The Tree of Red
A/N: Alex’s powers and new knowledge will make more sense if you go read the first story in this series: “The League of Extraordinary Women”. The disclaimer, spoilers, and other information are in chapter 1. That includes the disclaimer for Willow Rosenberg.
Alex woke up the next morning. She already had the SUV packed. Not that there was a lot of packing to do. She had just snuck her gymbag into the spare tire compartment, and got the small cooler ready, and loaded a small plastic bag. The small cooler got ice and cans of diet Coke and bottles of coconut water. The bag got some granola bars and energy bars and dried fruit to snack on when she got hungry on the drive.
It wasn’t like she had to haul all of Annie’s books and research materials out of the car. That would have taken like an hour. As she knew, because they had to do that kind of junk back at the beginning of fall when they were packing Annie up to send her off to another year of college, and Annie had research stuff in the car, and in the bedroom, and in the den, and in the garage, and in the home office, and at one of the labs at the plant, and just everywhere.
So she only had to get up and shower and do her hair and dress not too ratty. Khakis and a buttondown blouse, so she looked sort of preppy but not overdressed. Her mom pretty much did the same thing, even if her mom usually dressed like that. Even if her mom was more liking the polyester and she was more liking the cotton.
They left early enough to handle ordinary traffic problems, which weren’t really all that likely on a Saturday morning, even on I-5 and 101. But her mom had a couple roadmaps, and some MapQuest directions, so if there was a problem on the interstate, they could sneak off and take state roads up to Red Tree Software.
As it was, they got to Santa Clara plenty early, and they even stopped and got a little to eat at a diner that looked good. Their donuts weren’t nearly as good as Gloria’s, but Alex didn’t expect they would be. That would be like a miracle. Their omelets were awfully tasty, though.
Alex gave directions as her mom drove to Red Tree Software, which was really just a little three-story office building in a small office complex. It wasn’t a giant company, like a lot of the famous Silicon Valley companies.
“Oh God,” her mother whispered as they pulled into the right part of the parking area.
Alex looked up from her maps and gulped. There, outside a side door, was a pile of thirty or forty boxes. Sitting on one of the boxes and crying miserably was a forlorn redheaded figure Alex recognized instantly.
“Mom, drive right over there. All the way over.”
“I can’t, the parking lot stops way before where she is.”
“I know,” Alex insisted. “Go drive on the grass.”
Her mom said, “Let’s see if we need to first. All right, honey?”
Alex gritted her teeth, but agreed. They parked, and Alex hurried over to where a petite redhead was weeping miserably.
The redhead looked up with swollen, reddened eyes. “Do I know you?”
Alex said, “I’m your eleven o’clock. Alex Mack? Your secretary told us to come anyway, even after we heard about what your board of directors did.”
Willow sniffled, “S-sorry about that. They didn’t tell Mindi anything either. She’s been with me for years… ever since I started the company, even when it was just me and her and Jerry, and… And they just fired her for no reason! And I came in this morning, and they had all my books boxed up, and they took my keys and my badge and my sensor, and they told me I can’t even come back in the building anymore!”
Alex said, “Umm, how about we help you get all this in your car and help you get it to your apartment?”
Willow whimpered, “I rode my bike in, like I usually do if it’s not wet out. How am I supposed to get thirty heavy boxes of books and journals home?”
Alex’s mom said to Willow, “Come on honey, why don’t you sit in our car and have some water to drink, and you’ll feel better.” She turned to Alex and said, “Your bike carrier’s in the back. Hang it on the back, load up the back with as many boxes as you can, and then we’ll put Willow’s bike on the back of the car.”
“Good idea, mom.” Alex gave her mom a big smile and then helped Willow go sit in the shotgun seat of the car. She knew the other Willow wasn’t big on things like diet Coke, so she got out a coconut water for her. And some of the dried apricots, which were way better than she thought they would be. She patted Willow on the knee and said, “I’ll just load up your boxes for you. Okay?”
“W-why are you being so nice to me?”
Alex said, “Because you’re a good person. And this is totally not fair. And you talk about things like ‘paying it forward’.”
Willow said, “I usually say ‘serial reciprocity’. But how would you know that?”
Alex smiled gently, “A lot of important stuff you’ve said has made it to the internet. And a lot of people say your software is awesome.” Those things were true, but they weren’t really the reason she was there meeting Willow.
Willow burst into tears again. “But it’s all gone! All my software is owned by the company, and now I’ve lost it forever, and all my users will hate me!”
Alex held Willow’s hands and said, “They won’t. They’ll be really mad at the company, and Larry Ellison, and your board of directors, for stealing everything from you. But they’ll all know it’s not your fault.”
Alex’s mom handed Willow some kleenex, and Willow blew her nose loudly. Five or six times. It was kind of gross, but Alex figured Willow had been crying and making snot for maybe an hour, and it all needed to come out sometime.
While her mom sat with Willow, Alex loaded up the SUV. The back had room for maybe ten or twenty of the boxes, which were all packing boxes the size of one of those boxes that held like ten packages of paper. She pulled the emergency kit and the bike carrier and the tarp for the cartop carrier and put them all on the ground. Then she walked over to the boxes. She picked two that were stacked one on top of the other, and used her telekinesis to take most of the weight while she ‘picked up’ the boxes and carried them over to the SUV. Then she fit them into the trunk area. She looked and figured maybe she could get five boxes side by side across the bottom if she worked it right. At least four, though.
It turned out she could only get four boxes across. But she could get them four boxes high and still leave room for her mom to look out the rearview mirror. Then she started filling up the back seat, starting with the floor. She got another eighteen boxes across the back seat and turned sideways on the floor in front of the back seat and stacked on top of those boxes. Plus three more boxes stacked up in the spot to the side of the back seat, and she was done. She hooked the bike carrier on the back of the van, loaded Willow’s bike on it, and strapped it down tightly. Then she shoved the emergency kit and the tarp beside the middle seats.
“Okay, I got everything loaded,” she reported.
“What? How?” Willow just turned and stared at the stacks of boxes. “Those are heavy!”
Alex smiled, “I’m stronger than I look. And there’s only thirty-seven boxes.”
Her mom asked, “Willow? When was the last time you ate?”
“Umm…” It was a bad sign that Willow had to stop and think about it. “Maybe Thursday night?”
Her mom said, “How about you tell me where to go to get some really good takeout, and we go to your house, and we unload your boxes?”
Willow timidly asked, “Can we go get Chinese?”
“Sure. You just call ahead and order, and we’ll go pick it up. And order extra for Alex. She’s a teenager, and she’s got a hollow leg right now.”
“Mom!” she complained, just because it seemed like she needed to. “And I like sweet and sour pork. And orange chicken. And kung pao shrimp or firecracker shrimp. And pan-fried tofu with mixed veggies, especially if there’s lots of broccoli in it. And the beef thing with the tangy brown sauce and the bamboo shoots? And… oh never mind.”
Willow giggled, for what Alex worried was maybe the first time in days. Then she said, “I can order extra. It won’t hurt to have something in my fridge.”
Alex asked, “Then can I have some egg rolls too?” She was pretty sure her mom rolled her eyes.
Willow pulled out a phone and placed the order, while directing the car to the restaurant. It was a little place, what her dad called a ‘hole in the wall’. And Alex could see there were a bunch of Asian people eating in there, so it had to be pretty authentic. Alex stayed in the SUV while her mom and Willow went in, and about ten minutes later they walked out with two huge plastic bags, and both of them were full of to-go cartons. That kind of made Alex wonder if she overdid it with the begging.
They drove back to Willow’s house, which was only a couple miles from the company. Alex figured that was on purpose. She wondered if that would be a problem now that the company wasn’t Willow’s anymore.
Alex was expecting one of these huge mansions, like the big computer millionaires and billionaires all had. She was pretty surprised to end up on a suburban street not unlike her own, pulling into a driveway before a one-story ranch-style house maybe a little smaller than hers. The house had a nice yard with bark mulch and pretty bushes instead of grass. And it had a roof covered in what she was pretty sure were solar panels, with three of the really high-tech small satellite dishes mounted on the peak of the roof. It looked like Willow cared more about the environment and being connected to the rest of the world than having a big, fancy house. Maybe Alex should have guessed, because Willow was riding an ordinary 24-speed bike to work instead of driving a super-expensive sports car.
Willow clicked her keychain, and the garage door opened. It was a two-car garage, with one side holding a small electric car and the other side empty. Alex’s mom backed into the empty side of the garage and parked, so Willow could close the garage door after her.
Alex said, “I can unload all the boxes, if you just show me where you want them.”
Willow said, “Umm, that seems like a lot of work, and we can help you, because it’s not like I don’t have arms, and…”
Alex’s mom put a hand on Willow’s shoulder and said, “This is something you should just sit back and watch.”
Alex said, “Just tell me where you want the boxes.”
“My dining room. I never have dinner parties. So it’s my workroom.” Willow walked through the garage door into the kitchen, and on toward the ‘dining’ room, without looking behind her to see if her guests were following her. Alex lifted as many boxes as she could with her telekinesis and walked after Willow through the kitchen and into the ‘dining’ room.
It was unlike any room Alex had ever seen. Not even the computer lab at school was like this. The window wall and the two shorter walls were all computer desks. Each desk had between two and eight computer boxes mounted on frames above the desk, with a fancy electronic switchbox and a monitor and a keyboard sitting on the desk. And off to the right was a huge computer that just the box part was the size of a computer desk all by itself. That computer even had its own little air conditioning unit on top of it!
Alex stopped with the boxes still floating around her and said, “There must be like a hundred computers in here!”
Willow looked behind her and gaped. “What… what are you doing
? How is that possible? Is that telekinesis? Magic? Invisible equipment? Invisible helpers? What?”
Alex said, “It’s telekinesis. Have you seen the news this week about the superheroine in Paradise Valley? She could use your help. And I’m here to ask you.”
Willow asked, “And what does your so-called ‘mother’ do? The lightning blasts in the film footage?”
Alex said, “My mom just helps me out. I do the lightning blasts too. And the shapeshifting. And flight.”
Willow said, “Well, the flight would be simple if you just used the telekinesis on your own body.”
Alex’s mom called out from the kitchen, “Come and get it!”
Alex walked into the kitchen with a really stressed-out Willow. Alex said, “See? I told you she was smart. Even with Annie and you and dad helping, it was over four years before I figured out the flying around trick.”
Willow stopped and stared. “You’re telling me you’re
Terawatt? You don’t look anything like her!”
Alex said, “That’s the whole idea.”
Her mom said, “Padded bra and a wig.”
Alex said, “And makeup I never use normally, and I’m dyeing my hair darker to distance me from Terawatt. Oh yeah, and I wear five-inch heels so Terawatt looks like she’s maybe six feet tall.”
Willow stared for a second. “Umm, don‘t take this the wrong way, but extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence to back them up.”
Alex grinned, “See mom, I told you she was brilliant!”
Willow said, “And that’s another thing! Why do you act like you know me?”
Alex said, “It’s all a big thing. Let’s eat lunch, and I’ll tell you the whole story. You see, there was this prophecy that I didn’t know about, and…”
“…so when I came back, I used all the great advice I got from all of them, including you, well the other you, to come up with a uniform and a codename and protections against being identified. And that’s why we came to see you.” Alex drank some more water and looked at the clock. Wow, she’d been blabbing like crazy for nearly an hour.
Willow blinked a couple times. “And this other Willow is important because she’s a witch, so why are you coming to talk to me?”
Alex said, “The other Willow is important because she’s like the smartest person in her whole universe. Like you. Willow taught herself a ton of dead languages. I’m guessing you have a bunch of languages you read.”
Willow blushed a little. “Well, I learned Hebrew when I was a kid in Sunday school, but I taught myself Yiddish, because my grandfather gave me some Sholom Aleichem books in the original language. And I took French in school, but I taught myself Latin and ancient Greek for Dungeons and Dragons, and some other role-playing games. And I taught myself Klingon and Sindarin and Quenya.”
“What are those?” asked her mom.
Alex said, “Klingon is from Star Trek. The others…” She wasn’t sure.
Willow blushed a little and admitted, “Lord of the Rings. The elf languages.” She said, “And I sort of taught myself a lot of German and Finnish to be better with the Elvish languages from Tolkien. And then Esperanto, because some friends in other countries knew it.”
Alex grinned at her mom, “See? And I bet she knows a hundred programming languages too.”
Willow shrugged, “Umm, maybe… seventy? I really only use about ten or twelve regularly. Mostly C and Perl and Ruby and Python and Eiffel and Java and C Sharp and C++. I don’t really like C++, because the object oriented part is just so slapped onto the side of the base language that you end up having to violate basic tenets of OOP to program efficiently in it, which is a bad thing. But it’s really popular.”
“Oop?” her mom asked.
But even Alex knew that one. “OOP. Object Oriented Programming.”
Willow said, “Okay. You told me a pretty incredible story. But maybe you need to show me some more proof?”
Alex nodded. “Let’s start with stuff you – I mean, the other you – told me. Buffy Summers-”
Willow interrupted, “Okay, you said Buffy, but you mean my best friend in the world is Buffy Summers
? The bleached blonde with the silicone boobies who’s on sleazy tv all the time and is trying to get her own reality show? That
Buffy Summers? There’s no way I’d be friends with her.”
Alex said, “Yeah, but in the other world, that Buffy Summers had just been through a year of total hell, and wasn’t interested in playing that game anymore. In less than twelve months, she turned into the Vampire Slayer, had to fight vampires to the death, saw her Watcher get murdered right before her eyes, had to fight a master vampire and all his minions to the death, lost all her friends and her social status, told her folks the truth and got slammed into an insane asylum for it, finally got out, got kicked out of school so bad she had to leave L.A., her folks divorced and her dad left, her mom moved her to a Hellmouth, and she got plunged right into a world of vampires and demons and monsters again. By the time she met you, she was starting school a couple months late, and just wanting to have someone help her catch up so she wouldn’t flunk every test. And then she saw Cordelia-”
“Cordelia Chase?” Willow choked. “There was a Cordelia Chase in that world too? Is this some kind of curse on me?”
Alex said, “Not only was Cordelia bitchy to you in that world, but you were the president of the We Hate Cordelia Club, with Xander and Jesse.”
Willow’s face lit up for a brief moment. “Xander. And Jesse. I still miss them.”
Alex said, “In the other world, Jesse died horribly and got turned into a vampire. And Xander is still your very best friend. I tried to find Alexander Harris with a computer, but no luck.”
The light went out of Willow’s eyes. “You won’t. Were Xander’s parents drunks in the other world?” Alex nodded. “When Xander was nine, his dad knocked him down the stairs. Xander died in the hospital two days later. Jesse and I testified in court, along with a bunch of other people. Jesse’s mom and dad moved him out of town as soon as all the trials were over. So then it was just me.”
Alex asked, “Did you break your crayon in kindergarten or first grade and get all worried about it, and Xander came over and gave you his? He talked about giving you the ‘yellow crayon speech’ to calm you down from something bad when you took in too much black magic.”
Willow stared in utter shock. “How… How could you possibly
know about that? I’ve never told that story to anyone! And… and it was a green crayon. I was trying to color in all the grass.”
Alex said, “You and your friends told me. I mean, the other you.”
Willow said, “But… It’s ridiculously unlikely that another me in another dimension that runs on different physical rules would be so similar that she’d meet Xander through the same ‘broken crayon’ issue.”
Alex said, “Yeah, that’s pretty much what you and Sam and Hermione all said. I mean, the other you. And it turns out that all our universes have exactly the same Star Wars, with the same made-up names for the characters. And everyone
hates Jar Jar Binks.” But she didn’t know how it could work out like that. She really wished she had her Willow and her Sam and her Hermione to talk to about it. She was willing to bet Sam already had a theory, back in her own dimension. It would probably have math that would make her eyes water, but it would explain stuff.
Alex watched as her mom put away all the leftovers in Willow’s plasticware, and cleaned up Willow’s fridge, which had a couple things that needed to be thrown out but Willow probably hadn’t been up to it for a few days.
Willow said to her mom, “Hold on. The cardboard to-go cartons get rinsed and put in recycling. And that leftover food’s all vegetarian, so it goes in my composter in the back yard.”
Alex interrupted that stuff by asking, “So if Xander and Jesse were gone, and Cordelia’s gang were all mean to you, did you have any friends?”
Willow sort of hunched over. “Umm, not really. I mean, I hung out with the other computer geeks and stuff. I still email Jonathan. He was my first boyfriend. And I email Dave and Mark and Fritz sometimes. They’ve all been sending me really nice emails saying what a jerk Ellison’s being to me.”
“Jonathan Levinson?” Alex checked. Because she knew about him from a story Buffy had told her.
“Wow, that other world really isn’t so different, is it?”
Alex asked, “Did your Cordelia end up broke because her dad cheated on his taxes for years?”
Willow laughed. “Cordy ended up broke in that world? Awesome. No, in this world, she and her family ran away to Brazil, and they can’t come back to America without getting arrested for tax evasion.”
Alex said, “In the other world, you and Buffy and Xander saved Cordelia from monsters enough that she ended up being your friend and helping you guys.”
is harder to believe than pretty much anything you’ve told me,” Willow insisted. She got up and showed Alex’s mom where the recycling went, and then took them into the back yard to put the food waste into her composter. The back door off the hallway led onto a pretty, partly-covered wooden deck area that led down two steps, past some gorgeously fragrant flowerbeds, into a fenced back yard a little smaller than Alex’s.
Most of the back yard was more bark mulch, with several small fruit trees around the edges of the yard. But there were four raised beds planted with vegetables and herbs. Off to the side of the garden beds, near a small wooden shed, was a black plastic barrel sitting sideways in a frame. Willow said, “This is my composter.” She turned the barrel-thing so a hatch was on top, dropped in the stuff, and gave the barrel a couple turns. She explained, “It’s a lot faster than ordinary composting methods, and it’s easier to get compost out. You just turn it so the hatch is on the bottom and you dump it. Every winter, I mix new compost into my beds before I start the next year’s planting. I think I finally got the right amount of zucchini planted this time. Every year, either I get just about nothing, or else I get so much I have to take it into the lunch room at work and leave it for people to take home.” Her face fell, and she whispered, “And I can’t do that anymore.”
Alex’s mom said, “I think that happens to everybody. I have a great recipe for cream of zucchini soup, and one for zucchini tomato casserole.”
Willow said, “Cool. I’ve got a couple really good classic Italian recipes for fixing zucchini, and one for chocolate zucchini cake.”
“Ick,” said Alex. “Oh, sorry.”
Willow said, “That’s pretty much what I said. But I had a slice of the cake before I knew what was in it, and it’s really good.”
Alex’s mom said, “We’d have to spring it on Alex’s dad before we told him what’s in it, or he’d never try it.”
They walked back into the house, and Willow showed them the rest of the house. Behind the garage was a room that had a washer and dryer, a huge freezer, a pantry area, and stuff like the water heater. And an Uninterruptible Power Supply for the whole house that was bigger than the biggest refrigerator-freezer Alex had ever seen. Willow said it was also a ginormous battery for the power from the solar panels, and she also had a separate UPS on every one of her computer sub-clusters and on all her major peripherals, like her satellite dishes and her network hubs.
Past the kitchen was the computer room on the back side of the house and a living room on the front side. The living room had the biggest tv screen Alex had ever seen, and bookshelves, and a cozy arrangement of two couches and a couple easy chairs. Then there was a hallway on the side away from the kitchen. There were two small bedrooms and a bathroom off the hallway, not counting the master bedroom suite at the end of the hall. The two spare bedrooms had been turned into a home office and a library of wall-to-wall books. The library room had a comfy couch in the middle of the room with a couple reading lights and end tables. The home office had a smaller bookcase full of business and management books, plus a desk and a file cabinet, along with the usual junk like a really nice combination color printer and photocopier and scanner and fax machine. And a really cool shredder that Willow said would even eat credit cards and envelopes full of stuff. The master bedroom had its own bathroom with a big shower and a huge tub that had a little bookshelf beside it, and the queen-sized bed had another bookshelf built into the headboard, along with a big bookshelf on one wall.
Alex’s mom asked, “Are you going to be able to keep the house now that you’ve been fired?”
Willow shrugged unhappily. “Oh sure. I paid cash for it. The house is easy. I have more money than I’m ever going to need. But what good does it do me? I mean, what am I going to do? All my software… All my plans… They’re all gone.”
Alex worried, “But they have to pay you for all your programs, right?”
Willow nodded. “Oh, sure. Patent rights, and royalties, and company stock, which is going through the roof with that jerk buying my venture capitalists out from under me and stealing the company. And they said there’s a golden parachute in the contract if they canned me. So I’ve got a ton of money. But my programs… They’re all gone! And they’re gonna take a bunch of my favorite software away from me and make ‘em all payware! What’ll happen to all the nice people who use my software?”
Alex’s mom gave Willow a hug and said, “Everyone will understand what happened.”
Willow frowned. “I was so stupid. I really trusted those guys. Bob and Cliff and Harry and them. My… the venture capitalists. I was so stupid. I really thought they were my friends. But they weren’t. They were just nice to me as long as they could get stuff out of me, just like the people I tutored in high school. All the programs are company property, which is what you have to do or else every programmer in your company can run off with whatever they write. I just didn’t think about them doing it to me
. I’ve got a programmer who updates all my classic freeware and shareware and checks on bug fixes if they’re ever needed. But that means my first programs – the stuff I wrote in college and high school and junior high – belong to Red Tree, not to me anymore.”
Alex’s mom said, “Willow, look, you’re very bright, but you’re not sneaky and underhanded. You need someone who thinks that way to help you out.” She turned her head and said, “Alex, call Louis.”
A/N: Larry Ellison and Oracle are real, in our universe anyway. Their names are used without permission.