Short fiction– The Last Tree

This is a piece of short fiction was belatedly inspired by a Sunday Photo fiction prompt

Photo copyright by Al Forbes
Photo copyright by Al Forbes

This is sooo belated, though (by ten days), that I am not going to add my link to the collection for April 6th– there’s just no point. There’s also the not inconsiderable fact that I completely blew away the 200-word limit. So, instead, I’ll simply acknowledge the inspiration and move on.

Having said that, this doodle is actually part of a concept I have had for a while for a sci-fi story. I think it would work as a novel, but I think it would really rock as a movie. But the story has to come first, and these are the first few hundred words of the concept I’ve actually laid down.

In a far future, humanity shelters from a poisoned Earth in a vast, enclosed habitat. After centuries, things are not going well, and an unlicensed scientist approaches one of the elite– literally, a “high-level”– with his concerns….

Copyright 2014 by Douglas Daniel
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“They say it’s the last tree on Earth,” Carr said.

Anneke knew that was not so. Far above, in the up-levels, there were many bonsai’d trees, individual specimens in pots. She had seen those all her life. But a full-grown tree—she had had no idea such a thing existed. This had to be the only, the last, of its type.

She looked up. There was the explanation– this patch of open space, nearly dead center under the core Atrium, was one of the few places in Lower London with plenty of light. Far, far above, sunlight shone through distant skylights, but this place was so down-level, at what the ancients had called ‘street-level’, that the natural light seemed filtered; it was bright here only because artificial light leaked into the core Atrium shaft and supplemented the sunlight. Even as she watched, the sunlight dimmed, then brightened again. Doubtless a dust-cloud had howled over the Habitat just then, momentarily occluding the sun.

“Come closer,” Carr said.

Anneke, hesitating, followed him into the open space around the tree. Odd stone slabs stood upright all around the tree, although some leaned considerably out of the vertical, and one or two had fallen. They were worn and gray; as she came closer Anneke saw that all of them had writing carved into them, although in a mode so ancient that she had trouble understanding the words. Some of the stones were so worn that she could not make out the writing at all.

Tombstones. The realization came with a start—it meant she was standing in a graveyard, among, or over, the bones of ancients buried here. And that meant that the dilapidated stone building standing close at hand was a church. The sheer antiquity of what she was seeing caused her to shiver, all the more because the Hampstead Heath support pillar loomed gigantic over the open space, a few hundred meters beyond the church, and the walls of the Atrium rose dizzyingly overhead.

The two of them stopped beneath the tree. The ground was covered with pink-white petals, matching those still on the tree. As Anneke stood there, a petal fell from a stem somewhere overhead and, in falling, brushed her face. She started, but the petal was soft and the impact gentle.

Looking up, she had an impression of a complexity of brown branches, green leaves, and pink blossoms. She had the sudden sense of being in the presence of a mighty, but silent, being. How long had it grown here, forgotten, a lost remnant of a dead world?

But more petals were falling. “Is it dying?” she asked Carr.

He shook his head. He casually laid a hand on the tree’s trunk, as if they were old friends. “No—it’s spring, or it’s supposed to be. I suppose there’s just enough natural light for the tree to follow its normal cycle. It was normal for trees to blossom in the spring, and then shed their flowers as the season passed. If there were other trees to pollinate each other, then they would bear fruit.” He paused, looking up at the tree. “But this tree hasn’t borne anything for centuries.”

Anneke shifted on her feet, uncomfortable. “Why are you showing me this?”

“I wanted to give you a taste,” Carr said, “of what humanity has lost. We’ve been trapped in the Habitat for so long, we’ve forgotten what the Earth was like before the Catastrophe. Imagine trees like this, thousands of them, standing in forests, groups of trees that covered the land and were so vast you could get lost in them, all under an atmosphere you could actually breathe. And that was only one sort of life-form on the Earth in the old days.”

“I know the history of the Catastrophe, and the ancient times,” Anneke said, irritated.

“I know you’ve read the histories,” Carr said. “Reading history can only carry you so far. Come, touch it.”

Anneke realized she was reluctant, and then she was angry with herself. She stepped closer and laid her hand on the tree trunk. The…bark, she supposed, was rough under her fingers, but cool and benign.

“We are meant to live among other life-forms like this,” Carr said. He stood over her, but there was no threat. His expression was solemn. “Humanity can’t continue to be trapped in the Habitat. We are dying, lady, slowly dying, because we have been cut off too long from what is natural. I think you know that.”

“Yes,” Anneke whispered. “But what’s to be done? The Earth is poisoned, and it’s been poisoned for two thousand years.”

“We must find a way,” Carr said, “to purify the world. And I think those who built the Habitat meant for there to be a way to do that. If so, surely the Administrator’s own daughter would be in a position to find out what that was.”

Anneke looked at him, comprehending. “So that is why you contacted me.”

“Yes,” Carr said. “My friends and I are desperate, lady. You may be our last hope. Please.”

Anneke hesitated. What Carr was asking her to do was to go against her father, the bureaucracy, the entire security apparatus of the Habitat, and two thousand years of tradition. But we are dying. There was no escaping that fact.

“I will try,” she said.

****************************************

Since putting Princess of Fire on hiatus, I have doodled away on several other projects, this among them. I may spend a few more weeks off, and then take a whack at PoF version 2.0. It’s not the way I usually handle my drafts, but Fire has already proven to be an unusual project.

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5 thoughts on “Short fiction– The Last Tree”

  1. Oh, come on! You can’t leave it there, Doug, you have to write more — I want to read more. As you say, “I think it would work as a novel, but I think it would really rock as a movie.” I love that he calls her “Lady,” it has a medieval sound about it even though it’s set in the future.

    1. Thanks– it’s all a matter of finding the time. I really do want to finish my current series of novels. Then we can see if this project forces its way to the front of the queue.

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