Chapter 1 – The Treemaker
As Martin, the Garganfan and Jacobson Muldridge stood together in a room, staring at Jacobson’s creation, Martin still had a strangely uncomfortable feeling inside his chest.
The Garganfan had asked Jacobson for something, and apparently this was it.
“What is it?” Martin said.
Jacobson had closed the door behind them, so that only he, Martin and the Garganfan were in the room, looking at a machine that was painted red, that had many green and yellow switches on the side and a small compartment in the centre.
“It’s a Treemaker,” Jacobson said. “A few weeks ago it had been a Tree Destroyer, but recently we made some changes.”
“How does it work?” Martin said.
“Anything you don’t want – any waste, rubbish or useless thing that would otherwise go into landfill, can be inserted into this machine, and a tree will be planted underneath it. The machine is able to convert all the energy stored in each item into a small sapling, which is planted directly beneath the machine. For obvious reasons, it can not be tested indoors.”
The Garganfan was staring at the machine in an odd silence.
“I know you asked me to simply cease the creation of the Tree Destroyer that you suspected I was building, but we have gone a step further,” Jacobson said, patting the machine gently.
“And does it work?” the Garganfan asked.
“Yes, it does, we are quite pleased,” Jacobson said. “With the amount of deforestation that is spreading throughout the world, this is a sure way to make a difference and help out.”
“And it means you can recycle anything, even…even an old pair of boots with holes in them that no one else can wear?” Martin said. “Plastic packaging? My mum’s always complaining about that.”
“Yes, it can recycle absolutely anything. This is just a prototype, of course. Once it undergoes further testing, we can begin to make much larger machines, place them in areas of reforestation, and watch the trees come to life.”
“Wow,” Martin said. “So where have you used it before?”
“Come, I’ll show you,” Jacobson said.
As the Garganfan, Martin and Jacobson Muldridge walked out of the large house, Martin had a strange feeling of astonishment. Thanks to Nerris’s Demonstraliser, this man was like a completely different person. Now all the resources he had, all the wealth he had accumulated was being used for good, and Martin took a deep breath of fresh air into his lungs.
“It’s over there,” Jacobson said, pointing ahead of them.
As they walked across a grassy field, there was a small woodland in the distance, with a very small tree just at the front. They approached the tree, and stared at it.
“That’s odd,” Jacobson said.
“What?” the Garganfan said.
“Well, it’s much bigger than yesterday. It seems to have more branches too.”
The Garganfan stared at the little tree, and Martin stared at the Garganfan. He did not look happy.
“You are producing a new kind of tree,” the Garganfan said. “This one is awake.”
“Awake?” Jacobson said. “What do you mean? Aren’t all trees awake?”
“Yes,” the Garganfan said, “but this one knows it is awake. It has another layer of consciousness, similar to me. This is not an ordinary tree.”
“Well…is that a good thing?” Jacobson said.
“Perhaps,” the Garganfan said. “Perhaps not.”
“Why not?” Martin said.
“If all trees had a personality, a full and developed consciousness, there would probably be a war on humanity. Before humans, the Earth was covered in many more trees than today. There are many people today who work to conserve the trees and make sure they survive, but there are other humans who have worked to cut them down.”
“Cut them down for what?” Martin said.
“To create more space for what they want. Often for farmland, cities, or to harvest the timber for buildings and construction. Sometimes the trees are farmed, so they are replaced by new ones when they are cut down. But I don’t think the trees would be happy with what they saw.”
“Aren’t you a tree though?” Martin asked.
“I am part of a tree, made conscious to protect the forest. I have fought in wars before to keep this forest safe, but I am only a fraction of the power of the tree. If the full power was awakened…I’m not sure what would happen.”
Jacobson wasn’t sure what to think.
“We have a solution here to end all build-up of waste,” he said. “We could have a machine at every dump-yard in the world, where all unrecyclable materials could be used to aid the planet!”
“I’m not sure you’re hearing me,” the Garganfan said. “This might not be as safe as it seems.”
“Oh! Come on, now!” Jacobson said, making light of what the Garganfan was saying. “It’s not doing anything now, perhaps it’s just a faster-growing tree. Even better!”
“It would be unwise to make any more trees until this one reaches maturity,” the Garganfan said. “I would recommend that you wait until this one becomes an adult.”
Jacobson looked disappointed.
“But this is such a breakthrough!” he said.
“I agree. But we must be careful,” the Garganfan said.
“Okay,” Jacobson said.
After continuing to calm Jacobson’s enthusiasm for all that could be done with this new Treemaker, the Garganfan and Martin said goodbye to Jacobson for the day, and began to walk back towards the woods from where they came.
“Do you think he’ll wait?” Martin asked.
“No, I don’t,” the Garganfan said.
Chapter 2 – Nerris’s Invention
That weekend, Martin and his mother, Amanda, went to visit his aunt Nerris again. For weeks she had become obsessed with a new invention in her basement that she was refusing to tell anyone about. She had barely even noticed when Martin and his mother left her house to move back to their own home the week before.
When they knocked on the door, there was no answer.
Martin knocked again and again, as loudly as he could, but Nerris did not come to the door. As Martin put his ear up to the door, he could hear drilling and hammering coming from the basement.
“She’s in there,” he said. “I can hear her.”
Martin’s mother got out her phone and dialled.
“Her phone’s off,” she said, putting the phone back down by her side.
The two weren’t even annoyed. They knew they would just have to wait until Nerris stopped, even for a moment. They weren’t sure when that would be, so they both sat with their backs to the door, waiting for the hammering to stop.
Martin had not told his mother that he had been to Jacobson’s house with the Garganfan, but he had a feeling he should be honest with her.
He explained to her what happened. He watched her face turn from an initial horror to a look of calmness as Martin explained how friendly Jacobson was, but then Martin stopped talking.
“What?” his mother asked him.
“There was just one thing. The Garganfan was telling him to hold back on making more of these trees. He said it might be dangerous. But I don’t think Jacobson really believed him. I think Jacobson thinks he knows what is best, and will continue to make more.”
“Sounds about right,” his mother said.
The hammering stopped, and Martin banged on the front door.
He heard a hurrying of footsteps rushing up the stairs. The door was unlocked, unbolted and opened, and Nerris disappeared back down into the basement without saying a word.
Martin and his mother followed Nerris down the stairs. She was not saying anything. It was as if she wasn’t fully aware that they were in the room with her. Martin watched as she was stooped low over her workbench, so that her eyes were only inches away from the surface.
She was working on something very small.
“Nerris…what is it?” Martin asked.
Nerris didn’t respond. She just pushed a button on the side of her workbench.
“There’s food in the kitchen if you need it,” a robotic voice said over some speakers in the ceiling.
“Nerris?” Amanda asked. She had never known her sister to be completely mute before.
Nerris pushed the button again.
“There’s food in the kitchen if you need it,” the voice said again.
Martin looked at his mother, who put her arm around him, and led him back up the stairs, while Nerris stayed transfixed on something so small, that Martin couldn’t even see it.
Chapter 5 – Spyware
The next day, Martin was in the forest again with the Garganfan. They were sitting in a tree, overlooking the estate of Jacobson Muldridge.
“Do you think he knows we are spying on him?” Martin said.
“I don’t know,” the Garganfan said. “I have been here all night, watching to see if any more trees are planted.”
“And have they been?”
“No. Not outside, at least.”
Martin looked across the land and could see the tree Jacobson had planted in the distance. It looked even bigger now.
“That tree looks bigger again,” Martin said.
“I know. Soon it will be able to speak.”
“Really?” Martin said. “How do you know?”
“I just feel it,” the Garganfan said. “I also feel that Jacobson has become obsessed with this new venture, and he is planting more trees indoors, out of sight.”
“We should check. We should break in there and check up on him.”
“But it would do no good. I would not be able to destroy those trees now that they are planted. It is against my nature. I doubt you would want to, either.”
“No,” Martin said. “Well what can we do? Surely we can do something?”
“We have to keep an eye on the one tree he has planted outside. We will visit it tomorrow, and see what we can discover.”
While Martin was at Nerris’s house that evening, he was wishing he could go inside Jacobson’s house and spy on whatever Jacobson was up to. He had a feeling that he wanted to be like a fly on the wall, undetected, able to just sit there and watch, and report everything back to the Garganfan.
Then Nerris appeared out of the basement.
“Well, I’m finished. It’s done,” Nerris said.
“What? What is? What have you been working on for so long?” Martin said.
As he looked at Nerris he noticed that she was much thinner than before. She had a drawn-out, tired look in her face, bags under her eyes, and paler skin than normal.
Nerris collapsed down into a chair.
“It’s spyware,” she whispered.
Martin’s mother was upstairs, and Martin started to ask more.
“What do you mean?” Martin said. “Spyware?”
“I mean what I mean. It’s a remotely-operated spying device that can shrink down so small that it can travel under doorways, through the smallest gaps possible, and it can record everything going on around it. It’s spyware.”
“Well…why?” Martin said. “Why did you invent it?”
“I have no idea. I have no real use for it, but I couldn’t sit still without working on it. It was as if the idea hijacked my mind and wouldn’t let me rest until it was done.”
“Well…I have a use for it,” Martin said. “Do you want to test it out?”
“Of course,” Nerris said. “But I only want it used for good.”
“You’ve grown a lot, recently,” Nerris said to Martin. “Your arms look bigger. You look wider, taller too.”
“Really?” Martin said. “Okay…thanks.”
It was night-time. Martin’s mother had gone to bed, and Martin and Nerris were now in their living room, preparing the spyware that Nerris had created. It was a tiny metal box, sitting on the table in front of them.
“Put this on,” Nerris said to Martin, handing him a headset that covered his eyes.
“What’s this?” Martin said.
“It’s so you can see what the spyware sees. Hold this.”
Nerris handed him a remote control.
“It should be fairly intuitive,” Nerris said.
Martin touched the remote control with his fingers, and the little metal box in front of him took off into the air.
“I haven’t even done anything,” Martin said.
“It should respond to your thoughts,” Nerris said. “Imagine you are a fly, an insect that can go anywhere you want. Just keep contact with the remote control, and your thoughts will take the spyware to where you want to go.”
Martin began to fly this tiny metal machine using just his mind, and soon he was at the front door.
“Crawl under, it will slide through,” Nerris said.
Nerris watched as the little grey box dropped to the ground, and disappeared from view in the tiny gap beneath the door.
“Excellent,” she said
“I’m outside now,” Martin said, staring into the headset that covered his eyes. “I can see everything. I’m going to fly towards Jacobson’s house.”
“Okay,” Nerris said, leaning back and staring at the ceiling.
A few minutes passed.
“I’m at the door. I’m going under.”
“Yes…” Nerris said.
“Now I’m inside. I’m turning towards the room with the Treemaker inside it. I’m going down the corridor. There’s someone coming.”
“Hide in the corner of the floor!” Nerris said.
“Okay,” Martin said. “Okay, they’ve gone. I’m approaching the red door.”
“I’m going under…”
There was silence. Nerris waited for Martin to say something else, but it looked as if he was frozen.
As Nerris stared at him, waiting, Martin dropped the handset, his body went limp, and he collapsed onto the floor.
“What’s happened to him?” Amanda cried as she tried to shake Martin awake. “Get this thing off his head!”
“No! Don’t, don’t yet,” Nerris said. “We don’t want to disconnect him. Something has happened to my device, and it’s taken Martin’s mind away with it. We don’t want to disconnect him completely. I didn’t anticipate this.”
“You never do!” Amanda shrieked. She had run downstairs after hearing Nerris shouting Martin’s name. “You never anticipate anything, Nerris! Why didn’t you tell me you were doing this?”
“I didn’t think Martin was in danger.”
“But now he is!” Amanda shrieked. “Thanks to you, yet again, now Martin is in danger.”
“Just…just hang on,” Nerris said, trying to keep herself calm. “Um…”
She didn’t know what to do. Martin’s heart was still beating, but his body was suddenly very cold.
“I don’t know what to do. I think we have to come clean. We have to go to Jacobson’s house and tell him what’s happened.”
Jacobson was in bed that night, staring at the ceiling, feeling as if his life was on the brink of something tremendous.
There was a knock at his door.
“Yes?” Jacobson said.
“Sir, sir there are two women at the door. One is in hysterics. The other is rather angry. They are demanding to see you now, sir, they say it is about a boy named Martin.”
“Send them up,” Jacobson said. He got out of bed and got dressed in a very light attire. He waited for his visitors to arrive.
Nerris explained what had happened, and Jacobson looked as if he didn’t know what they were talking about.
“So, the last you know of it…he was in the room with the red door?”
“Yes,” Nerris said.
“Very well. Let’s go,” Jacobson said, and he led them through corridors, down stairs, and into a room with a door that was the colour of blood.
“I am trusting you to keep this a secret – what you see in here,” Jacobson said. “Where is the boy now?”
“One of your maids is taking care of him,” Amanda said. “She’s keeping him warm.”
Jacobson nodded, and opened the red door into a room that was full of tiny trees, planted into separate pots.
Jacobson turned on a light.
“Sorry to disturb, my dear ones,” he said.
Nerris was looking around the room, looking at trees that seemed to almost be waving at her in their stillness. There was a strange, empowering, alive energy to the room that slightly unsettled her.
“Um…okay,” Nerris said. “He came in here, and then something must have happened.”
“I wonder…” Jacobson said.
“What?” Nerris said. Amanda was practically shaking.
“I wonder if…”
Jacobson walked over to the tree closest to the door. It was like nothing Nerris had ever seen. It had small branches, with tendrils that seemed to float out of the ends.
“This is an unusual one,” Jacobson said, stroking its branches. “If ever an insect is around, it swipes and catches it, and stores it to feast on for energy later.”
“That must be it,” Nerris said. “It must have caught my device, shutting it off while Martin’s mind was still connected. We have to get it back.”
As Nerris approached the tree, Jacobson put his arm in front of it, defending it as if it were his own child.
“Now now, Nerris. Let’s not harm the tree.”
Nerris stared at Jacobson.
“Are you joking? If it digests my device, that could be Martin gone forever.”
“Agreed,” Jacobson said. “I just don’t want to see it harmed, that’s all.”
At that moment, one of Jacobson’s maids appeared.
“Sir, sir that…that strange creature is at the door. What was it called again? A Gargalfan?”
“A Garganfan. I don’t want him seeing what’s in here. Keep him there. Hold on.”
“Yes, sir.” As the maid turned to walk towards the front door, the Garganfan appeared behind her, walking towards Jacobson.
“Oh, no…” Jacobson said.
“I saw you carrying Martin into the house. What’s happened?” the Garganfan said to Nerris.
Nerris explained, saying that the spyware might have been swallowed and shut off by the strange insect-eating tree, who was holding Martin’s consciousness within it.
“I haven’t quite ironed out the technicalities,” Nerris said, embarrassed.
The Garganfan walked in, and approached the insect-eating tree.
“No,” Jacobson said, trying to block the Garganfan just as he had blocked Nerris. The Garganfan picked up Jacobson by his arm and held him up, dangling him in the air.
“Put me down!” Jacobson said.
The Garganfan stared at the insect-eating tree, and stroked one of its branches.
The tree began to convulse violently, and soon it was opening up in the middle, as if a very small mouth was appearing, and out it spat Nerris’s spyware device, which landed on the floor with a tiny crash.
The Garganfan dropped Jacobson to the floor. Jacobson got up, rubbing his arm.
Nerris picked up the spyware, turned it on, and there was a scream heard throughout the house.
“He’s awake!” a maid cried.
Amanda sprinted through the corridors and saw Martin, sitting upright, having taken off his headset.
“Are you okay?” Amanda said.
“Yeh. I was about to get eaten alive, and then everything went dark. I’m sorry if I startled you,” Martin said to the maid. She was standing in the corner, not sure what to do.
“Okay,” Nerris said. “So lesson learnt. If the spyware is switched off before you take your headset off, then it just happens to take your consciousness with it. Okay…that’s…that’s good to know.”
Nerris looked around to thank the Garganfan, but the Garganfan was gone.
After Martin, Nerris and Amanda had left, and Jacobson had locked up his little trees in their little room with the Treemaker, Jacobson made his way up to bed.
“Did anyone see where that Garganfan went?” he asked his staff.
“No, sir,” they all replied.
Jacobson climbed the stairs alone, wondering why the Garganfan had not made more of a fuss of him going against his wishes and continuing to use the Treemaker indoors.
Jacobson walked into his bedroom, shut the door behind him and climbed back into bed.
He lay there again, looking up at the ceiling, wondering what might have happened if Nerris and Amanda hadn’t come round to his house.
“You need to stop,” something said.
Jacobson sat upright as quickly as he could, and standing by his window was the silhouette of the Garganfan, so still that it looked as if there was no life in him at all.
“Goodness, you made me jump,” Jacobson said.
“You must stop planting trees using that machine. I asked that you finish with your plans to build a Tree Destroyer that you could use and sell around the world. I never asked for a creator of mutants.”
“Mutants? How dare you!” Jacobson said. “They are practically like my children, you know. Don’t you call them mutants!”
“But that’s what they are. They are not normal trees. They are different. They are alive, they have characteristics that normal trees do not have. Many of them could grow to be dangerous.”
“That small tree catches insects at the moment, because it seeks creatures much smaller than itself, so that it can ingest them. If that becomes a fully-grown tree, do you know what it will seek to catch? Insects will be too small for it. Even dogs or cats would be too small. Human beings would be perfect, however.”
“Oh, please,” Jacobson laughed, lying back in his bed. “I’ve thought this through. They are in those small pots, and we will keep them well trimmed to ensure they don’t get too big. These are all still just tests, remember. I listened to you. No more are being planted in the ground.”
“I advised you not to plant any more until the first one matured.”
“Well you aren’t in charge!” Jacobson said. “I’m in charge of this, and if I’m left to it, we will be able to do a wonderful thing for this planet. I’ve been using nothing but unrecyclable waste to make these trees.”
The Garganfan became very silent.
“You are making a mistake. Do not plant any more trees. Please.”
“Okay! Okay, I won’t plant any more. I promise you that. I’ve used up all my unrecyclable waste anyway.”
The Garganfan opened a window and began to climb out.
“Close that behind you, please, thank you.” Jacobson said.
The Garganfan left it open.