Chapter XII
by General (Uncle Claude) Xxaxx
& General (E.J. Gold) Nunan PFC 1st Class Ret.

Student Woo indulged in one last glance around the room, the early morning light was filtering in through the window shades. Everything left as it should be. If she never returned from this trip, all of her affairs were in order. On the desk was a brief note giving Ja Mere power of attorney and the instructions necessary to satisfy any remaining legal or social entanglements that Student Woo may have. The dorm room, her home for these past two years, was taking on the aura of a foreign land — not a place that she lived in or would be returning to.

Woo elected to walk the fifteen miles into the jungle rather than accept the offer of a helicopter drop. She didn’t mind the exercise and it would give her an opportunity to assemble her thoughts. “If I pass this test,” Woo corrected herself, “or rather, when I pass this test, I’ll have only one more trimester of classroom work before I can begin in-field training with dragons.”

Her whole life has been geared toward this moment. Woo has spent her entire adult life voguing as a man to gain admission into graduate school studies and a chance to work with dragons. Dragon Magic is the highest discipline an egghead could turn his mind to — or her mind to, if she was willing to vogue as a male.

Leaving the University, the transition from campus to jungle was non-existent. The grounds keepers were constantly fighting a losing battle against the encroachment of the jungle. The jungle will eventually win back its own. Just as in the jungles of South America and Indo-China, civilization’s cultural artifacts imposed onto a jungle are eventually lost, consumed by the green blanket — the devoured of all things man-made. The only way to live in the jungle was to live with the jungle. This is not something that current crop of mankind was likely to do in the near future. It requires a generally unattainable willingness to be responsive to another’s directive.

From the moment Woo stepped from the asphalt of the campus, she was in the jungle. Other students have complained of the jungle being cloying and oppressive, “How can you take it Woo? You just seem to go on and on. Teach us your gimmick” Woo had no gimmick to teach them. She used no trick to get by. To Woo the smells of the jungle were like incense in her nostrils, enlivening her whole body making the inside an expanding cosmos of its own.

The flora and fauna of the jungle never slept — nap maybe but never slept. As Woo passed through each glen and clearing, the animals made way for the intruding human. Noticing this, Woo muttered to herself, “This will never do.” From her extensive training Woo knew the only way to pass through a jungle unnoticed was the same way that one could pass through a Wilson cloud chamber, without leaving a trail. In a Wilson cloud chamber the only particles that could pass with detection was vapor molecule. To pass unnoticed one merely had to be a molecule of water vapor. The sekrit to passing the jungle without leaving a wake of effect was to be a part of the jungle. As it was, Woo was leaving too much of a trail through the jungle. “Time for my jungle variety beauty treatment.” Woo said to herself as she removed her clothes, so that they may be soaked in a mixture of stream water berries and herbs taught to her by her grandfather. This mixture was ideal for covering the smell of human when traveling in the jungle. If any predator had a taste for human flesh, they would have to use their sight to find her, and, given Woo’s almost mystical ability to blend into background foliage, they were not likely to be eating human tonight — leastwise it wouldn’t be Woo au vin. Some of the younger students called her the Chameleon behind her back. Being sensitive to Woo’s almost pathological aversion to compliments the students had the good sense to not call her such in her face. Manners required that nothing less caustic than a class 2 insult be used with a fellow student.

Any human trails that may have been cut into the jungle were long gone. The only hint of a path was a few broken twigs and bent grass left by the passage of local fauna. This was more than enough for Woo. The smell of heat left by a passing deer could tell her the trail. Woo had a sixth sense for that type of thing. Besides, for the moment, it was easy to tell which way led further into the jungle. She just had to head in the direction in which the foliage got darker and thicker. In a manner similar to navigating sand dunes in the desert, one can make his or her way in the jungle by following the subtle transitions of the foliage.

Once within the heart, and darkness, of the jungle Woo could no longer use the sun as a gauge of time or direction. Without a watch she had to rely on her own innate time sense — the sun long since lost beyond the cover of a dense jungle canopy. In the jungle anytime that one wasn’t actively being pursued by a predator and one stumbled across an easy meal . . . that was a good time to eat. And judging by the look of the trees Woo knew they would be crawling with grubs. Roasted they taste a bit like almonds, crunchy and sweet. Unroasted they taste like tofu. Plopping a beheaded grub into her mouth Woo thought to no one in particular “Yuck, I wish these tasted like grubs not tofu.” Woo tossed the black and scaly head into a nearby bush. Only a cherry novice would eat the head of a grub. Bitter and full of plant hormones to counteract the natural defenses of a tree, a grub head was not the best eating. Collecting water from the upturned leaves of elephant-leaf plants, Woo washed down a final mouthful grubs — finishing the jungle equivalent of a fast food lunch.

Other students, typically those that failed, generally referred to making one’s way through the jungle as “trudging and trudging” — i.e. tough and unpleasant. To Woo it was a balm for her soul. In the jungle, everything is everything else. The artificial distinctions that are allowed to persist in cities dissolve in abject absurdity when confronted by the inertia of millions and billions of bio-ergs growing and forming a dense inter-connected blanket of life. Melded with the undergrowth, Woo paused for a moment remembering the words of her grandfather spoken to her so many summers ago, “Woo, my fierce little warrior bunny, the jungle is strong enough to take whatever abuse others would care to wield at it and still keep coming back without change. It’s even strong enough to take whatever love you care to give it. There is nothing you need to know, nothing you need to do, and nothing you need to be, all you need to learn is how to tolerate the jungle.”

At this Woo was an adept. This much she owed to her grandfather.


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