Forest (Chapters 1 & 2)
R. E. Bourgeois
(Translation: Daniel W. Koon)

CHAPTER 1

        The man rested in his seat in the Control Room studying the hyperspace-distorted stars. His boredom had chased away the last of his thoughts.
        With the ship in mid-voyage, the rest of the crew hibernating, the cubicle half lit, the screens opaque, each panel lit up after every once in a while, accompanied by muffled beeps which punctuated the monotony.
        He thought about the six weeks left until his replacement. He had just eaten and was downing a beer with hasty efficiency. He felt full but not satisfied. He would have liked a companion for his turn on watch.
        He remembered a bluish star reflected on the screens. During the ten weeks that they had swung past that star the activity of the crew had been a controlled chaos. That star had been the object of the trip. He recalled the long sessions of observing and the cyclone of active with which they had gathered their gigabytes of information.
        He raised the can and emptied it with a couple of gulps. He belched, stretched and propped his feet against the control panel; several panels winked their lights as if to scold him for this lack of couth and then flickered off again signaling that all was well. He decided it was time to sleep, but he was not sleepy. He gathered himself with clumsy carelessness and wandered through the Control Room. He had invented this stupid game of sleeping in a different seat every night. Now it was the captain’s turn. He sat and extended the seat backward to convert it into a bed. He prepared himself for sleep after taking off his shoes and noticed the captain’s smell permeating the fabric of the seat covering. He enjoyed the smell and his thoughts turned to sex during the time that it took him to fall asleep after yawning.
        The ship never slept. Its neurons traded packets of information, which then triggered actions in the physical body of the ship. It ran tests which activated an army of the directing computer’s peripheral sensors. These sensors were advance scouts among the independent mechanical units. Current surged through the network of circuits, activating mechanisms. The man had just completed two hours of sleep when a printed circuit in a conversion cell burned out due to a badly compensated overload. It was a device the size of a child’s fingernail. When it failed, it blocked the flow of electricity to the conversion cell, affecting the hyperimpulse driver’s cooling jacket system. The temperature rose and a sensor reported this. Immediately, the other, unaffected cooling systems received an additional surge of current. For another hour the devices fought against the anomaly. Finally a new circuit melted and the serpentine of another chiller failed to function.
        The computer sounded an alarm in the Control Room. The man awoke to the wailing claxon which filled the room. He had spent a long time in solitude and had just woken from an agreeable dream, but his mind was trained. He ran barefoot toward the control panel. With one hand he disconnected the alarm and with the other he pressed a switch that fully activated the Control Room. A checkerboard of lights bubbled over, accompanied by the alarmed beeps.
        He sat in the appropriate seat and flipped specific controls while he read what was happening on the screen. On the display the information formed itself in columns which gleamed like a tangle of obedient shiny ants.

EMERGENCY IN THE PROPULSION UNIT.
OVERHEATING IN COVERS NEXT TO THE SECURITY LIMIT.

        The man sought other data and obtained them. He leaned over the console and evaluated the situation.
        Sending a new surge of power to the cooler that still functioned might disable it. If the temperature in the hyperimpulse driver cooling jackets exceeded the security threshold, dangerous things would happen which would cause the internal components of the nucleus to fuse.
        Irreplaceable components.
        The man thought it over thoroughly for twelve seconds. Then he extended a hand, pressed a series of eleven keys and disconnected the drive. But he was not fast enough.
        Thirty-four seconds had elapsed from the instant that the alarm had sounded, during which the computer had continued to deal silently and efficiently with the ship’s energy system, but it could not stop two other cells from failing and charring dozens of meters of wires. The alloy of the hyperimpulsor covers began to melt. Short circuits and electrical fires broke out, engulfing the adjacent equipment. An entire subsystem went into critical dysfunction while the sleepy officer had been thinking about what to do.
        The man read all this in the devices. He noticed the appearance of the stars and realized that the ship was now out of hyperspace. He began to think clearly.
        He requested and obtained a new evaluation.

PROPULSION UNIT DISCONNECTED.
ELECTRICAL FIRES UNDER CONTROL.
OVERHEATING IN DRIVE COVERS SUBSIDING.
SUBSYSTEM B-03 OUT OF ORDER.

        When an interstellar ship ceases to move in hyperspace hundreds of years of voyage are suddenly placed between it and its destination.
        The man knew this trite platitude as well as he knew his mother’s name.
        He approached the hibernation controls and began the process of resuscitating the captain.
        He returned to his console and sat for what seemed like a long time but wasn’t. Once he shook off his stupor he requested more data. He needed to assess the damage so as to better inform the captain.
        Olga sat up. She sat with her forearms over her knees fighting against her tremendous weariness and shook her head. Her hair fell over her eyes and it occurred to her by chance that she needed to trim it. After months of hibernation she felt as groggy as a retarded mammoth. The pain in her groin warned her of the nearness of menstruation, her body waking up again after a long stretch of suspended animation. She thought irritably how it was always like this after sleep. She massaged her lower belly with her still weak hand and raised her head to see Tatsuya who had sat down at the edge of her pod.
        “Some problem?” she asked with a soft voice knowing that there must have been. If all had gone well it would have been Pedro who had woken her for the final stage of the trip, exactly three weeks before reaching Sol.
        “The propulsion drives,” Tatsuya informed her.
        Olga stared a few minutes at the impenetrable and frowning face of her junior officer. She sighed and noted that the pain in her ovaries was increasing.
        Tatsuya helped her leave her pod and led her by the arm to the sanitary cubicle.
        The shower was scalding. Olga leaned herself against the wall and arched her back until her vertebrae protested; she straightened up and enjoyed the hot water over her face and breasts for a while. Then she remembered her duties as captain and left the shower.
        Tatsuya handed her a thick towel. She rubbed herself lightly.
        “Report.”
        “Something happened in the propulsion drive. The computer sounded an alarm in the Control Room. It disconnected the hyperimpulse drive. I made a preliminary evaluation of the situation and I ordered your reanimation.”
        “Well done,” Olga conceded. Her tone was satisfied, but she wasn’t smiling. Tatsuya had come to know her well and knew that the two words equaled an entire thank you speech. “Right now everything is under control?”
        Tatsuya nodded. Olga headed for a locker and pulled out a few random items of clothing. She put on a jacket and a pair of pants that were baggy on her. She slid her feet into some flats and combed her hair with her fingers. She had never used makeup: she was one of those women who looked better without it.
        They set out through a dimly lit corridor. As they passed a cubicle which had served as the dining room, Tatsuya grabbed a platter with a pile of snacks and Olga grumbled a thank you as they continued toward the Control Room.
        Olga sat down and devoured the food in ten minutes while Tatsuya showed her the damage report on a screen.
        “Looks pretty respectable,” she said between mouthfuls. “It doesn’t imply any danger for the life support systems, but it does compromise the ship’s navigation.”
        Tatsuya agreed.
        “I wouldn’t say compromise so much as cripple.”
        “That’s yet to be seen. You certainly did the right thing to waken me. How long have you been awake?
        “Twenty-four hours.”
        “Go to sleep while I make a thorough evaluation of the situation.”
        Tatsuya took a sleeping pill with a cup of chocolate and reclined on an easy chair. Olga submerged herself in her work. For eight long hours she probed the entire body of the ship with a cybernetic scalpel, requesting information which paraded before her eyes in diagrams and columns of digits and functions. Test after test produced the same conclusion: the scope of the damage was considerable.
        Olga was quite stubborn. She activated the emergency system and tried to force the entire complex to function, but all she achieved was to set off a new string of red warning signs.
        “This shit is going to burn if it continues,” she thought angrily as she deactivated the system.
        She sat back in the seat and squirmed with a lack of decorum that did not bother the sleeping Tatsuya. She yawned a couple of times and arrived at the obvious conclusion.
        She approached Tatsuya and woke him.
        “Reanimate the others.”
        She collapsed into another seat and tried to sleep.
        The pods opened and the crew stirred like a nest of hatchlings.
        Pedro sat on the edge of his pod and smiled at Tatsuya, despite his cloudy eyes.
        “Give Evi a hand.”
        Tatsuya approached the tiny blond Evi. She was leaning on a forearm and breathing with difficulty.
        “How are you?” he kneeled next to her.
        Evi opened her eyes. She blinked and then closed them again.
        “I haven’t come out of it yet. My heart is racing and I’m numb.”
        Tatsuya poked around in the bag he carried under his arm and pulled out a tablet. He helped Evi to swallow it and rubbed her shoulders and arms.
        Jim got out and stretched like a cat.
        “Nice job,” he said, for no obvious reason, and he hurried off to help Hugo, who couldn’t manage to sit up.
        Albio finished rubbing his temples and opened his eyes.
        “Are you okay?” he asked Sailo, who had a high metabolism and was already on his feet and moving. He came over to Albio and massaged his back.
        “Thanks,” Albio murmured, breathing a little easier.
        They went to the sanitary chamber, helping one another. There was not enough room for seven persons, but in a ship of this type the crew did not lose time with false modesty. They crushed together under the streams of hot water rubbing each other with bath gel and bumping into each other like wet moles.
        Tatsuya contemplated the pathetic group of men and women addled by hibernation. They did not have an agreeable appearance. They were flabby, they had accumulated fat, they had sallow skin and an excess of fuzz on the face of the men and in the armpits of the women.
        Tatsuya let them play around for five minutes and then reminded them briefly that the captain was expecting them in the Control Room. They dressed in silence.
        “What does the great chief have to say?” Sailo asked.
        “There has been a disaster on board. Everyone to the Control Room. You and Jim, go down to the machines.”
        Hugo made a sign of disgust and touched his stomach.
        “I can’t go to the Control Room till I’ve had something to eat. I’m dying of hunger.”
        There were a few grumblings of agreement. Jim finished putting on his socks and shoes and passed his hand across his recently shaved chin.
        “Food can wait. If there’s been an accident, it’s more important that we find out how bad it is.”
        There was a chorus of protests which Tatsuya quelled.
        “She thought about that. There’s food already prepared. You can take a snack before we begin working. Now move!”
       
        At first it was a sterile wasteland lashed by the sun. The planetary system was young: the planet had only passed out of its molten stage a few million years earlier and was now ready to serve as a substrate, but there was little liquid and only a weak blanket of gases, the result of the sublimation of various elements.
        Some compounds of these elements had appeared over the course of millennia: microscopic forms of primitive life in the dry subsoil. There the environment was less harsh: there was darkness and no winds. The first pseudobacterial forms struggled blindly for eons, subdividing, reproducing by splitting and developing rudimentary systems of survival through chemotraphagic metabolism.
        As a byproduct of the primitive metabolic activity of these microorganisms, substances were formed which modified the chemical composition of their environment, making it more favorable to the lifeforms. Supported in that habitat of dusty viscosity no more than a few dozen square meters in area, the primitive forms of life began their millenia-long swim along the river of creation.
        Not all the microorganisms were identical. Different types evolving in difficult conditions developed superior and diverse organizations after thousands of years.
        The first great-grandchildren of Forest were some formations similar to wrinkled tubers, which developed as subterranean beings, lacking extremities, having only the minimum organs required for survival.
        The “tubers” were not the only ones among the organics. Other forms with a similar level of organization developed simultaneously. These were also primitive and elementary: mere conglomerations of tissues dedicated solely to survival and reproduction.
        During the time equivalent to a hundred thousand years this silent evolution continued in the subsoil. The “tubers” developed crude parodies of external pseudotactile organs, which extended like roots, seeking nourishment in the mineral molecules which yielded to their timid explorations.
        This capacity gave the “tubers” a slight advantage over their competitors, which had reached a quasi-animal stage: colonies of amoeboids lacking any notable abilities. This inexperience, combined with the identity of the necessary nourishment, determined that these forms would develop into forms that would cannibalize the tubers.
        The first ecological battle began. The tubers needed to better feed themselves and to reproduce more quickly. They undertook slow but radical mutations. In the course of an eternity of time the new forms of tubers became more and more capable of broadening their nutritive palette; when the time came they could assimilate the vital substances of other organisms, rework them and combine them with their own sap to create new chemical compounds.
        Their cells became more complex and organized, and new specialized tissues began to appear. Networks of canals developed in their roots and nutrients were leached away from the environment outside the “tubers”.
        These strategic weapons determined the course of the long evolutionary war. The tubers began to exterminate their rival forms of life, erasing them from the ecosystem or assimilating them as symbiotes; the final battle would unfold many millennia afterwards, in a different battlefield. Such a symbiosis signified the first great revolution for the “tubers”. Their evolutionary cycle began to accelerate, and varieties began to develop, reproduce and die in ever shorter intervals. From the fusion of both species and their later diversification arose the first pseudovegetable beings, equipped with rudimentary maintenance organs of survival; the rudiments of communication also arose, based in the flow of chemical compounds between “tubers”. New eternities passed and delicate organs were born in the outer tissues, organs sensitive to heat and cold, to salinity and acidity, to wetness and dryness.
        This rudimentary perception gave the “tubers” their first awareness of their own existence in contrast to external phenomena and to the pseudoanimal life forms, which they had not yet eliminated.
        The “tubers” then became capable of launching ever larger and stronger “shoots” which spread out in search of more favorable conditions. These stumbling exploratory baby steps led to the discovery of the surface of a totally new environment, the atmosphere.
        As instruments of detection, the shoots accumulated information; each tuber became, from that point onward, a tiny laboratory in which new genetic changes were brewed.
        It was a new battle, one of trial and error, but with a glittering prize awaiting the victor: world domination.
       
        CHAPTER 2
       
        When they entered the Control Room, Olga was seated at her post, between the console of the chief navigator and the calculator. She was drinking a cup of coffee.
        Everyone was comfortably at his station. Albio and Evi sat in the easychairs of Jim and Sailo, who normally worked at their own section, very far from the Control Room. Since they did not form part of the crew, the two astrophysicists were limited to observing.
        Olga quickly greeted her crew and put her cup on the console. She didn’t need to inform them of the disaster: Tatsuya had already told them.
        “Procedure,” she asked.
        Tatsuya pressed a series of buttons on his control panel.
        Pedro worked at his computer. Columns of digits appeared on the various screens. The official calculator tested them and appeared satisfied.
        “We are at the midway point,” he reported.
        “Still on the correct route,” Pedro added.
        “Everything appears fine despite the debacle, except that we are outside of hyperspace moving at a subluminar speed.”
        Hugo was analyzing something which the optical sensors had picked up. He received a reply from his console and reported it.
        “We are approaching a star.”
        “Wonderful news,” Pedro.
        Olga was weighing her options.
        She pressed the intercom to the engineering division. Sailo received the call on the other end.
        “How are things going?”
        “Not very well,” Sailo answered. “There is a mess of disasters down here.”
        “Can you repair them?”
        Jim’s voice replaced the engineer’s.
        “We can replace the circuits and reconstruct the cells, but if the covers of the core have been compromised, and I believe they have been, we can only replace them with the ship on the ground.” The voice of the master tech was as impersonal as ever. He was a stoic man. Olga admired him silently.
        “Are they compromised or not?” she asked.
        “I haven’t checked them yet, but I calculated the temperatures that they withstood without adequate cooling.”
        “Okay, I’ll assume that they have been then. That leaves us without propulsion.”
        “The cooling system could be repaired, but with the covers damaged, sooner or later a crack will open up.”
        Olga imagined the effects of a crack in the propulsion drive during its operation. She swallowed.
        “Right, Jim. Continue with your work and keep me posted.”
        She cut off the communicator and turned her chair to face her two officers.
        “You heard it. We don’t have hyperimpulse drive and it is impossible to repair the covers in space. My opinion is that the only option is to land somewhere in order to perform repairs. Any other ideas?”
        Tatsuya replied with a single shake of his head.
        Pedro scratched his forearm.
        “You’ve spoken. There is no other option.”
        “I can calculate an orbit to that star I told you about,” Hugo offered. “Maybe it has planets.”
        Albio cleared his throat and spoke in a sparse voice.
        “Haven’t you forgotten something?”
        “I don’t know what you are talking about,” Olga answered.
        “We’re here. I suppose that our opinion matters. I did hear a question, right?”
        “Does this mean that you oppose our fixing the drive?”
        “Of course not. But it doesn’t seem appropriate to me to needlessly prolong this flight.”
        “I believe I mentioned that the required repairs can not be done in space,” Olga said softly. Albio was irritating her. She had never liked him.
        “It is possible that the engineer would rather not fix the ship under such stressful conditions.”
        Olga drew a deep breath before responding.
        Well, in any event, the decision is mine, with the advice of the engineers. I have not asked your opinion because I don’t need it. Jim’s opinion, on the other hand, is that of an expert.”
        “This expedition was mounted with the sole objective of studying the star SK-28516.”
        “And of perfecting your theory about it,” Olga said sarcastically, “but that does not mean that the officers of this ship must subordinate their work decisions to yours. Your job is to study the star; ours is to take you and Evi there and to return you to Earth. Please allow us to do that.”
        Albio bit his upper lip.
        “Disasters and propulsion drives are not our affair. This ship is equipped with the latest technology. I do not think it is impossible to repair the damage in flight. I demand that you do so.” Albio said.
        Evi shifted in her seat, restless.
        “When you wish to speak out of turn, Albio, please speak for yourself.” Evi shot back.
        Olga was surprised by the harshness with which the astrophysicist had spoken. Although she had the same scientific rank, Albio was her boss, or at least responsible for the research project.
        “You can’t demand anything with respect to this flight,” Olga said, “I am the captain.”
        Albio stood up and brusquely left the Control Room. Evi sat flustered and began to get up.
        “You may stay,” Pedro said.
        Evi cast a shy glance at the faces of the three officers and accepted the offer.
        “Thanks.”
        Olga gave her one of her rare smiles and considered the matter resolved. Still, the brief confrontation with Albio had given her an idea for a compromise solution.
        “Tell me more about your famous star,” she asked Hugo.
        The mission calculator touched several buttons and obtained a reading on his control panel.
        “Activate the navigation control monitor,” Pedro suggested, “we need more precision.”
        “I’ll do it,” Tatsuya offered, and he worked diligently for a few minutes. “I have it.”
        Olga watched Tatsuya’s panel from over his shoulder.
        “It seems accessible. Give me a visual image.”
        Tatsuya activated the screens and they displayed the image of an orange-red sun.
        “It has two planets. The inner one is too close, very hot and tiny. The outer one appears more suitable: slightly higher gravity than Earth and a hot climate judging from its distance to its sun.”
        “There is no other choice,” Olga said. “I am going to give the engineers four hours to complete their damage assessment and make superficial repairs. Then we will try to make the system function. If it doesn’t run then we will execute an operation of approach and descent.”
        Pedro remained in the Control Room.
        Jim and Sailo had grimy faces and broken fingernails. With a special meter they tested the power in some energy lines which they had repaired after abandoning the ones charred by the short circuit. Their profession had not prepared them for getting their hands dirty and most of the repair had been strenuous. After bringing two peripheral systems on line, they were exhausted, partly as a result of their hibernation.
        Sailo sat on a transphaser box and wiped his forehead with a grimy hand.
        “Have you seen your face?” Jim asked him. You look like a coal miner.
        Sailo smiled in his exhaustion and his teeth stood out against the grime of his face.
        “I suppose Olga will be satisfied with what we’ve done.”
        “She couldn’t ask for more,” Jim said. “It should give us all the energy we could want in the secondary propulsion units without running the risk of it flying to pieces.
        Sailo nodded.
        “If they don’t find some proper spot to land this jalopy I don’t know how we could change the covers.”
        “They’ll find it,” Jim said, “we are going to test the remaining networks. I think the interface generators got fried as well.”
       
        Olga was leaning on the air mattress in her tiny cubicle. In a ship of this type, the cabins of the crew were reduced to the condition of boxes, but an adequate climate control system made them bearable, even cozy.
        The ship’s condition and her own menstruation had given her an acute migraine.
        Evi knocked on the window of the door with her knuckles and entered. Her eyes were red.
        “What happened to you?”
        Evi sat down on a footstool and rubbed her eyes before speaking.
        “I wanted you to know that... that Albio’s opinions are not my own.”
        “You didn’t have to tell me.”
        “The only thing Albio wants is to test his theory. Return to Earth and show the whole Astrophysical Institute how brilliant he is and how the old doctors were wrong.”
        Olga nodded.
        “He is not a bad person,” Evi continued. “Just too stubborn. He doesn’t take other people’s criticisms seriously.”
        “I know the type,” Olga said as she rubbed her forehead, “but I can’t worry too much about that. Everyone is entitled to his own opinion.”
        “I just talked with him. He seems to regret his outburst.”
        Olga smiled inside. She could forgive the way in which Evi tried to excuse Albio. She understood that she didn’t do this to flatter her boss behind his back but because the short outburst had really affected her. She wondered if she was sleeping with him.
        She hugged Evi.
        “Everything is fine. There is no more problem with the propulsion drive. And don’t worry about other people’s arrogance.”
        Evi smiled and kissed her on the cheek.
       
        In his work cubicle, Albio pressed a switch and obtained an image of the star on a portable screen.
        He sat back in his chair and studied the incandescent sphere, lost in thought. He found himself thinking about his first years at the Astrophysical Institute, the thesis he had written during his sleepless nights, consulting hundreds of researchers and forming the edifice of this hypothesis step by step. He had defied all the accepted theories, scaling steep cliffs of abstraction to arrive at his hypothesis. He had unveiled it before the most brilliant Institute of astrophysicists in all the Earth. He had managed to win them over to his reasoning, he had read the approval on the faces of the old professors, but then Nimayer had asked to speak.
        Nimayer was a consecrated man. At age forty he had announced his Theory of Simultaneous Concatenation, the act which brought him to the rank of Doctor of Sciences and had won him a seat in this small Institute. Thirty years later he had before him a young man, freshly graduated, reading a work which -- one had to admit -- did not lack in conceptual precision. But that work, obliquely, and as if in passing, negated an entire branch of the aged and most respected Nimayer Theory.
        After asking for the floor the old man realized that he didn’t give a damn about the correctness of the hypothesis. The only thing he desired was to crush this audacious young man, his entire intellect had become inflamed with something that he dared not recognize as hate but which was very similar to it.
        He spoke with measured cadence, placing the full weight of his prestige behind each argument, smiling with the indulgence of a professor correcting a brilliant but insolent pupil.
        Albio remembered angrily and bitterly the courteous way in which Nimayer had ridiculed him. How he was later forced to wander through several institutions trying to prove his theory without receiving any support. Nimayer’s opinion weighed too much in the scientific community. Only one stern and independent man, the director of prospecting ships for the Center for the Study of Exterior Worlds, had paid any attention to Albio. After an entire evening listening to him explain his theory, he had offered him a ship to study the star’s surroundings.
        And now a stupid accident in the final year of the journey had come between him and the glory of his triumphant return.
        Albio pressed a switch and the image vanished from the screen.
       
        The surface and the air were the new threats, as were the rudimentary forms of animal life which wandered through the stony ground, born alongside the tubers and evolving from their common origin but along a different genetic path.
        Sharp pointed stems were the only timid shoots. Generations passed as these organic periscopes analyzed the environment and gradually adapted while they struggled against qualitatively new aggressors: a merciless sun which charred its tissues and gases corrosive and prejudicial to its metabolism. Laborious, self-induced mutations were necessary to modify specific metabolic functions. In the end, the first alert shoots, multiplying among themselves, generated pseudotentacular organs which took on the task of preparing a new habitat.
        Just as had happened millions of years before, when the tubers had first created favorable conditions in the subsoil, the pseudotentacles took charge of secreting internally synthesized acids at the surface in order to make the ground more apt, or to partly dissolve the rocks, as well as removing those that were in the way.
        Simultaneously, their nutritive needs and excretory organs suffered radical changes. Leaves appeared which began, first in a primitive fashion, to exchange gases with the aggressive atmosphere.
        These leaves were the cause of another struggle. From the outset they represented a succulent dietary option for the tiny, armored and sluggish animals, which until then had depended on the organic plankton underneath the surface. The first attacks on the leaves provided the tubers with a second sensation -- still unconscious -- that of pain.
        For now the tentacular organs and the alert shoots possessed enough specialization; all that was needed was a steady stimulus and rudimentary reflexes to turn them into weapons.
        They learned to withdraw them quickly and, what was more important, to stab and hit. Also, by trial and error, they learned to separate the poisonous alkaloids synthesized by their bodies for offensive purposes. The war was long, blind and cruel. During the long fight, over millions and millions of years, the tubers were experimenting, learning and testing with each new roll of the dice. In stabbing the tiny animals with their sharp shoots they were not only executing a reflexive and primitive act of killing an enemy which had devoured their tender leaves, but they were also analyzing the new organic substances in the protoplasm of these creatures, substances which at first they rejected but which they then began to process and recombine with their own, modifying their own metabolic processes with each discovery.
        The constant chemical changes of the animals and of the terrain led these organisms to try to modify the atmosphere, since its toxic gases still plagued their shoots, even if the leaves had already begun some timid attempts to alter it. Having fertilized the earthen substrate and having developed defense mechanisms against the fierce teeth of the tiny animals, all that remained to tackle was the corrosion left floating in the air. Their long and fortunate evolution had converted them into very resourceful beings. They already dominated an area of a few hundred square kilometers of lowland surrounded by crags.
        With the patience and constancy appropriate for vegetable life, they began, timidly at first, to liberate gases synthesized in their interiors to neutralize the aggression of the atmosphere.
        That was the coup de grace for the decadent animal life. The modifications in the surrounding atmosphere, united with the purely physical struggle precipitated the extermination of that species.
        After hundreds of millions of years the “tubers” found themselves alone. There was no one left to dispute with them their supremacy of this sterile planet.
        Now they could devote themselves exclusively to their self-perfection, to extending themselves and to dominating all which could be dominated.
        Forest began to grow
        Its reproductive processes became more perfect, its tissues and organs grew more diverse and specialized. They needed to expand themselves and overwhelm the surroundings with their presence, so varieties of the species appeared, which grew, developed, germinated and died in the space of hours. The buds and reproductive units became more resistant and light: a nearly weightless pollen. Traveling with the winds they took root in more distant locations. Already Forest enjoyed the most perfect adaptation to a hostile environment where it had developed its existence.
        Each vital unit of Forest was then able to better intermingle with its brethren: billions of bushes were interwoven and recombined. The roots meshed in a vast and unique subterranean system where they chemosynthesized their nutrients and transported them in a flood of vital liquid over great distances. They conveyed responses to stimuli and sensory signals.
        The primitive tubers were now true nervous centers capable of an embryonic neurovegetative control of this immense organism, but still lacked any consciousness.
       
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