A short Science Fiction Story
By Rachel Armstrong For FoAM
16 November 2007
Thaliana and Giordan hugged one another as the body scanner hummed past, hunting for signs of genetic deviancy. Fortunately Giordan knew that the scanbot sensors relied on detectors that scrutinised tissue beneath the surface of the skin and couldn’t recognise people, just their symptoms. He was also aware that the dogged scanners were limited to the range of a single body thickness due to the short wavelength of their sensors and were quite easy to fool, especially if two people were in close proximity. Giordan took full advantage of this inconsistency as he shielded Thaliana from the scanbot’s uncompromising gaze and felt her flesh become sticky with fear and sickness as he held her tightly against him. It was an uncomfortable embrace. Thaliana wasn’t at all well and Giordan tried to slow down his heart rate to hide his anxiety.
The danger passed so slowly that Thaliana contemplated surrender to the body scanner. She barely had the energy to stay still let alone put up any fight. Thaliana knew that her thin, paper skin bruised very easily and Giordan’s protective grip was becoming almost unbearably painful. She knew exactly where the marks would appear and thought she might cry out from the spiteful pinching of her leaking blood vessels under her skin. Miserably she wondered whether it was worth all this effort to evade the system but even more gloomily she realised she was doomed anyway without medical attention. She wasn’t going to get the treatment she needed in The Pyramid. They hadn’t seen a case of cancer for years since the eradication programme. At best, Thaliana would be quarantined if she was discovered and at worst…
Thaliana stopped her downwardly spiralling train of thought as Giordan changed his position to confuse the dogged scanbot. She drew confidence from his physical strength and momentarily forgot about dying.
As the body scanner disappeared from view, seemingly reluctant to leave yet compelled to move on by its internal command systems, Thaliana realised that one day Giordan would not be able to save her.
When Giordan gently lowered Thaliana to her feet she felt dizzy with anxiety and the ground underneath her felt strange and distant. She wondered briefly if she still had the use of her legs.
“What’s the matter?” asked Giordan tenderly. “It’s ok, the body scanner’s gone. Danger’s passed.”
Thaliana looked up at him gratefully.
“No, I’m ok.” She reassured him as she took a few small steps forward relieved that she wasn’t paralysed by his protective grasp, although she knew he wasn’t trying to be rough. Her tissues were just very brittle. “That was too close for comfort. I feel a bit strange, almost like I don’t belong in my own body.”
“That’ll pass.” Reassured Giordan confidently. “It’s just the metabolic effects of fear. Cortisol and adrenaline really don’t make you feel too good. In a few minutes you’ll be right again. I don’t think you respond to stress the same way as the rest of us any more.”
“No.” Admitted Thaliana sadly. “It’s been a long time since I’ve felt normal.”
“Let’s not talk about it now.” Dismissed Giordan.
“No, I think it’s important that we do talk. Now is perfect. We need to discuss this Gio.” Thaliana insisted. “We won’t evade detection forever.”
“We could try!” smirked Giordan feeling unjustly reprimanded and trying not to be drawn into an argument he didn’t want.
“Don’t be so belligerent.” Scolded Thaliana. “You know that was the closest call we’ve had. I don’t care what happens to me any more as I know the outcome is going to be the same whatever path fate chooses for me. It’s different for you. You’re putting your own life at risk. You’ll be arrested as a conspirator to bio terrorism if they discover the extent of deception that we’ve engaged in to keep my illness from the authorities.”
“I know!” protested Giordan defiantly. “It’s ridiculous!” he snapped petulantly. “I just can’t believe it can be a crime. You’ve done nothing wrong. It wasn’t your fault you became ill. There must be a cure for cancer. With all the biotechnologies available they must have known how to treat it for years! Why don’t we just go through the right channels and tell them about your symptoms. It might not even be cancer. Maybe it’s something else.”
“Just because cancer is not being reported doesn’t mean it’s not happening to people.” Observed Thaliana. “I‘ve thought about it. I have been tempted to lie about my symptoms all the time, even to you!” Tears of frustration flickered in Thaliana’s eyes. “It makes sense doesn’t it Gio. Just put yourself in the position of anyone who thinks they have unusual. You would keep them to yourself, or leave The Pyramid if you thought you couldn’t handle the secrecy.”
Giordan rolled his eyes. “Oh Thaliana, what would be the point in that? Isn’t it in everyone’s interest to find and treat disease when it arises? That’s what The Pyramid Principles say and that’s what people do. They don’t lie or hide!”
“So what are we doing then Gio? The motive is the old story, power and money. The authorities will never admit that their cancer eradication policy is flawed. It would be financially disastrous for them, especially as they’ve invested so much in persuading us to live healthy lifestyles. There’s a huge industry that thrives on a philosophy that virtually guarantees people longevity and perfect health, so there’s a vested interest in keeping sporadic cases of cancer a secret. Otherwise people will think that their efforts to change the habits of a lifetime are all for nothing. The whole concept of The Pyramid and its Principles would collapse! We wouldn’t be special anymore. We’d be just as mortal as those who live outside a sterile city.”
“You’re such a conspiracy theorist!” snorted Giordan. “My dad worked in the health industry for years and he was certain we’d seen the last of cancer in The Pyramid. Besides, you know that taking care of yourself makes good sense.”
“Of course! But there’s being careful, and then there is taking caution to a level of obsession. Besides sometimes bad things happen to you no matter how careful you are.” Thaliana shook her head regretfully, resenting the opportunities to break a few rules that she had missed, all in the name of gaining another few theoretical minutes of life. Was it worth it? “Anyway, your father was part of the system.” Continued Thaliana carelessly. “That’s part of the problem. People like him are trained not to see the flaws in the system.”
“My father was a good man!” asserted Giordan taking Thaliana’s critique personally.
“Of course he was a good man.” Conceded Thaliana. “But you know we can’t go to the authorities.” She pleaded sadly. “Any health care assistant will be obliged to report me to higher authorities immediately and beside, it’s far too late to seek medical intervention.”
“Don’t be so defeatist!” pleaded Giordan, beginning to feel affronted by Thaliana’s bitterness towards the society that had raised and nurtured them both. Then he swiftly forgave her petulant conduct as a manifestation of her condition. He could forgive her anything but giving up on him.
“The draconian programme that was implemented in The Pyramid decades ago was an abomination.” Continued Thaliana, voicing her theories and concerns to Giordan, the only person that she dared be so honest and open with, even if he didn’t agree with her, which was most of the time. Thaliana was a rebel whilst Giordan preferred to conform which, naturally, was the basis of their mutual attraction. “Those cancer sufferers that weren’t exiled from The Pyramid were institutionalised in laboratories for all kinds of endless, sordid investigations.”
“We don’t really know that, do we?” interjected Giordan parodying conversations that he had overheard between his father and his health service work mates. “I mean, can we really trust the rumours that resonate through these sterile walls? What are they based on? Rumour and hypothesis. It’s certainly not grounded in fact!”
“Can we afford to ignore them?” questioned Thaliana. “What if the stories were right? They’d be forced to terminate me in one of their Decontamination Experiments once my condition was discovered. Being ill has changed me. I trust my feelings now. I don’t just accept what I am told any more. I have learned to question everything. Especially myself.”
“It’s not the illness. You’re a natural born sceptic!” provoked Giordan hoping to lighten the conversation.
Thaliana conceded with a wry smile. “I don’t have to be an oncology expert to know that I am way beyond cure.” She added.
“Nobody’s beyond cure Thaliana! Don’t be such a pessimist. It’s such bad energy!” Giordan was finding Thaliana’s pessimism tiring and he was running out of quips.
“Dearest Gio. I know we have been raised in a culture where no one sees illness or death and so we don’t talk about it. But here’s a fact I know is true Gio. I am going to die and we both need to deal with it.” insisted Thaliana, brutally.
“No. It’s not true. You’re just tired. There must be a cure. I heard that plenty of people recovered from leukaemia in the past. There’s no reason that you won’t beat it. You’re a good person, you eat well, apart from your penchant for meat which I really will never understand and you’ve exercised regularly all your life. Despite your charming scepticism you’ve even strictly adhered to The Pyramid Principles. You’re strong Thaliana. You’re the strongest person I know. If you decide something needs to happen then it does. I just won’t accept that there’s no way round this! You’ve got to think positively and then it will be alright again. Don’t give up darling! I couldn’t bear to lose you.” Giordan tried desperately to persuade Thaliana of the rectitude of The Pyramid and its Principles. At one time he would have been certain that they would have guaranteed her health but oddly, as the conversation unfurled Giordan started to realise that Thaliana was right. The principles and paradigms he had grown up accepting were now of dubious integrity. Was everything he had believed in up to this point some kind of social engineering experiment? For the first time in his life Giordan felt unsure about what the right thing to do was as he was becoming unsure about his own beliefs.
“It’s so sweet of you to believe in me Gio. It’s one of the many reasons I love you but you are wrong on this occasion. I know how I feel. I know we are not supposed to talk about it which is why I am forcing this issue but I am going to die soon.”
Giordan shook his head slowly in disbelief as Thaliana continued, hoping that by disagreeing with what she was saying, would somehow make her argument untrue.
“I won’t go without a fight no matter how tired I am. I don’t want to give up or give myself up Gio. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in a laboratory like some pathetic creature that fretted out its sad life in captivity in the old days. I want to live.”
“I want you to live too!” pleaded Giordan.
“I so want to live too, Gio. It’s not fair this has happened. I can’t accept it. I want my old self back.” Thaliana’s eyes shone with tears that refused to fall.
“I won’t let you down.” Promised Giordan. “I will fight for your life too.”
Giordan took Thaliana’s hand and squeezed it. It felt frail, almost like an old person’s and suddenly he was filled with the awful realization that she was right. Beautiful Thaliana was changing, fading, becoming a shadow of her former brilliance. He had to do something, anything but what could he trust now? Would The Pyramid’s systems still work for them in the light of his partner’s illness? Thaliana’s cynicism for their society was persuasive. Should he just go ahead and report her to the authorities so they could cure her and prove that she was wrong about them?
Giordan quietly realized that it was best that they just trust one another.
After considering the very few options that were left open to them, namely, giving themselves up to the authorities, agreeing on a suicide pact or leaving The Pyramid and taking their chances in the harsh desert which would quickly end in tragedy Giordan pondered on a new hope aloud. It was a long shot.
“Do you think that the tales of The Morpho are true?”
“The plant healer?” wondered Thaliana whose sad eyes suddenly sparkled with hope rather than tears and Giordan knew he had found something to reunite them with a common goal and which would boost their resolve.
“The very same.” Confirmed Giordan with a brave smile.
“Tell me about him.” Insisted Thaliana. “I am too tired to recall the stories.”
“I don’t think he has a name.” began Giordan. “At least I don’t remember one. My father used to scorn the rumours that my mother recounted from work. He didn’t like the idea of an unconventional approach to healing. He said it was bunkum but my mother persisted and continued to elaborate on the whispers of her colleagues long after my father had stalked out of the room, with his eyes rolled upwards contemptuously. She said that The Morpho dwells in an underground den that is only two days walk from The Pyramid. That you couldn’t see it from The Apex observatory but on a clear day you could see the edge of the Rainbow Forest which itself was a strange kind of oasis that enveloped the land around The Morpho’s hideout. The plants within the oasis were supposed to be alive and it was said that at times, the sound they made could drive a person mad. Only The Morpho knew of the medicinal properties of the flora within the Rainbow Forest which had the potential to kill or cure. At one stage even my father conceded that he had to treat some patients who had taken substances that they bought on the black market which were said to come from the Rainbow Forest which induced almost permanent madness in the victims. These poor people remained in solitary confinement indefinitely despite occasional windows of lucidity in their thinking. I think that was the only time a shadow of doubt passed over my father’s firm belief in the medical system for I heard him remark in a subdued voice that he was unsure whether the internment of these patients were a cure for their condition or a means of prolonging their suffering. In any case, he dismissed those who entertained the myths that circulated about the Rainbow Forest as madness which, although acerbic, did little to quell my mother’s faith in the powers of the vegetable world. My mother even insisted that some of her friends who had journeyed to see The Morpho had intractable symptoms relieved by their pilgrimage to which my father callously retorted that the believers should never have come back.”
“Don’t they say though, that many of those who seek The Morpho never come back to The Pyramid?” Worried Thaliana.
“They do, but my mum used to say it was perhaps because they had found a better life in the Rainbow Forest and that maybe The Morpho’s wisdom and healing was so profound that the life they discovered was even better than the one here, if that’s possible.” Giordan took the rare liberty of siding with his mother’s faith and letting his imagination run away with him as it seemed to be cheering Thaliana up and that in turn, made him optimistic about the mythological powers of The Morpho.
“Anyway, people do come back. My mother spoke to them. I think more people made pilgrimage to the Rainbow Forest than we have been led to believe. Besides, where do the stories come from if no one ever comes back eh?”
“True.” Yawned Thaliana and smiled. “Can we go back home now please? I’m exhausted.”
“Of course.” Reassured Giordan. “I should never have taken you out for a walk in the garden in the first place. I can see now that it’s too much for you, especially when the body scanners are so vigilant. I don’t think I have ever seen them so busy or in such numbers. I wonder if something’s up.”
Thaliana nodded weakly and Giordan guided her back to their apartment that had a triangular window view out towards the desert that was blowing crimson dust devils which skipped over the blood coloured sand. Thaliana was only too happy to flop back into the air bed, a powerful upwardly moving current that noiselessly supported her weight and kept it at thirty seven point two degrees, her ideal body temperature and responded to the minutest fluctuations in her physiology.
Suddenly Giordan realised that the nanosensor software and bioresponsive infrastructure of their apartment might be giving the authorities information about Thaliana’s condition. Although she was weakening, her physiological parameters were still within the normal range and so her failing body had not yet betrayed her illness. Giordan started to grown anxious. He scowled at the refrigerator that anticipated his chilled lemon juice before bedtime and the home assistance system that ordered rice milk for their organically produced soy flake cereal that they enjoyed every morning without prompt. Their lives were so measured and predictable that any variation in their behaviour, physiology or possibly even thoughts, might raise suspicion. Maybe they were being watched. Perhaps that was why the body scanners were out in such force. Why didn’t he think of that before?
Giordan decided there wasn’t much time before their deception was discovered but to avoid changing his behaviour he got into the air bed and snuggled up to Thaliana as he usually did partly for comfort but now he also aimed to confuse the software of the ‘intelligent’ home architecture with his own healthy vital signs. Giordan could barely sleep but the slow anxious internment of the night was not fruitless, it bore Giordan a plan.
The next morning Giordan took Thaliana for a walk in the garden which she could barely manage and at the time where they would usually return to the apartment Giordan took her arm firmly and escorted her beyond the garden to the edge of a wood that was populated with ornamental broad leaved trees which were planted so closely together that the space between them quickly swallowed up the light.
Giordan detachedly explained that the wood had originally been built as a ’green lung’ to purify the air to return depleted oxygen for the inhabitants of The Pyramid as he glanced over his shoulder looking for body scanners. Every plant in the garden could be eaten and was frequently harvested by scythed robot harvesters that cut many of them down in their prime. As Thaliana nodded politely trying not to complain Giordan urgently hissed that he had an ulterior motive to their impromptu promenade.
There were other reasons to value the trees.
Giordan’s parents had let their son play in the public gardens by himself, especially when family tensions escalated as it was considered a ‘safe’ area for a growing boy.
His father Petrus, could only afford a modest sized apartment for his growing family despite his dedication to the central hospital emergency room as a senior charge nurse and family frictions in such a confined space were unavoidable, especially when his wife Maria discovered that her husband was guilty of long standing, clandestine affair with a junior health care assistant.
Giordan’s parents didn’t separate. They decided to stay together, which in Giordan’s opinion was worse. When the atmosphere was not filled with icy silence and aggressive posturing it was fractured by the sounds of shouting, sobbing and breaking household objects. Even the ‘mood’ of the sentient domestic systems that took care of the physiology of an apartment flashed continually at the red end of the electromagnetic spectrum and played soothing ‘biomusic’ in an attempt to heal the obviously fractured relationship.
Maria was inconsolable at the betrayal and decided to ignore it rather than deal with it.
Maria was trained as an engineer which was a euphemism commonly used in The Pyramid to describe ‘cleaning and maintenance staff’ but having such a prickly situation at home she decided that such a basic job was a vehicle in which to direct her nurturing instincts and found pride in her work as a horticultural engineer in the public gardens rather than as a devoted homebody.
Maria always had dirt under her nails and fragments of vegetable matter in her long, thick tresses despite tucking them away under a cloth cap which Petrus thought made her look fanatical.
Maria’s vision and talent for raising and culturing magnificent arrays and combinations of vegetation quickly earned her promotion and gave her further excuse to dedicate her time to her personal project over and above what her salary demanded. During her long periods of voluntary overtime Maria would bring Giordan with her. Harvest time was always a sad affair but the young boy soon realised that he would earn much praise and attention by helping his mother care for the plants and consequently developed an interest in the plant world of his own. By the time he was eight he knew the anatomy of the public gardens intimately.
He was especially fond of the woods which for reasons that were never explained were the only plants in the garden that were not regularly harvested. Maria tried to explain it once to him as being something to do with the oxygenation of The Pyramid but Giordan sensed that she didn’t really believe the explanation. When Giordan’s juvenile enthusiasm for working and asking difficult questioned waned, he would escape from his mother’s vigil by losing himself in the dark, camouflaging and transforming wood.
When he wasn’t lecturing the trees on The Pyramid Principles, a charter that Giordan was raised to believe applied to all living things, he pretended he was one of them, powerfully marching to bring the ‘Ultimate Society’ to the rest of the world and seeking justice against the forces of evil, just like the ‘Entz’ from the book ‘Lord of the Rings’.
“Let’s take a walk in the woods.” Smiled Giordan as he glanced over his shoulder at Thaliana buoyant at the thought of a heroic mission, this time unlike those in his past, it would be real. He tried to suppress his excitement for adventure as he pleaded. “Go on, please come with me.” He continued appealingly. “It will be fun!”
Thaliana opened her mouth to protest that she was exhausted and was not in the mood for surprises. Her bones ached, she was breathless and the daylight was giving her a searing headache but the look of determination on Giordan’s face silenced her. He barely ever used the ‘f’ word so she knew he was up to something out of the ordinary. Thaliana looked anxiously into the darkness of the odd looking trees in front of her. She didn’t like the way they knitted their branches together uninvitingly but Giordan smiled so warmly that she forgot her angst and allowed him to guide her into their domain.
“Don’t make a noise now!” instructed Giordan. “The trees are our friends. Their branches part easily although they look impenetrable, see!” He lifted the leaves out of their path with his elbows, shielding Thaliana from their touch. The couple quickly disappeared from public view and Giordan urgently whispered. “I am going to show you something that I have never shown anyone before.”
Thaliana studied Giordan’s face which was unusually vigilant trying to anticipate what the ‘surprise’ might be. His pupils were dilated in the darkness and his nostrils flared with anticipation as he fixed his gaze somewhere deep in the darkness. He didn’t look like the familiar partner she knew who was usually so calculated and sure of himself and The Pyramid’s Principles. No, he even looked different perhaps taller, paler and extremely confident but as Thaliana tried to decipher the minutiae of his apparent transformation and what this change might mean, she came to the ominous conclusion that Giordan had decided their fate. For some moments she fell silent and was not sure what to think. As the long moments passed though, Thaliana knew that she was relieved that the agony of uncertainty was over and vowed to remain with Giordan. Whatever it cost.
“Look!” exclaimed Giordan. “Over there! What do you see?”
Thaliana stared into the darkness. Her vision had adapted to the lightlessness and she was able to make out shapes. She followed the shadow that was Giordan’s hand to the tips of his fingers and decided that he was pointing somewhere in the direction of the roots of a twisted tree.
“Gnarled old roots.” She observed sarcastically wondering what answer Giordan was expecting.
“More than that!” encouraged Giordan. “Get on all fours!”
Thaliana scowled in the darkness, sighed heavily and then did as she was told following the monochrome flicker of Giordan’s heels to the base of the misshapen tree.
“Now, put your hand here!” instructed Giordan.
“There’s nothing here!” observed Thaliana starting to grow peevish as she hoped this was not a prank.
“Exactly!” asserted Giordan. “Let’s go!”
Before she was able to ask what his plan was, the shadow of Giordan’s head ducked down into the earth and disappeared, quickly followed by the rest of his body. Thaliana sighed with the thought of the effort this was going to take and wanted to complain but instead she decided to save her breath and scuttled obediently into the abyss after him.
The ground under her hands and feet was soft and musty smelling like compost. Thaliana felt her way blindly beneath the tree’s roots and discovered she was in a tunnel which seemed large and airy. The sensation of space soothed her initial anxiety that she might suffer claustrophobia being troubled by the intrusive notion that she could be buried alive but unfortunately it was not large enough to stand up in. As Thaliana crawled along the tunnel she could not shake the feeling that the walls were getting narrower and the roof shallower. To add to her growing reservations Thaliana wondered if she had felt a worm slide under her hands from time to time or had accidentally crushed a beetle beneath her knee but she tried not to think about these collateral casualties and concentrated on keeping up with Giordan. The sound of his progress appeared to be getting further and further away.
Thaliana held on to the thought of catching Giordan up to suppress the reflexive sobs that came from inside her chest. These strange, unwanted gasps seemed to be unrelated to the rational thought processes in her head and stemmed from a wilful physical anxiety and Thaliana could not suppress them.
She was close to an irrepressible panic when, finally Thaliana saw light diffuse into the tunnel a little way off which flickered as Giordan pulled himself up through the exit. With renewed vigour and a lack of regard for the many incident creepy crawlies that were scuttling around the tunnel Thaliana raced towards the light.
As she rose to her feet she had to shield her face from the harsh ultra violet rays that blanched her vision and through the searing pain she heard Giordan calling her, coaxing her to raise her hands towards him so that he could pull her up. Reluctantly Thaliana removed her arms from her eyes and shut them tightly, stretching her hands over her head as she stood on her tip toes to make herself as tall as possible. Giordan snatched her wrists and raised her to the surface where she sat for a few moments, legs dangling back down into the hole and squinting as she rubbed her freshly marked wrists caused by the minimal friction of Giordan’s grip.
“Well, what do you think?” asked Giordan rather pleased with himself.
“Where are we?” wondered Thaliana still a little dazed by the harsh light.
“This is the outside!” announced Giordan triumphantly. “The outside of The Pyramid.”
“Oh no!” shrieked Thaliana barely over her claustrophobia. “We’re going to die here! The land outside The Pyramid is contaminated.” Then she looked pointedly at Giordan. “Is this what you wanted? For us to die together?”
“Of course not! It’s not as toxic as they say.” Said Giordan Calmly. “I’ve been here many times before.”
“Then you brought contaminants into the city!” scolded Thaliana. “That’s why I’ve got cancer!” she started to sob.
“Hey! Don’t get so worked up Thaliana.” Comforted Giordan who was annoyed by her irrationality. He knew that words would be of little comfort when Thaliana was so emotional and tried to place his hand on her shoulder which was quickly discarded with a slap.
Grimacing dejectedly Giordan stood up and looked out over the blood red desert in the direction of the Rainbow Forest. It was a clear day and the giant baobab tree at its centre stretched up its fractal branches high into the atmosphere and cast a vivid electromagnetic spectrum through the mist that lingered over its glossy leaves on to the multicoloured canopy below.
“You know, when my mum used to lose herself tending the plants in the public garden so that she didn’t have to think about my dad, she also stopped being so vigilant about what I was up to. Once she had started her duties I knew that I would be free to slip away and explore the woods and I took my leave when I saw her lips move, knowing that she was talking, or singing, to her plants. I think it almost surprised her when she looked up after hours of concentration and realise that I was not nearby. When she finally used to call me I was so caught up in my heroic adventures that I didn’t want to go home. I stubbornly remained in my hideaway until I detected panic in her voice. Only then did I reluctantly surrender as I did not want her to cry. She cried enough over dad and I felt terrible about that. I guess she was depressed about her relationship with my dad but I didn’t appreciate that way back then.”
Giordan wrinkled his face regretting those times when he had used his parents’ quarrels against them to win himself favours.
“One day I decided to make a dug out so that I would not hear mum calling me. Looking back on it, that was a cruel thing to do but as a boy I had decided that the ‘out of sight out of mind’ principle would save me from the guilt of mum’s tears. The dug out was brilliant! The soil was so soft that it was easy to excavate and I spent so many hours scraping it out with all kinds of makeshift tools that before I knew it, I had made an exit to the outside world. At first, I was like you. I was scared. I thought the land outside The Pyramid was poisonous and I ran back to my mum who was surprised to find that I preferred to come home with her rather than stay in the woods. She was pretty when her eyes weren’t crying. I remember feeling proud of myself for walking home with a happy mum.”
Giordan’s delight was visible now as he beamed with pleasure at the thought of his mother’s happiness.
“I had made her happy and she gave me silent reassurance that despite having been on the outside, things had not changed between us. If anything, they were better than before. I could not forget what I had done and seen in the woods and could not help myself but return there each time we frequented the gardens. Gradually I became anxious about the effects that the alien environment might have had on me. I was also confused however, to find that I felt extremely healthy. Not knowing exactly what should be happening to me I wanted confirmation that I was still in good physical shape and asked my dad to give me a series of check ups which I randomly decided should be held on the seventh day of the month. I think he supposed I was just going through a ‘funny phase’ and obliged.
Giordan shrugged his shoulders wondering why his father didn’t ask any searching questions. Maybe he had other things on his mind.
“I was relieved to discover that each time he announced my results that I had passed the screening tests every time. My dad was the kind of person who would never have pretended if my results weren’t normal. He was much too much of a stickler for protocol and details to have ignored anything ominous.”
Giordan turned around and looked at Thaliana who had stopped sobbing and was wiping her hand on her face.
“I really don’t know if the outside is toxic.” Mused Giordan. “I know what The Pyramid authorities tell us about the virulent diseases and all kinds of radiation in the environment. These toxic things are supposed to bring about our end in a nasty and messy way but that has not been my experience. I’ve wanted to believe in the system and I still did despite the evidence. But very recently Thaliana you persuaded me that The Pyramid Principles may not be the truth any more. I can’t believe I have ignored he facts for so long. I have thought about what I have grown up to believe in and since yesterday when that body scanner almost found us out I have decided to trust my own observations, just as you do. I have played outside here in the sun many times as a boy building red clay castles which have long since returned to dust and I am now sure that the world outside The Pyramid has caused me no harm. Not so far anyway and that was fifteen years ago. Outside the gaze of The Pyramid is our only hope Thaliana. We have time here and freedom. Time to find you a cure and the freedom to seek help outside of The Pyramid.”
“We will die here!” muttered Thaliana petulantly.
Giordan crouched down beside her and looked into her face which was difficult as she had hung her head stubbornly, refusing to acknowledge him but Giordan persisted.
“If we die in the process we will be together in the knowledge that we have given it our best.”
Thaliana was still consumed with anger.
“You brought cancer into The Pyramid!” she shouted suddenly and launched a patter of fists at Giordan’s chest.
“Shh! Shh! Thaliana! My darling.” Giordan caught her wrists and stopped their furious assault effortlessly. She was so very weak.
Thaliana could not speak for the tears and mucus choking her afresh yet she did not pull away as Giordan continued to make soothing noises as he inspected her arms. He was saddened at the finger marks he had left in her flesh where he had freshly bruised her on lifting her out of the tunnel which only confirmed how ill and fragile she was.
“Listen Thaliana!” Continued Giordan persuasively. “You are wrong. I didn’t bring cancer into The Pyramid. I know that for sure. It existed long before I did and for all we know you are not the only one. Many, many people inside The Pyramid may have gone through what you are going through since the inception of the cancer eradication programme without the authorities letting us know anything about it. You said so yourself. You’re not being reasonable darling. I know you’re frightened but, if you want to blame me for everything, you can. You don’t know how to exist outside The Pyramid and this is a huge shock for you. I want you to take your frustration out on me. I want you to be angry. I want you to use that anger to keep on living darling.”
Thaliana screamed for several minutes like a wounded animal and when her voice failed Giordan whispered comfortingly. “I am here for you. I do so love you Thaliana and I will do anything to help.”
Thaliana unexpectedly hugged Giordan tightly and forgivingly. It was still too difficult for her to speak coherently as she was too congested by grief and anger having had to confront yet again the reality that she was going to die. She needed familiarity not strangeness.
“I do want to live.” Gurgled Thaliana hoarsely but Giordan couldn’t make out what she was saying and lifted her up on to her feet.
The morning warmth had turned to searing heat across the ruby desert and they only made progress for half an hour before Giordan found a sandstone boulder that was shaped like a curvaceous woman where they could take shelter. The insects however didn’t mind the fierce ambient temperature and relentlessly dogged the couple as they tried to keep cool. A lazy water bug, a name coined there and then by Giordan as he had never seen such a creature before, ambled past them and stopped for a while under the shade of their bended knees, its abdomen distended with fluid. Giordan crushed the insect’s head with a small rock fragment that had splintered off the protective boulder and as its head crumpled, Giordan thought for a split second that the creature looked terrified. Giordan’s thirst had got the better of him and could not resist squeezing the copious amount of clear fluid out of its abdomen which he told Thaliana tasted ‘good’ before he passed the chitin vessel to her.
At first Thaliana refused to drink but when Giordan squeezed a drop of water from its split covering to her mouth she thirstily licked her lips and found herself asking for more trying not to think about where the moisture came from.
When the baking heat of the afternoon lessened and became the cool breeze of evening, Giordan and Thaliana made good progress over the warm earth and were guided on their way to the edge the Rainbow Forest by curious insects which danced before them and gave song to their adventure.
“Look at that insect!” remarked Thaliana pointing to a silvered wasp-like creature whose flight path rose and fell in undulations. “Doesn’t it remind you of a dolphin in the old days piloting the way for seafarers!”
As the evening closed in they reached their destination. Although the light was poor the couple could tell that this bright oasis was colonized by extraordinary plant life. The shapes of the trees were even stranger than those in the broad leaved woods at the far end of the public garden in The Pyramid which Giordan had once been so fond of. Dark twisted trunks that resembled bones and charred human remains lurked against the luminescent shades of foliage which appeared only more brilliant against them. As the crimson moon rose and stained the shimmering flora red with reflected light Thaliana thought she could make out faces amidst the trees that stared at them blankly.
An orchestra of insects chirped and screeched the notes of their territory and sexual prowess under the harlot light.
Exhausted, Thaliana settled down to sleep under the giant petals of a flower that was sunk a little way into the ground and placed her thumbs in her ears as she was sure she could hear intrusive whispering and unsettling high pitched squeaks that would not settle, whilst Giordan draped himself over a low branch that was thickly carpeted with moss.
At daybreak, as the first photons of light stimulated the multi-coloured chloroplasts that aroused the flora from their sleep, Giordan was woken by a cry.
Thaliana was screaming and thrashing about as the petals of her makeshift bed wrapped themselves tightly around her, crushing the breath out of her. Still thick headed with sleep, Giordan leapt down from his mossy bed and stood motionless for a heartbeat as he saw the carnivorous plant completely engulf his partner. Fine beads of blood spattered the pale pink petals that shrouded Thaliana’s wriggling shape. Instinctively, Giordan ripped the malevolent folds from their base and Thaliana drew in breath deeply as the plant seemed to recoil and shriek at the assault. Giordan offered Thaliana his hand but she refused as a nasty stamen that swung viciously between them defiantly. Giordan stepped aside the stamen’s whip like lashing which then tried to wrap its length around both of them. As the lash recoiled and struck again, Giordan ducked and leapt into the centre of the carnivorous flower to grab hold of Thaliana by her waist. The angry stamen, its neck broken by a punch that Giordan landed on its neck slapped him spitefully on his back. Giordan broke the lashing structure again at its base which rendered it useless as a weapon but it continued to thrash about like a metronome and tried to haul Thaliana out of the plant trap. Just as he lifted her up a noxious corolla of stigma curled around Thaliana’s feet jerking her back. Giordan then embarked in a painful tug of war for his partner whose flesh was split and bleeding where the opponents held her. Using the full force of his legs and by stamping on a couple of the stigmata, Giordan eventually won the exhausting tug of war for his partner but not until after chunks of flesh had been torn from her lower legs in the struggle.
“I can’t stop the bleeding!” Thaliana observed nearly hysterical as Giordan carried her to a safe distance from the disabled carnivore. “I’m going to bleed to death!”
A swarm of bright faced insects hung in the air over her, revelling in the scent of her exsanguination. “Go away you bastards!” screamed Thaliana as several long legged flies landed on her face. “Stop eating me!”
“Shh! Darling, it won’t be long now. The Morpho’s den can’t be far from here.” Hushed Giordan beginning to have doubts as to whether they would make it. “I’ll wrap this around your leg as a tourniquet to stem the flow. It will mask the trail of the blood too!” He tore a length of material from his shirt and tied it tightly around Thaliana’s ankle and then repeated the procedure for the other one. “That’s better!” he said forcing a smile and avoiding looking at the injury in any detail.
“Ow!” complained Thaliana ungratefully. “I’m convinced that thing injected something into me. Or sucked something out! It’s made my blood thinner. Look at me! I’m a mess. My legs are torn to shreds and I am covered in cuts and bruises everywhere else!” She rubbed a strange rash that was slowly spreading up her leg. It was raised and purplish quite unlike an ordinary bruise. Thaliana poked it to see if it would blanch and ran her fingers over its Braille blisters quizzically trying to figure out their significance and discovering that touching the lesions actually relieved the pain. She stared emptily at the rash again trying to decipher it but found it was no use trying to decode its significance as everything was happening at once and nothing seemed to make any sense at all. “Do something Gio! I can’t take any more of this. Why didn’t you just leave me to die in The Pyramid? This is too horrible to bear.”
“I’ll carry you.” Giordan offered noticing Thaliana’s rather introverted manner and recognise is as a warning sign that her health was progressively deteriorating so he threw her behind him in a ‘piggyback’ fashion before she had the time or wits to object. “Help’s not that far away.” He added reflexly, unable to examine Thaliana’s injuries properly in case they signalled disaster as he was desperately close to despair himself and could not deal with further tragedy.
Although the legends of The Morpho that he remembered had never been specific about the location of the den, Giordan headed for the baobab tree partly because it was the grandest and the most mysterious of the vegetation in the strange oasis but also because it cast the longest, thickest shadow which shielded them from the rising sun and was the most pleasant route to take. Giordan assumed that The Morpho would most likely have some kind of relationship with the monumental plant and if there was no initial sign of the whereabouts of the plant healer he would wait, though he knew that Thaliana would last much longer without treatment.
What other choice did he have?
Unlike the quiet nurturing insects of the desert, those in the oasis were vigorous and spiteful. Brightly coloured flies droned menacingly close to Giordan’s ears, large patterned moths panicked in his face and leggy mosquitoes bit them both relentlessly squealing with delight as they feasted on the poorly controlled trail that the saturated makeshift bandages on Thaliana’s ankles were leaving. The blood hungry flies left scores of weeping crimson punctures over the couple’s limbs in a criss-cross fashion adding insult to their injuries.
Thaliana’s quiet regular breathing disturbingly changed into heavy infrequent gasps as her circulatory system collapsed into shock and Giordan held quiet rhetorical conversation behaving as if everything was alright and ignored the increasing weight of her body as her inert muscles slumped, unable to support her any more.
As Giordan picked his way carefully over vines, twisted roots, spiteful looking thorns and abrasive bracken he remembered the tales that his mother had told him of the majestic baobab tree and despite his gnawing concern for Thaliana, he found himself smiling. After all these years he was finally able to guiltlessly entertain the romantic stories that his mother had told him about the majesty and mystery of the plant world. At the time he had not appreciated the strange beauty of her fables as his father quickly dismissed them as ‘weak minded nonsense’ and so the young Giordan had been reluctant to embrace them but those maternal tales that reminded Giordan of his childhood remained alive in those parts of his mind that his father’s rationality had not subdued.
Now, walking amongst the vibrant vegetation towards the monumental baobab, needing something greater than human reason to believe in, Maria’s stories came flooding back to him.
“See that huge tree in the middle of the Oasis?” Maria asked her son from the viewing platform of The Apex after their slap up meal in the restaurant at the centre of the observation tower that rotated hourly, a treat that Giordan had been promised for his birthday. Although Petrus was absent for the occasion, being on emergency call, he had indulged his son with a surprise birthday cake which was a confectionary replica of The Pyramid with ‘Giordan’ iced on every face.
“The one that looks like it’s growing upside down?” smiled Giordan with his mouth full of fruit cake that he could not leave at the table as it was so delicious.
“Yes! That’s the baobab tree.” Nodded Maria.
“That’s a funny name.” Grinned Giordan with raisins stuck between his teeth.
“Some call it The Tree of Life.” Continued Maria obviously enchanted by the view over the Rainbow Forest as it gradually twisted to the left because the observation tower rotated clockwise. “Some of them are over two thousand years old.”
“Why is it upside down?” wondered Giordan splattering crumbs of cake over his mother’s best suit.
“It’s not really.” Explained Maria wiping the tacky fragments from her jacket. “When you get close up to one you will see that it has beautiful shiny leaves and large white flowers with purple stamens. Every part of the tree can be used and its fruit is nicknamed ‘Monkey Bread’ which is rich in Vitamin C. It’s a magnificent specimen don’t you think? There’s a story though that explains its odd appearance though, do you want to hear it?”
Giordan nodded vigorously. “I won’t tell dad, promise!” he reassured. “I know he doesn’t like your stories.”
“Mmm.” Dismissed Maria distantly, avoiding the child’s perceptive comment. “The Aboriginal tribes of North West Australia say that the boab, their own name for the baobab, was once a graceful proud tree that delighted in boasting about its beauty to the other not so graceful plants that inhabited their homelands so they complained and their gods punished the boab making its seeds sprout upside down so the roots grew upwards and the branches down into the earth. Similarly, an Arabian legend says that the devil plucked up the Madagascan baobabs, thrust their branches into the earth and left their roots in the air out of spite!”
“So they really are upside down!” exclaimed Giordan, still chewing a sticky brown paste full of rich dried fruit.
“I guess so.” Smiled Maria, enjoying Giordan’s unblemished enthusiasm for the subject. “Everything depends on the way that you look at it.”
“How come?” swallowed Giordan licking the icing from his fingers.
“Take the sun, for example. You can think of it as no more than a fiery ball of elemental gas or, you may prefer to see it like the Ancient Greeks did, as a golden chariot driven by the god Apollo racing it across the sky every day to bring light to the world.”
“Do you think the sun is a chariot mum?” wondered Giordan trying to decide which camp his mum was in. He wanted her for once to trust the scientific view of the world. Dad said that Gods were foolish, that they didn’t exist and Giordan didn’t understand why his mum said such ridiculous things. Sometimes, like now, she ruined her good stories by taking them too far into the realms of fantasy.
“Like I said darling, it all depends how you want to see things.” Maria replied evasively. “Shall we get the waiter to put the rest of the cake in a box? I am sure your dad will eat some with you when he gets back home.”
“That won’t be till after I’m in bed.” Giordan sulked, deciding that he preferred his mother’s present foolishness to his father’s absent reason.
Finally reaching the foot of the baobab tree Giordan finally realised just how big it was and felt humbled and insignificant in its presence. As he marvelled at its girth he noticed a large hollow at its base which looked like an entrance way.
Thaliana had become a dead weight and Giordan decided that she would be better off laid down inside the baobab’s cavity. As he stepped inside he looked up and noticed that the huge trunk was completely hollow. As Giordan looked down to watch his step he was amazed to see a flight of stairs, vaguely delineated with a phosphorescent glow, plunging down into the earth.
Was this the entrance to The Morpho’s den?
Giordan steadied Thaliana by redistributing her weight over his back and reached for the side of the stairwell carefully choosing his footing on the steps which seemed to vanish as he looked directly at them but clearly reappear in his peripheral vision.
The baobab’s twisted roots formed the walls of a large cavern that was bathed in a diffuse yellow light. Giordan felt something slither under his foot. A puddle of black fluid trickled purposefully towards a large raised pool and astonished Giordan by flowing up over its edges to join the liquid expanse within it.
Giordan gently lowered Thaliana to the ground and propped her up carefully against a large root mass. The bloody stains on her skin looked as black as the pool under the strange lighting and her countenance was deathly pale. Her wounds had stopped oozing and she did not move or make any sign to confirm that she was still alive. Giordan inspected the pool trying to decide if the black fluid was water with which he could soak Thaliana’s wounds in.
Gingerly he reached his hand towards the pool and quickly drew back. The liquid shivered before he had even touched it. Was it alive? Something stirred in the depths of the pool and Giordan moved backwards as the fluid swelled and rippled spontaneously as if it had been violently disturbed.
“Are you looking for something?” whispered a deep echo beside him.
Giordan startled and turned towards the voice. An anonymous being or humanoid shape was discernible against the ambient light but other than the figure’s general outline it was impossible to say what kind of creature is was as it was devoid of all other distinguishing features in the darkness.
“Are you The Morpho?” wondered Giordan, rather intimidated by the mysterious appearance of the form.
“We are.” Confirmed the figure.
Giordan’s sight had now adapted sufficiently to the darkness that he started to notice the barely visible movements of The Morpho’s eyes which studied him from lightless pupils, through ebony irises that shivered within raven sclera. Episodically fragments of its body shimmered an almost blinding violet blue as The Morpho’s black pigment trapped the occasional passing slow neutrino.
“Can you help us?” Giordan asked cautiously hoping that the entity would not take offence at his impromptu request.
“That depends on what you are asking.” Replied The Morpho.
“Thaliana, my partner.” Giordan announced as he anxiously turned around to check on her. “She’s very ill. I think she’s dying.”
“We know.” Observed The Morpho. “Her vitality is almost extinguished.”
“Is there anything you can do?” pleaded Giordan. “We’ve come all this way to see you. She is so important to me. Please?” Giordan could have sworn that he had not taken his eyes off The Morpho even to blink but he found himself directing his request in the direction of Thaliana where the shadowy form was already crouching, passing its scintillating inky indigo hand over her face.
There were many shades of darkness in this place. Was black actually a colour?
“She is beyond restoration to her original form.” Announced The Morpho.
Giordan gasped at the news he had been dreading. “Is she dead?”
He raced to Thaliana’s side and took her hand, placing it on his forehead. “Forgive me darling. I wanted to be with you so much. For ever. I am so sorry.” Salty grief raced along the wrinkled furrows of Giordan’s nose which grieved sympathetically, profusely and harmoniously with his eyes.
“There is a way.” Suggested The Morpho who now appeared as an inky outline that was only demarcated by glittering pinpoint lights.
Thaliana was barely warm and had not moved since he had left her in the care of the baobab’s roots. Giordan dabbed at the bloody black streaks that ravaged her body with a corner of his jacket in an attempt to make her better, if only in appearance. His body felt devoid of organs, his mind was empty of thought.
“A way.” He murmured, mirroring the last sounds that inhabited the cavern.
“A way for her to live. A way for you both to be together, as you promised. A way that would mean forever.” Continued The Morpho, its repetition of the pledge resembling the echoes of the subterranean space. “Look now! Your partner is becoming something else.”
“What do you mean?” gasped Giordan already traumatised by the inevitability of Thaliana’s death and realised that she had finally stopped breathing.
The Morpho glimmered mischievously changing shape as it spoke. “Thaliana has been mauled by carnivorous particles. Your culture regards these as ‘cancer’ but We regard them as a transforming disease process. Unsupported in her transformation, which seems to have been accelerated by the hungry Gliades flower and by our Maxopheles mosquitoes, she will die. But if We are able to support her mutamorphosis she will live.”
The sound waves thundering on Giordan’s tympanic membranes beat the bony cochlear molluscan transducer of his inner so fiercely that the excited auditory nerves which carried The Morpho’s message screamed in his auditory cortex so loudly that even the emotionally fragile man was forced to listen to The Morpho’s words. Giordan’s bloated face looked up defiantly at The Morpho’s infinite darkness and repeated the oath once more. “She will live?”
“Yes, if We are able to support her.” Confirmed The Morpho “But there is a condition to her continued survival.”
“Anything.” Pleaded Giordan. “Just as long as we are together.”
“She will no longer be human.” Cautioned The Morpho.
“I don’t care. I promised that I would protect her.” Insisted Giordan. “She doesn’t want to die.”
“Do you know what that means?” Wondered The Morpho, fully aware that Giordan’s grief, although painful, was only temporary.
“It’s better than being empty.” Snapped Giordan carelessly. “I feel less than human right now.”
“Under other circumstances, We would give you more time to consider your request but time is not on your side. Your beloved has taken her first steps after human death and if she travels much further then she will reach an inanimate state that even We cannot bestow with vitality.” Conceded The Morpho. “Because she is cold, We will need your help. We will need you to be intimately involved with the mutamorphosis. Are you sure you want to be with her?
“I do!” exclaimed Giordan, trembling with anticipation.
“Very well.” Agreed The Morpho. “We will bestow you both with biochemical powers that do not exist within your own species but are more akin to those of the plant world. It is not an easy transformation. It will be painful but it is the only way to turn the situation you currently face into something that is much closer to the one you desire.”
“Whatever it takes!” agreed Giordan.
“There are risks.” Warned The Morpho.
“Don’t read me the small print!” insisted Giordan. “We’re wasting time!”
“Very well.” Nodded The Morpho filling the space between the lovers and placing its dark hands on them.
Giordan cried out in pain as The Morpho’s fingers pierced his body. It radiated down his teeth, jaw, and left arm and across his chest. He wanted to cry out but his chest was devoid of air. He looked down to see if he was still breathing and reeled back in horror to see fine tendrils penetrating his flesh, creating a network of ebony veins over his skin.
“What are you?” asked Giordan as his consciousness fled his tortured body.
Thaliana wilted then abruptly rose, tall and straight as The Morpho’s lignin filaments tethered her like a marionette. Her lifeless eyes stared blankly into the hollows where The Morpho’s eyes would have been, had it been human. The cavities of her own pupils started to expand, growing larger and larger in fractal bursts of darkness until her body was no more than a dried out charcoal skeleton that barely resembled its human predecessor. Newly gnarled and twisted Thaliana’s shell spiralled to the floor and lay at Giordan’s feet.
Fortunately Giordan had been spared this distressing spectacle but even though he was unconscious, he was fully engaged in a struggle of his own. The Morpho’s tendrils pumped authoritative auxins and transformative tropins into Giordan’s blood stream. These mutant hormones flooded his tissues and passed through the blood brain barrier that protected his grey matter. Collectively they worked on his consciousness and gradually started to interfere with the integrity of his thoughts.
At first Giordan only felt the excruciating pain searing through his head and its cruel intensity nucleating somewhere behind his eyes? As the pain grew even more severe it finally escaped from the confines of his skull and exploded down the rest of his nervous system into his arms, chest and legs. During the brief fragments of time where Giordan enjoyed passing lucidity he wondered if this was what it would feel like to be burned alive. His skin was plagued by pins and needles and it seemed to be too small for his swelling flesh which was struggling to contain his swelling organs. Giordan had never known so many kinds of pain. His head was throbbing and his arms legs and chest felt as if there were stiletto knives inside them that were stabbing their way out to the surface. Finally, to his relief Giordan’s skin split open along his backbone relieving the internal pressure and pain just as he thought he would rupture.
In a bizarre dream world that was neither fact nor fantasy, Giordan knew that The Morpho standing before him was only a spectre of this twisted dream he was caught up in, yet he was impressed by how knowledgeably and insightfully it spoke, for a shade.
“You were warned.” Declared The Morpho anticipating complaint.
“What’s happening to me?” asked Giordan vacuously.
“Trans-formation.” The Morpho’s empty eyes twinkled with violet mischief. “Courtesy of celluloxin.”
“Sell me what?” smirked Giordan suddenly finding the situation amusing, especially since the many shades of pain had completely vanished.
“We gave you celluloxin, a mutamorphic hormone” Repeated The Morpho. “Its side effects are intense pain and mood swings. Do you like it? Some people find the experience euphoric whilst others find it incredibly depressing. Most find it a combination of both.”
“What does it do?” Giordan tried to suppress a giggle thinking how ludicrous everything was. His father would never approve. “Does it make you crazy?”
“It rearranges the basic design of your body.” Informed The Morpho.
“Really?” sniggered Giordan rather drunkenly. “Will I wake up with my head growing out of my backside?” He couldn’t control his hilarity at the thought of how his new holo-portrait would appear following complete transformation. Especially when close relatives logged in and asked for a greeting.
“Not as crude as that but much more fundamental. Your tissues now have become highly polyploid and they are starting to grow their own cellulose cell wall. You noticed that when the pain stopped.” Informed The Morpho.
“Say that again?” Giordan tittered finding the situation and himself hilarious. “I’m like ‘Superman®’, right?”
“You are becoming plant-like.” Edified The Morpho. Giordan stopped laughing and stared at the shade with a frown of disbelief. The Morpho did not flinch. Its hollow eyes stared right through him. Giordan’s expression changed as he realised that The Morpho was not joking. It did not make jokes. “Did you say that I am turning into a plant?” He asked incredulously. “What kind of plant?” The celluloxin, which was busily manipulating Giordan’s tissues, made him feel invincible. Giordan even began to imagine that he was becoming like Superman® but dismissed the notion as the superhero wasn’t even vaguely plant-like. Then he wondered if he would be more like the superhero Iron Fist® who had just recently been featured in ‘special’ on the holobox. Iron Fist® belonged to some kind of mutant race of plant people and besides being bestowed with incredible strength, the mutant also had telepathic powers. The programme had sparked intense debate between him and Thaliana as Giordan had insisted that ‘plant people’ were impossibility and that Iron Fist’s superpowers were implausible. Contrary Thaliana of course, had disagreed and had irritated Giordan by marvelling at the plant world and insisting that their biology was superior to that of animals. Even more annoying was that her only way of substantiating her claim was her insistence that the plant world was full of ‘wondrous, strange, sunshine-eating entities without which we and most of the other life forms of this planet would die.’ This was quite a ridiculous thing to say because despite his enthusiasm for plants they were merely vegetables and belonged at the base of the food chain. No matter how rationally Giordan made his case, Thaliana would not be persuaded to the contrary. At times like that she reminded Giordan of his mother. Giordan’s mood plummeted from manic grandeur to hopelessness and started to weep profusely, which rendered him completely unaware that The Morpho had been reading his mind.
“You will see.” Promised The Morpho without revealing that it had been following Giordan’s train of thoughts. “You have the right idea about what is happening but are sadly too anthropocentric in your aspirations.”
Giordan reeled back as he felt a strange, electrical presence pass through him as it retreated back into its amorphous pool? Was that The Morpho? Where had it gone? He immediately stopped sobbing.
“Hey!” he cried, trying to run his fingers over his body to prove that this nightmare was only a dream. Instead he found proof that it wasn’t. He no longer had digits but stringy tendrils that twisted reflexly towards the twinkling blue light of the dark pool and that his supple skin had become a waxy coat. Giordan tried to move his feet so that he could inspect the mysterious pool which had now ceased glittering from which The Morpho had emerged and then realised he was rooted to the ground.
Giordan swore loudly as he realised that the enigmatic bastard, whatever it was, had gone. He looked down to see what was stopping him moving his feet and to his horror he realised that he was standing on Thaliana. She was motionless and appeared to be intimately entwined in his roots. There was nothing to distinguish them as separate entities which didn’t seem odd to either of them.
Bending over Giordan tried to touch Thaliana to see if she was still alive but his tendrils kept getting tangled in the stringy vines that tumbled from where her hair should have been.
“Thaliana!” shouted Giordan as he tried to shake her and found himself almost dissolving into her body as he touched her. Giordan was suddenly struck by the fact that he sound he was making did not come from a human voicebox but rather from somewhere inside his head.
Equally strangely, Thaliana replied in a telepathic manner.
“Hello! I’m famished.” She said matter of factly.
“Are you alright?” wondered Giordan, surprised at her composure.
“Of course! Aren’t you?” replied Thaliana quizzically.
“I’m not sure.” Giordan replied carefully. Maybe Thaliana knew something he didn’t. Maybe he was deluded. Maybe The Morpho was still messing about with his head.
“I’ve had a lovely sleep.” Replied Thaliana. “It’s left me feeling most refreshed.”
“I think I’ve been asleep too.” Admitted Giordan. “But I don’t feel good. I had the most appalling nightmare. I think I might be still in it.”
“What was it about?” wondered Thaliana a little concerned.
“I don’t want to talk about it.” Sulked Giordan. “Besides, I am not really sure how or what to tell as none of it makes any sense.”
“What a pity.” Consoled Thaliana. “I also had a dream. It’s rather peculiar though. Shall I share it with you?” She added trying to cheer him up.
“Maybe.” Agreed Giordan feeling that he had no say in what was happening to him anyway. “Okay, tell me about then.” He conceded.
The twisted woody remains that were now Thaliana smiled broadly up at Giordan as she recalled her reverie. Improbably, he did not notice that she had changed so radically, nor did Thaliana notice that Giordan was anything other than the man she knew and loved.
“Did you see the lights?” asked Thaliana wondering where she should begin. Giordan shook the meristem that was where his head should have been, half wondering if she was referring to the glittering Shaman but he wanted her to clarify things for him so he let her tell her story uninterrupted.
“They passed right through me.” Continued Thaliana. Giordan cringed as he remembered the strange, uncomfortable force that he had felt inside him just before The Morpho disappeared.
“It was painless at first though.” Mused Thaliana. “It was like being a tiny, insignificant particle that defied all known physical laws and I did exactly as I pleased but the freedom didn’t last long. Soon, I was battered by rude and thundering atoms. It was awful. They beat me relentlessly. The pain was unspeakable. I thought I was going to explode except I was so small that there was nothing of me to shatter. Even gravity couldn’t hold on to me and I drifted upwards whilst all the while being mercilessly knocked about by giant molecules until eventually, I was liberated. It was fantastic! There was no more brutality and no more pain. There was no tunnel, no intense light and no voices as I might have expected.” She turned to Giordan and said, “You do know I died don’t you?” Giordan nodded apically, rather shocked by the whole affair and waited anxiously for further revelations. When did Thaliana become so informed about the whole thing? Maybe her death had enlightened her, was that possible? There was so much that he just couldn’t grasp so he listened intently.
“Of course, I wasn’t really tiny.” Explained Thaliana. “It was merely the way that I felt when I was freed from those cellular processes that bound me to my body. It was quite a relief to let it all go really, I don’t miss it. I had become quite useless. I hated all those cuts and bruises. And those insects.”
“I thought you were really quite beautiful, despite what had happened to you.” Giordan mumbled wistfully.
Thaliana ignored him, enrapt in her own account. “Those blue light particles, or were they waves?” she pondered, “They were there when the pain stopped. It’s difficult to know exactly what they were as I haven’t the foggiest about the atomic world, but whatever they were, they showered me with energy. It was lovely. It was a different kind of light to anything I had experienced before. It was kind and so vital that I let it drench my tiny form and pull me back, right back into the cells where my life force was supposed to be. I think it’s changed my perspective on things. They say that don’t they? That if you come face to face with extinction that the world looks so much brighter and better. I know it’s only a dream Gio but it feels so real and so good to be alive. I thought the leukaemia had finally got the better of me.”
Giordan’s mood sunk. “It’s not a dream!” he observed sullenly as Thaliana giggled musically. “I saw you die!” Insisted Giordan testily, finding her disembodied laughter alarming.
“Did you really darling? Do let’s go and get something to eat.” Insisted Thaliana seemingly disinterested in Giordan’s angst.
“Thaliana?” pleaded Giordan. “I am starting to get really worried. I am confused. Stop pretending everything is so normal. It’s not! That slimy Shaman has messed about with us and now look at what we've become!” But when Giordan tried to make some incriminating observation about what had changed he was unable to do so despite looking remarkably like a burnt out skeleton of a tree whilst Thaliana resembled a tangle of charred roots. “Oh!” Exclaimed Giordan feeling completely deflated. “Thaliana, you know what I am talking about don’t you. Stop teasing! Things just aren’t the same.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” insisted Thaliana. “I feel fantastic. Now, stop wasting time and let’s get something to eat. What do you fancy?”
“Well, as this isn’t a dream any more I must be a plant-thingy for god’s sake, so what do you think I eat!” Snapped Giordan sarcastically not convinced for one moment that his physiology resembled that of a plant. “Why don’t you just get me some nice healthy manure?” Grumbled Giordan. “From the compost-heap of death, from which you appear to have so triumphantly returned.”
“Eugh no!” laughed Thaliana trivialising his anxiety. “I hate the idea of compost. I have a much better plan.” Sending powerful tropic plant hormones through her roots Thaliana forced Giordan to follow her. Interconnected through their root systems the two plant-human hybrids grew together up towards the soil above them. Stretching and twisting, Thaliana got her own way despite Giordan’s persistent protests as she perfected the art of pumping tropic hormones into him which forced him to comply.
“Ow! You bully! What are you doing to me? That’s painful!” remarked Giordan as Thaliana released a powerful bolus of celluloxin through his root tendrils that caused him to bang his head on the roof of the cave as he experienced a sudden growth spurt. “Oh no! Is that dirt? I can’t breathe in dirt!” pleaded Giordan. “You’re going to bury me alive!” he shouted as his apex pushed into the earth. Giordan tried to hold his breath but found that he had lost the ability to hold air and as the rest of him followed he realised that he was breathing differently, seemingly through his skin.
“Come on darling.” Thaliana insisted as if she had been a plant person for her entire life as their bodies grew through the roof of The Morpho’s den and entwined with the root system of the giant baobab above them. “Keep up!”
Giordan’s mood change immediately they burst through the soil and into the sunshine. It was a relief to see the sky after however long and Giordan was beginning to get used to the idea of being a plant-person although he still couldn’t explain what exactly had changed. Whatever it was though, he had to admit that things felt much better than before. Thaliana hadn’t died and she was looking more beautiful than ever as her tendrils burst open and she proudly spread out bud like appendages which spread open to reveal needle like spikes within.
Suddenly Thaliana snapped one of her traps shut and held a wriggling beetle tightly in the needles. Its legs scuttled uselessly against the air as Thaliana announced. “Gotchya!”
“I do wish you wouldn’t do that!” complained Giordan. “I hate your penchant for meat.”
“Cheer up darling.” Reassured Thaliana. “Worse things can happen. Would you like some?”
“I think I am going to benefit from you appalling taste in nutrients whether I like it or not.” Teased Giordan feeling less gloomy.
The insect made a nasty buzzing sound which stopped when Thaliana crushed its integument.
“Oh, your eating habits are disgusting!” sulked Giordan and silence hung between them, punctuated by the sound of bubbling digestive enzymes and the odd cracking sound of the beetle’s shell.
Giordan tried not to watch Thaliana slowly digest her unfortunate prey. He cast his vision to the immediate surroundings and realised that he was seeing with the whole of his body. He seemed to be able to emit a sound frequency that reflected off objects and he was able to tell where things were by the way the reflected images felt. There was no colour in the relief impressions that came back to him but some of the nearby stuff felt very interesting indeed. Was he detecting other plant-humans?
“Welcome!” announced a booming voice that took both Giordan and Thaliana aback.
Giordan prepared for an encounter with The Morpho and swore to tell it exactly what he thought of the predicament they were in but before he formulated a braved challenge Thaliana had already charmingly called out.
“Hello! “Where are you?”
“I have the bastard covered!” whispered Giordan stretching his tendrils upwards for a pre-emptive strike.
“Over here.” Prompted the voice which seemed to be coming from above them.
“Hello Mister Baobab.” Replied Thaliana politely. “You rather took us by surprise.”
Giordan let his tendrils relax, glad that Thaliana had the situation in hand as she politely stretched out a tendril as The Baobab warmly greeted her. Giordan followed suit not wanting to appear unversed in the art of polite conversation with a giant and fantastically ancient tree.
“Mister Baobab. We are very pleased to meet you.” Asserted Giordan.
“It is my job to welcome you both to the place that you once knew as the Rainbow Forest.” Chuckled The Baobab. “From now on, I am sure you will recognise it as the world of the plant people.” Explained The Baobab. “Take a look. We are all around you.”
Thaliana and Giordan scanned the immediate environment and could feel the impression of scores of plant humans that were watching them and politely waiting to be introduced.
“Have you all been here long?” wondered Thaliana, who was still making an annoying crunching sound with the insect. It seemed to take her forever to digest it.
“Long enough.” Confirmed The Baobab. “Time is rather meaningless to us here. We don’t measure its passing. We prefer to think of life as transformation and interconnection with the earth, transmitting substances and knowledge between our roots and through chemicals. A process, by the way, that is facilitated by the insects.
“Oops!” mumbled Thaliana as the beetle’s legs dropped to the ground. “The world of the plant people is a way of being that teaches rhythmic cellular wisdom embodied in the profundity of silence, patience and persistence. Together we make up a ring of interconnected plant-human hybrid forms, creating a continuous field of vegetal-human consciousness.” Explained The Baobab. “We are all in different stages of hybridization owing to our individual circumstances but we are a unified and vital community. Like animals, plants transmit electrical signals from one part of themselves to another and although our electrical impulses travel up to fifty times slower than our human counterparts, these signals move fast enough to close the jaws of a trap on any insect triggering it.” Thaliana opened her trap carefully revealing that the poor insect had completely disappeared. Giordan thought she looked pleased with herself. “We transmit signals from one plant-human to another as well. You will already have experienced instructive surges passing through your root-tips will soon be able to understand their unique syntax in the same way as we are conversing using methods of vibration now. You will also encounter us through electro-biological informational relays that travel the air and partake in the knowledge that we accumulate through the living soil that is enmeshed with fungi, invertebrates and bacteria.” Continued The Baobab wisely. “You are part of this continuity of the animal and vegetable world, so we would like to welcome you both.” “Can you tell us more about our human nature?” wondered Giordan cautiously, feeling a little nostalgic for a more private form of existence where not everyone could read his every intention, which currently seemed to be the case. “What has happened to it?” “We have incorporated your human essence into our own world having tired of trying to exteriorise our knowledge to the human world. We have tried to exchange our knowledge with humans unsuccessfully for generations of transformation yet our efforts were largely ignored. As human society became more technologized, it labelled all other life forms as mere resources for their own consumption. Plants became victims of excessive harvest and production and human society convinced itself that plants cannot feel to assuage themselves of any responsibility for their welfare. Consequently, the ecosystem became decayed and irreversibly disturbed so our plant ancestors fought back. Genetic modification was never the exclusive property of human technology. We have had our own methods and techniques since our beginning and through The Morpho’s unique talents plants were able to embrace human contact despite being driven to the verge of extinction by becoming a hybrid organism. However, we plant humans remain fundamentally connected to our ancestors. We mourn their passing.” “What do you mean by their passing?” interjected Giordan suddenly concerned for the welfare of the human race. “Look to the edge of the Rainbow Forest in the direction of The Pyramid, it is decayed. So is its civilization. You have outlasted both the building and its human inhabitants by virtue of The Morpho’s transformative powers and our collaboration. Your cellular processes have been integrated into our hybrid system and in doing so you have defied the passage of time. Currently humans around the world are on the verge of extinction because of their excesses. They threaten all species on earth. We do not want to see the extinction of the human race but it is inevitable. Nature has her own rules and she has decreed that all species die out after ten thousand years as more sophisticated ones take their place. That is natural law. The time of human dominance of the planet has almost passed. You are part of the new order. In the same way that humans superseded their ape-like ancestors, plant people are replacing humans. Intimately connected plants and humans will revitalise the Earth and there will be a new more egalitarian way of being where no organisms will be condemned to servitude. Thaliana was tempted to snatch another nosey insect but felt it would be inappropriate to do so after such an enlightened speech. “Tell me more about The Morpho?” wondered Giordano finally feeling that he had achieved superhero status by surviving the extinction of the human race and felt even more invincible than Iron Fist®. “Ah, The Morpho. You will not see him again once your transformation is complete. This entity connects all life forms and has enabled our own beginning. The Morpho walks amongst the plant people, insect hybrids and mycelial civilizations casting its neutrino magic over us all. It is neither plant, nor animal, nor virus nor even truly alive but is exists somewhere between all these states. Some wonder if The Morpho is from another world. What we do know is that it is a bastard hybrid that confuses and cross-pollinates all life forms bringing evolutionary mischief to the world. It is a cyborg entity that will survive the future even way beyond the extinction of our own kind.”
Giordan was rather relieved that he would not encounter the shade again as it had signified the end of his ancestral species and if he saw it again it would mean the beginning of another end and the emergence of a new race that would succeed the plant people.
Thaliana could not longer resist the temptation to snap a fat weta that stayed just a little too long waving its preposterously elongated antennae at the air.
Giordan wondered if the insects would outlive the plant people or perhaps, Thaliana would eat them all before they got the chance besides, he was happy to wait another ten thousand years before things changed again as he was just beginning to get used to becoming a plant-human.