Evo celebrated his 50th birthday atop the highest peak in Montana. Ascending to 9000 feet on the ski lift, he was intoxicated from the thin air and Jessa’s note, which he read repeatedly, even by foot at 10,000 feet to the top of Big Sky.
Atop this magnificent loft, you could see forever. But Evo was lost in reflection, both on recent events and new possibilities. As it welled up inside of him, he let out another yodel, which echoed across the valley, and sent powerful vibes to the folks back home. Evo celebrated his 50th with the world at his feet.
It was not just an expression of manhood. Evo was letting go of emotional ghosts that still governed his actions. Free of the lab and communing with people and nature, it opened up a bunch of stuff long neglected, and notions of how to live differently. Though the topic at this remote resort was slime–or bacterial communities–Evo was hungry for human community. He needed to to learn the language of closeness, or dwell in loneliness the rest of his days.
He was already on a high when Jessa came along. That explained why such a young, lovely creature would notice him. His confidence was contagious, and she needed a hero. Things just played out from there, and nature took its course.
Back home, Jessa and Evo continued to correspond via email. His first missive, with “My Wild Mediterranean Rose” in the subject line, was a song to a maiden in distress, embellished with poetry and art. It felt good to be so enamored.
In response, Jessa spilled all the beans, confessing her forced marriage to a strict and jealous man. Endless squabbling left her unhappy, defiant, and vulnerable. Evo had to strike quickly while her husband was away.
On a hot summer weekend, with no work-related deadlines, he took a ferry across the Sound to see her. Jessa’s husband was working overtime, so they met at her home in New Haven. Evo arrived right on schedule.
He rang the doorbell and was quickly pulled inside, so as not to arouse snoopy neighbors. With nothing on but a baggy t-shirt and frayed blue-jean shorts, she welcomed Evo with a hot, eager kiss. They shared the energy rush; her breasts laying perfectly in his heart space; staring at each other as only lovers can.
This was his first glimpse of this dressed down beauty, sans makeup, and 3 poker hands from naked. He planned to play those cards. But first he had to engage her and show he cared.
So, they talked science, despite all the lingual and cultural hurdles. Jessa was curious about Evo’s invention, and he loved to talk about it. He discussed all the drama at Brookstone; how his invention changed hospital policies, and the tension it created with administrators. He also outlined the potential medical and industrial applications, companies currently interested, and developmental hurdles that lay ahead.
It wasn’t all serious talk. When asked about the product name, Evo replied: “We planned to call it ‘anti-slime solution’, or ASS for short, but no one would buy it.” Jessa laughed aloud like a fifth grader. She had no problem with potty humor.
It wasn’t that hard to segue from science to romance, given the circumstances. It started with a glass of wine and a back rub. Gliding his hand softly on her cheek got things going. It was lights out from there.
Jessa was transported to a new mode of feeling. She melted effortlessly into Evo’s arms. His kisses sent shivers through her body. His hands were built for pleasure; sometimes soft and caressing, sometimes deep and therapeutic, but always on the spot. It beat her husband’s jump-and-hump routine any day. The memory made her ever eager for love, long after Evo was gone.
A bit later, Evo awoke from a post-coital snooze to the sound of a TV blasting. Jessa was glued to the tube, whining about Muslims being treated unfairly. The report was on growing anti-Islamic sentiment in the US. Relations had deteriorated since the World Trade Center disaster, the Iraq Invasion, and now ISIS. Jessa hated being treated like a foreigner and regretted leaving home.
“Ungrateful Americans!” she sobbed, sitting naked on the end of the bed. “I am a model citizen! Women are treated better in my own country! What am I doing here?”
“You’re definitely a model to me,” Evo responded, still half asleep. He tried to pull her back down with him.
“Don’t be a brute!” she screamed, pulling away. “Don’t you feel what is in my heart? What kind of man are you?”
“A normal one?” Evo offered. That did not go over well, so he inquired: “Tell me what you want to hear.”
“What is that supposed to mean? What is wrong with you?”
“Lighten up!” Evo muttered. He still didn’t get it.
“What a jerk! I want to go home, back to Lebanon.” She struggled with that last thought. “No, there’s no place for a Muslim woman. I want to…to kill myself!”
“Don’t be hysterical. Everything’s fine. Let’s just try to have some fun. What else is there but this moment, here and now, you and me? Life is insane, but we don’t have to dwell on it.”
Evo needed to improve his game skills. He needed to show some compassion. So, it was once more with feeling.
“I imagine it’s lonely being in your shoes. With all the hatred and ignorance in the world, there’s no place for a woman, much less a Muslim woman, to feel safe. I really feel for you.”
Jessa looked up at Evo with big, brown eyes, thinking he truly felt her pain. From the foot of the bed she jumped into his arms, and they made love once more.
Afterwards, they drove down to the Sound, to take a walk on the beach. As usual, the heat was stifling. Protected from the solar blast with sun block, sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats, they took in the bustle of the harbor. Evo especially enjoyed the ladies sunbathing. Girl watching was appropriate for a student of nature, he thought.
The sand burned their feet on the hot sand, so they sought relief on the water’s edge. But soon enough their feet started sticking to the wet sand. A gooey substance was caking up on their feet, making it uncomfortable to walk. Contrails of a mysterious slime clung to their feet, like sticking to chewing gum on a hot sidewalk. Never had they experienced anything like it.
“What the hell?” Evo shouted, searching his mind for explanations. “Oil? Tar?”
“They’ve had problems here in the past with fertilizer runoff,” Jessa speculated. “It could be jellyfish. All the predators have been overfished, leaving these vile creatures out of control.”
“I know jellyfish. This is not jellyfish.”
“Perhaps a new species of beach slime?” Jessa offered. There was a sharp, ammonia-like odor in the air.
“Perhaps an invasive species,” Evo ventured. “In Maui there’s a green-brown algae that washes up on the beach at high tide. It’s foul smelling, I hear.”
“There’s a bacterial bloom in the Baltic that turns the shore into stinking, yellow-brown slush, which destroys fish farms,” Jessa added.
“How about the sticky muck that collects in the Adriatic?” Evo queried. “In summer, white mucus washes up on shore, fouling beaches, and forming globs as big as people.”
“I don’t see any white globs,” Jessa responded. “But it feels like I’m walking on a king-size biofilm!”
“This is disgusting! What ever happened to fresh air and clean water? I have never seen the likes of it, especially this far north,” Evo said, as he scraped the goo off his feet with a stick.
“I’m feeling itchy,” Jessa cried. “Let’s get out of here.”
At the car they cleaned the slime from their feet with an old towel. On the short drive back to the ferry, not a word was spoken.
Jessa left Evo a long, endearing kiss as they departed; something to help him forget about slime for a while.
Despite being mismatched, both got what they needed. He was not her knight in shining armor, and she was too young and unavailable. But aching hearts and a shared love for biofilms helped them escape together for a moment. Though he’d never see her again, the sensations would linger. Jessa was unforgettable.
Unfortunately, for Evo, that special someone had not shown up yet. Neither had he. His notion of love and commitment was still in flux. He didn’t quite know what it was, but felt he was on its trail.
On the ferry back home, Evo realized he had not seen the lab in a while. He had barely laid eyes on his students all summer. Granted, they could work autonomously, but he needed to check their progress and felt bad about neglecting them. He also needed to check his growing emails and phone messages, which now numbered into the hundreds; and thousands, with all the junk mail he’d have to wade through.
Back at the lab, Ayden was making headway with his speedy mutants. He had isolated several clones harboring multiple copies of the Kleb motility gene that could move at warp speed. He named them Speedy Gonzalez, after the Bugs Bunny character, or SGZ for short. One was faster than the next, depending on how many copies of the speed genes it possessed. Ayden labeled them SGZ-1 thru SGZ-30. Strain SGZ-27 was considerably faster than the other clones, darting around under the microscope, like a pin ball on steroids. It was ~50 times faster than normal, which equated to an inch or two per minute. Though not fast in human terms, it was blazing fast for bacteria, and discernible to the naked eye.
Ayden monitored the speed and endurance of these clones on the video equipment in Evo’s office. Live SGZ-27 appeared as rapidly moving, green orbs on the computer screen. Speed and light were products of the same energy, while dead bacteria were undetectable. SGZ-27 was pushing their instruments to the limit.
Ayden was now focused on the hyper SGZ-27 clone. Speedy, as he called it, could not be contained in the warm, moist incubator. Rather, it had to be refrigerated to slow its growth and movement. Each day a fresh Speedy culture was prepared, by transferring day-old bacteria onto a new Petri plate. A tiny drop was placed at the center of the plate, and the colony grew outward, like rippling water. By day’s end, it covered the entire agar surface. This happened much more quickly at warmer temperatures.
There was nothing particularly dangerous about SGZ-27. It didn’t have the tools to cause disease, and was engineered not to thrive outside the lab. Its energy requirements were highly demanding, so it had to be fed constantly. Otherwise, it would burn out and die, once the nutrients were used up. Speedy was high-maintenance; it could only live in a bubble.
These mutants were also susceptible to MIFF. A touch of MIFF stopped Speedy in its tracks, and made the screen go dark. This assured Ayden that SGZ-27 posed no danger. It was harmless and controllable.
Evo arrived to find Ayden and Katey deep in research. Ayden greeted him first, ever eager to discuss his work.
“Have you ever seen anything so amazing?,” Ayden blurted, as Speedy flashed all over the screen.
“I’ve never seen anything like it!” Evo gasped. Evo’s excitement quickly turned to concern. That Kleb strain scared the shit out of him, and this mutant was mind boggling.
“So, what precautions have you taken, Ayden? Are you following Federal guidelines?”
“Yes, this is a safe strain,” Ayden assured him. “It’s been stripped of everything menacing. It is readily killed by sunlight or MIFF, and cannot thrive outside the lab.
“Plus, its energy demand is incredible. These speedsters starve themselves to death quickly. All that motion is taxing. It tires me out just watching them,” Ayden said with a cackle. “I can barely keep them alive. In fact, I’ve gone back to the freezer several times, as my bench cultures quickly go kaput. Refrigeration slows them down and keeps them fresher longer.”
“Be careful,” Evo admonished. “Don’t let them out of containment. They may not seem dangerous, but guidelines are guidelines. And, for heaven’s sake, don’t expose anyone to them.”
“Trust me,” said his confident disciple.
“So…what do you plan to do with them, Ayden?”
“I’m thinking they might be useful in industrial processes.”
“Yes, but that means releasing them into the environment,” Evo admonished. “It will take years to get EPA approval. It’ll be a nightmare getting them past the regulatory agencies.”
“We could keep them in closed containers in high-level containment,” Ayden suggested.
“Perhaps,” Evo allowed, “but that limits your commercial potential seriously. And, what if they escape?”
“If something did happen, the bioluminescence would help us keep a handle on them. We can see them in the dark.”
“Just be careful, Ayden.” Evo needed to drive the point home to his reckless protege.
“You worry too much, Prof.” Ayden insisted.
“That’s my job, Ayden.” An uneasy feeling gripped him as he turned away from his ambitious pupil. It was a mixed blessing: He was pleased with the progress, but afraid of losing control.