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A Curious Kind of Tree
There was once a curious kind of tree.
The quem tree grew in the forest alongside many other trees. In comparison to these, it was rather small.
There was one significant difference in the quem tree, however, and that was the fruit it bore - if one were to call it "fruit."
The tree would grow small pods that would eventually open up to release a small flying insect. (A quem, obviously.)
These pods could be either red or blue, and so could the quems born from them.
One would suppose that after birth, most quems would soon notice the tall trees that surrounded them, dwarfing the quem tree.
Indeed, this would help to explain the society the quems developed, in which the survival and growth of their tree was paramount.
But not all quems felt that everything was so clear-cut in life.
This quem's first few minutes outside the pod were very disorienting.
Of course, when a pod opened up, it was always disorienting for the newborn to some degree. But there were - theoretically - measures in place.
Other quems would built nests under pods that were soon to open, giving the young quem a place to get their bearings before going to meet the others.
Yet for whatever reason, be it the pod growing too fast or it simply being overlooked, this newborn was given nowhere to land.
The quem didn't know any of that. Only that everything was spinning really fast and that probably wasn't good.
Eventually (not too
close to hitting the ground), zz figured out how to use zzr wings and took refuge on a leaf.
High above, zz could see a sea of red and blue pods hanging from a tree. (The quem tree, obviously.)
Amazed by the sight, zz supposed zz might have come from one of them. But naturally, zz had no idea which.
Well, it probably didn't matter.
Suddenly, a group of red quems buzzed by zzr.
Noticing how they sounded just like the buzz of zzr own wings, the newborn decided to follow.
Zz watched the red quems at work for some time before deciding to speak up.
"What're you doing?"
One red quem turned around. "Redding." Zz turned back to the tree.
The newborn lacked any particular knowledge with which to make this reply meaningful, but felt enlightened nonetheless and continued to watch reverently.
Zz felt rather proud of zzrself for figuring out how to fly, but it truly amazed zzr to see others of zzr kind at work in this process of "redding."
But if zz could learn to fly without any help, zz could surely pick this up just as well.
Zz stepped up beside the others and began to red. A nearby quem was taken aback.
"What're you doing?!"
"Don't do that!"
"Oh. Am I supposed to do it like this?"
"No! Look, here's how it's supposed to work..."
The quem began demonstrating how to red to the newborn.
"See, that's what I do. But you, well, you're -"
"Okay! Got it!"
The newborn went back to redding with renewed vigor and improved... redness.
The other quem was silent. Zz looked toward zzr fellow reds, and they responded with dismissive glances. "Your problem."
Seeing that the newborn was in fact quickly improving, zz got back to work, though with not a small amount of worry.
"What's this blue doing here?"
While the newborn had managed to fit in briefly, zz soon began to draw attention.
"Zz's Twig. It's, uh... it's fine. Red as you were redding."
The reds had decided to name zzr Twig. This was a standard practice, given that quems had no parents to speak of.
But this was not an entirely standard case, as indeed, Twig appeared to be a blue.
Not that zz would know that.
"Explain to me how this is "fine." How can you let a blue come over and just start... redding!"
Twig had been absorbed in learning how to red, but the arguing over zzr soon became too much to ignore, confusing as it was.
"Well, I'm a red, and I happen to think zz's pretty good at it."
"You think that's reason enough? Think of what could happen!"
"Like what? You think zz could bring down the tree? Or no, you're just worried zz'll be a better red than -"
"That's enough of that!" A large red quem brought everyone to silence.
"I believe you've had your fun. Run along, little blue."
Twig looked around nervously. "E-Excuse me, um..."
"The name is Root. Not that you need to know it, I'd hope." Root intensified zzr gaze. "Now go."
"Because you're a blue!"
Twig scanned the crowd of red quems, and things vaguely began to come together in zzr mind. But zz still had a pressing question.
"Why does that matter?"
Root, and many of the other reds, were taken aback at first.
But they slowly came to realize from Twig's question just how young zz was, and Root was glad to educate zzr.
"We quems are born from the pods of the quem tree. The pods come red or blue, and the color of the quem matches the pod."
"Always. It's not easy to get a good look at your own color, but you do remember your pod, don't you?"
"Not... really. I kinda just fell out and couldn't find it again," Twig mumbled. "Didn't think it was all that imp -"
would explain it." Root nodded to zzrself, wondering how zz never considered that.
"Well, now you know it was no doubt blue." (No doubt for Root, at least.)
"So, um... I can't red because...?"
"The tree is the nurturer of all quems. It is our job in turn to tend to the tree so it may grow.
And the parts we play are inherent in our biology: red quems red, and blue quems blue."
"Redding and... bluing helps the tree?"
"It's certainly never done it any harm."
"But a blue redding... or a red bluing..."
"Perish the thought, little Twig."
Twig was left hopelessly confused. And it seemed zz had little other choice but to do as Root said.
Zz was much older, and all the reds respected zzr, so Root must have known what zz was talking about. And Twig didn't.
But that didn't keep Twig from thinking about the reds as zz went in search of blues.
The blue quems found Twig before long, and quickly got zzr into the blue workflow.
But as Twig blued, there were many more things on zzr mind than the average quem had... ever, really.
Zz needed someone to talk them out with.
"Hey there. You new?"
Twig was startled before remembering zz was among blues now. "Y-Yeah, I guess."
"You're not bad. I'm Bough."
"Th-Thanks?" Twig awkwardly got back to bluing.
"...Is there something wrong? Hey, do you have a name yet?"
"Oh, uh... Twig."
"Hahaha! ...Uh, sorry." Bough was met with a cold glare.
"What's so funny about my name?"
"It's just that... you know, boughs are these big branches on a tree, but twigs are the little dinky ones? I thought it was, uh..."
"Well, the twigs must be good for something too, or else they wouldn't be there."
Bough paused. Zz was starting to feel increasingly foolish. "Sorry. It's just not a common name, so... where did you...?"
"Some other... some red quems came up with it, and I liked it."
"Reds? Hah, that explains everything."
"Can't say I think much of the reds, to be honest. A name like Twig seems right up their alley."
thought they were pretty nice. I mean, until they made me leave, I guess..."
"Wait, don't tell me... you were... trying to red with them?"
Twig was silent. Both of them had become completely distracted from bluing.
"Look, I know you're young and impressionable and all, but if that's what you're stuck on - and I can tell there's something - then forget about it.
I guess I could see how the reds might've seemed nice, but that doesn't mean you "belong" there or something. You're a blue. Just blue here with us."
I a blue?"
"Oh, for crying out loud..."
"I never saw my pod, okay? Maybe it was red. Hasn't anyone ever come out red from a blue pod? Maybe I just look
blue. Or maybe it shouldn't make any difference at all!"
Twig was again attracting attention. Bough was nervous, yet at the same time unshaken.
"W... Whatever. You can theorize all you like. But you look blue to me and to everyone else, so you'd better blue if you want to fit in."
And for a while, that was that.
As one might expect, however, Twig was not one for bluing.
Twig would tell Bough this again and again, and Bough would call zzr crazy every time. After all, zz
enjoyed bluing more than anything else.
Not that there was much else in Bough's life.
One day, Twig was particularly tired of bluing and opted to lounge about instead.
As usual, Bough volunteered to be the one to talk some sense into zzr.
"I never want to blue another day in my life."
"See, now that's ridiculous. If you just gave up bluing, you know who'd have you? Nobody. Nobody, Twig!"
Twig looked up into the sky, largely ignoring Bough.
"Why do you care what happens to me, anyway?"
"W-Well..." Bough thought. "You've made things... interesting around here, I'll give you that one."
"Interesting? Could it be because I don't want to just blue all day? Fancy that."
Bough was getting flustered. "Bluing is a very important job that blues need to take seriously, and you know that!"
"I've been told
that. Also, not a blue."
Not only had Twig been getting fed up with bluing, zz was getting more and more insistent that zz was a red despite appearances.
Bough had gotten used to it, but as zz saw it, that declaration would never actually amount to anything other than annoyance.
"Could anything I do possibly convince you to blue?", Bough asked, exasperated.
"You could get down here with me. But no guarantees."
Bough shrugged (?) and dropped down next to Twig.
"Have you ever really looked at these other trees?"
"Oh, yeah. Sure." Bough wasn't really looking; zz just wanted to get back to bluing. Hopefully with Twig too, of course.
"I can tell you're not looking, because I know you'd be surprised. They're just so... colorful.
Sure, there's some red and blue, but there are way more colors I don't think we even have names for."
"Hm?" Bough took a look, but was unimpressed. "Just looks like different shades of red and blue to me."
"Seriously? Your eyes are messed up."
eyes? More like yours!"
"Hmph. Well, I was going to wonder aloud why we're only red and blue when everyone else is so colorful, but I guess you ruined that for me."
"No need to wonder that nonsense. When it comes to anything about the way we are, it's always the will of the tree."
"Says Stump, and I don't know what to tell you if you don't think zz's wise. Zz's taught tons of us blues.
I bet it'd be the same with the reds and that Root quem you go on about."
"And I guess you'd say it's the will of the tree that we were born the colors we were, too?"
"The will of something that's never ever talked seems a pretty flimsy justification."
Bough sighed deeply.
Zz was finding it very unlikely zz'd be getting Twig to blue today.
Bough had realized some time ago that what was happening before zzr now would be an inevitability.
As such, zz had an idea formulating. A last ditch idea to resolve Twig's troubles, roughly as crazy as Twig zzrself.
Ugh. Why did zz care about Twig so much? Bough sighed again.
"...You're such a silly red."
"Really? You're really gonna?"
we can find a way. Then yes, I'll paint you red."
Maybe Twig shouldn't have felt quite as excited as zz did. For one, zz only knew that zz was... rather, that zz looked blue because of what others had said.
But Twig knew this would change things for the better. Zz would finally be able to red with the reds again, which zz so much preferred to bluing.
On top of this excitement, zz was glad simply to have won over stubborn Bough. Zz absentmindedly wondered who else had managed to do that.
"Hey. This red look good?" Bough indicated a fruit shortly after their trek deep into the forest began.
"Bough, that's not red! It's... well, I don't know what to call it, and I do think it's a pretty color, but it's not red."
"Don't be so picky, screwy-eyes."
"I'm not! Nobody's going to say I'm a red if I'm colored like that, unless they're as colorblind as... you...
...Well, I still think we can find something a bit closer to the right color."
"I'm still convinced this color confusion is more of a language problem than anything."
"Yeah... I guess there is that."
Eventually, the two found a color that Twig considered to be a pretty good quem-red, if not exactly - "Look, it's red, let's just do this."
After some experimentation, they were at last able to paint Twig red. Bough was considerably more awe-struck than Twig.
"...Y-You look... different."
"That's what I was hoping to hear. I don't really feel different, though."
Having not thought about much beyond this point, Bough just sat with Twig in silence for a while.
Zz really did look... natural as a red. Bough felt more ashamed than ever about all the things zz'd said to Twig and now regretted.
Luckily for zzr, Twig was very forgiving, and very thankful for what Bough had done for zzr.
Twig broke the silence. "So, do you want to be red too, Bough?"
"Huh?! U-Um, no, no... I mean, why would you think that? You know I love to blue."
"Well, yeah, but... if I "interest" you so much that you'd do this, I thought you might want to, you know, stay with me."
As was mentioned, Bough hadn't thought too far ahead.
Of course Twig wouldn't stay with the blues anymore if zz became a red. How could zz forget that?
No, Bough didn't regret helping Twig, but that sudden realization hit zzr hard.
"...I... don't think I could. I mean... I don't think I could just leave the blues."
Twig appearing to be equally disappointed didn't help matters. "Aww... That's kind of a shame."
"Well, um... Still, this doesn't have to be the end, right? We could find some time to talk... maybe."
Twig laughed, and leapt up to be on zzr way.
"Sure, let's hope. You're definitely up to "interesting" for me, too."
And with that, zz was gone.
To no one's surprise, Twig greatly enjoyed being a red. It was truly liberating after what seemed like an eternity of bluing.
Twig was startled, however, when a red one day pointed out that zz had a spot of blue on zzr.
Fortunately, zz assumed the opposite - that Twig had accidentally been splashed with blue - and thought nothing of it.
But this was a worrying development, and Twig was sure it meant that zz would need to continually re-dye.
As zz searched the forest, zz started to become paranoid of every little thing that could lead to disaster.
What if the red isn't close enough to the actual color? How will I know if I painted myself right without Bough to check?
Wait, wasn't I supposed to be meeting with Bough regularly or something? Oops.
Before long, however, Twig spotted Bough in the forest as well.
Zz was ready to deposit zzr worries on Bough, but soon realized Bough had more important things to discuss.
"Uh, hey. Redding going well?"
"Yeah, it's great. And, er... you?"
"Well... Not so great, as you might have guessed."
Twig nodded, anxious to hear what was next.
"I know it took way too long for me to come around to the whole you being a red thing, which I can't apologize enough for.
I realize now how dumb it is for reds to be stuck with redding and blues with bluing. I mean, what if one day they told me I couldn't blue?
But... after you left, it got all too apparent that keeping reds and blues apart was just as ridiculous."
"You've been trying to get reds and blues to come together?"
"Trying... is the key word, yes. But nobody will listen. I swear, they're even more stubborn than me.
It doesn't help that they found out about what I did for you, so they're mocking me for being so "attached."
They act like that's my whole reason and just dismiss me. But it's more than that. Even if you had a part in making me realize it, I just don't think it's right, period."
"Huh... But if no one's listening, then what are you going to do?"
"Well, um..." Bough was having trouble thinking about how to say it. "I realized... there was one thing I could do. Something that... no red or blue has ever done."
"F-Forget about it. I'll tell you later. For now..."
Bough took a deep breath. "Let's go back to the tree."
On the way back, Twig wondered exactly what Bough was thinking.
Were they just going to go their separate ways again? Or would they work together to talk things over with the other quems?
These musings were quickly discarded when they found the tree toppled to the ground.
The ground was littered with quem pods, which some were frantically trying to salvage.
All those who weren't doing that, however, were in fierce arguments with each other, especially reds with blues.
Despite Twig and Bough being as bewildered as everyone else, Bough in particular was immediately considered suspicious as soon as they showed up.
Bough tried to argue that zz hadn't been anywhere near the tree, and that no single quem could cut it down, but this only prompted the suggestion that Twig helped zzr do it.
"It doesn't matter who or what did it!", Twig shouted. As usual, zzr exclamations attracted attention.
"Maybe somebody did try to cut the tree down, or maybe it just sort of happened on its own. The point is, it happened!
Without the tree, it's going to be a lot harder for us to get by, yeah. Which is why we shouldn't be arguing like this!"
The quarreling slowly started to settle down. Twig became momentarily shy about the attention zz was commanding, but continued.
"Since we don't have our tree anymore, redding and bluing might not do us a whole lot of good from here on out.
But there's a lot more to life than that! If we learn to work with each other, and find out what we can do besides just red or blue, then I know we can survive!"
"Our tree isn't all there is, and I've seen it. And I'm sure there's a ton more out there that even I haven't seen.
Other animals don't always have trees like we do. So they find their own trees. Or make
their own trees! And that's how they survive!"
"And, umm..." Twig paused. "That's it, I guess."
Stump spoke. "The red has a point."
Root spoke. "The red does have a point."
"Whew," Twig gasped.
"So where did that
come from?", Bough asked.
"I dunno. It just sorta came out."
The reds and blues - rather, the quems were working to gather everything they could from the fallen tree before they set out in search of a way to survive.
Meanwhile, Twig and Bough were taking this opportunity to make up for lost time.
"I kinda just hope I'm right. Other animals can manage, sure, but it might be really hard for us."
"It's exciting too, though. Like, maybe redding will turn out to be super useful somewhere. You might even be convinced to try it, Bough!
...But, uh, like I said, there's lots more than just redding and bluing. And who even knows what it'll be!"
Bough had nothing to say. Zz just seemed relieved that the quems weren't going to kill each other.
"In a way... It really worked out with what you were trying to do, Bough. The reds and blues kinda have
to get together now."
"U-Uh, heh, yeah... If you say so, Twig."
Twig smiled. But zzr expression changed as something dawned on zzr.
"W-Wait... Bough... Did you..."
Bough didn't respond.
Taking zzr silence as affirmation, Twig leapt at Bough and hugged (?) zzr tight.
"...What's gotten into Twig?", Root asked.
"J-Just being crazy as usual! Ack! Get off of me!"
Ultimately, Bough never told any of the quems what zz did. Presumably, zz never thought the time was right.
Many times zz felt that zz may have made a huge mistake. Zz was particularly troubled by the thought that Twig would have been happier just redding.
It usually didn't take Twig long to convince Bough otherwise.
The quems spread far and wide, having all kinds of adventures of their own.
But they all eventually expired, as any creature would.
However, the so-called "fruit" borne by the quem tree was indeed fruit.
For where the quems fell, the seeds were sown for new trees.
These curious trees grow strong and tall, and they bloom very colorfully.