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The Green Bug Bites

by Sasha Kimi

“This place looks deserted,” said Adam as he reached for a stool at the bar after a quick scan of the surroundings.

“Just wait till ladies’ night arrives. Those fireflies go berserk then,” said Alicia.

“Yeah. But fireflies? Let me guess... that’s nightclub lingo for... people?”

Alicia smiled wryly at him. “I’m not a big fan of metaphors. I was referring to the disco lights.”

“Right... disco lights. Makes sense,” said Adam and looked down at the menu.

“Since you’re the only one here, I’m free to engage you in interesting conversation,” Alicia quipped.

Adam noticed a faint sparkle in her eye when she said that. Adam hesitated but acquiesced. “Yeah... sure... Okay, hit me with a scotch,” he said with raised eyebrows. “I’m in an adventurous mood today.”

Alicia smiled at Adam. Something about her attitude was downright condescending.

Adam took a swig of the drink, looked at Alicia and asked, “So, what do you have in mind?”

“The disco lights that you see in this club — they are just smartly crafted glass bulbs that are teeming with fireflies inside. All you need is a constant supply of oxygen and you get light without electricity. We have different... breeds, if you will. Each engineered to produce light at a particular wavelength so that your visual experience isn’t entirely monochromatic.”

Alicia winked. “The harmony of these lights exploits a community property of tropical fireflies from Kuala Selangor called phase synchronization. All we need is to move the lights mechanically to produce the characteristic disco flashes! But they are so high up that you can’t seem them dancing.”

“That’s eccentric,” Adam said uneasily.

“The fireflies’ energy conversion system is so efficient that little heat is produced. In fact, implementation of this system in public lighting the world over has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent. You could say that fireflies have delayed the hypothesized apocalypse by several years!” Alicia said with a grin.

“So essentially, all public places are... infested with bugs??” Adam loathed bugs.

Alicia laughed. “I wouldn’t use that word if I were you.”

Adam glanced at the lights repeatedly and shook his head in disbelief. “Can I have a refill... and some taco beef nuggets to go with that?”

Alicia poured him another round of scotch on the rocks and said something in Spanish to the cook in the kitchen.

Adam decided to sip this one down. He could hear the growing hum of the air-conditioning system kicking in. But oddly, with a whiff of... rain.

“What’s with the air freshener?” Adam quizzed.

Alicia’s face turned radiant. “Petrichor! Nothing more inviting than the sweet smell of Mother Earth. A stroke of marketing genius. Those odors are produced by geosmin-overproducing strains of E.coli. The DNA for its synthesis has been borrowed from actinomycetes and expressed under a controlled promoter. The odor is channeled through the air-conditioning system. The micro-filters ensure that the bacteria don’t enter the air we breathe. Slick trick!”

Adam looked at Alicia, dumbstruck.

“It’s the personal-care products revolution,” Alicia continued. “Most of the chemicals in traditional perfumes are toxic, but the companies get away with it since the law doesn’t require listing ingredients on their products.

“Biologists synthesized perfumes from DNA sequences of geosmin. They were modified, scrambled, extended and secreted by a robust chassis like E.coli. In essence” — Alicia smiled — “non-toxic, non-allergic amino acid cocktails have replaced chemical cocktails.

“They’re even good for your skin. What’s more, their degradation kinetics have been manipulated so that their fragrance lasts longer, like the hyper-stable perfumes from Oligoroma. They last a year, but personally, I think it can get a bit monotonous.”

Adam gulped his drink and felt a little flustered after what he had heard. His taco beef roast arrived and he began to dig in.

“Tacos are yummy aren’t they?” asked Alicia.

Adam nodded.

“They’re engineered, too. The Japanese call it umami. All meat is umami, or protein. It follows the same design principles as the perfumes I talked about, only this time they were screened for taste and not smell. We have replicated the tastes of all protein foods and have even concocted some new ones in a yeast chassis. The fiber skeleton of the meat, which makes it look real, is just engineered collagen or bacterial carbohydrates.”

Adam froze and let the tacos drop from his hand. “This can’t be happening,” he stammered. “This can’t be safe. They didn’t inform us.”

“When the world is self-destructing, somebody has to take an initiative,” Alicia philosophized. “The safety of the planet is best left to the experts, not the common man. You do realize that livestock is a huge source of greenhouse gases. The government is planning a phased genocide of all livestock on this planet now that we have the formula for their meat and milk. A little sacrifice we have to make to increase the planet’s longevity.”

Adam quickly finished his drink and placed a twenty-dollar bill on the table. He scurried out the men’s room and prepared to wash himself vigorously.

He saw two liquid-soap canisters next to the sink. One read, “Essence of Cockroach.” The other, “Essence of Toadstool.”

Copyright © 2012 by Sasha Kimi

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