Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Flash Fiction: The Bacon Bush

The Bacon Bush
by Nathan Ryder

Things never just happen in science. All those happy accidents that lead to 'miraculous' breakthroughs are never that at all. I'm serious. The guy who invented non-carcinogenic cigarettes? He just wanted smoking to be cool again.
Take Mike Brewster's discovery, the one that got him the Nobel in 2017: you might think that there was some noble goal there, maybe wanting to feed the starving masses, giving them more than just grain, giving away cheap, easily available protein. What a great humanitarian, an innovator in the area of agricultural genetics.
Nothing of the sort.
Brewster overheard the woes of one of his post docs, did some thinking of his own (the realisation of how profitable it could be pushed him along a bit probably), and arrived at a solution.
Not the one that his post doc was going for, but a solution nonetheless.
That post doc – my friend, Adam Harris – didn't have a noble goal in mind either.
He just wanted to impress his vegetarian girlfriend.

“I just want to impress Helen!” he said, after a pint or four in the local.
“You can't give up meat,” I said. I was slurring a little I think, a little bored too, but you support your mates when they're having relationship problems. “You don't give a crap about poor little Chicken Licken or Porky Pig, she knows that!”
“I know, but I really want this to work...”
“Look mate, you tried before, but that textured soybean stuff she buys just isn't the same,” I said, draining my glass. I set it down and stood up, my turn to get the round in. “It's not like meat grows on trees, is it?”

Back in the labs some weeks later, Adam was trying to explain the problem he was having in getting the right proteins to knit together. I was just amazed that he was getting anything from the adapted soybean plants.
“I'm getting chunks from the first strain,” he said, as Brewster popped his head around the door, “The amino recombination is almost there, it really is!”
“But not quite,” I said, frowning and looking at the sequence that he was proposing for a future culture. It was out of my area, but I could understand enough of what he was doing to offer an opinion.
“Strains three through seven are producing something that looks like mince but tastes like crap,” he said, nodding a hello as he realised his supervisor was there.
Brewster cracked a joke about Adam knowing what craps taste like. We laughed dutifully, and a few seconds later Brewster walked away. Six months later I realised the importance of that moment, Brewster's eyes hungrily taking in the diagrams of protein chains and enzyme mappings that were strewn across the wall.
We should have remembered the allegations that had been made against Brewster a year earlier. Questions had been raised about his conduct whilst he had been supervising a visiting student (and Brewster's subsequent filing of patents) but nothing had ever come of it.
And we should have remembered that he has a photographic memory.

Six months passed and Adam cracked it.
He and Helen had split up by then, had done so two months earlier when she called in at the lab and saw that strain thirty-seven had produced a curly little tail. But it didn't matter. Adam had done it. We trimmed a few 'fruits' off, slapped them in a pan and fried them. Served on toasted white bread, no butter, it was pretty good. Thin trim of fat at the edge, a little too pink maybe, but a good texture and the taste was spot on.
Officially he was going to call it Glycine Max Modified Strain 53.
Between us we had taken to calling it the Bacon Bush.

One week later, he was almost ready to present his research. A hundred little seedlings, four mature plants, and even a new variant that produced rashers of streaky bacon. I had just stopped by to see how the press statement was coming along, when a group of geeks from the seventh floor burst in.
“Mike Brewster is giving a press conference in the main lecture theatre!”
“It's a major advance apparently!”
“He's on the midday news now!”
We put the feed through to the wall screen. Brewster was ten minutes in to his spiel and we tune in to the moment that said it all: Adam's last six months of work and his failed relationship were all for nothing.
Brewster beamed for the cameras and pulled the screen aside; you could almost hear the biotech firms scrambling over each other to put an offer to him.
Broad green leaves, main mass of the plant two feet high, thick vines supported like tomato plants with inch thick slabs of red meat hanging down from. Not a soybean plant base, that much was certain, but too much of a coincidence.
Adam let out a howl as he turned away and stormed out of the room. Meanwhile flashbulbs went off again and again as Brewster said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: the Steak Plant!”

Creative Commons License
This short story is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works License. Feel free to repost and share it with others, so long as you credit me (Nathan Ryder, 2008) as the original author and link back to this page. It would also be nice if you dropped me a comment!

1 comment:

mattiecore said...


that's cute!

(Sorry for my absense: holidays!)