a tale of Hayward’s Reach
Stephanie Mehta woke Thursday morning to her clock radio in her tiny apartment in the Russian city of Moscow. It was little more than a room with a kitchen and bathroom. She shuffled around slowly until she got her bearings. She was a diminutive Indian woman in her early thirties, with clear skin, long hair, and full lips. Her mother always wondered what was holding up her grandchildren when she had a daughter as beautiful as she was. Just another thing they had to fight about.
Her Russian Blue, Fedya, hopped up onto the counter and nuzzled her, releasing a tiny squeak, indicating his hope for breakfast, sooner rather than later. She nuzzled him back, and stroked him absently while she tried to remember what there was to eat in her apartment. She knew not to look in the half-height refrigerator, because she had not had anything fresh enough to require refrigeration in quite some time.
The tiny markets on the outskirts of Moscow had been bringing in less food in the last few years. Farmers were complaining about reduced harvests, and no one seemed to have any idea why the crops were getting smaller and smaller. Stephanie had taken to growing potatoes in the corner of her apartment from the eyes of earlier generations she had scavenged, and had been successful in managing their growth. Her apartment did not have much, but sunlight was in abundance.
“Sorry, little one, it looks like potatoes again.” His tiny reply seemed resigned to potatoes, and he ate them with vigor. “I promise to bring you something that looks like meat from the hospital tonight.”
Stephanie washed up quickly, trying not to use up her allotment of water for the day. Water shortages had become all too frequent since she came here eight years ago to start her residency. She opted to come to Russia because so many of her people started moving north as the rising sea levels drove many Indians into Rangapur. Her mother suggested she move to Russia because of the growing economic prosperity there.
She had since informed her mother that economic prosperity was relative. Yes, Russia was doing better in some ways, and worse in others. For example, India had more doctors, but Russia had more hospitals. If she didn’t hurry she would be late for her shift. Fortunately she lived in a barracks arrangement right next to the Municipal Hospital No. 15, and it only took her fifteen minutes to walk across the overpass into the main hospital courtyard.
The hospital was busy, people everywhere, babies crying, staff bustling about trying their best to tend to patients. As she danced through the crowds, patients touched her white coat and asked her questions. She tried not to stand still lest she be overrun. They needed to go through the brief paperwork at the desk before they could be seen. She would see as many today as her supervisor would let her.
She was technically a full doctor, but her supervisor had been reluctant to sign off on her paperwork because it kept her with him here at Fifteen. She would have been upset if she hadn’t loved her job so much, even with the lack of resources, the constant rush of patients, the government interference, or any of a number of other issues. She wasn’t just a doctor, she was a healer; she wanted to find out how to help as many people as possible.
Ekantika Das was her last patient of the day, and she agreed to take her from her supervisor, Helmut Baum, who had been on for three days straight. Mrs. Das looked tired, strained. She was probably borderline malnourished and dehydrated, like most people were these days. The rains had been less frequent, and the summer was one of the hottest on record.
“What brings you in, Mrs. Das?”
She began tentatively. “Doctor Baum scheduled me to come and see him a few weeks after my miscarriage.” Stephanie had looked briefly at the record and saw that she had three miscarriages in less than two years. Each happened earlier and earlier during her term.
“I would like to run a series of tests to see how you are doing, and when I am done, we will see what we can do. Do you still want to have children?” Many women, if they find they cannot carry to term, these days opt just to give up.
“Yes, desperately. My husband and I work as part of a collective on the outskirts of town, trying to turn older buildings into hydroponic structures to supplement food output for the greater Moscow area. We are recently wed, and would like to have children since neither of us is getting any younger.”
“I understand. These tests will take less than a week, so I will send you an email to schedule your visit.”
The rest of the week was uneventful, and there was even a slowdown at the hospital. Patients were always reluctant to come to hospitals these days since the number of cases of MRSA had risen in the last twenty years. Over-use of antibiotics had caused the rise in the resistant disease strains. People needed hospitals more than ever, but were reluctant to come there with the risk of catching a nearly incurable disease while being served.
Later that week, when she got the test results, they were unusual, but she could not put her finger on why. She went back and checked Dr. Baum’s records. He had made some notes about fertility issues in several of his patients, so she kept working. Something about it seemed strange to Stephanie. In a momentary lull, she went down to the primitive records databases and made some soft queries using the records of the female population of child bearing ages at the hospital. After a few dozen questions, she made a startling discovery. The number of births at the hospital and in the area in general had dramatically dropped, far below the statistical average. She thought she had done something wrong and double-checked her queries.
These numbers could not be right. This would be a thirty percent reduction in live births in less than a ten year period. Stephanie was tired. She assumed she had made a mistake and planned to run the check from home once she was settled.
* * *
Fedya was enjoying his purloined sirloin and wrestled mightily with it. It was mostly scrap from the senior doctor’s kitchen, but that mattered little to him. His gusto gave Stephanie a warm glow while she studied the data now from the fourteen nearby hospitals.
She couldn’t understand why no one had noticed it before now, but the more she looked at it, the more she could see the scale of this issue. But she would need more information and likely some corroboration with some colleagues, possibly in London. With the new civil war in the U.S., she wasn’t likely to get much data except from the neutral states like California or Oregon. So she prepared a data package for a variety of hospitals and sent it off. Immediately, she received an instant message.
GreenMachine: You are in danger.
Dr. Mehta: Excuse me?
GreenMachine: There is not much time. Can you meet me in an hour at this net address?
Dr. Mehta: Who are you?
Greenmachine: This address is secure, but you cannot be at your apartment. I have slowed the trace, but they will find you in twenty-four hours. Pack a bag. Now hurry.
Dr. Mehta: I can’t leave my cat.
Greenmachine: Then take him with you, but for God’s sake, hurry. Now get to the coffee shop, and we will give you further instructions.
Dr. Mehta: I have no intention of leaving home on the say-so of some unknown IM.
Greenmachine: You have discovered a reduction in birthrates in the area hospitals where you work. You have checked this against local hospitals in the Russian datasphere. You find the information able to be confirmed with an 87% accuracy. Tomorrow you will receive data clusters from your points in London, New Delhi, Mexico, Canada, Brazil. You will see that this trend or worse had happened across the globe. How am I doing?
Dr. Mehta: How do you know I did all this?
Greenmachine: GO TO THE COFFEE SHOP. NOW.
The IM client connection vanished, and she sat up in disbelief. Putting her data key into her pocket, she grabbed her night bag and packed two changes of clothing, her level 1 Medical ID, and all the money she kept in the house. She barely spent any, so she should have plenty available.
She dropped Fedya off at a friendly neighbor’s with a generous bribe of her latest potato crop and some cash in the event she was gone longer than a few days. Fedya complained the entire time until she gave him his favorite squeaky toy. Dame Romanov agreed to take care of him. She had always liked him and said he would have plenty of mice to keep his belly full.
When she got to the coffee shop, the terminals were empty because it was near midnight. When the late shift came on, the place would fill up, but that would not be for another hour or so. She sat down and put on the wireless ear buds sitting in the sonic cleanser.
As soon as she plugged in her data-key, a video image appeared. The man sitting in the video was in a laboratory with a single tech working in the background. He was wearing a full bio-suit, so his face was obscured, but she could see this was a real lab with real equipment, not a stage. “Doctor, you have discovered something Consanko does not want known. Birthrates all over the world are declining due to the interactions of a genetic manipulation called ‘suicide seeds.’
“This technology was designed thirty years ago as a means of controlling food production on Earth. Seeds were being designed to fail to produce a new generation of seeds so Consanko would become the sole provider of seeds as it cornered the market on genetic seed materials all over the planet.
“Once they had patented nearly all of the food crops on the planet, they gathered the genetic materials, mapped the genomes, and proceeded to alter the seed products to ensure no seed would be produced by the resultant plants. People would have to pay every season. Needless to say, Consanko grew fabulously rich.
“As scientists had predicted, monocultures would be a problem when blight, insects or disease struck, but Consanko had variants it saved for that occasion, and their wealth continued to grow until this very day. But I noticed there was a corresponding effect in animal populations that ate seeds created from these plants. They became increasingly sterile. You have now learned the other secret: that it is affecting us as well. More slowly, but just as effectively.”
The lab tech in the background seemed to be working hurriedly. The man in the front of the display held up a picture. “See this face? Memorize it. He is the person you are trying to find. When you look through our upload, you will find he knew about everything. Maybe he can help you find the answers you are looking for.”
An explosion rocked the room. Smoke started coming from the ventilation shafts. “We don’t have much time. That explosion was a trap set up in the ventilation. They won’t try that route again. Our suits will protect us from the gas, but in a few minutes, they will up the ante and we won’t survive. Our upload is on its way to you via our intelligent agent. We are destroying any trace of our information to give you as much lead time as possible. Doctor, we are sorry to involve you in this fashion, but we had lost hope that anyone would notice. We were going to leave our data to an intelligent agent and hope the first person who found it was as good as you are.”
“What do you want me to do?” The sight of an arc cutter coming through the armored door showed their attacker’s progress in the attempt to gain access.
“We want you to stop this. There must be a way to reverse it, some way to introduce our reproductive viability back into the species before it’s lost completely. Our predictions say in thirty years, humanity and most animals will have lost any possibility of reproduction.”
“I am not a geneticist. I wouldn’t even know where to begin!” Mehta was feeling frantic as she watched the smoke grow thicker.
“We know you are not a geneticist, but you have other friends. It will take a team to solve this problem, the same way it took a corporation to cause it. We are out of time, Doctor. Godspeed.”
End of transmission. End of recording. Agent instructed to your key codes. All resources are at your discretion.
This was a recording? “Agent, accept vocal input.”
“How long ago did this recording take place?”
“Two standard days ago.”
“Then how were they answering my questions?”
“They weren’t; they anticipated a variety of responses; I provided the interface adaptations. Doctors Lawrence and Cloverfield have been dead for forty-eight hours.”
“How much time do I have before they come looking for me?”
“All temporal estimates are still accurate, as your information requests have been slowed but not stopped. In 24 hours, you will be apprehended, likely by Interpol or the Soviet police as an enemy terrorist. Recommendation: leave the country.”
“And go where, pray tell?”
“To the coordinates left by the doctors.”
“And where is that?”
“The coordinates on the map indicate a location inside the remaining Amazon jungle. It will require one, possibly two major airline flights, one charter flight, and likely six to ten hours of ground travel. You should begin now.”
“I need to go back to my apartment. I am not ready for this.”
“That path is not recommended.”
“Let’s see you stop me. Agent offline.”
Stephanie did not know what she was seeing, but she was certain this was some elaborate practical joke. The shaky camera, the explosion, the shutoff of the camera seemed just too dramatic. When she got back to her building, several emergency vehicles were sitting outside. The lights were off, so whatever it was, it was already over. They were taking several bodies out on stretchers, and one of them had a grey cat lying on top of it. It looked like…
“Fedya!” The grey cat jumped down and ran through the street to Stephanie, and she suddenly realized who one of those bodies was. Showing her badge to the paramedic, she asked, “Show me the bodies.”
When they pulled the covers back, the first was the delicate body of Dame Romanov. The second was Helmut Baum, her boss, her sometime lover, her friend. He had been shot in the head. Seeing him that way was like a physical blow to her system. She grew lightheaded and fell back into the arms of a strange man who had come up behind her.
“Do you know this man, Doctor?” The man’s Russian was impeccable, and he looked like he could be a policeman or an inspector. His hands were strong, like a vise, and he literally held her up from falling. He was a giant wearing an ill fitting suit, as if they could barely find anything to cover him properly. He had a strong face, young looking, but his eyes were hard, sharp; they glittered like flint in the streetlights, the eyes of a man who had seen too much.
“His name is Doctor Helmut Baum.” He was in apartment 17. Her apartment. Waiting for her. She said none of these things.
“I am Inspector Piotr Nikolayevich Rasputin, and I have a few questions for you. The first is where have you been for the last few hours?”
“I was at the coffee shop for the last two hours. Helmut was at the apartment waiting for me to get in. He had just come in from his shift. Can I sit down, Inspector?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Do you know what happened?”
“They appear to have been assassinated. Do you know of any reason they might have been targeted?” Piotr had his own reasons, but he wanted hear hers first.
“No, I don’t know why anyone would want to hurt him. He was a good doctor. He did not have any enemies.” But Stephanie knew it wasn’t true. She had logged in with his address a few days ago, because he was logged in and had a superior clearance. The first traces would have been on his account.
“I’m going to have to take you into the field office for questioning, Dr. Mehta. It shouldn’t take too long.”
“Can I go to my apartment and put my cat there? Will the police allow him to stay at the scene? If not, can I put him with another neighbor?” These questions came boiling out all once.
“Yes, of course, you can leave him with another neighbor. I’ll wait right here until you get back.” Piotr shook out a cigarette and lit up as she moved toward the apartment building. The police had already canvassed the property; whoever they were, they were very good. They left no clues, no casings, no signs of forced entry. An inside job, perhaps.
The emergency vehicles pulled off after twenty minutes, and she had not returned. He put out his third cigarette and went into the building. She was not at her apartment, but one neighbor did have Fedya. But he said she had left nearly twenty minutes ago. So she knew where to drop the cat, and used the remaining time to get a head start.
Touching his datapad earpiece, he spoke into his mastoid comm, “Agent, put a trace on her medical ID at all the local airports and any recent taxi pickups. Do not alert her to the flags. Just follow and report.”
“Request activated, flags sent out. Will notify.”
Piotr got into his car and headed to the Moscow airport. Sometimes technology is no match for a good hunch. When he got to the airport, his agent had already found her booking a flight to South America, quite a distance for a woman with nothing to hide and very little luggage to pack. He decided he needed to see what was really going on.
“Agent, book corresponding flights, inform Command of itinerary. Log it as active investigation. Inform pilot of intent to carry firearm onboard. Clear security checks.”
“Acknowledged. Activity in progress.”
This was just to ensure her safety and his curiosity. He had not been out of the country for a while; he was sure South America would be lovely this time of year. She sat in coach the whole time reading. He was not sure what it was, and did not want to risk having his agent read over her shoulder, so he took this time to catch up on his rest. The only thing he could think of was smoking a cigarette the whole flight until he fell asleep. Where could she go?
* * *
“Or what will happen? You will make me eat some bland chips and tasteless fish from your country? Perhaps some of your beer that tastes like piss? My cat makes a stronger brand of beer in his litter box.”
When the plane landed, he knew he would have to confront her. The next leg of the journey was on a small private plane with only twelve seats. It would be hard to remain inconspicuous. The heat was terrible, and the humidity worse. He took off his jacket and remembered he did not bring a change of clothing, so he was going to have to get something local first chance he got.
His training as a KGB agent instantly came online once he landed. There were four hours between the landing and the smaller flight. He took that time to hunt around in the airport for vendors of more local attire. It did not take long for him to find some more comfortable shirts, slacks, and a bag to carry his gear. A pair of sunglasses and a white hat completed the ensemble.
Now, a bit more comfortable and armed with a selection of local toiletries, he cleaned up, changed, and was able to get to the airport runway with plenty of time. The doctor had managed to clean herself up, but it was obvious she had not slept on the flight over and was in need of rest.
A man from Russia got off the plane. Piotr noticed him at first and thought he was just a tourist. But the coincidence of his waiting for the same plane made him more suspicious. The man had the movement of a trained fighter; he walked on the balls of his feet. He kept his hands clear of his pockets. He sat with his back to the wall and faced the entire area.
Piotr tipped his hat forward and slumped his shoulders. The man’s gaze passed over him, stopped momentarily, and then moved on. He was looking for something, but Piotr did not know what that might be. Thirty minutes before the flight was due to leave, the small plane landed and taxied into the runway. A crew came out to refuel and inspect the plane. The pilot chatted with his relief, and then the preflight was underway.
The suspicious man began to move closer to the doctor, and she did not seem aware of his approach. Piotr also moved closer, sitting behind the two of them, hiding behind a magazine. He put his gun under his bag in the chair next to him.
“Dr. Mehta. I am going to have to ask you to come with me. British intelligence.” The man’s accent was certainly British, but there was something strange about it.
“Don’t you have to show me some ID or something?” Stephanie asked. She had a look of intense skepticism mixed with real fear. Something was definitely wrong, and she was completely out of her depth.
“Just come with me, miss, and we will sort this out in the customs office.” The “agent” reached out to grab her arm and move close to her. He whispered something, and Piotr knew what it was. He had a handgun pressed against her back.
“Excuse me,” Piotr stood up and in his thickest Russian accent asked, “Do you know what time our flight will be leaving?” He was certain they would have almost no chance of understand what he was saying.
“Sod off. I am busy with the lady.”
Piotr took off his hat and held his hand out to Stephanie. “My name is Piotr. And you are?” He could see the recognition and relief in her eyes. But he tried to transmit the idea that they were not out of the woods yet.
“Stephanie. Stephanie Mehta.”
“And your friend?”
“Her friend is telling you to mind your bloody business, Russian.”
“Or what will happen? You will make me eat some bland chips and tasteless fish from your country? Perhaps some of your beer that tastes like piss? My cat makes a stronger brand of beer in his litter box.”
Whoever this fellow was, he was not a member of British Intelligence. He lost his temper far too easily. Likely a mercenary. He brought his gun out from under his coat and redirected it at Piotr. Exactly as planned. Piotr stepped to the right of the gunman’s hand and with a single maneuver, relieved the man of his gun, breaking two of his fingers. His aggressive wristlock held the man and brought his arm behind his back in a breaking position. It happened so quickly, no one saw anything at all. Piotr handed the gun to Stephanie and used his other hand to pat the man down.
He wasn’t carrying anything else. His ID said his name was Howard Mason, but Piotr doubted the ID was real. Using his real Russian police ID, Mason was taken into custody, and Stephanie and Piotr were questioned by the local authorities. Many hours later, it was called an act of random violence, nothing more. But Piotr knew better. It was time to get some answers from the beautiful doctor.
When they were walking back to the smaller plane runway, Stephanie started talking. Piotr decided to keep his request simple and see what she had to say. “It started with the bees. Dr. Sheppard said he noticed first when colony collapse began to show up in the newspapers.”
“Who is Dr. Sheppard?” Piotr interrupted.
“He was the leader of the genetic engineering teams who pioneered the last great plant genome modifications. His work created the super-yield wheat, the rust resistant potatoes, the suicide seeds, and the natural insecticides common to almost all plants today. He worked for Consanko for nearly thirty years.”
“So your trip here has something to do with him?”
“I was reading the information on the flight here. It had been gathered and collated by two later scientists, peers who reviewed his papers and were not satisfied by his safety information. They spent the last fifteen years refuting his notes about the “restrictive coding” built into the gene maps of his genetic constructs. Their contention was that the genetic transform viruses and bacteria used to modify the plants was completely unable to be contained to that environment.”
“So this brings us back to the bees, yes?” She looked at him incredulously. “Yes, I went to school once upon a time.”
She continued. “Yes, this brings us back to the bees. They moved pollen from the genetically engineered plants, first to their hives, then to other plants. Which ultimately moved them to us. The first signs of the suicide genes were the failure of some bee colonies, as their queens became less able to reproduce stable colonies.”
“So now you think it has moved into the human population?”
“Correct. If what I have discovered is true, the human race will likely be extinct in less than one hundred years, and unable to reproduce in less than sixty. Consanko has put poison into the environment on every major land mass on Earth.”
“Then this explains why people are trying to kill you, Doctor. You know too much. So I assume this means we are going to talk to Doctor Sheppard?”
“If anyone knows what can be done to reverse this, he would be the one.”
The small plane captain started ushering people onboard, and the two of them sat in the back of the craft away from everyone else. Piotr put his gun in his lap under his hat. Stephanie curled up next to him and leaned onto his shoulder and fell into a dreamless sleep.
Piotr, already rested, considered what he knew about corporate politics and industrial espionage and hoped this would end better than this sort of thing usually did. On a good day, only bad people died. On a bad day, everyone did. He checked his backup piece, and stashed a huge knife under his shirt.
The flight, leaving late in the day, arrived eight hours later in the early morning in the small town of Quito, Ecuador. Stephanie woke, still looking tired and out of place. She is just a doctor who has been told the world is coming to an end, Piotr; how do you expect her to look? The only reason you don’t look like her is that your world came to an end a dozen years ago. She reminds you of Natalie. Enough of that; keep your mind in the game.
Two men met them at the runway. Piotr knew them well. It had been nearly eight years since he had been there, but these two were still working the rainforest, gathering intelligence on the two dozen corporations currently fighting over what was left of it. Javier and Hector Morales, two brothers who worked with the KGB and whose loyalties were relatively unquestioned, reported regularly, their intel was good, and they were able to keep their noses clean. This made them decent agents, and Piotr did not tell them anything more than that he needed a car and a decent local map. They didn’t know what he needed one for, and they didn’t care.
“Rasputin, you look terrible,” Javier began.
“How is that any different than normal?” Hector finished.
“It is good to see you two, as well. Did you get my request?”
“Yes, your dull agent made the request and was very clear about what he wanted. Do you really still use the Kinataci 4000 model? It’s nearly eight years old.” Javier smiled while he teased Piotr. “My wristwatch has more power than your agent.”
“Seriously, Piotr, we have children here in Ecuador who have better agents than that. Are you going to upgrade any time soon?” Hector handed Piotr the map pack and the car keys.
“And who is this lovely creature?” Hector muscled Javier out of the way as Stephanie approached the car after getting her bag.
“My name is Stephanie.” She shook hands and took in the quaint little airstrip on the edge of Quito. The car was something from earlier in the century; she did not recognize it, and thought it might actually still use some sort of petrochemical to power it.
“Rasputin, you did not tell us you would be bringing company. Keeping the good things to yourself, as usual.” Hector smiled, something honest and real, and Piotr realized they misinterpreted the relationship. Let it go.
“We have to get moving. When we get back, we will share a beer or something before we take off. Thanks for the save.”
“No problem. We are always here for you, Rasputin. You saved our lives, once. We owe you.”
The car was old and serviceable and started up immediately. Neither of them had much to say on the trip; it was hot and miserable and both had grown used to the dry heat of the Moscow summer. Here at the equator, the weather was always hot and wet, with seasonal showers every day at around eleven o’clock and again at three as the winds shifted.
The GPS on the map said they were nearing their destination. Stephanie realized this was likely the place because they started seeing a variety of hydroponic domes erected for what looked like miles in every direction. These domes were scattered within the forest canopy and seemed to be strangely porous, allowing trees to grow through them even as they defined an area, each with a sixty foot diameter at the bottom. The dome appeared to be grown and continued to grow with the plants around them. Most were opaque, but a few showed levels of transparency, and people were servicing the plants within.
The domes gave way to a series of smaller prefab buildings. No security was visible, and a driveway with a number of other vehicles parked outside seemed a good place to start. They sat for a while, getting the rhythm of the place. Piotr made sure his guns were ready and scanned the grounds for anything out of place. Workers moving canisters on small flatbed trucks seemed to be the only road traffic. Occasionally, a larger twelve-wheeler would roll out or come back into the property.
A bearded man with graying hair got out of a vehicle near one of the campers, and Stephanie noticed him. He looked very similar to the photo she was shown on the video clip. She tapped Rasputin on the arm, and the two of them walked from the car to the prefab. When they got to the top of the stairs, Piotr entered first, and the small man was sitting behind the desk with his gun drawn and pointing at him.
“Please come in; your young friend, as well. I have been expecting you. Have a seat.”
Once they were inside away from the blistering sun, Stephanie welcomed the opportunity to take a seat. The sun seemed to drain the strength from her body. She did not even have the ability to maintain any concern about the firearm pointed in her direction. “Dr. Sheppard, I presume.”
Sheppard put the gun back into his desk and pointed to a small table in the back of his very organized office. “Please, have some water; you will find you sweat quite a bit more than you think here.”
After they had a glass of water, and then a second, Doctor Sheppard got down to business. “Did the company send you? I am surprised it took them this long to find me.”
“No, sir, we have come here at the request of Doctors Lawrence and Cloverfield. They said you would know why we were here.”
“Did they? Did they tell you what I am doing here?”
“No, they said you were no longer working for Consanko, and you expressed some level of regret for what happened.”
“Regret? No, my dear. Regret does not even begin to describe what I feel. I thought my work here might be enough. Would you like to see it? What about you, young man? You do not look like a scientist. If I were to try and read you, I would say a corporate hit man, government agent, possibly KGB, or if they are still in existence, a CIA agent.”
“Very good guess, Doctor. So why are you here? If you have regrets for your work, why retire to this place? You were a very rich man; you could be living anywhere.”
“The answer to your question lies out there. Are you rested enough for the tour? It’s the least you can do before you kill me.”
The three of them stepped out into the terrible heat of the day and strode toward one of the domes. “I made these domes myself. I designed them to absorb and convert the solar energy into a cooling chamber. I have patented the technology and am making a tidy fortune in the equatorial regions all over the globe.”
As they stepped through a simple series of flaps, Stephanie noted the vast difference in the internal temperature of the tent, and by the time they were inside the dome proper, the temperature was less than fifty degrees, nearly an eighty degree drop. The air was cool, even a bit damp, and over eighty percent of the sunlight had been dimmed, making the area just a bit brighter than sunset. Dr. Sheppard touched a small remote on his wrist and the dome became a bit brighter as the spines of the hexagonal shapes began to glow with a blue light.
“I could make the dome more transparent, but that would bring in more heat; I want to wait until this dome has been harvested. But the polymorphic materials used in the construction of this dome are grown into this location. See?” He pointed to the edge of the dome, and Stephanie could see the dome seemed to move into the ground. There were none of the seams she would have associated with a constructed work.
The material covering the hexagons was thick and a bit rough, and had a scaled appearance. “The scales are a polychromatic material capable of converting sunlight into electrical energy. That electricity is used to cool the tent as the fabric absorbs the energy of the air using superconductivity. The energy absorbed is redirected by an underground organic network to a power storage facility used to maintain all of the vehicles and other power needs here.”
“Why the strange design, growing them below the forest canopy?” Stephanie asked.
“Because they are not visible from space,” Piotr answered before the doctor could respond. “You said harvest, Doctor. What are you growing?” Piotr walked over to one of the trees and touched the strange formations growing on the trees and in the underbrush. “They look like mushrooms.”
“Very astute. Indeed they are mushrooms, mushrooms of my own design. What do you know about mushrooms?”
Piotr looked at Sheppard and answered. “I like them in my soups and on my steaks. Do I need to know more than that?”
Sheppard laughed and said, “No, I guess not. I hope you really like mushrooms, young man.”
“What are you talking about, Dr. Sheppard? I came here to discuss a means of reversing the birth reductions in the human and animal populations.”
“Young lady, when we first began our studies and first genetic experimentations, we were young and thought we were going to feed the world. We thought we would work with companies like Cansanko who would ensure that our patents would be protected, and we would be able to work with corporate backing. With their money and our skills, no problem of food production could confound us. But they had their own agenda. They rounded up seeds from all over the world and began to patent the seeds. The seeds! Can you imagine? We were outraged. Seeds belong to everyone, we said. They laughed and called us idealistic and told us to get back to work. We would have fewer complaints when we were rich.”
Dr. Sheppard found a chair near the monitoring station and raised the lighting a bit. The two of them saw dozens of varieties of mushrooms, all over the room. They had been walking inside a very limited area. Once there was more light, they saw a rainbow of mushrooms, some close to the ground, others towering at three and four feet, shelves of mushrooms growing on the sides of trees. Some of them appeared to be the classic shapes, but others looked like ocean waves, some like bushes, but they were all growing harmoniously, beautifully, together. She had never seen anything like it.
“We went back to work, to increase the yield of our newly patented seeds. And with the revolutionary work of Dr. David Lawrence, we succeeded beyond our wildest imagination. Every time we worked on a new patent, we felt like explorers, crossing boundaries we had never conceived of. We became gods, Promethean in our endeavors, with no thought to the consequences.”
Piotr heard the helicopter blades first. His training in war zones made him more alert. The others heard them soon enough.
“We don’t have much time. I have been expecting them. I thought you were going to kill me. But now I realize they have been reading my notes. You see, when we first started noticing the problem, they started burying my ideas. And when Laurence and Cloverfield’s work began to show we were wrong and there was the possibility of genetic pollution, they were killed.”
“I thought they were killed two days ago.” The look on Stephanie’s face was undecipherable.
“They were. Two days and five years ago. I left the company in disgust and refused to do any more work once I had seen the error of my ways. The company refused to acknowledge my work until recently. Now I suspect they want my help. The work we did was revolutionary, and they killed the only two other people who really understood it.”
“Then who sent me this message?”
“I did.” Dr. Sheppard stared hard at Stephanie. “I need you to finish my work here. I need someone young and idealistic, someone who believes in a future worth fighting for. I need you here to fight for the present while I try and redeem myself and the future of humanity. I wish I had some words that would ease the years ahead. But I don’t. Our pride has led to the fall of our species. I hope I live long enough to make it right. I am an old man, a stupid old man.”
“What about Helmut? What happened to him?”
“He had begun his own investigation. I did not find his data flags because he was pursuing a different angle. By the time I realized what he was doing, they were already on to him. I am sorry for your loss.” Stephanie realized that she did not kill Helmut with her research. This only increased her grief.
The helicopters were close enough to begin landing, and the dome began to vibrate with their approach.
Sheppard stood up and walked over to the two of them. “The pollution has spread to all crops everywhere. What Consanko did not release and does not want people to know is that all of their original source seed has been corrupted, as well. So they have been selling seed for the last decades, but the seeds they are selling are the last of their kind from the last stockpiles of any seed on Earth. None of it has the ability to create new seeds. What you and your team don’t find on your own, won’t be found. Mushrooms will feed some of humanity, but our conservative estimates are that more than two thirds of the human race will die of starvation.”
Sheppard looked up and tears flowed from his eyes. “I need you to finish what I have started here. Everything you need is here; all the command codes have already been transferred to you. I have done all of the heavy lifting. All you need to do is teach humanity what we have done here.”
Walking toward the door, Sheppard stopped and looked back, wiping his face. “You were worried about humanity not having a future in a hundred years. I am going to leave here and go with those men landing outside, because if I don’t, humanity won’t have a future in less than ten years. Good luck.”
Suicide Seed, Hayward’s Reach © Thaddeus Howze 2011, All Rights Reserved
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