The deorbit flights had always put me on edge, and this one was no different. Maybe Freddie's paranoia rubbed off on me badly enough and made this one feel even worse than any previous return. Nevertheless, things kept looking up for Hopper, Mel, and me. Shortly after our return shuttle performed the deorbit burn, the Repair Hub patched through an encrypted message from one of the maintenance vessels around Saturn. It was Beth, the chief of the Communications Engineering Corps. I had not heard her voice in ages.
One of her ships was out on a mission to refurbish an x-ray relay cluster when her crew discovered something strange. Something had disturbed the orbit of the structure, and one of its modules was completely offline. The self-repair system didn't even try to repair the damage because to it the module had ceased to exist.
Well, when Beth's crew arrived, the picture cleared up but the mystery deepened. Something crashed into the module and became lodged between the main support trusses. At first, they thought it was a piece of rock or a lump of iron and nickel, but that couldn't be it.
Finally, some bun familiar with our story mentioned that our old training craft was supposed to act as a remote SOS beacon. It didn't take them long to put two and two together. The mysterious scrap metal turned out to be our TR-Regis-3 trainer. Further analysis of the wreckage revealed that the tiny craft had suffered a fatal blow from a micrometeorite long before it had reached Saturn. The impact was gentle enough for the ship to remain intact, but its trajectory was altered enough that it drifted across one of the asteroid belts and became mangled beyond all recognition. That's why it turned up so far away from the point where we had hoped to park it around Saturn.
The funny thing is, carbon dating placed the origin of the craft in the Carboniferous period. In the end, the salvage crew was able to scrape enough serial numbers from various bits and pieces of the wreckage to positively identify it as the TR-Regis-3.
Beth closed the message with a promise that she would come by for a visit on her next leave. The news of the recovery of our trainer hit me like a brick. Suddenly, I was grieving for the sad hunk of metal. I was grieving for us, too, for Mel and Hopper, even though we have had survived this adventure. Getting reminded of how close we had come to not making it was hard to bear.
A couple of weeks after our return home, a package arrived from Freddie. Wrapped in several layers of newspaper and magazine pages with articles about our Behemoth encounter were a pair of gloves and booties. They were made from that special, sticky tactile "gecko toe" fabric. I put them on and ran outside into our backyard. I took hold of the trunk of our favorite apple tree and began to climb it like a lizard! I found a couple of ripe apples and tossed them to Abby, who was looking at me in a somewhat confused and petrified way. She must have been wondering if I had finally lost it and this is the day she would have to turn me over to a crew in white lab coats.
Alas, the most exciting thing that happened that day was the fresh crumb cake we made together. Nothing beats a good apple crumb cake for dinner! After we had licked our plates clean, we had a serious talk.
I told Abby that I would like to go away for a couple of days. I think she was truly concerned for me. She called Pancake and told her about my plans. Pancake suggested that as long as I told them exactly where I was going and when I was coming back, there was really no point worrying about it. It was not like they could do anything about it, anyway. That's the trouble with grown buns; you can't just ground them because you're worried about them.
So here I am, sitting in the canopy of an old redwood tree. It must be two hundred fifty or maybe even three hundred feet tall. I have no idea how old it is; five hundred years, a thousand maybe? Getting up here was an entire adventure of its own. The climb was slow. I had to watch every step, and I had to look for parts of the trunk that were free of moss and lichen. I almost resorted to using a security line, but in the end, I just used my paws. Another tricky part of the climb was remembering which way I went up so I could trace my steps on the way down.
First, I thought that I would try to climb as high as I possibly could, but then I came to a flat spot in the canopy. At the very top, part of it collapsed and formed the base of a little meadow. It was a bit rough and scary at first, but it felt very sturdy. My first impression of it was that it was a giant nest. The thought occurred to me that I should run, as I would be in for a very bad day if something lived here and decided to come back. But then I saw the little patch of wild strawberries. I sniffed around for a bit but found nothing: nothing but the smell of dirt and rotting leaves mixed with the intoxicating smell of conifer needles. I grew still and listened. Again, I heard nothing but the wind mingling with all those treetops around me.
I decided to give this spot a chance and settled in for the moment. When I looked to the west, there was a break in the branches, and I could see the Sun would have to pass through that clearing on its way to the sunset. I found a solid branch above me and fastened a safety tether to it. I clasped the carabiner at the end of the safety line to a loop on the back of my suit. The line had enough slack that I soon forgot about it. I let Abby know that my climb was done and that I was fine. That was our agreement. I promised I'd let her know that I was safe, and that was all she wanted.
Finally, I flopped over for a nap. I must have fallen asleep fast and hard. I don't remember having any dreams. The next thing I knew, the breeze had gotten kind of cool, and I woke up feeling the chill washing over me. The Sun, well on its way to setting, hid behind a distant bank of clouds. I got out my blanket and wrapped myself in it. Once my butt got cozy in the "nest" and I was able to rest comfortably against the tree trunk, I was ready for the sunset show. I got ahold of a drink pouch and cracked its chemical heater. The heat felt good in my paws. The first sip of the warm chamomile and mint beverage felt soothing in my belleh. A couple of soft biscuits made it a feast. Every time I took a sip of my drink, the sappy aroma of the redwood needles fused with the smell of mint.
The Sun began to peek from under the cloud cover and soon lit up the bottom of the bank with reds and oranges. There was going to be a nice sunset after all. Throughout this entire "sitting in the tree" episode, I wasn't quite sure what's going on. I felt safe and at peace, but why? I've never seen or met this tree before, yet I had the sensation I had always known it.
The Sun was now moving quickly and hiding beyond the horizon. Right then, a thought occurred to me. Momentarily, this tree would be done grazing on the Sun. It would have to wait until the morning before the nearby, medium sized, main-sequence star would come into view. I was resting my back against one of the most advanced creatures to emerge from the universe. It was feeding on a nearby star! Above ground, it was a giant solar panel. Simply by being, the tree transformed its surroundings for the better. Whatever energy the tree absorbed from the Sun, it gave it all back to its environment in one form or another.
As the star disappeared and the dusk began to swallow our planet, a different light source slowly took over. The full moon was out. The night would be cold, but it would be well lit.
Think about how clever the trees are. They use a planet for a space vehicle. This tree turns out to be quite the expert behemoth. And, that's when it hit me again. The tree was quite similar to the Behemoth. I always thought that the Behemoth looked a lot like a pine cone and collected its energy like a tree. I became flushed with goosebumps, and as they started to dissipate, a message came through from Hopper. "Did you see the sunset? I watched it from a tree; don't tell any bunny." "No worries, I watched it from the top of a giant redwood. What's your tree?" I responded. "An old, gnarled pine. Not very tall, but extremely comfortable and picturesque," returned Hopper. I responded, "You'll have to come down here and visit. We can climb the redwood and sit here together. The only way to get a better view than this is to go on orbit!" "Rog!" said Hopper.
The rest of the evening and the night itself were quiet. Of course, only if you don't mind the bugs, crickets, and owls doing their bits to keep the party going. The frogs did their part, as well. I thought it would be too cold for the frogs to be living it up, but I was wrong. I cracked another beverage pouch to warm it up. As I sipped it, I let my thoughts wander again, and at one point, Dr. Hopnom took over my noggin.
The poor guy recovered well enough to become a terribly damaging "witness for the defense." In the beginning, he wasn't supposed to play any role in what had happened at the hospital. He followed the news about us like every bun else, but he was busy with his own stuff. Everything changed once he was asked to consult on the cryopreservation of living organisms, specifically, the kind that has long ears and four feet and is space-fairing. Suddenly, he was very interested in what could have happened to us next. Lucky for us, he fundamentally distrusted the bureaucracy that commandeered his expertise. Thus, he insisted on visiting the hospital in person and managed to talk his way into becoming a crew member on the resupply ship. He thought that if nothing else, he could disable the cryo pods if he had a chance. Of course, his heart was in the right place, and that's what matters here. Then, his heart moved into his throat when the badgers blamed him for sabotaging the docking with the St. Cinnamon hospital. They were just going to blow him out of the airlock. Fortunately, he got into the airlock first, sealed the door from the inside and managed to suit up. That's quite the feat for some bun like him. He had more luck than brains. The only reason he had survived the incident was the robust design of the suit. It could function as a life preserver under the most incompetent of circumstances. As the Doctor had finished suiting up, one of the badgers had managed to crack the door. Our Doc had blown the outer hatch open. Both he and the badger had gotten sucked out into the void. No bun had ever found the poor badger. Then, if you recall, the news buns, Penny and Freddie had retrieved the Doctor.