The Jungle Comes
Author's note: This story is essentially a companion piece to last week's story, "The Hungry." It's a bit shorter than most of mine thus far. Also, I'm now looking for an illustrator to do one ink sketch for each story on the website. I haven't got money, so if you're afflicted with a pen and a masochistic desire to work for free, contact me. Otherwise, enjoy the story.
I sprayed the rose seeds down with the #246 solution, then pushed the pots towards the back of the greenhouse, wincing at the smell like wet cardboard and cheese. Ben spun idly around in his chair. He had a test tube of the #247 mixture rolled between his fingers. He exhaled, rubbing his moustache.
"Dumped your ass, huh? My condolences, man, but you didn't see that one coming?"
"It's not like it was my fault. Nobody told me there was fucking coconut milk in the cake. It's a medical condition."
"My friend, you shit your pants at her birthday party. You'll find that nothing turns people off more than explosive diahrea. Particularly all over the carpet."
I sprayed the beans, and gave him the finger.
"Not to change the subject or anything, but have you checked the 239 mix?"
"Einstein said the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different
"Dude, just check the fucking plants."
I crossed the lab to an incubator, threw open the door, and said
"Ben, man, come look at this."
He kicked his rolling chair across the lab and peered judiciously at the small tray.
"Shit, dude- look at the little fuckers go! How long did you leave them in there?"
I looked pale.
"Just overnight. Look at that. Are those buds?"
He looked serious.
"Are you sure? You didn't leave some older specimens in there?"
"Um, yeah, I think so. Shit, man. You think we did it? I mean, that's ten days growth, easy. If we got this right..."
"I dunno. Um. We shouldn't tell anyone yet, right? We should do another trial. I mean, how much would it suck if we announce and it turns out you just fucked up? No offense, man, but it wouldn't be the first time."
"Thanks a lot, man. Really feeling the support."
"Yeah, no, you're right. We need to do another trial of this stuff. Shouldn't take long. We should videotape it, too."
"How about peas?"
"I'll get the stuff together."
Ben set up the cam-corder, and I sprayed the tray down. The smell was identical to all the other mixes. I pushed it under the growth lights, and sat back expectantly.
"Is it recording?"
"How the hell should I know?"
`"I think that little light means it is. Either that or its the battery."
"No, wait. Okay, yeah, its going."
"Okay. Wait, is it picking up audio?"
"Hell if I know. We can clean it up in post production if we have to."
I hushed up, and stared into the incubator through the glass door. We both stared at the dirt for a few minutes, and then I started laughing. Ben sheepishly joined in.
"Come on, dude. Let's go get something to eat. It's two already."
We walked two streets down to a burger joint. Ben ordered the usual, I sat back in a booth and stared out the window.
Ben sat down, shaking his head. He dropped a paper bag, covered in spreading grease stains onto the table. I tore it open, and he peered at the flabby slabs of meat and bread.
"It wont get any healthier if it's cold," I told him through a mouthful of food.
He shook his head, and stared at his gut.
"Fuck this for a lark."
He set the burger back down.
"We gorge, people starve, nothing's ever equal. Man, where's the sense in that?"
"It's life. Eat it."
He shook his head again.
"No, now I'm mad. Dude, who set this world up? I want to speak to the manager."
I finished my burger, picked up his, and examined it. Aside from some wilted lettuce, it looked more or less identical.
He stared out the window at the skyscrapers.
`"Sometimes I think all of this is just a frantic run in the wrong direction. We keep working, and things never really get better."
I nod, and take a bite of his burger.
He sighed, and changed the subject.
"Do you think we did it?"
He pulled the burger out of my hand and took a bite. I shrug.
"I know what you know."
"Ain't that the scary thing? But, really, think about it. If this works, it's not just bigger roses in suburbia. We could bring jungle to the Gobi. We could end starvation in Africa. If this works, we might end up being the biggest humanitarians in a thousand years."
I looked at him.
"I know, its a head trip, right? But, think about it. It's just retro-viruses and some buffer solution. You know how easy that is to mass produce these days? You could make this stuff for pennies a gallon. It's going to change everything."
I shook my head.
"Look, let's think about this. I mean, what're we changing? We mess with the metabolism a bit to get them to grow faster, add in some extremophile genes for good measure. We're not talking radical change here."
"If a plant is ten percent too delicate to live in a desert, and you boost its hardiness fifty percent, it's going to spread like a weed. Those beans looked like at least a ten fold improvement. If we wanted to, we could make redwoods grow like dandelions."
I stared at him. He shrugged again.
"I mean, just a thought. Okay, so how about corn. If we can increase corn hardiness enough to grow it in Africa, that's a lot of lives saved a year. Kids. It'd be easy. Hell, If our changes get into the germ line, all it'd take it one seed. One kernel in a poor village somewhere, and in six months there'll be fields of corn to every horizon. Winter wouldn't matter, our plants can live in snow. It'd be endless summer. Hey- the environmentalists could crop dust this stuff over the rain forests, reclaim some of the farm lands. You could give nature a little boost. Solve global warming in the mix. It'd just keep spreading..."
He stared off through the corporate logos on the windows at some far away place lost over the horizon. He seemed to be mulling over an idea. He shook himself.
"Hell, it's probably just a mistake."
I swirled the last of my milkshake around at the bottom of the cup.
"We should go check on the seeds. Odds are they'll be the same, but it'd help my peace of mind."
We walked back to the lab in silence, each lost in our own thoughts. When we got there, we checked the camera (still recording), and opened the incubator. Inside, twenty five sprouts had reached the top of the tank, and wrapped themselves around the bulbs.
"Shit. I wasn't expecting that."
"Why are these ones faster?"
"I don't know. Peas grow pretty fast on their own."
"Well, did you use the same dose?"
"I dunno, I sprayed them. This wasn't supposed to be rigorous."
"Well, clearly the stuff's doing something. I'm going to go make the call."
"No, look. Before we opened the door, it was all around the lights. Now it's halfway out the door. Look - you can
actually see it."
He stared at it.
"I think you're right."
"Of course I'm right. I'm going to water it. Get the boss."
The next three days were a non-stop haze of staff meetings, internal interviews and debriefing, and tours, given mostly be Ben, of the magic plants.
"Jack and the fucking beanstalk," he sighed in between taking the CEO out to the lab and to dinner.
At some point, a lot of men in black suits with ear buds started showing up a lot more often. I got worried. My worry was justified, as it turns out. After noon on the third day, I was taken aside by the CEO, and given very specific, very grave instructions. I wandered out of his office in a daze, wandered to our lab, and sat down heavily in a chair next to Ben.
Ben was staring into space in the general direction of the spreading bean plant.
"Dude. I just thought of something. We could fix overpopulation. We'd need some more tweaking, right, but we could make seaweed grow so fast it made islands. Then you just drive your seaweed raft into the shallows, pile some sand on top, and tow it off into international waters. Boom, instant landmass."
"They want us to stop."
He stared at me.
"They want us to destroy everything. The notes, the plants, the formula, everything. The CEO just told me. They're withholding our bailout until every sample is destroyed."
Ben stared at me like I was crazy.
"They're worried about bioterrorism. They think we might treat kudzu and drop it on he pentagon. Fuck, man, I dunno know. The men in black suits gave us a check and an ultimatum. We had a good run. Time to go home."
I risked a glance at Ben. He face was turning red. The veins on his forehead pulsed. I waited for him to blow. Instead, he said.
"I'll do it. Just, give me a minute, okay?"
I met his eye for a long moment, and then nodded. He began collecting paper for the shredder. I watched carefully as he collected every test tube, every plant, every slide and frozen sample, and threw them into the incinerator. Then, after he walked off, I began to double check.
Which is how I found myself there, in the park, at two in the morning. I stood a few feet behind him in the dark, staring at the turned up earth around him, caught in the glow of my flashlight. He had a box of seeds and a spray bottle in one hand, and a trowel in the other. He didn't turn around.
"How'd you know?"
"I double checked the records. One bottle of genetic fertilizer unaccounted for."
He continued tamping the seeds down, giving each one a spray from the bottle.
"What species, Ben?"
"Oak, Pine, spruce . Grass. A few vines. Strawberries. Some bushes. Flowers. Whatever else I could scrape together on short notice."
He laid down the last seed, and sprayed it down. I peered around with the flashlight. He had patches all over the ground , each one about fifty meters around. He gave a last spray over the area, and spoke.
"There, it's done. If you want to stop me, you're going to have to work for it. I bet you can't find all the seeds."
"Come look at this."
I sighed, and went to look at the patch of ground he was pointing at. I got down on my knees to inspect. Under the
harsh glow of the flashlight, a dozen tiny seedlings reached for the sky. He grinned at me.
"It's too late. I sent an envelope full of treated crops to a friend of mine doing aid in Africa, and he's going to redistribute them to as many countries as possible before they start screening the mail. This right here is just my little fuck you to civilization."
To this day, I don't know why I didn't destroy the seedlings. I didn't, though. I just turned around and went home. Lay down on my bed, kicked my shoes off. Plants were growing out of the mud on my boots. By morning, the plants would have spread to the bedstand.
Right now, as I sit typing this, I can hear morning birds, a long way off. If I were to turn my head right now, a fraction of a degree to my window, what do you think I'd see? Would I see vines crawling up the side of the Chrysler building? Would I see oak forests spreading in front yards and breaking up the streets? Would I see wildflowers overwhelming apartment buildings? Would I see the glowing coals of firemen fighting back the relentless onslaught of nature with herbicide and torches? Would I see, a long way off, the boundary of the noveau-forest, relentlessly spreading a few feet a day, until eventually it takes everything from one horizon to the next?
I don't know. Do you?