Cheza stifled a teehee. “I told you follow me at all times, didn’t I? That means don’t take the lead, ever.” She helped me to my feet. I reached out and my fingers brushed against a hard, invisible barrier. “The thing they don’t show you on all those layouts and maps of this place is the poly fencing that surrounds it.” I shook my head clear. “Well, now you know.” She spread her fingers against the fence and pushed herself back while I brushed off.
“Is this what you wanted to show me then?” I asked.
“Of course not,” she said. “That is.” She pointed beyond the field to the city and stared.
“Don’t tell me you want to go there? Don’t tell me that’s what you’re asking me to do?”
“I am,” she said, then began to stalk the fence line.
“Why? I can’t enjoy it, and neither can you—we’re not high enough. You may have the most sense in school, but you’re not a full yet. You’ve got years left.” Cheza didn’t answer me though. She just kept walking the fence, searching. “Besides, how would we even get there?”
Cheza was still pacing until, “There you are tall, light, and handsome,” she finally said. I half expected her real boyfriend—some sense-maxed, wildly handsome rebel stud—to appear from out of the shadows. But instead she strolled over to one of the trees. It was white, like the aspens, but with a segmented trunk, like bamboo. She hugged it, wedged one of her feet against the bole, and shimmied up the thing. She used the deep crevices between its segments and its thick, outstretched branches as rungs before she stopped and settled herself so far up I could barely see her.
“I take it you’ve done this before?”
“I’ve done most everything, silly,” she said while she eased herself out onto one of the branches.
“What are you thinking?” I called up to her. “You’re going to fall out and die.”
“Don’t be so dramatic,” she said. “It’s called a lantillo tree, it’s all over South America. Daddy had a baby one shipped up here from Venezuela for my annibirthary, before the Quiroga coup, of course.” She gave a chuckle. “I told him it was an experiment for botany class.” With her legs wrapped around the branch, she crept out a little farther to the skinniest part. I didn’t want to look.
“It’s going to snap,” I told her, but she just kept on talking as if I’d said nothing at all.
“It’s renowned for its strength and its accelerated speed of growth. During the war when Quiroga wanted information from the government soldiers he’d captured, his men would sharpen the end of a lantillo and plant it just below the soil while his prisoners watched. Then they would tie the prisoners to the ground with stakes and leave them there. The prisoners knew that eventually the tree would pop up out of the ground and burrow its way into them. That’s all they’d think about for hours and hours as they lay there. It was a brilliant mindkuff. By the time they felt even the first prick of that tree on their skin they gave up the know on everything.” She was at the very edge of the branch now.
“That’s pretty cool. How did you hear about all this?”
“Tig, anything you want the know on is out there, you just have to look for it. Quiroga is a great man and they don’t teach us a thing about him at school.”
“I wonder why.”
“Wakey, wakey, Tig. Because he’s a revolutionary, that’s why. He saw injustice and wasn’t having any of it. Would you believe a simple farmer who didn’t like the way the government was treating its people could even do such a thing, when anyone who spoke up was either thrown in prison or executed? He realized he had to tear the whole damn thing down to fix it—it was his duty. That’s the way I feel, too.” She bounced on the end of it but the branch didn’t so much as sway under her weight. “You see? Plenty strong and I only planted this one a couple months ago. What are you waiting for? Get up here.”
“I’m no Quiroga,” I told her.
“Quiroga wasn’t even Quiroga,” she said, “until he needed to be. Now come on, start climbing.”
I took a deep breath and gripped a couple of the branches just above my head. Then I carefully wedged my foot into a deep cleft at the base of the tree and lifted myself higher, just as Cheza had done. Higher and higher I climbed—it was surprisingly easy—until I reached the branch Cheza was sitting on. When I crawled my way out to meet her she stood up, holding onto the branches above her. She offered me her hand and my knees wobbled as I lifted my body up to hers. The lantillo felt like a steel beam under my feet and, from my perch, I could look back across the canopy of aspens. The entire grove below me stood at practically a uniform height. It was a magnificent sight, even for my eyes.