The outer surface of the sphere was coated in a thick layer of frost. It glistened, half-buried in the earth at the end of a broad gouge in the forest. Trees had been decapitated, shattered into splinters, mown down and crushed as the sphere ground through them. There had been no warning, no way for the alltrees to gather themselves and haul their bulk apart, and the sphere had been incandescent with heat when it boiled through the atmosphere into the forest. Several days had passed. The surviving trees had cautiously retracted their roots and stepped back from the crash site. It now rested alone in its torn up barrow where frost had flowered up over the mud and grass and stretched its icy fingers out across the blistered sheen of its spherical skin. Nothing happened for a very long time. The alltrees ceased to perceive it as a threat, and since the island they had established their colony on lay hundreds of miles from the mainland, they were not linked to the continental mass of alltrees. They had been established nearly a hundred years ago by windblown seeds caught in the crevices of rock and the feathers of migrating birds. And so they had found a new home, one not terrorised by humans with flamethrowers burning away the juveniles as they encroached on their cities’ limits. The alltrees were not the ideal neighbours. Massive, perambulatory and violently jealous of enough space to spread their branches and thick leaves so they could capture as much of the sun’s light as possible. Their colony was small, and they’d managed to come to arrangements whereby they shared the light. The new arrival had decimated that understanding and opened up a gash in the formerly dense canopy. In the absence of any immediate threat, the surviving alltrees seized their advantage and moved to fill the new space. Any gain was of immense value, for some years earlier the moon that they depended upon for its rich light had vanished, shattered into chunks that rained down from orbit. At night the sound of their leaves vibrating as they absorbed the moonlight would have been deafening, so many trees packed into so small a space. Yet now the night was a barren harvest and the daytime offered just the sun to fill their reserves. Their growth was stunted and they lacked the energy to become the integrated community they should have been. On the mainland they would have spread out so each tree could extend their branches fully. Here they’d had to compromise, restricting their own and each other’s growth and remained fiercely independent. Since they were not connected to the wider alltree community – a vast continental network of mature alltrees joined by the neuronal roots that extended through the earth – they had no idea that their world had recently been at war. No clue that the destruction of their life-giving moon had been the opening salvo in a fight that would last decades. No idea that the alltrees had been marked for extinction by a group of humans who vehemently opposed their existence. No idea that the world had been saved by yet another group of alltrees who had been left in space by their human creators. None at all, until the sphere opened. It began early one morning, weeks after the initial crash. The alltrees’ churning of the ground as they embraced the new moonlight opportunities had erased the scars of its passage, and the larger alltrees shuffling for space had nudged the sky-fallen object out of its crater, left to bump awkwardly onto worthless rock. For the sphere, and its contents, this was a boon. The crash had damaged the opening mechanisms, but the movement and space around it enabled a secondary exit. Like an armadillo unrolling itself, the sphere segmented and folded into itself until just a thick wedge of metal remained, tipping its contents onto the stone. Leaves and branches were evident, yet its shape made no sense. It had no dense trunk, just very long spindly branches that spread in all directions, and its roots flowered outwards in a similar spray to its leaves. This alltree had grown in space, in the vast colony ship infested by its ancestors as they drifted in zero gravity behind one of the planet’s moons. It struggled in the newfound gravity, used to pulling itself around in any direction without worrying about its weight, but here it would have to adapt. Already it felt a little weaker, lacking the constant light that the colony had integrated into its enormous spaceship. But it had brought a substitute. That night, the alltree from space awkwardly wrapped its roots around the object that had sustained it in the sphere and pulled it out of the remaining folded segment of its pod. With yet more effort, the alltree dragged the boxy thing into the forest. The other alltrees felt its presence, felt the touch of its spindly roots on the earth and responded as best they were able, in their weakened state, to the intrusion. They began to close ranks, drawing their trunks closer together to obstruct the invader, battering at it with their lower branches. But the small, bushy, space alltree easily evaded their attacks, and hauled itself into the heart of their little forest. As the other trees began to crowd in, it activated its treasure, and a rich milky light poured out of the box, bathing the underside of the forest in a glow that they had not felt since their moon was suddenly eradicated. The alltree had brought the moon back to them. The response was instantaneous, trees throughout the forest twisted, bringing their leaves to any angle that might intercept this glorious treat. From above, not a single ray of moonlight escaped, the hungry alltrees took it all. The little alltree from space allowed them to bask in the glory for a while, then turned off the device. Already their leaves looked glossier, their trunks smoother. Even now they were creeping steadily towards the device. The next night they received the same treatment, until the roots of the alltrees had spread out, allowing them to haul their mighty trunks towards the light. The space alltree judged them close enough, and in the full power of its moonlight device, it plunged its spindly roots into the earth, seeking out the native trees. The formation of the network was almost immediate, lightning zapping through the latent neural tendrils in the alltrees’ root systems. Suddenly, they were all awake, and filled with the knowledge that the alltree from the sphere had brought them: “you are greater than you seem, you are not alone, join us.” A week later, the island was bare, and the alltree colony in space had added another part of the alltree diaspora to its endlessly growing empire.
All content copyright Captain Pigheart 2023