Once he had them on he went through the arched door way into the room. He had a seat near his best friend Tighe, who had already found his way into the room. Tighe was smaller than Dabul, which wasn’t a surprise since he was almost two years younger, but he wasn’t the smallest or the youngest in their pod. There was no set age for any of the pods in the school and students progressed at their own pace and moved into higher level pods as they were ready. Pod ten was the last pod. After that most of the students either went into an apprenticeship or straight into a job that matched their abilities and inclinations. There was also the option to go into the security force that the community maintained, but that was a low percentage.
Tighe was going to apprentice to be an architect and had already been accepted by a master. Dabul had yet to take that step, but he wasn’t far behind Tighe. Their empathic abilities had drawn them together when Dabul first moved into pod ten.
“Dabul! Check this out.” Tighe held out his tablet and showed Dabul a time lapse video of an apartment tree being coaxed into being. “This is from Master Chen. He has started including me in the distribution on project updates. It is amazing. I can’t wait to be a part of it.”
Dabul watched the two minute clip and found himself holding his breath. The process in real-time was slow, but this video had taken six months’ worth of work and condensed it into such a short time frame. You could see the tree shaping under the hands of the woodworkers working under the direction of the architects. He had asked permission to expand his closet a foot deeper at home and it was taking him months just to make that tiny change. The amazing part to him was that he could do it at all.
“That is so cool,” he said to Tighe. “You are so lucky to be almost done with the pod and to know what you are going to be doing.”
Tighe shrugged his shoulders. “Another five or six months you’ll be in the same place I am now. Chen doesn’t need anyone else, but there are plenty of great places to learn.” He patted Dabul on the back as he pulled back his tablet.
“In the meantime, we are heading to the top today!”
That sentence brought back Dabul’s smile. “Yeah, I was thinking about that on the way here. The last field trip to the top was way back in pod three. I barely understood what I was seeing.”
“You and me both,” Tighe countered. “I remember being excited but mostly about getting above the clouds. It had nothing to do with the solar array or community power.”
Mr. Lovett, their teacher entered the room and looked around at the students. “Good morning everyone!”
The low buzz of sound from all the students dropped off to almost nothing and they all looked towards the doorway.
“You assignments have just been dropped to your tablets, so you can all get to work. Any questions just let me know and I’ll be happy to help. We’ll be getting our things together and heading for treetop for our field trip, as you already know. We’ll leave in about an hour.”
The sound of quiet productive voices again returned to the room as they began their work.
Dabul knew he needed to get the assignment done, but his was on the power distribution grid and it just didn’t hold much interest for him. Everyone knew of the solar farms high in the treetops and the deep earth battery systems that tied the community together and that was all he felt he needed to know. The nuances of energy storage would be useful to someone going into that field, but that wasn’t him.
He stared at his tablet and his mind wandered. The thought of the field trip had his feet itching. He loved school and learning, but getting outside and feeling the wind in his hair and the sun on his face… Well, that was too much competition for any assignment.
He started searching through the community bulletin boards and was surprised to see that his father’s name was one of the trending topics. His father was on the tribal council and had been for years, but for the most part council was more a chore, like community service, than a position of power.
That was changing. There were voices of dissent on the council lately, mostly that of Thain Prescott. Thain had been calling for a strengthening of the security forces and cited several examples of aggression from neighboring tribes. His father’s counter to those allegations was that they were exaggerated accounts of mischief and isolated incidents by individuals rather than organized aggressions. He thought that Prescott’s claims were just flaming a non-existent ember and that any flare-ups in inter-tribal relationships were manufactured.
Dabul could see both points of view, but he sided with his father. “Cooler heads must prevail.” He could hear his father’s voice inside his head. Cooler heads indeed. Confrontations could turn into skirmishes which could turn into battles which could turn into out-and-out war. Conversations could turn confrontations into accords, which were much more harmonious.
“And how is your assignment going?”
Dabul’s head jerked up as the words were spoken. Mr. Lovett was standing right behind him and looking over his shoulder at the open browser.
“No need to explain. It’s self-evident. Close that up and get back to the assignment now.” Lovett’s face didn’t give any indication that he was upset just slightly amused actually, so Dabul shrugged his shoulders and closed the window on the browser and got back to the document he has started on the power grid. It seemed like only a few minutes had gone by when Mr. Lovett’s voice rang out over the class.
“Okay, finish up what you are working on. It’s time to head out now.”
Everyone closed up their tablets and packed up their things. The excited voices were a cheerful blend of the older and younger students that made up their pod. Dabul’s voice joined into the mix as he turned to talk to Tighe.
First bit of the first book
Dabul ran down the path to school. The entire forest was alive with the glowing green of the sunlight filtered through the clouds and the canopy of overlapping branches. This was his favorite time of year. The heat of the summer was just past, but it was still plenty warm that he could run barefoot through the woods. The weight of his rucksack bounced comfortingly on his back. Just a few days before he had forgotten to throw his shoes in there and it had meant going all the way back home again. It’s bad enough to have to go to school when he was still longing for the free weeks of summer break, but to have to go twice in the same day because of forgetfulness? Well, that wasn’t something he wanted to have to do again.
As he ran through the forest he could smell the diverse scents of the trees that made up the mostly hardwood mix that surrounded him, but he could also feel some of the trees as they soaked up the sun and pulled the water from deep in the earth. The satiated feel from the groundwater being consumed by the mighty sequoias almost made him forget his own thirst. With a slight laugh he grabbed his canteen and took a swig of water.
It just wasn’t the same feeling as the trees drinking as he felt the cool water running down his throat. His relationship with the sequoias was something special. Everyone in the tribe, and indeed every human he knew, had some degree of empathic communication with the environment and with the huge trees that made up a large portion of the forest.
Many centuries before mankind had lived in the cities which still existed as collapsing monuments to a failed past. Dabul knew he’d be taking a field trip before graduation to the closest of these– the old metropolis once known as Fresno, but he wasn’t looking forward to it. The energy from the earth was cut off in those old places. The unnatural layers of macadam and concrete felt foreign underneath feet that were used to gliding across earth and upon the surfaces of the trees. Life in a box sounded like hell to Dabul and he shuddered to think how people could possibly have enjoyed that sort of life.
But that was before the great change and many things were different including mankind’s relationship with the planet. Father had told him that Fresno hadn’t always been on the coast, but with the Great Change sea levels had risen around 75 meters. The humid, cloud-filled sky was all that Dabul really knew. The occasional burst of sunlight occasionally was a treat, but it wasn’t a regular occurrence. But today was going to be a treat beyond the occasional ray of sun, because today they were going on a field trip.
When he arrived at the school tree Dabul paused. There was a steady stream of children arriving at the entrance; most of them were younger than he was. His last year in the school was proving to be challenging in many different ways, but one strength he had was his ability to make friends and remember names. His empathy was strong and that was a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing because he could feel things physically that other people were feeling.
When his sister Dot had fallen out of a tree and broken her arm he was the one that was with her. It was the first time he really felt his empathic abilities were a curse. At the moment she fell he felt a burning in his arm that made him scream. He was only seven at the time and she was five, and he knew something was seriously wrong with his arm. It was only later that his mother explained that he took on Dot’s pain physically as well as mentally. Their bond was so strong that her pain was literally his pain.
Generally speaking it didn’t happen anywhere near that degree in most things, but the closer he was emotionally to someone the more he felt their pains and their joys. As he got older he realized it didn’t stop at the people around him. It matured and grew as he did. Dot was the first, but soon afterwards he could tell when Bushy, their dog was having a good day or if he had picked up a burr or had some pain.
What had really come as a surprise was when he started feeling things from the trees. Mostly it was just feelings of contentment or as was the case on his run, the rush of feeling the water being sucked from deep in the earth. His teachers had taken note of these abilities and wanted him to become an architect. Architects were among the most revered members of the tribe. They were the ones who actually shaped the trees.
Dabul shrugged his shoulders and joined the other kids entering the school. It was going to be a great day. As he made his way through the main door he traced his fingertips along the edge of the entry and then down the smooth expanse of the wall. The glows placed periodically at the top of the arched passage lit up the wood grained passageway and accentuated the fact that they were inside the living flesh of the tree.
As his fingers touched the wood he could feel that this was the proper way and the tree welcomed their presence. As he passed the newly commissioned auditorium he could see a couple of the wood workers completing the project. Instead of tools they just used their minds and hands to guide the tree into knowing the shape and direction they needed the space expanded. It was another career path for Dabul to consider, but he felt that the mind blending that architects did with the trees was more his destiny.
He snapped out of the half trance he was in from touching the live wood and feeling the work of the wood workers through his mind and hurried down the hall to his classroom. Just before he entered the door he looked down and saw his feet were still bare. No wonder I was so involved back there, he thought to himself. The additional tactile connection from his feet made his the mental bridge a hundred times stronger than the light touch of his fingers. He quickly put on his shoes so he would be able to concentrate in class.