The adventures of two foresters in an imaginary near future where science and mysticism work together to create harmony between men and nature by cooperating with a mysterious intelligent creature under their forest called woodsweaver.
Quick tapping and clicking filled the half-lighted room’s air. Tibor was sitting in an armchair and was observing from there unhurriedly. The walls around was covered by shelves and cabinets. They were filled with a variety of gadgets: sensors, computers, transmitters and data drives, flying, rolling, swimming and digging robots, samplers and analyzers, flashlights and navigation tools. In the middle of the room at a large table it was Franky sitting leaning back and staring on the window that was working as a computer display, while his fingers tapped and clicked on the controls. The top-right corner of the display showed the map of the large forest, which already lost its natural contours and looked like a scalloped tablecloth. The homogenous green-yellow foliage was broken by bare-grey rocks, blue-green ponds and some unnatural looking orange, blue and red icons. Under the map there were short labels connected to the icons by thin arrows. The top-left corner of the window showed a table with the results of complicated calculations in colourful cells indicating the patterns and connections. Under that the endless lines of a program code was running, and getting longer every time Franky typed a new command. Tibor did not understood much of all that projected on the window, but he kept his questions for himself. As he didn’t like to be disturbed during his meditations, he didn’t want to disturb Franky – whose state of mind was close to meditation – either. Yet finally he started to talk, as it was Franky who called him to his office after all, but he was too busy to welcome Tibor, that is why he sat in the corner to wait. But as Franky showed no sign of stopping his tapping and clicking ever, neither of realizing the presence of Tibor, he attempted to get his attention with a subtle comment.
– I see you made some changes to the office of Gaspar.
Tapping and clicking was the only answer.
– It is very interesting what you did to the window.
Humming and tapping sounded.
– Well, we could see the forest through the old one, but this is much more … informative.
– Ahem – Franky told, and after a short pause he continued tapping.
Tibor started to run out of his patience, so he stood up and walked between Franky and the window as he would look out through it.
– On a clear day we could see the crow crag.
He noticed that the window section that he covered was starting to move to the left, so he stepped left to cover it again.
– We were watching the fighting against the forest fire in 2034…
Franky pulled the window again, and Tibor stepped after it again.
– … and the growing of the young trees in the burnt out area.
At this point the whole thing started to turn into a comical dance.
– The young oaks grew quickly on the top of the old ones. – finished Tibor emphatically and turned to Franky looking between his eyes, but there was already a smile on both of their mouths.
– “The last place not intruded by the noise of the modern world.” – quoted Franky the words of his mentor, which clearly did not apply to his office originally.
He switched off the display turning it into a window again that covered the room in daylight.
– You wanted to show me something?
– Yes, I was analyzing this strange infection. It spreads slowly but persistently and it looks like the forest cannot deal with it. I found traces of dead trees and poisoned animals at its hubs and where it took hold there was nothing that could supersede it.
– I didn’t feel any significant disturbance in the recent days. I wouldn’t think I would miss an infection like this.
– It didn’t start recently. Look uncle Tibor. – the room got half-lighted again as the window turned to a display and the map of the forest came in front – The first spot appeared here 8 months ago. – the map zoomed on a small group of dots – Three trees died one after the other, causing the perishing of lots of insects of course, but it wouldn’t explain the death of bird on its own. And more importantly, the spot did not start to regenerate since that, but even more trees got sick. This is not a huge event on the scale of the forest, but the data analysis showed over 40 similar spots ever since, and the number is growing. – Synchronized with Franky’s words the map displayed more and more red dots making the forest look like having chicken pox.
– This is an interesting theory, I don’t deny, but if there would be a real threat then why didn’t the Woodsweaver tell us anything. If anybody knows about the state of the forest then it is her.
– This is the most bizarre in the whole story. All the data I could use are indirect. Aerial photos and thermal images pointed out the deaths, while none of these were inside the Woodsweaver reports.
– Well! You want to tell me that someone doesn’t do an appropriate work? – got the needle Tibor.
– Not at all! Moreover, if it were only uncle Tibor not doing his job, the spore collectors we installed last year would still have shown something. But they have not. It seems the Woodsweaver didn’t realize these events.
– Nonsense! – Tibor exclaimed. – I can know from the Woodsweaver when a deer gets bitten by a gadfly. The death of an old tree makes the forest mourn for days.
– Still, my analysis is correct. So it seems we are facing a “sneaky danger”. – Franky whispered with a spooky voice.
– Surely. It must be a very sneaky virus on your computer – pointed Tibor all around the room as the computer itself was not visible, only its display and controllers.
– There is nothing wrong with my computer at all. – protested Franky indignantly – I have an up-to-date antivirus and I would notice in a minute if there would be anything unusual with it. I also checked the data several times, they are correct.
– You see? I trust the Woodsweaver just as much. So don’t tell me that she just forgot to tell me about a series of tree death in the forest.
– Fine! – Told Franky and he turned the display off – Let’s go and find out who’s wrong.
– All right! – accepted Tibor the challenge. – I sat enough in this muggy room. Let’s go in the forest.
They both grabbed their bags and left the building together.
Silent buzzing filtered into the sounds of the forest, like the approach of a group of bumble-bees. The trees started to sway in the wind as the dragonfly-like four-propellered vehicle stopped above them. Tibor and Franky were sitting in a double chair hanging from below the rotor structure of the simple flying vehicle. Their legs were hanging over the depth and their accidental fall was only prevented by the four-point seat belts. The vehicle – not really designed for acrophobian – started to let them down on a wire rope with the chairs that even got a small luggage rack on its back. The two foresters landed smoothly on the small clearing between the trees and quickly took their backpacks from the rack, then Franky sent the return command to the drone on his wrist display. The drone pulled the chairs up and quickly disappeared in the distance leaving the forest in silence. Franky started to walk in the direction indicated by his wrist-display, Tibor followed him. They arrived to the spot where the three dead trees stood within a few minutes. There was nothing really special about its view even if the leafless trees looked somber, it was rather the silence that bothered them. Death is part of the everyday life of the forest, if a tree dies, insects and fungus appear on it to use its accumulated materials, below the lost leafage new plants start to grow in the sunshine. But there was no bustle there, no insects below the fallen leaves, no polypore on the trunk, the place was still. The two foresters observed silently, not even Franky mention that he was right, he rather collected samples from the leaves and the bark. Tibor sat into a meditative position and started to get in a trance with deep breaths to listen to the Woodsweaver. Meanwhile Franky grabbed a small spade and carefully dug into the ground. The earth contained several dead insects and it was densely woven with fungus threads, which connected large yellowish spheres. It resembled much on the Woodsweaver, but the colour and the size of the spheres were different from what he saw before and the weave was also much more dense. He made photos then carefully dug out an earth brick and placed in a sample holder. Tibor was still meditating silently, so Franky continued his inspection. Starting from the area’s centre he took samples periodically until he arrived to the first healthy tree, where the life was still bustling, but the earth already contained the strange fungus threads. Altogether he delimited an area with almost fifty steps radius where the yellowish threads weaved the earth connecting directly on the Woodsweaver’s typical white threads at the border. Tibor was already meditating for more than an hour at the foot of a dead tree. Franky knew he shouldn’t disturb him, so he packed the samples and sat down not far from his mentor to work on his wrist-display. The red dots covered the map of the forest’s western part with an irregular pattern, they were small on their own, hardly visible in the huge area, but altogether they indicated the death of over a hundred trees. Franky tapped on a nearby point, which were reachable by walk in a quarter hour to collect some samples from there, while Tibor was meditating. Following the direction of the wrist-display he quickly found the place, which was a bit smaller than the previous. Some parts of the trees already withered, but there were still life in them and the ground was full of insects. He noticed a hole on the trunk where the insects were particularly many. He tried to light in with his flashlight, but it was too deep and curving, so he took out a small finger-long gadget from his pack. The little longish machine had wheel-like rotating legs on its sides and tentacles, lights and a small camera on its front. Franky rotated the last segment to turn on the small robot and started controlling it through his wrist-display. The robug swiftly slipped into the hole following the mass of insects. After the first turn the tunnel started to widen and lead into a hall between the roots. The lamps of the robug covered the place in dim light. Carefull created tunnels were leading out of the hall in every directions, considering their size he assumed that it was the nest a small rodent. The insects were gathering in the end of the hall, so Franky drove his gadget there. He found a pile fully covered by insects. He succeeded to approach it enough to see the corpses. He counted seven in total. They seemed to be shrews, but he wasn’t sure as the insects were proceeding well with their clearing job. He found it unusual that they died in their own nest, but he through the rodent specialist will probably find out more about it. He made some photos and took samples with the chelicerae of the robug then he drove it out from the nest and put it back in his bag. The sun was closing to the horizon, the afternoon was passing. Excited by his discovery, Franky returned to his mentor thinking about which colleagues he would involve in the assessment. In the weeks after they found the mine he was well occupied by the investigation and actions, but it soon became a legal procedure and a standard pollution disposal, so he didn’t have anything interesting to do in the recent weeks. So now he was energized by this new task. He expected that his mentor will be waiting for him impatiently, so he quickened his steps, but thought that it wouldn’t be a problem if this time it would be the old man who had to wait. He was very surprised when he found Tibor sitting in the same position where he left him one and a half hours ago.
– Did he sleep in his meditation? – brooded Franky and cautiously poked Tibor, who did not move however. Franky lean to him and saw that his mentor was breathing evenly.
– Hey! Wake up! – he shouted in his ear and jumped back to avoid if the old man would slap him in his fright, but he just breathed further evenly.
Franky was amazed by it, but didn’t give up: he was lacing, tickling, flicking his mentor diligently, but he did not react on any. He didn’t know what to do and he started to get nervous about it, so he decided to call a rescue team. It was already dark, when they arrived and pulled the still unconscious Tibor and the worried Franky up between the swirling leaves in the reflector light of the helicopter.
The medical department was in the south-western annex of the forestry complex in a leaf-forming, aerial building. The rescue helicopter that brought Tibor in was still parking on the roof. Franky was walking up and down nervously in the little waiting room and tried not to think about the worst case. He checked his watch about fifty times in the past twenty minutes having no clue about what is happening behind the doors. The backpack containing the samples was on a chair besides the wall, but he couldn’t think about the analyses now. Every time he passed the door on his walk he tried to catch some words, but mostly he only heard the beeping of the analyzers. On one of his circles he thought to heard the murmuring of the old man. He jumped to the door and put his ear against it. First he heard the doctor speaking, her voice would have been hard to confuse with Tibor’s, but then he recognized the hoarse baritone of his mentor. He opened the door without thinking and walked in front of the angry looking doctor to the half naked Tibor lying on the bed.
– He is hardly conscious. – the doctor warned him – But he will be awake soon.
Tibor was lying with closed eyes and was muttering incomprehensibly. Franky stood next to him and tried to understand him without success.
– Will he be ok? What happened to him? – he asked from the doctor still watching the mouth of the old man.
– It was some kind of hallucinogen material he go effected by, it took some time for the antidote to take effect. We have to make some further examinations, but we expect him to recover fully.
– Can I stay until he wakes up?
– Yes, you can sit at the desk.
Tibor was talking confused and incoherently for a long time. He opened his eyes, but he didn’t understand where he was. He talked about strange hallucinations like the Woodsweaver wanting him to climb a tree and gnaw the bark. Then thanks to the patient explanations of the doctor he finally put the picture together and complained of headache.
Once he spotted Franky, he called him.
– Franky! Franky! Do you have the samples? – he moaned and drank a little water to moisten his throat.
– Yes, I have them. Are you ok uncle Tibor?
– Take them to the laboratory and find out what we are dealing with. I have never experienced anything like this. The Woodsweaver turned against the forest. It tried to control me to collect materials from the dead trees and then it paralyzed me with endless visions. It was strong, aggressive and uncontrolled, nothing like I knew the Woodsweaver.
– I found some dead rodents at the other place. I took samples from the fungus threads too. It is different from the Woodsweaver’s, but it can connect to it.
– Analyze it thoroughly. I will put myself together soon and join you soon.
– It has to wait until tomorrow. – interrupted the doctor – You have to rest.
– All right. Maybe it can wait until tomorrow. But begin the analysis, we will see in the morning what we are dealing with.
Franky nodded and leaved hurriedly. Tibor leaned his head back and watched the ceiling. He didn’t dare to close his eyes for a long time fearing the hallucinations to come back, but finally the sedatives the doctor gave to him made him sleep.
The next morning Franky was waiting for him with ringed eyes and a bunch of reports to wake up.
– We were analyzing the samples the whole night and while the laborants are still working we already have quite a lot of results. – he started at the moment Tibor opened his eyes – The DNA of the fungus weave we found on the site is clearly different from the Woodsweaver’s, but not significantly. That’s why it can connect to it and similarly influence its environment, but its behaviour is very different. It must be the hybridization of another fungus with the Woodsweaver. This variant overuses its environment, so it can grow very quickly, it does not form a large coherent body, but its spores can spread it in large distances creating many hubs all around the forest. Where it appears it replaces the Woodsweaver without making it noticing it. Considering its size and behaviour we don’t assume that it has intelligence, its success is more the result the unique genetic code variant produced by the mutation.
– Any ideas how we can weed it out? – Tibor asked dazedly after the events of the last day and overwhelmed by the information Franky flushed on him.
– We are progressing with the analysis of the soil samples. We are trying to find an indicator that would help the Woodsweaver to recognize the appearance of the impostor. We are also examining the data from the spore collectors to filter out the ones different from the Woodsweaver’s. Meanwhile the remediation team is working on a method to isolate and clear the infected areas. It won’t be quick, be we believe that it can be gradually cleared out from the forest.
– Sounds good. – sighed Tibor – We have to warn the other forestries, so they can prepare for it.
– As soon as I have all the results I will spread it on the web. – told the still excited Franky.
Tibor and Franky were standing in front of the window looking down on the forest all the way to the crow crag. The remediation teams were working hard to help the Woodswiever supersede the intruder fungus.
– Thank you! – Tibor said.
– No problem. It is my job. – replied Franky.
– No. Thank you for saving me. I am glad to have you as a partner.
– I didn’t know what to do at all. It was the rescue team and the doctor, who saved you.
– If it weren’t you, I would still sit there in an ever trance. So yes, it was you who saved me.
– Well, working engrossed is very effective, but it is good to have someone who occasionally wakes you up from it, isn’t it? – he smiled craftily.
– It is indeed. – laughed Tibor.