A Clash of Trees

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The spinning ice was getting warmer. The Sun was growing ever brighter. It had been growing noticeably brighter for the past millennium but now it was really speeding up. In the last century alone it had doubled in brightness.

The tree, named IceClasp by its inhabitants, held the spinning ice in its roots and knew what the brightening Sun meant. It was making a close approach to the Sun. The time had come for it to take precautions. Vines covered in shiny silver leaves emerged from its base and encircled the ice. In this age of forests in the Oort cloud, comets no longer were allowed to waste their precious light elements on tails.

The silver leaves reflected the Sun's heat and kept the ice from subliming into space. The precious store of water, carbon dioxide, methane and ammonia was kept safe as the Sun grew ever brighter in the sky ahead.

IceClasp also changed its leaves, producing regular new crops of leaves which could make use of the ever brighter light. The newest leaves had no parabolic mirrors. Increasing the intensity of the light from the Sun was no longer desirable. In fact, the old leaves would have cooked in the increasing glare.

But the old leaves could not be allowed to float away. Their mass was too precious for that. Symbiotic insects clipped them and carried them down branches and the trunk to burrows deep in the ice where they were consumed and fed back to IceClasp's roots.

Up ahead there were more primitive trees which did let their leaves fall when they needed renewal. These trees were much more powerful than IceClasp despite being so primitive. They spanned a world a thousand times the diameter of the spinning ice in an interlocked network of roots and branches.

They were so powerful that they had mastered even this huge world. They controlled its atmospheric composition, its sea levels, its temperature and its sea chemistry. They had servants, leviathans of the deep, who cleaned up their leaves after them preventing the carbon from being lost in oil or coal deposits. They had flooded the whole world covering it in a salty ocean and drowning away so many other ecosystems. They floated on the surface of the sea and so, by flooding the whole world, had spread their domain until they formed a complete sphere over the whole world. Their servants floated, glided and flapped in the air above them and swam in the water below them, following their instructions, and balancing every chemical exchange so that the world always stayed the same. They had brought change to a standstill for ten million years.

But IceClasp was on its way. It saw the pale green dot ahead of it which was the light reflected from this world. Its inhabitants made calculations for it. The results were clear. The spinning ice was doomed. It would strike the pale green dot within decades. IceClasp's inhabitants analyzed the light from the pale dot and learned a great deal. IceClasp could avoid the collision but it would be left without its precious ice load and die in the emptiness of space. But it could arrive a little after the spinning ice and unlike the spinning ice they could survive the collision. IceClasp let go of the spinning ice after a couple of decades and rolled itself into a chain of tight balls. It ensconced its inhabitants in protective cocoons and grew a thick shield on the leading edge of each ball. It had pushed off from the spinning ice and so was slowly falling behind. It would arrive a week or two after the spinning ice which was now unfurling a long tail.

The world trees had no idea what was coming. They had been struck by asteroids and comets many times over the course of their ten million year dynasty. Each time, it had hurt but they had never learned to prevent it. They had never even learned to look to the sky. In fact, the beginning of their dynasty had been a rising from ashes. The world had been struck by a large comet while they were still groping at the shores of the continents. It had been the first such impact in an eon. Creatures who lived on the continents had built a defense system to protect the world from impacts but something had gone wrong. It had been the undoing of those creatures. And the then ocean-trees, had recovered before anything else. They had melted ice sheets and flooded the world and taken it for themselves and they had become the world-trees.

The day came and the spinning ice hit the ocean and the world trees detected nothing ahead of the blast. The spinning ice was vaporized in a matter of minutes along with an equal amount of sea water and sea bed and the resulting expanding cloud of hot gases set a blazing fire storm racing outward over the ocean. The sudden vaporization of so much sea set off a series of violent tsunamis. But this world was a world of continuous ocean. There were no shores on which the tsunamis could break. In some places they passed over shallow water and broke a little, enough to shatter thousands of square kilometers of forest leaving behind only a sea of floating splinters. But for the most part the tsunamis continued until they approached the point on the surface of the world exactly opposite the impact point. There they converged and broke over each other appearing as sudden rogue waves of immense proportions. Here too they ripped apart the floating trees, rending a hole in the forest a million square kilometers in size.

Worse of all was the dust cloud. It spread through the sky, blotting out the sun and bringing with it the beginnings of cold. In the following months, the seas would begin to coat with ice and the world trees would have to survive the first ice they had seen in two hundred thousand years. But the world trees, though in pain and fear, shed their leaves and let them sink into the ravaged oceans. They would hibernate through the cold and when the dust settled they would re-emerge and begin the work to rebuild their dynasty. They had done it before so many times. As recently as two hundred thousand years before they had experienced something very similar.

The times before, IceClasp had not been riding the tail of the impactor. Her tightly wound hardened spheres had arranged themselves into a circle as wide around as the world they were landing on. Each hit the atmosphere at a carefully calculated shallow angle and streaked across the sky, burning away their outer coats in the heat of re-entry. Then large parachute like leaves emerged and they slowed their fall and drifted gently down through the dark dusty skies to fall upon the unaware world trees below.

By the time the world-trees expected to emerge from hibernation, IceClasp's children were well established. While they drifted through space they had metamorphosed into thousands of tiny plants, each with a tiny gas bladder. Each sphere landed among the world trees or in the open ravaged gaps in the ocean and, as it floated or hung from the world tree branches it split open. The tiny plants quickly filled their gas bladders with hydrogen and took to the air climbing slowly up through the clouds of dust to a place where they could find sunlight. Their roots ate the dust, extracting minerals from it and spurring their growth. They found most of what they needed in the atmosphere though, carbon dioxide enriched from the fire storms, nitrogen and oxygen and water vapor. Each of these they had the power to extract from the air using the energy of the sun's rays.

Eventually, the air became as thick with plants as it had been with dust. Only the plants, unlike the dust, never settled. They were kept aloft by their gas bladders. Ice caps formed at the poles. Sea level fell. Continents emerged, covered by the broken branches of the world trees. The world tree servants, knowing that their old masters were no longer in control, rebelled. They began to reproduce at will. They began to eat the new forming buds of the world trees. Eventually, enough light began to get through and the sea near the equator warmed enough for the world trees to emerge. But bereft of their servants and unable to melt the ice at the poles, they were divided by continents into distinct communities of equatorial ocean trees. Their dynasty was over and change had returned to the Earth.

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