Jonathan J Michael

The Greenthumb

The rover skids to a stop. Hommus tears off his black cotton tunic and punctures two holes in it with the short blade strapped to his calf. He wraps the tunic around his face and ties a knot in the back to keep it tight. His head snaps toward his comrade in the vehicle.

Murderer!” He points to the top of the alloy structures across the way from the intersection where he skidded to a halt. Against the high stratus clouds, a silhouette of a black raven sits atop the gable of the structure.

Hommus leaps from the rover, leaving his comrade strapped into the idle vehicle.

“You’re only a Greenthumb, Hommus! Wait!” His comrade yells after him and remains seated in a state of disbelief.

Sprinting down the dirt road, he tears the glove from his left hand, pointing his digits to the ground beneath him. They harden and discolor into a dark grey like a stone column, just before brown vines spew forth.

Hommus maintains perfect control as he shoots into the sky like a growth-enhanced sapling. Straight up to the rooftops with a brown trunk rooting beneath him. The strength of his upper body carries and balances his weight until he gains enough elevation to slice the vines where his fingertips should be. He falls onto the rooftop.

The remnants of the vines attached to his hand retract and reform into fingertips. And his fingernails slowly regrow. Shirtless and masked, standing atop the roofline of the Crimson Capital, he looks like a crazed lunatic. Unfortunately, it’s not far from the norm in this world anymore.

The Greenthumb takes a moment to recoup, but that is all. He has a kukri blade about the length of his forearm secured in his right hand and his fingertips are at the ready on his left. He sprints across the metal rooftop. Silence isn’t a concern as each step rattles a tinny clang.

The murderer has no concern for him yet. It has an escape route in nearly every direction, whereas Hommus is limited by gravity. Partially.

Hommus leaps from one rooftop to the next. Spaced close enough together, about fifteen paces, he doesn’t require the need of his Greenthumb talents, only the strength of his legs. He lands hard, tipping forward and creating a concave crater in the rooftop with his hands and feet. He’s lucky he maintained a grip on the blade, and luckier he didn’t slice off any limbs in the process. Though, he’d simply regrow them if he did.

Back to his feet, he continues sprinting. The murderer is only a gable away. Its black eyes tear into him. But it doesn’t know who he is. The reason for Hommus’s mask. The raven remains perched at the peak of the gable only because it doesn’t know who he is. Once it sees him, he will be all but dead. His life will be snuffed out before Cerise takes to the skies with the stars and her blood red ambiance.

Murderer!” he shouts. A brown vine spirals from his index finger straight toward the raven. Unable to hold its own weight the vine falls toward the roof, and Hommus sends another support vine spewing from his middle finger. This one curls around the first and branches anchor points along the roof. It’s like watching a spider spin its web in a place where time flows at the speed of light. He’s fast.

The murderer beats its wings and hops into the air where it hovers about a pace above the roof. The tip of the vine zings past it. But Hommus is too good to allow a single murderer to get away. Several more vines branch out. The raven, hovering just above the main shoot, is careless. A branch wrangles it without mercy. Pure black feathers burst from the coiled vine and flutter about the light grey skies. The deed is done.

Hommus draws his blade and slices the vines with haste. He winces. The vines reshape into rounded fingertips, returning to the color of flesh as his fingernails slowly reform.

He cannot stay long. Not after killing a murderer. He must flee. Get into hiding and lay low for a while. The Greenthumb grabs the vines lying about the rooftop. The vines that were, only a moment ago, his fingers. With a few anchor points set into the roof, he steps off the edge. The anchors snap as his weight pulls on them, but that’s the intention. They act as a resistor to gravity, so his legs can withstand the impact. With the strengths and talents awarded humankind in this place, they are capable of miracles. Big leaps, long falls, strength of many. But their bones remain frail. They are a weakness unless you’re a Healer or a Sleeper. And Hommus is none of those. He’s but a mere Greenthumb. Battling every day to overcome the havoc and oppression caused by the Gloomers. If he doesn’t continue fighting the fight, who will?

Hommus returns to the rover.

“Curious. What was that?” Harris remains calm but looks at Hommus as if he belongs in a cushioned room with his arms restrained.

Murderer,” Hommus responds in not more than a scratchy whisper.

“I’ve got that much.” Harris wipes a hand over his dark, bald scalp. “What’s a murderer? Besides the obvious.”

The rover lurches forward and speeds ahead.

“We must flee. They know when a life is snuffed out. They can sense it. They can see it happen.” With one hand on the wheel, foot pressed to the floor, he struggles to remove the makeshift mask on his head. A bit of swerving, radical braking, and bursts of speed, and he finally frees his head of the black tunic.

The capital isn’t large. Not in population. Not for a capital. It’s secured in the heart of a redwood forest. There is an abundance of structures that form the colony. Greenhouses, laboratories, rally halls used for arbitrating, and dwellings. All the original structures since they arrived. And in the decades since—since we discovered the Seasonal Sciences—structures have been exploding around the capital. Popping up almost daily. Greenthumbs are the main cause. They’re curious about their potential. They test their talents against each other, challenging who can accrete the largest redwood and mold it into a dwelling? And the Hiberneyt get involved too. They will work with the Sprhowt to build a house of grass and petrify the entire structure, so it stands tall and firm. But they’ve proven to be too brittle. And the blades of grass can sever a limb if they fall exactly right. The capital grows large in size, but it has yet to be filled by bodies.

 There is a morality enforced on these newfound talents. A code of ethics has been established by The First Four. There are taboo uses, ways to abuse this power, but they are only a guideline. Because who can enforce them?

And without enforcers or guardians, chaos grows as the potential of the Seasonal Sciences is realized.

There are those who maintain a civilized course of action.

The Lahyf have been germinating the seeds and distributing them about the land. Each redwood marked for efficiency. And for science. Everything must be labeled and documented.

Sprhowts, or Greenthumbs for an informal label, have been using their energy to manipulate the growth of each planted seed. And the small Azurian colony was surrounded by a forest before the full-terra. That was in the early days.

From there, bountiful crops have been produced. Wildlife has been released into the forest. Azure has become a world full of life thanks to the Seasonal Sciences and those who have remained true to the expedition.

Then there are those who have been sucked into the wonder of this place. The red waters. The beautiful ambience of Cerise, Azure’s mother-terra. And most of all, the talents obtained from the Seasonal Sciences. These men and women create the balance. Otherwise, this world would be a utopia. And balance is a good thing. Until it gets tipped too far in one direction.

The rover turns to the right, Harris’s body to the left. He grips the sidebar to brace himself from Hommus’s radical driving.

“Where are we going?” Harris asks.

“A safehouse.”

Harris’s brow curls inward. He ponders the need for such a dramatic action. From what? Killing a raven?

Harris is a mere scientist. He doesn’t dabble in the social trends or cultures developing in this world. But he knows wherever Hommus is taking him, will open a door to a world he has yet to witness. His eyes widen, like torches in the night sky, a stark contrast to the dark shade of his skin. Excitement rushes through him. Yet so does fear.

Several more dips and dives through the maze of unused structures. Hommus constantly peers over each shoulder, looking at what? Whether more ravens are conglomerating to attack?

The rover comes to an abrupt stop. Hommus hops out the vehicle and waves for Harris to follow. But he doesn’t look back or communicate anything beyond that. He bears straight ahead between two tall metal structures. It’s a place unfamiliar to Harris. He spends most of his days in the labs or at home. Aside from a simple curiosity, he hasn’t paid much mind to the rapidly growing city around him. He chases after Hommus, so he doesn’t get left behind.

“Come! Come!” Hommus yells to Harris.

The two men race through alleys and side streets that Harris didn’t know existed. Only a full-terra ago had this city been a colony. If he wanted to ditch Hommus and return home, he wouldn’t know which way to go. Although the overall distances they’ve traveled doesn’t amount to much, he’d be meandering aimlessly through all the organic structures. A city of nature and civilization intertwined. The intrigue of this place also has him chasing after Hommus.

“How far?” Harris asks.

“Not much farther.”

Hommus ducks behind a massive redwood. Easily thirty paces in diameter. But not the largest in the area. When I sneak around to locate him, his hand is pressed tight to the trunk. The roots at his feet lift and spread wide revealing an organic staircase. The trunk partially splits, creating a portal to allow enough room to walk beneath the tree.

Harris follows Hommus into the unknown.

“We’re safe in here, friend.”

The dark stairway is lit with lanterns. But the lanterns don’t carry torches or bulbs. There is no electricity in this tree and fire would be stupid. Instead, they’re fueled by a couple dozen tiny bugs. Ranging in size from the tip of his little finger to his thumb. As they crawl and fly past one another, their backsides burst with light and create a stream of charged energy between one another. Harris stares in amazement until the burnt odor of the insects touches his nose.

“Thunderbugs, Harris. Do you ever break away from your lab?” Hommus doesn’t wait for an answer. “C’mon. Let’s go.”

Hommus disappears down the stairs and through a door.

“Thunder lanterns.” Harris continues staring. “Brilliant.” He turns to look for Hommus and rushes down the stairs when he realizes he’s left him behind.

There is so much about this unique dwelling that Harris wants to study, but he knows there are more pressing concerns.

“What is all this about, Hommus?” Harris looks around the room. The walls are lined with redwood bark. There are hallways splitting off from the main chamber. More thunder lanterns light the space. Organic furniture formed from roots is set in a circular pattern. And the floor is a plush moss. Harris bends down to brush it with his fingers. Something that bugs and anything creepy-crawly would thrive in. But everything about this dwelling, although made from nature, feels secure and inviting.

“Have you not been paying attention to the growing anarchy, Harris?” Hommus throws his hands in the air and it catches Harris’s attention. He stops examining the flooring and looks at his friend. “The races are dividing. Parliament is breaking down. And a man of your race, a Dihkai, is claiming rule over all of Azure. Your kind, Harris. They’re using their degenerative talents…their touch of death…to dominate all of us. To create an order in the world of their liking. There is no more democracy to our simple governing rule.”

“It’s true, Harris. Open your eyes.” A young woman walks into the room. Thick, blonde hair down to her rear. A head shorter than Harris, but not petite. Harris makes most others appear short. She’s lost her white lab coat and dons a dingy grey cloak.

“Fairview!” Harris speaks with delight.

“You never come around anymore, friend.” She opens her arms wide, then retracts them with a curl of her brow. “Or are we mere colleagues now. Because that is how you treat us.”

“I put the expedition first. I always have. You know this.”

Fairview nods, almost imperceptibly.

“Put your deep history behind you…” Hommus interjects with one brow hiked. “…there are more pressing matters. I’ve killed a murderer.

Fairview turns to face Hommus. “Were you seen?”

Hommus nods. “But my face was covered. They know not who I am.”

“Your face isn’t who you are. Your Aura alone will give them all the information they need. If they’re as talented as I believe them to be, that is. This is dire.” She waves an open palm to him, gesturing for him to be seated.

A few more people have entered the room from the many corridors branching off this chamber. Each of them takes a seat. Harris follows suit. And Fairview remains standing in the center.

The organic furniture appears unpleasant, but Harris finds it supports him in all the right places. Not pinching off circulation at his thighs where a root supports them, lumbar support in his lower back, and somewhat soft even though he sits on the root of a redwood. Whoever crafted the lounge chair put a good deal of trial and error to come to this perfection. His hand gently rubs the arm of the chair.

Fairview clears her throat. “Done admiring the furniture, Harris?”

Not one person snickers or smiles as Harris expects. They just stare at him.

“Err…yes. My apologies. I don’t get out much.”

“Clearly.” She winks at him. “I don’t know if you all heard as you stepped into the chamber, but we have a dead murderer on our hands—”

“Err…rooftop, actually.” Harris raises a finger as he interrupts.

Fairview scolds him with her eyes.

“I cannot press this hard enough. If you see a murderer, flee. That is it. Do not attempt to annihilate it. Do not challenge it in any way. The Taoiseach does not care if his murderers die. They are mere tools. If you get close enough, you have invited him into your home. If you challenge them, you have invited him to punish you. If you kill one…” Fairview looks directly at Hommus. “…you have invited him to slay your family.”

Hommus squirms in his seat. It doesn’t take long for him to jump to his feet and exit the safehouse.

“Let him be,” Fairview says. “He needs to think this through.”

Harris raises a hand.

“You really do need to get out more, Harris,” Fairview speaks. “This isn’t a classroom.”

“Just trying to be respectful. It matters how we treat one another, no?”

Fairview rolls her eyes. “Yes.”

“Who is this Taoiseach character?”

Fairview stares at him for a moment. “You really don’t know?” She takes Hommus’s empty seat across from Harris. “There is a man who puts himself above insignificance. The rest of us, we come, we go. This man, a Dihkai with the worst of ambitions, has discovered more about his talents than any of us. Unlike the rest of us who are insignificant in this vast universe, he remains solid and unmovable. He claims to be immortal, and thus far has proven it.” She leans in. “Harris…this man threatens our entire colony. What you and I have worked so hard to grow into a utopia.”

“What is utopia without hell?” Harris rises to his feet. His voice resonates through the chamber. “If this is true, and I have been hiding in my lab unaware, then I am not fit to lead this expedition any longer. But if you’ll have me yet, I am not lacking in determination or accountability toward protecting what I have created.”

“Sit down. Sit down. This isn’t a question of leadership. We know you work toward understanding what we have become. You remain in charge of the expedition. But while you’ve been playing with your experiments, the world around you is evolving into something wonderous and magical.”

“Magic is but the unknown,” Harris responds. “And it is for those who choose to accept fantasy as their reality. Don’t forget that. We may be pioneering a world of wonder, but let’s continue referring to them as the Seasonal Sciences. We discover more and more every day. And with it our knowledge will never be lost. Magic. Pfft…”

“And what shall you have us do of this Taoiseach fellow? Any thoughts?” Fairview asks.

“If these murderers are as big of a threat as you say, first we must protect Hommus’s family. And we must go now.”

Harris finds Hommus outside the safehouse. The two men race back the way they came and climb into the rover. This time, Harris knows where Hommus is headed even though he may not know the streets they take. He goes home to his family.

“We will protect them, Hommus,” Harris says. “You alone are more than capable. And you have a team supporting you.”

“You don’t get it!” Hommus’s voice rises. “They may already be dead. The Taoiseach is a powerful man. The Dihkai are a powerful race. You should know. You’re one of them.” Hommus’s eyes narrow, flickering back and forth between the road and Harris. “You would be honest with me, right? You spend time with my family. You eat meals with us. On the rare occasion you break away from your experiments, we enjoy ourselves with a line in the Scarlet River or exploring the terrain in the rover. You’re my friend, Harris.”

Hommus takes a long pause. Harris remains quiet, knowing there is more he has to say.

“You’re not with the Taoiseach and his murderers, are you?”

Harris’s head snaps toward Hommus. It’s not what he was expecting to come out of his mouth. Maybe, you’ll help me, won’t you? or, you’ll take care of my family if I don’t survive this? Not, are you my enemy?

Harris ponders the question for a moment. Hommus’s brow curls inward with the hesitation. His eyes continue to flicker between Harris and the road.

Why would Harris turn on his best friend? Because of his race? Because there are others like him that are doing wrong? The human mind is magnificent at pattern recognition. And Harris understands this is what Hommus is doing. Looking for a pattern. But humans are also uncanny at being able to insert false information to justify what they’ve already concluded. And Hommus’s fear is pushing him to do so.

“I am not your enemy, Hommus. I am, and always will be, your friend. You can count on me to help protect you and your family.”

“I don’t need protection,” he clarifies. “I need power. I need more power than the Taoiseach and his ability to decay anything he touches. We must stop him.”

“You’re a gentle Greenthumb, Hommus. Leave the power to the Gloomers. What we need is balance. Not more power.”

Hommus glares at him but says nothing more.

They’re out of the newly developed, organic structures and back into the original area of the colony with reinforced alloy buildings. Hommus hardly has the rover stopped in front of his dwelling before he hops out of the vehicle.

Harris isn’t so urgent. He watches Hommus closely. Cautious. There is something growing within him. Lust for power. Pain. Survival instinct. All driven by fear of the unknown.

If Harris helps his friend become more powerful, where will that lead? Will it balance the scale? Or will it lead to another revolution of overpowering Sprhowt? Humanity is also brilliant at learning from experience. History is evidence. So, the Sprhowt may take to more devastating measures to ensure their survival. To ensure the Dihkai never take back the power. It could be for the worse to help Hommus. It depends on whether his motivation is power, or if it is to abate power.

Hommus calls for his wife before ripping the door open. Frantic.

Harris follows him into the dwelling to see his friend embracing his wife. There is shock on her face for the unexpected and passionate welcome. She looks to Harris, puzzled.

“What is this for?” she asks.

Before Hommus can answer, his daughter scampers into the room and a large smile presses into his cheeks. A weight is noticeably lifted from Hommus with the sight of his daughter and the sound of his wife’s voice. It puts Harris at ease. This is the friend he knows. A gentle Greenthumb powered by the love of his family.

“Harris, lovely to have you here.” Hommus’s wife greets him. “It’s been so long since we’ve last seen you. Where have you been?” She raises a hand to stop him from answering. “First, let me prepare some refreshments.”  She leans into Harris and gives him a hug. “It’s good to see you.”

“Uncle Harris!” Hommus’s daughter lunges toward him and grabs onto his leg, standing no taller than his thigh. “Can I show you what I’ve created?”

“Please, honey, we don’t have much time.” Hommus interjects. “And Harris is—”

“I’d love to see what you’ve created.” Harris raises a hand to Hommus, cutting him off. “In fact, it is extremely important that I see what you’ve created. What if it changes the world? These are things I must know.”

Hommus’s daughter smiles and tugs on Harris’s hand for him to follow.

Down a short hall and into the back chamber he follows her. She runs to a short plant sitting on a desk.

“Look, Uncle Harris! I made this.” She struggles to lift the potted plant. Harris retrieves it for her and holds it up level with his eyes. It looks like a redwood of a hundred seasons, but no taller than half her body.

“This is brilliant!” Harris admires her work. “You did this all on your own?”

Her eyes look to the floor. “Well…I’m not a Lahyf, so mother germinated the seed for me.” Then she pops back to life. “But I took it from there! Straight from the sprout to this. Isn’t it beautiful?”

“Indeed, it is. I think you’ll turn out to be the most talented Sprhowt in all of Azure. A Greenthumb that all aspire to be like. Even more so than your father. What do you think?”

“I think you’re right,” she agrees.

“Come. As your father said, we have little time.”

Harris moves to set the tree down and return to his friend in the other chamber when a shout resonates through the dwelling.

“They’re here! Harris! They’re here!”

“Hide. Under there.” Harris points under the bed. The girl is smart. She does so without question. Then, without bothering to set the tree down, he runs back to the front chamber of the dwelling.

“They’re here,” Hommus repeats in a quieter tone, but still aggressive.

“Who are they?” his wife inquires.

Murderers. Dihkai. The Taoiseach’s power. But they are no match for our own. Right, Harris?”

Harris offers a quizzical look in return.

“You said you would help me. You said you’re not my enemy.”

“I…I’m not. But I know not how to overcome their power. I don’t even know who they are.”

“But you’re a Dihkai. Just like them. And one of The First Four. Your power must be superior to theirs. And with a Sprhowt on your side, even more so. We have the power of two seasons behind us. They only use decay.”

“You don’t understand, Hommus. You cannot battle decay with growth. There is no balance there. If you want to battle rot, you must fight it with life. Decay is death. Life and death are the balance.”

Hommus looks to his wife. A Lahyf. The balancing counterpart of the Dihkai race. “No!” he asserts. “She will play no part in this.”

“A talented Sprhowt you are, but it’ll do nothing to thwart them. Nor will my touch of death unless I can get close enough. I am willing to risk my life to save your family, but I must know what we’re up against.”

Hommus points out the window. Harris looks briefly then opens the front door and steps out. An unkindness of raven circles overhead. In the distance, a group of figures approach wearing dark cloaks, ranging from grey to pure black. There are about a half dozen of them.

Both Hommus and his wife join Harris outside.

“How do you suppose we fight them?” Harris asks.

Hommus shakes his head at his friend. The disappointment is apparent. He rips the small tree from Harris’s hands and discards the clay pot, letting it crash into pieces on the ground. “Hold them off. Do whatever you must.”

The talented Sprhowt hurries forward several paces. He grips the tiny trunk of the redwood, barely getting both hands around it, and the tree grows beneath his palms. He kneels to the ground and the roots cascade down into the soil. They grow longer and wider, digging into the dirt. The trunk, branches, and foliage do the same in the opposite direction. But what’s odd, is he has the tree angled toward the approaching threat.

Hommus shifts on top of the trunk as the roots anchor deep enough into the ground to carry the weight. But it won’t last. The angle of the tree is too acute. Eventually the roots won’t hold up. It will end up as a timber blockade in the road. What good will this do? They’re Dihkai. They’ll rip right through it with their degenerative talents.

The roots continue to grow, getting larger and wider. Hommus puts too much energy into this. He’ll be worthless when they get here. His fatigue will surely set in. The fact that he has manipulated the size of the redwood tenfold is already a testament to his power. If he takes this any further, he will collapse. No doubt.

“Hommus!” Harris yells at his friend. “Hommus, you must stop! This could kill you.” But he doesn’t listen. The tree is as large as a full-grown redwood. The roots just as massive and becoming a danger.

Harris looks around to see what he can do, but he feels helpless in the matter. Then he sees the destruction Hommus has caused. His friend strives for power, and in doing so, he loses sight of anything else.

Hommus’s wife has been impaled by one of the roots. And it continues to grow wider, pressing her into the dirt.

“Hommus!” Harris yells again. This time not with distress or fear, but absolute anger. “Stop!” Harris’s voice, already deep and authoritative without yelling, resonates with the power of an explosion, or that of a timbering tree.

Hommus, now at an unreachable height with how tall the redwood has grown, peers over his shoulder. His eyes are sunken into his face. His complexion, pale. His arms drooping. The growth of the redwood ceases as he lets go. He doesn’t see his wife yet.

Squawking ravens yell from the skies. Then a loud crack sounds off. The redwood lurches forward. The roots start to give. Hommus’s wife, still impaled, raises into the air as the ground releases the tree. Hommus witnesses the destruction he’s caused, but his face remains callous to anything around him. Whether it is fatigue or shock, Harris doesn’t know. Regardless, he is defeated.

“She’s a Lahyf.” A quiet muttering comes from Hommus. “We have the power to overcome this. There are no tangible consequences. Not with the power we possess over the seasons. We control life, Harris. We are the blood of Azure. She can heal herself when this is over. We will overcome this. We can still defeat them.”

The redwood cracks again. This time it’s coming down for good. Hommus doesn’t bother gripping onto anything. The tree doesn’t appear to be affected by the same time or gravity. The rate at which it falls is sluggish. A thundering boom echoes off the surrounding structures as the tree crashes into the road, demolishing a few buildings in the act. Hommus bounces upon impact and falls off the trunk, landing in an argyle pattern of limbs and body.

His wife hangs limp from the roots. Lahyf or not, she is dead. And there is no return from death.

The Dihkai approach the fallen Greenthumb. Harris stands opposite of them.

“Is this the realm you choose to rule?” Harris asks. Not to any one of them in particular because he doesn’t know who is in charge, if any. “You seek power. You seek dominance. This is it.” Harris waves a sharp hand toward the dead Greenthumb and Healer. “This is what becomes of power and dominance. Your immortality, if such a thing is real, will be forever surrounded by this.”

We are the Blood of Azure

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