The Last Tree                                                                                      Started 10-17-08

By Tom Foster

 

 

 

Portland State University

June 2nd, 3021

3:28 pm

 

“Myths and legends, fairy tales and fables line many pages of text that were once thought to be rather important to our species.  Upon these pages were stories of individuals, groups and creatures large and small that were often capable of feats that we know today are simply not possible.  The ink used upon the pages was a co-conspirator in a way to the lie that was told by the authors of such tales to amuse and divert our kind’s attention from the world we knew.  Yet perhaps the greatest crime of all was the material used by each unsung individual to transfer their often hedonistic and sometimes cautionary tales.”

Alyssa paused as she gauged the attention of her audience, raising her eyebrows as though to accentuate the point she was about to make.  There were far too many half-closed eyes that were barely focused upon her, especially given the lack of attendance that had thinned her class to less than half of its original size.  She lamented that many of these absences were due in part to the fact that those who had not chosen to attend this day would not be returning.  She was fast becoming unpopular in this place, just as she had in others.

“Paper, as you all know, has become a highly restricted medium. It was once upon a time something that mankind took for granted because it was there, readily available, and easy to use.  Of course the thought of where it came from never once entered the minds of those who wrote upon it, tore it to shreds, used it for mundane and sometimes vulgar purposes, but that then is the point of this course.  The study of conservation is one that came far too late for our benefit, an idea that was born in the time of our grandparents and yet was somehow not implemented until it was too late.”  Alyssa watched with just a little heartache as two students, a young man and a younger woman, rose from their seats with backpacks in hand, each of them already reaching for the breathers that were stowed so haphazardly in amongst their other school materials.

No one wanted to hear about something that couldn’t be changed any longer, and as a result her course, while barely tolerated at any university, was swiftly becoming like the fabled forests of ages ago. It was dangerously close to becoming extinct.

Another student got up to leave, though he at least gave her a backward glance, perhaps to see if she was going to keep going or not, or maybe just because he had at least something of a heart.  Nonetheless he was up the stairs and out the door into the steadily increasing winds that had scoured the city clean only a few days before.  The weather patterns of the past several centuries had shifted so erratically that at times even the barriers that encircled the great cities had not been enough to keep the worst of the windstorms out.  At times she had to wonder if she was even reaching any of her students. Most of them took this class as something easy to pass, an elective that could allow them to keep their grades up, or in some cases allow them to catch up on their beauty sleep.  In any regard it felt like a bad joke, and she was the punch line.

*                      *                      *

 

6:54 pm

 

She was enjoying a pleasant sip from the glass in her right hand while holding onto her holopad with her left when the doorbell to her office chimed. One of the perks of being a tenured professor at any university was that she had at least rated an office with more than a single room and its own toilet facilities.  As such she had spent many a night in her office either drinking herself into oblivion after a hard day, or studying up on her ongoing research, which was more common.

Inhaling through her nose she set her glass down sans coaster, something that seriously irked one of the only friends she had at this place, keeping the holopad in her left hand as the strap that adorned its back rested snugly against her knuckles. Rolling up from her chair she made her way to the heavy, metal door that had been installed long before she’d ever been born. Everything made of wood had slowly but surely been replaced as the material had slowly been allowed to fade and dwindle away.

The world’s wood supply wasn’t gone, but it might as well have been.

Reaching the door she peered at the viewscreen at the hinge-side of the door, smirking as she saw the goofy-looking woman mugging for the camera outside of her office.  Melodie Amberveldt was anything but a normal person in her estimation, but she was a good friend.  She’d known Melodie since high school, and had kept in touch throughout the years despite the distance that had separated them at times. Pushing the intercom button that would carry her voice to the hallway just outside her door she spoke.

“I’ve had my quota of crazy today. Peddle it somewhere else.”

“Ah but I’ve brought a new and unique brand of psycho bitch that you may not have experienced lately, and are desperately in need of. So open the door o’ favorite love pet of mine.”

Rolling her eyes as she reached for the lock Alyssa wondered idly, for the millionth time perhaps, how she and this wild force of nature had ever stayed friends for so long.  She had heard that opposites attracted one another throughout her entire life, but was always reminded of its absolute truth every time she spent time with Melodie, or “Mel” as she liked to be called. Even before the door was all the way open Mel was pushing her way in, brandishing a bottle that sloshed welcomingly as she clicked her tongue in greeting.

A faint noise drew her attention as she looked back to the hallway, her steadily blurring vision showing her nothing more than the empty, somewhat intimidating hall lined by marble tiles on the floor and drywall along the faded and chipped walls.  This wing of PSU had yet to receive a true upgrade that required actual money, but it was still functional at least.  Shaking her head she decided it had been nothing, perhaps just the janitor making his rounds. He would be the only one still here aside from herself after all, the other professors all had lives or homes they enjoyed returning to.

She had a studio apartment only a short walk away that offered little more than the flat screen television filled with newscasts of how the world was dying a little more each day.  There was a TV in her office too, but was hardly ever turned on save to watch a movie or something else of interest.  Alyssa wasn’t much of one to watch TV, she much preferred the classics, old, ancient movies really that had for some reason been preserved throughout the centuries.  Her favorites were the films and cartoons that featured the very subject of her research.

“So my little dandy throw rug, what’s on the docket for tonight?”

Mel had a way to speaking that normally astounded whomever she talked to, especially her students. She’d had more than one student complain over her use of the English language, thinking that she was being impolite or even degrading at times. To those who really knew her, like Alyssa did, they would have understood that this was how Mel signified that she liked someone. It was a little bit degrading in fact, but the tone she used was almost always with love, and Alyssa had learned how live with her quirky, sometimes off-color friend a long time ago.

“Oh, I was thinking of kicking back with a pleasant, stomach-warming vintage and perhaps switching on some of the oldies.  Care to join?” Alyssa collapsed into her oversized, very comfortable chair as she pointed at the television where it sat upon the wall, the proverbial fly that would only buzz when she desired.  A holo-player sat affixed to the all just below it, a full load of ancient programs loaded and ready to go at her command.

“Tom and Jerry or Looney Tunes?” Mel quipped.

“Maybe both, or maybe I’ll feel adventurous and watch The Sandlot just for kicks, or the The Goonies even. Maybe I’ll have an all out oldies orgy.”

“Sounds fun,” Mel said with a smile, “Should we order in?”

In truth she’d been kidding, but as her friend continued that maniacal smile that Alyssa loved so much she had to laugh.  It did sound like a damned fine idea.

*                      *                      *

 

8:59 pm

 

“So are you still on about your research into the world of long ago?” Mel said, stabbing at a wad of greasy noodles in their plastic packaging as she finally managed to wrap a few around the plastic fork that had come with the meal.  Food was never far away in a city such as Portland, and given its ethnic diversity they’d had a wide variety of places to choose from. Despite it all, they’d gone to their favorite, Panda Express.  It had been their favorite as kids and remained so to this day.

“As much as I can be,” Alyssa replied, swallowing her current bite before going on, “Professor Lansden thinks I’m nuts of course.  He tells me that researching something that went extinct over a hundred years ago is like searching for a single rock at the bottom of the ocean.”

“Pacific or Atlantic?” Mel mused.

“Oh shut up,” Alyssa said with an amused smile.

“You have to admit that it’s almost a lost subject,” Mel said as she kept stabbing at her meal, as though expecting it to fight back. “Trees have been dead and gone for a long time now ‘Lys, no matter how people tried to preserve them.”

She nodded, “I know, but I also know that there’s likely a chance that a few still remain.  If I could only-ow!”

The crunch of her tooth upon something solid and unyielding forced her to sit up

in her chair as she quickly set her food and utensil down, reaching two fingers past her lips to retrieve the item she’d just chomped on.  Her jaw ached a little from the unexpected effort, but as she saw what it was that had been hidden in her chow mein she and Mel both raised an eyebrow.

“I didn’t know they were giving out prizes in noodles these days,” Mel quipped, her eyes focused on the object that Alyssa now held in her hand.  A plain platinum band without any decoration lay dormant upon her palm as she and Mel looked down on it, almost innocent in a way despite the ache in her jaw.  It wasn’t much to look at, but Mel pulled back suddenly as her eyes widened. Putting down her box of chow mein she looked hard at Alyssa, her jaw working as though in thought.

“What the hell?” Alyssa asked, still looking at the ring, “Did someone drop their damned jewelry in my dinner?”

“Put it back ‘Lys,” Mel said quietly, not bothering to look at her, “Put it back and pretend you never saw it. Please.”

Alyssa looked at her friend with confusion written plainly on her face, “What? Why? Someone just lost a ring in my food is all. It’s gross and unsanitary but it’s not-“

“Put it back ‘Lyssie, please.” There was no mistaking the urgency in her tone now as Mel leaned forward, “I’ll explain later, but please just put it in the box and throw it out. Believe me, you’ll understand soon enough.”

“What’s wrong with you?” Alyssa asked, palming the ring as she stood to her feet, “It’s just a ring.”

Mel sighed, a sound that was usually reserved for her students when they were being naïve or intentionally stupid. It wasn’t a sound that Alyssa was used to hearing directed at her.

“Give it to me then,” Mel said, “And I’ll show you why it should be tossed in the trash.”

Alyssa wasn’t stupid, she’d seen enough old movies to see where this was heading, or at least where it might be heading in theory.

“Why Mel?” she asked, “That is your name, right?” She was only half-kidding, but the sudden change in Mel’s demeanor and the fact that she’d used a variation of Alyssa’s name, Lyssie, that she hadn’t used in years, had alerted her to the fact that something was very off about this situation.

“Alyssa I’m your friend, and you can trust me. I’ll explain it all once you give me the damned thing.  Just, please.”

Alyssa handed the ring over slowly, watching Mel closely but not wanting to believe that anything untoward might happen. She’d known Mel since they were kids, she didn’t want to believe that anything she’d seen in the old movies could possibly be real.  Despite the fact that the futuristic depictions of the world back then were in some sense coming true, she still didn’t think that the drama of such films could possibly have occurred in the exact manner that she’d viewed them.

“Activate,” Mel said into the center of the ring, her lips almost brushing the metal as the ring suddenly glowed from within.  Alyssa had seen such things before, as most things nowadays had hidden circuitry buried deep within to keep the item in question from appearing as anything other than a mundane object.  The effect was nothing new, but if not for Mel’s action she might have thought it was just another wedding band, or something similar perhaps.

Instead the ring began to glow with a bluish-white tinge, an inner mechanism causing the interior of the ring to shift and spin slowly until a minute click could be heard, and a voice issued forth.  Alyssa felt a slow, methodical frown crease her brow as she could have sworn she recognized the voice, but she listened without interrupting.

“Forty-five point six-two-two-four North, One hundred twenty-two point seven-zero-one-eight West. June 6th, 3021.”

“What is that?” Alyssa asked, looking to her friend. Mel swallowed hard, closing her eyes as she shook her head. As the ring went inert again it gave one final click, but Alyssa didn’t notice. She was too interested in what her friend might be holding back from her.

“Mel, what is it?”

“Those were coordinates,” Mel said in a voice barely louder than a whisper. “They were meant to direct the selected individual to a designated location at a certain time.”

Alyssa waited, and waited, but her friend was obviously ready to stop talking.  She wasn’t ready to stop listening though.

With a sigh, Mel said, “This wasn’t an accident ‘Lys.”

She was ready to laugh at the joke, but she saw that Mel wasn’t in the mood.  Instead of smiling Alyssa suddenly felt her stomach turn to ice. Her heartbeat began to quicken slightly, though she still didn’t know why.

“Do you know where those coordinates point to Alyssa? Do you have any idea?”

Alyssa shook her head, “I don’t do latitude and longitude, that’s your forte.”

Mel nodded as she sat down, lacing her fingers over her abdomen as she leaned back. “I know.  That’s why I was hoping this would never happen.”

Alyssa’s frown deepened, “Mel you’re starting to scare me.”

Mel shook her head, “Honey you have no idea. But you will.”

*                      *                      *

 

June 3rd

6:26 am

 

The last tree was reportedly cut down as part of a preservation project in the year 2998, over two decades ago when the Presidential Accords were signed to act in order to preserve what was left of our fading atmosphere. The effect of eliminating the last of the earth’s forested regions had a drastic effect upon the ecosystem, creating vast gaps within the food chain that were necessary to fill with other, artificial means. 

            “What this mean for humanity was that our race soon become the beginning and the ending of the food chain, as we were forced to resort to drastic measures to keep life moving ahead in a manner that would prove beneficial for our race.  Due to new innovations in DNA and technological advances in artificial agriculture it was possible to all but eliminate the risk of our atmosphere failing and our world eventually becoming a poisonous greenhouse that would eliminate all life on earth.”

Alyssa waved her right hand over the holo-control embedded into her chair. She didn’t want to hear anymore, especially after last night. Her head was still whirling from what Mel had told her, though she found herself wanting to believe at least part of it. What had been discussed was so unbelievable that even her own bias towards the subject seemed to be weighing against the decision she felt compelled to make. Mel had of course told her again and again to throw the ring away, and she had almost listened.  What Mel hadn’t told her was why she had never bothered to tell her that she was a part of something so clandestine in the first place.

She wanted to be mad at her friend but it wasn’t as easy as all that. Mel had given her the truth during their little talk, and had even expressed anger that she’d been given the ring at all.  The issue of who had put it in her food and why hadn’t been touched upon as much, but she had at least asked. That part Mel hadn’t been able to decipher, though she had at least made a guess.  What was truly confusing and yet still gave her the smallest glimmer of hope was what Mel had said at the midpoint of her explanation.

There was a tree still living within the world.

It had sounded like a bad joke to be honest, something that she might have seen on a documentary or a movie from the modern age.  Trees had been a disappearing resource since before she’d been born, and had died out finally when she had still been in grade school.  Her teachers had always told her class that absence of trees was why they wore breather masks, and why they would never be safe outside for long periods of time.  When it was needed human beings could go outside for about an hour or two at most before the radiation and poisonous gases that existed in the atmosphere would begin to affect them.

The scrubbers and various windmills that were designed to cleanse the air and keep the earth from being completely overrun by carbon dioxide had been installed worldwide nearly three decades before.  Such a system was reported to have a veritable army of redundancies just in case one section went down, but it was still far from perfect. The coordinates that had been revealed by the voice from the ring were directly in the middle of one such area that had gone down when she was still in high school.  It was officially called the Neutral Zone, like something out of the old Star Trek films, but in truth it was called the “Dead Zone” by anyone living within twenty miles of it.  That was  how close anyone had ever come to the area once known as Hayden Island since the year 2923, when the world had felt the first massive effects of deforestation.

Alyssa and Mel had been born into a world where it was necessary to remain indoors more often than not, and had never known the joys of running in the long, green grass as was depicted in the films she favored. They had never built a tree fort or swung from an old tire swing.  Humanity had  been forced to adapt and change far too quickly for anyone to recall the old memories of a world that had moved on before the next generation could catch their breath.  It was a cruel joke really that the culture and records of such a life would be left to be viewed and remembered by those who had at one time walked barefoot upon a lush, green lawn, or climbed an actual, living tree.  It all seemed so horribly unfair.

There were no classes today, and no one had bothered to check and see if she was still here or not. As a professor she was required to check out of her office every so often just to keep with protocol, but as an individual she often made the decision to use her office as her living space. It was well within the rules after all, but the need to leave every so often was recommended by the council of health that overlooked both students and faculty.  It was to avoid the dangers of isolation and to insure that professors were kept psychologically healthy.  Today though she didn’t feel like going anywhere, and she especially didn’t feel like venturing to the Dead Zone.

That lack of desire though was slowly losing ground to the desire she felt to see whether or not the words Mel had spoken were true.  For almost three decades trees had been relegated to history, a growing myth that the new generations cared for and knew even less about.  An important part of the world had been eradicated and no one seemed to care.  Of course when a person had never experienced something for themselves they didn’t know there was anything to be missed.

The knock that came upon her door was not expected, but it was hardly unexpected either.  Going over to the image that presented itself in the viewscreen she was hardly surprised to see Mel standing there, but her friend wasn’t mugging for the camera any longer. Instead she just gave a sad look into the camera, as though she had come to a very difficult decision.  Sighing to herself she went to open the door, allowing her friend inside before closing and locking it. For some reason she felt the need for privacy and security, as much as she could get.

“Any change in that scotch-soaked sponge you call a brain?” Mel asked, seating herself in one of the office chairs. The attempt at humor was at least mildly comforting, but right now it came off as a bit flat.

“After you dropped that nuclear bomb in my lap? Not really.  My research will likely keep going, but with this in mind now I don’t know as I’d be able to look at myself in the mirror without at least checking the veracity of it.”

“I kind of figured you would say that,” Mel said, shaking her head, “But at the very least the people I talked to last night have agreed that we should move ahead.”

Alyssa frowned, “Move ahead? What are you-? No, no no no.  You can’t mean going out there!”

Mel nodded, “That’s exactly what I mean.  If you’re going to know everything then you need to see everything. People have theorized about this subject for a long time Alyssa, but no one has ever been allowed into the truth in this manner.  Public opinion was formed and fostered a long time ago in order to keep interest from becoming too high on this subject. People were made to believe that trees were no longer important once civilization found other means of keeping itself alive.”

“But the exposure between here and there-“

“Is minimal when considering how you’d be transported. And the methods that have been used to keep it alive are such that the environment it uses are far more suitable to life than in any sterilized, artificial setting. It’s a clean room without peer ‘Lys, one that relies on its own natural ability to cleanse itself.  But it isn’t infinite.”

“This is all coming really, really fast,” Alyssa said, closing her eyes as she held one hand to her face, “Last night I believed that trees were extinct, just like the rest of the world.”

“Ah, but you always suspected I believe.”

“No, I didn’t.” Alyssa said, shaking her head. “I was along for the ride with public opinion. I really thought they were gone.”

“One immutable reality of our world young ‘Lyssie is that matter cannot be created or destroyed, only altered. So in truth, trees are around, but in ways that we no longer recognize.”

“I know that,” she almost snapped, “But, but it’s not the same.”

Mel nodded, gaining momentum now, “You’re right. You can’t scrub carbon

dioxide from the air with a sheet of paper, or with an antique chair covered in untold

layers of stain and lacquer.  But the reality of it is that the trees still exist, just in a

different form. Thus, their DNA still exists as well.”

“No,” Alyssa said, shaking her head, “That isn’t the same thing.”

“No,” Mel said, nodding, “You’re right. But it is still there.”

“What’s your point Mel?” she asked, growing a bit irritated now.

Mel leaned back a bit, interlacing her fingers as she placed them over her stomach. “If the remains of a tree are real, then so must be the tree.”

“Just tell me what is going on and what you want me to do. After last night my head is still spinning.”  Alyssa sat down with a groan as she spoke, pinching the bridge of her nose lightly between thumb and forefinger.

“The people who I’m in contact with want you to see something,” Mel said plainly, “I wanted you kept away from it, as it’s a secret that is more than a little dangerous.  But after your last little lecture they decided to bring you in on the little secret. Well, it’s not really a little secret, but something along the lines of a world-changing conspiracy that might just get us both locked away or killed at any moment.”

Alyssa sat forward, looking at her friend as though she’d gone insane. “What’s that now?”

Mel just grinned.

*                      *                      *

 

June 4th

4:54 pm

 

Her lecture that day came and went without fault.  Alyssa was looking for someone, anyone, who might be paying more attention to her words than the others, but she saw nothing.  Mel’s words were still echoing in her mind as she took to instructing her students by rote, not even hearing her own voice for the strange clanging in her head, alarm signals that she knew were part paranoia and part inborn security systems meant to keep people safe.  The only problem was that she had absolutely no idea which way to look.

Alyssa was gathering up her materials for the day, closing books and turning off the holoprojector in the front of the class when she suddenly noticed that she was no longer alone in the room.  Fashioned after the old-style lecture halls, the stadium seating that this room featured allowed the students to keep line of sight to the front of the class, but could easily obscure anyone from the view of the teacher, if that teacher did not look up.

She felt her breath hitch in her throat as she did look up, noting the individual seated in one of the rows nearest the door. His laid back posture indicated that he had been waiting patiently to be noticed.  The small grin upon his stubbly features told her that he was perfectly at ease, and that he was anything but an interested admirer.  There was something dangerous about that grin, almost predatory.  It was the grin of a man who knew he had his prey cornered.

Deciding to play the authority card she tossed her long, curly brown hair back behind her neck, “Can I help you?”

His eyebrows rose as he leaned back a little further. She could see that he was in excellent physical condition as the dark shirt he wore stretched over a torso she might have been attracted to under normal circumstances.  Alyssa could also see what looked like a gun holstered beneath his right arm.  Now her heart began to pound, and she wondered if she might survive this encounter.

“Yeah, I suppose you can.  If you could just give me the coordinates that you were handed a couple of days ago I’d be on my way and you could go on lecturing about ancient history.”

She was thunderstruck, despite what she already knew.

“What?” she murmured, “Who, who are you?”

“Professor,” he began, leaning back a little more, “I could tell you everything you want to know before I get what I want, but-gah!”

The man attempted to get up, but a light shock from the cattle prod now pressed against the side of his neck stopped him cold.  He jittered madly in his seat for a moment before attempting to pull the pistol from its holster under his arm. Unfortunately for him the wielder of the prod jabbed him again, sending another shock through his body as his teeth clacked together, painfully from the sound.

“If your ass moves from that seat big boy you’ll be shitting sparks for the next few days.”

“Mel?” Alyssa asked, “Where did you-?”

“It’s not the time and we need to go,” Mel said pointedly.  “Dick-lick here beat me to you by just a few minutes it would seem, but at least he’s the type that likes to talk before he takes. Get the stuff you need ‘Lys and let’s scoot.”

“But-“

“Now Alyssa! Please.”  Mel adjusted her tone as she held up her free hand, putting it quickly upon the base of the prod as the faint humming that Alyssa now heard cranked up just a bit. “As for you Mr. Assmunch, I would prefer you not remember a single thing about this meeting, but I’ll settle for you being reduced to a jittery mess of nerves for the next few hours.  That way you won’t be following us where we’re going.”

“Y-you don’t ha-have the b-b-balls,” he managed to stammer. The electric shock was still firing through his body as he tried to regain control, but as she dug the prod a little harder into his neck she smiled.

“You’re right about that,” she said cheerily as she pushed the button. The prod actually sparked as it discharged its deadly current into the seated man, making him jump high and hard enough that he upended his seat, almost knocking into Mel as she leapt backward.

“What the hell?!” Alyssa exclaimed, “Mel?”

“Oh he’ll live,” she said nonchalantly, “Just get your stuff and let’s get going. I get the feeling that he isn’t alone.”

“What, I mean how, I mean-“

Mel started walking down towards her, sneakers squeaking slightly as she approached Alyssa calmly, quietly, turning off the prod as she came.

“Alyssa, I told you all about this,” she said in an even tone, “I told you it would be trouble if you kept that ring.  What we spoke about is something of a secret that has been kept for a long, long time now, since before you or I were born.  My family has kept the secret for many years, and I was initiated when we were still in high school.”

“Let me get my stuff,” she said stiffly, still not daring to believe what was going on was real. Mel stayed with her, following Alyssa from the lecture hall back to her office, making good and sure they weren’t being followed or in any way watched.  So far as she could tell they were in the clear.  Now the only hard part would be reaching their destination without a  hitch.

*                      *                      *

 

June 5th

3:23 am

 

Her world had been turned on its head.   No, scratch that, her world had been turned upside down, inside out, and then broken apart to be pieced back together with components she’d never known existed.  Only a couple of days ago she’d been a tolerated professor at one of the more prominent universities still left in the state. It hadn’t been a glamorous existence, but it had been comfortable. Her life now was anything but torturous, but it was so foreign to her that Alyssa still hadn’t learned to cope yet.

The area known as Hayden Island, or Jantzen Beach from historical records, had for a long time been off-limits to the public, as it was a hot zone of seismic activity and was continually flooding from the various weather patterns that sent the river it rested upon into a frenzy.  At one time it had been a garbage dump, then a water park, and then a shopping center according to records that were accessible to the general public.  She’d overlooked this stretch of land many times largely because of its designation and the fact that twenty miles or more of barren and forgotten landscape surrounded it.

Portland and Vancouver, the two cities that had surrounded Hayden Island, had been walled off and kept away from the continually shifting island for centuries now.  Reports had come in continually throughout the cataclysmic era that Hayden Island was in continual danger of simply dropping into the Columbia River and washing downstream bit by bit, but to date it was still there, a blasted hunk of rock where nothing grew and no one dared to venture.  There was no interest in the place for even the clandestine government agencies that were in charge of keeping people safe and secure behind the walls of ordered society.  It was for all intents and purposes a place that lived up to its name.

She was only now discovering just how wrong they’d been.

“Beautiful aren’t they?” Mel asked, her voice filled with wonder and a strange quality that Alyssa had only heard on a few occasions. It was longing, a desperate cry to the past that might have been had humans ever learned to live with their home rather than destroy it. Alyssa was no activist, but she didn’t need to be to know that human kind had done more damage to the planet they lived on than any natural catastrophe could have ever accomplished.

“They are,” she nodded, still breathless as she knelt before the grandeur, the majesty, of the small grove in front of her. “But how do you keep them safe? How do you keep them from being noticed?”

Mel smiled, “Technology can be a lifesaver, but it can also be a very effective method of keeping secrets.  You see that shimmer in the air?”

Looking up Alyssa squinted as she tried to see through the darkness to whatever Mel was talking about. The heavy-carbon-dioxide-laden cloud cover didn’t allow for star or moonlight, but she could finally see a faint shimmer as an errant breeze rippled across an unseen barrier.

She gasped, and Mel chuckled.

“There is a holographic barrier over this place that was designed specifically to fool every possible scan known to human kind.  People in key places know how important this secret is, and are doing their very best to keep it.”

“But, but how?” Alyssa asked. Words were failing her at every turn just now, refusing to take form in her mind or be delivered to her tongue.  Never before had she felt this type of awe, this type of absolute wonder that could steal away her very breath.

Mel sighed, “Well despite how much you like those old, ancient movies that keep getting recycled for some reason, there is no order, no secret society, and no other clandestine reason for keeping these trees except for the one thing that’s kept my family in this whole mess from the start.”

“How long?” Alyssa asked, “How long has your family been…?”             “In charge of this place?” Mel asked, eyebrows raised. “Oh man, since my great grandfather really.  The dead zone was created a long while ago, and back then most people had figured this place as a lost cause. I mean it still floods, the bedrock is failing, but overall it’s still an ideal place to keep these beauties alive.”

“But the atmosphere,” Alyssa said, now thoroughly confused, “How do they survive?”

“If there were more of them they might thrive on their own and make a difference in this small part of the world. But we have our own scrubbers and filtration systems hidden here and there, all covered by the barrier so as not to draw any unwanted attention.”

“Are they viable?” Alyssa asked, looking back to the trees, “Are they able to produce more trees?”

Mel smiled, “At one point there was only one of them. So what do you think?”

Alyssa turned her head back to the wondrous, leafy sentinels, her jaw hanging open as she began to count each one.

“There are twenty in all,” Mel said, leaning over her shoulder with a smile, “The last tree took root just about twenty years ago.  The first among them, we call her Genni, has been here for roughly three hundred years and counting.”

“Genni?”

“For Genesis,” she said, grinning at her friend as Alyssa grinned back, feeling the contagious emotion as it finally washed over her. There were trees here, and suddenly life had gained a very different aspect.  There was life to be had for their world, if only they protect it for long enough.

“So what is my place in all this?”

To that, Mel could only smile.

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