Evo heard it on his morning talk radio show, well before the caffeine kicked in. The shock jocks were fussing about some invasive crop disease in the nation’s heartland. All the major TV networks were locked in on the crisis. One anchor called it a “river of slime” indiscriminately killing crops in its wake. Pockets of destruction were being reported from Texas to New Jersey. The US was once again paralyzed by terror.
Evo was beside himself. It sounded eerily familiar, but how could that be? How could Prime Slime have escaped the lab and spread across multiple States so rapidly? Perhaps it was something similar, some natural phenomenon. The rain may have aroused a sleeping giant. Evo raced through the channels with the remote, looking for more information. There was breaking news on CNN:
“We are receiving some bizarre information from our affiliates in Dallas. Reports are that this infestation actually glows in the dark. Farmers across the affected area swear by it. Is this the work of terrorists, or an alien invasion?”
“My God!” Evo cried, falling back in his chair. His world was suddenly yanked out from under him. It had to be Prime Slime. But how? Regardless, he had to notify the authorities.
Evo phoned the Department of Agriculture, and was transferred to an upper-level official. Having confessed that the slime originated from his lab, he was summoned to Washington. A limousine and police escort were sent to his home, allowing barely enough time to pack an overnight bag.
In the interim, Evo called Philmore: “Did you hear the news?”
“I don’t listen to that nonsense.”
“Get off your high horse for a fucking minute and listen!”
“What’s up, Doc?”
“They’re reporting that a slime is destroying crops in several states, and it’s Prime Slime. I have no earthly idea how it escaped.”
“You’re pulling my leg,” Philmore uttered. “Are you sure?”
“Nothing else moves that rapidly. It’s spreading like wildfire from here to Mexico, leaving death in its wake.”
Philmore Potts still had his doubts. “Several biological agents destroy plants. After the terrible drought we had, conventional plants are highly susceptible to such disease.”
“Yeah, but none of them light up in the dark.”
“Well, there you have it,” Philmore relented. “But how?”
“I thought you might know the answer.”
“You’re not insinuating I had anything to do with it.”
“I don’t know what to believe,” Evo confessed. “We know how much you hate the factory farms. You and your farmhand were the only outsiders who entered my lab.”
“Hold on a minute!” Philmore cried, as he put it all together. “Yes, yes, Cal Radi, my farmhand. He and his co-worker have been missing since the day we visited your lab last week. He likely swiped your discarded tube and spread it like Johnny Appleseed.”
“All the way to Mexico,” Evo added. “Shit!”
“Looks like they got their revenge.”
“Revenge?” Evo inquired.
“Those guys are migrant camp survivors. We rescued them to work in our organic gardens. They were good workers and good men, but were badly mistreated by the corporate farms.”
“How did they disperse Prime Slime over such a wide area?”
“Cal and Sonny know how to make compost tea, a bacterial suspension that helps plants grow. They must have made tea out of your Prime Slime, enough to spray every farm on their way back home. They worked those farms, and those farms worked them.”
“More like ‘tempest tea’,” Evo remarked, recalling how nervous Cal made him feel when they visited his lab.
“I’m guessing they made it to Laredo and crossed the border to Mexico without a hitch. Not exactly your typical terrorists.
“Listen, I am terribly sorry I brought Cal along.”
“It’s interesting how the blight took time to manifest,” Evo reflected, now beyond the blame game. “Prime Slime laid dormant until the rains came.”
“Then it caught fire,” Philmore added. “Otherwise, the Feds might have intercepted Cal and Sonny much sooner. Their path of destruction would have given them away.”
“The seed is now sown. . .” said Evo.
Together, the two men stitched together a remarkable story, as their fates collided. A painful silence followed. As Evo and Philmore began to focus on what was to be done.
Apparently, Lucio’s career was ruined. Granted, he didn’t create the monster. Nor did he invite Cal Radi to his lab. Yet, he allowed Cal in, against protocol. He knew how dangerous Kleb was. He insisted on keeping Prime Slime alive. And he was absent all summer, leaving Katey and Ayden unsupervised. The buck stopped with him.
The GMO nightmare that Philmore warned about was coming to fruition. Yet, what solace was there in being right? There was no time for I-told-you-sos, considering the enormity and urgency of the problem. Nothing else mattered beyond stopping this thing.
In the moments before the Feds arrived, with Philmore on speakerphone, Evo donned a black suit usually reserved for funerals. To quell all the anxiety, he concentrating on his breath.
“What’s left but to stop this thing?”
“It’s our task,” Philmore assured him. “We’ll do this together; you with yours and me with mine. Fate brought us together to defeat this monster.”
“I thought you would be pleased by all this,” Evo said. “It substantiates all that you’ve been saying.”
“Indeed! But, who would wish for this?” Philmore conceded. “All I see is incomprehensible loss and suffering, not to mention negating all the good things you’ve done.
“Nevertheless, we must seize the opportunity. This is a mandate for change—a return to quality—and I plan to help lead that cause. But first you need to snuff this thing out. MIFF will stop it, and I’ll help rebuild the land.”
Philmore’s courage cut through the despair, comforting Evo, and helping him focus on the task ahead.
“Thank you, my friend. Listen, the Feds are here to take me to Washington. I’ll let you know what transpires.”
“Knock ‘em dead.”
Evo pocketed his cell phone, as emergency strobe lights penetrated the windows of his apartment. He bagged some clothes, his laptop, and was swept away by motorcade to the Islip airport in the pouring rain. He would catch the first shuttle to DC.
At the airport, Evo contacted Nan and his students by phone to inform them of the devastation, and his current situation. The news hit everyone hard, especially Ayden and Katey. They felt beyond awful, and vowed to defend him at all costs. Neither slept a wink that evening. Nan wanted to be there for him, but Evo was on his own this time.
An emergency meeting was called that afternoon at the Pentagon. Evo reported to the Department of Homeland Security, arriving by police escort. An officer in black escorted him in from the rain under a large black umbrella, and ushered Evo to an unlabeled office. A clerk opened the door, and left him inside.
One could only marvel at the towering shelves stacked with law books, and the polished mahogany. Paintings and busts of several US Presidents filled the chamber. In the center, bracketed by American flags, was a huge oak desk. A man in a navy blue suit was sitting with his back to Evo. At once, the chair swiveled around, and the President leaned forward:
“Dr. Lucio, I presume.”
“Yes, Mr. President, sir” Evo muttered. “I’m honored to…”
“What sort of evil have you unleashed?”
“It was not my intention to cause harm, sir.”
“What was it then, some kind of game, playing chess with the devil, or perhaps a terrorist plot?”
“No sir. We are loyal citizens. Our mission is to cure disease.”
“We invest taxpayer money into your work, and you make slimy monsters? That doesn’t sound like a cure to me, Lucio!”
“It was an accident, sir! We made every effort to contain it.”
“So, pray tell…what happened?”
“A lab accident created this monster, but we kept it alive and contained it for further study. It’s helped us solve some important problems. However, a farmer we were working with secretly absconded with it and infected farms all the way to Mexico.”
“That might play well in Hollywood,” the President sneered, “but it won’t fly here! This looks more like a premeditated plot. Are you a communist, Dr. Lucio?”
Just then the red emergency phone rang and the President answered. He listened for a moment before responding.
“Yes, go to Code Red. I want extra surveillance in high-risk areas: nuclear power plants, airports, offshore oil rigs, carrier flight decks, and major bridges. They’re sure to strike again.”
He hung up the phone and turned back to Evo. “This is likely the work of eco-terrorists. Our intelligence agencies warned it was imminent. We knew they had weapons of mass destruction.”
“I assure you, sir, this is from my lab. I can tell you every detail about this creature, how it was made, the kinds of plants it prefers, and how we can stop it.”
“Save that for our scientists and engineers. You’ll convene with the experts this afternoon.”
“But I don’t have my lab notebooks with me.”
“We’ve confiscated all your notebooks. CDC scientists are raking them over as we speak.”
“I have nothing to hide,” Evo said.
“Good! Spit out everything you know. In turn, we will gather to develop a national strategy to solve this crisis.”
“I know how to stop it, sir.”
“We have the finest military and industrial scientists on hand. We’ll figure out what action to take. You just cooperate.”
Before Evo exited, the President left him with a final thought: “Let me make something clear, Lucio. With our armed forces and national security stuck cleaning up your mess, we are far more vulnerable to extremists who hate us and who hate freedom! The fate of this nation may be squarely on your shoulders.”
Back at the Pentagon, some of the big guns in science had gathered to work on the problem, including top microbiologists, agronomists, agrochemists, molecular biologists, USDA scientists, and the Army Corp of Engineers. Representatives from the major oil, chemical, drug and munitions industries were there as well.
The President was right about one thing. Prime Slime was massively destructive and could weaken our defenses. This sort of biological warfare could hit us hard. America was full of conventional, factory farms. Indeed, it was the perfect weapon; like precision bombing without collateral damage. Basically, our enemies could starve us to death.
Evo pondered the aftermath of such a war. Most people would suffer dearly. Access to organic farms or sylvan vegetation would save only a few. Those with survivor skills, who could forage for wild mushrooms, berries, herbs, seeds, nuts, and dig for tubers, might get by. Those willing to eat grubs, worms, insects, hunt for animals, and eat road kill had a chance. We’d be set back considerably, until agriculture arose again from the ashes. Maybe a grand correction would be good for us, Evo thought.
Before the meeting, Evo was asked to inspect the offending organism, collected by one of the CDC scientists. He was brought to a Biosafety Level 3 Lab, where the most harmful bacteria, fungi and viruses were studied. Evo donned special body protection gear to ensure zero exposure. The slime was contained on a Petri plate inside a safety hood. True to form, Prime Slime threatened to overflow from the plate, and glowed in the dark when they doused the lights. Evo bowed his head. He knew this germ.
That afternoon, a surplus of scientists and dignitaries were summoned to the State Department press conference room. Evo sat in the second row, behind department heads and cabinet members, who occasionally turned back to give him a look over.
An Army Colonel from the Corp of Engineers presided over the meeting, aided by a projector to provide an overview of the scourge. The slime was spreading rapidly, abetted by heavy rain and warm temperatures. The dots started to connect, leaving a trail of destruction, north to south. It spread contiguously from the serpentine trail Cal and Sonny took on their way home.
Evo was forced sit quietly, listening to so-called ‘experts’, who had no understanding of Prime Slime. Finally, when it was his turn to speak, he was twisted from frustration. Evo waded through a sea of disapproval on his way to the podium.
With the aid of a few PowerPoint slides, Evo described the nature of slime and its relevance to plant disease. He then described the genetic mishap; how speed and slime combined to make this blight so dangerous. He recalled the first outbreak, and how it was contained with MIFF. Dr. Lucio spoke resolutely, ignoring the arrogance, skepticism and resentment in the room.
The best way to lick Prime Slime, Evo insisted, was not to attack it directly. Better to starve it, as they had done on the football field. MIFF was perhaps the best the way to achieve this, especially since his students had refined the technology and removed the smell. MIFF could stop Prime Slime with minimum collateral damage.
Sadly, Evo’s performance was wasted on a stubborn audience. These self-proclaimed experts were not about to follow an upstart. Their commercial ties would help them and their cronies reap fortunes with approved and available germicides.
Following a short discussion, the meeting was adjourned. The real dialogue continued behind closed doors, with reps from agribusiness and the petrochemical industry. Evo was not involved.
Eventually, Dr. Lucio was ushered into a room where several dignitaries were seated. An ad hoc consortium of officials was summoned to discuss the problem, including the USDA, Homeland Security, the EPA and the Armed Forces.
Presiding over the council was Army Chief of Staff, General Flavé Fortissimo. Though short and almost perfectly round, his booming voice made him seem larger. With a wooden pointer, the General detailed the extent of destruction on a digital map. Multi-colored dots on the map corresponded to the type of crop decimated by the blight: corn in yellow, wheat in orange, tobacco in brown, apples in red, soybeans in light green, and leaf vegetables in medium green. Dark green represented forests, which were currently unscathed. Most of the devastation hit factory farms, manicured lawns, and places where synthetic fertilizer was used.
“Prime Slime is an opportunist,” Evo conveyed. “It preys upon the weak. It doesn’t effect organic plants or wild vegetation. It thrives on over-cultivated lands, but not sylvan grasses or forests. However, the heat and drought may have rendered all plants more susceptible, theoretically speaking.”
Most of the scientists took Evo’s suggestions with a grain of salt. They did not buy into organic pseudoscience. They were card-carrying disciples of the germ theory, which viewed all bacteria as dangerous. But Evo learned from Philmore that soil quality made all the difference. They proved that Prime Slime was dangerous only to conventional plants. Still, he might as well have advocated voodoo; his words were considered sheer nonsense.
Clearly, the Feds did not anticipate this form of bioterrorism. Since 9/11, they were prepared to combat the likes of anthrax, smallpox, tularemia, and Ebola, maybe even TB. No one expected a massive crop destruction by an unknown entity. None of the billions spent on homeland security prepared them for this peril.
“How in Sam Hill we gonna fight this thing?” General Fortissimo queried.
“This is not your typical engagement,” one expert offered. “Modern warfare is fought as much by scientists as soldiers.”
“You need to attack by night,” Evo instructed, which caught everyone’s attention. “These bacteria harbor a luciferase gene.”
“Talk English, boy!” blurted Gen. Fortissimo. “What the hell is luciferase? Are you sayin’ these bugs come from the devil?”
“No, sir. Luciferase is what makes fireflies light up at night. Prime Slime has this gene in its DNA. If it’s alive, it glows.”
“Let’s see if I have this straight,” said Fortissimo. “If it’s glowing, it’s growing. And, when the light’s out, the party’s over.”
“Exactly,” Evo responded. “The brighter it is, the more active it is. Conversely, the dimmer the light, the weaker it is.”
“Why aren’t all plants susceptible?” asked an EPA scientist.
“Uncultivated lands have resources–like trace minerals–that farmlands have lost. Forests and wild plants contain abundant topsoil full of supportive growth factors and good microbes to fend off bad ones. So do organic plants.” Again, this new age gibberish fell largely on deaf ears.
“We should spray at night with chlorine,” a scientist suggested.
“Silver or tin might work better,” added another.
“We might have to resort to formaldehyde,” said another.
“Such chemicals are much too toxic and will further damage crops and soil,” Evo warned. “They will kill off the good bacteria. MIFF can stop this thing from expanding with minimal damage to other living things. The soil will be usable again, once it passes.”
“We’ll burn this critter to the ground,” Fortissimo proposed.
“But why destroy more than we need to?” Evo asked.
“We can’t worry about collateral damage at this point!” Fortissimo blurted. “Gotta go with the big guns.”
“You will burn homes and businesses as well. Plus, it won’t work in the rain. We’re better off using MIFF for these purposes. We could spray around the affected area without causing more problems, and save a substantial part of the remaining crop.”
“We know nothing about this chemical of yours, or its safety profile,” an EPA official interjected. “There are no human or animal studies available. MIFF has not been sanctioned for use, especially on this scale. The law requires we use approved products.”
“We have stockpiles of antibiotics, biocides and germicides ready and in position to combat this thing,” assured a USDA spokesperson. “Plus, we need to act quickly.”
Evo was powerless to affect their plans. The situation was too mired in politics, money and ego. Furthermore, it would take time to produce the amount of MIFF needed. With the President’s blessing, the General had already directed the Army Corp to the edge of the slime devastation, armed with several weapons. The chemical companies provided germicides. Boxcars full of chlorine were freighted from Connecticut to Army bases at Fort Dix in New Jersey, Fort Knox in Kentucky, Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri and Fort Sam Houston in Texas. The Air Force directed aerial spraying of farmlands and other affected areas. On the ground, the Army was equipped with flame-throwers. They were coming after it with both barrels loaded.
The President was determined to bring this incursion down, with all the might at his disposal. Weapons were in place to wage an all-out attack on the slime blight. Needless to say, industry would profit handsomely, as is customary in times of war.
Though MIFF was not part of the primary plan, Dr. Lucio’s information was put to some use. They would attack the blight at night and monitor success with light-sensors. Planes equipped with digital cameras would relay images back to Command Control, making surveillance immediate and precise. Agricultural Research Service scientists were intrigued enough with MIFF to recommend it as part of a backup plan. Monies were allocated to build stockpiles of MIFF, to pay for the basic ingredients and their shipment to regional military and agricultural labs.
Evo considered disclosing the secret MIFF recipe, so government labs could produce it locally. That would reduce the cost and the time involved substantially. The Feds already scrutinized his lab notebooks, and knew his secrets. But they did not have the newest MIFF formulation, known only to Katey and Ayden.
A press conference was called that late afternoon. Evo was ushered to a room with other scientists, where the President was to give a nationally televised statement on the current crisis. The President had the difficult task of explaining to a shocked and anxious public what had transpired, and their proposed plan of attack.
“We are doing everything possible to protect the American people,” he assured the nation, in his ever-confident manner. “This great country is more prepared than ever to protect our citizens against terrorism. We are attacking this problem on all levels, and we will prevail.” Unfortunately, much of the military was already spread thin fighting wars on foreign soil. The President requested another $20 billion from Congress to cover costs for this operation.
After a debriefing, Evo caught a flight back to New York. A limo driver waited for him outside of Baggage Claim at the airport. The driver held up a sign that read “Dr. Evolution”. Evo was escorted to the hospital, and directly to the VP’s office.
Evo’s troubles were just beginning. Not having destroyed Prime Slime when he had the chance was coming back to haunt him. His career and the University’s fate were in the crosshairs.
Evo was slapped hard with that reality as he entered Ms. Hardash’s office. They stared holes through him as Evo summarized the DC meeting for the VP and Dr. Honcho, and outlined his plans to provide MIFF as backup. Minnie Hardash sneered in disgust, but did not respond until Evo gave his concluding statement:
“If we reveal the new MIFF recipe, they can make it locally.”
“Over my dead body!” Hardash howled. “That formula is proprietary! Brookstone has invested half a million dollars protecting our rights to this technology! It’s worthless if anyone can make it! Where do you get off giving our property away?”
“The alternative is to make MIFF here at Brookstone,” Evo asked. “We’ll ship it whole to the military labs.”
We’ve put up too much money already,” Hardash snapped. “There’s no assurance they’ll use it anyway.”
Hardash wanted to see Evo destroyed, but also wanted to gain from his invention. In quiet frustration, Evo looked desperately at Dr. Honcho, whose poker face was legendary. He continued:
“We have only two choices, sir; either they make it or we make it. We can’t just sit on our hands. The government will provide the funding to get this done. If Plan A fails, we must be ready for Plan B. In any case, we need to get moving. To be sure, we were on the brink of success before this happened. Now, our only hope is to do some good. Let’s go down as heroes.”
“I should have fired you long ago!” Hardash uttered. Evo looked to Dr. Honcho for support, but he looked away in disgust.
“What good will pointing fingers do?” Evo responded. “We need to stop this thing, and MIFF is the answer. Widespread hunger and calamity are likely if we don’t act!”
“You’re a curse!” blurted Hardash.
“Listen, you have a part in this too,” Evo volleyed. “You deliberately slowed the development of MIFF. If you hired the personnel I needed, someone would have monitored my students while I was away. If the contaminated bags were removed daily, Prime Slime would have never been created.”
“You’re blaming me for this?”
“So what’s next, Lucio?” Honcho interrupted, trying to keep the focus on the issue at hand.
“This is a defining moment. It’s not what I had in mind, but it’s squarely in our lap. Millions of people and animals will be hurt by this. We are being called to a higher good. Let’s not hesitate.”
“What will you do?” Honcho queried. “What is your plan?”
“We’ll get MIFF out to the Army bases and state labs in a matter of days, in case the Feds fail. My guess is they will.”
Dr. Honcho rose from his chair: “This is a national emergency,” he commanded. “I want the entire Department on this project. I want all lab directors, technicians and students from every Division over at Dr. Lucio’s lab tonight for a briefing. We’ll make the first MIFF batch there, and show other Brookstone scientists how it’s done. MIFF will be produced in every lab.”
Honcho turned toward Ms. Hardash and put his hand on her shoulder. “We’ll keep this in-house and keep the recipe secret. Meanwhile, have purchasing rush-order whatever Evo needs.”
“Here’s the list of the chemicals and instruments,” Evo offered.
“Have these rush ordered!” Honcho directed. “We’ll need to coordinate with Army brass to get enough trucks and cargo planes ready for MIFF distribution.”
“I believe the Feds are already in line with that, sir.”
A concerted effort like this had never occurred before at Brookstone, or any institution, for that matter. Concurrently, Minnie Hardash’s anger management skills had never been this challenged.