The mass of rotting leaves felt soft beneath the soles of her feet, it played havoc with her senses and balance, she never quite thought a forest floor would be so . . . wet. Yet here she was, creeping beneath the underbrush, searching for a safe haven, as you do when you’re alone and grossly unequipped for an alien forest. Crouching, peering through an endless array of ferns, tree trunks and plants with large leaves and vibrant flowers, she gasped as one hand slipped off a moss-covered stone beside her feet and onto the damp ground. She felt the slimy decay first hand, squishing between her fingers and she yanked her hand away, trying in vain to wipe the mess off onto the trunk of an old tree behind, ending up with more foreign muck than she had started. Suppressing a gag, she brushed it off onto her hazard suit, well, what remained of the pants she’d secretly acquired for the journey. She’d have to get a new one made on her return, if they’d ever accept her back on friendly terms. She pictured old style wanted posters plastered across the interior of the City Tower, sporting her bland face, freckles and all, and she wasn’t entirely sure how menacing she’d appear to the public, if at all. Back to the situation at hand, speaking of her hand, which was still damp and slimy, she made a conscious effort not to brush her curls from her eyes with that one. She couldn’t see anything ahead, just more forest. Surely there had to be someone civilised on the planet. Resuming her half-crawl, half-creep through the underbrush, she kept her ears wide open for any signs of life, hostile or otherwise – preferably otherwise – as she ducked her head beneath what felt to be the hundredth fern. Her neck was getting sore. She rounded a particularly large tree trunk, which must’ve been at least a thousand years old since it took a while to reach the other side. A while of clambering over roots with her slimy hand, during which she slipped multiple times and she even managed to bang her forehead against one. That would bruise. Around this frustratingly large tree was a wooden cottage. Her heart leapt and she picked up her pace, once she’d slid down from the thick roots. The base of the cottage tilted outwards to either side and continued on to join a loose ring of trees encircling the structure. The wooden walls were long thick branches, entwined and endless. Her pace slowed. The cottage appeared as if it had grown from the roots of the trees. Who knew what was possible on this world? Tiny leaves sprouted beneath a few round windows and large, waxy leaves blanketed what would have been a roof. She glanced around, apparently alone. Reaching the door, she tried peering through gaps in the wood; nothing, nothing but darkness. Oh well, that should mean no body is home, right? She took her chance, if she didn’t find a place to rest and clean up soon she’d surely lose it. Holding her breath, she tapped lightly on the wood, “hello?” She whispered. She flinched as the door shifted – as it does in these situations. It swung inwards, leaves along the hinges rustling. Small baubles hanging along the ceiling, about as big as Christmas ornaments, began to glow, casting the room in a soft green light; a fascinating change from the sea of deep purples and reds outside. They were cold, alien, whereas this green held warmth, familiarity. She stepped inside onto a thatched floor. Stable, dry, welcoming. The tree roots formed a single-roomed cottage. With a crude, wooden bed extending from one wall, a small table and a couple of chairs from another, and what seemed to be a tub, with a spout above, built into a small alcove in another wall. Cupboards and hay baskets filled any empty space. It was built for necessity, and certainly more than enough for what she needed. Glancing back outside through the door, it swung closed and she froze for a moment, expecting to see something there with her. But, she was still alone, at least, she couldn’t tell if anyone else was there. Body detecting an opportunity to rest, her eyes began to hurt and she studied the small bed. A layer of hay and feathers littered the top. She sat on it, surprised by its softness. Not quite as soft as what we are used to, but after her adventure, it was miraculous. Laying down, struggling to keep her eyes open or her limbs functioning, she barely noticed as a blanket of moss drifted down over her and she settled off to sleep. Her mind sharpened, detecting a birdsong somewhere nearby, how long had she been asleep? Raising her hands from beneath her blanket, she rubbed her eyes and struggled to open them, one of her hands felt gunky and she instantly regretted touching her face. She glanced up at the door. She bolted upright, almost falling back off the end of the bed as she noticed the huge, slanted black eyes gazing at her. Long stringy hair framed the creature’s sharp features, its dark skin laced with what looked like the pale veins of leaves, sending shivers through her core. She daren’t move as the creature watched, with what she thought was a smile, playing across its thin lips, revealing a hint of sharp, white teeth.