A Trader on the Border of the Mutant Rain Forest
by Bruce Boston
From my mobile station on the shifting border of the Mutant Rain Forest, I watch them come from the Northern Domes, from the slums and ghettos and the failed farms of the Wastelands, the lost ones eager to surrender to the Forest's compulsions and the ones who tremble as if they are harboring a fear they must conquer. Then there are the religious ones, fanatics who come in groups. They think they are going to convert the creatures once-human who survive beyond the border, most of them already animal or vegetable in inclination and form. They think they are going to convince them to worship Jesus or Allah or Joseph Smith. Or the latest holovangelist.
I sell them satellite links that offer up-to-the-minute maps and weather forecasts for their implants and devices. How do I know if such maps and forecasts are accurate? I suspect the most accurate are far from reality. How can topographical maps on a holographic screen, shapes and lines and dots of color, even in three dimensions, portray the reality of crossing that same terrain? The searing climbs of steep hills with muscles aching in calves and thighs, or the descent into valleys so deep and thick with growth you are plunged into a shadow world where you are enveloped in a chill dark that your lanterns can't penetrate. And you have to guard your life every step of the way.
Yet the visitors buy them, and contribute to my subsistence on this lip of coastal land the Mutant Rain Forest has yet to claim. All such voyagers into the chaotic green of the Forest are fools by my count.
There is still trade from the interior even in this savage land. I peddle native charms and potions as protection from the dangers one may encounter in the Mutant Rain Forest. I sell sachets from native plants, some of them extinct by now, for that happens swiftly in the world east of my station. Such talismans claim many things –- to repel predatory animals and plants, to deconstruct the illusions of the shape shifters that mimic your friends and loved ones, who inhabit your mind with shadow images from the unconscious, or perhaps they are billed as an antidote to counter the deadly bite of red jacket wasps that can infest the spinal column with their larvae and make their victims dance to ghastly rhythms as if they were marionettes before they are devoured from the inside out. The larvae gradually emerge as adult wasps from the human husk that remains, taking flight from ears, mouth, nose, and empty eye sockets as they mature.