The Feds were caught with their pants down. Food stockpiles had already shrunk considerably during the summer drought, as crop output diminished. Their cupboards were near bare.
Homeland security was ready for anthrax, Ebola, hijacked planes, star wars, and nerve gas, but not for Prime Slime.
Still, defending the country meant defending agriculture. Congress allocated enormous sums of money for protecting farmlands. But they failed to recognize the real threat.
A farm’s first line of defense are its farmers. They vaccinated and quarantined animals, installed locks, restricted access, and stayed vigilant. Farmers disinfected vehicles and equipment, and employing trained dogs. They were ready for anything…well, almost anything.
Border Patrol added another key deterrent, intercepting contraband and keeping invasive species out. The swell of tourists, goods, services, and illegal aliens made it increasingly difficult to control the borders. But it didn’t matter this time.
Consolidation of agriculture made farms especially vulnerable. High-yield, low-quality policies promoted mega-farms growing monocultures, which are more vulnerable to disease than smaller, diversified farms. Cal and Sonny targeted mostly the mega-farms. Vast farmland was accessible, and easily targeted.
Countering bioterrorism also included travel restrictions, quarantines, tightened lab security, even commitment of troops. The focus was on livestock illnesses, e.g, foot-and-mouth or mad cow disease. Soybean rust and wheat bunt were also concerns. But there was no slime-fighting chemical in their arsenal.
Frankly, no one expected Prime Slime to slip through the cracks. Its rapid dissemination was no natural process. The religious right attributed it to a vengeful God, or to Satan himself.
In just a few days, Prime Slime tore a trail hundreds of miles thick through the midsection of the country. Gulf storms were still brewing, causing more flooding and destruction. Once dying for rain, the country now was dying from it.
Behind all the mayhem were two lowly farmhands. Safe in Mexico, Cal and Sonny applauded the destruction. American haters worldwide rejoiced as Prime Slime cut down the mighty US of A.
Taking his usual tough stand, the President promised that the terrorists would pay dearly. As a measured response, he ordered pre-emptive military strikes in the Middle East and Afghanistan. Hatred towards America was reason enough.
Evo knew how to stop this thing, but the Feds were not listening. Instead, an argosy of disinfectants, toxic chemicals, flamethrowers and cluster bombs were employed…to no avail.
The mighty Mississippi carried the contagion southward toward New Orleans. Flooding transported it to adjacent farmlands. Their weapons and chemicals only made things worse.
Food shortages soon thinned out the marketplace. Panic brought out the worst in people: hoarding food, fighting for scraps, knocking over shelves, fighting over crumbs. The thin veneer of civility quickly vanished, leaving people bent on survival.
Eventually supermarkets closed their doors. Angry crowds threw rocks through windows and broke into places. The hungry stood in long lines for rations. It was an unruly mess.
The world witnessed the collapse of conventional farming. Prime Slime destroyed an inferior crop, but at great expense and hardship. Eventually the only food remaining in the East was organic, except for imports from parts west and overseas.
The demise of the farm near Terra would have pleased Philmore immensely in different circumstances. But Cal betrayed his trust. He knew where they were and was compelled to confront them. Following his impulses, Mr. Potts caught a flight to Laredo. At the airport, he rented a car and headed toward Mexico. Driving by the old hotels on Convent Ave, Philmore recalled his first encounter with Cal and Sonny. Once a savior, he was now their dupe.
At Customs, Philmore watched the flood of Mexicans en route to the US. No crop in the fields slowed the flow of migrant work to a crawl. Sitting in an old VW bug with no AC, under a relentless Mexican sun, Philmore finally crossed the Rio Grande. In Nuevo Laredo, he drove directly to the 1-2-3 Bar & Brothel in La Zona Rosa. For a 20-year-old, it was 1-2-3 and you were out of there. Local Mexicans hung out there, watching stupid gringos stagger in and out. Philmore found Cal and Sonny in their usual spots.
It was only mid-day, but Sonny Noche was already crocked. Spinning 360s on his bar stool, he suddenly caught a glimpse of Philmore and tried to hide behind his drink. Cal Radi turned to see Philmore standing tall, like John Wayne, at the saloon door.
“Welcome back to Mèjico and da famous gringo brothel! I told you, Sonny, 1-2-3 and he’s here!”
Philmore stared into Cal’s eyes, trying to detect remorse. “Those scientists trusted us. Do you know the hardship you’ve caused?”
Cal’s smile morphed into a scowl. Sonny sunk into his shirt.
“What about my people, and poor folks all over the world who suffered?” Cal clenched his fists. “The pigs want something for nothing. They enslave niggers, gooks and wetbacks, and fatten their filthy wallets! Is that the side you’re on, my friend?”
Philmore could not argue. He was crippled in silence.
Sonny Noche emerged from his shirt: “Look at it dis way, boss. We put a sorry horse out of its misery.”
“That was corn and soybeans, man!” Cal elaborated. “Genetically modified, subsidized, overproduced, sprayed-on poison! It’s fed to cattle in filthy feedlots to fatten ‘em up, fuck ‘em up, and create toxic runoff. GMO corn and soybeans ain’t good for cows, you know that, man!
“They’ll give you a heart attack!” Sonny blurted.
“All that processed food and high fructose corn syrup we kept people from eating! High fructose this!” Cal grabbed his crotch.
How could Philmore argue? He couldn’t blame Cal and Sonny. Their lives were all about suffering. Their vengeance was blind. Rather, he blamed himself.
The three men sat at a table and quietly finished off a bottle of Tres Amigos tequila. Then, without a word, Philmore staggered away, knowing he would never see them again.
Things happen for a reason, Philmore reckoned. “We’re all responsible for Prime Slime to some degree,” he thought.
On the flight home, Philmore called Evo’s cell phone.
“What’s going on?”
“We’re waiting for the Feds to fail,” Evo responded.
“Shouldn’t you be in the lab preparing MIFF?”
“I’m heading that way. The whole department is churning out buckets of it as we speak. Katey and Ayden are coordinating the effort. They’re determined to make things right again.”
“Aren’t we all? By the way, has it been tested in the field yet?”
“Not the new formulation,” Evo admitted. “It works like a charm in the lab, however. Once their poisons are spent, they’ll come begging.”
“Can you believe what’s happening?”
“The irony is precious.” Evo concurred.
“Two lowly farmhands take the mighty US down to its knees.”
“It’s biblical!” Evo offered.
“Hilarious, yet tragic.”
“What’s really funny are the slime balls in DC,” Evo quipped.
“Not as comical as the slimy food industry,” Philmore added.
“Not to mention the oil, chemical and munitions industries. Talk about slime!”
“Too bad they shunned your MIFF.”
“The Feds are shackled to corporate greed, as you well know.”
“They’ll be listening soon,” Philmore asserted.
“This was meant to be,” Evo exclaimed.
“I also want vindication,” Philmore admitted.
“It’s your turn soon,” Evo assured him. “The US will go organic again; back to nature. Ironically, that’s Prime Slime’s purpose.”
“Our work has just begun.” said Philmore, brimming with hope.
In the lab, Ayden and Katey were watching a newscast on Dr. Lucio’s computer screen with other Brookstone scientists. General Fortissimo’s computerized US map was littered with digital slime. There was now a major blight expanding outward from the Mississippi River. Much of the eastern US farmland was now decimated. It spread contiguously from plant to plant, but also in the air, through raindrops and mist. It traveled the rivers and byways, from farm to farm. It even took down some trees. Fortunately, the forests proved impenetrable, and hindered the spread.
The cost to agriculture was staggering, as the food supply dwindled. Farm animals were dying in the fields. Federal and state budgets were being sapped. Millions of jobs were lost. People feared for their lives as the slime threatened to spread worldwide.
The Feds and their industries could not stop it. Their weapons were useless. After a massive effort, defeat was conceded, and Plan B was set into motion. Operation MIFF was now in order.
There were many missed opportunities to stop this blight: if Evo had rejected Ayden’s GMO project; if someone had supervised his students; if Brookstone incinerated their infectious waste on time; if they eradicated Prime Slime early on; if Cal had not come to Evo’s lab; if Cal and Sonny were treated fairly as farmhands; if the Feds heeded the farmers’ warnings; if the drought didn’t happen; or if the rains came early, Prime Slime would not have happened, or spread as far. And, if Plan B were Plan A, it might have made all the difference. Now there was no turning back.