A short while later Ryan was lost in the weave of alien growth. He picked his
way through the leafy plants, noting that the stalks and branches of the organisms here had an almost phosphorescent glow about them. They were
deep in the Wild Zone now, under what CLEM called the "Third Canopy." High above, the taller plants reached into the darkening sky, so thick and unbroken
that the clouds above were largely obscured. Even the sound of the wind seemed muted and oppressed under the growth, but it was gathering strength
in the higher reaches. Occasional gusts buffeted the taller branches and shook loose a rain of dew which dribbled down through the canopy to the forest floor.
The ground was wet with sodden patches of rusty water, and Ryan found it difficult to maintain his footing in places.
Try as he might, he could not fend off the notion that had been gnawing at his
mind of late. The feeling he had about this place didn't fit in anywhere with his training or the logical way in
which he was accustomed to dealing with a situation. Often times he found himself making minor
adjustments on his infrared visor, as if he could bring the intangible aura which hung over the land into some
kind of clear focus with the device and understand it. But the feeling he had about the Wild Zone, about
Dharma VI, would not assume any reasonable definition. Like a vague shadow, it persisted at the edge of
his awareness, dogging his every step, and waiting for him around every twist and turn in the pathway he was forging.
"Haunted..." The feeling found a word and whispered out into the still air. That was the only way he could
describe the disquieting tremor in his mind. The place had a mind of its own. Everything around him was a
part of that mind, and he was forever beyond the silent communion of the Wild. No matter how much time
he spent on this world, he knew he would never get used to it. His body adjusted well enough, heart lungs
and metabolism responding to the challenge of an alien environment. He could move about with energy and
a good measure of strength now. The wild fluctuations of temperature and weather did not bother--but in his mind he was a changeling here. He did not belong.
The place was haunted.
There was a presence that watched his every move, and no matter what he did to try and convince himself
otherwise, he had the feeling that it wanted him dead. It was not his body that the Wild Zone hated, but his
mind. He watched the smooth, unconscious mechanism of his arms and legs as he maneuvered through
the forest. His body synchronized itself with the environment. His movements were well timed and deftly
avoided thorny barbs and other suspicious protrusions extending from the plants around him. His eyes
swept the terrain; his ears took in on the murmured wash of sound, noting any variance in the patterns that
might signal danger. His body moved on its own, moved by his instincts and training, and merged with the
rhythms of the wild. But his mind stood stubbornly apart from the process, a distant observer driven by his
will and a sense of self that was wholly other. This was what the Wild Zone hated, Ryan knew at last. It wanted to consume his mind--to smother his individuality and devour his consciousness. He could feel it
pressing on the borders of his awareness, probing for any weakness it could find in the carefully fashioned
structure of his identity. The more he thought about it, the more relentless and oppressive the pressure
became on the thin borders of his personality. He suddenly realized that the construct of who he was, his character, his ego, took real effort to sustain against the encroaching enmity of the Wild...
[From the Dharman Series Novels - by John Schettler]
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