~ The Ur-Tree ~
Once, there was a little girl named Sylvia. Sylvia loved to climb the tree in her backyard. When she grew up, she knew she wanted to become an architect, to build trees all the way to the sky. 

Now, Sylvia works on the team designing the tallest tree in the world. Out of this world, technically – the first space tree, the Tree of Babel. She is trapped on it, thousands of meters up, hugging a stamen and contemplating the slowly snaking shadow opposite. 

She is having second thoughts about her childhood aspirations. 

Not that she would ever tell anyone. The Tree of Babel is by far the highest profile, most famous project on earth (well, off earth). It is to be the Ur-tree, the tree that will finally overcome all constraints. Its mighty trunk will bring oxygen, shelter, structure and humanity into the great Unknown. Its budget exceeds the GDP of most countries. It is the GDP: the Global Domestic Product. The press and politicians follow its development in minute detail. And it would be a scandal if they learned that the Tree of Babel has a monster problem. 

She had heard the rumors: the contractors gone missing, the claw marks in the mornings, and the inexplicably shredded root diagrids. But she trusted the denials. Now, as she edges around her stamen, preparing to sprint, Sylvia hears the breathing. Slow. Raspy. Hungry. 

She always had hated this project. Not that anyone would care. Her work is prestigious and lucrative. It is also the only work. Every architecture firm, engineering firm, developer, and nation has come together to build this tree. With all that at stake, so what if one junior architect’s fieldwork today involves being hunted? So what if Sylvia just gouged her arm on some loose splinters, sprinting now into the woody xylem, away from the writhing form behind her? So what if she cannot tell whether it is just her body that is shaking, or the taproot itself? 

~ The Priesthood ~
She took this job to pay off student debt, but in school, Sylvia had developed projects skeptical of the direction of tree design – indeed, even the notion that there was a direction in tree design. She played down her skepticism – called her work ironic – for her projects otherwise would have been heretical in the eyes of the Priesthood. The Priesthood prophesied the coming of a mythical beast, the Zeitgeist. No one is sure what the Zeitgeist looks like, where it lives, or why architects hunt it, but what all the theorists are sure of is the beast will not be caught, until all architects unite around one design that is truly of its time. 

To question progress has become taboo. 

~ Pursued by the Zeitgeist ~
As she jumps into a coconut, Sylvia yearns for the Forest. Part of the just-grown Organic Otis 9320, the nut takes its instructions from her telepathically, pulling back into a vacuum valve to rush Sylvia towards her destination.  

Some architects – the Radicals – had kept their distance from the Priesthoods’ design ideas. A few among the Radicals even whisper that – once upon a time – trees were not designed at all. Long ago, in the early days of genetic technology, trees were like early humans. Clumsy, inefficient and wasteful, they slowly evolved to suit particular climates and habitats. They had funny names, like oak and pine and gingko. 

Once it was possible to program seeds precisely, few could even be bothered to remember this primitive time. Given the ability to optimize oxygen production, maximize strength, and minimize growth periods, designers updated all the trees. For a time, the rich and nostalgic held onto a few ancient specimens, but environmental reforms soon banned such an indulgent waste of resources. Archaic variants went extinct, joining the ranks of the Neanderthals, smallpox, the iPhone, and concrete-and-steel construction. After all, who would ever build anything, when you could program tree-seeds to become homes, domes, and fast food joints? 

By the time Sylvia was in school, “natural,” un-designed trees had been relegated to the realm of myth. But she did not just suspect the old trees existed – she had proof. The Radicals had saved one Forest from the updates and reforms, carefully tending to it, in a hidden valley not far from the Tree of Babel.  

Arriving at the sky-root deck, Sylvia now jumps from her nut, runs to a propeller seedpod, and punches in the Forest’s coordinates. As the propeller powers up, Sylvia lights a fuse and jumps onto the upward spinning pod, while the sap-fuel reserves catch fire behind her. Strapping its unexpected passenger in with a twig-and-vine webbed seatbelt, the pod barely misses a shattered branch-slab as it slices up, whipping Sylvia away as an awesome fireball unfolds in her wake, laying the other propeller-pods to waste. 

Sylvia wipes blood and sap off her forehead, relieved to finally escape.  

Contemplating the Tree of Babel behind her, she can finally see the beast. Sylvia realizes then, to her horror and awe: the monster is the Zeitgeist! Beautiful and terrifying – in a word, sublime. Time itself seems to crackle as the Zeitgeist ravishes the Tree of Babel. The space tree, this juggernaut, now collapses around the noble and monstrous Zeitgeist, who seems only to grow larger and stronger with the destruction, feeding off the growing mayhem. 

~ A Tornado, Storm, Hurricane, Lightning Storm, & Wildfire ~
As the Tree of Babel topples in an awful, splintering crash, the Zeitgeist turns back to our now-distant architect. In keen pursuit of its prey, it takes flight. 

Flight. 

Flying. 

It flies?! 

Sylvia switches off the autopilot, steering, toggling, trying to change her route, to keep the Zeitgeist away from the Forest, but it is too late. The pod promptly crashes, skidding to a halt in a hillside grove squarely in the middle of the secret Forest. The Radicals are already gathered there, and Sylvia sobs with grief and regret, pointing to the fast approaching Zeitgeist. Ever larger, stronger, and faster, it may now be best described as a tornado, swarm, plague, hurricane, lightning storm, and wildfire all rolled together. 

Out of solutions, she hides against the trunk of a willow. Admiring this ancient creature one last time, she closes her eyes, resigned to meet her maker… 
 
…when, with a pop, the monster disappears. The mayhem stops. 

Opening her eyes to a clear sky and a peaceful Forest, our architect sees the Zeitgeist. It is everywhere – no longer a single monstrous being but a million different creatures, cooing, prancing, and nesting among the oaks, pines, gingkoes, dogwoods, sycamores, firs, shadbush, and sassafras. The Zeitgeist is at peace. The trees have brought it to rest. For these archaic beings – with their patience, quirks, and myriad inefficiencies, have long been accustomed to the Zeitgeist’s capricious moods. 

~ The End ~

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