We've Lost the Sun

(January 14, 2006)
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"You're going to love this, Jack!" John called over his shoulder. He waved wildly at the empty air ahead as he strode down the hallway, his unbridled enthusiasm bordering on mania as he imagined his target. "I've been working on it for months, and it's going to save us more than you'd ever expect! It may not be the first time, but single-handedly saving a company just tastes so good..."

Jack found himself trotting along in a rather undignified fashion, painfully aware of the discrepancy between the length of his legs and those of his mentor. He was quietly preparing himself for a long afternoon of smiling benignly and offering platitudes in a terribly impressed voice, but had to wonder if, maybe, things wouldn't work that way at all. John had been enamoured of his own ideas for as long as John had worked for him, but rarely had he been so fervently self-adoring as he was at this moment. The fact that they were down here at all, rather than conducting some supercharged (on John's end) yet diplomatic (on Jack's) meeting in the pub next door, suggested new potential.

John wove his way through the twists and turns of the office's clammy basement, gesticulating expansively as he led Jack down spartan metal staircases and through musty doorways. "They said it couldn't be done, but they simply lacked the patience! They were unwilling to devote themselves so thoroughly to a task, to embrace it, to lock it in their hearts and push ever forward..." Jack felt his eyes glazing over, and dug his nails into his palms; this was his chosen method for staying on-task while John waxed poetic, a pursuit that frequently lasted for hours, if not longer. It was hard to gauge, since even he could maintain a demure smile for only so long, and eventually he lapsed into a vaguely Zen state of vacant discombobulation.

They stopped in front of a large metal door, the sort typically used in B-movies to denote bunkers and other airless chambers of indeterminate time spans. John's grin was almost all-consuming as the man slid in front of Jack, pressing his hands against both sides of the doorframe. "And it's... in here. Our future, behind this very door, in that very room..."

This was clearly time to take the bait. "What is it, John? What is it we're going to invest in, to destroy our deficit and make us more powerful than we could possibly imagine?" He knew just how to pitch his voice with an even mixture of doubt and awe held just barely in check; it's amazing what years of toadying friendship will teach a man. If nothing else, it's usefully efficient. The taller man leaned forward, and whispered, in a conspiratorial tone,

"New crops, my friend, raised entirely without light. Imagine: every one of our warehouses, able to run at peak effectiveness without the massive overhead for electricity and grow lamps. We'll save millions without depriving the poor townspeople of their holiday poinsettias and tiger lilies."

Jack paused, unclenching his hands. "John, that's... amazing. How in the world does photosynthesis occur without light?" John's grin melted into a smirk. "It's simpler than you'd think. You just have to breed strains that have no concept of the sun, and encourage them to flourish in a naturally dark and damp environment instead. After all, plant growth begins with a buried seed, right?"

This argument seemed somewhat unscientific - specious, even - but Jack assumed that there was a more knowledgeable botanist squirred away somewhere; John's glorious single-handed innovations had a tendency to sound a bit confused by the time they reached his lips, third- or fourth-hand. "And how did you develop it?"

"It was all me, for once! Yes, yes, I know what you're thinking, but it came to me like a vision, and I've pursued it ever since. I just understood that it was a matter of training and breeding, so to speak - we're not talking cats, but a plant species learns over successive generations, too, even something this different. It took time, but it's a beautiful thing. Beautiful. It needs nothing that I can't cheaply provide! It's my creation and I'm understandably proud. You'll see." John turned to the door, and despite himself, Jack felt a rising surge of excitement. He'd been a part of the nursery business for decades, and certainly understood what a huge leap forward this could be. He peered over John's shoulder, and as the door opened enough to allow the hall's light in, he strained to catch a glimpse of...

... a single plant huddled on a table in the middle of the room, as genetically similar to Charlie Brown's Christmas tree as anything corporeal might possibly be. It was about three feet tall, though it stooped to about two-thirds of its full height, and its body was an unusual shade of grey-brown. It projected despair in weak little waves. Jack managed a full seven seconds of silence before he felt compelled to speak. "Erm, sir. That... individual... looks rather unhealthy. Has something happened to it?"

"What? Stuff and nonsense, it's perfect!" John walked over to the thing and patted it fondly, causing a number of shrivelled leaves to fall off. "This is how it's meant to be! Sure, it's not so great to look at, but it's a theorhetical model brought to life! Future experiments will be done for the sake of aesthetics, now that the hard science is out of the way." Something that might once have been a blossom darted out of the way of his hand and lunged off of the plant, though Jack couldn't get a good look at it before it hit the floor and promptly atomized. As he watched, the glorious creation seemed to hunch lower and lower, its longer projections continuing to snap off in waves for several moments after John removed his hand.

"Sir..."

"Hush, Jack!" John's confidence did not wane in the slightest. "It will change our world. Imagine it: a plant nurtured without light, freed from the constraints of day and season! Beautiful, it's so beautiful..."

Smiling benignly, Jack backed out through the doorway, nodding and nodding. "Of course, sir. You're changing the world, sir." He fled down the hall, but it took several long seconds for him to outrun the happy sounds of John's cooing, punctuated by the pops and crunches of the plant's continuous disintegration. The last thing he heard, as he wondered desperately what he was going to say to the investors, was this:

"We haven't lost the sun, we just don't need it anymore... it's plenty nourishing enough down here with me, isn't it?"