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Dr. Scaul looked up from the computer screen and rubbed his eyes. "I've got to stop working so hard," he joked to himself. He groaned and stretched his arms over his head. This whole night had been spent trying to determine the proper gene to insert into the DNA sequence. He hadn't gotten very far. Some people just didn't appreciate how difficult genetic engineering was.
He stood up and strolled around the room, glancing at the objects as he walked past. His life's work was in this lab. Ever since he had been little, he had dreamed of this. He had devoted most of his life to science, that elusive chance to find the thing that would solve the problem. He was close to something now, but fatigue was wearing on him.
The main focus of his work now involved a new antibiotic discovered in Brazil. It was in the bark of a new species of tree, but since that tree only grew in the rainforest, it made the antibiotic very hard to harvest in large quantities. It had potential to be the next penicillin, if only a new way could be found to harvest it.
His walk took him between two tables filled with tree saplings. He stopped to admire the trees to his left. If his genetic manipulation had been successful, these trees would produce the rare antibiotic found in Brazil. Similar trees could be planted in large tree farms across the country and harvested in large numbers. Millions of lives could be saved, if his research was successful and no harmful side effects were found.
That's the curse of every genetic engineer, to have your product found hazardous to the environment. He wasn't going to take that chance. To his right was a row of normal, unmodified tree saplings. He would compare the two groups to find any possible negative effects the DNA change had.
He glanced at the clock. It was 1:18 in the morning. He silently chastised himself and hurried to close down the room. He had promised his wife he'd be home by midnight tonight. His work had gotten the better of him again.
After making sure that all the lights were off, he locked the door of his lab and left for his car. He jangled the keys as he walked along the hallway. He went through the doors outside and jogged toward his car in the parking lot. With embarrassment, he noticed that his car was the only one there. It sat alone on the expanse of pavement broken only by the occasional lamp.
He was about to unlock the car door when something caught his eye. The lamplight shone brightly off the hood of his car. Something was on it. He moved for a better look and stopped cold. Someone had taken a key and scratched the hood of his car! He cursed under his breath. Stupid vandals!
He was going to enter his car when he noticed something about the scratches. They looked like they were letters. He walked out in front of his car and read the message. "Give up your work! You are killing the trees! Arbosen is watching you!" were the words scrawled on his hood.
He grumbled and went back to enter his car. He disliked the environmentalists who opposed his work. Some people just couldn't see that genetically engineered plants were the next step in medicine. Those people were getting very annoying lately. Now it had escalated to damage of personal property.
He turned the key in the ignition and pulled out of his parking spot. He should probably call the police about the message on his car. He would do that in the morning. Right now, he needed to concentrate on the drive home and think of an excuse to tell his wife.
"Good morning, Dr. Scaul," Cynthia, his secretary, cheerfully greeted him.
"Good morning," he replied. "Any mail today?"
"Isn't there always?" she said, and handed him a big stack of mail. "Enjoy!"
"Of course," he said with a smile, and entered his lab. He dropped the mail on a nearby table and turned on his computers. He was rested and ready to tackle the problem anew.
A knock came on the door. Cynthia peeked her head in. "Call for you on line five," she announced.
"Who is it?" he asked.
"He's calling about some order you made."
"Thanks," he replied, and picked up the phone. "Hello, this is Dr. Richard Scaul."
"Doctor," the man on the other side said, "how nice to talk to you."
He watched Cynthia leave, then turned his chair to face the computer. "So, what seems to be the problem?"
"Your work, Dr. Scaul," the voice said coldly.
He froze. "What do you mean?" he asked tentatively.
"You're killing the trees, Dr. Scaul."
"Who is this?" Scaul asked angrily.
"I am an arbosen."
He inhaled sharply. "You're the one who scratched my car!"
"It was to deliver a message."
"Tell me who this is right now! I'll have you know, I don't appreciate environmentalist threats!"
"Consider my message," the voice said. "You have one week."
"And if I won't comply?"
"I wouldn't if I were you," the voice said, and hung up.
Dr. Scaul slammed the receiver down. Cynthia heard the noise and timidly peeked in. "Is something the matter?" she asked.
"That was the person who keyed my car," he said, gesturing to the phone.
Cynthia gasped. "What did he want?"
"He told me to stop my work." He noticed the worried look on her face. "Don't worry. I'll inform the police about this."
Cynthia turned to leave. "Did he give a name or anything?"
Scaul frowned. "He only called himself 'arbosen.'" A strange expression came over her face. "Is something wrong?"
She shook her head. "No," she said quickly. "I'll be going back to my work now."
Scaul gave her one final look before turning back to the phone and dialing the police.
A tense week passed. Building security had been alerted and was prepared if the mysterious "arbosen" followed through on his threat. The whole day, Scaul was distracted from his work. He left for home having made little progress.
A full moon shone as he drove home. His wife was waiting for him when he arrived. "How are the kids?" he asked.
"In bed," his wife replied. She silently watched him hang up his coat. "Anything happen at work today?"
"Nothing," he said. "Whoever that guy was, he didn't try to pull anything today. He must have been just joking."
"Well, that's good," his wife said, very relieved. Her mood instantly relaxed, as though she had been worrying about him all day. She accompanied him upstairs and waited in bed while he showered. He entered to find her already asleep. He gently kissed her good night and settled in for the night.
A large crash awoke him. He groggily looked at the clock and noticed it was one in the morning. He turned back over and saw his wife sitting straight up in bed. "Did you hear that?" she asked, her voice shaking.
"Yeah," he said. "What do you suppose it was?"
"I don't know," she said. "Sounded like something broke."
He groaned and got out of bed. Than he remembered about the threat. "You don't suppose…" he asked. His wife was silent.
He picked up the baseball bat he kept next to the bed and cautiously walked downstairs. Bat held at the ready, he started to check every room. His ears were also on alert for any suspicious noises. So far, he heard nothing except just the wind blowing. Now that he realized it, the wind sounded awfully loud.
He turned a corner, peeked into the living room, and started yelling. The living room window was smashed! He saw a brick lying on the table! He rushed up to the window in a fury and looked outside. There was no one in sight.
"Damn it!" he shouted. He walked back to the table and picked up the brick. There was a note attached to it. He furiously ripped it off and read it.
"I warned you to stop. The trees that you are screwing with are dead. They can no longer speak! If you will not stop, I will make you. Arbosen."
Scaul crumpled up the note and tossed it out the window. This had gone too far. Whoever this was had to pay. He stormed off to call the police.
Security was tight around Dr. Scaul's lab. The police said they were very worried for his safety and would do whatever they could to help him find the culprit. Guards stood at the door of his lab, and the police kept watch on his home at night. Scaul found it hard to work for the next few days with all the distractions. Even Cynthia was affected by all the commotion. Her usual collected manner was disrupted and she kept dropping things.
Then the police found a teenager throwing bricks through other people's windows. He was arrested and charged with the crimes against Scaul, though he denied them. The guards were dropped from Scaul's lab and things returned to normal.
It was a beautiful summer day, and Scaul had opened the window a crack to let in some cool air. He was concentrating hard on his computer work, so he didn't hear the window slid open further from the outside. He didn't hear the man step inside. No inkling of danger entered his head until he heard the sound of a gun being cocked. Then he looked up and saw the man with a handgun pointed at his head.
"Hello, Dr. Scaul," the man said with the same icy voice Scaul had heard over the phone. "Stand up and move away from the computer."
Scaul complied. His eyes nervously watched the gun pointed at him. "What do you want?" he asked with a slight tremble in his voice.
"What do you think I want?" the man asked. "I am an arbosen, and I speak for the trees."
"What do you-"
"Don't talk unless I ask you a question!" the man shouted. Scaul's eyes turned toward the door. Would Cynthia hear and help him?
"There are many enemies of the trees," the man said. "The arborires are despicable people, shunning the support and help of the trees. I detest them. They will receive their punishment in due time. But you are something that I despise even more. Do you know what that is?"
Scaul shook his head silently.
"Arbolacers!" the man shouted. "That is what you are, arbolacer! You have twisted with the nature of trees and torn them from the life-flow."
The man walked over to a genetically-modified tree. "You killed it," he said, running a hand along the bark. "Sure, you think it is alive. All the signs are there, you say! But there is one sign you cannot tell." He took a step closer to Scaul. "They cannot speak!"
Scaul kept his mouth closed. Surely this was a madman!
"I am an arbosen," the man continued, "which means that I can converse with trees. There are a very few of us that can, but we exist! And I can tell you that we will not stand for this!
"I have observed the work of you scientists, you arbolacers. I have discovered that the trees you produce are incapable of speech. Your work is destroying an essential part of the tree! If the public is not brought aware of this, then all the trees will be killed!" The man slammed his fist on the table. "I will not allow this to happen!
"The other arbosens have not responded, so it is up to me to save the trees! I have tried to tell you to stop, but you have not listened. So tell me, now that you know the harm you are doing, will you give up your work?"
The man's eyes burned with fury. Scaul swallowed hard. His throat was dry. He had to give a good answer. His life was on the line.
"It's my life's work. I've-"
The man roared and brought the gun to bear against Scaul. "If you will not stop voluntarily, then I will make you stop!"
Scaul fell to his knees and trembled. "Please, please," he begged.
"Don't!" a tree shouted.
The man turned to look at the tree that had spoken, his gun still pointed at Scaul. Had he heard what he thought he'd heard? The gun wavered in his hand, and his breathing was ragged.
Scaul, fully expecting to be shot, was confused and fearful of the man's sudden hesitation. Why was he concentrating on a tree?
"This body has not been manipulated," the tree explained. "It is still able to speak, and so gives us a chance to convince you to stop."
"Why?" the man asked.
"He knows not what he does," the tree replied. "And if you kill him, he will still not know. There is a better way."
"I do not believe it," the man said. "He deserves punishment for his crimes. He is an arbolacer!"
"There is hope," the tree said.
"How can you be so blind?" the man shouted. "Don't you see what will happen? They will kill you! They do not care for life! The only thing they see you as are resources to be exploited. They do not know you are alive!"
"Killing will not make them see," the tree argued. "It will only make them hate arbosens."
"Never! The more arbolacers that die, the more the humans will realize that they are wrong! If the arbosens band together, we can eliminate all the evil humans and leave only the good ones left. Then we can live in harmony with the trees!"
"But we'll never let you," the tree said.
The man was shocked. "What?" he asked feebly. "Don't you want to live?"
"We do," the tree replied, "but there are better ways."
"No," the man said, a smile growing on his face. "You are wrong, and I will show you. I will hunt down every last arbolacer, and when they are all dead, then you will see that I am right!"
"How old are you?"
The man was taken aback.
"We have been around for millions upon millions of years," the tree continued. "Ever since the first tree came to life, we have existed. We have observed many things, and we can assure you that you are wrong."
"Shut up!" the man shouted. He pointed the gun at the tree. "You don't know what you're saying."
"We know of a better way," the tree said soothingly. "One that does not require death. Don't you want to be a part of it?"
"That's a lie!"
"Why would we lie to you?"
The gun wavered in the man's hand. His eyes watered and made it hard to see. He wiped his hand across his forehead and felt sweat. "You're sure this plan will work?" he asked.
"Absolutely positive," the tree replied.
"And the enemies of the trees will be punished?"
"They do not need to be punished-"
The man bellowed in disagreement. "How can you say that? Their crimes deserve a severe punishment!"
"They do not know what they do," the tree said calmly. "We need to educate them."
"They won't listen!" the man yelled. "All my life people haven't listened to me. They thought I was crazy! I've had counseling, and when the counseling didn't change my thinking, they locked me in the mental hospital and filled me up with drugs. The only reason I got out was because I lied and told them I had recovered! They'll never listen! They don't know how! The only way they'll listen is if I point a gun in their face!"
"That won't make them listen," the tree argued. "They'll just lie to you, tell you they believe you, then lock you away again when they have the chance."
"No they won't," the man said. "I'm not going back there! And I'll kill anyone who tries to make me!"
"How many people must die to make you happy?"
"Everyone that has to!"
The man paused to catch his breath. He was really sweaty now. The gun was slippery in his hand. Why couldn't the tree see he was right? Why was it so blind?
Scaul was very frightened by what he had just witnessed. He could hear only one side of the conversation, so the man's actions were very disturbing. His mental state seemed very unstable and about to collapse. If it did, Scaul was sure to get hurt.
Currently the man was facing the tree and had forgotten about Scaul. Maybe this was his chance to get help. He crawled slowly and quietly across the floor. The man didn't notice. Scaul reached up and grabbed the phone. As he pulled it off the hook, the dial tone sounded.
The man whirled, saw Scaul holding the phone, and shot. The tree shouted in outrage. "No!" it yelled.
"Shut up!" the man cried. He turned and started firing on the tree. Bullet after bullet tore through its bark. He finally stopped to see the shattered remnants of the tree.
The door to the lab opened and Cynthia ran in. She stopped short when she saw the gun now pointed at her. She held up her hands so that he could see she held no weapons.
She took a quick look around the room. Behind the man were the remains of the tree he had shot. Dr. Scaul was lying on the floor, a growing puddle of blood surrounding his head.
Why did you have to do it? she silently asked the dead doctor. The tree was making progress. Why couldn't you have waited and not disrupted a volatile situation?
The man was now examining her closely. "How could you do it?" he asked.
"Do what?" she responded, trying to still her frantically beating heart.
"You worked for him," the man accused. "I can tell you're an arbosen. Couldn't you hear that the trees he made were dead?"
"Yes, I could," she replied. "And the reason I worked for him was because they asked me to."
"The trees. They wanted an arbosen close to him, someone with special knowledge of the trees."
"But you helped in the killing of hundreds of trees!" the man shouted. "Their deaths lie on your head!"
"No, you don't understand!"
"I understand perfectly," the man said. "You're just like the Nazis who ran the concentration camps."
"No, it's not like that!" she pleaded. "They are not like people. The death of a tree doesn't mean the same as the death of a person."
"Death is death," the man countered.
"Not in this case," Cynthia contended. "Those trees aren't dead!"
That made the man pause. "But they are silent."
"I know," she continued, "but a mute man is not dead. He merely cannot speak. It is the same way here.
"What you don't know is that I've been doing my own experiments. The trees are helping me to try and revive the genetically engineered trees. Dr. Scaul had been providing me with a steady supply of trees to test."
The man shook his head in confusion. "But what if you can't find a cure? The genetically modified trees will spread and engulf the entire world. All normal trees will be destroyed and the trees will be silenced forever!"
Cynthia shrugged. "It's a risk I'll have to take."
"That is too much risk," the man said. "Especially since my plan will work better."
"No it won't!" she exclaimed. "Haven't you been listening to them? They have been telling you that it will not work!"
"They are wrong!" he shouted.
"What proof do you have?"
"What proof do they have?"
Cynthia sighed. "This is where we come to a stalemate. You simply must trust the trees to know what is right."
"I trust no one but myself," the man said with conviction.
She bowed her head. "I see that you do not really care for the trees, only for yourself."
"That's not true!"
"So you say. But tell me, what are they saying to you now?"
The man stopped talking and listened. It was then that he realized that he couldn't hear anything. The trees weren't speaking to him. His breathing quickened as he strained to hear the faintest word.
"When you killed that tree," Cynthia explained, "you cut yourself off from the life-flow. You are now an arborire."
The man turned around, his fierce conviction turning to sorrow and desperation. What had he done? How could he have become an arborire, an enemy of the trees?
"And," she continued, "you cannot make the trees listen to you by pointing a gun at them."
The man completely broke down. He flung the gun from his hand and dashed out the window. Cynthia walked to the window to see him flee. The police would find him eventually, and then he would have nowhere to run.
She turned to a tree next to the window. "What do you think will happen to him?" she asked.
"We're not sure," it replied. "In his desperate state, he might do anything."
"Can't you help him?"
"We would if we could, but he has torn himself out of our reach."
She bowed her head. "Could things have turned out differently?"
"Things could always have turned out differently. History is full of many possibilities and alternate pathways. We can do nothing but accept what happens."
"That's hard to do sometimes."
"Many things are. Just remember, things could have turned out worse. Perhaps you should be grateful for your current state of affairs."
"Perhaps." She continued to stare out the window, even though the man was out of sight now. Tears filled her eyes, and she silently prayed for him.
He stopped running at the highway. He collapsed on the ground, panting heavily. He had run as far as he could run.
The situation unfolded in his head. The police surely had been alerted by now. They would search relentlessly for him, and he had no strength to hide.
All his plans had been shattered like glass. Ideas he had held to be true were now torn apart and swirling around his head. Doubt and confusion clouded his mind, and a tornado of change made his head ache.
What had he done? The support he had thought he had from the trees was now no more. He had hated arborires, but now he was one of them. He had turned into the very thing he despised. The thought brought a fresh wave of emotional pain with it.
Cars zoomed past, paying small attention to the man who had fallen next to the road. The vehicles enticed him, beckoning him with their call of death. He had lost everything; there was no reason to continue on.
He flung himself out into the roadway.
Sadly, Cynthia listened to the policeman who had come to her house to explain the situation.
The man who had killed Dr. Scaul was named Thomas Maven. He had suffered from a history of mental illness and hallucinations of talking trees. The mental hospital had released him only a month ago. His homicidal actions were blamed on his refusal to take the medications given him.
The policeman went on to report that she didn't have to worry about Thomas causing any more problems. He had jumped into a busy highway and was run over by a semi. The large wheels of the truck had crushed his head.
She thanked the policeman and watched him drive away. Then she collapsed crying on the sofa.
A half-hour later, she ran out tears. She had never been one to cry before. Her inner strength had been helpful in handling the stress of a secretarial job. However, these events cut her deep.
She wiped her red eyes and sat up on the couch. Her mind was full of questions. She could still hear the dying tree's cry echoing in her head. She had been listening through the door the whole time. The trees had informed her the minute Thomas had entered the lab, but they also warned her not to enter. Had that been the best thing to do? If she had entered, would the deaths have been avoided?
Further thought told her the answer was no. Had she walked in, it would have made the man panic. The situation could have turned out worse. It was just like the tree said; she had to accept what had happened.
Accept it, but that didn't mean it was right. Purpose swept through her, and she knew what she had to do. There were probably hundreds of arbosens out there, and many of them were also ridiculed for their beliefs. People like Thomas Maven were being made every day. Something had to be done to help them.
She ran to her workroom and brought out paper and a pen. She started writing down her idea. An organization of arbosens needed to be formed. It would act as a support group for other arbosens around the world. They could reach arbosens everywhere and help them to cope with their special talent.
From this day forth, an arbosen will never have to feel alone.
She realized that in an ironic way, she was achieving Thomas's goal of uniting the arbosens. But it wouldn't be for the same reasons. Cynthia swore that. Never again will an arbosen kill another person just because that person can't talk to trees.
Never again will misunderstanding and ridicule drive an arbosen to violence.
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The "arbosen" idea is mine and may not be used without my permission.