From storytime - where it dueled or danced with The amber heart of the alchemical ship

If you bend a Lane beyond the curl of night on the fifth planet of a certain system, you will emerge in a glade of sentient trees three hundred feet tall. The blue of untarnished sky, they rise around the clearing in groups of three, or four, or five; and the wind through their tops carries with it the whispering of ancient days. There are no branches on their lower trunks, and a traveler can see far, far back into their well-spaced ranks - a wood stretching off to the horizon.

Between their sturdy towers lie softly weathered shapes - once-sharp remnants of another world lying softened and broken amongst the quivering guardians. A moment's work digging will turn up the lightness of long-oxidized metals and the smear of crumbled ceramics. As the sunlight angles and then fades, the whispering of the winds in the treetops will change to a low and thready dirge.

Far above, in the last rays of sunlight now too elevated to reach the earth, shapes will flit and dance, their calls piercing the constant drone of the trees as their crystalline wings refract the dying day down onto the forest floor. They will cavort and spin, reaching down almost to the treetops, their gavotte intricate and primal.

Eventually, though, they will part, and drift away alone, each carried on its own gust of radiative breeze. The treetops will bend slightly towards them, shaking; the drone will rise in mourning as the shapes move out of sight. It is then, if the traveler is quiet and patient, that they will see that the trees lean slowly towards each other.

If one listens across the Lanes, one will hear the crying of the trees on the hydrogen bands, carried out across the system's wastes, as they slowly touch and huddle, and the families left behind mourn their lost and airborne children.

Several radians around the surface from the clearing lies a terrible wasteland, black and scarred. Radiation and chemical poisons drift over its surface. Space itself is twisted slightly at its center, the wound emitting gamma rays in a wail of physics. At the epicenter there is a plaza, untouched by the violence which flung the city around it into dust and ruin.

A thousand years before and more, the family had met in its center - the father tall and proud, the mother wise and strong, the daughter flushed with the joy and pain of leaving home. The changer weapon tore the world from around them, but the vagaries of its shape and coding left a zone beneath it untouched by the wrenching of spacetime gone hard and lethal. In that moment, they reached for each other, and in this moment, a thousand years later, the crystalline wingtips of the floating shape still almost but do not quite touch the outstretched tips of the two trees that grow at plaza's center, the sunset the only time she can drift out of the light that keeps her dancing just above.

By day she flutters high above the clearing, lofted there by the sun; by full night she drifts slowly down from altitude in the nightly prayer that the sun will return before she touches the cold and poisoned earth, never to rise again. Her sunset pilgrimages to her parents, then, are grim risks, for they leave her scant time to make her way back up to the safety of the air before the horizon scythes away her lift.

But the wind which rustles the trees around the world does not touch this clearing, and for years she has brought gifts along. They lie in deepening piles around the trunks; splinters of wood as light as down, dried leaves slowly turning to lacy gauze in the daytime's pitiless sun.

For hundreds of years she has managed to snatch these small poor fragments from the tops of other trees, where she imagines they are offered to her in apology and supplication for what her parents' generation brought about, and to bring them to the clearing where she floats and skitters in the rays, placing each piece delicately around her family.

The pile, settling slowly but refusing to disperse in the deathly still air of the epicenter, is almost to her mother's branches now, and she can feel an ache where she supposes once there would flow tears as she realizes that tomorrow is the day she has been working for these long centuries.

Tomorrow, when she awakens from her nightly frozen plummet towards the surface, she will shake herself as she has done every morning for a millenium, and turn her unblinking diamond eyes to the east to await the full unclothing of the orb of the star.

And then, tomorrow, she will lift her wings of glass and ashes, lift them into place with practiced care, and focus the light of the sun on the base of that pyre. She will fight the light and the air to remain still until she sees not only smoke but the flicker of movement on the surface, missing these centuries, and will know the flame has come, and then she will settle down from the air and finally, finally find rest in her parents' embrace.