Fifteen years older, now 70, Pierre sips Oolong tea. “Ahh. I don’t know what I’d do without tea,” he murmurs, and then remembers his guest sitting across from him in the library. “Pour you a cup, Jacques?”
Jacques Lehmann nods, takes the cup from Pierre, brings it to his nose and inhales slowly. “Very nice,” he says, “thanks, old friend.” Today is a special day. Jacques has helped to arrange transportation for Jens, Saha, Kaya, and Karma out of Halifax and into the otherwise uninhabited region to the west of the city.
For nearly a decade, Jacques has not only been aware of Pierre’s Homo botanicus project but has actively supported it. At first, he was shocked when Pierre revealed what he’d been working on, but once his first reaction had passed and the two of them buried themselves in a conversation that lasted all afternoon and into the night, he not only came to understand Pierre’s reasoning, but fully accepted the wisdom of it. The writing was on the wall; as a home for Homo sapiens, planet earth was finished. Even if Pierre had not made his case for botanicus, Jacques had realized the futility of trying to carve out a place for sapiens, let alone prevent the effects of climate change.
Every effort waged to stop runaway global warming had failed, and with it the size of human and animal populations continued to drop precipitously. This was due in large part to famine and pandemic disease, but the tragedy of sapiens’ animal nature was also at play. As resources dwindled across the planet, civilization collapsed into savage warfare and conflict. When it comes to choosing between starvation and survival, survival always wins, no matter how terrible the cost. Greed prevailed across the globe, and although even the greedy were doomed, scrabbling for even a few more day’s survival drove society into the arms of violent chaos. Halifax, too, had seen it share of mayhem, and what has been a safe environment has progressively become dangerous. Officials like Jacques never travel without protection, and the stately Gittleman home has become a secure, locked compound with thick steel doors protecting concrete bunkers underground.
“I guess today’s the day,” Jacques remarks, breaking the silence. “Do you think they’re ready?” “It’s now or never,” Pierre replies, “whatever the challenges of the wild, they pale in comparison to what’s happening here. Besides, these four think as one, they’re not afraid, and on top of that, they’re really smart and intuitive. They can sense things before either you or I can begin to pick them up; they can see paths and options ahead of them that are otherwise hidden to us, because they are not like us, they don’t see the world like us. Once they are in the arms of nature, they’ll take to it like fish to water. You do remember fish, don’t you Jacques?” They stare deeply into each other’s eyes, then shake their heads, sharing the tragic irony of their lives.
Regional maps indicate a viable valley area approximately 150 miles inland, across narrow water separating Nova Scotia from mainland Canada. Although the seasonal variations can be unpredictable, fresh water still runs there in creeks, temperatures always remain above freezing, and the forests and grasslands are fertile. Major wildlife has all but disappeared, but botanicus are not predators, and do not hunt. Neither are they hunted; predatory carnivores, like wolves and bears, are all extinct. For botanicus, the changing world is a Garden of Eden, filled with sunlight, greenery, water and colorful landscapes of mountains, valleys and sky.
“I think we should travel by night,” Pierre suggests, “Who is our driver?” “Don’t worry about that, “Jacques reassures Pierre, “my son Leon will take the wheel. He’s dependable and spent the last ten years in the security division. There’s nothing he can’t handle. He even knows how to keep a vehicle running. I hear the old highways, although neglected, are still passable, and Leon is researching the safest route, both out of the city and once we’ve crossed the water. You can trust him, completely.”
“Does he know what he’s transporting?” Pierre asks, “what have you told him?” “I’ve told him that four scientists need transport to the west,” Jacques continues, “that they are researchers who are conducting secret study on relocation opportunities in case Halifax needs to be evacuated. Does that work?”
“Sounds perfect. My plan is to have the group apply makeup to cover their faces and hands, and to wear hooded tops, long pants and footwear,” Pierre explains. “I will admit it was difficult to explain to these otherwise naked four the need to cover up. None of them suffer from shyness nor fear of exposure and helping them to understand how folks like us will react to them has not been easy. At some level, they just don’t get it, but they trust me and Len and they will do what we suggest. The fact that we’ll travel by night will help; the four will be in their sleep cycle, dormant, and should present no problem. That is, of course, as long as we’re not stopped.”
“Alright, Mon Ami,” Jacques nods, leans back in his chair and closes his eyes. “I’m going to take a little snooze before your departure.” Pierre gets up, leaves the library and looks for Len.
Len is nearly 20 years old, which in the case of botanicus means he’s been an adult for ten years. He’s been helping raise the younger ones, and although he fully understands the need to evacuate them to the wild lands, he feels sadness at the prospect of their leaving. Those feelings are counterbalanced by his affection for Pierre, whom he considers his father. Like Pierre, Len has always worn some clothes, and in his speech and behavior is as sapiens as a botanicus can be. Pierre finds him in the kitchen.
“Well, Len, I’ll be leaving at dark. Are you alright?” Pierre’s pale hand gently touches Len’s shoulder. “Yes, father. I’m ready for this, but not ready, if you know what I mean,” Len replies, spots of ochre dotting his face. “It’s going to be different, being alone here just with you again. I’m not complaining, of course. I love you father and will always be here for you. But these four feel like my brothers and sisters, and I will dearly miss their colors!” Pale green tears streak Len’s cheeks.
Pierre reaches out to embrace him, Lens’ face now pulsing in soft waves of blue and green. “I love you too, Len, and you are a son to me in every way. I could not have done this without you. You are as much a father as I am, and I know this is hard for you. But, dear one, we have done it! We’re planting the seeds for a new humanity, one more loving and in tune with the natural world. Our children don’t know fear, greed, or aggression, the three poisons of Homo sapiens; they are naturally smart, and deeply empathic. Together, we’re creating a new, and hopefully better future. Neither of us can know exactly how things will turn out, of course, but it’s been worth the try.”
His colors slowing, Len leans back from Pierre. “Why father, you’re turning colors yourself!” Pierre’s face is hot and splotched with patches of bright red; cool tears wet his cheeks and drip from his chin darkening his green T-shirt. They grin, then laugh, then hug each other tightly once again.