It started with a light.
Actually that is far from true, but in the interests of keeping things in order – and to give the Big Thorn something to talk about – this is where I will begin.
It started with a light, brighter than any that had shone on that remote world for hundreds of years. It flooded over barren rocks, over soft earth, over the trees and fungi of the lowlands, and touched on a lonely hilltop.
A sunflower stood there, its petals raised to the star overhead. It wasn’t happy with its life, nor was it unhappy. How could it be? It was just an inanimate vegetable. Until the light came.
The sunflower’s petals swung involuntarily towards the new source of light – a burning beacon offset a little from the gentle sun. As the pulse grew in strength, the flower flinched back.
What fire is this? it thought. And what burning will follow in its wake?
The light did not overwhelm the planet. It reached its peak, then died away as suddenly as it had begun. The sunflower let out a mental sigh of relief.
Thank the earth that’s over, it thought. Now, where was I? Oh, yes…
The sunflower swivelled its stem back, orienting its bloom towards the steady radiance of the sun. It settled back, letting the soft hum of photosynthesis run through its system. And then…
Leaf and frond! What am I doing?
The sunflower raised a leaf in front of its bloom, watching as the shadow interrupted the light. This is impossible, it thought, absolutely impossible. I cannot be… but I am… I’m thinking!
The Sunflower stretched out its mind, feeling its thoughts spread across the world around it. It could sense the life that filled the hills and valleys of that world – but all of it was inert. In all the world, his was the only mind.
Until the next flash.
This time the Sunflower saw the whole thing: a point in the blue sky, close to the sun, blazed suddenly to life, pouring white fire down onto the world. The Sunflower lifted his leaves hastily to block the light – and watched it pour through him, turning his leaves into emerald glass. The light peaked and faded as before, and the Sunflower sighed with regret as his leaves became nothing more than leaves again.
Then he felt it, impinging on his still-questing thoughts: the unmistakable impression of another mind. It radiated waves of confusion – as did the next one he found, moments later, and the next – and then they were flooding into his consciousness. All over the world, plants had woken with the light.
The Sunflower’s mind pulsed with joy. I am not alone! it thought triumphantly. Then a concern snuck in. But… what if we must remain separated? What if all they ever are is a distant possibility?
The Sunflower decided, there and then, that he would not let that happen. Drawing his mind back in, he focussed all his resources on his own body. It was simple, he told himself. The light had given him Mind, breaking him out of the cycle of growth and decay that had bound him before. With so much already done, it would be the work of a moment to pull his roots from the earth, to be free of the last binding.
That moment’s work nearly killed him. He wrenched his roots from the soil, shaking them free of the last clinging lumps – and then toppled over, his balance gone. Even as he hit the ground, he could feel his cells beginning to die – their connection to the water of the earth lost. All right, he admitted to himself, this may require some thought.
The solution, as the Sunflower discovered after much experimentation, was to selectively engorge his leaves and fronds with water. With care, he could trickle this back out into his system, supplying all his needs. As an added advantage, he discovered that the thickened leaves were resilient enough to act as manipulators, for example if he had fallen over due to incautiously yanking his roots up. Feeling slightly ashamed, the Sunflower pulled himself to stand carefully on his roots.
A thought touched his, and the Sunflower almost fell over again in shock: that mind was close! With all his focus on his own workings, he had lost track of the others, and now there was one…
The Sunflower turned carefully, still getting his balance, to look at the red Rose waiting behind him. Its mind was open and curious, brushing against his, trying to understand him, and the Sunflower understood the impulse. They were all new to this – they all had a lot to learn.
Quite how long the Sunflower and the Rose stood on the hilltop, exploring their new senses of each other, neither of them could after say. Soon others joined them – a Thorn Bush, a Daisy, and after some effort, a gigantic Ironwood. As they stood, rooted once more, they felt other groups forming, other minds interacting. Across an entire face of the planet, the Plants merged their thoughts, learning and developing in ways spoken language can never convey.
The peace of that first morning was shattered by an immense cry – not the delicate exploring of Mind they had previously experienced, but a deliberate, almost brutal intrusion.
Leaf and frond! the Sunflower shouted, his thoughts already seeking the source of the sound. What was that?
Over here, another voice replied, and he recognised the thought-patterns of the Rose. See, down in this valley – the Poppy. I think it… uh.
The Sunflower turned his bloom slowly towards the Rose, his search forgotten. You can…?
The Rose looked and felt as dazed as he was. We can…?
We can! declared the Thorn Bush. We can communicate! Seeds below, why didn’t we do this before?
It did not occur to us, a slow mental voice said, and the Ironwood shook its branches. Only through the Poppy’s misfortune could it have come to light.
The Sunflower opened his mind again, feeling the change in the air of the planet. What had once been silent, and then filled with questing thoughts, was now a babble of voices. All across the world, the Flowers were revelling in their newfound voices. But there was something… different.
Where is it? the Daisy asked, vocalising what they were all feeling. The merging – where has it gone?
The Plants fell silent, one by one, seeking a route back into that union. But… It's like I can't even remember remembering how to get there, the Thorn Bush said worriedly. What's happened to us?
Words, the Ironwood said. The others turned their blooms towards him, waiting for him to share his insight.
The Sunflower finally spoke. What-?
Do not be so hasty, the Ironwood chided him. I was merely collecting my thoughts. My friends, it is words that have happened to us. We have learnt to speak, to share our thoughts by this indirect means-
We know all this, the Daisy snapped. Say something less obvious.
-and it has changed us, the Ironwood went on, ignoring him. The things we… but words cannot contain what we did. The things we communed over, then: we see them now in ways that we will see nothing else. For our outlook has been shaped by that… communion, and we will never attain such again.
That's ridiculous, the Daisy scoffed. Are you saying that anything new we encounter, we'll think about in fundamentally different ways? Really? Learning to speak has made our thinking worse?
Not worse, the Rose disagreed. Just… different. But you're not thinking about the most important thing.
The Awakening, the Thorn Bush exclaimed. It happened twice already – I got that from the communion, the Sunflower awoke before us – so what's to stop it coming again?
Leaf and frond, the Sunflower whispered. Any who Awaken now will wake with speech already filling their minds – they will never attain the communion – they-
And the light erupted for a third time.
The sudden emergence of yet more minds – half-formed, only just emerging – rippled through the planet’s mental sphere. The newborns, awakening into a world already filled with voices, cried out, vocalising their shock, their confusion, their joy. Someone had to take charge.
Silence! the Sunflower bellowed, cutting through the babble of voices like a rock through an incautiously-placed root. As relative calm descended, he went on: We know you are confused and unsure about this new life you have been granted. We know you have many questions. And we say this to you: you are not alone.
One of the newborns – it felt like a Tiger Lily – reached out. Who are you? Were you here before us? Did you cause this?
We did not cause it, the Rose replied soothingly. We too are its children – its Firstborn. And the one you have heard is the First of us all – the Sunflower.
But there are other Sunflowers, the Tiger Lily pointed out. I can sense a patch of them close to me. How are we to know it is the Firstborn who speaks?
What, you can’t tell? the Daisy asked. Really, it’s not that hard.
Perhaps it is harder for them, the Rose pointed out gently. We do not know how the communion changed us.
Sure, that, the Tiger Lily agreed. And even when I do learn to recognise you 'firstborn' – what if someone else is telling me about 'the Sunflower'? It could get pretty clumsy, having to clarify every time.
The young one speaks words of wisdom, the Ironwood noted. If we are to be creatures of speech, not simply of thought, then it is by speech, not mind-patterns, that we must be distinguished.
Very well, then. The Sunflower straightened up, turning his petals to the sun, and projected his voice into every mind on the planet.
Now hear this. I am the First of the Firstborn, the first mind in this world, the first of the Plants. I woke alone, but I am not alone – and none of us ever will be again.
I am the Sunflower Official, and I say: Welcome to the universe. Gather to me, and let's show it what we Plants are capable of.