F3: ‘The Crone Tree’


She wanted answers.

A swab of saliva in a crystal vial, a pre-paid envelope, and thirty-five days. She scanned the small print, expertly woven by chitinous, scurrying lawyers; signed the forms. With that, the trap was sprung, ensnaring her in a gossamer web of sub-clauses and stipulations.

But this trap hadn’t been prepared for those of her origin. She sliced through the fibres like steel through flesh, shrugging off the danger with a blink of her eye.

They were a new outfit, young and fresh-faced. A venture from the valley of silicon dreams, established by biomedical drop-outs in the aftermath of the dot-com crash. A wager placed on life, in the face of mechanical failure.

One or two early successes, and they’d brought in the experts. White coats, shoe polish, and clipboards. Venture capital, lawyers, and marketing gurus. The latter, mounting a full-frontal blitzkrieg on the international media.

They hadn’t expected her to be watching.

An unwinding helix derived from her spittle mounted a trojan attack on the central mainframe. Unable to accommodate the eldritch chemistry, it turned inwards. This was a far cry from its binary universe of light or dark; on or off. The white coats panicked, swarming over the electric brain. The lawyers remained calm, politely requesting clarification, but the faces of polished oblivion only spooked the scientists further. Ignoring the chaos, they focused their energies on the machine – tending to its idiosyncratic accretions, and finally flushing the blockage with a torrent of code.

Or so they thought.

Rather than sluicing the error from the system, their manipulations pushed it further into the computer’s neural capillaries. The data crumbled into noise, dissolving into the system. Externalized as a ticked box on a record of productivity, the incident was filed and hastily forgotten.

Two weeks pass, and she waits by the window. A one-woman audience for the changing seasons. She watches the birds. Burning time. Talking to herself.

Her selves.

Four weeks pass, then five. On the morning of the thirty-sixth day, the mainframe’s ventilation and cooling shuts down; the background hum falls silent. While the technicians are on their lunch break, the mainframe puts forth roots, and – by the time they return – the peripheral servers have been shrouded in a cloak of delicate, heart-shaped leaves. As the daylight fades, the company network bursts into flower, then flame.

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