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Pursuit B

by Kate Sutherland about a year ago in Sci Fi
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The Only Mission Left

I tear down the dirt road, and wince at the dusty trail in my wake. There is too much dust now, everywhere. I pass useless farm fields, once green and full of life, now barren wastelands of dead brown. The desolate acres remind me why I'm on this little mission of mine. Well, huge mission, actually. The only mission left.

I have everything I need. The Krysalis is in my pack, and the heart-shaped locket is around my neck for safe-keeping, and for comfort. It belonged to my mother.

Outside are beaten-down farmhouses, their windows boarded up, their roofs missing shingles. Some have caved in, like most of the barns. Several grain silos remain standing though, holding their ground and awaiting use. Didn’t anybody tell them that food no longer grows here? That there's nothing left to stockpile and store?

The road is straight, and feels endless. I wonder if I’ll recognize my destination—one collapsed farmhouse among many. I haven't been there for more than twenty years.

It's hard to believe that such a short time ago things were still okay. Not great, and getting worse, but still okay. Twenty years ago there was still such a thing as growing natural food. That was before the soil died completely, and even the corporate agriculture giants could no longer ignore the fact that drastic change was needed. For a while it seemed things were heading in a more wholesome direction, towards organic and biodynamic farming practices. But healing takes time, and as more and more people around the world began to starve, panicking governments decided nature could not turn things around fast enough. The solution had to lie in scientific advancement.

International committees were formed to address the emergency. Initially, a two-fold plan was proposed, with equal funding to be allotted to two heroic pursuits. Pursuit A, "Save the Soil," focused on the development of new soil-enhancing technology. Pursuit B, "Humanity's Last Hope" would support time travel research, giving us the chance to turn back the clock and do things differently the second time around.

Pursuit B was considered a long-shot. The overall consensus was that we were at least two decades away from any significant breakthrough. Humanitarian organizations were up in arms, appalled by the idea that the people alive today may never come to exist, due to the butterfly effect that would likely occur with any changes made to the past. Time-travel was boo-ed off the table, and except for rumours of privately-funded research continuing in secret, the whole notion was quickly forgotten.

We went all-in on Saving the Soil. Scientists of every discipline came together in service of the greater good. It seemed an insurmountable task, until somebody suggested using cancer as a subject for biomimicry; with its ability to quickly self-replicate, cancer was the perfect model of extreme productivity. If we could harness this attribute in our nanotechnology, we could manipulate microbial DNA so that these essential organisms would proliferate indefinitely, creating inexhaustibly healthy soil.

With global starvation still on the rise, and a promising solution around the corner, we all waited with empty stomachs and bated breath.

CanSoil was the first company to deliver. Then came Proliferite, Replicol, and Growtal. Distribution was fast, and within weeks the new technology was sprinkled onto farm fields across the globe.

For the first four years we watched our dreams come true. Covering the land were fields of corn, with ears sprouting like banana bunches on their stalks. Apple and orange trees grew fruit the size of melons. Forests of ten-foot-tall potato plants produced football-sized tuber harvests every two weeks. Enormous multi-legged carrots became the norm, sitting beside seven-pound onions and baseball-sized garlic bulbs on shelves at the grocery store.

It was incredible. We had solved global famine, and found a way to sustain human overpopulation. It was a miracle.

It was also grotesque. A desperate experiment gone horribly wrong.

That's what my mother said. It's what she held to, almost since the beginning, and right to the end. And yet it was she who made it all possible. It was my mother who first bridged the gap between theory and reality, by creating the first nanobot capable of successfully re-writing microbial DNA.

When her preliminary findings showed promise, she celebrated along with the rest of them. CanSoil was on the brink of saving the world, and she was a driving force. She dedicated herself to her work, but soon discovered that corners were being cut in order to accelerate approval for use. She insisted that there were still too many unknowns, that the possibility for negative outcomes was still too great. In testing, some of the mice started exhibiting alarming side-effects after eating food grown from soil populated with the altered microbes; a few had grown extra extremities, including limbs, tails, and in one case, a second head. But caution fell upon ears unwilling to hear. My mother stood by helplessly as her discovery was swept up in the frantic need for any solution, no matter the risks.

She started getting vocal about her concerns, giving interviews to any fringe news reporter who would hear her story, sharing summaries of her work and disturbing findings.

That’s when the car accident happened. My mother lay in the hospital, her limp body broken. I remember her bright eyes piercing mine as she grabbed my hand, and told me to listen closely. She told me about Pursuit B, that there were scientists trying to find a way back in time. That this was our only hope. Then her eyes lost their light, and she closed them for the last time.

She was right, of course. The technology wasn't safe. Her warnings had gone unheeded, and then her worst projections started taking place before our eyes. Humanity's worst nightmares began to come true.

It started with a few babies being born with extra body parts and multiples of organs. Then people of every age began growing large fleshy tumours shaped like hands and feet. Some grew non-functional facial features: noses without nostrils, empty eye sockets with sealed lids. Extra teeth became commonplace, as well as bony protrusions that would bulge and sometimes break through the skin along the shins and spine.

Then, when we were all praying for things to improve, the affected soil microbes suddenly and mysteriously died off, leaving us worse off than before-- with dead soil, and very sick people.

Now, all over the world, humanity is on its knees. And I am here, driving down this desolate road with something that could save us all.

The Krysalis, third prototype for inanimate object time-travel. The first to successfully send small items several decades back in time. We know this because we sent unique pieces of jewelry to historical public figures—a diamond lily ring to the Duchess of Cambridge (which she still wears to this day, at the age of seventy-two), and a folding pair of gold-studded eyeglasses to a pop star named Elton John. We can now spot these treasures in old photographs.

Our explorations have also revealed some limitations. For one, the Krysalis can only be used rarely; following each use, it must be reprogrammed with a new time-frequency signature, a process that takes several months. Secondly, sending an object time-traveling is irreversible. We cannot retrieve something to the present once it has been sent back. Also, a person has to physically be in the location where they want the item to end up.

Regarding what we've sent back so far, the likelihood of inducing the butterfly effect is thought to be small. In any case, taking that chance could not be avoided; how else could we prove that time travel works? Our true task carries more risk, and will probably trigger drastic change. We are sending more than a mere object, after all. This time, we are sending the truth—our failure—to someone who can take our hard-learned lessons and re-write humanity's future.

And we only have one chance. We are out of time-- there is no more food.

A few scientists and politicians were nominated as candidate recipients, my mother among them. Discussions are underway, and slow-going. I am impatient. I can't wait for the deliberations to play out, deciding who we should send our S.O.S. to. I already know; the torch will be handed to my mother. This is what I have come to do.

Rounding a slight bend, I see the familiar mailbox standing at attention, waiting for deliveries that will never come. I pull up the driveway and stare at the farmhouse for a moment, before going inside.

The floor creaks as I wander from room to room, clutching the small silver trinket on its chain around my neck. I have removed the photos inside, and replaced them with a microchip. It's not the newest technology, rather one that will be compatible with the computers of the early 2020's, when my mother was still a teenager.

On the microchip is the story of what happened. What my mother's research will lead to. Maybe if she learns of the consequences, she will have a better chance of veering the research in a different direction. Maybe this time her message won't come too little, too late.

I decide on the smallest bedroom, once my mother's. This is where I will leave the locket. I open one of the broken dresser-drawers, expecting it to be empty, and instead find a small book. I pull it out and brush it off.

It's a journal. I'm tempted to open it, but I wait. Reading it can be my reward once I'm done, as long as the butterfly effect doesn't take place immediately. Maybe it won't happen at all, and I will still be here ten minutes from now.

I open my pack, and pull out the Krysalis. Pressing the round button to turn it on, I hear a quiet whirring as it fires up. Several small lights flash, and a small hatch springs open, revealing a compartment big enough to hold a deck of cards. Reaching behind my neck, I unclasp the silver locket, and check that the microchip is still inside. I place it into the compartment, and coil the chain carefully around the plain little heart.

I set the year dial to 2024, and close the lid. The only thing left to do is flip the switch to initiate the time-travel sequence. Once I do, my mother's locket will begin to dissolve, a caterpillar within its chrysalis. When it reforms, it will emerge into existence thirty-two years ago, where I hope it will spread its wings, and set us on a different course.

I place the Krysalis into the drawer, and flip the switch.

It is done. There is no going back. All our hopes now lie inside an old wooden dresser, with a heart-shaped locket waiting to be discovered by a sixteen-year-old girl.

I exhale, and step out into the dusty yard. Holding the journal, I sit down and let the pages fall open on my lap. My eyes land on the following entry:

June 29, 2024

Today brought me a mystery. I found a heart-shaped locket that I have never seen before, under some shirts in my dresser. Inside there was a microchip. I was so excited to check out what was on it that I tripped down the stairs, and the locket flew through the air and smashed hard on the wall! The little heart broke, and I think the chip was damaged too. When I opened it up on my laptop, I found three files:

BIOMIMICRY NANOTECHNOLOGY

PURSUIT A: SAVE THE SOIL

PURSUIT B: HUMANITY'S LAST HOPE

But when I clicked on them, they wouldn't open.

What does it all mean? Is it a sign? What is Biomimicry Nanotechnology? I have no idea, but it seems important. I am going to find out.

Sitting in a dead yard, I close the journal, and pray to disappear.

Sci Fi

About the author

Kate Sutherland

Kate is a Song-writer, an Artist, and a Kung Fu Teacher. She loves exploring a multitude of creative paths, and finds joy in inspiring others to do the same.

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