Kyo runs through the dying forest of the north.
The last boreal forest in the world.
The rain earlier this morning leaves the forest dripping with living moisture and saturates the air with the scent of giant conifers. Their fragrance is intoxicating, a fresh pungency that lingers like the smell of fresh water. The giant buttressed trees rise like pillars out of soggy ground. They push past the mixed hardwood canopy and pierce the mist, announcing the future.
Lichen drips off branches and clothes the fibrous trunks in crenulated patterns. Moss covers everything. A filigree of green, silver and russet play a wild shadow dance in the breeze.
Tugged by the wind, Kyo’s hair flows behind her like a dark turbulent river as she leaps over rough ground, skirt flying. Her four dark blue arms stretch out for balance as she plays obstacle course with the tangle of fallen trees, tall ferns and horsetails.
Already high in the sky, the sun is a large blushing orb that bathes everything in hues of pink. Nam calls it Gaia’s heart-light, a poem to heaven. Nam told her that the light was very different during the Age of Water when the sun was sharper and shone brashly in a brilliant cerulean blue sky. Kyo imagines her sky the startling blue colour of Nam’s winking eyes. Nam, like Kyo’s other mentors, only has two arms and flesh the colour of the sand—not the electric blue of her own skin. Despite their difference, she thinks of Nam like a mother and secretly wishes she looked like her older mentor.
Kyo stops for a moment to gather her breath and listen to the forest. Cardinals, robins and thrushes warble and flute loudly, as if complaining about destiny. Yet, they are the interlopers. According to Myo, they have taken permanent residence in the north, even as over half of the Water Age bird species have perished. With no farther north to go, northern birds perished as the climate warmed in the Age of Water. Kyo remembers Ho telling her that the Piping plover used to lay its eggs directly on the sand of the northern beaches. The beaches are no more, long gone to sea level rise, erosion and storm surges; the plovers that nested on them are also no more. But other birds are coming…
The bird symphony flows through Kyo, pulsing with the Earth’s heartbeat. She catches the absolute pitch of a starling, tuned to 432 Hz as she aligns herself with Nature’s intimate frequency. Renge taught her that light, sound and matter express at different frequencies, some only heard by the heart. All movement follows its own path, expressing its relationship with the world. Even things that aren’t moving have a potential for rhythm, an internal clock that beats its message.
Kyo runs on, gathering coherent waves of vibration, intent, and motion into one continuous and harmonious rhythm. She understands that rhythm embraces a fractal continuum from microscopic to cosmic proportions. Cell division aligns with the planet’s circadian rhythms; bees synchronize their flight with the phase of the moon; planets and stars exert gravity and frequency on each other, resonating with the harmonic tones of the music of the spheres. Her world flows in constant oscillation from high to low, particle to wave, dark to light, separating and uniting, creating and destroying, and back again. All through water.
It is then that she feels her sisters the most, the other Kyos—other blue beings like her—scattered over the world in small enclaves like hers. Each whispers a harmonic tone in a soft symphony of wisdom—frequencies from all over the world, carried in the coherent domain of water vapour to resonate through her interstitial water.
They are waiting for her.
She shares their eagerness for the Exodus, but she also harbours a secret yearning for the past—as though some hidden part of her has lodged there, like a tendril of a vine reaching across time, seeking resolution—redemption, even. What is holding her back in this drowning forest? It isn’t the trees…
…There is always sadness in the end of things; but endings are also beginnings, Kyo in Siberia whispers across the northern atmospheric river.
…We do not feel this Canadian sadness, Kyos from Scandinavia chorus in. Perhaps that part of us still clings to the mundane comfort of familiarity, given that the maple still stands strong in northern Canada.
But Kyo knows that is not true; the sugar maple—scrambling to keep up with the beech—already shows signs of transition. Several are stunted and withhold the sap Kyo loves so much. Many are yellowing at the tips of their leaves and showing bare insect-infested crowns. The native legend is realizing itself. In truth, the sugar maple has been dying for years. Once the co-dominant climax tree of the extinct Carolinian Forest in what used to be southern Ontario and the eastern United States, the sugar maple has been migrating … to drown in the swamps of the north.
Kyo understands that she is holding her sisters back with this selfish sentiment and preoccupation with a past and a people she has only dreamed of. How is it that she alone stands apart from the rest? It is not her lack of adventure or faith. She embraces her future. Nam calls her Sprite; an endearment, she knows, but one based on Kyo’s unruly curiosity and yearning for adventure. If her mentor knew of Kyo’s perverse and guilty obsession, she might call her something else. And certainly not with a wink.
Kyo stops at a small flowing creek, crouching to study the tracks in the muddy banks: giant paw marks and a wide-swathed tail track of a three-metre long beaver, relative to the ancient Castoroides ohioensis. If Renge was here she would peep with fear; but Kyo has no fear of the huge rodent—even with its giant incisors. She focuses on the eddies that form around the rocks. Renge shared that water’s vitality relies on its rhythmic movement along surfaces and its shifting phases in a kind of unruly yet self-organizing dance of synchronicity. It does this by embracing paradox.
Kyo involuntarily swallows down the truth and sits on a moss-covered boulder. She knows that her reluctance to leave has to do with the villainous Water Twins who destroyed humanity with a hatred for their own kind. She feels an unruly longing—as though some umbilical were tugging her back to them. The Water Twins were the first ones, the only ones from the Water Age who had the power to instruct water—long before the new children of the forest. The Twins unleashed a wrathful Gaia with their alien technology, frequency generators and shamanic potions. Kyo has dreamt most of it. Myo and Ho confirmed her vivid dreams with their historical documents. Why is she being plagued by accurate dreams of a time she has never experienced?
Kyo is convinced that the Water Twins somehow spawned the children of the forest—those like her. If not for the Twins, she might be normal, like the others. It is an outrageous supposition, yet she cannot shake it. The Twins destroyed the world, after all. Like Shiva and Kali. The Twins didn’t look like the children of the forest, who came much later, after humanity had been all but extinguished. It is impossible that the Twins would be connected to her.
Yet, that is exactly how Kyo feels. She desperately wants to believe that the Water Twins somehow did the right thing in causing the storms and emasculating humanity on the planet; she keeps dreaming it like she is there with the humans, suffering as they suffered, until only a handful of females remained. Myo, who is far too forgiving, once suggested that the Twins did it to heal both planet and all life, like removing a festering limb to heal the body; but how can you heal with hatred and destruction? And why is it so important to Kyo?
Kyo stands up with a shrug. No matter; today is the day she has been both dreading and anticipating for so long —the day she will finally learn some ecological history and make her personal atonement to Gaia who prepares for a new age while she—Kyo—transcends a new existence to make the Exodus.
Nam instructed her this morning to go to ‘The Age of Water’ Library in the small beech-maple grove for her last lesson. Nam has been like a mother to Kyo: tall and elegant, with wise maternal eyes the colour of deep water, and carrying the scent and air of Nature. It is time to let go, said her mentor. Time to devote yourself and fuse your life with the Mystic Law of Water. Time to learn the legacy of what humanity has learned and done to prepare for its journey with water. A journey that will ultimately take them all home.
At the library, Kyo is meant to choose or be given a work by Ho the librarian. Kyo will then commit it to memory before burning it and offering it in the water-keeping ceremony, which will prepare them all for their final journey. Kyo hopes she will be worthy of her choice.
The door of the sacred library beckons through the dying sugar maple stand. It is a solid maple doorway embedded in the hillside of shrubs, ferns and moss; hardly visible except to one who knows where to look. Kyo can always spot it from the faint blue glow that persists in the area. Every time she visits the library, Kyo sees blue balls or ribbons of blue light rippling or floating above her. In trying to explain, Renge described a phenomenon known as St. Elmo’s Fire—bursts of eerie light which result when an electric charge between clouds and the ground develop a static condition that breaks air molecules into electrically-charged particles. Gases turn into “plasma” and give off energy in the form of a glowing light. But Kyo sees the lights no matter what the weather, even on a perfectly clear day. She wonders if the trees are involved somehow. The library is mostly surrounded by an enclave of maple, beech, and fir trees. She knows that together, they discharge numerous secondary metabolites as aerosols. Perhaps the aerosols are changing as the trees are changing.
Kyo approaches the solid maple door.
She knows which book she wishes to study. It is clearly ambitious of her. Ho will be cross with her for presuming such an undertaking. The textbook is over a thousand pages; it will take her at least six months to learn it. Confident that she will convince the old librarian, Kyo glances back at the forest of her birth and pulls in a deep breath—committing it to memory. Then she reefs open the heavy door and enters the place she will spend the rest of her life on Earth.
Ho meets her in the entrance way. Her stern face is already set in a scowl; she has anticipated Kyo. “Tell me that you have reconsidered,” she says gruffly.
“I have not,” Kyo says, her voice unwavering. “It will give me the truth, before the post-truth time.”
To her surprise, Ho does not pursue or offer rebuttal. With a wave of her arm toward the main stacks, Ho says, “very well, child. You have chosen and that choice is yours to bear.” Ho points to the far stacks. “There.” She eyes Kyo with a strange look. “That is where you will find your answers.” She retreats to the side stacks, her attention presumably elsewhere.
Kyo finds a copy of Robert Wetzel’s Limnology on a lower shelf of the “L” section. It stands tall with a thick green-coloured spine. This is the book that Hilda, one of the Water Twins, had saved from the book burnings of the Water Age. A present from her limnologist mother. Hilda kept it hidden under her mattress. When CanadaCorp police burst into their home and dragged her mother away, Hilda was left alone with Wetzel. The limnology textbook was forbidden reading because its facts were no longer facts.
After some coaxing, Myo shared a most bizarre tale of that time which led to the catastrophic storms and flood. What the governments hadn’t told their citizens—but what each citizen felt and knew—was that humans had lost the ability to reproduce. Then a spate of “virgin births” throughout the world spawned what seemed a new race of girls—‘deformed’, blue and often with strange abilities. Many considered them abominations, a terrible sign of what was in store for humanity—a punishment for their evil ways. Then, as quickly as they’d populated the world, these strange blue girls all disappeared without a trace. They simply vanished and became the Disappeared. Myo told her that some people called it a Rapture, a portent of the end times. Others suggested that the girls had all been murdered—a genocide, organized by what was left of the world government.
Then Hilda’s twin Hanna brought the storms and changed the world.
Kyo had dreamt about the storms and calamities. It happened so fast, within a few months—tipping points and titrations in a cascade of disasters in an already climate-changing world. Both ice caps collapsed in concert and took out most of the world’s coastal cities with dramatically rising seas, violent floods and tsunamis. The seas acidified and the plankton rotted, releasing toxins and more noxious gases. Then, showing an unrelenting fury, Gaia burned the inland cities and countryside in scorching fires and pestilence. Feverish temperatures raged. They brought wildfires, disease and great hardship.
Forests burned. Towns burned. People burned.
Pests wiped out the food.
Abandoned by an impotent government, the masses fled north with what they could carry. Like fungal nodules on a root, northbound roads and highways sprouted tents and lean-tos. Temporary shanties colonized edges of decaying cities. They evolved into permanent slums, where you could buy a dog at gunpoint to eat. Roads filled with the detritus of humanity: dead technology, rusty appliances, and vermin-infested furniture. Whole families scavenged abandoned cars as temporary homes and lived amid the rancid odour of rotting meat, human sewage and diesel fumes. Nothing stayed fresh long in 45 degree temperatures. Markets set up next to garbage dumps, selling contaminated fish and wilted lettuce. Vermin and disease chased people north with the heat wave.
Occasionally, a wave of migrants would overtake a previous wave, resulting in a violent skirmish over dwindling resources. When there is less for more, there is no sharing.
The last tipping point came in the form of an epigenetic-induced illness that involved heat shock proteins in humans. People fell like flies to insecticide. Virtually everyone south of the 49th parallel succumbed to rampant cancers, fatal heat stroke, heart failure and other complications that heat shock proteins—suddenly switched off—no longer shielded against. Those in the north were spared the epidemic but suffered a deluge of catastrophic tornadoes, hurricanes, ice storms and floods.
Humanity finally joined the sixth age of extinction. If it had not been for the Intervention, humanity would have been completely wiped out. If not for the Intervention, Kyo would not be standing here. But she knows nothing about the Intervention, what brought it about and how it ultimately saved humanity—what is left of humanity, that is. She finds it odd that none of her dreams included this milestone event.
Nothing she’s read or heard explains it. And her mentors have offered nothing, except that the Intervention was responsible for helping to bring about the present conditions. It’s as though a black hole has swallowed the death struggles of humanity along with its salvation. Renge offered that only a few thousand humans remain scattered on the planet and all of them are female. Some, like Kyo, are not of the same mold. Kyo glances down at her four articulating arms with something close to regret; while she finds her extra limbs useful, she can’t help but wish she is like the other humans who have two arms and aren’t blue. She just wants to be normal, like the rest of humanity. But she knows she is not normal: Kyo and her thousand-some blue sisters mysteriously emanated, fully formed, five years ago all over the planet, in locations of particular electro-magnetism, infrasound frequency and anomalous gravity. For instance, this region of what used to be northern Quebec experiences a slightly lower gravity than the rest of the planet by a factor of one part in 25,000, or a tenth of an ounce for a 150-pound (68-kilogram) person.
In an attempt to suggest that Kyo embrace her uniqueness, Myo let slip out that only Kyo and her sisters can access the past with their dreams. Myo has made it her task to document all Kyo’s dreams in the Gaia Virtual Library.
Kyo knows that Wetzel will not answer her questions; but, at least the textbook will provide her with more information about the world before the events that led to the Intervention and what followed to create the world she now inhabits.
Kyo snatches the heavy textbook off the shelf.
Something beside it tumbles to the floor. Still clutching Wetzel in two of her four arms, she looks down at the object her careless ambition has knocked down. The object lies entombed within a felt-like layer of grey dust, remnants of some kind of organic wrapping. Perhaps a decomposed paper bag. A chrysalis in a cocoon, thinks Kyo with a half-smile.
Intrigued and hardly aware of her escalated breaths, Kyo picks up the dust-covered object with a third hand and carefully wipes off the thick “felt” with her fourth hand to reveal her prize. A leather-bound book.
The book is about the size of an old Water-Age tablet. The dark brown leather cover is worn at the edges and cracked. A ragged corner is torn and part of it hangs like a mountain climber clinging to a cliff. The leather is darker on its outer edge where it has been oiled by the repeated handling of probing fingers. The book is bound by a leather string, wrapped three times around its waist. A treasure wrapped in rags.
There is no title. Her breaths hitch in sudden realization.
Great Gaia! It’s a notebook!
Kyo pries it open with her dark bluish hand. The cover cracks open with some resistance; it pulls away like the husk of a fruit, revealing soft yellowed pages. Handwritten notes in an awkward marriage of fluid cursive and stilted print run neatly along the lines. The black ink strokes—probably from a fountain pen—express a kind of hieroglyph of words, sketches and symbols that suggest both academic confidence and personal insecurity. The handwriting is sufficiently open for her to surmise that the writing belonged to the hand of a woman. An intelligent woman. Kyo’s fingers track the lines across the surface of the first page. She feels its cool smoothness and inhales the slight mustiness of the paper.
She doesn’t realize she is trembling until she catches sight of her shaking blue hand. The date—April 12, 2045—is scrawled at the top right of the page and below is a term and its definition, followed by narrative. It marks an entry of some kind.
She flips the pages, careful not to tear or fold them, and skims what is written. There are many entries and each is dated and begins with a defined term. Many of them cite Wetzel as the source. Some pages only have a definition; but most definitions are followed by narrative. Some entries include elaborate ink drawings, sketches or maps.
Excitement pumps through her chest as realization dawns: this is a personal journal from the time of the Water Twins!
But whose journal is it? Is there a reason why this diary was placed right next to Hilda’s copy of Wetzel? Kyo looks from Wetzel to the diary that cites it and ponders. Her gaze turns behind her to where Ho lurks among the stacks. Is this her doing? Wetzel became the bible of the H2O Twins. But this private account from that same time promises far more tantalizing. Its placement in the library, next to Wetzel specifically, suggests great relevance.
Kyo opens Wetzel to its title page, where in the same hybrid cursive / print is written: To my dearest Hilda, Your loving Mother, Lynna.
It is the same handwriting! Hilda’s mother is the author of the journal!
With a last glance in Ho’s direction, Kyo carefully replaces Wetzel’s Limnology on the shelf and, clutching her new prize, moves to one of the tables by the back windows that face the maple-beech forest.
Under the dappled flowing light, she opens to the first page again and reads…