The transport tunnels were as empty as a gutted tomb. Even the usual small, stale breezes were inert. Henry’s meticulous schedule for the hover trains lay crumpled in the trash. “No point now,” he said to Rufus. The mastiff just raised his enormous wrinkled head and tipped it to one side.
Henry sighed. Technically, Rufus was illegal. Harboring the dog was the only time he’d ever broken Law. Subterranean cities were too crowded for the luxury of pets. The tallest mountains were already honeycombed with Nests. Engineers were working on a fortified expansion beneath the ocean floor.
As of this morning, the tunnel system that linked the Alaska Range to Colorado — Henry’s entire world — was in lockdown. It could take months for the Surface Troops to clear the ghost trees, months when the two ranges would be cut off.
Henry stirred synthetic milk into his beetroot coffee. Rufus watched with doleful eyes. Transport officers enjoyed a certain laxity in compensation for their isolation. No one would discover Rufus. There weren’t many people who could stomach life beneath the flat lands. Mountain insulation did a better job of muffling the scritch of probing roots.
The truth was, Henry felt some sympathy for the trees, though he never would admit it, not even to the dog. How long had politicians debated global warming while the ice caps melted, sea levels rose, and hurricanes reached epic levels? The trees just got fed up.
Invasive root systems churned and toppled the remaining cities a hundred years ago. Everyone who had stayed topside during the droughts retreated to the Nests. Henry was born beneath Mount Darwin, but couldn’t stand the crowding, the endless vocal buzz. He found his way into the tunnels, and he never left.
Now his burrow wall thrummed slightly with the strain and crack of nanotubes. The roots were making fissures, exposing lengths of tunnel to corroding acid rain. Given enough time, they could break it all apart.
As a boy, he’d seen a picture of a tree. Rough brown bark. Green leaves that winked. It was both lovely and impossible. The trees above him, waging their attack, were white, like ghosts, and bare. They were interlocking strands of synthetic carbon fiber, tough as steel. They had transformed themselves for war.
He imagined their bony, swaying limbs beneath a sky he’d never seen. They said the air was poisonous now. The trees had given up on making oxygen. Thick slabs of polycryon sheeting couldn’t mute their wailing. There must be a hoard above him, a raging mass.
Rufus whimpered, put a paw on Henry’s knee. Food and water would be scarce with all the trains shut down, but Henry was prepared. They could outlast the ghost trees for a year if they were careful. After that, well, if the trees weren’t burned back by then, it would be too late. In the meantime, Henry listened to the distant havoc. Sometimes, he even hummed along, a tune of dissonance laced with wordless grief.
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