The Marquis de Sod was working hard, updating the personnel records in preparation for the next set of transfers, when it happened. It began with a scream, a mental cry which burned into his consciousness and jolted him upright – then dropped him like a lump of earth when it cut off with terrible suddenness. The whole mindscape of Headquarters – the linked tangle of labs, residences and manufactories formerly called the Works – fell into shocked silence. And it was in that silence, silence as wordless as the Awakening, that the Marquis felt a breath of wind move over his leaves.
Others felt it too. A hubbub of voices began to rise, Flowers asking someone – anyone – to explain what was happening. Then, like a crash of thunder, Hornbeam's deep voice cut through them all.
Engineers! he called. To the Expansion Wing – I cannot hold the door overlong!
The Marquis de Sod was no Engineer. He was in charge (a fact which still gave him great pleasure) of paperwork, of assigning and transferring Flowers between the many important roles of HQ. There was no reason for him to head to the XW – and, indeed, it would likely be dangerous, if that terrible cry was anything to go by. It would be far better to remain at his desk.
He was one of the first to arrive on the scene. The network of plotholes threading HQ made it easy to reach the XW, provided you put in the practice to make sense of the fifth- and sixth-dimensional patterns they made. The Daisy took in the scene in an instant: Hornbeam leaning back, roots embedded in the earth of the floor, all his branches twining around the door to one of the labs. Even as the Marquis arrived, one of those branches tore off with a sickening crack – but the great Ironwood held on grimly. About him, billowing through the room and screaming around the edges of the door, a great gale was blowing, as if something were sucking all the air out of HQ and into the lab…
A handful of Flowers were already on the scene, desperately trying to rig some form of defence. The metal isn't working! one of them – the Big Thorn – cried. We need something flexible – something that will seal the gaps-
Rubber! exclaimed the Queen Anne's Lace. I have some in my room. She spun away from the door, fighting against the wind, but the pull of the air was too strong. I can't-
I can, the Marquis said suddenly, already turning back towards the plothole he had arrived through. I may not be an Engineer, but I can still fetch and carry. Where is your lab?
The Lace's thoughts tinged with embarrassment, and the Marquis thought for a moment he could see her red central flower practically glowing. Not my lab – my living quarters. They're-
Got it, the Marquis cut her off, pulling the mental map from her thoughts (and trying to avoid the other thoughts flying around). I will return.
Thank you! The Queen Anne's Lace fell silent for a moment, and then fluttered her petals rapidly. Wait! she practically shrieked. Don't look in the-
The Marquis de Sod threw himself through the plothole.
The Sunflower Official stood before the thoroughly-sealed door. Excellent work, everyone, he said. Hornbeam, without you we would all have gone the way of poor Weed-Twelve. Engineers, Marquis – every one of you has contributed admirably to keeping this Headquarters – and quite possibly this planet – alive.
The Marquis shuddered. What have we got behind that door? he asked. It is a cruel device indeed that sucks the living air away from our leaves. How can we destroy it?
It is no such thing, Hornbeam rumbled. There is nothing more or less in that laboratory than an ordinary plothole frame.
Hardly ordinary! the Big Thorn exclaimed. It felt like it was drawing the very water out of my stem, let alone the air over my leaves!
Might we not postulate, spoke up the Floating Hyacinth, which by now was a fixture in HQ (having been appointed by the Marquis as Chief Supply Officer and Garden Economic Liaison), that the plothole has opened to some region lacking in air?
But surely all nature would rise up in horror at such an occurrence, the Queen Anne's Lace pointed out. Such emptiness would draw in everything around… it…
The Flowers stared at the sealed door with new wonder – and fear. Finally, the Sub Rosa – who, as ever, had been waiting silently at the back, taking everything in – spoke. Might we not make use of such a plothole? Surely this… empty place must be beyond our world…
The Marquis turned instinctively in the direction of the Garden, thinking of the constant complaints he received – that the Works (the Downlanders steadfastly refused to adopt the new name) was too dirty, that it took up too much space, that the very sight of it was offensive. It would certainly solve a great many problems, he mused aloud. And why should Headquarters be confined to one world?
Possibly because the only other option is airless emptiness? the Big Thorn suggested. Who's going to volunteer to go in there and be sucked dry, left to gasp with no air?
Air could be supplied, the Floating Hyacinth pointed out. Some enclosed entertainment spaces in the Garden use bottled, compressed air to freshen the atmosphere on windless nights.
And what about the sucking? the Big Thorn exclaimed. Do you intend to put yourself in a bottle and simply throw yourself through?
The Queen Anne's Lace let out a mental cough, and this time the Marquis was sure she was blushing. There are… I mean, it is possible to construct flexible 'clothing' out of rubber, she said. It's… I've heard that it is possible to move in it, if not easy.
Oh, by the Hole, the Big Thorn swore, is this our plan? To throw someone into nothingness using a mashup of tawdry entertainment gear from the Downlands? Who would even think about trying that?
There was a long silence. Then Captain Dandy raised a frond.
Well, I wouldn't mind giving it a go…
And so, eventually, came the day when the Sunflower Official stepped through the relocated plothole into a glass-roofed building, under a black sky filled with suns. Other Flowers filtered through, the Marquis de Sod among them, eager (or anxious) to see this new world which was now claimed by the Flowers.
When the room was full to bursting, as the Flowers tasted the grey dust which served this planet for soil, the SO turned from the windows to face them.
We've come a long way, he said. There was a general murmur of approval – and it was true, both figuratively and literally.
This little room, the First of the Flowers went on, may well be the most significant change in our existence since the Awakening. No longer are we Flowers confined to a single world – we have the whole universe to roam across. And not all worlds can be dead like this one – there must be more life out there, waiting for us to find it.
And that, I believe, should be our mission. The Sunflower's mind seemed to fill the room, touching all of the other Flowers'. I intend to take our Headquarters and give it a purpose, a structure. No longer will we be 'the Hilltops', 'the Smoke-drinkers', or any of the other nicknames the Flowers of the Garden have for us. We will be The Organisation, our world's link to the universe – and you, my friends, will be the core.
The SO was pacing now, under the cold light of distant suns. I have in mind three Departments, he said, with three Deputies at their heads. Hornbeam, you will lead the Infrastructure Department. Your responsibilities will be technical, and such elements as supply. The Big Thorn and Floating Hyacinth will be assigned to you, and of course all the Engineers will join you.
I believe we can perform excellent work together, Hornbeam replied, looking at his two assistants.
Good. Captain Dandy, you will be the Deputy for Exploration. Your Weeds have always been our outstretched branch – it's time to make that official. You will also have the… where is she? Ah, Queen Anne's Lace. How would you like to be the official Head of Communications within HQ, and with the Garden and the rest of Origin?
Well, I certainly wouldn't object, the Lace said, flustered. Thank you, sir!
And you, Marquis de Sod, the SO continued, turning to the Daisy. You are already our most capable administrator; I am promoting you to Deputy for Admin. Your office will also include information gathering – I'm giving you the Sub Rosa and Tiger Lily, since they are the experts.
I… well, what can I say but thank you? the Marquis asked. Oh, wait – I could say 'so what?', since I'm already doing that job anyway.
True enough, the SO agreed, but I was thinking we could expand this room and turn it into an Administrative Annexe. Of course, if you don't need the space…
An Annexe, you say? The Marquis de Sod thought for a moment. You know, this planet seems very bare… entirely lacking in water…
The SO stared at him for a moment, then chuckled. Yes, Marquis, he said, you can have a pool…