I’ve been wanting to sit down with Cole Deering for a while. But now that I’m here, I’m having second thoughts. His family was obliterated back on Earth by some bad guys who were after Steven Crow. The fella had a pretty severe breakdown because of that.
One of the things I find most curious about him is that he is now a product of the Cooperative penal system, if it can be called that. The Cooperative have no jails, and not really anything we would call crime. But they do have methods of handling bad decisions that help recuperate the perpetrator.
From what Steven told me, Cole tried to blow up the homestead on Earth and as many of the aliens as he could, then he tried to blow up the apartment building Steven had resided in that had become a command center for the aliens. Which explains why the apartment now sits on Endard. Sort of. He was a little fuzzy with the details.
In any case, Cole is a patient in the care of the Cooperative legal system and has taken up the task of helping to bring life to a dead planet. Rholling. The interview was anything but normal. We had a couple of unexpected guests. Eliot Coleman, psychologist from Earth, and… a Troll. Yes. A real life Troll.
~ ~ ~
ME: Cole, you’re hard to find. I hope I’m not catching you at a bad time.
Cole: Not at all. This way.
ME: Okay. Where are we going?
Cole: [points] I am helping that family.
ME: Should I come back?
Cole: No. You want to see what I do, right?
ME: Well, yeah. And chat with you.
Cole: Chat while we work. Grab that. [points at shovel]
ME: Okay. So, what are we doing?
Cole. The family has picked a spot. Can you get that too?
ME: This little tree?
Cole: That one. [points]
ME: No problem. Wow, this is so different from the Temple we came in.
Cole: We are working to plant a new Temple. But that’ll take at least a hundred years. Here, set the tree down there.
ME: Cool. So…
Cole: [pats my arm] Just chill. This family is donating their elder to us.
ME: Their what?
Cole: [points at an ornate, metal box] He’s in there. These are Leif.
ME: I thought they looked familiar. From Mori’te, right?
Cole: Yep. Now we wait.
ME: Can we chat?
Cole: Shhh. They are saying goodbye.
ME: [whispers] Sorry.
Cole: Okay, they’re ready. Give her that shovel. Yeah, her. Here. Step back a little.
ME: [grimaces] I have no idea what they’re doing.
Cole: Here. [kneels] Help pull the dirt away.
ME: [scoops grey, lifeless silt with hands] You know, it just occurred to me they have shovels. Aliens have shovels.
Cole: [smirks] I suppose you thought they just dug with tentacles or something?
ME: It’s just that, it’s so… so… domesticated. Earthling like.
Cole: Dirt is dirt, and moving it seems to require a universal set of requirements. Not so surprising after all. Pile it over here. Okay, sit back a little.
ME: The box… is that… that looks like compost. I thought it had ashes or something.
Cole: They don’t burn their dead, or pump them full of chemicals. Every species who have donated their loved ones to this project composts them first.
ME: Composted. It even smells like… humus.
Cole: [grins] It’s kinda neat seeing you discover this. I was the same way. My wife and daughter are over there, but they had already been cremated so, ashes. When I go, I’ll be composted like everyone here.
ME: They want me to help scoop?
Cole: Just do it. It is a sign of respect. Just don’t make a face.
ME: Actually, not my first rodeo. I’ve helped locals back home bury their dead. It’s just, I’ve never seen compost like this before.
Cole: Spread it like that. The trees roots spread out.
ME: We don’t want to go deeper?
Cole. The taproot goes down deep into the subsoil. It’s the shallow feeder roots that spread out and benefit from this. There. Okay, help her with the tree.
ME: It’s a pine tree. They have pine trees here too?
Cole: These are native to this planet. It took a lot of work bringing back specimens from collections. There, good. You got it. Just pat that down and let’s cover it up with the dirt.
ME: What keeps it from washing away?
Cole: Look around. We plant native grasses around the trees.
ME: Oh, cool. And shrubs over there. I thought Rolling was dead.
Cole. It is. We’re having to bring everything back. Microbes and all. I just recently convinced the Planet Builders to come to Rholling.
ME: The Trolls are here? Cool.
Cole: They have a Planet Builder working in the ocean, and one further inland. We’ve… this valley kinda started it.
ME: You planted all of these?
Cole: No. Some of the planets… Rholling was sort of a memorial for the past three thousand years. No one wanted to touch it. But a few started coming in and planting seeds with their loved ones. The valley gets flooded periodically so the soil is pretty decent here. Silt, but it holds life once it gets re-established. I came in a few months ago.
ME: I was going to ask you about your transition from vengeance to rehabilitating a planet.
Cole: Okay. Peace to you, and you. Mark, there are some things… peace to you. Thank you for your elder.
ME: Peace to you. Thanks. Wow. That’s kinda profound. I mean, not a tear. These people are so at peace with this.
Cole: No one ever dies to them. They live extremely long lives, then they send their life into the soil and continue living. But, Mark, you have to understand, have you ever lost anyone close to you to violent circumstances?
ME: No. I’ve seen it a lot, though.
Cole: You’ve peeked through a small window. Different people handle grief… differently. I… it utterly broke me. The only thing I wanted to do was leave life, and take those who did this with me.
ME: That I have actually seen a lot.
Cole: Steven stopped me. I don’t know how he did it. But rather than seeking revenge he saved me and they brought me here. Mark, this planet… this whole planet… this was my daughter and wife. Every person here, gone in an excruciatingly violent instant. And as pointlessly.
ME: You found kindred spirits.
Cole: You could say that. It gave me a new perspective. They brought me to this valley, and their response to their grief is this. All around you.
ME: But, wouldn’t they have done this at their homes?
Cole: Exactly. Each tree here is a person who should have been planted on their respective worlds. But they were brought here, to give life to this monument to their grief. And Mark, they included me in this project. Me. I wanted to kill them. I blamed them. I hated them. And even then, they included me.
ME: Your family, I cannot imagine them being anything but proud of you. I am, I had no idea what to expect. Not this.
Cole: I cannot express to you just how deeply I miss them. Every day. But yes, they would be happy for me. And I really love the work. I ran a landscaping and farm supply company back on Earth as well as a farm, so this is right up my alley. Hey, is that Eliot?
ME: What? Oh, it is! Eliot, I’ve been meaning to snag you for an interview.
Eliot: Not today, Mark. But soon. Cole?
Cole: Same as always.
Eliot: Do you want to take a walk with me for a bit?
Cole: Sure. I just need to finish up here. Mark, grab those shovels, please.
ME: These? Oh crap! Is that… that’s a Troll!
Cole: [looks] Last I checked. Rogan?
Rogan: Greetings, Master Cole. We have found more valleys for you.
Cole: Excellent! We’ve just about filled this one up. This is Mark Ellis.
Rogan: [hands prayerfully palm to palm in front of him, and deep bow] It is a great honor to meet you, Markellis.
Cole: Place your hands on both of his. Yeah, like that. It’s how they greet each other.
ME: I am just so happy to meet you. But, I’m just a journalist.
Rogan: You are friend of Steven. You are friend of Trolls.
ME: Ah. Yes, I’m Steven’s friend.
Cole: Trolls hold Steven in high esteem for saving Senin.
ME: [blank look for a second] Oh, the Faerie’s home. I am having trouble conceptualizing that. Steven saving it. Wasn’t it a molten ball of magma?
Cole: Don’t try. It’ll blow a fuse. I think we need to wind this down, though. Eliot wants to have a session with me, and Rogan needs to show me the other valleys.
ME: Thanks. Thank you for welcoming me here. I’m really touched. And Rogan. So… so good to meet you.
Rogan: Peace to you, Markellis.
ME: And peace to you.
~ ~ ~
Notably absent from the interview was Ma’ya and Eve. But they were there. Ma’ya was actually visiting a relative interned there, so they were having their moment of privacy while Cole introduced me to what he does.
I was a little nervous. I had no idea what to expect and was just blown away. And after the disastrous interview with Roland, I felt a little reticent to push forward. But Cole is a really down-to-earth guy. And amazing how serene he is. But out here among the trees, I guess it tends to leave a mark on you.
Most of Rholling is a dead, grey cinder with oily-looking oceans. But now that I’ve been here, I am seeing little spots of green starting to peek out of the lifeless soil, much like little ferns poking out of cooled lava-flows. I cannot wait to see how Rholling evolves over the next few decades.
Now, it’s off to find my next victim, so, peace!