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Jean-Claude Dunyach is one of the leading science fiction writers in France. He is the author of seven novels and eight collections, and has won the Prix Ozone, the Priz Rosny-Aine, the Prix de l’Imaginaire, and the Eiffel Tower Award. He also writes lyrics for a number of French singers. This is his second appearance in Galaxy’s Edge.

 LOVE YOUR ENEMY

by
Jean-Claude Dunyach

The helicopter approached the island after a tight turn over the bay. The Tyrrhenian Sea rolled out its usual carpet of sun-crushed greens and violets. It took Cayre’s practiced eye to make out the iridescent trace left by a ship in the middle of the proliferating algae. Sighing in exasperation, he took out his tablet and coded a short report.

“Stop that!” (Although the cockpit was soundproofed, the pilot had spoken over the general communication system so that the intervention would be recorded by the black boxes.) “No interference during landing.”

Cayre shrugged. There were no other passengers; flight security was the least of his concerns.

“We’ll fly another circle over the seaweed strip. I want to plot the pollution trace. Can you take photos?”

“We have fifteen minutes of fuel left. And we’re already behind schedule.”

“It won’t take more than five minutes.”

“It’s your dime…”

The colorful blanket measured only two hundred meters long. Not a true degassing, rather a fuel leak. What intrigued Cayre, though, was the course chosen by the polluting boat. Right in the middle of the algae, where the long stems threatened to wrap around the propellers. A smuggler? The Center’s surveillance system would have spotted it. He scrawled his questions on the tablet and set it to sleep mode.

With a grumble, the helicopter dove for the island.

Without waiting for the composite blades to come to a stop, Cayre stepped out of the cockpit, back hunched. It was fine and all knowing that there was no risk of decapitation; he still tucked his head down into his shoulders out of reflex. He forced himself to stand straight and walked over to the end of the concrete field where an electric cart with an immense sunshade was waiting for him. The driver saluted and opened the door.

The Center’s buildings covered half the slope of a hill in the middle of the Island. At the peak, windmills stretched their skeletal silhouettes, waving their articulated arms, to make the most of the ocean breeze. Plastic greenhouses, separated from the road by honeycombed brick walls, stood in tight rows. As they drove farther from the sea, the few rare access points were covered with kabalistic prohibitions and symbols that Cayre was unable to decipher. Overwhelmed by an impulse, he motioned at the driver to stop, shaking his digital tablet.

Grudgingly, the other man parked the vehicle on the dust shoulder. Cayre climbed out and walked to the closest greenhouse to examine it. The heat stuck to him like glue.

The plastic shutters were locked by a double security system: code and handprint. The system remained inert under his fingers. Through a tiny slit next to a support beam, he saw rows of plants supported by carbon stakes. No way to determine what they were. He pretended to scribble on his tablet. Drops of sweat trickled down between his shoulder plates as he walked back along the short wall to the cart.

From the corner of his eye, he noticed a brown spot in the narrow tunnel between two greenhouses. The driver glanced at him, exasperated. Grimacing, Cayre climbed over the small wall and walked into the passageway.

He blinked in the heavy shadows that reigned there. After walking a few meters, he saw a couple of naked children huddling together, their puny buttocks facing him. No more than five years old, he thought as he came to a stop. He coughed. The little girl turned halfway around and stared at him. Then she tore a flower out of the ground and waved it at him like a talisman.

Cayre had never seen that type of plant before. The fleshy petals formed an irregular corolla, with an unhealthy color: a mixture of chrome and flesh, with iridescent streaks, like garbage oil that has been recycled too often. The flower seemed to twist in the dirt-covered fingers that caressed it. Cayre approached and the sweet odor of rot grabbed him by the throat. Just before he turned, he saw the child tear off a piece of the corolla and chew it with an earnest expression. Her pupils dilated and she turned her back to him, her body shuddering.

The day was already well underway when Cayre entered the meeting room at the Center. He kept the pleasantries to a minimum. (Yes, he’d eaten at the previous stopover, no coffee thank you, yes he would greet the boss later.) They had him wear oversized sterile overalls, and he submitted to the decontamination ritual before entering a series of white-tiled laboratories. The flat screens hanging on the wall displayed segments of genetic code or single-cell colonies magnified thousands of times. However, the DNA sequencers were resting, their control panels turned off. Cayre supposed that they had interrupted all of the experiments in progress before his arrival. The usual scientific paranoia.

Close-ups of Caulerpa Taxifolia were scattered about the desks, particularly the most recent mutations that grew more than a meter per day and whose toxins attacked everything that moved. The spectacle was familiar to him. At this very moment, hundreds of laboratories around the world were working on cleaning up the planet’s pollution and he, Cayre, was responsible for making sure that the taxpayer money was spent wisely.

He listened to the spiel carefully prepared by the two team leads. The Center had two specializations: treating oil derivatives—a remnant from the time when oil was particularly inexpensive in Greece—and controlling the flora in the Mediterranean depths. The situational analyses were detailed, obviously based on data that was updated in real time. The results, on the other hand, seemed fuzzy to him. And the medium-term research strategy could be summed up in a handful of empty sentences, heard thousands of times elsewhere.

Cayre forced himself to listen to the presentations until the very end, without interrupting the speakers. He asked a few routine questions and requested the budget evolution graphs and the hiring curve for each team. The Center was operating at full capacity; the researchers—with impressive pedigrees—seemed both motivated and conscientious. But nothing was coming out of their labs. No revolutionary articles, no original technical solutions. Barely more than a few routine announcements on scientific sites. That was what had caught Cayre’s attention and convinced him to come and inspect the island.

He leaned back in the articulated chair in the conference room and opened his tablet with a flick. Despite the air conditioning, he felt damp. Opposite him, the two team leads sat shoulder to shoulder, flanked by a handful of scientists who had joined them.

“Before I forget,” Cayre said, “I flew over the alga carpet surrounding the island on my way in and I saw something curious.”

A reedy but perfectly audible whistle rose from the group of researchers. One of the leaders turned around, frowning, and silence fell.

Cayre allowed the discomfort to grow, then added, “There were traces of oil in the water. A polluting trail that the satellites should have detected.”

“No doubt from a fishing boat. The area isn’t really off limits even if we try to discourage the curious.”

“I understand. However… (Cayre smiled ironically) the wake was heading straight for the algae. I believe that the invasive strains of Taxifolia produce toxins that prevent them from being nibbled at by the submarine fauna. Not exactly the kind of place where one would expect to find miraculous catches. More likely a place people would avoid, if they don’t want to twist a propeller. Am I mistaken?”

The oldest scientist shrugged ostensibly and said, “There are always a few imbeciles who go places they shouldn’t. If that’s all you saw, I’ll send a report to the surveillance department.”

“That’s all I saw in fact. But I plan to spend a few days on the island and glance here and there. It is possible that I may complete your report with my own observations.”

Cayre was assigned a tiny studio apartment in the housing complex next to the Center. In principle, he should have left the same evening, as no arrangements had been made for his stay. The bed was barely large enough for him. But the view from the balcony redeemed everything: beyond the greenhouse zone, the sea sparkled. The water looked unusually clean, as blue and transparent as during the time of Ulysses, despite the presence of algae.

Cayre considered asking them to loan him a swimsuit, then thought better of it. He’d wait for the night to swim. He knew he was a good swimmer, even though he wasn’t used to saltwater. In France, the pools and certain mountain lakes were the last places people could paddle about without fearing skin rashes.

Overhead, a jet streaked the sky with twin furrows. The effect was disturbing. Cayre recalled what his father said to him shortly before his death, “We constantly draw the lines of our own destruction and no one knows how to read them!”

He pulled on a T-shirt with the Center’s logo and set out to explore the island.

Behind the wheel of a mini-cart, he turned to the landing zone. A narrow road circled the island, bordered on one side by the sea and on the other by the greenhouses. From time to time, an olive tree stood out on the horizon. Cayre was starting to feel hungry. He had seen no one outside the Center. The island was inhabited only by the scientists and the few rare seasonal workers who took turns at harvest time. For a long time, European agriculture had been so mechanized that the peasants had been replaced by agricultural machine programmers or by artificial intelligences that analyzed the satellite data to adjust watering sessions in real time. But most of the arable land of the old continent had been polluted by industrial waste that overflowed in wild discharges, impossible to treat. For the time being, the oceans served as garbage cans for the entire world.

Cayre noticed a cloud of dust above the greenhouses, on the other side of the promontory he drove along. Instinctively, he slowed. The sun was low on the horizon; work must have stopped. As soon as he could, he parked on the shoulder.

Behind the greenhouses, there was an enormous compost hole filled with dry algae, sand, and dirt. A small mechanical shovel buzzed all around it, biting into the soil and spitting out enormous mouthfuls. A man, bare-chested, mouth hidden beneath an enormous mustache, operated the machine by remote control from on top of the rock where he was seated. Another rolled a large can toward the hole, using a motorized dolly. Then, to Cayre’s surprise, he simply removed the plug and allowed a thick, black, oily liquid, which smelled all too familiar, to trickle onto the compost.

“What are you doing? Are you crazy?” Cayre sprung out into the light without thinking. The two men looked up at him and watched him approach, gesticulating, without interrupting their work.

“That’s oil! You’re polluting the entire zone.”

“Ne?”

The man operating the machine glanced at him, eyes questioning, and uttered a long sentence in Greek. Cayre shook his head. The man shrugged, placed the remote control on the ground at his feet and pulled a folded piece of paper with the Center’s logo on it from the back pocket of his jeans. It was a list of instructions, in Greek and English. One sentence caught Cayre’s eye: spraying on Zone 4, oil and garbage waste, Tanks 1 to 6. The current date.

The Greek held out his hand for the paper. Dumbfounded, Cayre folded it back up and returned it. The mechanical shovel went back to work as a second tank was emptied over the hole, its contents mixed with the dirt. The stench of oil and crushed algae rose from the compost but the laborers seemed unconcerned.

When Cayre headed back to his vehicle, the Greek saluted him nonchalantly. As he opened the door, the investigator saw his reflection in the rearview mirror. The logo on his T-shirt identified him as a Center scientist. That made him a big enchilada on the island.

His mind filled with questions, he headed back toward the sea.

He had to leave the car under a pine tree at the end of a road that was barely passable. After ten minutes on foot, he reached a tiny beach enclosed by two rocky outcroppings covered with algae. The water was incredibly clear, barely hemmed by foam. He undressed, placed a stone on his clothing to keep it from blowing away, and raced over the burning sand to the fringe of the waves.

All too soon, the water irritated his feet and calves, which were covered with reddish blisters. Swearing, he covered them with sand to relieve the pain. He heard the echo of laughter behind him. A half dozen children, as naked as he was, were pointing at him from the end of the promontory. One after another, they jumped into the water and raced toward the open sea, shrieking in excitement. When they reached the edge of the algae fields, they dove together, disappearing under the surface, their brown bodies wrapped in filaments like obscene mermaids.

Cayre dressed quickly before limping over to the rocks. Caulerpa runners, dried by the sun, cracked under his shoes. He knelt to examine them, taking care not to touch them.

Most were covered with teeth marks.

He wrapped a few specimens in his T-shirt and headed back to his car.

Lying on the balcony, his legs coated with a fishy-smelling cream the Center’s nurse had prescribed, Cayre finished reading the most recent scientific articles published by the island researchers. He had long realized that the convoluted phrases of the official reports were hiding more information than they provided. Laboratories around the world were fighting a fierce war, through espionage and sophisticated data mining techniques. Each patent was a victory, each publication a potential breach that the enemy could exploit. To a certain extent, he understood the phenomena, even though he wasn’t sure he approved of it. But the Center’s publications were decidedly empty of useful content, as if anything that could provide a trail had been painstakingly peeled away.

Cayre smiled inside. His specialty was filling in the missing zones in the reports, based on clues as tenuous as the absence of a crucial reference in a bibliographic list. When that wasn’t enough, he investigated, guided solely by his intuition. And he never gave up without obtaining results.

An iced coffee and the Taxifolia runners he picked up on the beach stood on the plastic table next to him. He hastily scribbled on his tablet and shook his head. All of the elements he had gathered were organized in keeping with the missing zones, like a cloud of stars orbiting black holes.

He glanced at his watch. It was getting late, but the Center operated on Greek time. No doubt the researchers were staying behind in the labs. It would cost nothing to check.

The research block was locked. The retinal scanner ignored all of Cayre’s attempts to be recognized. He settled for banging on the wall until someone came to open up for him.

Once he was decontaminated, a guard took him directly to the meeting room. He was not surprised to find the two team leads who had met with him in the late morning there. With a nod, he took a seat in the first free chair and turned his tablet on with a flick.

“Let’s save a little time,” he started. “My purpose in coming here is to understand what the enormous budget that has been allocated to you is really being used for. (He raised his hand to forestall any interruptions.) I also suspect that additional funding has been given to you by various industries. What we give you is not enough for you to obtain your results. I’m talking, among other things, about new the varieties of Caulerpa that you’ve developed, while your mission was specifically to find a means to eradicate those algae.”

“You don’t understand…” said the youngest of the team leaders.

“I’m all ears. A word of warning, however, I know enough to be able to tell when you’re trying to lie to me.”

“You’ve only been here since this morning and you think you understand everything that’s going on here?”

“I have a few ideas. I’ve seen your greenhouses and your compost pit. I’ve picked up various unusual specimens here and there. In short, I have more than enough evidence to bring a battalion of experts here. If that’s what you want, of course.”

“How much?”

The hostility in the researcher’s voice was so strong that Cayre felt like throwing out a figure, just to watch his reaction.

“Sorry, you’re off track. All of the information contained in my tablet is transmitted to my department in real time. I’m under surveillance as well.”

“Show him the bins, Franz,” murmured the older of the two men. “As soon as you’ve signed a confidentiality agreement, we’ll give you the owner’s tour. That should convince our patrons that the money they’re sending us is being put to good use. You’ll leave your tablet in this room.”

A half dozen scientists in rumpled overalls were gathered in front of their workstations or their microscopes. They never even looked up as the group walked past. For the first time since arriving, Cayre felt that the Center was something more than a fake window for visitors. Whatever research work was going on here, those taking part in it considered it crucial.

“We think we’ve made a fundamental breakthrough,” echoed the oldest of the researchers, pressing his eye against the security scanner. “We came at the problem from the other side, with a new look.”

“The Caulerpa?”

“The pollution of the planet, and particularly the oceans.” (The wall slid open with a well-oiled hiss.) “The Caulerpa is a means, not a problem. You’ll see.”

In the middle of a room lit by horticultural neons stood a transparent bin, measuring several cubic meters, filled with water. A mass of algae with clearly recognizable fronds grew on the sandy bottom. The stems were a disgusting color; they shone as if coated in grease.

“Our latest baby,” the scientist murmured proudly. “Created through bio-engineering in seventeen months, despite insane specifications. It’s still growing a little too slowly, but we should be able to solve that problem soon. After all, the original strain grows several meters per day, when the conditions are favorable.”

Cayre walked over to the bin. The network of clues he had gathered pointed in that direction, but he still found it hard to believe. He could not imagine what had driven an entire team to develop an improved version of the enemy.

As if reading his thoughts, the young scientist opened a metal locker, revealing a row of flasks.

“Choose your poison.” (He picked up a bottle randomly and looked at the label.) “Mercury sludge. We also have crude oil, concentrated manure, motor oil… Everything that has been poisoning our planet for decades.”

He climbed a step ladder and tilted the flask over the surface of the bin.

“Are you timing this, Georges?”

As Cayre watched, dumbfounded, the scientist poured the content of the flask into the bin. A brown cloud spread over the algae. The water grew so murky that it was almost opaque. An unpleasant odor swept over the room.

“We have about ten minutes to wait. Would you like a coffee? There’s a distributer in the lab.”

“Black, no sugar.” (Cayre had replied automatically.) “But I’ll wait until this is over.”

He walked over to the transparent wall and looked through it. The dirty water was gradually clearing. He looked for a pump or some sort of filtering device, but found nothing.

“It’s the Caulerpa that do the work. This strain feeds off all the substances we consider pollutants. It proliferates in the most affected sites and restores the purity of the water in a few months. We’ve conducted full scale tests around the island. The results are spectacular.”

“The trail of oil I noticed when I arrived,” murmured Cayre.

“An hour later and you wouldn’t have been able to locate it.”

The water in the tank was almost clear. Seized by an impulse, Cayre climbed the ladder and bent over the surface.

“Be careful! The Caulerpa gives off rather aggressive toxins,” warned Georges. “Don’t dip your fingers in the water!”

“I know…”

The sludge had disappeared, gobbled up by the reddish fronds. The sand at the bottom was once again visible.

“Franz has created another variety of garbage plants, as we call them. These one are for on land. A poppy mutation, halfway between the common poppy and the Afghan variety. It grows without any problem on public landfills or along highways. In the long run, it will cover all abandoned industrial zones.

“I think I’ve seen a specimen. It looks rather repulsive.”

“To us perhaps. But our descendants will get used to it without any problems. Do you want us to show you how the Caulerpa processes the oil slicks?

“I’ve seen enough, thank you. I suppose everything you have here is protected by patents?”

“Not yet. Our experts have drafted the applications but we’re waiting for the green light from our other sponsors to submit them.” The scientist shrugged. “Personally, I don’t really care. We’re working for all of humanity, to clean up the mess our species has left behind itself. Thanks to what we’ve done, pollution will soon be nothing but a bad memory.”

Franz and Georges accompanied Cayre back to his room, after making a detour to the cafeteria which served frozen dishes sprinkled with Retzina. Now that the veil of silence had been lifted, the two researchers seemed to be delighted to talk about their results. The three men settled on the balcony with a bottle of wine and plastic glasses. Under the star-studded sky, the sea was as calm as a bed sheet.

“I’ll leave at dawn tomorrow,” Cayre said. “What you’ve accomplished here will change the world.”

As he put his glass down on the plastic table, he felt the Caulerpa runners he had picked up crumble under his fingers. The image of the chewed stems, teeth marks clearly visible, leaped into his mind.

In a voice that barely changed, he asked, “Your creations, these garbage plants as you call them… It would surprise me if they were a good mix for the human species. Apart from the fact that they’re hideous, they must also be toxic for current herbivores. How do you plan to get rid of them, or at least limit their proliferation?”

There was a heavy silence and then Georges cleared his throat. “We’ve already solved that problem. I think you know that.”

Cayre recalled the little girl’s look, eyes dilated as she chewed the petals of the obscene flower, the color of used oil. Once again he heard the joyful cries of the flock of naked children setting out to graze the algae fields along the coast.

“I guessed it, in fact,” he said while pouring another glass of wine.

Copyright © 2005 by Jean-Claude Dunyach

 

THEIR MAJESTIES' BUCKETEERS
by L. Neil Smith


A classic closed-room mystery with a murder most foul....and most alien....

TABLE OF CONTENTS

HOME

The Editor's Word

FICTION
Lord of the Cul-de-Sac
by Auston Habershaw

Ponies

by Kij Johnson
Tomorrow's Forecast
by Zach Shephard
Stiches
by Nick DiChario
Fast-Friend
by George R. R. Martin

Just Another Night at the Abandoned Draft Bar and Grill
by Stewart C Baker

The Gettysburg Game
by Jeff Calhoun
Henry James, This One's For You
,
by Jack McDevitt
This is Home. You are Well
.
by Tina Gower

Love Your Enemy

by Jean-Claude Dunyach
The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side

by Paul Di Filippo

Fork Points

by Sheila Finch

INTERVIEW
George R.R. Martin

by Joy Ward

SERIALIZATION
The Long Tomorrow (Part 3)
by Leigh Brackett

COLUMNS
From the Heart's Basement
by Barry N. Malzberg
Science Column
by Gregory Benford

Book Reviews
by Bill Fawcett & Jody Lynn Nye

 

 

 

 

 

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Copyright © Arc Manor LLC 2016. All Rights Reserved. Galaxy's Edge is an online magazine published every two months (January, March, May, July, September, November) by Phoenix Pick, the Science Fiction and Fantasy imprint of Arc Manor Publishers.