“Pierre? Are you there, Gittleman? It’s Lehmann from the Institute. We need to talk. People are mumbling about some secret work you’re doing. And why am I the last to know? If it’s true, of course. Please get back to me.”
Pierre reads the text. Now in his late fifties, he’s been able to keep his work on botanicus secret for decades, but given the emerging social and economic conditions in Halifax, word that he’s involved in some weird project of his own is leaking out. Conditions in the self-contained city are deteriorating; there are all sorts of leaks, information and otherwise.
Sea level rise has put one of the city’s two major desalinization plants out of commission. New technologies to extract water from the air are working, but the quantity of potable water produced is less than half that of the now shuttered plant. Pierre’s work requires water, more than the usual allotment for drinking and bathing, and he’s getting inquiries. His placental tanks need clean water, and the sophisticated filtering system Pierre uses does not make up for the need for infusions of fresh, clean water. But that’s just one of the red flags his work has sent up. He needs chemicals, too, and many are unassociated with food production.
For a while, he told the Food Institute that such chemicals were part of his work on algae/animal edible protein, but once he released that technology to the institute for their own development and implementation, making such excuses got harder. He’d convinced Jacques Lehmann, a colleague and close childhood friend, that everything was on the “up ’n up” as his father Leonard liked to say, but loyalty goes only so far when questions get asked and just keep coming. Something about his work has his old friend worried, and that now requires Pierre to make a big decision.
“Should I bring Jacques into what I’m doing?” Pierre asks himself, out loud, thinking his way through the problem. “I’ve known Jacques for, well forever. He trusts me. Can I trust him to keep my secret long enough for it to prove out?” Pierre plunks himself into his desk chair; unaccustomed to playing politics, his inclination is to open up to Jacques, but he’s worried that Jacques will find the botanicus project too alarming.
It’s not like Jacques is innocent about what’s happening around him. The air-scrubbers in the geodesic-domed structure covering a large portion of Halifax need constant repair. The same is true of the kinetic energy modules on the shoreline, which need to be moved and secured as sea level rise and storm intensity increase. The wind turbine array is aging far too quickly, the deleterious effects of salt water plus growing ocean acidity greater than anyone anticipated. Added to all this is the declining health of Halifax’s aging population. The Health Institute, creator of brilliant therapies, implant technologies and micro-surgeries, has generally maintained the good health of the population for many decades, but even those accomplishments show signs of reaching their limits. A shrinking population is an indicator that all is not well with Homo sapiens.
“Jacques knows what’s happening as well as I do,” Pierre continues. “The day of Homo sapiens is drawing to a close. It might be twenty, fifty, who knows, two hundred years, but like other species that have dominated this planet over millions of years and then suddenly gone extinct, sapiens don’t have time to adapt to earth’s quickly changing conditions. If humanity, in some form, shall continue, it won’t be natural selection that makes it happen. I really have no choice; I must let Jacques in on my work.” He swings around in his chair to face his keyboard and crafts a reply.
“Hi Jacques, old friend. Sorry for not being closer in touch lately. Yeah, I’m aware of the talk, and some of it’s pretty amusing. One rumor that got back to me is that I’m running a black-market operation on chemical supplies and water. It’s amazing that people still think greed is the prime mover in human relations! But the truth is, I am working on something important, and it’s past time that I share it with you. Some might find my work alarming, but I think if anyone will understand what I’m doing, it’s you. You’ll need to come to my house, where we can talk privately face-to-face. Let me know when you’re available. It will be nice, as Leonard used to say, to ‘see your cute punim.’ Warmly, Pierre.”
Pierre’s finger hesitates for a bit, but nodding his head decisively, he hits ‘send’ and the deed is done. Now, it’s a matter of waiting for a response.
A feeling of relief mixed with uncertainty fills Pierre. He has worked on botanicus alone for so long that bringing in a collaborator feels somewhat frightening. And no doubt about it, once Jacques knows what Pierre is doing, Jacques will need to make a choice: resist or collaborate. If he resists, it’s over for Pierre. The botanicus project will be forcibly shut down and Pierre condemned. He might even be exiled from the city, as is done with criminals who steal, murder or deceive, and exile is all but a death sentence. If he collaborates, and collaboration means as little as not revealing Pierre’s secret to actively assisting, then Jacques, too, will be risking his own security and his life. There’s no gray area; resist or collaborate, that’s it.
Getting up from his chair, Pierre walks from his lab to the tank room, where various chimeric creatures are floating in placental chambers. A soft, electrical hum fills the room, a combination of ventilation, pumps and filters. Lamps illuminate the space with artificial sunlight, illuminating the tanks of greenish water and giving the room a green glow overall. In one tank floats what looks like a small hairless pig. Its skin is mottled green, with tiny yellowish spots. As Pierre’s shadow falls across it, the yellow spots get larger and the green gets darker. In another tank is what at first looks like a tiny human baby, but it actually is a spider monkey. Also hairless and green-skinned, it’s head turns towards Pierre as he passes its tank. Nearly developed enough for removal from the tank, Pierre considers doing just that prior to Jacques’ arrival.
Finally, he approaches the remaining tank, in which floats what appears to be a well-developed, greenish-skinned human fetus. Many animal embryos look quite similar to each other when young, differentiation becoming more obvious as time passes. Tails disappear, limbs might develop fingers, toes, or claws, gill-like structures retract, internal organs move and reorganize. The creature in the tank, is well-past all of that. It’s clearly a male, humanoid baby.
Pierre pauses, and he leans towards the tank. “Hello, little one. How are you today? You are looking very fine, I must tell you. Perhaps you are the one I have been working towards for all this time. Are you? Hmmm?” He taps lightly on the glass and then turns away to walk back out of the room; as he does so, the little greenish baby in the tank, who will shortly bear the name Len, raises an arm, and although likely just a muscular contraction, appears to wave.