“A cute little predicament, isn’t it?” Trudy lifted up her porcelain teapot. “More Darjeeling, dear?”
“Yes, please.” Gemma pushed her china forward. High tea parties were seldom now, and she enjoyed Trudy’s peculiar stories, not told anywhere else these days. “Indeed, I suppose. So very odd how things turned out in the end, don’t you think…”
“Down, bring her down.” A group of builders on the site were preparing to release the space tower’s first platform. The site was off limits but for occasional family visits, usually granted upon request to the administration.
The operator on the air glider looked out to make sure the target was aligned correctly. “Hey, what’s that?” he pointed a gloved finger at a green spot beneath the vehicle. He couldn’t tell from the glider’s altitude whether the sprout was a budding tree or a future flowery bush.
The discovery was most unfortunate. The anti-pollution technology that fed government neo-concretization policy encouraged corporate giants to enter bidding wars that led to lucrative contracts, but eco-terrorism interfered with the business. While there was no winning against the oligopolies, smaller subcontractors, like the operator’s employer, could eke out a living by riding their coattails and getting some of their crumbs. Purification technology was big business. And planting trees in urban zones was now illegal.
The operator landed and powered down his glider. The board of directors would most likely want a formal investigation into the incident, which meant freezing the project without pay for the workers. His son’s tuition was due in a week. Deep Space Training Division didn’t care for delays. What a headache, he thought heading home, not knowing what to tell his wife.
By morning, the sprout grew several more inches and its trunk thickened. The inspector took samples for the lab, while field techs combed the entire site. They found evidence of an intrusion, but without clear prints or other physical clues. Somehow someone paid the site an unauthorized visit and planted the seed under all that foamy neo-concrete, using DNA homogenization to cover his tracks.
The operator could not return to the site the next day, or the day after that. While he waited for a work recall, he feverishly searched for the solution to this uncalled for crisis. He couldn’t have his son suspended, but being angry wasn’t helping anyone and he only kept nodding to his own restless thoughts.
Gemma examined the tea stains at the bottom of her cup. “I don’t understand how she got away with such an offense.”
“Well, my dear, we—women, that is—have always been pretty resourceful,” Trudy winked mischievously as she cut a slice of lime.
The lab results showed that the sprout, now a tree of six feet, was an exotic plant with an acceleration mechanism in its makeup. The tree didn’t need food or water, and would grow to match the space tower’s height in a matter of days. A disaster! The board of directors unanimously voted to uproot the tree and catch the troublemaker.
The operator got off his transmitter. His brother agreed reluctantly to lend a sum, just enough to cover his son’s tuition. Momentarily relieved, he turned his thoughts to the tree. He didn’t like when his life plans were interrupted, even for a greater good. He could think of a dozen other ways of getting the message out without damaging roustabouts and other workers who couldn’t afford to get involved. Since losing his position as the prosthetic architect and having to plough in manual labor, the operator held a grudge against these protesters – they were to blame for the accident that got him fired. Now he wanted to have a face-to-face talk with the thoughtless fool. Thinking that his friend in the lab might know more, he dialed up.
By the time his wife got home from her shift at the power station where she was employed as a consultant biologist, the operator had the “when” and the “how” of the incident. Investigation of the “who” was ongoing, but the DNA homogenizator made discovery unlikely. Based on smudged satellite images, they could confirm the perpetrator was a woman, but for all intents and purposes, she was anonymous and would remain so forever.
“Darling, I had a very curious encounter at work today. One of the inspectors from your company…”
The operator drew a neurotic smile at her last words. My company? Doesn’t she know who runs everything these days?
“You know how I’ve been freelancing for this sustainability advocacy, the movement against neo-concretization?” Trudy continued, “That female intruder of yours created quite a buzz! Turns out they can’t uproot the tree and need to know the key to the plant’s genetic code to destroy it – they can’t quite crack the code on their own. Isn’t that odd? Oh well, they won’t find anything, trust me…” she almost whispered. A naughty sparkle in her eyes gave the operator a tic.
Camilla Stein ©2011. All rights reserved.