This is my take on Sadje’s fun weekly writing prompt What Do You See? The challenge, to write a poem or story using the great image below. I’ve gone with an ecological sci-fi short story (~1090 words). Be sure to check out the other great takes and if you’re not already why not consider having a go yourself.
Once there had been three giants within the forest, three huge sequoias that overlooked the expansive park. They were named for the titans – Hyperion, Icarus and Helios. At the turn of the 21st century, they had become a rallying symbol for a global conservation movement. A movement that proved too slow to protect its wards.
First to fall was Icarus, consumed in the forests fires that ravaged California in the early part of the century, back when there was still brush to burn. Before climate change turned the west coast into a dust bowl. Helios did not survive much longer. The big one of 2057 would claim its largest living victim in a monstrous landslide that would see half the coast slip into the Pacific ocean.
Hyperion was the tallest and oldest of the giants. It would be the last to die. With its foliage stripped and bark peeling it finally succumb to the increasingly toxic environment. Only its dead trunk remained by the end of the century, a testament to the long-gone forest and the last conservation effort. A hundred years would pass before anyone would return to the great expanse of the Californian desert to find Hyperion.
The lift came to an abrupt stop, and the doors opened to reveal a raging orange stand storm. Through the dust, he could see a figure standing at the railings. “Hello!” he shouted over the howling wind. There was no reaction, so sliding on his goggles, he strode across the platform and placed a hand on the figure’s shoulder. Startled, they spun around, a dusty shemagh covering their face. Dark jade goggles stared back at him, before nodding back to the lift.
With the lift doors closed and face protection removed, he found himself staring into a wizened weather-worn face. She looked at him and coughed. “What does he want now?”
She rolled her eyes and shook her head, sand falling to the floor. “Kane! I assume he’s sent you. No doubt with more threats of cutting funding.”
“Dr Ito, my name is Jack-”
“Let me stop you,” she interrupted, more interested in the storm’s progress through the window of the lift door. “You’re a messenger. You can cut the pleasantries. Do us both a favour and just do your job.”
They’d tried to warn him – direct, abrupt, difficult, they’d said. Well, they weren’t kidding, she was all of those and rude besides. She was right though, he had one job to do and he felt a pang of guilt that he’d take some pleasure in it. “As you wish. Your funding is cancelled. The Hyperion Project is shut down with immediate effect.”
“Good!” she said, punching the door button and stepping back onto the platform. “The storms passed just in time.”
He wasn’t sure if she’d heard him. Chasing her into the eerie still copper world, he called out after her. “Dr Ito, did you hear me? The project is terminated.”
Dr Ito stood looking out from the platform where he’d first found her. All around them, the dust kicked up by the storm slowly fell back to the desert floor. Catching up with her, he caught sight of the dunes below and realising how high up they were he instinctively grabbed the handrail.
“Do you know what that is?” she said, pointing to a tall column in the dusty gloom. A long footbridge connected the platform to the distant column. To his left and right, he could see two similar platforms, each with their own bridges reaching out to the large central column.
“Dr, I’m not here for show and tell.”
“That is Hyperion, the last tree,” she continued. “It died over a hundred years ago.”
“I don’t see how that’s relevant.”
“And neither did our ancestors,” she said before tapping her wrist and adding. “All clear. Proceed.”
“Doctor!” Jack warned. She did not seem to be getting the message.
“I suggest you put your goggles on,” she said, adjusting her own. A loud buzzing proceeded three blindingly bright green lasers shooting from each of the towers targetted a glowing, pulsing object atop the dead tree. “I’d like you to give Kane a message.”
Perched on top of Hyperion’s dead husk sat her life’s work. Not just her work, but the work of her mother and her grandfather and the countless others who shared a vision. As the world turned to dust around them, they worked tirelessly to create a seed and at its core Hyperion. Or rather its DNA, manipulated, enhanced. She remembered her grandfather’s passion for bonsai trees, the hours he’d spent cultivating and selecting just the right seedlings. Skills of the micro that could be repurposed to the macro. Her mother had completed his work before she passed. She had left behind a biological blueprint, the genetic plans for a seed. A grain of hope.
A titanic seed, however, required a colossal energy source, one that could adapt to its complex demands. That had been her part of the jigsaw and it had taken her forty years. The science was hard enough without having to deal with Kane Industries continuous demands for marketable applications. She had given him some breadcrumbs along the way, but it was never enough. She had known she was running out of time, knew she was close. Luckily it would all come together at the eleventh hour. It had to, failure was unthinkable. Finally, she’d created the intricate energy matrix necessary to sustain the seed for those first few nano-seconds. Just long enough to create a chain reaction that would bring shade to the desert.
Dr Ito grinned. “Now I am become Life, the saviour of worlds.”
Jack struggled to fit his goggles before an emerald flash brighter than any sun threatened to blind him. A second later a deafening crack accompanied a shock wave that nearly tore them both from the observation platform. When next he looked up, it was into a wall of green foliage rapidly expanding from where Hyperion had stood. He watched in awe as the tidal wave of leaves grew towards them. Far below, new roots coiled deep into the barren earth and above them, twisting branches threatened to eclipse the sun.
The footbridge was almost completely engulfed before Dr Ito suggested they retire to a safe distance. Jack didn’t need a second invitation. As the lift descended, she looked over at him. His goggles dropping from his shaking hands. She smiled. “Thank you, Jack. If you’d be so kind as to deliver my message to Mr Kane.”
Image courtesy of Andre A. Xavier