The Phylogenetic Tree

"Gentlemen," began the Lord High Minister, "I apologise for calling you all here on such short notice, but we have an urgent situation on our hands."

The men in dark suits looked at each other, their faces blank, giving nothing away.

"Sud Woodchoppers have received a warrant to chop down the Eiffel Tower... and use its wood to build more houses."

The Lord of Home Affairs was confused. "Surely that is a good thing? We have an increasing population, Lord High Minister, as you know, and with the wood shortage... Any act to get more people off the streets... surely..."

By now the Lord of Arts was almost apoplectic with rage. "Cut- cut- cut down the Eiffel Tower?! Notre Tour Eiffel? Sacrilege! Heresy! They must be burned, say I! Burned!"

The Lord High Minister ignored him. Most people ignored the Lord of Arts. He was a petty little Frenchman, just like the stereotype, and nobody took a man from the colonies that seriously.

"So," purred the Lord Chancellor, "how does this concern us, exactly?"

The Lord High Minister drew his files together as the Lord of Arts sputtered away in the corner. "I have spoken to the Environment Czar, and he has an interesting issue to raise."

All eyes turned to the Environment Czar. He nervously shifted in his seat and pushed his glasses up his nose. "Er, right. Hehehem. It's like this. Er, yeah. The Eiffel Tower's kind of- er, important, like? So we sorta don't want to cut it... um... down." There was a pause as the Environment Czar gathered his thoughts and the other men in dark suits wondered whether that was all he had to say. "Like, it's a special kind of tree? Er, the Phylogenetic Tree. Um." He looked around, his watery eyes meeting blank faces all around. It wasn't entirely clear whether they were confused or just impassive. "So, the Phylogenetic Tree's the one all trees kinda come from, like the origin of all trees. And every tree's sort of based on it, you know? So... er... if something, er, happens to it, er, that affects all the trees?"

The men in dark suits did not move. Nor did their faces.

"I've got, like, a demonstration plant. It's sort of as near as we can get to the real thing." The Environment Czar indicated one of the two plants on the table with a slightly shaky finger. He was not used to being the centre of so much attention. "See, if I chop this one down, like this," he sliced neatly through the plant's stem and looked mildly surprised that it had been so easy, "the other plant, that one, will self-destruct in five seconds. You might want to-" The plant exploded all over the men's very clean, very neat dark suits. "-duck."

The Lord Chancellor took out a pristine handkerchief and wiped his face clean of the green mulch. "I see. Are you saying, young man," never had those words been spoken with more venom, "that, should the Eiffel Tower be cut down, all the trees in our great empire would, ahem, explode?"

The Environment Czar nodded eagerly, desperately wishing he could leave this room full of important men whom he had just covered in green slime. "All the trees everywhere, er, sir. Um."

"A minor woodcutter is putting our entire world at risk!" ejaculated the Lord of Arts. He was a man with a flair for the melodramatic.

"Surely," murmured the Lord Chancellor, taking out a comb and adjusting his arrow-straight parting, "this state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue, given our chronic wood shortage? Thank you," he nodded at the Environment Czar, "you may go." The door was shut almost before he finished the words.

The Lord High Minister was the first to speak. "As the Lord Chancellor says, we cannot allow this state of affairs to continue."

"Perhaps," interjected the Lord of Arts, "we can have it said that le Tour Eiffel is not a tree. I believe that would stop them, if the authorities say so."

Nobody quite dared to catch the Lord of Arts' eye.

"...Yes. ...Perhaps," replied the Lord High Minister, reluctant to agree.

"Perhaps... a delicate hand..." began the Lord Chancellor, catching the Lord of Home Affairs' uncomfortable eye. He did not like the Lord Chancellor: did not trust him. The man wanted the job of Lord High Minister for himself, everybody knew that. He had the Lord High Minister in his pocket as it was, and it was only a matter of time before some scandal caused their glorious leader to step down. Just so long as the scandal did not involve the Lord of Home Affairs.

"If we were to put the matter in the hands of Home Affairs, I have no doubt that it would be... managed appropriately."

The Lord High Minister nodded. The Lord of Home Affairs did not.

"Thank you gentlemen, I believe that is all."

The men in dark suits filed out. The Lord of Home Affairs did not. He knew what was expected of him. But did he have an assassin good enough to assassinate Hubert Sud?

It had to be said that the Lord Chancellor enjoyed a newspaper with his breakfast at the best of times, but today was a special newspaper. Its headlines alone were enough to make his day. Perhaps 'Authorities deny Eiffel Tower to be tree' lacked a certain finesse, but it was more than made up for by 'SUDden death'. "... cause unknown..." "suspected heart attack". The Lord of Home Affairs had done his job well. The Lord Chancellor nodded in satisfaction. So much for a minor woodcutter putting the world at risk!

He finished his coffee and left for work, leaving the newspaper lying open on his bed.

200 miles away in the Parc du Champ de Mars, a sole Sud Woodchopper started his chainsaw.