“He ran off,” Jens tells Saha, referring to Cooper. “We barely exchanged words. He dropped this sharpened stake. I guess his running off is better than if he had tried to attack me.” “Will he come back?” Saha looks curious. “I left all of his things untouched,” Jens replies, “he’ll want them. So, yes, I think he will be back, but he probably won’t stay. We should get back to the others in the morning. Let’s rest.”
They lie down on a grassy patch and stare up at the stars. “What do you see when you look at the stars?” Jens is drowsy but this is a question he’s never asked Saha before. “Pierre told me that some points of light are actually entire collections of billions of stars. ‘Galaxies,’ he called them. They are so far away that they appear like dots in the sky. And other points of light are planets, like earth is a planet. I believe Pierre, but it’s strange to imagine.” “Hmm,” Saha replies, on the verge of falling asleep. “I’m too sleepy to talk.” She slides next him, her body in contact with his.
Jens continues to gaze toward the heavens as a shooting star appears and crosses from west to east before fading. His breathing slows, and as his body shifts to using its carbohydrate energy reserves his temperature rises slightly and his skin changes from light to a darker shade of green. Sleep gradually overtakes him, and he does not awaken until dawn.
Clouds have moved in overnight, portending showers for later in the morning. Jens and Saha gather themselves, including the pointed stake, and begin the trek back to the others at the bottom of the hillside. Their encounter with Cooper still on their minds, they think about what they will tell the others. Their curiosity was met with fear, which Pierre predicted would happen, but no aggression. Both are struck by Cooper’s possessions, how dependent he appeared to be on providing himself shelter, light, and tools, none of which botanicus needs.
“How must it be to need all those things?” Saha wonders. “We carry nothing, and all we need is provided by the world around us.” Her color begins to pulse in waves of light and dark green, with flashes of ochre. “It must be hard to need so much, to be so vulnerable,” she continues.
“Yes. It’s curious,” Jens replies. “When we lived in Halifax, though, we were entirely dependent upon Pierre. The whole city is organized to fill the needs of the many people who live there. It seems that Homo sapiens must create elaborate systems to survive, but it must not have always been so. They are animals, like us. Well, not quite like us. They are born hungry and need to eat every day, and all their systems and technologies are designed to satisfy their incessant hunger – for food, wealth, and security. Pierre called them ‘hungry ghosts.’ It is a great burden they bear, and many of them suffer greatly.” His skin darkens.
“We are much freer than they are,” Saha adds. “The closest I can come to feeling a version of their hunger is when the nights are long, or clouds are thick for days. At those times my energy is lower. Do you think that’s how hunger feels?”
“I don’t think so, Saha,” whose name means ‘endurance,’ Jens replies. “Their hunger is more powerful than that. If it goes on for too long, they get desperate and will do anything to feed themselves. And their fear of hunger is just as all-consuming. They will kill each other, if necessary, to get what they need. Their fear and their desires to escape it, so Pierre explains, are responsible for almost all their suffering; they pass it down from generation to generation. Fear and greed drove Homo sapiens to drastically change the planet, eventually causing the extinction of most animals and changing the temperature. Fear and the greed that flows from it changed everything; it’s why we were created, to not be hungry, fearful, nor greedy. To live in harmony with the world instead of consuming it.”
“I remember hearing all that from Pierre,” Saha says, “but until our encounter with Cooper, it hadn’t sunk in, really. Being here in the beautiful, forested hillsides is so easy for us and so difficult for people like Cooper. What is going to happen to him and all the others like him, I wonder?”
“Some may survive. Homo sapiens are very adaptable, at least adaptable enough to have survived for many hundreds of thousands of years,” Jens takes Saha’s hands into his own. “We can try to help them, ones like Cooper, if they will let us. But you and I are different than our youngest. We were taught about the world by Pierre and Len, trained to use our minds to think and speak. Our children use words differently than us. I’m sure you’ve noticed. Sometimes they go whole days without using any words at all. At times I find it hard to keep up with them.”
“That happens to me too,” adds Saha. “Their ability to express themselves with gesture, color changes and mimicking the sounds of nature grows better with each passing day, it seems. Perhaps you and I are getting too old to keep up.” She smiles, her colors shift frequency, and she hugs Jens tightly.
“We should get back to the others. Are you ready?” Jens inquires. They both turn and begin to head back to the glade where from they first caught a glimpse of Cooper at the crest of the hill. After a short walk, they join the rest of the clan, all of whom are sitting in a circle cooing and chanting. Kaya leads them in their ritual. “We are one body,” she sings. “AhhhhOooooBbbb.” “AhhhhOooooBbbb,” the group repeats. Jens and Saha join the circle, adding their voices to the chanting. The ritual continues for a while, followed by a period of contemplative silence, after which all faces turn to Jens and Saha.
“The figure on the hill was a man,” Saha begins, “a man who calls himself Jim Cooper. He is not like us, not green-skinned, but pale, whitish-pink-skinned. And he came with tools and other objects he carries with him.” Jens holds up the sharpened stake. “He was making this sharpened stake when I approached him. He seemed scared when I got close enough for him to see me clearly.” The group’s color change becomes swifter, an indication of curiousness and some concern. “He dropped this stake and ran off into the trees, yelling something. I looked at his encampment. He was traveling alone. I left everything as it was; he needs his things to survive. I think he will gather his things and leave. I don’t know if he will be back.”
The young exchange glances and swift colors and seem excited. “I would like to see a pale-skinned man,” says Laughing Creek. “Me too,” says Waving Grass. They begin making sounds and shifting colors in their conversational way, sometimes laughing. It all happens too fast for Jens to follow, but he can tell that the incident interests the youngest in the group, in particular. At one point, almost all the color in Creek’s skin disappears, except for the lightest tint of green, her effort to display pale skin. The others begin to hoot and coo with admiration, as Creek invents a new color-based term within the growing visual botanicus lexicon of communication.
“How far and fast they are progressing,” thinks Jens. He turns to Saha, who is staring at Creek along with all the others. Her skin shifts to the pale color displayed by Creek, the new terminology for pale-skinned Homo sapiens now incorporated into her repertoire.
Meanwhile, at the crest of the hill, Cooper has quietly returned to his camp. He gathers his belongings into a bag which he slings onto his back and begins to make his way along the hilltop, moving away from the valley and the botanicus family. He is unsure of what he has just seen, thinks that he might have imagined a green-skinned man approaching him. “Perhaps it was a trick of the light,” he thinks. “If I return to Halifax, I will have to see what others think when I tell them about this,” he considers. “Or maybe I’m better off saying nothing.”