The Ancient Ones
by Ben Gooley
Prime Minister Manus placed her hand against the elder-tree’s trunk, closed her eyes and signed the document with her mind. Her tree-vis implant echoed in her head with the elder-tree’s approval and she watched as the mycelium web transported the agreement throughout the forest. Images and sounds danced in her mind as murmurs of assent came back as the forest joined its voice with the elder-tree. Only the more mature trees were able to articulate intelligibly, but there were plenty of those. Manus breathed deeply and thought she could faintly smell the forest’s pheromones that she’d been learning to understand.
The wall of cameras from the world’s press flashed before her, as Manus rubbed her hand on her forehead. It had been a long week. She understood the treaty’s significance – the world’s first since bilateral tree talk had become viable. No longer could the forests be dismissed as passive and mute. Through human agency they could take their place in the deliberative councils of the world.
The technologies that had first given voice to the primates, then the cetaceans, higher cephalopods and mammals, now finally bridging the gulf into the botanical world. It had taken time for the elder tree to understand the human world, and to find the language that carried across the Kingdom divide.
With a deep breath, Manus stepped up to the wall of microphones. Questions from the gathered press began pouring in: some open, some asinine, some openly hostile.
“Prime Minister, how do you think this changes our relationship with the natural world?”
“Will you be eating a plant-based meal tonight, Madam President?”
“What do you have to say to the millions of people you just put out of a job?”
The press had been relentless with the story in the lead up to the signing, and as predictable as ever. Typically the Left painted it as humanity’s greatest hour, the Right as our greatest folly. Even among those who were supportive, many were fearful, wondering what this shift in a fundamental fact of life would mean. A wag at the Herald had labelled it ‘The Dain Tree-ty’ and the name had stuck.
She had had her own questions and misgivings at first. The rainforest was already a World Heritage Area – did it need a treaty too? As the talks had progressed, and her respect for the wisdom of the elder tree had grown, she realised the path that needed to be trod. It was fitting that these forests that had grown in harmony alongside humans for tens of thousands of years should be the first in the world to sign a treaty.
Manus searched the crowd for her daughter and smiled as she found her, phone held aloft to record the moment. Ava had chosen an olive green wig for the day. She’d insisted that one advantage of losing her hair was that she could express herself more easily, to speak to the topic du jour. Manus wondered at the power of science that offered hope to her daughter, fighting back against what had always been a death sentence throughout the history of our species.
Ava grinned back and gave her mum two thumbs up.
Drawing strength from her daughter, Manus readjusted the microphone on her cheek and spoke to the crowd.
“There will be time for me to answer your questions shortly,” she began. “But first, I think we should hear from my colleague, The Elder Tree of the Daintree.”
She switched her implant to projection-mode, so the amassed crowd could hear the wisdom of the forest, and waited for minds to begin to change.
About the Author:
Ben Gooley grew up in northern New South Wales, Australia, and after heading off to university almost three decades ago, has never quite managed to successfully leave. Ben leads a university College as his day (and sometimes night) job in regional New South Wales, where he lives with his wife and three kids.
He is previously published with Creative New England and can be found on Twitter at @BenGooley.