Hyde Park, London, Alternate One: 12 August 2116
Mila Galanis held her mother's hand as her father teleported them in from Colwyn Bay. She gasped as she saw it. Even though they were still half a mile away from its base, it dominated the sky. Towering above their heads, it dwarfed everything in a city already full of tall structures.
She stared up at it, transfixed. It was far taller than anything her seven-year-old mind had ever imagined, and definitely higher than anything man-made or natural she had ever seen back in Wales, apart from Snowdon itself.
One giant tree, fifty feet across at the base, provided the central support for the hundreds of others that wove in and out of its branches. From this distance the spiral that wound around the main trunk and circled to the crown resembled nothing less than an enormous tapered screw with its head buried in the ground.
Her father placed the suitcase on the grass. It contained a meagre collection of Mila's personal belongings. He stood there, mouth open, taking it all in. It was obvious to Mila that he could hardly believe what he was seeing, either.
"Yggdrasil," he said, his accent rolling over the syllables.
At first Mila had no idea what he was talking about. Then she let her mind wander and information started to pour in. It didn't concern her that she had no idea where it originated. All she knew was that she wanted to know about the giant growth that dominated this place that was also known as Hyde Park. Then, as had happened many times in the past, that information came to her like a dam opening.
That talent was only one of the reasons she was here today.
Her eyes tried to take in the physicality of it as her mind pored over the data.
The Tree, unofficially acquiring the name from an old Norse legend, had been constructed by Jocasta Da Luz, an architect whose organically inspired work could still be found all around the world. She had retired to Cornwall in her seventies.
By the time of the disaster she had been well into her eighties. On the day the asteroid arrived, she had tuned into the song and had been one of the first to be mentally reassembled afterwards by those led by Morton Fisk.
Jocasta's natural affinity with nature, and especially her love of trees, had been enhanced by the splintering to enable her to directly tap into the plant life around her. Under her guidance the riot of expansion being exhibited by much of the world's flora was tamed, nurtured and accelerated further. She was able to coerce it into the most complex shapes at will. Within weeks her residence near Bolingey was dominated by towering intertwined constructions whose growth could be measured daily, if not by the hour.
Her fame spread and, months later, she had been invited along with many others by Fisk to attend a meeting in London to discuss how they could continue to run a world that was now devoid of many of the facilities that they had previously been taken for granted. The global loss of computer systems, especially those that had controlled the supply of electricity, had been the most pressing problem. Simple but rare oil-driven generators still worked but anything more complex than that no longer functioned.
Although invited on the basis of her previous architectural status, Jocasta commented on the fact that the meeting was taking place in a hall within the old royal residence of Buckingham Palace, not the ideal location for a group of talented, enhanced people many of who could teleport around the world in a blink of an eye. The hall had to be lit by candles in spite of it still being daytime.
"You huddle in a remnant of the old material world while your talents cry out for a more organic, nature-based centre," she had said. "Something more fitting and in tune with this new world in which we find ourselves."
"We don't have the resources to build anything new," she was told.
"Yes, you do," she replied.
"Please explain," Fisk had asked.
"You have me," she said. "I will build you a new palace that will be large enough to house over a thousand. It will provide shelter in hundreds of rooms with no two completely alike. It will provide a store of fresh water captured from the rain that falls from the sky. And it will provide light without the need for candles in the daytime."
"You can build this," someone said, incredulously.
"Yes," she said.
"Where and how?"
"As to where, well, then, maybe here beside this old palace." Then she frowned and said, "No, the parkland here is too small for what I have in mind. Maybe Hyde Park will be more appropriate. As to the how. Well, wait and see."
Several people, especially those still unaware of her experiments in Cornwall, laughed and dismissed what she said as the ravings of a senile old woman. She had tutted and left the meeting, muttering, "You will see."
For the next three years she took up residence near Marble Arch spending most days at the centre of the park itself. Early on she selected an already well established common lime whose three-foot wide trunk would become the central pillar of the project. Within days she had begun the acceleration of its growth.
By the following spring the tree's girth had spread until it was nearly twenty five feet wide. Leaving a gap of thirty feet into which the lime would later spread, Jocasta planted a circle of a hundred silver birch seedlings and compelled them to rise up at all angles, some as much as seventy degrees from the vertical. She twisted them into a solid weave that not only provided support for the main lime but became the basis for the spiral corridor that encircled it, providing access right to the top. Off that corridor, and supported by the many branches of the central lime, she willed the weave of birch and lime to form rooms – some small, others larger and no two of exactly the same dimensions. Grooved channels in specifically chosen branches guided rainfall from the top branches to storage tanks grown at regular intervals against the main trunk. Daylight was channelled similarly using birch wood polished to a mirror-like finish so that most rooms, no matter how deep they were within the foliage, would only require candlelight at night or on the dullest days.
In little more than three years the whole construction was complete. She presented it to Morton Fisk and those who were doing their best to tame and control this unruly world.
She was asked to provide similar structures in other centres around the world, but the toll on her had been great and, although she did construct smaller versions of the Tree later on, this one remained her crowning glory.
Yggdrasil they had called it – or, more simply, the Tree.
And the place where, Mila already knew, she would call home from then onwards.
Her father picked up the suitcase and her mother tugged at her arm, and they began to walk slowly towards the base. Several entrances, some with actual doors, were set in the thick birch trunks that were packed together to encircle the base.
A man and woman wearing robes that covered them from shoulder to ankle appeared from one of the doorways and met them.
"Mr and Mrs Galanis?" the woman said. Her father acknowledged this and the woman continued, "And this will be Mila, then."
The woman squatted down so that her face was level with Mila's. Then Mila's breath caught in her throat as, without invitation or warning, the woman entered her head, invading all areas of her mind. A snarl erupted from her lips as she pushed back, shutting the woman out.
"Ah," the woman said, a smile spreading across her face, "you can shield already. Excellent. And I detected telepathy, telekinesis and several others. Possibly a lack of teleportation. No matter, that can often be picked up later with training."
"Um. We were told there would be some kind of entrance exam," said Mila's mother.
"Yes, there was," the woman replied. "That was it and Mila passed in under a second. Welcome to the Tree, Mila."
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