In Ishtar’s Garden

by Ingrid Garcia

* – outside-in – *

While his body soars through a surreal, white-pink sky, Baretta’s mind keeps drifting. His hyper-gossamer wings gleam a static purple; his stun exoskeleton is charging up fast. Under his wings, the broccoli-like expansions of the Fractal Forest glow a defiant green. As if the hectic flora isn’t giving him enough headaches already, reports have come in of aggressive seeds floating around.

Those seeds are damaging the organic sensors that keep track of the new forest’s development. In clear skies – there seem to be fewer sulphuric acid clouds, of late – Keeper Baretta has been dispatched to inspect the situation. Close by, his partner Vanessa glides in a figure-of-eight holding pattern, charging her stun capacities.

“It’s been crazy here,” Vanessa says in the staccato Venusian lingo, “ever since the Bimini impact.”

“A coup,” Baretta says in the same, almost infrasonic voice, “it tripled our amount of water.”

“Yeah, but we’re not really keeping the explosion of life around it in check.”

“Well,” Baretta muses, “I’m not sure if we should.”

Vanessa signals that her batteries and capacitors are fully charged. Baretta’s are at 89%. His computer implants error-free and ready. Screwfly it, he thinks, this should do. As Vanessa acknowledges his engage code, they dive into the Fractal Forest.

hedgehog scene break

Graphene-spun, hyper-gossamer wings shape-shifting from flight to fight mode starting a trajectory-perfect descent into a bio-fractalscape that would have weirded out Benoît Mandelbrot himself. Life on Venus has been kick-started at an altitude of fifty kilometers, where the pressure is Earth-normal. Genetically engineered, hygroscopic sponges imbued with improved photosynthesis floated around the planet on a searching seek-and-create mission. They evolved from small archipelagos of floating sponges photosynthesizing the basics for miniature ‘fractal forests’ into the highly advanced flora Baretta and Vanessa witness today.

Fractal tendrils extending into both the solar wind and cosmic radiation signify the relentless competition. Heat from the nearby Sun, cosmic rays from far-off, long-ago supernovæ not deflected by the planet’s negligible magnetic field power a frantic change behavior. Everything is in flux. Nothing remains the same.

Imagine a coral reef cuttlefish, continuously mimicking its environment as it moves from hard to soft to brain coral, over sand, over rocks, over mud. Always adapting its shape and colors to its environment, becoming well-nigh invisible. Then imagine the LSD-reverse situation, two human bats-out-of-hell moving through an environment that, like a massive school of intertwined, fractal-freak, color-mad, shape-shifting octopi, continuously adapt and reach out to their environment – a manic cosmic cocktail of high-energy particle bombardments, irradiating solar microwaves and the odd, souped-up solar flare.

Since energy is abundant, the fast and the furious outcompete the lush and the lethargic. Constant change is here to stay, sings the New World Man, and the Fractal Forest embodies the lyrics. Shifting patterns spike the fractalscape as multi-hued, fragile-looking yet razor-sharp flowers bloom in the celestial radiation soup. Caught in the crossfire of a burning, passionate Sun and a cold, glaring Universe, the transplanted life squirms, squeezes and squeaks, but survives, and strives to thrive, like flies diving into a cosmic soup that’s constantly developing new ingredients.

Out of control, Baretta thinks. No, more like denying the very concept of control itself. Yet, as they get closer, it appears it’s not just life exploding everywhere. Several areas are unmoving, bleached, wrinkled or a dry, sickly yellow, like a badly polarized white starkly contrasting the eruption of colors around them. Baretta points some of those out to Vanessa. She acknowledges them, but gestures that they should get to the last remaining biosensors first.

Baretta curses his curiosity. Only twenty-four biosensors left, out of the several thousand – and counting – that monitored this fast-growing forest. They quickly home in on their location.

Gleaming, metallic blue trapezoidal shapes are criss-crossing the area in what seems to be a semi-random pattern. Neither Baretta nor Vanessa have seen these seed-like life forms before. Quickly they decide to let Vanessa gather as many of the remaining organic sensors as possible, while Baretta checks out the cobalt seedpods.

A butterfly net would come in handy, Baretta thinks, but he only has a few sample canisters. On top of that, the deep blue seedpods move swiftly in the high winds, easily evading his efforts at capture. But his skills improve with effort, and after a number of near misses, he finally manages to trap one in a sample canister.

This changes the behavior of the other seedpods. At first they were, if not outright ignoring him, at least avoiding him. Now, they seem to notice him, and attack him as one.

This both baffles and amuses Baretta, who nonchalantly swats the first one away with a quick swipe of his free hand. Strangely, it stings a little. He didn’t expect to feel anything at all through his tough flexi-harness. More are coming in, but he moves upwards out of this fractal branch.

The cobalt seedpods follow him and a few crash into his feet, legs and lower back. The sting in his hand won’t go away. It gets worse. It begins to burn. It hurts so bad he can’t suppress a scream, which immediately alerts his partner.

“What’s wrong?” Vanessa asks. “Are you alright?”

“One of those seedpod things stung me,” he says, “and somehow got through my armor.”

“That’s crazy. I’m on my way.” She has already picked up the remaining biosensors and just finished taking a sample of the strangely decaying bleaching-white fractal bushes nearby. With a swift turn she heads in his direction.

As she gets close to him, more of his screams pierce the radio waves. “What the hell? They’re getting through my leg armor, too!”

Vanessa fires a broad volley of stun grenades into the cobalt seedpod cloud. This slows them down, and Baretta starts up his auxiliary jet and rockets away. Vanessa follows as she hears his cries of agony. She’s already called in emergency help.

When she catches up, she sees several holes in the harness around his feet, legs and lower back, as if etched out by acid. Instinctively, she douses those with her drinking water. It seems to offer relief.

Thankfully, their harnesses aren’t pressure suits as the atmospheric pressure at this altitude is close to Earth normal. Their armor protects against CO2 poisoning, the inadvertent passage through a sulphuric acid cloud, the improbable – but not impossible – strike by high altitude lightning and the unexpected things the fast-evolving Fractal Forest might throw at them.

After all the stings have been doused, Baretta feels much better. He insists he’s fine and can get back home on his own but Vanessa won’t have any of it. She signals for the emergency vessel to hurry up. It arrives a mere five seconds after Baretta has passed out.

* – inside-out – *

…inside the huge, floating halls of Seed City, Quadrant 4, Baretta’s a caged animal. He does not belong here…

…a twenty-four hour cycle is just too short, as the high winds blow them around Venus in ninety-six. The bio-rhythm tries to adapt, but is not helped by the forced Earth-normal schedule…

…no rest behind a cappuccino. A dapple-skinned kid bothers him, rekindling memories of his old Trojan Bubble project. ‘Lateral thinking that should be applied here.’ Boy, that bubble imploded…

…it set back the Outer Cool to its sedate, conservative ways. And the Inner Hotspot seems frozen in a phase-transition, a paradigm lost before the shift…

…but who is poisoning the Fractal Forest? Eco-fanatics from Keep Venus Pristine? Industrial conglomerates staking claims? Renegade scientists unleashing untested triple-helical molecules? …

…chomping down asparagus, black beans and onions like mad, he’s hot here, cold there, and uncertain everywhere in between. Why all this Sulphur-rich food? What’s happening? …

…a paragon of paranoia: intrusive spyware, combative botware, uroboric wormware. I spy the spy spying with my third eye…

…a master plan by a cabal of corporations, megalomaniacal government schemes, surreptitious infiltration by secret services, an evolutionary cul-de-sac…

…certainty in the sea of doubt. Evidence in the ocean of supposition. Order in the chaotic fractal cloud. Chaos in the order of superposition…

Pow – more heat than light
Energy spiraling up
A triple helix

…hot on the trail. Burning suspicion. Fierce conviction. Feverish mind. Feverish body. Fever. Fever, retriever, fever, deceiver, fever – in the true believer. Burning, churning, learning, yearning until the world becomes one big entropic blur…

hedgehog scene break

Baretta awakes and finds himself in a hospital bed. He’s sweating like a pig, babbling like a madman and crying like a baby. As realization dawns, he shuts up and blinks the tears from his eyes. The nurse next to him bears a striking resemblance to Vanessa. She’s not wearing a uniform. OK, it is Vanessa, wiping the sweat from his brow.

“How are you?” She asks. “Feeling a bit better now?”

“But I was busy getting to the bottom of it,” Baretta has trouble letting go, “I …”

“What bottom?” Vanessa looks worried, “you’ve been delirious for days. With periods of sleepwalking fugues where we lost you.”

“Delirious? Fever?” He’s slowly coming to his senses. “But how?”

“The cobalt insectoids that bit you,” she says, “used a nasty combination of aqua regis and a virus we haven’t been able to nail down yet. I suffered the same fever–”

“King’s water?” Baretta is flabbergasted. “So that’s how they got through my armor.” As the rest of her words filter through. “You had a fever, too?”

“Not as bad as you,” she says, “and you’ll feel better soon. Much better. But we’re in quarantine, until they found out why.”

“Crazy insectoids,” Baretta wonders, “how could they evolve such targeted, specific stuff so fast?”

“Even crazier,” Vanessa lifts her index finger, “just think about it. They’re fauna, not flora.”

* – paradigm-shift – *

Swooping over the Fractal Forest, Baretta feels it has changed. Not in its usual, frantically evolving ways, but qualitatively changed. He feels it in his bones, in his stun skeleton, a faint buzz, like the onset of an announcement. Not just the outside world, but his inner self, as well. The hiss of a channel about to open up, the hum at the start of a tune. Vanessa was right, he feels better than ever, vibrant, energetic, more aware.

It makes no sense. Probably the after-effects of his fever. Vanessa’s with him. They’re useless in quarantine, and expendable here. The new titanium-doped biosensors need to be field tested, together with the new exosuits.

The whole scene is still an explosion of biological Turing machines turned Mandelbrot, changes sweeping the fractalscape in hypnotizing patterns, branches upon branches upon branches until it seems they go on well into the quantum level, and yet…

It’s like there is order in chaos, Baretta thinks, a method to the madness.

So far, they haven’t encountered any of the cobalt-blue insectoids. Which makes sense: as the prey is consumed, the predator dies off. At least in a normal biosphere. Baretta’s not so sure if the Fractal Forest plays by the same rules. For all intents and purposes, it’s evolving into a very lean-and-mean survival machine. One that’s quickly growing out of its creators’ control.

“You OK?” Vanessa says in the deep, Venusian voice, “You seem even more lost in thought than usual.”

“I’m fine. It just feels a bit different,” a reluctant pause, “and too quiet.”

“Never thought anybody would say that of this place,” Vanessa says, amused, “but I know what you mean.”

Out of the myriad of fractal iterations, a swarm of trapezoidal, kite-like beings rises up to meet them. Their long and short sides flutter around in a blur. Like butterflies, their path up close seems random, but over the long run they are definitely moving in a certain direction. Towards Vanessa and Baretta.

These trapezoidal insectoids look white-but-not-quite-white – not colorless, not the merging of all colors, but, strangely, the potential, the promise of more colors. It hurts to look at them, yet it’s almost impossible to look away, as if something deep within is compelling Baretta to keep staring at them. Despite the irritation. Despite the itch. Despite the pain.

“My eyes are starting to hurt,” he says, “what about yours?”

“Same,” Vanessa says, “but for the life of me I just can’t look away, I must keep watching. As if it will lead…”

“…to a new way of seeing.” Baretta finishes.

They can’t speak anymore. The pain begins to override everything. The closer the trapezoidal insectoids come, the more their bleached whiteness cuts through their senses, opening up something new. But it hurts, the backs of their eyes feel as if they’re bombarded with millions of tiny laser beams, as if they’re torn apart by an army of nano-razors.

The whiteness becomes overpowering, a white-out that washes all away. A blindness from staring too long into the sun. A fierce brightness burning the backs of their skulls. For countless moments they float around, unseeing. Then the intense pain recedes, and vision returns – slowly, foggy and somewhat off-kilter. The Fractal Forest becomes its multihued self, no, it seems to become more than its multihued self. It’s sharper, better defined, almost supersaturated with something else.

The sky is not its usual dull pinkish-white anymore, but a deep shade of infrared at least as bright and intense as the blue of Earth’s sky on a cloudless day. A color outside the visible light spectrum, a reflected frequency that the human brain cannot translate into a part of the rainbow. A red beyond red, a red so quintessentially different from the earth-normal color palette that they’ll need to invent a new name for it.

How is that possible? Has their vision extended into the infrared? It might make sense on a planet so much closer to the sun, where the predominance of CO2 in the atmosphere both filters and scatters the sunlight in a different manner. Yet how could this adaptation happen so fast? Are they becoming just as crazy as the Fractal Forest?

Then Baretta hears Vanessa cry out, first in surprise, then in wonder. She points to the trapezoidal insectoids and as he looks at them, truly sees them, Baretta can’t suppress a scream, either. At first his eyes can’t seem to make sense of them – they dazzle, they flicker, they change colors like crazy until what he sees are not quite colors anymore. Not normal colors, anyway. But eventually the trapezoidal insectoids become beautiful, like a school of coral reef fish, like a swarm of tropical butterflies. Gone is the sickly yellow, the badly polarized white sheen – they’re imbued with patterns. Stripes, spots, bands and ribbons in a variety of infrared shades that they can finally see, but not describe.

Like someone who’s only heard tribal drums, deep didgeridoos and sonorous chants who suddenly finds herself in a Rachmaninoff piano concerto. Like someone who has only tasted white wines and is now introduced to the full variety of reds and rosés. Like the onset of puberty, when one finds out that one’s genitals can do something else than pee.

Maybe the burning pain in their eyes was a growing pain, the addition of a fourth cone type to their photoreceptors that extends wavelength sensitivity into the infrared range. However, the brain then needs to re-interpret the new types of colors it’s perceiving. This process is highly disorienting at first, until the mind settles into a representation that is different from the existing rainbow range.

Almost, but not quite, like the blind suddenly seeing, the deaf suddenly hearing. With initial effects not unlike synæsthesia – this shade of infrared feels like a cool breeze over sun-drenched skin, that hue of infrared smells like fresh-baked bread on a cool morning, and those tinges of infrared sound like the timpani, timbales and triangles that marked the transition to crescendo in Xanadu.

The trapezoidal insectoids, those floating tables, don’t seem threatening anymore. Au contraire, they now look welcoming. Baretta also feels a minor rise in the background vibration, a weird interference like a happy buzz. A tear in one of his hyper-gossamer wings? No, their diagnostics read fine. A minor malfunction in the new exosuit? Then why didn’t he feel it earlier? Maybe a lingering side effect as his brain incorporates the new color schemes?

Closer up, Baretta now sees the fractalized edges of the fluttering trapezoids. It should be impossible, as the frame rate with which these insectoids flit their kite-like bodies should be well above the flicker fusion threshold. Has his brain sped up, his perception become faster? Like Vanessa said, he does feel much better after the fever retreated.

At some point, though, the kite insectoids keep their distance and twirl around in enticing patterns, beckoning, as if asking the humans to follow them. By way of serendipity, the frequency and intensity of the vibrations rummaging his being seem to rise to a frantic buzz. He wants to ask Vanessa if she’s experiencing something similar, but she answers him before he can form the question. “Yes, I feel it too. An upbeat tone, like an elated glissando.”


“–answered before you could ask. I know. It’s like I’m totally in sync with you, I can anticipate your next move. You should try it, too.”

The moment Baretta shifts some of his attention – the crazy events beneath him totally absorbed him – to Vanessa, he feels an instant connection with her. Not quite telepathy, more like he can almost feel what she feels. A strong empathic link. Her attention for her partner’s safety is imbued with something deeper. Admiration? Respect? Friendship? Or…love?

Too much happening at once, Baretta feels his focus waning. “Let’s just follow them, first?” He says. “We can talk about…us later.”

“Fine.” Vanessa smiles ear-to-ear.

hedgehog scene break

In the wake of the ‘kitesects’ – or ‘zoidflies’ – they’re approaching the area of the white-out sections. The parts that reminded them of coral bleaching – sick, colorless segments where once vibrant life shouted its exuberant celebration in exultant pigments. For one part, though, they’d been so taken aback with the bleaching that they’d overlooked the fact that the shapes and forms were still alright, perfectly fractalized, constantly varying, diversifying, changing…

For the other part they were simply unable to see the way they are now. An infrarufescence too spectacular to be taken in at once. Indescribable to those whose vision is not wired to infrahues.

When language and vision unite and take a synæsthetic leap of faith, they might describe it like this:

Neologisms negating the need to negotiate new nexus to neophytes? Yes, sirrah, cabinets of sauvignon grimace in a grand mal beckoning a mellow pin – oh, noir is the beau you laid. Just dip into the vermillion verisimilitude. Fly over fields of multiformed pimpernel so scarlet they beat beet red three rungs down the ladder. Chase cerise cardinals and carmine apiece cheering the claret of cochineal cacti clouding the infractalscape. Bodacious bricks so corroded they kick rust’s ass into a new low of infrastructure. Rubies marooned in foxy cherry-pies bleeding infravescence under the veil of a vermeil sky. Schools of gules criss-crossing sanguine corals under the mask of a damask heaven. Flame on, infrasonic rumbles in the underbelly: the forest’s afire in a new type of flame.

Language explodes into bleeding shards, shards of sky bleed into linguistic fireworks, and synæsthetic fire works its way into the conceptual breakthrough.

This, Baretta realizes, is a new world coming to life. Not the one we tried to make.

On top of that, the ‘bleached’ infrared parts are not separate sections anymore – they’re blending with the ‘visible wavelength’ parts. Human eyes would see a patchwork of crazy colors interspersed with white sections in a way that would turn the ghost of Jackson Pollock green with envy. Venusian eyes, though, see the miracle of accelerated evolution. A fractal factory bursting with life, flourishing in unforeseen ways. Violet flowers spouting from ochre stems set against the background of a crisp infrahue frassland. Infrafused explosions of tripled tendrils reaching for the vermillion sky. Tangled webs of teetering willows, true-blue waves of tethered seaweeds thrown against a wavering backdrop shimmering in an ultrarainbow to infraprism cycle.

And even in this flare-up of wild abandon, this wanton assault on perception, there is something else underneath – either an undertone on the edge of infrasonic, or an overtone beyond the threshold of ultrasonic. Something you feel rather than hear, but still somehow is sound. Something you sense rather than experience, but still somehow is real. Something that communicates instantaneously, but still needs to be converted to a comprehensible form. A strange interference not unlike wave harmonics, binaural tones and frequency modulation. Something riding something else.

Whatever it is, it’s trying to get a message through to Vanessa and Baretta. But the communication is unclear, as if the Rosetta Stone hasn’t arrived yet. Time is running out.

“We have to get back,” Vanessa says, “our oxygen is running low.”

“True,” Baretta is so engrossed that he wouldn’t have noticed until the low level alarm set in, “but we still need to employ the new biosensors.”

“Might as well dump them here. This is definitely the most interesting place.”

“No mistake.”

After spreading the sensors, they leave, very reluctantly, like trespassers from a new Paradise.

hedgehog scene break

Inevitably, they return, carrying extra oxygen supplies. They didn’t report their changed color perception, and how this casts developments in the Fractal Forest in a completely new light. They made up a story about how upset they were when they found out that the ‘bleached’ parts of the forest were expanding and infiltrating the ‘healthy’ parts. They need time to wrap their minds around the new development and figure out their place in it.

They need privacy, so Vanessa hacks their voice implants. The cameras don’t need to be tampered with, as they’re not set to see what Vanessa and Baretta do see. Back at the new section of the Fractal Forest they re-appreciate the infrared sections, and how that novoforest – the infraforest – integrates with the existing parts. It sharpens and fine-tunes their extended color perception while something else keeps happening, as well.

“You feel it, too, right?” Baretta asks, “sort of a common wavelength that seems to be–”

“–connected to every living thing in the Fractal Forest.” Vanessa says, finishing it for him. “A kind of übergestalt–”

“–Gaia come to Venus. Vaia?” Baretta says. “But its intelligence still feels a bit primitive, unformed.”

“I suspect we’re not directly experiencing it because it’s not self-conscious. Operating like our subconscious – possibly very fast and very efficient, but not aware it’s actually doing it.”

“And it seems to welcome us, as if we’re a part of it.” Whatever type of quantum harmonics are vibrating through them, eventually they seem to translate in certain ‘feelings’ through their nervous system. “Even telling us–”

“–we need to discard our artificial extensions. But without our exoskeleton we’re unprotected against the sulphuric acid clouds–”

“–that seem to have become very rare, at these altitudes, anyway–”

“–lightning and CO2 poisoning. And without our

“–we’ll fall into an over-pressurized, superheated hell. So how?”

Their nervous systems are alight with a sensation so harmonious and uplifting it’s not unlike music. Ode to Joy, Baretta thinks. At the End of the Day, is Vanessa’s take.

“–show us the way?” They say in unison.

A flock of kitesects rises up to meet them. Vanessa and Baretta keep their relative positions in a figure-of-eight flying pattern. Their wings are attached to their backs, so their arms and legs are free. The kitesects swoop down on those free limbs. Simultaneously, the pair have the nigh-irresistible feeling that they must stretch their arms and legs.

The kitesects merge, and reform tightly around Vanessa’s and Baretta’s limbs. A third skin forms around the second layer of the exosuit, extending themselves into huge, fractally-feathered wings. Vanessa and Baretta rise up, fast, as they now have double the lift. Exaltation.


“Yeah. Only one way to find out–”

“–retract our artificial wings.”

They do, and brace for the fall. But they keep flying, if clumsily. They move in awkward patterns. Their new wings have lift aplenty, they just don’t control quite right.

“It seems as if they need direct body contact–”

“–but that means ditching the exosuit.” Baretta says, still reluctant.

“We don’t need to ditch the complete exosuit,” Vanessa says, “how about we only take off the sleeves, to see if we can then control our upper wings better?”

“Right, we can always put them back on, fast,” Baretta says, “hopefully.”

They extend their artificial wings, and the kitesect arm wings, almost on cue, disintegrate into kitesects again. The trapezoidal insectoids flutter around until Vanessa and Baretta have taken off their exosuit sleeves, then reform around the humans’ arms.

Once again the humans can fly without their exoskeleton wings, and have much better control. The kitesect wings – after a fast trial-and-error process – now perfectly follow their directions. Using their leg wings mainly as stabilizers, Vanessa and Baretta can fly now just as well, if not better, than with their artificial arm wings.

On top of that, it’s not just their control, their commands flowing into their new arm wings, but something else flowing back – a kind of energy, a sustenance. They fly around as long as they dare, keeping a close eye on their oxygen levels and signs of CO2 poisoning. It lasts much longer than they thought, or dared hope. But in the end they need to report back.

“It’s crazy,” Baretta says, “I feel great, not even hungry.”

“Our oxygen level has barely depleted since we used our new arm wings,” Vanessa says, “have we been using less, or is there something else going on?”

“Don’t know,” Baretta says, “but unfortunately we can’t go native just yet. I think it’s better if we put our exoskeleton sleeves back on–”

“–otherwise they’ll totally freak out at Quadrant 4 base.”

hedgehog scene break

In the days that follow, Vanessa and Baretta keep experimenting as they increasingly interact with the Fractal Forest. Their flying becomes perfect as they let the kitesects take the place of their exoskeletons. On top of that, no signs of CO2 poisoning nor are they hungry anymore. What to do with their food packs?

Baretta notices Vanessa’s kitesect wings glowing during flight. “It’s as if our wings perform photosynthesis, supplying us with carbohydrates and oxygen.”

“Which would explain our decreasing need for food and oxygen,” she says, “but we still need water. And proteins, vitamins, minerals, and other trace elements.”

“Probably either the Fractal Forest can supply those–”

“–and we can dump our food into the Fractal Forest, making clear it has stuff we need. In this extreme environment, it’s becoming an absolute champion at recycling.”

“We need to take a leap of faith. Become part of the Fractal Forest, embrace Vaia–”

“–Vaya con Dios? Go with the God of this place?”

“Or remain freaks in the human settlement. We are different. Until they know exactly what has happened they will keep us quarantined–”

“–indefinitely, which might as well mean forever.”

After venting their unused oxygen supply – lest their superiors get suspicious – they return to base. Their hand is forced as an old friend secretly transmits a preliminary abstract of the research into their viral infection to their implants. Through the changes their DNA is different, as sulphate has replaced the phosphate in the nucleotide, which now uses an extra sugar group to extend the structure from a double to a triple helix. Once their superiors see this, they’ll discontinue Vanessa and Baretta’s expeditions. Their next scheduled reconnaissance flight will be their last.

hedgehog scene break

Off they are, on their ultimate trip, one way or the other. Cutting the Gordian knot of their future.

Sometimes there’s nothing to it but hope. Hope that the Fractal Forest can deliver sufficient sustenance to keep them alive, maybe even help them thrive. Hope that their new metabolism adapts to the new environment.

Sometimes you have to face the abyss and own it. Sometimes you must jump off the cliff. Sometimes there’s nothing to it but don your reality distortion field and take the leap of faith. Cross the Rubicon into truly new frontiers. Shift the paradigm and hope for the best. Prime the senses for new wonders. Work hard to make it work.

Baretta looks up to Vanessa and she answers before he can ask.

Yes, I’m ready.

Let’s do it.

They take the final plunge from the human station, and say goodbye to Quandrant 4 base.

If panspermia is correct, Baretta thinks, then life on Earth is also not truly native. In that case, a genuinely pristine Earth would be, like Venus only a few decades ago, barren. As such, keeping a lifeless planet ‘pristine’ (as the KVP demands) is madness. What happens on Venus is merely an advanced form of panspermia.

This also means that we are our own, well not quite people, *entity*, Baretta thinks, simultaneously transmitting it to Vanessa and the rest of the Fractal Forest, We need to negotiate with the humans, as we are not an experiment anymore. Nor do we wish to be a colony.

We’re not totally independent yet, Vanessa sends over the quantum-entangled trilix link, we need more water and trace elements to expand life on Venus. The remaining sulphuric acid clouds will only get us so far.

For which we need the humans, Baretta gazes at the stars, wistfully. It’ll be a very long time before we can descend to the surface to extract the metals we need for space flight.

How about us, Vanessa signals over the Fractal Forest trilix link, feel like being Adam to my Eve?

This takes Baretta aback. He’s been so focused on so many other things that this slipped right by him. Another world of possibilities opens up, even if he wants to take that one step at a time. He looks at her with new eyes. Well, we can look into that anytime, he thinks, although – thinking about it – we might open up to immigrants.

Come who may, Vanessa’s feelings ride the trilix wave, but you are mine.

hedgehog scene break

Ingrid Garcia tries to sell local wines in a vintage wine shop in Cádiz, and writes speculative fiction in her spare time. For years, she was unpublished. But to her utter surprise – after years of receiving nothing but rejections – she’s sold stories to F&SF, Panorama, Futuristica 2, Stupefying Stories, and – as you now see – to Capricious. Her first published poem just appeared in Ligature Works.

“In Ishtar’s Garden” (© Ingrid Garcia) was published in Issue 6 of Capricious. If you enjoyed this story, please consider subscribing to Capricious.