In the book, “Crystal Soldier” by Sharon Lee, and Steve Miller, we meet Jela. Jela is an M-Series Soldier, grown in a lab for the sole purpose of fighting the Sheriekas, a mysterious foe that threatens life throughout the galaxy.
Rumored to have once been human, the Sheriekas sought perfection. Once found, they looked back on the imperfection they’d left, and life itself became anathema. They enslaved creatures of energy to their will, and forced them to destroy planets, entire star systems, once filled with ships and commerce, gone silent, empty as if never there. The Sheriekas were unbeatable, Jela and his comrades pebbles thrown at a tsunami.
Jela and his troop had gone to investigate a planet the Sheriekas had taken an interest in, but had somehow failed to completely destroy. Inevitably, the enemy arrived, and Jela sacrificed himself to allow his troop an escape.
It’s after crash-landing on the desert planet we meet M. Jela Granthor’s Guard, Generalist. While crashing, Jela had aimed for what appeared to be structures. He landed farther away than he’d intended, and so marched for days toward the strange forms. As he approached, Jela realized the shapes his ship’s computer couldn’t identify were impossibly large fallen trees, stretching alongside an empty riverbed for as far as the eye could see.
Where one tree had fallen, another had grown, and fallen, onward along the riverbed, sometimes even falling uphill and across the dry river when something in the distance blocked the path. After some time marching alongside the fallen giants, Jela concludes they were sentient, and feels a kinship with them, seeing in them the same fight he was so familiar with. The trees had somehow held the planet against the Sheriekas. The trees were somehow the answer.
After several days of marching beside the trees, they’d began to grow shorter, as if they hastened their pace. When Jela finally reached the lake he and the trees had marched toward, he found it dry… Tired, weak, and almost out of food, he tripped over the last fallen tree. Almost, he closed his eyes for his last sleep, but a flutter of green behind his eyelids caused him to open them. A small bit of green hid behind a boulder to his side.
The tree was small, shorter than even himself, and showed signs of thirst, its leaves browning on some edges. Jela collapsed beside the tree, leaning against the boulder. He took two of his remaining 3 water pods, drank one, and broke the other over the base of the tree, and fell asleep against the rock.
Jela woke having made a decision. He’d determined the little tree was more important than himself, and so he’d eat the last of his food, drink the last of his water, and curl up to die at its base, reasoning his body would provide nutrients to his comrade. Before he could, he smelled something sweet, and looked up to see a seed pod growing among the branches, the leaves around it brown.
He stood, and contemplated taking it, thinking the tree too important for him to take that which would cost it energy. With that thought, the branch that held the pod snapped, and fell to the ground. Point taken, Jela bowed low to the tree in thanks, and picked up the pod, to find it fall open in his hand, revealing 4 kernels, their aroma causing his mouth to water.
The first kernel tasted incredible, and with it he felt energy return, and his muscles relax. By the third kernel he felt himself slipping into a trance. With the fourth…
He was a giant. On a planet ruled by giants. He felt the wind moving through his leaves as he pulled water from deep within the earth. He heard the dragons, who made their home in his canopy, soaring through the sky, felt the small claws of fledgling dragons dig into his bark as they discovered, and stretched their wings. He felt the cool breeze turn hot, and carry sand, and the water deep in the earth dry, and the final dragon fall from the sky. He remembered marching, one growth after another, growing, dying, growing, onward along the empty river, all the while holding back the darkness, the wrongness that tried to consume his home.
He remembered reaching the lake to find it dry, like he knew it would be. And remembered the cry of a metallic dragon as it fell from the stars, chased by fire.
Jela woke with the image of his crashing ship in his mind, and his own echoing laughter sounding like the memory of a dragon’s cry.
Jela promised the tree that if his troop came to his rescue, he would dig it up, and carry it to a new planet where it could grow, and repopulate its race.
His troop did arrive, and he convinced them to wait to lift until he’d dug up the tree, and carried it onboard.
That tree is the Ssussdriad. It is rumored, in the Liaden Universe, to be the tree of life. To me, it represents the unfaltering will of life to live, and the ideas that will see humanity survive into the future. Our duty is that of Jela, to protect those ideas as they grow.
Protect the ideas and someday they will protect mankind.
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