“Eat and be eaten. Such is the law of the universe.” So begins Pierre’s presentation to the Executive Board of the Food Science Institute. Given the stress placed upon the city’s shrinking population and its aging infrastructure, he’s invited to speak and offer his ideas about possible solutions. “From the tiniest sub-atomic particle to the grandest, most massive black hole, production and consumption is the name of the game,” he continues. “The universe is entirely comprised of beggars and borrowers, and life itself is no different. Plants borrow the energy of the sun and combine it with borrowed carbon dioxide to make carbohydrates to sustain themselves. Animal life, too, obeys the universal law, borrowing protein, fats, and carbohydrates from other living things to provide the energy needed to sustain themselves. Such is the nature of things, in this universe, at least.”
Pierre goes on to offer some concrete suggestions about how to manage the city’s resources and improve the nutritional profile of his previously developed animal/plant protein, now the primary food source of Halifax’s population. He’s biting his tongue the entire time, resisting the urge to disclose what he’s accomplished in creating his photosynthetic Homo botanicus and setting it loose to roam in the wild lands to the west. If Pierre is sure of anything, it is that Homo sapiens don’t like competition, fear it and will, if possible, destroy it.
His talk lasts about thirty minutes, and after answering a few questions he leaves the podium and makes the short walk with Jacques to Jacques’ office on the top floor of the institute. From there he gets a view of downtown Halifax, now mostly flooded. Rooftops and upper floors stand above choppy water, the buildings abandoned and slowly decaying. Further in the distance, he sees construction cranes near the now failed sea wall project adjacent to a desalinization plant, now also defunct. In the courtyard below, he sees benches, but no people. The wooden seats and backs of the benches, long gone rotten, missing; all that’s left are the metal supports, and those are brown and covered in rust. He shakes his head in dismay and turns to Jacques.
“I’ve not seen this view in a long time. How bad it is! We’re fighting a losing battle, Jacques, are we not?” “It’s finished, Pierre,” Jacques replies. “Life in this city, I mean. Sure, some will hang on for a while longer; people are resourceful, after all. But as an organized, sustainable model of human existence, well, finished.” He sighs. “I could see you holding back in there, by the way, not wanting to reveal botanicus and your efforts. A part of me was hoping you’d crack and let it all out, but I understand why you did not. It was the right decision. For now.”
“For now?” Pierre pivots from the window to face Jacques. “Forever! We can never reveal what we’ve done, or it will be over. Never! You have to promise me, Jacques.” “Don’t worry, Mon Ami, I won’t tell. But someone will find out someday, I think. When people are forced to abandon Halifax and places like it and begin to attempt to live in the wild lands again, they will meet botanicus, and you know how that will go.” Jacques rises, “You and I will be long gone, perhaps, but in any event, we can’t control everything. Can I get you something to drink?”
“No. I’m ok,” PIerre slumps into an upholstered chair. “But I’m worried about Len. He’s been keeping to himself more and more, lately, spending hours under the grow lamps reading books he’s found in the library. At the moment, he’s hooked on Shakespeare, of all things, and has been reciting soliloquies. I think he’s depressed. He misses the others and tending to me, after all these years, is no piece of cake. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m old.”
Jacques chuckles, “Yeah, old. That makes two of us. Ah, well.” He gets up, pours himself a glass of water and unwraps a protein bar. “You know, Pierre, if it weren’t for these protein bars of yours we’d all have perished long before now. That and the implants, replacements, and wonder drugs.” They both nod in agreement. “But tell me,” Jacques continues, “what’s in store for Len? He’s how old now? Is he going to be with you forever? What happens to him if something happens to you, you know, like dying?”
“I know, I know. I think about it a lot,” Pierre allows, sounding serious. “I’m what, like 80 years old. I figure, I have another ten productive years left, maybe. And Len, he’s like thirty, although in botanicus years, well, I don’t know how old he is really. He’s the first, in a sense, the prototype. I don’t know how long he, or for that matter, any of the botanicus will live. You know, I think I will have that drink, Jacques, if you don’t mind. You don’t have any liquor, do you, by any chance?”
“Hold on. This is a first! I don’t think I’ve seen you have a real drink in thirty years. I’ve got some Scotch. Christ, it must be 60 years old by now. Does Scotch go bad?” Jacques sounds positively animated and moves to a closed cabinet. “No ice though.”
“No ice is fine. Scotch sounds good. Yes, it’s been a long time,” Pierre admits. “Anyway,” he continues, “I learned many things from Len, things about adjusting neurotransmitters and hemispheric balance. He’s far more cerebral, or should I say left-hemisphere activated, than any of the others; more Homo sapiens in temperament then they are. Well, maybe Karma is even more left-hemisphere active, but he’s still young. But Len, well, maybe because he was the first,” Pierre pauses to sip his Scotch, “well, he feels like a son. My son. The son I never had.” He takes another sip, larger this time. “So as to your question, yeah, I worry about his future, like a father worries about his son.”
“Take it slow there fella,” Jacques jumps in, “been a while since you knocked back some booze.” “Booze!” Pierre exclaims, “I haven’t heard that word since before my father died! Booze! I can’t believe it.” He laughs deeply, finishes his drink, and stands up. “It’s time I left. Len is probably wondering what happened to me. Thanks for the laugh, and for listening.”
“I‘ll have one of my drivers get you home,” Jacques pushes a button at his desk. “They say a storm is moving in. Big wind, some rain. I want to make sure you get home safely. Hang on.”
The two of them leave Jacques’ office and head to the elevator. Jacques takes Pierre’s arm and they walk down the hall. “Look,” Jacques offers, “Let’s talk about Len some more. I care about him too, and I don’t want him found and examined like some exotic creature. He doesn’t deserve that. But we must make a plan for him, or rather with him, or that’s likely to happen. I want to do what I can to help if its needed.”
“I appreciate that, I really do. It means a lot to me. And you mean a lot to me, Jacques.” Pierre stops, gives his friend a hug, and kisses him on the cheek. “Mon Ami, that drink really did go to your head!” Jacques, chuckles, and then returns the hug.
The two old Homo sapiens stand patiently in front of the elevator, somewhat stooped, and suddenly looking all their years. The elevator doors open, Pierre steps in. “Au Revoir, Mon Ami,” he says with a wave, and the polished brass doors silently swing closed.