The Atlas Grove - The Crown of Aether
Rachel ran across emerald moss past the monolithic columns of ancient redwoods. She triggered her radio, 'I'm almost there.'? Her fingers tightened the last strap on her climbing harness as she ran; the springy forest floor absorbed her footfalls. Rachel entered the grove and stopped in the midst of her friends, her peers.
The botanists stood compassed by dozens of trees that rose four hundred feet and blocked the sun. A bright green field of moss stopped at dark, grooved bases thirty feet wide.
She looked up at the sun shot canopy. "Get me the bow.'"
Laura stepped towards her. "Rachel-- don't do this. The rest of us can handle it. You shouldn't climb when you're tired.'"
Don't climb when you're tired, honey. Rachel's husband Thomas said that a lot too.
Rachel tied fishing line to an arrow; loaded the shaft in the bow. She aimed for the lowest main branch, one hundred and twenty feet above. The missile hummed through vast green space. It slid through the air trailing silver thread, crested the enormous branch, and fell back to earth.
"Nice shot.'" From Laura, quietly.
Rachel tied the fishing line to the end of a four hundred foot length of red rope. She pulled lengths of fishing line through her hands and the rope shot up, a red trickle on green field. The rope streaked, snaked over the jutting branch and returned to her hands.
"Ray-- for gods sake.'" Laura said.
"I'm doing it.'"
"Let me go first, at least."
Tom always wanted to go first, to plot and set anchors for others. "One mistake and you die. Go slow. Don't hurt the trees. Think!'"
"You're not going at all.'"
"What! Don't even--'"
"When I'm up, I drop rope and that's it. You guys take over from there.'" She looked at a coil of six hundred feet of red rope on the ground; just half an inch thick, it would support three tons and weighed only ten pounds. "Plenty of rope. Pack it for me.'"
Rachel looked at the G.P.S device. Her target strobed on the screen. She looked straight up into the green canopy; imagined the path she would climb.
"Hand me the radio.'" Rachel slid the dangling main rope through metal rings on her harness.
"You check the teeth on the brakes?'"
"Yeah.'" Rachel said.
"Watch for rope frays on the anchor loops.'"
She clamped the metal ascenders on the rope. Green light struck her face as her feet cleared the ground.
Rachel lofted the rope and looked at brown towers that overwhelmed the senses with weight. This rank of breathing monuments lived while Caesar drank wine.
She and Thomas chose the name for the place themselves. It's written in books. The oldest living organisms on earth; named by them.
Rachel pulled herself up the rope.
Tom and Rachel spent hours in each individual tree before deciding on names.
"That's Anteros.'" Tom's choice.
One tree that possessed a monstrous vitality she named Nox.
She pulled a few inches, set the clamp, pulled; set the lock on her harness to rest. The thin rope vibrated with tension from the weight of her body.
The high pitched twitter of red tails winked through the green.
"What about this one, dear?'" And Rachel had answered "Kronos.'" Then Proteus. And Rhea and Aether and--
Rachel soared in the dappled green ether of the Atlas Grove.
She climbed the rope until the main branch loomed five feet over her head. She hung in shadows.
She uncoiled a twenty foot length of rope, one end of it weighted. The rope blurred in her hands and she hurled it at the next branch. The rope streaked toward the branch, arched over it and returned to her hands. She clipped the end of the rope to her harness, clamped the ascenders on, and pulled herself up fifteen feet to the next branch, wide as a car; hung suspended beneath it.
Though immobile, these trees did not rest in the environment-- they shaped it.
Rachel cast the the rope to the next hulking branch-- and the next.
Rachel climbed the staggering three hundred eighty foot grooved pillar of struts called Aether.
She crested three hundred twenty five feet and saw the target: a natural, fifteen foot wide shelf brilliant with dazzling yellow and white flowers and blue huckleberry bushes. She approached, settled on the spongy, sun-dappled plain.
She triggered her radio, "I'm here.'"
Rachel removed the six hundred foot hank of rope from her pack and spilled it down each side of the branch. The men and woman below would do the rest.
She knelt on damp moss and looked at blue huckleberry bushes, glittering white and green lichen.
Tears streamed down her face.
Bright light pierced the wild canopy and cast luminous darts across the corpse of her husband Thomas. He lay on yellow and white flowers; killed by a falling branch shed by the crown of Aether - a widow maker - a redwood bomb.
Rachel nursed a climbing harness around Thomas - sightless; clipped the rope to his limp form - oblivious. She pulled him gently to the breach and pushed her husband into the void and-
Tended by ancient brown and green totems, Thomas fell slowly to earth.