A butterfly rests on a twig, slowly moving its wings up and down. Red and orange radiance emanates from them. The child approaches, carefully observing the butterfly. A moment of silence and inactivity passes before the butterfly, noticing the child, flutters away. The child follows, ducking under a branch. The butterfly flies sharply to the right behind a tree. The child locates it and leaps futilely toward it, but the butterfly avoids the childs grasp. The child lands in the dirt.
Above them, a hawk soars across the murky sky. The wind blows softly and quietly through the trees. A dead leaf falls and lands on the ground.
The child rises and leans against the tree before noticing the butterfly again. It darts this way and that, evading capture. Following the butterfly, the child runs across the dirt, laughing with delight. Again and again, the butterfly escapes from the child. Chasing after the butterfly, the child plants soft footsteps on the barren soil. The butterfly flies upward, out of reach. Sad and disappointed, the child stops running.
The hawk screeches overhead. Startled, the child turns. The hawk continues flying, and the child sits down on a smooth rock.
A rabbit hops into view and stares at the child, as if it wishes to observe the child as the child observes it. The child notices and dashes after it, but it quickly disappears into its burrow.
Dead leaves crunch under the childs feet and move as the wind blows. A rustling in the bushes alerts the child, who turns around. Nothing moves. The child, confused, stands still.
A bird chirps in the distance. The child follows the sound, walking past the lifeless remains of bushes and shrubs and trees. The bird chirps again, this time from a different direction. The child stops, searching for the bird. Dead leaves on the ground rustle as the wind blows through the forest . Hesitant, the child takes a step forward. The wind stops blowing, and the forest becomes silent. The child waits. Nothing happens. The forest remains still and silent.
Close by, the bird chirps again. Hearing it, the child walks slowly in its direction. A different sound reaches the childs ears; the sound of running water attracts the childs attention. The bird, perching on a tree branch, chirps and flies away.
The child sees a stream, flowing among the trees, smoothing the rocks under it. The water trickles tranquilly. Searching for a way to cross the stream, the child glances at a tree beside it. At first, the tree appears normal, but, upon closer inspection, the child notices peculiar features. The protuberances and depressions of the bark form something familiar. The child studies it, not believing that the tree can appear the way it does. A strange thought forms in the childs mind:
It looks like a face.
* * *
What? We cant? But... why?
We must not alter the planets environment. The inhabitants must not know of our existence. They must not suspect the existence of anything out of the ordinary.
But they are destroying the environment! We cant just let them do that! We have to stop them!
It doesnt matter whether or not they are destroying the environment, Ebkor. If we interfere in their affairs, we will not be able to study them objectively. They must not know about us.
This is... impossible! You cant just allow a planets environment to be destroyed!
We are not destroying the environment. The inhabitants of the planet are. Our function is to study the sentient organisms living on the planet, not to prevent them from destroying their environment.
Still... we have to do something.
Our function is not to interfere in the affairs of the inhabitants, and that means leaving them alone.
* * *
The child sits down on a rock across from the tree. The trees face, smiling, stares back. The silent forest lies around them.
Hi, the child says, interrupting the silence. The childs gas mask distorts the words.
The tree continues to smile, not moving. Its branches, spread out, resemble arms. They point toward the sky in an expression of defeat.
How are you doing? the child says.
A butterfly flutters by, but the child does not notice.
Im Yry. Whats your name? the child says.
The stream trickles softly in the silent forest. The tree stares back at the child, as if expecting the child to continue.
That is an interesting name, the child says, smiling. Where do you come from? Have you always been in this forest?
The trees acuminate nose sticks out above a lopsided grin. Its left eye, larger than its right, focuses on the child, while its right eye looks slightly to the left.
And where did you live before that?
Do you like it here in the forest?
The wind sweeps through the forest, producing an eerie whisper among the trees.
What do you like to do for fun?
One of the trees branches starts to move. The child gasps. The tree becomes still again, its bare branches swaying in the wind, gently moving back and forth.
Are you all right?
Silent, the tree smiles back at the child.
That is good.
A bee buzzes by between the tree and the child, who ignores it.
Will you always stay here in the forest?
The wind moves a few dead leaves across the ground. Somewhere, a bird chirps. The stream continues to flow. A long moment passes before the child stands up. Im sorry, but I have to go now. Ill see you later.
Reluctantly, the child turns and walks away from the tree. The wind blows more forcefully now, rustling dead leaves and swaying branches. Slowly, the child glances back at the tree one last time.
The tree is frowning.
* * *
You have returned, Ebkor. And so soon? What brings you here again?
Look, you have to understand that, through inaction, we are letting the inhabitants of this planet destroy their environment. Thats just like destroying it ourselves. Dont you see that? We have to stop them.
Ebkor, you do not understand. How many times do I have to tell you this? We must not interfere in the affairs of the planets inhabitants!
But we cant just...
What the inhabitants do with their planet is their business, not ours. Our business is to study them, and one cannot study something while influencing the subject of ones study.
Think of the plants and the animals! Do you really want them to become extinct?
Ebkor, we absolutely must not interfere with them.
There are things more important than preserving the natural elements of this planet, Ebkor. If the environment is destroyed, we can re-create it. If the sentient organisms learn of our existence, however, we can never be able to study them without their knowledge.
* * *
The wind blows again, its force shaking the branches of the tree. The water in the stream continues to flow. The rest of the forest remains silent.
Who are you? the child asks, staring at the tree.
The tree, frowning, stares back.
Where do you really come from?
The trees lips start to move. The words come out in a strained voice: I represent... a greater force.
The wind stops blowing, leaving the forest in a moment of silence. The child stares, aghast, for a few moments.
You really do speak, the child says cautiously.
The trees frown gradually becomes a smile.
Where do you come from? Why are you here?
It is difficult to explain, the tree says. A greater force is controlling me. A greater force...
What greater force?
Sit down. I will explain.
The child sits down on the rock and awaits an explanation.
Do you know that there are strange entities out there, stranger than you can imagine? They come from a place far away. They are sentient, able to reason and to understand. They have mastered the use of certain devices, smaller than you can imagine, that can rearrange the basic particles that you and I and the world are made of into new substances. These devices can create more of themselves, allowing them to rearrange substances more quickly. Do you understand?
No, the child says.
It seems like magic, doesnt it?
I guess so.
But theyre not magic. You do not have enough knowledge to understand how they work, but they follow all of the laws of nature. These devices allow me to speak to you. You see, I am not really a tree. The tree that you see in front of you is not really speaking to you. It has been altered by the greater forces of which I am a part. I am not really here; I am only transposing myself into the tree.
Puzzled, the child sees no meaning in the trees explanation. Then how can you talk?
The tree has been altered, the tree says. The devices have altered the tree so that it appears to be speaking. It is not really speaking. The tree does not know what it is saying; it lacks sentience; it is dead. It is actually being controlled by the greater forces. They are up there.
One branch of the tree moves upward, pointing at the sky. The child looks up and sees only the gray sky.
I dont see anything.
You cannot see them because they do not wish to be seen, the tree says.
But why do they remain up there? Why dont they come down here?
Their arrival here would cause immense disruption and would inhibit their observation of people without their knowledge. This is their utmost priority.
Then what are you doing here? the child says.
Look around you, the tree replies. Dont you see what your species has done to the world it inhabits? Look at all of the dead plants. There are only a few animals left. Humans are destroying the world they live in. Their invasion and pollution must be stopped.
The child looks around at the bleary landscape and adjusts the gas mask.
I am here to rebuild your environment using the devices that enable me to speak to you. Nature will again triumph. Life will return to your world.
* * *
Ebkor, we have detected signs of interference with the ecology of this planet. We have reason to suspect you.
Yes, Ebkor. We would like an explanation for this.
But who said it was me?
Ebkor, this planet is not your playground. Think of it as this: It is a painting, and you are a paintbrush. You touch it, and it changes. We cannot induce our own changes if we wish to study this planet.
You will remove your presence and reverse the effects of your presence from this planet, or you will face the consequences.
* * *
Slowly, the child approaches the tree.
What do you mean?
Slowly, the tree uproots itself. It does so gradually, meticulously removing its roots from the soil. Its branches reach toward the sky, as if grasping it to pull itself from the ground.
Then it begins to speak again.
Ah, the time has come to start the revival of the life of this planet. Life will flourish, and it will do so immediately.
The tree stretches its branches toward the murky sky.
Come with me, Yry. We will see the world live again.
It starts walking with its roots, walking across the dead soil, scattering the dead leaves, forming indentations in the barren ground.
Today, we will witness a new beginning, the tree says.
The child follows, wondering about the tree and its purpose.
Slowly, they travel out of the forest and across a barren field, surrounded by silence.
The child walks behind the tree, carefully looking around. Nothing seems to happen.
A butterfly flies between the child and the tree. The child stops and looks at it for a moment, distracted. The butterfly flutters its orange wings and lands on one of the trees branches. The child stares at it, thinking about it and admiring its colorful radiance. The butterfly, which seems to notice the childs glare, flies away. The child hesitates, deciding whether or not to go after the butterfly, and decides not to do so.
The tree speaks: This world is growing again. Soon it will flourish, and all the organisms will return. The many small devices will make it possible. Soon, everything will be back to normal.
The hawk screeches overhead. The child looks up and searches for it. The hawk screeches again and flies out of view.
The tree moves forward, moving across the field. It continues to talk, and the child continues to listen.
The tree says, A revolution is occurring. This world is undergoing a profound change. It is happening right now.
The child does not comprehend the trees words. What is going to happen to the world? What change is this tree talking about? What will happen? The world has always been this way. What does it mean by everything going back to normal?
The child ponders this question and steps over a tuft of grass.
Look around you! Life is returning! It is everywhere! the tree says.
The child looks up, and, for the first time, notices a profound change.
* * *
Ebkor, why did you not listen to me the first time? Why did you not remove your presence and its effects from this planet?
Because I am not going to let what happened to our homeworld happen to this planet. It has already happened. Im not going to let that occur again.
Ebkor, you do not understand.
No, it is you who do not understand. Youre a computer, and you always have been. Youre never going to change. This world is doing the same thing that our homeworld did, not too long ago. And it isnt the right thing. And Ive done everything I can to stop it from meeting the same doom our homeworld did.
Ebkor, you are a natural being, and you always have been. Your point of view has always been limited. You simply do not see the greater scope of things. You wish to achieve minor victories while neglecting the greater goal that would suffer as a result of those victories. You refused to listen to me, and now you must face the consequences.
* * *
All around them, life has returned. Plants and animals surround them. Slowly, a smile appears on the childs face.
The sky appears blue and clear, no longer murky. The child removes the gas mask and breathes in the fresh air.
The plants and animals join the tree in speaking, and their simultaneous voices pervade the atmosphere with a wave of ecstasy: Life is returning! All around the world, life is returning to the world! The world is reviving! The world is coming back to life! Life is returning!
The plants and animals form a circle around the child and the tree, leaving them at the center of a clearing.
The child leaps into the air with joy and runs toward the edge of the circle. The tree remains in the center of the clearing, beaming.
A butterfly rests on the branch of a laughing tree. It flutters its orange wings and flies into the air. The child chases after it, running through the living forest. A mouse dashes out of the childs path. The butterfly flies upward toward the branches above. The child leaps and tries to catch it but fails to do so. Another butterfly appears, almost identical to the other one. Laughing, the child chases after it. Like the previous one, the butterfly evades the childs grasp. The child laughs gleefully.
Life returns to the world, flourishing. Everywhere the child looks, animals and plants appear, possessed by an overwhelming animating force.
But now the tree in the center of the clearing speaks: Yry, now I must tell you something. It is very important. The time has come for another change.
Slightly puzzled, the child stops running and reenters the clearing, approaching the tree.
* * *
Ebkor, the time has come to face the consequences. For your actions, you shall be exposed to the vacuum of space. And you shall not return from it.
Then I shall face the consequences. I do not want to, but I will. But just promise me one thing before I go. Promise me youll look at what Ive done before destroying it. If, after objectively analyzing what Ive accomplished, you honestly think its not good and needs to be changed, then you can do whatever you want to undo my actions. But I just want you to see the effects of what Ive done to help this planet. Will you?
* * *
Yry, the tree says, the time has come for me to go. I cannot remain here any longer. I must meet the requirements of a greater force. They are calling me. I have to return to them. Yry, take care of the world for me.
But... the child says, but the expression on the tree has vanished. The tree remains still and silent yet alive, its roots buried in the soil, a silent monument to a revived world.
The child approaches the tree and reaches out to touch its bark, but it does not respond. No trace remains of its sentience.
The child steps away and looks around at the edge of the clearing. All of the plants have lost their expression. They remain inanimate but living. Most of the animals have left the edge of the clearing. A red and orange butterfly flies across the air. The child ignores it.
* * *
The world is changing. Finally, life will return, and this planet will not meet its doom as the homeworld did. As I float here in the vacuum of space, dying, the world in front of me is coming back to life. The world flourishes once more.
* * *
A state of dynamic equilibrium exists in the forest. The environment maintains a balanced state of activity. In a moment of respectful silence, the child approaches the inanimate tree in the center of the clearing and extends both arms to embrace it.
Thank you, the child whispers. Thank you for all that youve done. Thank you.
Above them, silently maintaining constant vigil, the bright sun descends slowly across the clear blue sky.
Copyright © 2003 by The Invincible Spud