The Last March of Ents

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
There has been an upheaval in the Earth's ecosystem and no-one has been able to figure out why. When the truth becomes clear, it sounds crazier than fiction.

Submitted: August 27, 2012

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Submitted: August 27, 2012

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  The Last March of Ents


1

 

Dr. Edward stretched his body and threw himself on the bed. Albeit his long hours on computer made his eyes tingle, he could not sleep.

 

His brain was still contemplating over something.

 

Dr. Edward Berenstein was a big fish in the Environmental science wing of NASA. He was working for NASA since last 25 years. Since last decade he had devoted all his time to the careful analysis of the data from the Earth Ob-servatory Program, a series of satellites to study the earth’s atmosphere. The satellite Earth Observatory-1 was launched in 2168. In 22nd century, the naive studies by environmental organizations began to hint that the density of trees was declining worldwide. Veracity of this claim was further established by the observations made by Earth Observatory-1. Dr. Edward was precisely interested in this observation. The reason behind this decline was not the interference of human beings. The kind of stringent laws formulated in 21st century for the forest protection had made the human-driven deforestation obsolete.

 

But, then, what was the reason behind the density fall?

 

Dr.  Edward turned over.  Claudia, his wife, was long lost in the land of Nod.

 

The subsequent missions Earth Observatory-2 and Earth Observatory-3 had just given a refined data of the same thing, while the scientists still striving hard to provide reasons for the deteriorating number of trees.

 

But the most mind-boggling results came from Earth Observatory-4, launched some 20 years ago, and whose mission-in-charge was Dr. Edward.

 

In recent years, the EO-4 was hinting at the decrease in the global rate of tree-density fall. And, surprisingly, it was showing that the tree-density was falling in the regions, forsaken by human beings and the tree-density was in-creasing in the densely populated regions of the Earth.

 

There had never been an upheaval of such a magnitude in the ecology of the planet Earth. At first, Dr. Edward thought that the data was actually signifying that the EO-4 had hit some unforeseen technical snag. But despite relentless checking and rechecking of all the instruments, they failed to find any-thing amiss with the satellite. In fact, it bolstered the observations to be correct!

 

If EO-4 was working properly then how do you reason for its bizarre obser-vations?

 

This was the conundrum that his entire team had been trying to grapple with in recent years, but to no avail. Somewhere along this chain of thoughts, Dr. Edward drowned in the subconscious and fell asleep.

 

 

2

 

Mohit Joshi was really excited. Today he was going to teach the students one of his favorite topics. The invention that he was going to talk about was not new and virtually every human being was aware of it, nevertheless people were oblivious to the motivation behind this invention and its inventor. But this was the part that was really close to his heart. It was this inventor who was his ideal and whose invention had prompted him to venture into the field of research.

 

Mohit was a child prodigy. He had no doubt harnessed his genius to achieve new heights of success in his career. He earned his Ph.D. in Evolutionary Ecol-ogy from University of California, Berkeley at the tender age of 23 and returned to join the prestigious research institute Indian Institute of Science, based in Bangalore. In a matter of few years, he had left his imprint in the field with his ingenious publications and he was now counted as a part of the cognoscenti of Evolutionary Ecology. Today, he was 30 and a full-time professor!

 

The inventor that he was going to talk about was Dr. Nilkanth Mohapatra and the revolutionary invention was photosynthetic skin implantation in human beings!

 

“Good morning students!”  Mohit talked into his microphone.

 

The holographic projector started displaying the 3-D view of Mohit’s wall-paper, his pet sheepdog.

 

“Good morning, Sir!”  The class said cheerfully.

 

“As I had told you yesterday, I would be talking about the invention of pho-tosynthetic skin implantation. Though the term may be a cliche now in 2298, in 21st century even an allusion resembling ‘photosynthesis in human beings’ could have been enough for you to qualify as a bu?oon!”

 

A mu?ed laughter followed.

 

“Considered as one of the greatest inventions of all-time, it completely changed the face of the world. Today, almost the entire human race derives the energy from the photosynthesis. The first thing that the new-born baby has to undergo today is the photosynthetic skin implantation surgery! People earn money just for some additional luxuries. No one dies of hunger in our times. All these are repercussions of Dr. Mohapatra’s invention. So before going into technical details, I would like to put this invention in the historical context.”

 

Meanwhile, Holographic projector was displaying Dr. Mohapatra’s pho-tographs.

 

“The world population was 6 billion by the end of 20th century and it had amplified to a gigantic number of 9 billion by the mid-21st century. Population was increasing monotonically, without any increase in either the fecundity or the area of fertile lands. And some prescient scientists had been pondering over the kind of perils the world would confront with in the face of such population growth. The worst being deaths caused due to hunger and malnutrition. To avert this, scientists introduced methods to synthesize the food artificially. But even these methods did not come to the rescue of the people below poverty line from the developing nations like India, for whom it was just too expensive. So these famished people lay at the mercy of scientists who were toiling to provide artificial food for economical prices.

 

Dr. Mohapatra was born amongst such circumstances in 2048 in a small village named Sonapur in the state of Orissa. Orissa was amongst the most backward states in a developing country like India. A man of sentimental dispo-sition, Dr. Mohapatra could not tolerate the plight of his fellow-beings, though his own family was struggling to make the two ends meet. A constant brooding over these issues had inculcated in young Nilkantha’s mind a deep desire to do something for the society.

 

Burning midnight oil, he entered University of Leeds for his doctorate, com-pleting which he returned to India to join National Center for Cell Science, Pune. In 2090, simply out of the blue, he declared to have synthesized the first photosynthetic skin which he implanted on his own body! At first, this invention was ridiculed beyond measure. Everybody thought it was a humbug. When the bout of mockery receded, people began to realize the revolutionary nature of his work and Dr. Mohapatra’s name spread like a wild fire throughout the scientific circle. So that’s about its history.

 

Now let’s delve a bit into the scientific details: As you all know photosyn-thesis is a chemical reaction occurring in the plants and some other forms of life in which the carbohydrates, the measure source of energy in living things (like sugar), is synthesized in addition to oxygen and energy, by chemical reaction of carbon dioxide and water. The prerequisite for such a reaction to occur is the presence of light and chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is a pigment found within a cell organelle called chloroplast. The genius of Dr. Mohapatra lies in the methods which he devised to introduce chloroplast in the artificial skin, which was devel-oped in the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology in 2042, and the formidable surgery to implant it in humans. Of course, this

 

does not mean that our digestion system has been relegated. Otherwise each and every hotel and restaurant that we see today would have been wiped out long ago! It is just that the energy that we obtain out of photosynthesis is enough to carry out our work. Therefore we hardly eat but need to drink water regularly for it is essential in photosynthesis.”

 

The bell rang.

 

“It’s lunch time.  Make sure you get enough of sunlight outside!”

 

 

3

 

Despite her incessant resolutions to be punctual, Katie used to get late every-day. She checked again if anything else needed to be done. She locked the door and drove her Porsche out of the garage. She was about to take a turn when she caught a glimpse of something.

 

She felt that something was wrong, but could not figure out what.

 

She took a moment to realize what was wrong.

 

There was a Palm tree on the other side of the road. Sure, there were a lot of Palm trees on the nearby Mount Wilson but none on this street.

 

“There wasn’t any tree here. Or was there and I just did not notice it?” she thought to herself.

 

She had moved to Pasadena a month ago from Manchester. And hadn’t really perused the vicinity of her house.

 

But then the thought of the o?ce struck her mind and she realized that she was getting late.

 

“Damn it!”

 

She hit the accelerator and paced on the San Pasqual Street.

 

The tree stood there with its branches swaying with the California breeze.

 

 

4

 

“Did I tell you Dmitry’s fun today?” Vera asked Nikolay while putting sandwich in his plate. Dmitry was there 10-year old only son.

 

“No, you haven’t.  What’s it about?  And where is he?”

 

“He left for school early today. When I woke up in the morning, he came running to me all frightened and hugged me. When I asked for a reason. He told me that in the dead of the night some noise woke him up and he saw the trees moving in our backyard.”

 

Nikolay smiled.  He praised Dmitry’s imaginative abilities.

 

“So what did you say?”

 

“I had no idea what to say. He definitely was not joking. So I just persuaded him to think that it was just a nightmare and nothing else.”

 

Nikolay left for o?ce and Vera started after her daily chores. When she went in the backyard to put up the laundry, she was astounded to look at some of the new trees standing in the backyard.

 

And her darling Dmitry’s words came rushing back into her ears.

 

 

5

 

“What nonsense?!”” Stuart blurted out with newspaper in his hand. And Iris smiled to herself. Every morning at breakfast, she used to bet with herself about whether Stuart would use that word. He was really impatient with bad journalism pieces, especially vitriolic when it came to newspapers vouching for psuedo-sciences.

 

“How can they print something like this? Get a load of this: Trees sighted moving! ” And he read the entire news to her.

 

“I mean, come on, have these people learned nothing from the history of scientific hoaxes!”

 

“Well, hon, can’t you give these people a benefit of doubt? Tree-walking-thing has been all the rage of late. This is not the first time that a story of this sort has appeared in the paper. May be it has some truth in it. What say?”

 

Iris was an artist working for an Animation firm and Stuart was himself a science reporter for The Guardian. As disparate as their fields were, they played a role of sounding board for each other’s works and ideas.

 

“This is not the first time that this is happening. The pages of history of science are filled with such examples, to quote a few: Bermuda triangle, Char-iots of God, Alien abductions, UFO sightings, Loch Ness monster, etc. At the dawn of the second half of 20th-century, US was seething with Alien abductions and UFO sightings to the extent that Government had to set up a commission to check all such claims for possible scientific clues. After close scrutiny, not a single of these files turned out to have any substance. Most of the people were either neurotic or psychotic, flattered by the attention they were getting

 

in press. It proceeds with an avalanche: if one claims something, others would follow his/her suit, until the hoax in vogue changes.”

 

“But they are claiming to be in possession of proofs to support their claims.”

 

“Oh yes, they always claim that. But all of these proofs tend to be phoney. And if they are going to make such extraordinary claims, to quote Marcello Truzzi, they are going to want to have an extraordinary proof. What bothers me most is that during the entire process of investigating such claims, tax-payer’s money and investigator’s time is wasted. Science has seen too many of such Boogeyman stories not to have learnt a lesson. Mark my words: after six months, this whole thing would have vanished into thin air.”

 

“Well, let’s hope you are right,” said Iris while taking a sip of her co?ee.

 

 

6

 

“Pallavi, Have I left my pen on the table?”  Mohit yelled from the bedroom.

 

No answer.

 

Mohit went out and found Pallavi watching TV. He smiled to himself. Pallavi was really fond of watching movies, a connoisseur really. She was a psychologist by profession but her knowledge of movies might have been superior to the con-temporary movie critics. Though he did not possess any keen interest in films, nevertheless he relished watching her so engrossed. But he was a bit surprised when he had a look at the screen. In that particular scene, trees were moving like humans.

 

“So, Pallu, how is the science fiction?” Mohit asked, with a tinge of sarcasm to it.

 

Being a scientist, he always used to sco? at the kind of ludicrous ideas in-volved in the science fiction genre.

 

“No honey. This is no science fiction. This is a movie called The Lord of the Rings:The Two Towers. Its a movie from 21st century, directed by the prodi-gious film-maker Peter Jackson. It is just fabulous!”

 

The Lord of the Rings was a classic novel by the 20th century litterateur J.R.R.Tolkien. Mohit had heard of it.

 

“So are trees going for a walk or something?”  Sarcasm again!

 

“Don’t make fun of it.  If you sincerely want to know, then I can tell.”

 

“Alright!  I am serious.  Pray tell me now.”

 

“Fine. As the story is really complicated, I will just tell you the gist of it. There is a wicked wizard called Saruman whose armies have decimated a large portion of the forest of Fangorn. In these forest lived humanoid trees Ents, who were supposed to be the shepherd of the trees. Ents could not only walk but could speak also. Ents were sentient beings. In this particular scene, known as the last march of ents, they are marching to fight against Saruman since, otherwise, there existence is in jeopardy.”

 

A thought struck his mind, a spark, and he was flabbergasted.

 

He had solved a long-standing puzzle. He knew what was going on behind the scene for all these years when surreal things were happening to the world.

 

He gazed at his skin and smirked!

 

 

7

 

Jennifer was really worked up. Today Dr. Edward had received 524 e-mails. This flurry of e-mails contained all sorts of things; from wedding invitations to some research paper by a budding researcher. It constituted a major portion of Jennifer’s daily job to sieve through these e-mails for the important mails. It was really a pain in the neck. While she was indulged in this work, a message popped up on the screen indicating that somebody was calling Dr. Edward. She picked up the call. A face flashed on the screen with the name Dr. Mohit Joshi with all the details about his address, profession, institute, etc.

 

“Hello.  This is Dr.  Edward’s secretary speaking.  How can I help you?”

 

“Hello Jennifer.  I wanted to talk to Dr.  Edward.  It’s a bit urgent.”

 

“Hold on please!”

 

Jennifer talked to Dr. Edward on the other line, “Sir, Dr. Mohit Joshi wants to talk to you.”

 

“Sure.  Connect the line.”

 

Jennifer connected the line and resumed her work. After 30 minutes or so Dr. Edward called her up in his o?ce.

 

When Jennifer entered his o?ce, Dr. Edward was looking out of the window, lost in his own thoughts.

 

“Yes Doctor?”

 

Jennifer’s words brought him to his senses.

 

“Jennifer, I want to organize an important meeting the day after tomor-row. Drop an e-mail to all the scientists a?liated with the Earth Observatory Program inviting them to Von Karman auditorium at 16:00 hrs. And, inform associated scientists based in abroad to remain present for a video conferencing. Also, book a ticket of Bangalore-Los Angeles flight scheduled for tomorrow by the name of Dr. Mohit Joshi and make an arrangement for his stay.”

 

He uttered these sentences with his eyes riveted on the Jacaranda tree stand-ing by his window and again got absorbed in his musings.

 

“Alright Sir.”  Jennifer said, closing the door of his o?ce.

 

Guessing why would Doc call such a huge meeting on such a short notice, she began composing the e-mail on her computer.

 

 

8

 

Von Karman auditorium was filled to its full capacity of 1000 today. Along with all the scientists associated with the Earth Observatory Program, some other prominent scientists were also present. Everybody was curious about the intention behind calling such a haphazard meeting. The invitation e-mail did not even mention the memo of the meeting. The meeting began right on time, at 4 pm. Dr. Edward stood on the Podium, wearing a cool Pink Floyd tee shirt and shorts.

 

“Good afternoon ladies and gentleman, after looking at your inquisitive faces I will not beat around the bush and would speak to the point. We all have to concede this uncomfortable truth that we have not been able to find the reason behind the astonishing EO observations. But, eventually, my friend and our col-league, Dr. Mohit Joshi from Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore is present amongst us today to shed new lights on these observations. He has expressed his views to me on the phone and I must confess that I totally acquiesce in his deliberations. No matter how esoteric his theory may sound, we must always keep in mind the maxim of our profession: Truth is always stranger than the fiction!

 

I now invite Dr.  Joshi to come on the stage.”

 

When Mohit was striding towards the podium, he felt as if the entire audi-torium was a giant eye staring at him. Everyone was on the brink of their seats to listen to what Mohit was about to say.

 

“Good afternoon everyone!”  Mohit commenced in his lively voice.

 

“I would first like to thank Dr. Edward for giving me this opportunity to present my ideas in front of you. So let’s begin by summarizing the three major unsolved questions that we have:

 

1. Why did tree density begin to decrease in 22nd  century?

 

2. Why the rate of decline has slowed down in last few decades?

 

3. Why tree-density is increasing in the densely populated areas, at the same time decreasing in the deserted areas?”

 

All these points were being shown on the screen. When the next slide came on the screen, everyone was perplexed, since it just contained a photograph of a 21st century scientist Dr. Nilkantha Mohapatra!

 

“What has Dr. Mohapatra got to do with this?” He could hear the distant murmur in the auditorium.

 

Mohit had expected such reaction.

 

“Surprisingly, answer to all these questions involve a single thread, viz. Pho-tosynthetic skin in human beings!”

 

Hearing this, a pandemonium broke out in the auditorium. People who were novice in the field started discussing something right in the middle of the talk, while the mature ones gave a more prudent reaction, just taking a glance at their skins!

 

Dr. Edward turned around and gave a stern look which was enough to re-establish the order.

 

“No matter how startling you find it, it is the truth. The culprit for all the drastic changes that have been happening to our environment is photosynthesis in human beings.

 

As we all are aware, like trees, even human beings now require carbon diox-ide for their survival. Before human beings began to utilize carbon dioxide, only trees were using them for photosynthesis and excreting oxygen. This oxygen was and is still used by human beings for respiration. But the amount of carbon dioxide that we excrete now is lesser as we hardly eat anything rendering the respiration minimal and consequently oxygen requirements.”

 

“But out of the total carbon dioxide emissions per year, only 5 percent of the carbon dioxide owes to humans. Even if human beings become extinct on the planet the change in the carbon dioxide emissions won’t be profound.” Some old scientist said wiping his glasses.

 

“Agreed. But the primary sources of carbon dioxide emissions are volcanic activities, natural decay of organic matter, combustion of fossil fuels, etc. The volcanic activities are low since last couple of centuries and we have given up using fossil fuel energy long back in favor of solar and nuclear energy. So there has been a decline in the amount of carbon dioxide emission in the atmosphere. To make the situation worse, now 36 billion human beings are using the already decreasing amount of carbon dioxide.

 

But we should note here that carbon dioxide emissions from human beings is not negligible now because though the carbon dioxide emission from an indi-vidual has decreased, the increase in population has compensated for it.

 

To summarize: It is because of the scarcity of carbon dioxide that the tree density began to fall in 22nd century. So that answers the first question!”

 

The computer was automatically preparing the minutes of the meeting.

 

“The answer to second and third questions are correlated in the following way:

 

The carbon dioxide amount being on decline, there naturally ensued a fierce competition between trees for the carbon dioxide. And as Darwin told us ages ago, the species which are better adapted to their local environment are the ones which will survive. And this adaptation process is what has endowed some trees with some unusual properties enhancing their survival prospects. And this characteristic is what biologists call taxis.

 

When an organism is given any kind of external stimulus, there are two ways in which they can respond:

 

First is tropism, in which only some part of the organism, and not the en-tire organism, shows movement. Archetypal example is a potted plant kept by the window, in which the shoot system tends to grow toward the outside as a response to the stimulus of light.

 

Second is taxis, in which the entire organism shows movement in response to the stimulus. It is a behavioral response of the organism, e.g. a single-celled organism Euglena moves towards a source of light, while the earthworm and cockroach move away from light.

 

Evolution has bestowed some of the trees with the ability to move! In their case, the stimulus is carbon dioxide. They move toward the regions where car-bon dioxide is available in ample amounts.

 

I would like to note here that not all trees have archived this ability. The trees or plants which have a very short life span naturally can undergo small changes from generation-to-generation. The pinnacle of these changes being the taxis. The trees with long lifespan would surely succumb to lack of carbon dioxide and would become extinct within few centuries.”

 

Pin-drop silence!

 

Everybody was mesmerized. Their brains did understand what Mohit was saying but their hearts were not willing to accept it.

 

“This brings us to the solution of second and third questions. As Earth Observatory-4 showed the rate of density fall has been on decline because trees have acquired taxis and they reside in the areas where carbon dioxide is available. This impetus brings them near to densely human populated areas, where a large quantity of carbon dioxide is available because of human respiration. This explains the anomalous correlation between human and tree population densities.

 

All of you at some point of time must have read reports in the newspaper of people claiming that they saw trees moving. The scientific community has connived at such reports, which is justified. There have been numerous reports of people arguing to have seen Unidentified Flying Objects, the spaceships of aliens, since 20th century. But there has never been any evidence to corroborate such claims.

 

But I indeed have an evidence showing that plants have acquired a tendency to move.

 

All the details of it will be published in a paper to appear in the journal Na-ture. I christened this taxis as the last march of Ents taxis, since I got the idea from a scene depicting the Ents marching against Saruman for their survival.”

 

Thank you sweetheart, he said to Pallavi in his heart. She had been an inspiration for him all these years.

 

“That is all that I wanted to say.  Thank you!”

 

The tour de force was over! A tumultuous applause filled the walls of Von Karman auditorium.

 

The entire auditorium was feeling exalted to know the answers to long-standing puzzles of their time.

 

For no reason, Mohit felt as if Dr. Mohapatra was smiling at him from the picture on the screen.

 

 

 

9

 

Next day when Mohit woke up in his house in Bangalore, he was still feeling drowsy because of jet lag. Pallavi was already up. He came out of the room and had a look at the newspapers. Most of them had covered his lecture-story on the front page and rest of the pages were littered with cacophony of opinions. He thought it was premature to either argue for or against his views for he had not published them yet.

 

He put away the papers and went straight to the porch to find Pallavi wa-tering the Rose plants.

 

“Good morning honey!”  Pallavi said blissfully.

 

“Good morning.” Mohit said running his hand through his ru?ed hair. Something came to Mohit’s mind.

 

He picked up the pot of Rose, which Pallavi had just watered. He took a deep breath and exhaled it on its leaves and put it back.

 

Then he saw the scratches on his skin made by the thorns.

 

And he just kept looking at the blood coming out of those scratches!

 

 

 

THE END


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

12


 

 


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