I'm not entirely sure why my colleague eschewed the first person in favour of talking about himself as 'he'. Perhaps it's a Board of Flowers thing.
Oh, I understand. Well, in the interests of 'narrative simplicity', then, I shall do the same.
The Gathering was a slow affair. Even after the Plants had been convinced of the Sunflower Official's credentials – and even then there was a large minority who didn't entirely believe the Firstborn's claims to be, well, Firstborn – it took time for each of them to learn to move safely, and even longer for them to arrive at the Hill. Once they'd arrived, the Daisy – under the SO's authority – took charge of orienting them and introducing them to everyone.
As the Firstborn waited, the Thorn Bush took to studying his surroundings. The Hill the SO had awoken on stood alone, separated from the closest chain of such landforms, and there was something distinctly odd about it. While the other Firstborn conversed with the trickle of arrivals – the Rose (who had dubbed herself the Sub Rosa, claiming the reason was a secret) was deep in conference with the Tiger Lily – the Thorn Bush paced the length and width of the Hill. It was significantly longer than it was wide, and suspiciously regular in shape. The Thorn Bush pondered this intently.
We heard your voice when the Communion broke down, said a new mind close by, and the Thorn Bush, with his Firstborn perception, immediately classified it: Dandelion, one of a group, Firstborn.
I thought you were closer by, the Thorn Bush replied, and reached out his mind to the newcomer – or newcomers. The Dandelion stood at the head of a veritable forest of Flowers – most of them Dandelions, but with a scattering of other Plants. Did you all wake together?
Almost all, the head Dandelion agreed. There are some who joined us on the way over, but the majority of us are from a single grove.
Amazing. The Thorn Bush's branched twitched uncertainly. I detect that you… you have a group sense of unity?
We're a team, yes, the Dandelion agreed. We call ourselves the Weeds – because we spring up when you least expect us, and we're hard to get rid of.
And where did that word come from? asked an unfamiliar voice (and again the Thorn Bush identified it: Wild Carrot, newborn). Did you invent it yourself?
The Dandelion's petals ruffled uncertainly. No, he told her, it's just one of the things we know…
I think you made it up, the Wild Carrot said firmly. The Thorn Bush clattered his branches together.
My dear Wild Carrot-
That's 'Queen Anne's Lace'! the Flower snapped. How rude!
I do beg your pardon. My dear Queen Anne's Lace, we know it in much the same way that you know your species name. The only difference is, we Firstborn shared our knowledge and built on it before you ever awoke.
So you're better than me, is that what you're saying? the Queen Anne's Lace sniffed.
Not at all, the Dandelion disagreed. Just different. And you raise a good question – where did the word come from? I know what 'weed' means – a Flower which is unwanted – but unwanted by whom?
I have an idea about that, actually, the Thorn Bush admitted. But I'll need your help to investigate it…
It turns out that the roots of a hundred or so Plants are an ideal digging tool. Within minutes, the Dandelion had exposed something distinctly different from the earth and stone the Flowers had seen so far.
I do not feel good about this sight, the Ironwood – Hornbeam – mused aloud. It appears to me that the substance in that deep-delved trench-
It's wood, the Thorn Bush cut in. Is there a sort of tree that grows underground?
I think that's highly unlikely, the Sub Rosa said. Besides, are your photosensors not registering the seam? She gestured at the wooden surface; sure enough, it had a perfectly straight dark line running through it. This is a made thing.
How is that possible? the Daisy asked. We've only just woken – and no one has reported any other signs of sapient activity.
There was a long, contemplative silence, as the Weeds backed away from their dig-site to allow everyone a view. Finally, the Thorn Bush shrugged with all his twigs at once.
There's only one way to find out, he declared, and jumped into the hole.
Roots may be perfect for digging, but sharp thorns are the best option for prying away loose pieces of wood. Before long, the Thorn Bush had opened himself a gap. He reached inside with his longest branch, searching for anything that might cast light on the mystery.
What emerged was a strange cuboid, wrapped in some flexible material – almost like a very thick and tough leaf – and filled with sheets of compressed plant fibre. Several of the Flowers – including the Queen Anne's Lace – recoiled in horror, but the Sub Rosa stepped up to join the Thorn Bush in examining it.
I'm getting mnemonic traces off it, she said thoughtfully. They're quite weak, but… can you feel it?
Mnemonic whats? asked the Tiger Lily. Are you making this up, ma'am?
I suspect it's another Firstborn thing, the Sub Rosa told her. Or maybe it's just me…
I think I can feel something, the Thorn Bush said dubiously. He wasn't entirely convinced. It was just a nondescript block of some sort, like a book he couldn't read-
Wait. 'Book'. Where did he get that word? And how did he know the Captain's possession answered to such an inelegant name? For that matter, how did he know what a Captain was?
I do think so, the Thorn Bush said in wonder. This Captain – he was in charge of the wood-thing buried here – or was he? There's someone else…
The Marquis, the Sub Rosa provided. The Captain is in charge, but he answers to the Marquis…
Sounds like my situation, the Dandelion put in, to general amusement. What do you think – is 'Captain Dandy' a good name?
This Marquis, the Thorn Bush said, trying to catch at the edges of the mnemonic trace. Why would a Flower put the number 'four' after his name? Is it a sign of status?
I think it means there were multiple Flowers named 'Marquis', Captain Dandy suggested. Somewhat like my Weeds. Who wants to be Weed-One?
No, I agree, it's status, the Daisy put in. This Marquis was clearly an important Flower – but not as important as numbers one, two and three.
Ah, then I must choose you as Number One, Captain Dandy said, nodding his bloom at one of his fellow Dandelions. After the help you gave me in the rock-field…
It was nothing, said the newly-named Weed-One. Well… until I need something from you, at any rate.
Far be it from me to interrupt such an important conversation, boomed Hornbeam, but I must profess the belief that a prime opportunity is being missed. The traces on the 'book' include the Captain's thoughts on what information it contains.
The Thorn Bush focussed his thoughts on the book. It's… it was created by a Flower named Archimedes, he said, with some difficulty. It's about… engineering? Does that mean anything to anyone?
I get a feeling it should, the Sub Rosa murmured. But the traces – they're fading. They weren't meant for this.
Then gather round, Firstborn, the Sunflower Official said firmly. We need to get everything we can out of this 'book' – and we need to do it fast.
The feeling of being in a circle of minds, all straining to glean everything they could from the book, was almost like returning to the Communion. The circle of Flowers amplified the traces, passing them round to each other in a desperate effort to pull out as much as they could. Finally, the last speck of memory dried up, leaving the book an inert object.
Those poor Flowers – no, they weren't even Flowers, the Sub Rosa whispered. Lost in the airless black, so far from home – with no way of knowing that their journey would bring life to our world.
Life – and knowledge, the Thorn Bush declared. I didn't understand all of the 'engineering' information-
I did, Hornbeam announced. The idea of constructing apparatus to perform work on our behalf – a fascinating notion.
We need to make use of what we have learnt, the Sunflower Official said. In the memory trace, there was an image of a 'city' – a place of habitation, of learning, of community. I think we need to build one.
But we don't know how! the Daisy exclaimed. What was their city even made of – stone, yes? How do we shape stone?
That's in the 'engineering' information, the Thorn Bush pointed out. If you confer with Hornbeam, you can work out the best methods, then choose suitable Flowers for each task.
Wait, why am I the one who gets to do this? the Daisy demanded.
The Sunflower Official shrugged his leaves. You've been talking to people, he pointed out. You know what they can do. Of course, if I need to put someone else in charge-
… on second thoughts, I withdraw my complaints. The Daisy looked thoughtfully around. So, if I'm in charge, does that make me a Marquis?
The Tiger Lily gave a mental snort. Yes, you can be the Marquis of rocks and soil.
Don't be foolish, the Daisy sniffed. Any proper Marquis would speak what the memories called 'French'. So it would be 'de', not 'of'.
The Marquis de Pebbles? the Queen Anne's Lace asked.
No – the Marquis de Sod. The newly-minted Marquis nodded emphatically. I think that will do nicely. Now, Hornbeam – how much 'engineering' information did you understand?
Insufficient for our needs, Hornbeam said mournfully. But there is so much more trapped in the pages of this work…
Not trapped for long, Captain Dandy said firmly. We surely got enough to reconstruct the image-based 'writing' these beings used to communicate.
Then I shall lead the project to decipher the words, the Thorn Bush said firmly, and pass it on to Hornbeam. And… in honour of the poor Captain and his book, I intend to adopt a name: Thornelius Archimedes III.
There was a long moment of silence, and then the Marquis de Sod spoke. Can we call you the Big Thorn?