Author Topic: Part 3: Foreign Interest  (Read 27 times)

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Offline Daen

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Part 3: Foreign Interest
« on: May 04, 2022, 09:16:44 PM »
It was about eighteen hours later, while Moss was working on one of his designs, that an enzyme package appeared on the soil just outside his trunk.

He wasn't even aware of it at first. It was just suddenly there! He focused on the area with what few oscilli were in position, and caught a glimpse of something flying away into the night. From its size and speed, it had to be one of the juns.

Curiously, he had Prudence retrieve the package and hook it up. A message flooded through his mind, in the same tone he'd heard earlier that day. "Greetings, belhiera'torkalm'oss. I was hoping for the chance to speak to you in private, after our brief interaction this morning. To expedite matters, I have placed a communication line from myself to the network, separate from the rest. I will reconnect myself to them after we are done, but for now it will just be you and me. Assuming you're interested, of course. I look forward to hearing from you."

Lord Prajanko had built his own communication line? That took serious effort. No doubt his juns had been at it all day. Whatever he wanted, it was important.

Moss tossed the question around in his mind for a while. He still knew so little about the trejuns, despite his rabid early research into them. This might be a valuable opportunity to understand them better. On the other hand, Prajanko was a Lord. The title itself denoted superiority and authority: both things Moss had trained himself to avoid like the blight.

Before the founding of the Continental Union, there had been ceaseless wars across Bura. Groves had conquered or exterminated each other without thought or hesitation. All communication networks were built for military use only, and any treqars who refused to donate their qars to military service were punished harshly and publicly. During those days some treqars had taken up titles like Lord, or Sovereign, or Daimyo, or Shah. They were all just different words for the same concept: people who lorded themselves over others.

The Chancellor of the Union was elected, unlike the leaders in the old days. Each Grovekeeper from each grove on Bura had a vote, and the opportunity to cast it every fifty years.

These trejuns were obviously different. They were still warlike, having firebombed four groves, for Core's sake! Even if they had been sorely provoked. They still had Lords, as evidenced by this strangely intent one reaching out to him. The Consensus that ruled over Trejuna did seem a lot like the Union, though. Maybe the titles were just hereditary, and had no real power. Hesitantly, Moss connected to the private network and waited.

Again, Prajanko's presence blasted through the thought-space like a shining light. It was muted compared to before though. Moss thought that maybe he wasn't showing off anymore, now that he had an audience of only one. "I'm gratified you chose to join me, belhiera'torkalm'oss. May I call you Moss? Your friend said that's what you're known as."

Moss realized he'd let out some frustration. Rane and his big roots. He never did know when to shut up. "Of course," he responded tightly.

"And you may call me Ter. When we're in private only, of course. I have an image to maintain, whether I enjoy that or not." His tone suggested that he didn't. "At any rate, I have something to show you."

It was a little unusual to be in a conversation with just two presences; something which Moss hadn't experienced since his seedling days. Suddenly another presence appeared, startling him. It wasn't really a person though, upon further inspection. It was a memory.

"Take a look," Ter invited.

Moss had tried assembling memories for others to inspect before. Unlike the ones sent to him about the ocean, or Nuq's detailed designs, they'd been crude by comparison. Grove Praska was small and rural, with little exposure to the outside world. He had very little to work with.

This one was much more elaborate. Moss could see a grove in a foreign land. The nearby trees were strange-looking and shorter, but thicker at the base. Even the soil was a different color. The trejuns he could see in this depiction were all much bigger than Ter, growing in concentric circles out from a specific point. "This is your home?"

Ter sent out an affirmative, and Moss gave the memory another look. The image was stationary, but he could make out thousands, or perhaps millions, of juns flying around. A colony of that size must be almost impossible to maintain! Every trejun in the grove must be dedicated to keeping its hives alive.

The memory shifted, and this time it looked like the images he'd seen back in anatomy class. "This one is from my textbooks as a seedling," Ter explained softly. "Look at the center."

It was a cross-section of a trejun. An elder trejun by the looks of it. Inside was the hive structure maintaining the juns. Sure enough the queen was linked to the taproot: melded right into the wood as if they were one. The trejun didn't just feed her like he fed Grace and the other qars. It was her! His 'cousins' from across the sea had a truly symbiotic relationship with their juns.

Moss withdrew from the memory, considering. Qars lived only a fraction of the time that treqars did. Was the same true for juns? "What.. happens to you trejuns if your queen dies?"

"Well, not every trejun has a queen. Only about one in twenty are deemed strong enough or wise enough for melding. But once it's done, the two are linked permanently. Neither can survive without the other. The queen is well fed and protected inside the bark of her trejun. In the rare event that she dies from some illness or malady, so does her protector. Before you ask," Ter put in with a burst of amusement, "melded trejuns can live over two hundred years. We pass some of our longevity on to the queen."

That had been what he was about to ask. Moss gave a start of surprise at the rest, though. "You're melded?" He asked stupidly. Then he had to restrain his own chagrin from getting out. Of course Ter was melded. How else could he have flown here?

"I am," the other responded easily.

"Why.. are you telling me all of this?" Moss wondered aloud. Granted, it would probably become public knowledge in another few years, if relations between the Consensus and the Union continued like they had so far. Still, he had no idea why he merited such information before anyone else.

"Because you're different than the others in grove Praska. I sensed it the moment we met. If you had to articulate how you're different, what would you say?"

Moss thought back to their first meeting. Ter had said he had a 'hungry mind'. Well, that was true enough. "I isolate myself from the others, on purpose. I stay disconnected from the network even at night, so that I'm alone with my thoughts."

"Because you know that if you're constantly exposed to messages from them, even those you call friends, you'll end up being just like them?"

Moss couldn't keep in all of his surprise. "Yes. That's it, exactly! If I want to be unique- if I want to be me, I have to limit the influence others have on me. I have to be careful to talk with them, but not let them talk through me."

Ter flooded the thought-space with confidence and assurance. "That's an attitude common in Trejuna. Most young trejuns only stay connected for an hour or so a day. More than you obviously, but less than anyone else here." He paused, apparently thinking. "It's also an attitude common to thinkers. Scientists, artists, builders, jun-breeders and trainers. Basically any profession that doesn't require you to be under the constant scrutiny of others. So tell me," he asked with a burst of interest. "Which are you? What do you ponder with all of that alone time you have?"

Moss felt a kinship with this person, strange though he was. Ter did seem to understand him better than anyone except perhaps Noq. And Noq lived so far away that real-time communication with him was impossible. All the same, Moss couldn't risk telling Ter the truth. Not only was he afraid of looking foolish in front of this well-educated and articulate individual, Moss wasn't sure his designs were even worth his time. Besides, Ter was a public official from a foreign state. He had to answer to the Consensus, and was no doubt sending regular reports back to them.

"Toolmaking," Moss said, thinking quickly. It was a plausible interest, given how he had designed at least a few devices for Grace and the others. "For my qars I mean. The synthetic roots used to extend our networks are hard to make and maintain. Gathering the raw materials takes time and effort for qars, and I wanted to make it easier on them." He summoned an image of one of his minor inventions. "This is a cutting tool I made for some of my stronger qars. It lets them dig into the ground more easily, so they can accomplish their tasks quicker." The metal and glass had actually been for his earlier projects, but it made for a good excuse.

Ter let out some understanding. "I knew it had to be something special. I don't mean to belittle your people, but scientific interest, even when it comes to building such tools, seems to be a low priority in grove Praska. In other Union groves I've visited as well. That's why I take special notice of people like you. You should have been planted in Trejuna, as far as I'm concerned."

"What's it like there? What kind of discoveries have you made?" He was much more curious than before, Moss realized. Perhaps that was what Ter wanted. He'd successfully engaged one of the 'locals' and gained his interest. Like any ambassador would.

"My memory showed you what it looks like, but there's much more than that. My grove, Brekos, is right next to the sea. Our juns are bred to handle much stronger winds and rain than the rest. My own queen Etheria can handle much more humid environments than the rest. That's why we were among those chosen to cross the ocean after relations with your Union started. If you thought that my landing was impressive, imagine what flying across that much poison water would take!"

Moss had already done so. Earlier he had envisioned the tens of thousands of juns necessary to keep Ter aloft in the air. The trip would have taken days even over the shortest gap of water. No doubt Ter had been forced to rotate his juns in and out of the hive, and save up a massive supply of nutrients before the trip, to keep them all fed and rested. Moss thought back to the memory he'd gotten of that coastal grove. He imagined the waves beating against each other, the water choppy and tumultuous underneath the flying Lord.

"In some ways, treqars are superior to us," Ter went on thoughtfully. "You have at least twenty times our population. You're stronger, taller, and generally healthier, even without melding with your qars. And they're tougher than the juns by a big margin."

"You can fly!" Moss put in with frustration, trying to will Ter to see how much better he had it. "That kind of mobility is the pinnacle right there, whether you see it or not."

"Maybe you're right," Ter said more seriously. "Still, there are other differences. We have an interroot like yours, but we'd never even heard of radios until we made contact with you. Like your qars, we studied those very closely after we established relations. We bought five qar queens and two radios as soon as we could."

That was a surprise. Somehow he'd imagined that they were more advanced in every way than his people. "We only developed radios because of our old wars. They were built in desperation and a fear for survival. You develop new things all the time, and it's not because you're in danger!" Then he remembered. They had also used combustion on their enemies, firebombing groves from far above. Not all trejuns were benevolent scientific gods, it seemed. "Speaking of those qars you bought, were you able to start any colonies on your side of the ocean?"

Ter sent out a negative. "Something in your environment here keeps them alive much better than back home. I'm afraid our queens didn't last long. Still, it was a worthwhile experiment. At least we can use your radios. Last I heard, we're close to building some of our own."

"I'd like to visit Trejuna someday," Moss said idly, thinking about that image he'd seen of Ter's grove. "I think you're right- I'd fit in a lot better there. I'd have to learn how to tend juns instead of qars, but I'm a quick study."

He felt a trace of sadness from Ter. "I'm afraid that won't be possible."

"Why not? I'm lighter than you are, and I can even shed weight if necessary. Besides, I'm not talking about today. I mean anytime in the future." Shedding weight was a harrowing thought- leaving branches, leaves and roots behind. As long as the central cluster of roots stayed intact, he would survive, but the experience would no doubt be traumatic.

For some reason Ter hesitated. "Maybe you're right. It's something to look into, anyway."

They went on for hours, comparing details about their respective homes. Slowly, Moss realized he was feeling more and more respect for this individual. He could be open with the foreigner, at least about everything he knew was public knowledge. No doubt the ambassador had to keep things back as well, but he shared what he could quite freely.

Unlike his people, apparently. It seemed that Trejuna's inter-grove communication was strictly regulated. They could talk to each other within each grove, but messages between groves were for official or scientific business only. A very reasonable measure in Moss' opinion. He only wished the Union was smart enough to do something like that here. Maybe then, gossip and social bickering might be less important to the average treqar than actually using their gifts to make life better for everyone.

Also, those rumors about a better interroot had been thanks to the Consensus! They had apparently discovered the way to make interroot communications instant, and shared that with the Union. It figured that the Chancellor and her staff claimed the discovery had been local. Typical political thinking.

Ter offered to share some enzyme techniques for bonding metal to wood (he still believed that Moss was only a toolmaker), and Moss gratefully accepted. Even if he didn't use them for their intended purpose, Noq would be fascinated. He stored the information in his own root system for now; he'd go over it more thoroughly later on.

When he finally disconnected to get a little rest, his mind was spinning with all the ideas and novelties he'd experienced. There was one strange thing when his qars got back, though. Grace and Strength had been inspecting the connection between Moss and Ter for any signs of damage, and they'd noticed something unusual. Ter's roots hadn't expanded into the hole dug for him.

It was possible the dignitary wasn't used to the odd soil here, or didn't feel comfortable branching out until the grove was more used to him. Putting it out of his mind, Moss settled down to look at the new designs.