to spurt from the sharpened end, to expel the air, then stuck it into a vein in Helena's arm, and squeezed out the remaining liquid.

Withdrawing the cane, she tied a healing leaf over the puncture site, and waited.

Outside the entire tribe had come out to meet the Alphans, women, small children, and even a Furcot cubling were staring at them, and particularly at Maya, who was feeling particularly miserable, soaked through and dishevelled, her long auburn hair plastered to her face. Tony and Alan appeared to be holding up better, or were at least giving off that appearance. Easter was not so good, the painkillers were wearing off, and he sat on the floor clutching his leg.

Talltree, the tribal elder stepped forward, and announced "Welcome to our home, we will have a feast to honour you, as is our custom, and we would hear the story of the Skypeople that are not of the tribe of our enemy, the Hansen-chieftain."

He clapped his hands, and his people rushed to prepare everything.

An hour later the Alphans were sat in front of a roaring fire, each with a wooden platter stuffed with a variety of exotic fruits and dried meat. Tony was chewing on something that resembled beef jerky, that his hosts told him was from something called a Bushacker.

Alan and Maya were both more cautious, and eyed the strange food with some suspicion. Felecia worked on Easter's leg, having removed the splint, and cut away the leg of his uniform, she began applying various leaves in a particular order.

After a while a large gourd filled with a strange liquid was passed to the Alphans. Tony elected to try it first, and drank a large gulp of the contents.

He immediately started coughing, and complained that his throat was on fire. Maya looked over at him with no sympathy whatsoever, in fact the same look he got back on Alpha, when one of his batches of "beer" turned out to be particularly nasty.

That did not stop him taking another smaller gulp, before he passed it over to Alan.

"That's very much like London dry gin, a lot rougher though, and a lot stronger than I ever remember it" he said, his voice somewhat of a rasp.

Alan, being a good Australian, took a large gulp of the fiery liquid as well, and managed to avoid choking. Maya politely declined, the last time Tony produced a passable brew, she had drunk far too much, and was sick for a whole weekend, and the memory was still fresh in her mind.

Talltree stepped forward, and again prompted the Alphans to tell their story. Alan glanced at Tony, and muttered "you are the ranking officer". "Thanks" grumbled Tony, who stood up and cleared his throat.

"Ah hum, We call ourselves Alphans, we journey endlessly in the vast empty place above your sky, for we were cast out from our own world as a result of a terrible accident" Tony was trying hard to couch his words in terms the tribe could understand "We came across your world by blind chance, and were attracted to the place of the Hansen-chieftain by a call sent from a machine. As Born can tell you we found only death there, and were about to leave when a flying monster caused our means of transport to crash into the forest"

He left out the bit about being attacked by poison darts, as the better course of action - he suspected it was Born himself that had killed Tate.

Talltree spoke again "Why is the one called Maya so different?" Tony thought for a moment and said "Some years ago we encountered her world and rescued her, she is the last of her kind" Again Tony left out the details.

"Born tells me your friends will come for you, so there are more of you up above the sky?" Talltree replied. "Almost three hundred" said Tony.

Talltree was shaken by this - the largest tribe he was aware of numbered some eighty persons.

"And you live in a thing of metal, like the Hansen-chieftain's people?" "Sort of" said Tony, who wondered how to explain the existence of the Moonbase to people who had no concept of such things.

There was an awkward silence, as Tony gave up, and sat down.

Of all the people of the tribe, perhaps Born had the closest understanding of Tony's words, and that was from the stories told to him by two of Hansen's people, who he had accompanied for very many days march across the forest.

But that had been years ago, and he really thought they had seen the last of the pale giant people.

Talltree said "I see" although he really didn't see at all "Enjoy our hospitality this evening, and rest tomorrow, we will see you safely to the place of the Hansen-chieftain the day after".

"What of Helena?" asked Tony. Felecia was just finishing her treatment of Easter's leg, and she looked up and said "I have done what I can for your friend. I have applied the treated capello root intravenously, but I don't know if I was in time. The swelling of the brain was severe, and sometimes even capello root is not enough"

The four Alphans glanced at each other, all thinking the same thing. Maya spoke first, her odd Psychon accent enthralling the entire tribe, who gave her their rapt attention "Your people's knowledge of medical techniques would seem to belay your simple existence, do you have records of your ancestors?"

"We have songs of great hunting successes, of bravery and of the defeat of our enemies in the past" said Talltree.

"But do you have an explanation for your place in this world?" Maya was intrigued.

Talltree clapped his hands and smiled broadly, and motioned for Darkwater, the tribe's shaman to come forward.

"In the beginning was the seed", Darkwater intoned solemnly, "and not a very big seed at that. One day water descended, and the seed grew, and its trunk became strong and tall. Whereupon it put out many branches. Some of these formed the pillars that dominate the world. Others changed and became the sky and earth that envelop the world. Then buds uncounted appeared. We are the offspring of one such bud, the Furcot's another"

For a rare moment Maya was speechless; "So how do you account for our existence beyond the sky?" she asked.

"The branches of the seed tree spread far" Darkwater replied. There were appreciative murmurs from the tribe.

"He's got you there" quipped Tony, under his breath.

Maya was indeed astounded, but simply smiled politely. She knew a few of the humans on Alpha could be quite defensive about their beliefs, so thought it was better not to follow that conversation further, and besides they needed the help of the tribes people to get back to the derelict structure in one piece.

After a while the people began to drift back to their dwellings, and Talltree showed the Alphans the accommodation that had been provided for them, with four pallets of woven grass, and a curtained off area that served as the bathroom. There were no cooking facilities, as meals were a communal affair, involving the whole tribe. To their surprise all four slept almost instantly.

Tony was the first to be awoken bleary eyed by the sound of children playing in the morning, he quietly got up, and peered out from the dwelling's entrance, drawing back the woven covering a little. The air held an earthy smell, and a slight damp mist still hung around from the previous night's rain. Several small children were noisily kicking around some kind of empty seed pod, and they stared curiously at him as they ran past.

A noise from behind him indicated someone else had awoken, and he turned to see Maya sat up, and trying to do something with her hair. "Good morning" he said cheerfully. Maya forced a smile at her lover and replied "I would not describe it as such. My back hurts, and I'm trying not to think about the bathroom facilities"

The other two slept on soundly, having consumed the lion's share of yesterday's alcoholic offering between them. Tony hoped they would not be too hung over when they awoke. "Let's go check on Helena" he said.

Tony and Maya were just pondering the protocol of announcing themselves at the entrance to Felecia's sizable dwelling, when the covering was drawn back, to reveal Helena sat up, and consuming a steaming bowl of stew. "Helena!" Maya exclaimed. "Maya, Tony" Helena put the bowl down, and replied, her words somewhat slow "Where are Alan and Easter?"

"Sleeping off the night before" Tony said with a grin. He decided not to burden Helena with Easters's condition until she had recovered further, and Felicia seemed to be doing a good job on his leg anyway. "How do you feel?"

"I have a headache the size of a planet, but I think I'll make it. Felecia here has some incredibly potent medicines"

"And some comparatively sophisticated methods of delivering them" Maya added.

"Your friend needs rest now, so she will be able to travel with you tomorrow" said Felicia, her bedside manner not so very different from Helena's.

Tony and Maya took the hint, and made their way back to their accommodation, to find Alan sat chatting with an elfin faced woman who had brought a large tray of exotic fruit, and carved wooden beakers of water. Easter, who was not much of a drinker, looked rather pale, stared at the floor a lot, and didn't join in the conversation at all.

"G'day Tony, Maya" said Alan, interrupting his conversation with the woman, who saw her chance to make a quick excuse and leave. Tony and Maya returned the greeting, and Maya enthused "We've been to see Helena, and she's going to be ok!" "Thank god for that" Alan replied "Alpha can't afford to lose her, and I don't think the Commander would have kept it together if the worst had happened"

In Talltree's lodge at the centre of the village, a rather darker conversation was taking place. The hunters Longtooth and Strongarm had requested a meeting with the elder, out of earshot of the tribespeople.

"We cannot allow these giant skypeople to leave alive" said Strongarm "They will bring down their friends who will destroy our world, the way the Hansen-chieftain's people would have done, had Born and Losting not managed to kill them all and destroy their metal vines and webs long ago"

"Even if their strange story is true, and I do not believe it is so, we cannot take the chance" added Longtooth.

"I for one believe what they say is truth, and even if I did not, I would accept the words of the hunter Born. It was on his insistence this tribe was formed, and it was he that told us of the dangers that those who live beyond the sky, and saved the world" replied Talltree.

"But Born grows old" insisted Strongarm, "his mind has been turned by the giant strangers and their strange story, his words have lost their meaning"

"I will have none of this" said Talltree, his voice commanding authority "speak of it no more. They are our friends, and they will leave us in peace".

Strongarm and Longtooth stormed out of Talltree's lodge, anger in their faces, and murder in their hearts.

As evening came, the tribespeople gathered around the fire for the evening meal, and a space was reserved for the Alphans, who sat and politely picked at a large platter of food offered to them.

Easter had recovered somewhat, but vowed not to imbibe in the local hooch again. One of the tribeswoman had offered Maya a comb carved from animal bone, and she had managed to untangle her long auburn hair, and felt a little better for it. Alan for his part appeared to be a centre of attention for a number of the eligible young women, and Tony was speculating darkly on what the next day held for them, when a familiar voice from behind said "what happened to you?".

The comment was intended for Easter, but it was Alan who came back with "Helena - you have missed all the fun".

Alan and Tony shifted slightly to make space for Helena, who sat down gingerly. Easter spoke up "I broke my leg in the crash, but Felecia has fixed me up real good" "She is a remarkable Doctor" replied Helena, picking at what appeared to be a bunch of grapes, except they were orange "by rights I should be dead"

They were interrupted by Felecia, who knelt down in front of Helena and proffered a small leather bag to her "From one medicine woman to another, I saw your interest, and thought you may find some of these things useful" Helena took the bag and peered inside "Thank you Felecia, I only wish I had something to give you back"

After a while Born walked over from his favourite spot on the opposite side of the compound and announced "I will take you to the place of the Hansen-chieftain, we leave at first light; be ready"

Tony nodded. "we will" he said.

The Alphans retired early, and found an extra sleeping pallet had been provided for Helena, along with a fresh tray of food and water.

Just before first light, nobody noticed Strongarm and Longtooth, along with their Furcot's Jess and Lausanne silently leave the village.

A small crowd had assembled to wish the newcomers well in their journey, and the Alphans said their goodbyes. One elderly man handed Easter a crutch carved from a beautiful dark green wood. It seemed they had won over some of the tribespeople at least.

Born joined them and advised "you will have to be careful, the cubble will still be wet from the nights rain" "Cubble?" asked Helena "You were lucky you slept through the whole thing" Maya replied "cubble refers to tree branches that are many meters wide, and it is necessary to swing from branch to branch by hanging on the certain dangling vines" she finished with a shudder.

Born found this conversation hilarious, they were just like young children who had yet to learn the ways of the world, he thought to himself, particularly Maya, who appeared to have an even more sheltered upbringing than the others, if that was possible.

Within a few minutes they had left the home tree, the vines and flowers protecting it sliding back into place behind them. Helena was awed by the huge scale of the branch that they walked along, and the astounding quantity of wildlife all around them, she wondered at the huge medicinal value that much of it doubtless held. Born lead, and Ruumahum followed on the branch immediately below - hoping his superfast reflexes should be quick enough to catch one of them if they fell.

In addition to travelling sideways, it was also necessary to descend at some point. Born was not looking forward to this, the lower levels of this huge tree world were far more dangerous than the mid-point that the people preferred, but the Hansen-chieftain's structure was built on the very ground itself.

The first branch crossing was as fraught as ever, Helena actually even more reticent than Maya about swinging across the void between the branches.

After around an hour of very slow progress, a voice sounded, dead ahead.

"Born we can't let you do this" Strongarm swung down from a branch above and stood directly in front of Born, his long green tubular weapon left behind in favour of a wicked looking bone axe, for faster mobility "Stand aside hunter, and let me do what I must"

A moment later Longtooth appeared behind Alan, who was at the rear of their group, carrying a similar weapon.

Almost simultaneously Jess and Lausanne appeared either side of Ruumahum.

"This does not concern the Brethren, it is a matter for the persons" announced Jess in a low growl.

Born stood firm "Then you will have to kill me" he said, anger rising in his voice.

Tony drew his laser and pressed the firing stud. Nothing happened. This world clearly didn't take any notice of the specification label, as the device had succumbed to the almost 100 per cent humidity

Strongarm didn't seem to react though; he probably didn't perceive it as a weapon. Maya tried hers with the same result.

However Helena's functioned and the beam struck Strongarm full in the chest. He fell to the floor stunned, his axe clattering along the cubble.

Born shouted a warning to Alan, even as his jaw dropped in disbelief. Alan whirled around to face Longtooth who was swinging his axe wildly.

Helena turned and fired at Longtooth, but the beam lasted only a fraction of a second before it cut out. Although it didn't stun, it disorientated him for a couple of seconds, enough for Alan to deliver a full force kick to the man's stomach.

Longtooth fell back with a blood curdling scream, and was still. A large thorn, one of many that grew from parasitic growths on the cubble protruding from his chest.

Moments later, the three Furcot's appeared. Jess walked over to Longtooth's body and sniffed it gently. "Dead" she announced. "My person is dead, and so shall I be within the day, but he was right, you must die"

Lausanne squared up to Ruumahum. "You and Born must leave us now" she announced.

"I do not leave unless my person wishes it" Ruumahum replied.

"I will lead these people to the place of the Hansen-chieftain as I have given my word to do" said Born.

Fights between Furcot's were almost unheard of, so Lausanne said one more time "Leave with your person Ruumahum or you will all face death from Jess and I"

"No" Ruumahum answered, and launched himself at Lausanne with all his strength.

Maya moved to stand in front of Alan, facing Jess. Alan quickly got out of the way, realising what she had in mind.

"Do not fight and you will have an easy death" Jess growled, rage flickering in her three dark eyes.

Maya dissolved into a ball of energy, and suddenly Jess was staring at herself, even down to the patch of skin on her head where fur was replaced with a scar, after an encounter with a certain spiny plant as a cubling.

"We don't die on command" Maya/Furcot announced and slammed into Jess who was so stunned she didn't react for a fatal moment, as she was thrown off the cubble, her body crashing down over half a kilometre to lie dead and broken on the bottom of the world.

The fight between Ruumahum and Lausanne was brief but intense; eventually Ruumahum had his teeth around her neck, in such a manner that she put her head back and waited for the end, when Ruumahum let her go.

"Your person only sleeps, he is not dead. Take care of him and leave us to continue our journey" Ruumahum said breathlessly.

Born sat on the cubble agog at Maya, who had reverted back to her normal form. Tony had been right; he had not taken it well at all.

"Witchcraft" mumbled Born. Tony walked over to him and said "I would rather you didn't call my girlfriend a witch"

For some reason that seemed to work on Born "you mean you and she..."

"Yep" replied Tony, "and we really need to keep moving".

Born got up and they continued, albeit with Born glancing back at Maya a few times and shaking his head.

The remainder of their journey was uneventful, and they were soon standing on the cool grey metal structure. Tony reached for his comlock, as according to Maya they should be in easy range of the rescue eagle that would have inevitably been sent, but the static on the tiny screen showed that the comlocks had fared no better than the lasers in the humidity.

Ruumahum had disappeared, causing Born some concern, as the big Furcot was not normally absent from his side for long, and the open space was disconcerting and dangerous. However he would settle down, wait, and see what came to pass.

Several hours passed, and the Alphans had also become restless and concerned. Maya's calculations were never wrong, and to them the thought of being trapped on this planet was inconceivable.

Deep within the most dangerous lower levels of the forest Ruumahum was on a mission, though he would not have understood what it was, or why he was doing what he did. He stood before one of the huge pillars that formed part of the structure of the world, and pulled away a large green burl.

Hundreds of tiny roots retreated from the space that was left behind, and with a glazed expression he stowed the burl on his back, where a sticky substance was exuded into his fur that held it tightly in place.

Maya was the first to perceive the distant sonic booms of the decelerating Eagle that within a few minutes became deafeningly loud.

In the Pilot section Bill Frasier had never seen such abundant vegetation, as he guided the Eagle to the source of the automated signal. Soon a large clearing came into view, which was already beginning to be reclaimed by the unstoppable force of plant life on this world.

Born cowered at the noise and covered his head, but held his ground. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed Ruumahum had returned, but seemed to have something on his back. Then the noise of the descending spacecraft was all that filled his head.

Eagle six touched town on almost the exact spot Alan had landed Eagle four, over fifty hours ago. Bill thumbed open the door and stared at the filthy and dishevelled members of some of Alphas most senior officers. Even the normally immaculately coiffured Maya was a mess. Stood a little apart from the others was a short, dark skinned man, who was regarding him wearily.

"Doctor Livingstone I presume?" he said to Tony.

"Very funny Bill" Tony said wearily. The others managed a half-hearted laugh, except Maya and Born, who looked blank. "Where's Tate?" Bill added.

"He didn't make it" Helena replied.

Bill looked over at Born "and who is your friend?" he said.

"Bill, this is Born. He and his people live here, they looked after us and helped us back to this place after our Eagle crashed. It's a write off by the way, even if we could extract it from the forest. And Born, this is Bill Frasier"

"Hello" said Born awkwardly.

"We had better leave quickly" Tony added "The noise from the Eagles engines seems to attract some very unwelcome attention around here"

Nobody noticed Ruumahum on the far side of the Eagle. He removed the burl from his back and placed it against the superstructure of one of the crafts landing pads. It changed shape and colour to match the surrounding metalwork exactly. He would never remember this action.

The Alphans thanked Born for his help, and for basically saving their lives, and boarded the Eagle. The engines roared into life, and they lifted off, the forest rapidly falling away behind them.


The forest-mind had grown a little more today, as it felt a tiny part of itself on the rapidly accelerating Eagle, even as it now dimly perceived the moon beginning to leave its sphere of influence, it was confident in its plan.

The persons from space would visit other planets where conditions favoured life, and the tree-seed would awaken and parts would detach and seed other worlds. It would take millennia, but that was the slow way of the plant. For the forest mind had seen the future, and it was green.

Copyright (c) 2012. Reprinted with permission.
Space:1999 is (c) 1976 by Carlton International Media.
All stories are the property of their respective authors.

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