On the Importance of Touching a Tree

Saturn V SA-506 rolled out of the Vehicle Assembly Building

Old Home

Only seconds remained until she would be launched into space at a hurtling pace. She heard the countdown through her helmet, but it was distant. Her mind was preoccupied with her own past and future. She remembered her childhood. She thought about all the fun times she had on this planet, but also all the embarrassing little mistakes she had committed. She was sad, she had to leave this planet, but there was no other choice. She had to. But what would be on the other side?

“20 seconds and counting!” – “t minus 15 seconds, guidance is internal” – “12 … 11 … 10 … 9” – “ignition sequence start” – “6 … 5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1 … 0″ – ” all engine running … lift off” – “we have a lift off 32 minutes past the hour!”

She felt a rumble going through the rocket, she felt her body shaken, and she was shaken. Was this supposed to happen? A tear started running down her cheek as she and her rocket slowly started to move off the ground with incredible power.

15 years earlier she had been a teenager. She lived in a small house with a disproportionally big garden, somewhere on the outskirts of a small German town. Her life wasn’t poised to be a normal one in the first place. She had to fight for her right to be who she was anyway, but she couldn’t have known what history had in store for her.

“Mum, can I please go out with my friends tonight? Dennis is celebrating his birthday, and we wanted to see the new Apollo movie at the cinema.”
“Well, have you done your homework?”
“No, but it’s the weekend I can do it tomorrow, and I’ll still have time to spare until Monday.”
“Okay fine, but don’t stay out too long, I’ll expect you back by midnight at the latest. Even if Dennis is turning 16 tonight, you’re still 14, and you still live in this house.”
“Ugh, yeah, fine, mum!”

Laura wanted to be older. She wasn’t excited about her adulthood, but then, finally, she would be able to escape the control of her mum. Her mum was just too worried anything might happen to her precious son. Laura didn’t want to be precious. In a rare accident of obedience, Laura decided to start her physics homework before the evening commenced.

Physics was one of her favourite subjects, well, to be fair there weren’t many subjects she disliked. There were some teachers she couldn’t stand, but other than PE school was manageable for her. Her biggest issue was boredom. If not for her mum constantly checking her homework as if she was still a 3rd grader, she probably wouldn’t have done her homework ever, but who knows.

Her physics teacher seemed exactly as excited as her about the upcoming rocket trials, her only homework for physics was a question about rockets. She loved rockets and she was listening intently when Mr Lampert talked about the ongoing programs to open up a final frontier in space. She could feel his excitement and she was excited as well. She caught herself staring out of the window into the garden. She often beat herself up about the lack of focus she would bring into projects. It made her feel even more inadequate than usual and she worried she would never fit into society.

She looked out of the window again. It couldn’t be. Was she just hallucinating? She felt tired from her day at school, it was probably just her mind playing tricks on her. She looked down again onto her empty page and her physics textbook. Where was she? Yes, rocket propulsion. So rockets apparently flew by pushing out a somewhat constant stream of expanding fuel, and then, well, because of Newton’s principle that every force causes an equal and opposite reaction, well that would push the rocket forward, or well upward. But wasn’t this too easy? Well, yes, the mass of the rocket would change. so it wasn’t just two unchanging masses pushing against each other, the process of pushing would change the mass of the pushed object. Oh no, this smelled of differential equations – Wait! There it was again, something in the garden had moved again. And it wasn’t supposed to move, was it? Trees don’t just move on their own, do they?

Laura was thinking if she should go out and look for herself what was up. Maybe it was all just an illusion. A weird artefact of diffraction or a lapse of her judgement, she had had a long day after all. Going out there could have cleared up her mind, after all, it was probably nothing, or was it? She looked out of the window again. She squinted, but she couldn’t see anything.

Still wondering, what was out there, she returned to her physics homework, just to be rudely interrupted by her mum: “Jonas, come down and set the table, dinner is almost ready”. Oh god, did Laura hate this name, but was there anything she could do to convince her mum to not use it anymore? Probably not. To her mum, Laura was just a delusional child, not willing to accept what nature had brought upon her.

“Have you had a look into the garden today?”, Dennis asked when he picked her up after dinner.
“Eh, no? Well, there was … why do you ask?”, Laura replied.
“Ah, I just thought something looked different when I walked along the fence. Just as if something had moved that shouldn’t, but it was probably just my mind playing tricks on me.”
“Wait, Dennis, no! I saw that too. Earlier, when I was doing homework, I felt like something had moved, but I thought my mind was just playing paranoid tricks on me.”
“Always, the good child doing homework, but maybe we should check it out”, Dennis mocked her with a grin.
” I don’t know what if it’s something dangerous…?”
“Come on, it’s just your backyard what dangerous thing could there possibly be?!”, Dennis urged her.

Dennis grabbed her hand and pulled her onto the little path that led around the house into the garden. Laura wasn’t really enthusiastic about the garden. She struggled a bit, but the fight she put in was more for show than a serious effort to stop Dennis. She secretly liked Dennis’ spontaneity, she wished she wouldn’t always worry about every single possible consequence of her actions, but she did. What if it was a dangerous animal? What if her parents would think they were crazy? What if Dennis found something embarrassing about her in her garden? Wait, what could a garden even tell about her.

They hadn’t moved more than a few steps, they hadn’t even passed the kitchen window when Laura’s mum screamed: “Jonas, don’t forget your jacket. It’s going to be cold today!”. Dennis stopped and looked at her slightly baffled. Laura just rolled her eyes. “When is your mum finally going to use the name you picked?”
“I don’t know. I’ve tried to tell her before, but…”. A tear ran down Laura’s cheek, glistening in the orange glow of the street lantern in front of the dark house. Dennis stepped closer on the slightly damp planks that made up the garden path and held her tight.

The second part of this story is First Contact. The whole story is collected in Touching a Tree.

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