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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 28: Hastings 104
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 27: Slade 52
Lauren awoke the more hungry and the less certain what she could eat. She was going to have to make a decision soon. She needed to find a clue somewhere in what she knew, but she didn't know where it was. She reviewed everything she had already considered.
It came to her that she had already reached a significant conclusion, but had ignored the significance of it. Very few of the trees on this island could have reached it by airborne seeds, and equally few had fruit that could have floated here on the surf. She knew this. She had determined that the birds must carry the seeds in their bellies to drop on other islands. But this meant that the birds ate the fruit and carried the seeds within them. The birds ate the fruit.
In fact, it appeared now that the function of the fruit was to get the birds to eat it. An egg had a food source for the embryo to consume as it developed; but an apple had a food source to entice a horse to eat it and carry the seeds within itself to another field. These trees had fruit specifically to be eaten by creatures, as a means of spreading to new areas. Whether or not the trees were sentient, they intended for their fruit to be eaten by others.
There was yet another problem. Clearly it was expected that the birds would digest the fruit but pass the seeds. However, the digestive system of a bird was not so harsh as that of a man; or at least, many birds had less effective digestive acids than men. A bird that ate fruit probably did not need the sort of digestive system that could consume meat. Joe had told her something about birds safely eating berries with poisonous seeds, only to pass the seeds safely, when a human would digest the seeds and so ingest the poison. This would be particularly difficult, since if her theory was correct the plants she wanted to target would have soft fruit with very small seeds, like bananas, and it would be difficult for her to avoid eating the seeds.
She would have to risk it. She would have to choose one tree, and try the fruit.
How should she choose? What made it more likely that a tree was a good choice?
Her first thought was that it should be something which probably had the sort of fruit a shorebird would eat, and the sort of seeds that it would carry in its stomach. There were several which might be of this sort (although she had not opened any fruit as yet, so that was a guess). Then it occurred to her that she should choose one that was plentiful on the island. The first reason she had for this was that if she was going to take a chance on finding one food that she could eat, it should be one that was going to last for a while. The second reason, when she thought of it, made more sense. Wind borne and waterborne seeds would come one at a time. The waterborne ones would establish themselves near the shore before working their way inland. Wind borne seeds would probably be more scattered, as the seeds they produced would rarely fall near the tree. Seeds that were dropped by birds would be scattered everywhere; and the fruit which fell uneaten would give its seeds to the ground around the tree, and so spread outward from many points. A tree that was more plentifully found on the island was more likely to have come by the method on which her theory was based.
Having decided all this, she found it fairly easy to narrow down her choices to three or four distinct varieties; two of these were similar enough that she thought them variants of the same kind, and so she chose one of these. If one proved safe, the other was the more likely, she supposed, to be so. That was far from certain. As with Monarch and Viceroy butterflies (or was the Viceroy a moth?), it might well be that the similarity of appearance was because the safe one was mimicking the deadly one for protection. But then, whatever was here traveled in the bellies of birds, and she had no knowledge of whatever other creatures might live in this world against which a plant might protect itself.
Just eat one, she thought. There's no sense in stuffing yourself with something that might be poison. First, if it is poisonous and you don't eat too much, you might just get sick and survive. Second, if it isn't poisonous and you do eat too much, you might get quite sick from it anyway. So she climbed the tree, pulled down a clump of its fruits, and then once back on the ground removed an outer peel and ate the soft interior. If there were seeds, which she supposed there must have been, she neither saw nor felt them. Her stomach welcomed the meal and wanted more, but Lauren had determined her limit, and stuck to it.
She stretched out in the clearing, and rested in the sun while awaiting the results of her bold experiment.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with ten other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #170: Versers Explore. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: