The Year Uncle Solomon Saved the Crop

That is what my family calls that year, anyway. Other people around here have different names for the event, but right up front I want to remind you that whatever they have to say, they wouldn’t be saying it if they had starved to death.

Life on a colony is never easy in those first few years; you are on a planet that has plenty of protein (or something like protein), but nothing the human newcomers can metabolize. There follows a time of biological warfare, as humans try to assert flora and fauna friendly to their metabolisms into the local ecology. There is a great deal of preparation, and megahours of simulation time, but sometimes the unexpected happens, and colonies die.

The scientific papers now call it a “loose gene”, but at our colony on Peridon IV we called it “What the fuck just happened?” Any time you thought you had a handle on things, everything changed. A new virus, a new weed, or perhaps new Big Fucking Bugs.

We had managed to establish a grain with a distant relationship to barley, but the planet had resisted most of our other imports, in a rolling battle with our geneticists, who were ever trying to gain the upper hand. We were making progress, however, and the barley was the triumph that would give us a little more time to tame the planet.

While the planet had sported hundreds of catalogued varieties of Large Interesting Bugs, the BFB’s came from nowhere. They were 10cm armored appetites, implacable and fearless in their quest for nutrition. And while our vegetation was just as unpalatable to their pests as their vegetation was to us, somehow the BFB’s had evolved over two growing seasons to be voracious for our barley. Just like that, Peridon IV’s loose gene had surmounted the protein gap.

We threw everything we had at the BFB’s of course — chemicals, viruses, you name it. They adapted around each attempt to eradicate them. Enter Uncle Solomon.

He was not, technically speaking, a scientist, and it is not officially known how he got access to the genetics lab. (Unofficially, he was sleeping with the chief scientist.) But Uncle Solomon was in the “Live to regret it” school of action, and on the day we were preparing to burn half our fields so that we might save the other half, my uncle emerged from the lab with a very large box, which he pulled behind him on a motorized wagon.

“Stay your flames!” he cried out, and perhaps because of the archaic language we paused. He smiled, stopped next to one of the infested fields, opened his box, and unto Peridon came the Even Bigger Fucking Spiders.

Uncle Solomon has been vague about where some of the DNA for his creation came from. The loose gene is in there, however, along with the BFB’s crossover metabolism. Uncle Solomon’s spiders were an enormous success, demolishing the BFB population.

And, alas, the Large Interesting Bug population. And all the other indigenous bugs as well. The crops were saved. WE were saved.

We just have to be a little more careful now, is all. Our crops are absolutely safe — there are no vegetarian spiders, and Uncle Solomon’s creations (and the loose-gene spinoffs) are true to that rule. And after the spiders eradicated the pollinators we needed to sustain our crops, a new sort of spider emerged to fill that role. That has to mean something, yes?

It will be a few more years (or at least months) before the spiders evolve to the point they can breach body armor or penetrate a reinforced home. That’s plenty of time for Uncle Solomon to come up with something that can eat the spiders.

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It’s Funny Because it’s Painful

I just heard an ad that said “millions of Americans can’t be wrong.”

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Silicon Valley’s Heartbeat

Today on the way to work I saw three brand-new Teslas, and an Audi R8 (Audi’s V-10 powered street-legal race car) with temporary plates. On the way home I saw another new R8, and a bright yellow McLaren fresh from the dealership. Did you know that Maserati has an SUV (SuV)? I didn’t until this afternoon. And of course there were more new Teslas.

At one point on the way to work I was peering through the windows of the Tesla Model M in front of me to see if the Tesla Model X in front of it was also brand-new.

The sales team up the highway at Tesla Central must salivate over April 16th.

In mid-April and in mid-October, employee stock grants at Apple vest. I assume Google has a similar schedule, along with all the other large tech companies in the area. Including, I imagine, Tesla. (Note: I couldn’t come up with the right Facebook wisecrack to put here.)

Twice a year, there is a gush of cash from the tech companies, and with it a surge in spending on real estate and fancy cars. It’s probably good to be in sales here; you can go on vacation during the months of May, June, November, and December, and still be around to glut when that mighty money heart pumps once more.

I am now part of this heartbeat as well, but not to the frivolous-quarter-million-dollar-car level. For me the stock vesting is a windfall to invest, so that I might one day not have to work at all. This year the investment also helps family members, which makes it double-cool. Alas, for me there will be no Audi R8 Spyder. It’s a mid-engine convertible that can do 150 as easily as I can sneeze, but it looks a little butt-heavy to me anyway.

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The Creche

The children sat in a semi-circle in the grass, seventeen of them, aged three to nine in traditional years, their eyes fixed on Evie the storyteller, who sat cross-legged at the focus of the children, the Holy Book in her hand. The petite brown woman smiled, a little wistfully, and opened the Book. “Today I would like to tell you about Earth.”

Willi had to smile as he watched the younger kids sit forward eagerly while the older kids rolled their eyes. Will relaxed on his bench, partially concealed by the lush vegetation of the creche, but not actually hiding.

“Earth was a beautiful place,” Evie said. “It was like this,” she said, waving at the vegetation as it flourished under the lights of the creche, “but the air was sweet — and above,” she glanced at the gray metal over their heads, “above was the sky. It was like a ceiling, but far, far, above. And sometimes, water would fall out of the sky, and the people would dance with joy.”

Willi watched as one of the older children leaned over to the boy sitting next to her. With a thought and a gesture Willi tapped into her audio. “And then we fucked it up, because we are greedy mammal bastards.”

Willi groaned but he was watching today for precisely this event. He stood and cleared his throat softly. “Malika, would you come with me, please?”

The girl swung around and looked at him, her brown eyes wide in her pale face. “I didn’t…”

“Come with me.”

She stood and pulled at her jumpsuit, which didn’t fit her very well. Too small. They grow like weeds at that age, Willi thought. But there was no place for weeds here. Not in this garden.

Tears were escaping her eyes as she walked away from the other children. They watched her go with stony faces, internalizing the most important lesson of the day: There are some things you never say out loud.

Malika stood in front of Willi, her eyes fixed on his feet. He reached out and put his hand on her skinny shoulder and felt her shaking. “Am I compost?” she asked.

Willi let out a slow breath. He used his hand on Malika’s shoulder to steer her toward the exit. “We are all compost. But before we are fed to the grinder, we must justify the resources we consume.” To make his point he touched a control and the heavy door cycled open, revealing the stark passageways of the starship. Even outside the creche, the air in the sections used by the mammals was heavy with moisture and fizzing with oxygen. Expensive air.

“It is delicate,” Willi said, knowing that all his words might be heard, the same way he had eavesdropped on Malika.

She was crying now. “Please,” she said, as fluid ran out of her eyes and her nose. No matter how efficient the recycling was on the ship, the crew would never be able to condone such waste.

Willi leaned in close and whispered, “They resent us.” Her eyes widened and Willi gave her a tight smile. “For any one of us, the ship could support ten of them. Ten of them awake.” The lizards would hear those words, but that was all right. This was just part of the curriculum. Every kid got this lecture eventually, in one form or another.

“They hate us? Why do they keep us?”

Behind them the door to the creche closed, and they walked down the sterile gray passage, with no particular destination.

“No, they don’t hate us. They don’t — they aren’t capable of hatred. Which, indirectly, is why they keep us. But without them, we are lost,” Willi said. “Earth is gone, just a radioactive cinder orbiting an ordinary star. Our ancestors did that to themselves. This is our home now, and we have to earn our way.”

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The Privilege of Choice

One of my fellow code warriors at work is considering moving south from her little place in Oakland. Up there, she has a small home in an interesting neighborhood. “Interesting” is code for diverse, but I don’t think it’s offensive code. Fellow code warrior has young children, and when she moves she doesn’t want to lose the ethnic diversity of her current place.

I applaud that. I’m behind it all the way, fizzing with my enthusiasm for the idea. But I can’t help but remember that WE (affluent white people) are choosing to live with THEM (everyone else, especially non-native English speakers). THEY don’t have a symmetric choice to live with US.

Still, raising OUR kids with THEM, maybe the kids won’t notice the caps, or even the ‘them’, and just get on with life.

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