Excerpt from ‘Interference’: the opening of Chapter 6, by Stevland

InterferenceCover_SmallA spark of ethylene freezes a few of my rootlets as the auxins are inhibited. The main locustwood speaker wants my attention and strikes where a patch of our roots overlap. It is odd that he should greet me in an almost non-destructive fashion. He is the new speaker for his grove of trees but already behaves typically for his species, with aggression. The biggest and most belligerent tree in the local grove becomes not merely the spokesman but the only breeding male, so the entire species aims for size and hostility.

No doubt he wishes to ask about my service animals. The recent arrivals from Earth have created a noticeable change, to understate the situation absurdly.

“We have a question,” he says.

No demands? No bluster? He must be distressed. “Yes,” I answer. “A migratory group has arrived for a visit.”

“We do not understand.”

“The service animals. No doubt you have observed a change, but it is temporary.”

“We are concerned about the fires.”

“The fire tonight is for a celebration and will be strictly controlled.” I add, “As it is every year.” He ought to remember that.

“These fires have already occurred. They were along the border with the Coral Plains.”

Fires at the plains? I know nothing about that. But I keep my response calm, if only because an excited locustwood is a dangerous locustwood, and they get excited easily. “Tell me more.”

“Our southern groves saw small fires over the past two nights. They started in the Coral Plains and did not spread into our forest, but five fires are too many. Our other groves can show you where. Your service animals must investigate.”

“They will do so. Thank you for the notice.” Five. Fire is our greatest danger, although locustwoods tend to overreact. Swamp fires are not forest fires. Methane is the likely cause, since it can ignite spontaneously and at a low temperature, thus harmlessly, if that is what happened, yet such fires are uncommon. Five may be far too many.

“But,” the locustwood continues, “about your animals, we have heard of odd movements and some new strange members. They can fly, for example, and they are not bats or cactuses.”

“The visitors will eventually fly away, and the city will remain the same.”

“And we wish to have the trunk of the previous speaker harvested.”

I did not expect that. When the old speaker died, his death hastened by this rival’s quest to achieve speakerhood, we had agreed to leave the dead tree stand in honor of his service. “Why do you wish it removed?”

“It lies in the way of new growth. Have your animals cut it down promptly. They will appreciate the wood.”

Perhaps, for the speaker, it is a reminder of his dishonorable deeds to displace the incumbent. Or the dead tree may genuinely be in the way of new growth, new female trees for the speaker to add to his grove. But in any case, the wood has a remarkable pattern, called “checkerboard” by the Humans and “plaid” by the Glassmakers, and it can be used for items of beautiful utility and decoration, so this is good news for the city.

I must not sound too agreeable, however, or the locustwood might interpret that as weakness. “I shall order it done. And we must set the quota for this year’s harvest. Perhaps, given your success, it can be expanded. Your wood is very useful.”

“Provided it is only used for durable purposes. We do not wish to be burned any more than you.”

“We will discuss this further.”

“In the summer. Meanwhile, keep the fire tonight under control.”

“We have sufficient experience.”

“And keep your animals under control.”

“Of course I will. I also have long experience with these species.”

My deepest roots remind me that I have not always had successful experiences with these species, both with individuals and with groups. While I have extended my understanding in many ways over the years, this wisdom does not always serve in new situations, and every day is a new day with new problems.

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