HUGO AWARD-WINNING SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY MAGAZINE
From the Lost Diary of TreeFrog7
Appendix 820 of The Forbidden Greeny Jungle Field Guide
This series of audio files was created by TreeFrog7
It has been automatically translated into text
Some clumsy beast has been stalking us. It only comes out at night and it moves with no regard for the bushes, plants and detritus on the jungle floor. It sounds big and is probably dangerous. And...I think it brings the smell of flowers with it. I can smell it now, like sweet lilacs. Does Morituri36 even notice? I wonder. Regardless of the creature's presence, he continues to compile information and I put it together and upload the finished entries into the Greeny Jungle Field Guide. That's our mission and our system.
"Down with ignorance! Upload information!" We are true Great Explorers of Knowledge and Adventure. Joukoujou willing, we'll survive this day, as we have the hundreds of others since choosing to dedicate our lives to informing the ignorant masses about this great jungle.
Whatever is stalking us, we'll deal with it when the time comes.
The God Bug is an insect of the taxonic order Ahuhu-ebe, which includes all beetles. It is common in the Greeny Jungle. Usually blue, sometimes green. When it feels the urge, it spontaneously multiplies, becoming two independent god bugs. As it multiplies it may make a soft popping or giggling sound. There have been rare cases where one has multiplied into four or five. They are docile, almost playful insects. Diurnal.
—written and entered by: TreeFrog7/ Morituri36
*note: For some reason, this common insect has not previously been listed in the Greeny Jungle Field Guide. This may be because the god bug is also found in the city. Or maybe this is another example of the field guide's incompleteness.
Everything here is disgusting. It rains constantly. The ground is always ankle-deep red-brown mud. There are a thousand types of biting and stinging insects. We have to sleep in the trees but the trees, bushes, and plants are noisy with buzzes, growls, snorts, screeches, clicks, whistles, too. Especially at night. The air reeks of moss, the syrupy scent of flowers, ripe palm nuts and rotting mangoes. And the jungle traps heat like a sealed glass tube held over a fire. The Greeny Jungle is a tough place to be while pregnant.
The heat leaves me light-headed. I vomit at least three times a day because of the strong smells. Yes, still, even in my eighth month. But though my sensitive nose makes for great discomfort, it makes for even greater documentation. You'd be amazed at how many floral and faunal specimens show themselves first and foremost with scent.
Yesterday, my nose led me to a tree full of those hairy pink spiders with striped orange legs. A year and half ago, Morituri36 and I uploaded a field guide entry on these creatures. We named them treebeards. They were our hundredth entry. Their bites paralyze your fingers and cause an intense headache. If these spiders ever became common back home they'd cause society to break down within a week. Imagine people unable to type on their computers!
Unfortunately, yesterday, I forgot that treebeards give off a strong smell that is very similar to figs. I thought I'd found a fig tree. I love figs, especially since becoming pregnant. The sky was cloudy. Any other day, I'd have seen all those webs. Instead, I walked right into them and the spiders descended on me like rain. Understandably, they thought I was attacking their home. Not good.
Morituri36 happened to be in the middle of one of his bouts when it happened. I had to save myself by running from the tree, throwing myself in the mud and dead leaves and rolling like crazy, the roots of some tree grinding into my back. Then I just lay there looking up...into the leaves and ripe fruit of a giant fig tree. The smell of real figs was all around me. Treebeards and figs, can you believe it?!
Only my left hand was stung. I have to type with my right. I'm left-handed so this has been very very annoying. I'll be better in a few days.
What a husband I have. He cannot even save his wife from bush spiders. What has this place made us into? But can I blame him for having dulled senses due to his junglemyelitis? Maybe. I have been exploring this jungle right beside him all these years. He has been the only human face I've had to look at, too. Yet the trees do not "close in" on me. I do not need to have the sun and moonlight wash over my face for at least four hours a day. My brain isn't muddled with an irrational fear of shadows that makes me rant and rave once in a while. And I'd have yelled stop before he walked under a tree full of treebeards. Idiot.
The sun is setting and I can hear and smell it again—the creature following us. It's definitely nocturnal.
There is a reason I've decided to break science-speak and enter this journal appendix in the field guide. My name is Treefrog7 and my husband is Morituri36. We are from a village in southwest, Ọnaghị agba nahịa, the people of the impossible beads. Of course out here in the Greeny Jungle, we cannot wear our traditional beaded attire. Far too heavy. Instead we wear plain light clothing (northern attire). But we never take off our beaded bracelets and marriage earrings. And there is always the bead of the soul. So that is us and that is all I will say on the subject.
I've begun uploading this audio series because after three months of exploration, we are closing in on something big. Very big. The very process of finding it should be documented along with the scientific information.
Altogether, we've uploaded two hundred eighty-eight new entries to the field guide. Our fellow explorers are proud. What we explorers do is dangerous work. Many of us die for the information we gather. Many of us return to civilization with only half our bodies, or half our minds, or ill in a thousand ways. Many of us are lost. Morituri36 and I are not lost. We know exactly where we are and we know exactly what we seek. We will find it. And human civilization will be changed forever.
I'll explain what "it" is when I'm in a less difficult place. The mud is deep here. My back aches. I need all my faculties for the time being. I wish Morituri36 would stop singing that song. "World of Our Own." It reminds me of home. He has such a beautiful voice. I wish he'd shut up. I wish my body would stop aching. I'm sick of being pregnant.
I was bitten by a clack beetle today. Their venom is itchy and the white spot it left on my skin is about the size of my fingernail. It shows up on me a lot more than it showed up on Morituri36 when he was bitten last year. I'm a much darker shade of brown than he is. Which means, yes, I get to complain about it. I don't mind cuts, scratches, bites, etc. But something about a mark on my skin of temporarily-neutralized melanin really bothers me. No matter. It should be gone in a few days.
Last night, as we looked for a tree to sleep in, we heard the creature. How long is it going to follow us? What does it want?
Shh. I have to whisper quietly. Morituri36 is beside me, too. Something just screeched very very loudly. An elgort? As soon as we can climb down, I need to find a certain seed... just in case. Morituri36 is too clumsy to handle them. He's looking at me, annoyed, but he knows I'm right.
We're still on the trail of what we seek and I believe that whatever has been following us is still on our trail, too. Maybe the elgort will scare it away, or better yet, eat it.
We're at the very top of a baobab tree. Morituri36 and his cursed junglemyelitis. If I fall out and die, our unborn child and I will haunt him until he joins us in death. Right now I can hear it below. Why is it following us? What's it after? And what is it? It's not violent, fast, huge or destructive enough to be an elgort. I'm glad it's nocturnal. Come morning, we'll be able to leave this tree and continue on our way.
We are searching for a mature CPU plant, so mature that we can actually download its hard drive. We call them M-CPUs. Acquiring a copy of an M-CPU's hard drive has never been done in all the history of exploration. BushBaby42, a close friend of mine, found one three months ago but she disappeared before she could download anything. She happened to send us the coordinates of her location just before she stopped responding to us, so here we are. We've come hundreds of miles.
It is hard for me to speak of BushBaby42.
I don't wonder what happened to her. She is an explorer which means it could have been anything. It is very often our fate.
On the M-CPU's hard drive will be unimaginable information, the result of centuries of gathering. Legend has it that these plants connect to networks from worlds beyond. Imagine what it knows, what it has documented. We will not kill or harm it, of course. That would be blasphemy. We won't even clip a leaf or scrape some cells. We'll only make a copy of what it knows. Our storage drives should easily adapt to fit the plant's port. Though our drive is most likely a different species of plant, they'd have to at least be of the same genus.
The CPU plant's entry does it no justice. The entry is a human perspective, ascribing significance to the plant because it is cultivated and used as a tool for humans, a personal computer. The true CPU plant grows in the wild, neither touched nor manipulated by humans. And this plant takes hundreds of years to mature.
Many of us have seen young CPU plants with their glowing monitor flower-heads that light up nights and sleep during the day. They plug into the network and do whatever they do. But an M-CPU? Nearly legend. What must BushBaby42 have felt gazing upon it all alone as she was? What must she have seen on its screen? And what happened to her? She could take on a man-eating whip scorpion with nothing but a stick!
Incidentally, the creature we heard screeching this afternoon was an elgort. Big as a house, with tight-black skin that shined in the daylight, beady yellow eyes, fast as the speed of sound, irrational and food-minded.
We dealt with it. Maneuver 23, specifically for the elgort. We lured the crazed beast to a tall strong hardwood tree. That's the most dangerous part, luring it in. We had to climb very very fast as soon as it smelled us. Once in the tree, as it reared up below trying to snatch us down with its tooth-filled trunk (a terrible sight in itself), Morituri36 dropped a bursting seed (which I picked this afternoon, thank goodness) into its maw. BLAM! Its entire head exploded. We now have meat for many days. Elgort meat doesn't need salt or to be preserved and it's naturally spicy; some say this is due to the creature's anger and intensity in life.
We thank Joukoujou and the Invisible forces for giving us the skill to protect ourselves. Unfortunately, The Forces of the Soil also protected from the elgort whatever creature is stalking us.
Today was all pain. In my back and lower belly. The stretching of ligaments. My belly feels like a great calabash of water. This baby will come soon. Really soon. I hope we find the plant first. The trees here are spaced apart, allowing the sun to shine down, so Morituri36 had a good day. He carried both our packs and even prepared breakfast and lunch—mangoes, roasted tree clams, elgort meat, figs and root tea both times. It is days like this where I remember why I married him.
It is night now and we are in a large but low tree with one wide branch to hold us both. We can see the sky. It's been a long time since we had a night like this. I think the last time was the day that our child was conceived. Not long afterwards was when he started coming down with the junglemyelitis. His ailment will pass; he's a strong man.
My gut tells me this is the calm before the storm. But maybe I'm just being melodramatic.
Dragonflies! Swarms of them. BushBaby42 described these just before she found the plant. We're close. But the creature is still on our trail. This morning, it left its muddy smelly droppings right at the foot of the tree, as if it wanted us to step right into it. I almost did. It was covered with flies and the mound smelled like the vomit of demons. It was so strong that I nearly fainted with nausea. Morituri36 had to carry me away from the mess. Just thinking about it makes me shudder.
Cursed beast, whatever it is. No matter how we try to glimpse it at night, it keeps out of sight as it blasts its angry flowery scent. Biding its time, I suspect. But when the fight comes, it will be shocked when instead of running we turn to meet it. We haven't survived the jungle solely because of luck.
But Morituri36 needs to remember that he is a human being, and that I am a human being, too. When he gets in his moods, he speaks to me as if I'm a piece of meat. As if I'm lower than his servant. He speaks to me the way the Ooni chief speaks to his wives. How dare him. I am carrying our child. I have done as much work as he has. And junglemyelitis or not, we are in this together. There is no need for insult.
"It dies well beforehand!" he snapped at me earlier today as we inspected a morta. We'd caught it this morning. A morta is a beautiful red bird with a long thin beak. When it dies, its dead body keeps flying aimlessly for days. Strange creatures but not the strangest in the jungle. Morituri36 seemed to think that their carcasses also rotted as they flew.
"Look at it," I calmly said, despite my rising anger at his tone. The dead morta was still trying to flap its wings. "This is the fifth one we've caught! No rot anywhere!"
He just huffed and puffed the way he always does when he knows I'm right. The entry someone uploaded to the field guide was simply wrong and needed to be changed. The fact is that mortas probably don't fly for that long after they die. Maybe a few hours and that's it. Certainly not days. If it was days, it would be infested with rot and maggots. But that wasn't what I wanted to find out most about the morta. I wanted to know what made it fly as a dead creature. Morituri36 and I agreed it had to be some sort of parasite with strange faculties. We just needed to run some tests.
But he wasn't so interested in answers today. He threw the bird corpse to the ground. "It is because it is freshly dead," he muttered. "Stupid stupid woman." Immediately, the dead bird hopped up and took off. I cursed, watching it go, wondering what microscopic organisms were working the bird's muscles and how intelligent they could be to do so. They were obviously using the morta carcass to search for food or a special place to procreate.
I wanted to slap Morituri36. How many pockets of information had we lost because of his temper? He and I are south westerners, the people of beads. Amongst our people, we say, "Many beads protect the thread." He knows this kind of behavior will not get him far. Maybe one day I'll push him out of one of the extra high trees he forces us to sleep in every night.
We didn't talk to each other for hours. Then we started seeing millions of dragonflies.
The land was still spongy and muddy. There were large pools of standing water. The air smelled like wet leaves, stagnant water and spawn. An ancient CPU plant would thrive in a place like this.
The dragonflies must have loved this place, too, but the huge swarms were because of the plant. CPU plants send out strong sine waves. These types of dragonflies are attracted to the electromagnetic waves like moths, mosquitoes, suck bugs and butterflies to light.
We'd always been plagued by a few of these sine-wave drinking dragonflies because of the portable we use to type in and upload information (including this audio journal) to the field guide node. Our portable is powerful. Even hundreds of miles from civilization, we can access the network and communicate with other explorers who wish to communicate. But there is a downside to everything. Large dragonflies zooming around our heads is one of them. The sine waves intoxicate them.
Usually, there are only two or three plaguing us. Now it's about twenty. They're like flying jewels, emerald-green, rock-stone blue, blood-red. A few of them are of the species that glow blue-purple. But none of them stay long. They zoom about our heads for a few minutes and then zip off, replaced by another curious dragonfly. Something bigger is attracting them, of course. I can't wait to see it. We don't even need BushBaby42's coordinates anymore. Just follow the dragonflies. I hope BushBaby42 is ok.
We cannot sleep. Morituri36 is sitting beside me. For once he's looking down instead of up. Even he can smell the beast's scent now. It's right down there.
The dragonflies are going mad around here. We can see the plant just starting to glow about a mile away, to the north. By the night, it'll be glowing like a small planet. But the creature is below us. Right at the base of our tree. I hope we make it through the night without a fight. Doing battle in the dark is the worst kind of fighting.
It's a moth! With a large hairy robust but streamlined body, thick fuzzy black antennae with what looked like metallic balls on the ends, and a large coiled proboscis. But it's wingless, the size of a large car and has six strong insectile running legs. And it uses its proboscis like a flexible spear!
It came after us just after dusk, while we were looking for a tree to sleep in. Out of nowhere you just heard the sound of branches snapping, and leaves getting crushed as it rushed at us from behind. Within moments, it speared me in the thigh and my husband in the upper arm. We'd be dead if it weren't for our quickness and how good we've become at climbing trees. I guess I have to thank my husband and his stupid illness. We've bandaged each other up. At least some of the bleeding has stopped, my husband's wound was worse than mine. So far no sign of poisons from its proboscis.
The moth's body shape tells me that this thing's relatives clearly used to be fliers. It's been following us for days and now, as we close in on the plant, it has become aggressive; it's guarding something. I can guess what it is.
We could kill it. My husband and I have certainly killed larger more dangerous beasts. But killing it might eventually cause what it protects, the M-CPU, to die. The death of centuries of information. No. We'd rather die. So instead, we're stuck in a tree a mile from the plant.
There's a problem. My water just broke. No, not now. Not now!
We're in another tree. About 200 feet from the M-CPU. Like everything around here, it's infested with dragonflies. Their hard bodies smack against my face like hail. The wingless moth is below, waiting, angry, protective. We're about to climb down and make a run for it. I hope my husband is right. Otherwise, we're dead.
The M-CPU's smell is overly sweet, syrupy, and thick. I've vomited twice up here. The labor pains drown out the pain from my leg. They are getting stronger and faster, too. Can barely control my muscles when the contractions hit. If they get any worse I won't be able to help myself, I'll fall right out of this tree. A terrible way to die. A terrible way for an unborn child to die. I hope my husband is right.
If I focus on talking into this portable, I will not die.
We're cornered. But we are lucky. We made it to the plant. Dragonflies are everywhere. Their metallic bodies shine in the plant's light. They make soft tapping sounds when they hit the plant's screen. Oh, the pain. My husband was right, bless his always sharp mind. The wingless moth indeed is guarding the M-CPU. And thus, now that we are close to the plant, the moth fears we'll harm it. If we don't move, the creature will not attack. It is not stupid. It can reason. Otherwise it would have killed us both by now... soon there will be three of us.
My body does not feel like my own.
The...M-CPU is as tall as my husband. He can look right into the flower head, which is a bulbous monitor with large soft periwinkle petals framing it. There is indeed a slot right below the head, where the green stem begins. The moth is a pollinator. Morituri36 says that below the disk is a tube that goes deep; only the proboscis of this wild creature could fit down there. It is a most unique but not an unheard-of pollination syndrome. But there are deeper things at work here.
Maybe the moth will leave come dawn when the plant goes to sleep. But the night has just begun. As the flower opens wide, so do I. The baby will be here soon. Why do the gods create this kind of pain when bringing life into the world? Why?
I was screaming when she came out screaming. My husband wasn't there to catch her; I wanted him to stay near the M-CPU's flower. So our daughter landed on the cloth he'd spread. Morituri36 laughed with joy. A blue dragonfly landed on her for a second and then flew off. I had to lean forward and pick her up. I cut my own cord. She is in the crook of my arm as I hold this portable to my lips and record these words. A beautiful thing.
The moth has backed off. Could it be that the gift of life was enough to stop this intelligent beast in its tracks? Or does it know what my husband is doing? Our storage drive fit perfectly into the port just below the flower head.
The flower is fully open now. It is sometimes good to be a man. My husband can stand up and watch as we wait for the download to be complete. I can only lie here in the mud and listen to what he tells me as I slowly bleed to death.
"Are you alright?" he keeps asking, with that look on his face. Don't look at me like that, Morituri36. Like I'm going to disappear at any moment. The moth looms. I've washed our daughter with the last of my husband's water. She seems happy and angry, sleeping, trying to suckle and crying. Normal. Amazing.
Just tell me what you see! I'm talking to Morituri36. Doesn't he think I want to know? As if I am not an explorer, too. Giving birth can't change that fact.
Morituri36, you know the portable can only record one voice. Here, take it. It's better if you just speak into it.
*Voice recognition detects Morituri36, a male, husband to Treefrog7, Greeny Explorer number 439, 793 days in Jungle, approximately 600 miles north of Ooni, 24:44 hours*
My wife is crazy. She cannot properly describe the situation we are in right now as I speak. The trees creep in on us like soldiers. She can't see them, but I can. Every so often, I see a pink frog with gold dots sitting in the trees just watching us. Treefrog7 doesn't believe me when I speak of this creature. It is there, I assure you.
But neither the trees nor the frog is our biggest threat. Treefrog7 is truly amazing. It is not that she just gave birth. That is a miracle in itself but a miracle most women can perform. No. It is that we have been stalked and hunted by this beast that our explorer ethics prevent us from killing and yet and still, this woman can concentrate enough to blast a child from her loins, even as the creature stands feet away, biding its time for the right moment to spear me in the heart and her between the eyes and then to maybe make a meal of our fresh and new healthy daughter.
But Treefrog7 wants me to talk about this plant that led us to our certain deaths. The M-CPU of legend and lore. The One Who Reaches. The Ultimate Recorder. Bushbaby42's obsession. How old must this M-CPU be? Seven, ten thousand years? Older than the plant towers of Ooni? I believe it's an true elemental with goals of joining its pantheon of plant griots.
My wife looks at me like I'm crazy...but who knows. You look into its head and how can you not wonder? Look at it, surrounded by purple sterile ray florets the size of my arm and the width of my hand. Its deep green stem is thick as my leg and furry with a soft white sort of plant down. No protective spikes needed when it's got a giant moth guarding it.
It's deep night now. And everything's color is altered by the brightness of the flower's head. An organic monitor is nothing new. It is what we know. We Ooni people have been cultivating the CPU seed into personal computers for, what, over a century? It's how the CPU plant got its name. And explorers have seen plenty of wild CPU plants here in the Greeny Jungle. Lighting the night with their organic monitors, doing whatever it is they do. But an uncultivated M-CPU? How did Bushbaby42 find it? And where is she? We've seen no sign of her. Treefrog7 and I will not speak of her absence here.
So back to the M-CPU's head. What do I see in it? How can I explain? It is a screen. Soft to the touch, but tough, impenetrable maybe. But I wouldn't test this with the moth looming as it is. And I would never risk harming the M-CPU.
The plant's screen is in constant flux. There is a sort of icon that looks like a misshapen root that moves around clicking on/selecting things. Right now it shows a view of the top of a jungle. It cannot be from around here because this jungle is during the daytime. There are green parrots flying over the trees.
Now it shows text but in symbols of some unknown language. A language of lines branching off other lines, yes, like tree branches, roots, or stems. The root-shaped cursor moves about clicking and the screen changes. Now it's a star-filled night sky. A view of what looks like downtown Ile-Ife, not far from the towers. There are people wearing clothes made of beads, south westerners. I know that place. My home a minute's walk from there!
The screen changes again. Now... most bizarre, the sight of people, humans but as I've never seen. And primitive shaped slow-moving vehicles that are not made of woven hemp but of metal. There are humans here with normal dark brown skin but most are the color of the insides of yams and these people have light-colored hair that settles. My wife looks at me with disbelief. It's what I see, Treefrog7. The legend is true. The M-CPU can view other worlds. Primitive old worlds of metal and stone and smoke but friendly enough looking people. Now there are more symbols again. Now an image of a large bat in flight. The roots of a tree. The symbols. A lake surrounded by evergreen trees.
My guess? This is the plant thinking and it is deep thought. Back to my wife.
*Voice recognition detects Treefrog7, Greeny Explorer number421, 793 days in Jungle, approximately 600 miles north of Ooni, 01:41 hours*
I feel better. It's been about two hours. Baby's fine. My bleeding has stopped. The moth is still there. Watching us. The download is almost done. I can stand up (though it feels like my insides will fall out from between my legs) and see the monitor for myself now.
It just showed something I've never seen before...a land of barrenness, where everything is sand and stone and half-dead trees. Where could this nightmarish place be? Certainly not Ginen. It's almost 2 am. In a few hours, we'll know if that moth actually sleeps.
Wingless Hawk Moth:
The Wingless Hawk Moth is an insect of the taxonic order Urubaba which includes butterflies and moths. It is the size of a large car, has a robust grey furry body with pink dots, pink compound eyes, and hearty insectile legs for running. Its antennae are long and furry with silver ball-like organs at the tips. Its proboscis is both a feeding/sucking organ and a deadly jabbing weapon. It is the pollinator of the M-CPU. It makes no noise as it attacks and is known to stalk targets for days that it deems hostile to its plant. Nocturnal.
—written and entered by: TreeFrog7/ Morituri36
I'm having a catharsis as my husband and I stare into its monitor and it stares back. I am looking into a distorted mirror. We are gazing into the eye of an explorer. It is like us.
My baby is beautiful. She is so fresh and I can see that she will be very dark, like me. Maybe even browner. Thank goodness she is not dada and that she has all ten of her fingers and toes. Think of the number of times in the last eight months that I've been poisoned, touched the wrong plant, been bitten by the wrong creature, plus I am full of antibiotics and micro-cures. Yet my baby is perfect. I am grateful.
If we ever make it home, my people will love her. But the wingless hawk moth is still here. The sun rises in an hour.
The M-CPU shows pictures and they are getting closer to where we are! Pictures of the sky over trees. Symbols. Clicking. The jungle at night. More symbols. I can see our backs! What?! The moth is coming, but slowly, it's walking. It is calm, its proboscis coiled up. But what does it want? Download is done. What...the M-CPU's monitor shows two eyes now. Orange with black pupils. Like those of a lemur but there is nothing else on the screen. Only black. Just two unblinking...Joukoujou help us, o! Now I see. Don't come looking for us! Don't...
*Voice recognition detects...Unknown*
They will never die. No information dies once gathered, once collected.
The creatures' field guide is thorough but incomplete.
I am the greatest explorer.
I am griot and I will soon join the others.
End of Appendix 820
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nnedi Okorafor is the author of the critically acclaimed novel Who Fears Death (a Nebula Award Nominee for "Best Novel"). Her YA novels include Zahrah the Windseeker (winner of the Wole Soyinka Prize), The Shadow Speaker (winner of the CBS Parallax Award) and Long Juju Man (winner of the Macmillan Prize for Africa). Her YA novel Akata Witch will be released in April, 2011. Okorafor is a professor at Chicago State University.
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ISSN 1937-7843 Clarkesworld Magazine © 2013 Wyrm Publishing. Robot illustration by Serj Iulian.