I.

“Dawn already,” the pilot said. He glanced back at his only passenger in the tiny aircraft. In the dark, En was a young girl with gray-blue face paint marking her Dai ancestry. Her mouth was taped shut. The pilot began his story-telling with his thick Northern accent once again. “Oo! So glad that my father killed the man who found the Isle. All mine, all mine for now. But still, you’ve probably seen it already, in stories, films, poems or videos games. Wait. Where you’re from, do you have any of those things?” He looked back at her.

“Your mouth is taped shut. So anyway, up to that point in history the Council has already put trillions of dollars into the Isle. It was hard to retract all the poems, songs, and fairly accurate diagrams of his – he was clearly over-excited. I don’t blame him though. You, are going to love this –” The clouds pulled open, unveiling something humongous. Something floating in the tri-color sunset sky.

A gigantic, lush green tree, circled by three tiers of old clay walls. The thick mass of roots hung below the viridian castle, defying gravity miles up in the air.



>

II.

A young, fair-skinned woman was on the island. She saw the aircraft approach and bit her lips. She pushed down her own tiny aircraft off the edge of the island with her hands, and pulled off her jacket to breathe heavily.



>

III.

The aircraft made its landing. The pilot Ubektu stepped out and surveyed the surroundings with a proud smile. “Home at last,” Ubektu said.

En followed behind. Ubektu knelt down to remove the tape on the little girl’s face. Suddenly, the little lips spoke.

“There’s a woman hiding behind that ledge,” En said. Ubektu smiled. “This is no place to fear strangers, my girl. I am the only one who can locate this place; I am the gatekeeper to the Isle, the majestic Second Biosphere which will sustain humanity past the destruction of the earth. You see the river behind you? It circles the tree around the entire island. See the fish in there, and the bird in the sky...this place is an ecosystem on its own.”

En coldly replied, “Either way, the woman is still there.”

Ubektu pulled out a rifle gun, and walked slowly towards the ledge – he looked down. There it was, a naked white body cut across the abdomen and bleeding. He gasped.


>

IV.

The man took the body and led the girl towards the tree. In the centre of the island, he laid the body down against the tree trunk in a quiet garden. “En, go. Pick those types of blue flowers from the field.” En nodded and quickly returned with a small bouquet, “they are relatives of the Shuwei from home, used to heal wounds right?”

Ubektu smiled. “That’s my girl, that’s why I got you here for. We chose the right one out of 3 billion.”

“You kidnapped me,” En said.

“I would pay your parents anything, but your father almost killed me – three times! Why on earth would he do that. He’s very creative in his murder attempts, I must say. Anyhow I left the money with them, so don’t hold a grudge. Be happy when you are on the Isle. We are on a good mission,” Ubektu replied.

He looked at the woman’s wounded body and turned to En again. “Rub them gently between your fingers and apply the petals to the wounds.” En followed his orders. Ubektu examined the body, and joined in to help En; the smooth white skin under his fingertips was something he’s never felt before on the Isle. It was human.

“This is strange,” En said, “Did you rich people really build this in the sky? The stones on the castle walls are ancient.”

“You’ve got a keen eye.” Ubektu stopped with the petals. “I have to admit, some ancient civilization beat us to the idea. The Isle is an out- of-place artefact....” He looked towards the sky, at the huge tree towering over like a mountain. “Deep inside the Isle, there is a room which is the command centre, with data feeding in from every corner of this floating piece of land. And weapons. Lots of them. For defence or for war, we do not know. But they are big and they are powerful. Though we’ve poured trillions into this project, investigating it, maintaining it, containing it from the rest of the world, we did not create it; and we do not know exactly who did and when it happened. The radiation absorbed by that tree messes with radiometric dating. However, that’s not to say we can’t create another Isle; we’re certainly wealthy enough to do whatever we want, and you’ve seen what we tried to offer to your parents. We’re just missing one thing: the tree. And that’s what you’re here for.”

“The tree holds seeds.”

Ubektu replied. “We’ve taken the seeds back to the lab many times and failed every time. Once the sprout is exposed to the air, it undergoes decay. We don’t know how it’s possible for the plant to produce oxygen but die so quickly from oxygen. It’s almost as if it needs to grow in some kind of barrier – anyhow, I won’t do the work for you. You, our expert, are here to help us take the right DNA or reproductive specimen back. You’re the prodigy, not me.”

“When did you city people care about trees?”

“Ah...there is no way for any kind of wealth to build the machine that is the tree...it’s the engine of the Isle. The tree’s skin absorbs ambient radiation for energy; we suspect it once grew along ground-radiation for levitation. Its levitation into higher altitudes, where greater levels of celestial radiation feed it more energy is true genius. In the future, when we move here, the tree may be able to even meet our energy demands.”

“You’re really planning on living here in the future?”

“Why not.”

“Your solution to survive past destruction of earth is an empty island without human life. Do you know why was it abandoned...or, why the creator-civilization died from the island, leaving the animals and the plants?”

Ubektu laughed. “Perhaps the tree eats human beings. I don’t know. That’s a suspicion I had when I was first put on Isle. Something so beautiful, so clever...yet abandoned. Something must have happened so it ended in this state.”

“Who put you on the Isle?”

“I did, and my character. After all, I am Ubektu, of the Zanhadin family; we indirectly own over half of the diamond mines operating in all of Drephos. The families and corporations investing in the Isle came to consensus back in the 70’s that we needed to appoint one person to keep the Isle – if we want to keep it at all. Once upon a time there was open-access; of course, open to all the wealthy investors, I mean. People came to visit and take photos with their rich kids. This harmony, however, was threatened when families and corporations fought to divide the Isle and set up territories. War was going to break out before we relocated here.” Ubektu laughed. “They know now to appoint one person. One they can trust. The Zanhadin family has always been the most trustworthy, and they knew that out of the Zanhadin’s I am the most trustworthy of them all.”

“You must be a good man.”

“That, and also they take my parents hostage each time I am sent here....”

The women suddenly woke up and screamed in terror. “Who are you!”



>

V.

Ubektu smiled. “The more appropriate question is, who are you?”

The women looked around her and rambled, “Who are you? Where is everyone else? And what did you do to my body?”

Ubektu replied calmly. “I am Zanhadin Ubektu, Emperor of the Isle. I would never do anything to harm a woman like you. You are on my territory.”

The women sat up, and covered her breasts with her arms. She looked around. “The Sela Garden. How did you ever get in here? What did you do to my home, you thieves? You must be thieves, air pirates!”

Ubektu pointed his rifle at the woman’s head. “Tell me. Do you even know where the Sanctuary Chamber is?”

The woman calmly replied, “deep down within the roots, even below the water system. Hidden where no one could see, where it is closest to the power source of my land – the Tree itself.”

En looked at Ubektu.



>

VI.

Ubektu threw his head up and laughed hard. “You? You’re a fucking local? I didn’t know people who lived on the Isle for ages spoke modern Shaera well. What are you, a savant like my girl here?”

He bent down, and forcefully lifted up the white woman’s body in his arms. “You are the Empress of the Isle. Tomorrow is another day, but tonight you are the Empress.”

The woman did not struggle, but simply leaned against Ubektu’s flesh as if it were the only thing left to exist in the world.



>

VII.

Ubektu led the two women into a well-furnished room on the ground level of the castle. Tucked inside the small space were a bed, a computer station, a kitchenette, and countless diamond accessories.

“Can I speak to the little girl alone? She saved my life with the Utea petals. I want to speak with her,” the woman pleaded.

“No problem”, Ubektu said as he headed out the door. “I’ll be back in fifteen.”

En asked, “Where are you headed?”

“Routine checkup. Weapons, remember?” Ubektu winked.

The woman closed the door, and looked outside the crack to make sure they were alone.

En ran towards her and hugged her tightly. “Thank you,” En said. For the first time, she lost her cold voice and spoke like a child. The woman looked down and smiled. “Don’t worry now. It’s going to be okay. I’ll find a way to get us back home.”

En shook her head. “You cut yourself for me.”

The woman could not hide her surprise and tried to pull herself out of the embrace. “Smart girl you are, to see past my tactic. If there’s one thing men won’t kill, it is something that is already close to death. I had to appear as if I was of no threat, like a toy that had some creative play value. It was a sure-fire way to buy time and find out what’s going on between you and that man.”

“You cut yourself for me.” En repeated.

“Silly girl. I would do more than that. I’ve learned to die for a victim like you.”

En let go and looked up at the woman’s face with bright eyes. “You’re with the Movement?”

Out of nowhere, the woman pulled a glass shard to the girl’s throat. “Talk,” she demanded. “Tell me what you know.”

En replied. “Ubektu, that man, told me many stories on the way here. He and his rich friends see you as the only opponent on earth worth fearing. You are violent and unrelenting in the sacrifice of others, and of yourself....like my Father’s tribe.”

The woman dropped the glass shard. “I am sorry to have been rude...one can never be too careful of spies. I am Malier. Salvaged by the Movement since the age of ten, when I was trained as a Man-Eater. Where are you from, little girl?”

“I am En. I am a daughter of the Dai tribe from my Mother’s bloodline.”

“And what is a Dai?”

“Dai is a white-people word meaning both representative and replacement. We are representatives of the earth in times of conflict, and replacements of the earth when the earth is in trouble. What is a Man-Eater like?”

Malier smiled. “A strategist. The oppressive system is run by a majority of heterosexual men. And there lies the opportunity for women like us; men control the world, and so we control men. Seduce, use, and kill. The Movement...they saved me and my sister from a child prostitution ring, and did not bother rehabilitating us to a “normal” life. They knew better, that our past of being victimized is to be our greatest strength. En. Would you join me? Leave Ubektu.”

“I...”

“There are only two true forces in the world, the people’s Movement and the rich. Forget about the cults and the shrinking nations.” “There are the rest of us.” En said.

“Who exist at the mercy of the rich.” Malier replied. “There is a third way. People have ways, but so does nature.” “Nonsense. Even if it has a way, nature is too weak to survive alone in this day and age.”

“It will,” En replied. “When we all die”.

Malier sighed. “I tell you, if you stay with him, you will die tonight.” “Why?”

“This is day thirteen of my mission on the Isle. Before I caught sight of your airship coming in, I was preparing the island to be detonated tonight. I have explosive set throughout the island; tonight, the Movement’s aircraft will come to witness and confirm the detonation of this place. ”

“But what for?” En asked.

“What for? It is unforgiveable....for the wealthy to survive past the destruction they’ve unleashed on earth, simply because they have what it takes to control this floating biosphere. We’ve thought about taking it from them, but we have no means of securing it over a long period of time. I am taking it down. Only today did I realize why they’re never afraid of neither nuclear pollution nor nuclear war. That tree....it feeds on this violence. This is a vile place.”

“I knew you were conscious the whole time,” En said. “But why did you pretend to be from here? Isn’t that ridiculous?”

Malier laughed. “It is. For fun. Adds to my own play value as a toy. And I wanted to fuck with him.”

“I was worried for you; when Ubektu put you to the test with a gun, how did you know where the Sanctuary was?”

“I didn’t. I’ve searched the island for almost two weeks now. Never came across a sanctuary-like space for me and my explosives to take out....the only place I haven’t been to is deep within the roots. You’ve gathered any clues yourself on this sanctuary-thing during your plane ride here?”

“He had a lot of time to talk to me on the plane with my mouth taped shut. He says he’s the only person who knows how to get in and out of it.”

“So it is. This command centre is the only unknown variable in the grand explosion right now. Do you know how we might get in?” “I do,” Ubektu said. The man stood tall at the door. Malier simply smiled back. “Welcome back, Emperor.”



>

VIII.

Two bodies were intertwined in the dark. En was locked outside the door.

“Why do you want the girl?” Malier asked.

“Prodigy botanist. For my mission to replicate the tree.”

“And why? Are you interested in a third Biosphere, so you can destroy the second like you did the first?” Malier’s tone was sharp, but feminine.

“I am just a guardian. All I know is that the tree is certainly a marvel. It collects all this ambient radiation into usable energy: everything you see on the Isle is powered by that tree. It would have so many applications even on land.”

“Have you ever thought about taking this Isle for yourself, and becoming a real Emperor?”

“What if I married you and made you the real Empress?” Ubektu whispered into Malier’s ear.

“I’d rather kill myself. There is no justice in me surviving as queen while everyone else dies on earth.”

Ubektu looked into her eyes. And was in love.

Malier bent down and kissed him on the lips. “Tonight, I like you. So I will tell you this. You don’t want to be staying over tonight. Leave your Isle. ”

“Why?”

“Suit yourself.” Malier said.

“I will have to leave tonight anyways. If I am late returning with the sample, they’ll kill my parents.”

“You mean the other investors in the Isle? Your own?”

“Yes, that’s the way business works.”

“I love it.” Malier smiles.

“I know something else you’ll love,” Ubektu said with a sparkle in his eye.

“What?”

“The Sanctuary.”

Malier sat up and lost her vain smile.



>

IX.

En followed them quietly in the dark. She saw Ubektu lead Malier down, deep down into the roots, thick and towering in nothing but darkness. Then Ubektu stood still at a certain spot.

And a door appeared in the dark. They entered.

Computer screens, camera feeds, lights, buttons, chrome. Malier looked at everything; touching everything, twisting and turning. Ecstatic, she spun around trying to figure out the entire command centre as Ubektu simply looked at her from a distance.

“I’ll be back to marry you.”

Malierheard his voice, and turned around to smile at him. Her face became distorted by terror when she saw the door close slowly, and Ubektu waving from the outside of the chamber.

“Just wait in here. I’ll bring back the sample, save my parents, let them reproduce the tree all they want, and come back here for you as soon as I can.” Ubektu’s voice faded.

Malier was still running towards the door before she realized impending doom. Collapsing along the walls, there was not a single crack to be detected by any part of her skin.

“Malier?” It was En’s voice.

A stupefied Malier watched a crouched En crawl out of a corner.“I saw him trying to trap you so I ran in here to help,” En said.

“How are you going to help?” Malier said, her voice low. “There’s nothing you need to help with. We’ve won. The Movement is coming. Our airship will be here soon to ensure the grand explosion happens. I’m in the Sanctuary to try to make sure the Sanctuary does not interfere with the explosion. Ubektu is in a hurry to save his parents, so he’ll rush to collect a sample and most likely leave before the explosion. He was a good man.”

“Are you ready to die?” En asked.

“Always have been, since the age of 5.”

“What would you want to do before you die?”

“Nothing. You? You’re still a child.”

“I’m hungry,” En said.

“The feeling will go away.” Malier said.



>

X.

Having had his fun, Ubektu knew he was out of time. He looked up at the humongous tree, standing proud against the stars. “All this money and effort put into that damn girl. To collect a stupid specimen that might fail anyways. And she disappears at just the right time.” He grunted as he randomly cut off a piece of the tree’s roots. “Shouldn’t have let her out the room.” He took the specimen he collected and got into his airship, speeding into the night sky. Behind him, leaves were falling. First a few. Then hundreds.

Then hundreds of thousands.



>

XI.

En searched the room and found seeds scattered. “Strange seeds. These must be from the tree,” she turned to Malier. “Are you hungry?” Malier didn’t answer. She was staring closely at the huge screens, displaying a 360 degrees image of the night sky outside. Her left hand was holding onto something.

“Look,” En said. She pointed at the screen. “Malier, there’s Ubektu’s ship.”

In the dark, Malier’s voice was cold and clear. “I don’t know if I found the right thing. But this lever here has the scent from his hand.” She saw Ubektu’s airship, and another set of lights flickering in the dark: the airship carrying her comrades – who were on schedule to see the last night of the Isle.

En was in the corner. She held the seed with both of her hands, and whispered quietly an ancient prayer. “Thank you, for sustaining my life. May we return the favor one day.” She cracked them open, and ate. The taste made her smile, and she turned to look at Malier.

There she was, standing, frozen, but her eyes were calculating. Calculating something unknown, something complex, something that made Malier’s expression come back to a timid life; a life in stark contrast to her terrified self moments ago. Yet she continues to stare at the screen.

In a split moment, it showed a gargantuan blast of fire from the Isle. Ubektu’s ship went down seconds after Malier pulls the lever. “Why, Malier?” En asked.

Malier did not look at En, and pulled the lever again. A second blast of fire shot through the night sky, and took down the Movement’s airship. She turned back to look at En. She smiles.

“Are you happy, En? We don’t have to die now.”



>

XII.

“I am in the command centre of the Isle. I know how to locate the Isle. Tonight, I killed the keeper of the Isle. That should disconnect the rich from the Isle for some time....while they frantically search, I only need to figure out how to control the exit to this sanctuary thing. I am now the one in control of the Isle. I did it En. I took it for the poor, the oppressed, and the abused of the earth. My only regret is that I could not communicate any of this to the airship of the Movement while being stuck in here.” Malier looked down on the ground, and paused. She looked at En. “My sister was the captain of that ship.”

En saw the tears fall onto the ground. But could not hear a sob. Malier looked up and laughed. “No one said this would be easy. But tonight, I stole from the rich. Big time. The people will survive past their destruction of the earth. I shall be happy.”

Suddenly, En fell to the ground, holding her abdomen in fetal position; Malier rushed to catch her.

En was breathing heavily. Her twisted expression made Malier’s feeling of victory fade into slight panic.

“We’ll get you those blue flowers, they must help you too. Or some other type of plant on this island. There’s tons of them. They’re supposed to be untainted. And you’re a botanist of some sort. You know exactly what to do.” Malier said, as she frantically searched every lever and knob and pin to create some sort of exit. “Dammit, this is the fucking command center isn’t it?”

Slowly, screens were shutting down. Lights were flickering; then turning off. Soon, they were enveloped in darkness.

Malier noticed En’s eyes were fixated on something in the distance. A light. A small opening to the outside. The command centre’s hum seemed to die slowly as they made their exit.



>

XIII.

Malier ran with En in her arms, speeding for the garden where En tended her wounds. She was in too much of a hurry to look up at the huge tree above them; it had lost over half its leaves in the night breeze. En was laid down on the grass. Malier stuffed little blue petals in the girl’s mouth.

“Look,” En said, pointing into the sky. Malier looked up and saw a thousand branches, bare against the moonlight. Her jaws dropped. The tree was dying. And so was her Isle.

“Some plants are fragile,” En said. “If I had gone with Ubektu instead of entering the command centre, I probably could have stopped him from collecting the wrong sample. Oxidization. maybe. Somewhere, he may have cut open the skin of the tree. He wanted to preserve the Isle, but he killed it. You wanted to destroy it, but you saved it. And now, I will die with it.”

Malier’s voice was shaking. “You don’t have to die. Tell me where you live, I’ve seen too many aircrafts tucked away between all the weapons lining the armoury. I’ll take you home. I’ll take you home, your people must know what to do with you.” Malier said.

“Our teachings, it tells us to stay with the one thing that sustained your last breath. The tree’s seed was the last thing I ate, so I will stay here.” “It killed you!” Malier screamed. “It didn’t sustain you, this is not the time for traditional teachings. En, let me take you. Let me take you home.” Malier swallowed. “And then I will kill myself.”

En looked at Malier and whispered. “Can you help me?”

“Of course,” Malier said.

“Then put me down and live.”



>

Postscript I

Malier.

She left an unresponsive En in the garden. And found herself an aircraft from the Isle. She flew away into the night; thinking about En’s fate alone on the huge floating island. About the sight of the barren tree when she left. And about her sister.

Halfway on her trip home, the aircraft lost its momentum. She laughed and remembered what Ubektu said: that everything on the Isle is powered by the tree. The aircraft dropped out of the sky; she did not jump.



>

Postscript II

Ubektu.

He jumped and escaped the blast fired at his airship. He rushed back to the Council, which released his parents but detained him for not being in possession of a reproductive sample. The unexplained loss of En warranted an investigation, which found the black box records of his destroyed aircraft.

The video showed that the tree went through oxidative decay, all too familiar to the researchers. Investors, his acquaintances, close friends, and other members of the Zanhadin family ended up charging him for wilful termination of the Second BioSphere. Ubektu Zanhadin died of electrocution.



>

Postscript III

En.

On the Isle, there was a strong sprout growing out of a little girl’s mouth.

There was no one alive in the sky, but the animals, the plants, and the young tree.