Authors: K. Makansi
Book Three of the Seeds Trilogy
Layla Dog Press
Saint Louis, MO | Tucson, AZ
Copyright Â© 2016 by K. Makansi
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Published in the United States by Layla Dog Press
St. Louis, MO / Tucson, AZ
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@readwritenow - Kristy
@akmakansi - Amira
@Elena_Makansi - Elena
Cover by K. Makansi & Kevin Wietzel
Library of Congress Control Number: 2016904048
For our grandparents,
And for all those who resist oppression
and stand up for justice
Prologue: Sector Annum 52
The arcing shadows of the steel framework bend around me. I cough, the sound muffled by the mask clasped over my mouth and nose. I duck under a torqued I-beam and into a pitch black room. The air dances and swirls, disturbed for the first time in centuries. Increasing the power on my biolight lenses illuminates the room in yellow-green. Dust clouds my vision, gathering like an angry storm.
“Find anything interesting?”
I cough again, clearing my throat, before I can get out my words. “Tell you when the Oklahoma Desert settles,” I shout back. “You?”
“Papers,” I hear from the adjacent room. “Nothing but papers. These people must have cut down enough trees to stack them to the moon and back.” His voice is distorted through the haze of debris and ancient metal.
I scan the detritus of the Old Worldâdestroyed furniture, ruined computers, electrical wires, rusted plumbing, crumbling wallsâand yes, there, in the corner, bones. A skeleton. Lily-white and grinning, with a long shard of glass still embedded in the rib cage like a hunter's spear point.
Obvious cause of death.
I grin back.
“That looks painful, buddy,” I mutter. “Let's hope I don't end up like you today.”
I glance around, checking that there's no immediate danger, no wall about to collapse, nothing to crush or impale me like my newfound friend. But everything looks stable. For now.
As the dust settles, I get a better look at what the room contains. I had to slice the door open with my laser cutter, which made me think I might have finally hit pay dirt. To prevent looting or material destruction, most of these old research facilities had triggers to initiate shutdown sequences to secure valuable equipment and data in case of emergency. Of course, my new friend in the corner might have been saved if medics could have reached himâor was it a her? A stomach wound like that would have been easily treatable, especially with the kind of medicine they had back in those days. If those Old World corporations had cared more about their workers and less about their profits, my friend might not have ended up dying alone in a locked room in the first place. But then, judging by the destruction in the area, I'm guessing no one lived for long once the bombs started falling.
I click on a handheld biolight and pan the room, moving deeper into the dark, bumping up against the remains of an overturned table. I squint into the corner, and smile behind my mask. Jackpot. A graveyard. This is exactly why we're here.
We've stumbled on the kind of storage room where old lab equipment went to die, or at least was stored until disposed of. Without even picking through the junk, I can see a few thermal cyclers in various states of disarray, a line of centrifuges on a shelf still clinging to a wall that lists at a precarious angle, two large rotating hydroponics systemsâmostly intact, although one is missing a large chunk of metal at the top. Best of all, there are several ancient spectrophotometers. The old sturdy ones, not too temperamental. And that's just what I'm seeing from a quick scan. I'm betting this equipment was already broken when the lights finally went out, but the Corporation won't care. Scavengers have already mined all the good stuff. These days, they'll pay for anything their engineers can fix up into something usable.
“We done here?” I hear my friend call.
“Not a chance,” I holler back. “We hit gold, Gold.”
I hear booted footsteps and heavy breathing behind me. I turn to see his grey-green eyes and black hair sticking out around the straps of his mask. He's taken the rest of his scavsuit offâincluding his goggles, I note with consternationâbut at least he's got the sense to keep his boots, gloves, and mask on. His full name is Augustus OrleÃ¡n, but most everyone calls him August. I just call him Gold, a reference to the shorthand for the element,
I glare at him. “Keep your damn goggles on. You don't know what kind of toxins areâ”
“I'm fine, aren't I?” he interjects as he saunters toward me, his voice deeper than usual and thick through the mask. The creases in his eyes belie the smile on his face. “I'm not blind yet.”
“You'll be thanking the fates for that once you see what's in here.”
Looking past me, his eyes go wide, taking in the wealth in front of us. He slaps me on the back.
“You weren't joking, K. This is
. If we can get this to the Corporation without getting bushwhacked, they'll finally load us up with enough seedcoins to set up our lab.”
“That's a big if.”
He laughs. “Always the pessimist.”
“I prefer âpractical'.”
“Then get your practical ass to work harvesting this tech.”
Gold pulls his goggles back down, recognizing that we have no idea what kinds of poisons could be in the equipment we're handling, or in the debris around us. We sort through the rubble, separating obvious trash from things that could have value. Much of the equipment is broken but reparable, and if not, the pieces inside are salvageable. Even things that are broken beyond a hope of reuse can teach us about the Old World.
An hour later, the room no longer looks like a tornado touched down. Everything has been arranged in neat piles based on potential return, and Gold starts browsing through them.
“Check this out,” I hold a thin strip of metal and tap it in my hand. Gold looks up at me. “A backup drive. I found it in his palm.” I point to our skeleton friend. “Like he held on to it right to the bitter end.”
Truthfully, I found it on the ground at his feet, but I've never considered myself above a little creative license, especially not when it makes the story so much better.
“Intact?” Gold inquires, his eyes wide.
I shrug. “We'll see. Want to load it, find out what they were doing here?”
Gold and I have been scavenging in and around what used to be New York City for the better part of the last three years. Most of what was Manhattan is flooded, of course, and we don't have the resources to do a lot of underwater work. Besides, anything we found down there would be corrupted beyond repair. So we work on the outskirts. There were plenty of major companies set up in a ring around the city, too, and we've hit a fair few of them in the last few years. We're trying to get enough funds from the Okarian Agricultural Corporation to set up our own research lab, but in order to do that, we have to bring them equipment. That's how they trade. We provide them with technology, information, or hardware, and they return the favor with seedcoins. With seeds, we can buy what we need to set up our own lab.
We came here on a rumor from one of the other scav teams that there was a big biotech organization headquartered south of the city. Of course, Gold had to put a knife to a man's throat to get him to tell us the rumor, but that's just the nature of scavenging these days. Based on what we've found so far, he wasn't wrong, but the research facilities aren't here. We were expecting a wealth of lab equipment, but instead we've found nothing but basic computers, servers, and papers. Until we hit this room, we thought we'd wasted a week of trekking on a wild goose chase and Gold had been threatening to skin the man who led us here in the first place.
“Go ahead and load it up,” Gold says. “Find out what these lunatics were working on all those years ago.”
“If it's even readable,” I mutter. “It's probably corrupted. And if not, it could be encrypted.” I pull my plasma from my pack and set it within range of our UMIT. I drop the backup drive on top and wait for the data transfer to begin. After a few seconds, my plasma flashes green.
“It's readable.” Gold stops what he's doing to look over my shoulder. We watch as lines of code flash across the screen.
“I don't even recognize that language,” Gold says.
“No wonder. It's gotta be at least two hundred years old.”
But whether we recognize it or not, my plasma seems to be able to read it, because in a matter of minutes the file is loaded. A prompt appears, asking if I want to open it.
“Yes,” I respond.
A warning flashes across the screen.
The data type in this file is not approved by the Okarian Agricultural Corporation. Please do not continue.
I glance at Gold, who gives me a slight nod, waggling his eyebrows.
“Override,” I say. “Open the file.”
The file opens, and a database appears before us.
, the first entry reads.
AÃ§ai, Acerola, Alfalfa, Almond, Amaranth, Apricot, Apple.
The list goes on.
“What is this?” Gold whispers.
I touch my finger to the screen, landing on one of the names.
My screen divides into columns, and different incarnations of the same thing appear. A three-dimensional, rotational model of a double-helix strand; a long-form notation of the base pairs in the double-helix; and a computational model showing genetic variants within the genome.
“It's a genome,” he says quietly, answering his own question. “What the hell is amaranth?”
“It's a grain.”
“How do you know?”
“I like to eat things other than bread and meat occasionally. You'd never heard of corn before I made you eat some.”
“Fair point.” He's never been the most experimental with his food. Then again, it's only been the last ten years or so that we've had the luxury to be experimental. Before that, we ate what we had and were thankful we didn't go to bed hungry. “Go back to the overview.”
The main list reappears. What
“Do you recognize these words?” Gold asks.
“Some of them.”
“Sure. Some are easy. Apple. Apricot. Barley. But what's this one?” He points to a strange word on the screen.
“Never heard of it. Have you?”
He shakes his head. “Is all this
I shrug. “All the names I recognize are food crops. I sure as hell would like to know what the rest of them taste like.”
“Do you know how much we could get for this database?” He stops looking at the plasma and stares at me with that maniacal look he always gets when he's got an idea. Eighty percent of his ideas are crap. Fifteen are straight from the looney bin. But five percent are bloody genius, and that's why he and I are partners. When I glance up, meeting his eyes, I can almost see his mind spinning, eagerly calculating how many seeds we could make by selling this information to the OAC. “How much they would pay for this?”
“Why would weâ”
“Look at the size of that file! What if it's the genetic codes to every food crop ever sequenced in the Old World? You said your dead friend over there was gripping it in his palm. It has to be valuable! By all that's sacred, we'd get seats on the Board of Directors just for showing this to them.”
My heart pounds, blood rushing in my ears, and I don't know why. “What do you think they would do with it?”
“Who cares what they'd do with it? We could have everything we ever wanted, K.” His eyes light up. “The premiere lab in Okaria. The finest facilities in the Sector. We can finally fund our research.”
“Butâ” I sputter. Turning all this over to the OAC gives me a bad feeling, but I can't put my finger on why. “Their whole goal is to streamline food production. They don't need the genetic codes to Old World crops. They've modified and created their own. Who's to say they wouldn't destroy this as soon as we handed it over? Or lock it up and throw away the key?”
“Who cares?” he asks, staring at me as though I've lost my mind.
“Who cares?” I repeat, disbelief leaching into my voice. “Gold, think about it. If this database really does have the genetic codes to every Old World food crop ever sequenced, we wouldn't
the OAC for seeds anymore. We could sequence our own.” We wouldn't ever need their seedcoins again. Their money would be worthless to us. We could print our own money, our own food, our own crops. Think of the possibilities!”
“If we don't tell them everything we've found, we'll be violating the terms of our contract. Our agreement would be void. They wouldn't owe us anything.”
If he's thinking about the legalities, he's almost there. He wants to do it. He's almost on my side.
“Gold, you're thinking about it wrong. It's not about what they owe us. It's about what we owe them. And the answer is:
. Ever again.”
A slow smile spreads across his face.
“Kanaan Alexander, my friend, you are finally learning to think like a revolutionary.”