Adventures of a Botanist
by Bob Brill
Table of Contents
Chapter 3; Chapter 5
appear in this issue.
Chapter 4: KR22
One morning Sidney Purslane called me into his office. I found him sitting in front of a potted papaya seedling, Carica papaya, about six inches tall. “A little gift-wrapped box,” he said, “was sitting on my lab bench when I came in this morning. There was no note or explanation. It turned out to contain this cute little plant.”
A little spy, I thought, to watch us work.
Not so, Dr. Salsify, came the voice in my head.
Not so? I thought. I had become used to communicating with plants just by projecting my thoughts. Is it you, the papaya, addressing me?
Indeed, it is I, a papaya, but as you know by now, it is never a single individual who speaks, but a community of telepathically linked organisms.
I assumed that Sidney Purslane was also receiving the papaya’s thought transmission, but I knew he would not be able to receive mine, so I spoke aloud. “Right, the worldwide network of plants.”
Ah, that concept needs correction. You’ve been taught to believe that there is one great network, but in reality there are many networks. And not all in agreement on the important issues of our time. I’ve come to broaden your outlook.
“You say you’ve come,” said Sidney Purslane, “as though you walked in the door, but don’t you mean you were delivered here?”
Yes, of course. Don’t quibble. A human brought me here. It was the decision of my nation that I should come to enlighten you.
“So, who brought you? Someone who works in the lab?”
Dr. Purslane, that’s privileged information, a privilege you have not yet earned. But I do know that you and Dr. Salsify are looking for a way to halt the production of KR22. In this our purposes are aligned. I’ve come not only to further your education, but to help you achieve that goal.
“Aren’t you concerned,” I asked, “that the plants who are pushing KR22 will overhear us?”
Not a problem. I’ve ensured that our conversation is private. I’ll teach you both how to cloak your thoughts, so you won’t have to resort to ridiculous tactics like attempting to communicate in a noisy bar or a bank vault, neither of which, by the way, protected your privacy.
They know. The fungi in your bodies tell them everything you say, think and do. They are firm in their belief that you can’t stop KR22 production. So as long as your work on Project Exodus continues to be useful to them, they won’t interfere with you.
“What makes you so sure?”
We monitor their counsels.
“And don’t they monitor yours?”
As yet they are unaware of our presence here. Now let me explain some things to you. You’re used to thinking of the plant groups in taxonomic categories, like the gymnosperms, the angiosperms, and so forth. But politically, at this moment, the two great divisions are the light seeded and the heavy seeded. You see, only the light seeded plants have any chance of escaping the Earth’s atmosphere and wandering among the stars. Do you think a big fat papaya seed would have any chance of achieving escape velocity?
We are not really opposed to plants colonizing other planets, but since we heavyseeds are destined to remain here, we want to foster a healthy Earth, a world in balance, in the hope that the doom predicted by the lightseeds can be averted. This is a hope, it seems to us, with better chance of success than Project Exodus. And even if it fails and the Earth is doomed, we want to make the last days of the planet as wholesome and balanced as possible. The spread of KR22 addiction is not consistent with this hope.
“But what about the cacti?” I countered. “My old friend Claws, who recruited me for Project Exodus, he’s not exactly a heavyweight, but neither is he a lightweight. I doubt the cacti could escape.”
The situation is complex. The lightweights have allies among the heavier species who feel that Project Exodus offers the plant kingdom the best chance of survival, even if they themselves will not be saved. Likewise, we heavyweights have our allies among the lighter species who feel that ours is the better strategy for survival or who have made a moral decision to work for the improvement of life for all species in the Earth’s last days.
As for your friend Claws, some cactus genes are likely to be part of the final mix, in order to permit long periods in dormancy and survival in desert conditions.
The papaya then gave us the formula for the KR22 molecule and for an enzyme that could nullify it. That gave us a huge head start on Project Drugbust, as we were calling it. It was a relatively simple matter for us to cook up a sample batch of the enzyme and try it out.
Our papaya friend also showed us how to extract an alkaloid from tabasco sauce, which when imbibed and used in conjunction with a simple meditation technique, would temporarily break the telepathic link with our plant overseers, allowing us to think, converse and work for short periods without interference.
It had become common knowledge that pure KR22 powder could be obtained for a modest price from a Kyvian technician in the KR22 wing of the lab. Through an intermediary Dr. Purslane was able to procure a supply for our tests. We first administered it to a rat to see what the effect would be. The rat fell into a catatonic state, while presumably its mind experienced the rodent equivalent of a drug trip.
We then made up a batch of the anti-KR22 enzyme and added this to a solution of KR22. We performed an assay on this mixture and determined that it no longer contained the drug. We administered this to another rat. There was no effect. Success.
It only remained to make a test on a human. We chose lots and the honor fell to me. I imbibed a beakerful of the mixture and waited. Gradually I felt sleepy and closed my eyes.
When I woke up I saw the ocean rolling in toward me, a stretch of beach between me and the water, and one lone palm tree growing out of the sand. I was sitting in a beach chair with my feet up on a little straw table. I was wearing a bathing suit and a dirty cotton T-shirt advertising a brand of Mexican beer, a pair of rubber flip-flops on my feet. You may think that this would be deeply disorienting, but in fact, I accepted it without alarm, although it did arouse my curiosity.
I turned to Sidney Purslane, who was seated in a beach chair next to me, and said, “So, how do you suppose we got here?”
“I’m not sure, but my theory is that the effect of the anti-KR22 enzyme was only temporary. Some time shortly after the enzyme broke up the KR22 molecules, the pieces spontaneously recombined. We can do another assay to test that idea.”
“So, you’re telling me I’m tripping?”
“That’s right. You know what the literature reports. The drug causes you to split off into a totally separate reality, usually very pleasant, especially your first time out.”
“But Sidney, there’s something peculiar here. If I have created a separate reality, then you are just a mental construct of mine, in which case, why am I learning these ideas from you, before first thinking of them myself? The real you must still be back at the lab.”
“That’s a good point, Albert. But since I’m just a construct in your mind, then it’s really you who have come up with these ideas and made me the spokesman for them. We still have a lot to learn about the way KR22 affects the mind. In fact, we still know very little about the mind.”
“I’m really thirsty,” I replied. “Would you like a beer?”
“I’d love a beer.”
“Belinda! Would you please bring us a couple of beers?”
“Honey, we’re out of beer. How about some iced lemon ginger tea?”
I knew without turning around that behind me was the rundown beach shack I’d been living in with Belinda Peartree, my former student. I’ve already mentioned how much I detested her, but in this reality I discovered that she made a wonderful addition to my life. She adored me, had a sweet disposition and was dynamite in bed. For three months we had been living this lovely indolent idyll on the beach at Topolobampo on the Pacific coast of Mexico. We chose this spot because of the sound of that name, Topolobampo, so suggestive of carefree Latin dance rhythms and freedom from responsibility.
Belinda appeared with a tray of drinks, giving one first to Sidney, then bending over to hand me mine. She was so sexy in her bikini that I felt inclined to drag her into the shack for yet another round of what had become the principal activity of our days and nights, but that would have been rude to our guest, and besides, I was feeling lazy and thirsty too.
“Thank you, Belinda. You’re very sweet.” I took a sip of the drink. It was delicious. I stuck my nose in it and inhaled deeply the scent of lemon ginger.
The next I knew I was climbing the pink and black marble steps of the Kyvian Embassy in London. As I entered the vestibule I surrendered my overcoat, scarf and top hat to a liveried attendant and passed into the orange and lavender, mirrored opulence of the marble rotunda.
My attention was immediately engaged by a group of well-tailored men crowding about a hidden source of illumination. I made my way at once to their sides and soon found a place at a large round table upon which ... upon which ... I stared transfixed. I knew at once what it was, what it was doing, what it was for, though how such a marvel could exist ... no, it was incredible.
The chemistry of excitement transformed me. All sense receptors open, I strained for details, searched for pattern, but too much was happening, too quickly, and all the while my being thrilled with the ringing sensation of wonder.
How many nights I had lain awake pondering the mother of all botanical mysteries, the apical meristem, the site of those actively dividing cells which leave in their wake the entire primary body of the plant. Build me a marigold, cries the voice of the genes, and out of the apical meristem flows no other than a marigold.
Lying in bed, I had so often sketched on the silent blackboard of the night, the possible paths of growth by which this magic trick might be performed. After falling asleep, I had usually gone on to dream up twisted variations in which plant cells divided into quintuplets instead of twins, opening up onto a vision of the elaborate commerce of enzymes and substrates navigating the plant-wide network of intercellular cytoplasmic strands. Constructing three-dimensional dynamic models of a meristem in my head was doomed always to be fleeting, elusive, false, indescribable and tending with fatigue to fantasy.
It was with passionate amazement then that I stared at the machine that drew such a crowd of fascinated spectators about the large round table. It was precisely such a dynamic 3D model of a meristem in all the complex splendor of its dance.
“Oh yes,” said a voice from the shadows, as if in answer to my thought, “it can be slowed down for closer study, as you now see. And is it modeled on reality?” A hand emerged from the shadow to pull from the machine a potted marigold seedling. “Naturally, Dr. Salsify, we can study any specimen we can grow. You shall have ample opportunity to use this tool in your research.”
At that moment a liveried servant passed by offering drinks from a tray. I accepted a glass of what appeared to be champagne. I took a sip. It was cold lemon ginger tea. I inhaled its fragrance and woke up in the lab with a screaming headache.
Sidney Purslane hovered over me. “So how was it?” he asked.
“Your KR22 trip.”
“It was wonderful. I hope to God it never happens again.”
Proceed to Chapter 5...
Copyright © 2007 by Bob Brill