Lord Valance stared at the Clan Lord Ranth, a short and stubby little man, who was frantically paddling his squatty little legs to keep up with the group. He hated the man; he hated how much influence he had over the greater House of Clans; he hated that he had to invite him here to his largest, most profitable, orchard just to gain audience with his more powerful friends. It was insulting.
"Arrg!" The Clan Lord cried as he stumbled over a dead branch. Lord Valance wanted to laugh but kept it in. The site of the man rolling around on the ground, trying to pick himself up, suddenly made his presence here more tolerable.
An entourage of scientists, administrators, and security stopped to wait for the distinguished guest. The grey of broken, rotting branches had smothered what was left of a pleasant green grass. It was impossible to walk through it without keeping a constant eye on the ground.
"Why don't you have someone clear these out?" The Clan Lord demanded.
"We do." Lord Valance answered. "Almost every day."
After crossing through several rows of perfectly lined trees, the group stopped. Several men and women, wearing light jackets emblazoned with the orchard's bright red insignia, stopped at the trunk of an gnarled old tree. Its branches twisted up into a dense canopy over them. They waited as Lord Valance and the Clan Lord pushed through from the back of the crowd.
"This is our oldest." Lord Valance announced to the Clan Lord as he rested his hand up against the trunk. "She produces more fruit than almost ten younger trees."
He followed the Clan Lord Ranth's gaze up into the fruit laden branches above them. The coverage was thin compared to the younger trees they'd just passed. The tree could easily have held two or three times the count.
"How quickly is she declining?" Lord Valance asked one of his men in the light colored jackets.
"Fifteen percent per year now." He answered.
"Fifteen percent?" The rate had increased since he'd last reviewed the numbers. "And this is the highest rate?" He asked.
"Yes. She's the worst case scenario. She was the first to show the decline and has so far contracted the farthest."
The Clan Lord stared at the old tree then redirected his gaze to the young scientist in the jacket. "OK. So what are we saying? The rest of the trees are going to hit fifteen percent when they get as old as this tree?"
"With some margin of error, yes, we believe so." The young scientist answered.
"So you have to tear these out and plant new trees? I'm not sure I understand..."
"The life cycle of the trees isn't the concern." A middle aged woman interrupted. Valance and the Clan Lord both turned.
Lord Valance extended a hand towards the new voice. "Clansman this is Doctor Bihinlem. She's been heading our alternatives research. Go ahead doctor."
The Doctor nodded in greeting. "What concerns us is the distribution of our production load across the age range of our trees. These relatively few older trees produce almost half of our total yield. As Lord Valance said, one produces as much as ten younger trees."
"OK. I'm still not sure I see the problem. Won't all your young trees grow into large, high producing, old trees?" he asked.
"Yes, naturally that should occur..."
"What do you mean, should?"
"It'd be better if we showed you." Lord Valance motioned for the Clansman to follow him, as he carefully stepped over the fallen dead branches from the giant tree.
He led the group through more rows of the massive old growth trees. It seemed so strange to him; they were such immense creatures; they looked so healthy and strong. In many ways, they were the symbol of his vast empire, his power and vitality.
The change was abrupt as they crossed over into the younger section of the orchard. From one row of trees to the next, the giants shrank to nearly a quarter the size. Their branches weren't even tall enough to step under.
"These are the oldest of the next expansion of trees. They were planted a decade or so after the older ones." Lord Valance explained.
"Only ten years younger? They can grow that much in ten years?" The Clan Lord asked.
"No they can't. The size difference between these and the old growth represents about fifty years of time."