“How did you make these?” I queried, rubbing the sleeve of the woman nearest me in bewilderment. “We didn’t” he answered, then led me into the largest hut. I expected to find the cheiftan here. In fact, I half suspected it was the little old man the entire time.
Instead, I was greeted by an absolutely radiant beauty of a woman wearing the same plant based garments as many of the villagers, perched on a throne which looked to have grown out of the ground into the desired shape.
She was lovely in a way that I never knew a woman could be. Her face round and flush, her body well muscled from what I could see. Even beneath the jungle canopy, she shone like the sun, exuding health and power with every word, gesture and step.
“Welcome to our humble home” she said, smiling at me the same way the old man had earlier. As if we knew one another for years before this. “If you’re a missionary, please leave whatever book it is you mean for us to read on the pile over there.”
She pointed to a stack of various holy books in the corner on a table which apparently grew out of the ground into that shape, like the throne. How did they make it do that? Besides which, if they’ve been contacted, why don’t they at least have smartphones by now?
I asked her name. She frowned as if I’d done something untoward, but obliged. I couldn’t pronounce it, and elected not to make any more of an ass out of myself by trying. “I’ll just call you chieftess if that suits you.”
She smirked, betraying a hint of irritation in her expression. “As well you should. I didn’t just start calling myself a ruler one day, I’m the one who brought these people together. Who kept them united through hardship, guided them in their ways all these years, and protected them from harm. You will indeed address me as chieftess, and look at your feet when you do it.”
Fair enough. I then somberly introduced myself, though she seemed uninterested. “We know your kind. You come from the world of metal. There is no metal here. We have renounced that way. The world of metal demands aggression, duplicity and cruelty. In such a world, the only unforgivable sin is gentleness. Our way of life can only survive so long as it is kept separate from that world.”
It made some sense of why they didn’t lift any gadgets off the missionaries, or make use of the charity laptops regularly delivered to villages like these. By the sound of it they viewed such offerings the way I would view a dealer who offers me a free sample, hoping to get his hook in my mouth.
“You wear the shirts though.” She nodded. “It’s thoughtful of you to send them. We would be rude to turn them down. Please, no more of those chewy bars though.” She sounded just as adamant about that part as the old man before her.
I recounted how I crash landed in the jungle and found the InterNourish crate nearby. “I’d have starved otherwise. Though I agree, eat enough of those things and starvation starts to look pretty good.” She offered to feed me and have someone examine my wounds.
I accepted the offer of a hot meal but wasn’t keen to let the local witch doctor put leeches on me, or whatever passes for medicine around here. But for that matter, who knows what they eat? Their apparent matriarch seemed friendly enough I doubted that I was on the menu, but that didn’t rule out insects, monkeys and a great many other things I’d rather not inflict on my stomach.
Instead, it was a vegan banquet. The fruit and vegetables were unlike any species known to me however, which I put down to my unfamiliarity with South American ecology. That is until I bit into one of them.
“This tastes exactly like pork” I remarked. The fellow next to me handed me another. “It’s a copy fruit. Replicates the flavor of whatever you rub it on.” I rejected it. “That’s impossible. No such fruit exists, and I doubt if genetic engineering has come far enough to make something that sophisticated.”
He didn’t bother trying to convince me, just turned his attention back to his own meal as I continued munching on the green, meat flavored pod. The next one I bit into tasted just like venison. How can something like this exist?
“You could make a fortune exporting these” I mumbled through a mostly full mouth. “What would we buy with that money” the woman across from me inquired. “Meat?” I was struck at once by the absurdity of it, as she probably intended.
“Maybe you think we could use it to buy clothes.” Again, they clearly had the means to grow their own. I studied the jungle canopy around me until I spotted a tree with shirts, pants and slippers dangling from it. All looked as though made from leaves, but apparently grew into that shape of their own accord.
Various other trees also had useful products growing from them, as did a handful of nearby bushes. Knives, arrowheads, hatchets and other sharp implements, formed out of a rapidly hardening resin secreted by bright yellow bulbs on the bush behind me. I took care not to lean back too far.
Another grew what looked to be respirator masks, presumably how they survive gas storms. The next one over grew rope. Not the individual filaments one might weave a rope out of, but complete, pre-woven lengths of rope. What the fuck is all this? Some sort of illegal, off the radar field test for genetically engineered flora. I felt sure of it.
Who in the world is engineering plants at such an advanced level, though? Has biotech really come that far in the six years I was locked away? I could scarcely imagine it. I would’ve seen stuff like this back in Shenzen if that were true.
Even the huts, now that I thought to examine them more closely, were basically just huge dwelling-shaped plants of some sort. Like short, squat weeping willows but with long, wide, overlapping leaves that formed a fully enclosed shelter.
What I didn’t see were animal skins. None of their clothing looked to be made from animal skins, nor were they present in any of the decorations. The knives, arrowheads and such must’ve been mainly for defensive purposes then. I wonder how many intruders, less friendly than I, they’ve had to kill so far.
There was no cleanup after the meal as even the dishes were edible. Delicious too, though by now that was unsurprising. Who are these people? How did they get ahold of biotech this far beyond anything I’ve seen in the developed world?
To my chagrin, I was even able to take a hot shower. I took these people for primitives when I first arrived. What else are they hiding? The hot water came out of something resembling a five foot tall pitcher plant.
There was a veiny, ribbed green tube projecting from the top, then suspended from one of the overhead branches, terminating in the organic equivalent of a showerhead. Look at all those precisely formed little holes. Whose signature would I find in this thing’s DNA, if I had the means to sequence it?
It was still pretty warm out. I’d actually have preferred cold water right then, but could find no way to adjust the temperature. There were no protuberances resembling knobs or buttons anywhere on it that I could see.
“Feeling better?” I spun around to find their chieftess standing in the shelter’s opening. I covered myself, hot water still running down my body. “Come now” she urged. “Don’t bother with that. Shame is another vice from the metal world that we live without.”
She stripped out of her leafy green garments and stepped under the shower head with me. My eyeballs must’ve been the size of dinner plates. I no longer knew where to put my hands, so I held them up as if she had a weapon pointed at me. In truth, I was the one with a weapon pointed at her.
If she noticed, she gave no indication of it as she busied herself washing that long, thick mane of black hair which reached down to her knees. Eyes closed, she pointed to a seed pod of some kind on a little shelf just beyond her reach.
Stay Tuned for Part 38!