Chapter Eight: Eden Reborn

Jask Magrin had been a supervisor for Ground Level expeditions for the past nine years, and as far as he was concerned nothing could surprise him. He was a little annoyed by the fact that his team were raw recruits; they jostled each other and joked about in a way that he found most irritating and unprofessional. It was only an expedition to Ground Level, for goodness' sake! What did they expect to find? Twilight and stinking rubbish, that was all that was down there, and they were being sent on some ridiculous wild-goose chase to find a non-existent Garden! He tapped his foot impatiently as the lift sank. They'd already been in the damn thing for almost three days. Arrival on Level Thirty shouldn't be too far ahead.

Even as he thought this, there was a soft chime and the lift doors slid open, revealing the Level. With a few sharp words of command, he verbally bullied his team out onto the walkways. Now came the worst part; the descent by stairwell to the ground itself. Jask Magrin sighed gloomily. Why had he ever chosen this job?

"Mum! Dad!"
All the inhabitants of unit NF1109 were wakened by the cries from the communal area. Tired people lurched out of their beds, came to the doors and demanded to know what all the fuss was about. Bain ignored them all, waiting for his parents to appear. As soon as they did, he rushed forwards and pressed something into his mother's hand. She looked down, and gasped to see the large bunch of pink-purple flowers that blossomed from her fist.

"Where..." she began, but Bain was already hugging her.

"They're from Zoë!" he exclaimed. "She's alive, Mum! She's alive! The garden on Ground Level is real and it's hers! She made it!"

His mother stood stunned, unable to speak. Bain's father stepped forwards and laid a hand on his son's shoulder.

"What is all this, son?" he asked sternly. Bain turned to him with a broad smile.

"Zoë's alive and she's on Ground Level!" he cried excitedly. "And she's made a garden, Dad! Not just a few plants on a windowsill. Streets and streets of plants and flowers, and a whole army of people to help her! She's gone below the city and above the city, and she's been to the top level, Dad, and they've built generators and a sprinkler system, and there are bees and mice and cats and birds..."

"Is this true?" asked a voice from behind, and Bain turned to see the inhabitants of the other flats standing behind him. He nodded wildly.

"Yes! Every word!" he promised. "And I'm here to pick some things up and tell you I'm leaving, because I'm going to live there and I'm not coming back!"
A loud mutter of shock and amazement went up as Bain hurtled past his parents into their small flat. In truth, there wasn't much he wanted to pick up, but he still found a bag and started to throw some of his possessions into it, until he felt a presence behind him.

"Are you sure you want to do this, Bain?" his mother asked. He nodded.

"Surer than anything," he replied. The woman smiled, and lifted the bag she held in her own hand.

"I'm not losing another child," she declared. "And nor is your father. We're coming with you."

When Zoë saw the man and woman who walked behind her brother, her heart almost stopped. They were older, grey around the hair and more wrinkled, but she still knew her parents. With a cry she dropped the bucket she was holding and ran to them, surprising the team of novice Gardeners behind her. She didn't care for them, though; it was enough to be caught by her father, kissed by her mother, to see them again after a lifetime apart.

"I hear you've been performing miracles," her father smiled, and Zoë proudly took them by the hand to show them her garden. Bain stepped back; this was their moment, not his.

"I see you've brought us some new recruits," a voice beside him laughed, and Jerei stepped up to his side. Bain smiled at her, his heart beating a little faster. She was so pretty...

Jerei took his hand. "Come on," she said. "We'd better find you a place to stay before someone plants a tree in it."

And, gladly, he followed her.

The inspection team had arrived on Ground Level via a disused staircase, and were now relying on sketch maps to guide them. There was no telling where, if anywhere, a Garden would be on Ground Level, but extrapolation of the waste chute system had lead them into sector NF11. From there, they had to search in a grid pattern, but after only six hours Jask Magrin had already had enough. He was about to call it quits for the night, when a cry went up from one of the men who was out ahead.

"Sir! You have to see this!"

There was an immediate rush as the all hurried over to look at what the man had seen. They had to turn a corner to see him standing at the mouth of an alley, staring down it in wonder. Light poured out from it, flowing over his face and form. Slowly, the team approached and followed his gaze to see a breathtaking sight.

The alley was a haven of life. Plants clung to everything it was possible to cling to, the light falling green through them. Moss grew on the path down the centre of the alley and up the walls, a soft covering of gentle growth. Minute water droplets poured from overhead pipes, creating a misting that hung in the air and drew rainbows to take the breath away. Bees and butterflies zipped and fluttered from flower to flower, every colour twice as intense as it should have been. It was like a picture, a pretend of something that never happened in reality.

"It's beautiful," one of the team whispered, stepping out onto the moss before Jask could stop him. The others followed, all treading with reverence into the green street. Their supervisor followed reluctantly, sulking and making a mental list of broken laws and violations of proper codes.

They followed the path around corners, through buildings, past the spitting ends of chutes. Holes in the floor led down to more gardens; they didn't go to investigate those, but they were clearly visible, as were the trellises and climbing plants above them. They saw people, too, although they were not themselves seen. Green-tunicked figures above and below, hidden behind bushes and crouched in flowerbeds, all tending their own patch, their own post.

To Jask's disgust, some of his team began to cry, whilst others took on an expression of stunned bliss. How can they even contemplate liking this place? he wondered scornfully. It's one immense patch of illegality! A bee buzzed past his nose, and he swatted at it ineffectually. Hideous.

"We've seen enough," he announced aloud. "Time we were going."

Twelve pairs of eyes stared at him incredulously.

"Leave?" said one man, eventually. "But we only just got here!"

Growling, Jask bullied them and chivvied them until they got to a staircase leading up. As they climbed to Level Three, some of the men cast regretful glances back, but Jask didn't notice. He was too busy preparing the report he was going to transmit to the upper levels.

Word spreads fast from mouth to mouth, and on Level Three it spread faster than ever before. The Garden is real. The Garden is just below us. Some people still chose to disbelieve, but the inhabitants of unit NF1109 had heard it from the mouth of one of their own, and so they believed. And the people of the neighbouring units heard it and believed it, because after all, you have to trust your neighbours. And their families, living nearby, and their work colleagues all heard it, and believed it, because they knew the source, didn't they? And since the Garden was right below them, it wasn't a very long trip to go and see if it was real... and so people started to vanish below at an astounding rate, and the more people vanished the more wanted to see what they had found. By the time Jask Magrin had sent a transmission to Level 150 detailing his findings, more than a third of the people of L3NF11 had descended to the Garden, and a good half of those who were left were considering doing likewise. And even as their supervisor sent word of an illegal project in the depths to his superiors, the inspection team were calling their families and friends, telling them to get to the nearest lift and get down there. Before Jask Magrin had even finished his call, six of his people had slipped away, never to return. He was furious, of course, and that rage only served to send the rest of his team AWOL. He travelled back up to Level 150 alone and angry, while his people were welcomed into the Garden below. They immediately gave warning of the coming storm, and word reached Mike of impending danger.

"What are we going to do?" he demanded of Zoë, who was locked in deep conference with Korl. She gave him a confident smile.

"We're going to talk them round," she announced. Mike regarded her with disbelief, and she sighed.

"We can do it, Mike," she insisted. "Just ask Jerei."

And sure enough, when he asked the pale girl, she said the same thing.

"Trust Zoë on this," she told him firmly, cutting bandages for the hospital. "Of the inspection team, one out of thirteen people was against us. Can we lose with those odds?"

All the same, tension began to grow as the future of the Garden became more and more uncertain. Then more people began arriving; the families of the inspection team at first, but later their friends too as they called them down. And then people from other levels, who had heard of the mass exodus from above and joined it. Space started to grow short, but nobody minded. Everybody was discovering new things, learning new things. Some people only came to see if it was real; they left in a hurry, anxious to tell the people of their own Level what was going on. A full week passed, and there was no word from above, but Zoë wasn't fool enough to think that they were safe. The greatest danger of all was coming, and despite her calm exterior she was afraid.

Then one day, as she was planting out some of the bigger cuttings, the new intercom system Mike and his Techs had set up crackled into life, and Korl's voice came over loud and clear.

"We got company, people. Government cleanup forces jus' appeared to the north, so if yez want a Garden tomorra, get up there!"

Zoë froze inside. With the seeming of calm, she finished planting the cutting, then brushed the soil from her hands, got up, and started to jog northwards. Around her, others did likewise. She saw Gardeners, Blue Hawks, Techs, and people from all Levels around her, all moving swiftly in one direction, all determined to do one thing. Zoë hoped that the perimeter guards were still where they should be, to watch for attack from another direction, but there was no time to worry about that now. The mass of people grew greater, all heading one way, and Zoë was astonished by the sheer numbers.

I knew there were a lot of us, she thought numbly. But I never knew it was this many!

They all had their instructions, though. They'd had a good idea of what the response would be, and emergency protocols had been designed for the situation. If only everyone kept their heads...

In a crowd this size? And since when did we have "protocols"? Zoë shivered as she realised that what they had was no longer a Garden, no longer a co-operation between three gangs for mutual benefit. What they had was a fledgling organisation, a nation about to be born.

And doesn't that make me one of the leaders? One of the founders, at least. And that should give her some control. Nobody was here who didn't want to be; they all had some respect for her. They should follow her orders in a crisis.

Without even realising it, she'd reached the northernmost edge of the Garden. A mass of people had gathered here, stretching left and right as far as the eye could see. The entire northern edge was protected by a line three deep. Zoë pushed forwards to the front, to see Korl, Mike, Jerei and Ado already waiting for her. The Blue Hawk leader nodded solemnly and passed her the speaker for the intercom. She smiled as thanks, then turned to look at their enemy.

The cleanup forces had large, orange-painted vehicles with them. This surprised her, until she remembered how long it had taken them to get down here.

They must have special lifts, special ramps, to get them down here. That's why it took a week. To her relief, none of the men looked very happy at the prospect of destroying what was before them, and she knew she had a good chance of talking them around.

Footsteps behind her, and she turned to see Bain and her parents join the line. Jerei saw them too, and smiled. Bain waved to her; she waved back.

"You can join them if you like," Zoë offered. With a grateful nod, her friend went to stand by her brother. Zoë lifted the speaker she held and switched it on.

"This is Zoë speaking," she announced. "I would like to remind everyone that this is peaceful resistance, so let's keep it that way. Also, if you can't see any cleanup vehicles try and get some sleep. We may be here for some time."

She broke off as one of the orange-suited men edged forwards. Handing the speaker to Mike, she stepped out to meet him.

"Good morning," she said cheerfully. The man cast a haunted look to the sky.

"Is it?" he wondered. Zoë waved a hand to the lights behind her.

"It is for us," she replied. The man nodded, then lifted a computer pad.

"By order of the Government and the President of Earth, we have clearance to remove this unauthorised construction."

"Garden," Zoë corrected. "It's a Garden. And we're not letting you touch it."

"Um," the man said thoughtfully. "It seems we are at an impasse, then. I certainly don't have clearance to drive over people, and you aren't going to move."

"No," Zoë agreed.

"But I can't ignore my orders," the man added.

"Why not?" Zoë demanded. "Why can't you just leave these things here and join us?"

The man shook his head. "Because if we did, another team would come, and they might not be so sympathetic."

"You're right," Zoë agreed. "But you've delivered your message, so now it's my turn. If the President of Earth wants to flatten my Garden, he can damn well come down here and do it himself, and you can tell him that from me."

The man smiled. "I'll pass it on to my superiors," he promised, and the two of them shook hands. Zoë turned and walked back to the line, to be greeted by questioning looks.

"We're going to be here for a while," she predicted.

In the end, the line had to be split into three groups; one to stop the cleanup crew, one to maintain the Garden, the Hospital and the equipment, and one to sleep. They changed shifts every eight hours, time marked by a watch borrowed from one of the cleanup crew. Messages shot between Ground Level and the top level, but people were slower to arrive; the first media crew set out as soon as Zoë's message was sent, but it took a full three days for them to arrive. By that time, a routine had been established, and the blockaders were on easy speaking terms with the cleanup crew who were, in fact, very disinclined to do anything much. The news crew were eager to see the Garden, but Zoë stated firmly on camera that she was not allowing anyone else in until the whole thing was sorted.

"It's too much risk," she announced. "So if anyone else was thinking of coming down here to help, don't. You can do things from your own level, if you want to."

"Are you suggesting people petition the Government?" the reporter asked eagerly, her eyes glittering with mischief.

"Why not?" Zoë shrugged, and with those two words a storm of protest was released. The few glimpses people had on their tele-screens of the Garden was enough for them to question the wisdom of what was happening, and soon the Government computer core was clogged with letters of protest and petitions. The first cleanup crew went on strike, and their replacements refused to go down. The vehicles and machinery were disassembled on Ground Level, but life couldn't return to normal, not with all the people trying to make their way down. There were so many that the Government started to seal the lifts and the gates, holding people on their own levels; this caused another wave of protest, strikes and marches taking place amongst the walkways. Other sectors began to clamour for their own Gardens, and chaos ensued.

Then, one day, word came to the Gardener's HQ that another upper-level vehicle had been spotted approaching from the south-east. Zoë hurried to reach it, but by the time she got there the media had already arrived, followed closely by a contingent of her own Gardeners. The black hover-car had slowed to a crawl and was surrounded by a crowd; Zoë stood and watched it from a distance, largely ignored.

"Can I speak to you?" asked Jerei, walking over to stand beside her. Zoë looked down in surprise at her friend, who gazed back solemnly.

"Sure," she agreed, taken aback. "What is it?"

Jerei smiled a little sadly. "Do you remember our first trip to the upper levels, when Mike demanded to know who I was?"

Zoë nodded, dimly remembering. "You said it wasn't the time. That other things had to happen first."

Jerei nodded, a smile on her face. "You're about to face the last great hurdle, Zoë. After this, you'll be able to manage fine without me, but to get through this I think you might need to know."

"Know what?" Zoë demanded, curiously. Jerei gazed up at the sky.

"When the expansion first began, when the cities began to swallow the world, people were afraid that all the good things in the world would vanish. They sought ways to stop themselves, but got tangled in their own webs and fell. A few geneticists, scientists at the top of their field, decided that the human race was doomed. They wanted to leave a legacy, so they began to create a new being, like a human and yet unlike. They tried to make people without apathy, people who believed they could make a difference.

The experiment came to nothing. A few strange results occurred, but nothing to speak of. The labs closed, the cities grew, and the altered DNA lay dormant.

Only sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes, by some freak chance, it resurfaces and a child is born... different."

"Like you," Zoë breathed. Jerei grinned.

"It's not just lack of apathy, you know," she told the woman. "It's... seeing. People have tried to explain it before, but they never agree. All I know is that my kind feel drawn to the places where we can do most good, to the people who have the ability to change things. Sometimes we see the possibilities, the things that can be with the right words at the right time. Ado and I were born on Level Nine, but we came down here because this is where we had to be. He met Korl and saw the Hospital; and it's a success."

"And you?" Zoë asked, knowing the answer.

"I met you," Jerei replied. "In an alleyway, I met a small girl crying, and I saw a Garden bloom around her. I've always known that this was possible; I've always known you could do it. All I had to do was convince you."

Zoë nodded, slowly. "So why are you telling me this now?" she asked.

"Because I want you to know that the Garden in my vision was safe because of you. What's about to happen will determine the future, and you have to believe that if you do what you think is right, it'll all work out for the best."
"You're sure?" Zoë asked, wonderingly.

"I know. The question is, are you sure?"

Zoë glanced back over to the hover-car, and smiled as she saw who was getting out of it.

"I am now," she replied.

"This is truly unbelievable," the President of Earth declared, as Zoë led him through the underground portion of the Garden. "Utterly remarkable."

"It's not really, though," Zoë told him with a smile. "It's just natural. That's all."

"That's enough," the man breathed. He was a tall, imposing figure, the thick hair on his round head a steely grey. He reached out to touch the leaf of a plant. "The scientists all claim that this can't be done," he said, sternly. "They say that what we have left is too fragile, that there's nowhere left for it to go."

"I generally find," Zoë said slowly, "that with a little work, what we have left will go anywhere. In fact, it can be quite difficult to stop it growing at times."
The President bent over to sniff at a flower, and a butterfly took off in surprise. "So much for scientists," he said, amused. Zoë smiled, shared the joke, and then sighed heavily.

"All we want is to be left alone," she declared. "We aren't hurting anyone; we have everything we need now. If you need paying for the things we stole, I'm sure we can raise money somehow. Can't you just stay away from the Garden?"

"I'm afraid that's impossible," the President declared heavily. Zoë's shoulders slumped, and she closed her eyes in defeat.

Damn it, Jerei, why did you have to be wrong this time? she wondered angrily.

"I'm giving you a grant," said the President. Zoë's head snapped up.

"What?" she gasped. The man smiled.

"You've done the impossible here," he informed her. "Better than any damn scientist, if they'd been given the task. I don't want this garden gone; I want it expanded, and I want more of them. I want gardens in every sector, growing and growing until they join up and this world has a real surface again. And I don't just want them on Ground Level; you say you can grow things anywhere? Well, I want you to prove it. I want parks. I want gardens. I want everything you can give me, and I'm prepared to put every biolab in the world at your disposal to achieve it. From now on, you have everything you need... everything you want... to turn this world back into planet Earth. Understand?"

Dumbly, Zoë nodded, struck silent as images flowed through her mind. Ideas, plans... perhaps you could grow things on the roofs of the top level...

"And one more thing; I'm going to start diverting funding to the lower levels," the President declared. "Imagine! All the people living down here without even basic education... and things aren't much better on Level Three. It'll take a long time, but I'm going to turn this planet around whether it likes it or not!"

"I think it will, sir," said a polite voice, and Mike emerged from the undergrowth. The President stared at him in surprise.

"Who're you?" he wondered. Zoë grinned.

"Mr. President, this is Mike, head of the Techs. He's the one who built the generators and organised the sprinklers, not to mention the intercom, the sunlamps, the breakers..."

"And you're from Ground Level?" the man interrupted. Mike gave a single nod, and the President laughed.

"Well, I'm appointing you head of Ground Level reclamation! It's your job to see to it that everyone down here has a decent standard of living, understood?"

Mike nodded wordlessly, and still chuckling the President strode off to start issuing official declarations. He turned to Zoë, and suddenly grinned.

"Come on!" he laughed, and grabbed her hand. The two of them started to run, charging up to Ground Level, filled with excitement and joy at what had just happened, eager to announce the good news to the world.

We've done it! Zoë realised elatedly. We've really done it!

Jerei sat still as a statue, concealed by an overgrown bush and a tree. Down here, she could see light playing on the ground, split and shaded by the leaves all around to dance in its own patterns and twirls. The skyscrapers loomed high above, difficult to see at first amongst the riot of growth that had claimed them for its own.

It was warm. The sunlamps generated heat, and the moisture in the air held it, making the place comfortable and airy. Jerei hugged her knees close in excitement as she stared outwards. She was largely clean, but smudges of soil and green sap-stains marred her pale skin. She was thin and small, but well-fed, her cheeks glowing slightly pink with health. She wore a carefully-made blue tunic, a Blue Hawk symbol sewn onto a brown patch on her shoulder.

Her large ears picked up a faint sound, and she ducked lower behind the bush. Nearby, a waste chute clanged as a single can rolled down onto the pile below. Footsteps were hard to hear on the moss, but Jerei's sharp ears had given warning, and so she was well hidden when Zoë appeared in the street. Jerei shadowed her as she went, ending up pressed against the side of the waste chute that the great rubbish pile before her had come from.

Zoë paused for a moment, twirled and smiled blissfully, then turned and began to make her way onwards into the light.

And then Jerei saw it.

Green plants crept up the walls around her, hung down from the shattered walkways overhead. Flowers grew from the soil; there was the hum of insects, and Jerei could make out animals in the undergrowth. Bright lights overhead illuminated the paradise, and in the centre the woman could make out Zoë.

She was an average person, to look at. Young, and moderate in appearance, but not a great beauty. What was special about her was the way she glowed, the love and warmth that seemed to pour out of her and into the plants all around. Zoë turned and smiled, and the warmth seemed to fill Jerei. For a moment, it was as if Zoë was smiling at her; and then another person came into view. Mike stepped forwards and waved, and then he and Zoë were both running, coming together into each other's arms to share their first kiss, full of love and happiness and hope for the future.

A smile crept over Jerei's face, and she slowly backed away, giving the two some privacy. She slipped out of the street still looking over her shoulder, and as a consequence walked straight into Bain.

"If you're looking for Zoë, she's busy," the pale woman told him. He shook his head.

"I was looking for you, actually," he said shyly, his face lowering to hers, and then it was Jerei's turn to share a kiss, all thoughts of visions and futures and possibilities swept from her mind in a single, electric moment.

Sometimes, when they're important enough, things have a way of occurring on their own.