On an Earth crippled by climate change and the decimations of its rain forests, some remember the only tribal traditions they know, in an effort to restore the Earth to what it was. Will saving Earth mean killing some of those who caused a lot of the damage? Could the traditions of Earth mix with the advanced technology of humanity? The moral compass could swing one way, or the other… – lp
In the heart of Earth’s savaged Amazon rainforest, Luciana kneels, bathed in crimson moonlight and mushroom bioluminescence. She has prepared for this for so long, the rite of passage that will lead her to womanhood, to potential motherhood too, if she so chooses it for herself.
She inhales and exhales deeply, in time with the drumming, and feels its beat inside her chest. She holds tight to the silver pendant her mother left her, the tree of life etched onto the metal pressing against her palm. The soil is cool and yielding against her knees and the top of her feet, centering her, giving her place and purpose in the world. Incense fills the night air, carried on a gentle breeze, and her cape flutters like the gossamer wings of a moth.
Their spines perfectly straight, Izabel and Kiania kneel across from her in the circle, two girls who have always teased her for being different. She tries to ignore them and wishes Anton—her only real friend—was doing this with her. But, he is deemed unfit to take the rite yet. More focused on old computer books than the planet, the Elders said, but they don’t know him like she does, about how much he cares for the bruised planet too.
Cloaked in umber-sapphire lyocell, the Priest LightLeaf utters the words she had Anton say to prepare her for this perfect moment.
“Let Mother Earth become part of you. Your lungs are the trees around you, the bronchi their thick roots running deep into the ground, the bronchioles the branches of fungi that run for miles, that tie us to the earth, that bring light in the darkness. Breathe as one with nature, as Father Moon anoints you with his light that penetrates your skin. Let it flow into your veins, control the rhythm of your heart.”
The crackle of burning and heavy smoke hit her then. But it isn’t incense now: it is the rainforest in danger like days of old.
Ripped out of her meditative state, she thinks, No. This is not how it is supposed to happen. This can’t be happening. She whispers in despair, A floresta está queimando.
Shouting and screaming fill the rainforest. Luciana stands up with shaking legs. An orange glow swells from the perimeter of the Tree Cathedral. Shaking, she looks up at the Moon, its face desecrated with tech and lunar cities, and scowls. Izabel and Kiania’s faces turn bone white, and they scramble to safety.
Luciana picks up an algae-light and runs in the opposite direction, towards the flames, cloak sweeping back with long black hair from the unshaved side of her head. Smoke floods her lungs, stings her tearful eyes as the Amazon burns around her.
Luciana sits on a small jetty on the outskirts of the old city the night after the fire. Her mother’s pendant dangles from her neck on a hemp necklace, hanging heavier than before. Reclaimed by nature, the Rio Negro Bridge glimmers in moonlight from a distance, foliage wrapped around its structure, vines with white flowers dangling from rusted cable wires.
She doesn’t tilt her head any higher to the monstrously thick cables that reach to the moon’s orbit, a sight that will only make her muscles tighten again.
Instead, she turns toward the river, calming her. Bioluminescent blue-green plastivores scatter and gather in the water like a burst of reflected fireworks; she imagines it is a private show just for her.
A stomp of footsteps sounds behind her, the creak of the boards as a heavy-set person approaches.
She has the urge to jump into the water, to swim with the recovering water life, but it wouldn’t be a good idea at night.
“I thought I’d find you here,” Filipe says, the man that had taken care of her since a child. Filipe’s voice is as gentle as ever.
“Well done, Felipe. Guess you really are as clever as they say you are,” she says too sharply, regretting it in an instant. After her father left and her mother was taken by sickness, she owes Felipe so much and he didn’t deserve her anger. But, loved ones always face the brunt.
“I thought also that you might respond like that. Anton helped me find you, though, so I’m not clever really.”
“He’s dead then!”
He flashes a smile before his face returns to his usual solemn shape. “I’m sorry the ceremony was ruined. But it doesn’t matter, Luci, you are already a Child of Mother Earth, a Protector of the Planet.”
“Thanks for saying that, even though it’s not true.” She sighs. “I’m sorry, too.” Luciana turns to him, eyes stinging, and Felipe’s face is warm and welcoming. His dark brown eyes reflect the moonlight and her silhouette. She wraps her arms around him and feels his body freeze up. “Why did they have to ruin it? Why do they have to ruin anything?” Tears run down her cheeks. Her body tremors.
He hugs her back, awkwardly but somehow perfectly.
“You know why, Luci, and you must know it wasn’t personal. LunaCorp will do anything to get workers,” he says, looking up at the night sky’s white orb, though she refuses to follow his line of sight, nestling the shaved side of her head in his giant chest. “It was almost impossible to save our planet, and it will be impossible for them to build another civilization without more people.”
“If they fail, it’s their fault! For abandoning this planet.”
“Maybe you’re right. But maybe, most of the people who left only did so out of fear, fleeing from the dirty cities that could no longer sustain them.”
She had run into the forest that night of her ceremony, but those who had started the fire had already gone, probably never even planetside as drones dropped nanobombs in their name.
Luciana imagines what her mother might have done if Manaus was a different place, without its protective nature, if she were given the chance to start again on the Moon. “Felipe?”
“How can you be so annoyingly magnanimous all the time?”
His deep laughter cuts the air. “It’s hard work,” he says, winking at her. “Believe me!” Cicadas thrum through the magenta night. Water gently laps against the jetty’s wooden posts. “Your mother would be proud of you. And she’d be prouder too, if you let it go. Holding onto anger for them will do no good.”
Her finger traces the tree’s outline on the pendant.
“She’d be proud of you, too.”
He doesn’t seem to know what to say to that, his mouth moving without sound.
“It’s okay, you don’t have to say anything. As you said, they will do anything, and that’s what I’m worried about.”
“Me too,” he says, the biggest man Luciana has even seen. She didn’t think Felipe was worried about anything. Unease breathes coldly down her shoulder.
Luciana dips a toe in the dark water, and the plastivores spiral around it in a bloom of bioluminescence. She is thankful they evolved to survive on water microbes. Of course, like many of the planet’s people, the plastic is long gone.
The plastivores suddenly retreat as one. “Look. Something’s wrong.” She points at the water and turns to him.
“Yes,” he says, his eyes turning hard as stone.
The serenity is shattered like a brick thrown in the water. In the distance a fire rages, exactly where their habitat is.
“Bastardos!” Luciana curses, stomping around the smouldering ruins. “The spineless Luna Lichen! They knew it was our home, and they still burnt it!” She kicks the blackened remains of a chair, so lovingly carved by Leo, the village’s carpenter, years before, and now useless.
“Hey, watch your language, Luciana,” Felipe says. “You know your mother never liked swearing.”
Glaring at him, she snaps, “She isn’t here anymore! And neither is our home, Felipe.”
“I know, I know,” he says, a faraway look in his eye. “They must be desperate to do this!”
“They must pay!” she says, scowling at the space elevator that cuts through the clouds.
She looks around at the numb people, the crying and hurt faces, as they look over their once homes, searching for salvage. The Reclaiming Priestess, EarthShadow, nods at her from across the smoking buildings, and Luciana touches the ground in respect, turning away from her stare for fear the priestess might read her thoughts.
Morena wails in the ruins of her herb garden, her baby Luca crying in her arms.
There is no sign of Anton, but she knows his bugcams would have recorded what happened and knows where he will be, how angry he will be, too. Her jaw tightens.
“Don’t!” Felipe pleads as she starts to walk off.
“Don’t what?” she says, turning to him. The bitter taste of acrid smoke is in her mouth and the acid taste of fury.
“Do something stupid, Luci. Vengeance solves nothing, you know that. It’s not our way. We protect, not fight.” His expression is pleading.
“Maybe it solves some things!” she shouts and runs off into the rainforest, leaving his slow and heavy footfall behind, and her chest burns with injustice.
The sweeping cam drones buzz through the night, their spotlights past them now. Luciana and Anton hug the ground as they watch them disappear into the distance. The giant cable tethers of the space elevator above them sing in tortured song from the breeze.
She clasps the pendant with sweat-slick hands.
“We’re good,” Anton says, as they stand. He clicks the buttons that release the shutters on the algae lamp. The darkness is broken again by its bioluminescence.
Uma luz na escuridao, Luciana whispers to herself, reciting a line from a prayer everyone in the village knows, hoping they won’t get caught.
“Are you sure this will work?” she asks, an edge to her voice.
Anton tuts and blows his long black hair out of his face. “Course it will work, Luci. Triple checked it and everything.”
Anton usually calms her, but she feels tension building inside her stomach.
He opens his fist. Bathed in green light, a robobug unballs itself. It circles around his palm like a metallic beetle, and its antennae telescope a couple of inches. Black-purple armour covers its circuitry, and sharp teeth poke out from its head. “These little guys will put the elevator out of action in no time once I give the signal, feeding on the cabling like termites on redwood.”
“Okay, good. Let’s go then, we need to get out of here before the cam drones do another sweep.”
Anton pulls out more of the robobugs from his backpack. Luciana can’t help but think how sweet but dangerous they are as he places them on the giant cables made from millions of braided carbon nanotubes. The self-replicating bots scramble up the cables and into the clouds.
“Do me proud, little guys,” Anton says, waving them away like a father.
“Come on,” she says, grabbing him by the shoulder. “You can message your babies later.” They rush back to the Amazon’s rainforest, keeping a watchful eye at the night sky.
A drone buzzes somewhere in the distance. Luciana rubs the sweat from her palms onto her black cape. Spotlights prick the night behind them.
“They’re coming! Quick!”
She races ahead of him, and Anton picks up his pace with her. The rainforest’s canopy is so close now as they rush to it. The drone’s buzzing getting louder.
They reach tree cover. The spotlights probe from above, but can’t penetrate the canopy of the recovered rainforest.
Luciana is soaked in sweat, breathing deeply.
“That was a close one,” Anton says, breaking the silence, and heading off.
Something suddenly occurs to her. “Wait.” She pulls him back. “We have to warn the maintenance staff in case it puts them in danger. Can you hack into the satellite stations to broadcast a message?”
“Can I? Only in my sleep, Luci.” He sweeps his floppy hair to one side of his face nonchalantly.
Luciana flashes him an oversized smile. “You really are amazing.”
“Well, I guess I—”
She rolls her eyes. “Let’s do it. But don’t tell them to start feeding until I send the message!”
“Fine, fine. But you’re right, LunaCorp deserves this. What have anyone of the lunars done to help us since they left us here?” Anger burns in his eyes, narrowed in the moonlight.
It doesn’t take long for Anton to hack into the satellites with his array of computer consoles and whatever they are as they hide in an abandoned lookout post. Rewilded, the building is covered in snaking vines inside and out, and it’s hard to separate them from the cabling Anton has installed in the place.
“Here, take this,” he says, passing her a gaffer-taped microphone that has seen better days. “Say whatever you gotta say, I’ll solarcast the footage, and then I’ll hit Pac-Mite mode using this!” He holds some kind of small detonator that has large green button in its centre.
Luciana nods, not really getting what he means. She tries to find her words, controlling her breathing. Felipe’s face flashes in her mind. “People of Earth, my name is Luciana, born and living in Manaus. To those who have stayed to care for the planet that has cared for us and to those who have left for a new life, I have a message for you. The footage you can see now is my home burning, an unprovoked attack on our people by LunaCorp.” The drone’s cam zooms in one of the drones, so the serial number fills the frame. “There, look at their logo on their weapons of destruction!”
Her mouth runs dry, but she pushes on. “The war of fear LunaCorp has waged against us will end today. No longer will we allow your nanobombs to destroy our homes, like you did mine. No longer will they burn the Amazon to scare people to abandon Earth and join you on the Moon. If there are any maintenance workers on the space elevator, we will give you twenty minutes to get clear to safety. This will be your only warning.”
The image of the smouldering village run through her mind, of Luca crying with his mother in the ruins, and her muscles tighten. “Anton, pass me the device.”
Heavy footsteps echo from the metal stairs outside. She spins as the door is kicked open. The dust blocks the view.
“Luciana, you have to stop.” The voice only relaxes her a notch as she recognises it.
“No, Felipe, we have to do it. It’s too late.”
Anton looks at the giant shape of Felipe, and freezes, weighing up his options.
“Don’t you dare!” Felipe growls.
“Hey, I won’t, Boss. It was her idea, not mine. I’m cool either way,” he says, holding up his arms.
“Give me the device, and get out of here before I change my mind,” Felipe tells him.
“Don’t do it, Anton,” she says.
“What? Sure, sure. You’re the man. Here, take it.” He gives Felipe the robotbugs detonator, squeezing past him and out the door.
“Anton, you fool, he wouldn’t harm a fly!” Luciana shouts, but he is already running down the steps.
Felipe carefully takes a step closer. “Luciana. Please let me tell you a story, and after I finish, I promise I will give this to you, so you can make your own choice. Okay?” His voice has returned to its usual gentle and infuriating tone.
“What? Fine, I will hear you out, and then we cut the space umbilicals—they have drained Mother Earth for too long.” She folds her arms, eyes burning at him.
He clears his throat. “There was a woman I knew, the bravest person I ever met, someone who would do anything to protect the planet. Anything,” he says, and his eyes glisten. “The war against the planet began a long time ago, as you know, and it has been a long fight, with so many lives lost through it, long before LunaCorp existed.”
He rubs his face and looks more tired than she has ever seen him. “She thought she was doing what’s best, filled with vengeful thoughts after her husband went missing. A corporate crime, everyone knew it, he had spoken out too much against the oil companies, had plans to destroy one of the last oil fields in North America.”
She opens her mouth to interrupt him, and he put his palm up. “Please let me finish, Luci. She told me she had to finish his work, that she couldn’t live with herself—wouldn’t be able to look into her child’s eye if she didn’t do something to protect the planet they would inherit. That’s what she said. So, she rounded up people she knew and trusted, and she organised the attack against the oil fields herself.” He paces the room, trying to pick his next words carefully. “The oil burned; I saw it from a distance. The fields of fire. I helped her, even though I knew it was too risky. Instead, I should have convinced her to not go ahead with it, I should have done more… I failed her…”
“So what if you knew some woman, what’s that got to do with me or any of this?”
“Because that woman was your mother, Luci.”
“What…?” Winded by his words, she reaches for the pendant around her neck. Her throat tightens. The breath is ripped from her lungs.
“They caught her like they did your father…” His voice jagged with emotion, he continues: “I found her there, on the ground, coughing up blood after she had taken multiple shots. She died in my arms, and as she passed me her pendant, I promised I would keep you safe, and tell a different story about how she died, until you were old enough to hear the truth.”
She stands, dizzy, and paces across the room. “No, it can’t be true. She died of cancer, you told me so many times! My father left her when she had me. She didn’t die like that,” she cries. “She didn’t!” But she sees the truth held in his tear-filled eyes.
“I’m sorry, Luci, I really am.” He holds out the detonator. “Do what you need to do now, you are old enough to choose.”
Luciana wipes her eyes and snatches the detonator from his giant hands. “You lied to me, you lied! How could you? You’re no different than LunaCorp lying to the people up there. The same people that killed my parents.”
He hangs his head. “No, they aren’t the same, but it will be the same result if you do this. Not this way,” he says, tears running down his cheeks as much as hers, “I don’t want to lose you, too.”
“You already have,” she snaps. But looking at him there, the man who had raised her from the time she was 5 years old, the strongest man she has ever known, as frail as any human being… And in that moment, she knows she will never abandon him. As much as she would never abandon Earth.
With a shaky hand, she puts the device down on the scuffed metal table. “At least the kid you knew,” she tells him, holding out her hand. “Come on, let’s go.”
His smile is giant and warm as the sun. He takes her hand in his.
“So much for Mr. Magnanimous,” she says.
He shrugs, and they both laugh as they leave.
“Guess things didn’t turn out too bad after all,” Felipe says to Luciana as they sit on the jetty with Anton, watching the sunset together after a hard day’s work. Their village is almost rebuilt now, the strength of their community never stronger.
A cool breeze blows over them from the river. Luciana breathes in deeply, savoring the moment. “Yeah, it didn’t, and you can take that smug look off your big face about it.”
“Hey, it was all you that did it, not me. You did the broadcast that so many people heard.”
“True that,” Anton says, pulling his head out of a retro tech book, one of his robobugs sat in his lap, twitching its antennae.
“I guess it was me who did that, but I couldn’t have done it without help,” she says, “Sometimes, the truth cuts through the curtain of lies up there.”
The people of the Moon never knew the tactics LunaCorp had used, who were facing countless charges after the exposé that Luciana help break right open. Now, the people saw LunaCorp for exactly what they are. Of course, they have a team of the best lawyers to help them try to worm out of it. But the tide has turned against them now, whatever happens.
The three of them leisurely watch the sun dip into the horizon as the plastivores join them, colouring the water, circling around the reflected white orb.
Touching the cool pendant around her neck, Luciana looks up and silently thanks Father Moon for their guiding light, thanks Mother Earth for protecting them.
She stands. “Come on, Anton. It’s nearly time. The ceremony will be starting soon for us, and this time, nothing is going to go wrong! Hope you’ve practiced your breathing again this morning, Anton.”
“Oh sure, sure. Always,” he says, blowing the hair from his face and gently placing the robobug into his pocket.
Luciana smiles with Felipe and they all head off under the protective canopy of the rainforest.