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Fiction Page 14



Lawrence R. Dagstine

     Kid Larson gazed for the first time at the glass-encased blue flower which was resting on a pedestal outside Dietrich Manor.
     The flower was in the center of a circular driveway, between the poppy garden and the cherubim fountain, and near the foot of the front gate.  Its base was a miniature turret eight feet high, but with two large windows and a diminutive door.  A butler stood atop the rampart in a frock coat with a split coattail, a book of sorts wrapped in ribbon in one hand and the other arm extended.  He was leaning forward, his jaw thrust out defiantly.
     "Your luggage, sir," the slightly rotund caretaker said as he pulled Kid’s bags from the top of the taxi.  He noticed that the young botanist seemed to be in awe of the encased flower. "That plant is the reason you’re here," the caretaker whispered. "Here is the book Dr Vogel wanted me to give you.  It will be most necessary during your stay here at Dietrich Manor."
     "Is it true what they say?" asked Kid. "Is Vogel one of the world’s leading experts on horticulture, and knows to an extent what effects it has on anthropological remedies?"
     "His study isn’t littered with awards and published articles from scientific journals for nothing," the caretaker said.  He gave the taxi driver his fare and told him to keep the change, and then looked up at the house behind him. "You notice that his room is on the very top floor of the mansion," he went on, finger outstretched and pointing. "That was one of the most important places in the house where he conducted his first research, even when the estate was still being built in 1933—just a couple of years before the start of World War II.  Dr Vogel is one of the world’s greatest scientific minds, recognized in over 25 countries throughout the world.  He symbolizes the triumph of learning and wisdom over arduous force, and the key to universal knowledge through the mutation and natural selection of plants and mammals—including us."
     The caretaker picked up Kid’s bags and began laboring toward the back of the house.  Kid turned and walked backward, his eyes still fixed on the blue flower.  Then he set his eyes on the top floor window, which the caretaker had pointed out only a moment earlier.  At first it was barely noticeable, but a figure was standing just beside the drapes, peering out.  It looked like he or she was holding a cup of coffee in its hand. "You know, the way some people leer at you, it’s like they’re getting ready to jump out," he said.
     The caretaker laughed heartily.
     Kid’s room was located to the rear of the garden, and was like the one he had left in Pilgrimage University: a private entrance with a private yard, a closet to the right as he entered, a desk with a microscope and bookcase on one wall, a bed and a night table on the other.  There was also a hall that led to a room with a toilet and wash basin.
     Kid began unpacking slowly.  He was in no hurry.  There was no place to go, and he had a book to read.  It was late in the evening, probably too late to go into town.  Besides, even though he was an Englishman he still felt like a foreigner in a foreign country.  He had been called there because he was a promising young student of botany on a full-paid, Ivy League scholarship.  So all he had to look forward to were dreary scientific discussions about a rare flower that probably wouldn’t even pan out to anything, just a cozy addition to the encyclopedias and biology books of the world, with Vogel’s name and his own imprinted under it.
     He lifted his dress slacks and shirts out of a suitcase and carried them to the closet.  He dumped his underwear and socks into the vaultlike drawers of the dresser, then tossed his extra loafers onto the closet floor.  He opened the second bag, a sort of black tote with a shoulder strap, and unpacked his botanical reference books and tool kit.  The glass filaments from the kit had been wedged between his sport shirts for protection, and Kid lifted it carefully onto the desk.  He put them right next to the microscope, along with the book the caretaker had given him.  The book was called Orchids of the Far East.
     The last thing he unpacked was a small plastic bag, which he opened carefully.  It contained a tinfoil package, its folds crimped to form a protective seal.  He worked the wrapping slowly until he was able to lay back the layer of tinfoil.
     Inside was a preserved, red and white flower petal—a genus Cattleya [part of the tropical Orchidaceae family] which he had examined in class during his sophomore year at Pilgrimage.  He had had it ever since.  There was a chance it might come in handy for whatever experiment Vogel would be performing; probably a new medicinal herb, an extremely meticulous concoction or homeopathic remedy based on the usual healing properties of perennial plant life.  
     He repacked the flower petal into the tinfoil protector and, since that feeble excuse of a work desk did not have drawers, slipped it into one of the loafers at the back of the closet, one of the pairs he hardly ever wore.  When he had first pocketed the sample a year or so ago, he had had no idea what he was going to do with it.  Better to save it for a later date.  He had not only studied flowers, but collected them as well.  He had kept his collection neatly tucked inside an album; perish the thought Dr Vogel would keep his flower inside a greenhouse.
     Before lying down for the night, he thumbed through a few pages of his new book, knowing that the genetic make-up of his petal would probably help the doctor in his initial examination over the blue orchid’s medicinal properties.  After all, both flowers were the same.  Just distant cousins.

The first thing Kid did when he woke up was throw on a nice pair of slacks and a V-neck sweater, put his new book under his arm, and headed toward the front of the mansion.  The caretaker let him in and led him upstairs to a rectangular-shaped reading room, where an old man in a decorative leather chair sat.  The chair swung around to face him.
     "You were a great scientist during the war," Kid had said solemnly, during this second day at Dietrich Manor.  He had meant the first World War.  His face had been shining in admiration. "Your books on the South American azalea and the seeds of plants in rainforests comprising of reproductive organs are fascinating.  I’ve also practically read all your published thesis material."
     Dr Vogel had nodded, his white goatee and bristly mustache bobbing with the movement of his head. "Of course," he responded, surprised at the enthusiasm of his guest; and he wasn’t only a scientist of plants, but one of medicine, human life, and biological conditions or changes in the environment as well.  It was the doctor’s experience that the botanist had some scientific value, top of his class, which was the reason he summoned him there.
     "I mean a real great scientist," Kid continued in awe. "You really know how to use a plant’s properties to your advantage…and to make it work for everything else."
     "Naturally," Vogel said, a reserved expression on his face. "It’s simple, especially when you’ve been studying this sort of stuff for as long as I have."
     "I bet I could never reach your level," Kid said, setting up his mark.
     "Of course you could," Vogel answered, suddenly flooded with eagerness. "Do you know why I had your headmaster place you here?"
     "I assume it has something to do with the rare flower in your front yard?"
     "Yes, an orchid like no other.  Most of these non-bulbous blossoms have a reddish purple and white coloring or red petal and blue-hue mix, never solely blue.  It’s unheard of in Europe, and it bores me too.  Although, a couple of 19th Century botanist explorers discovered rare Orchidaceae with black petals and a yellow tint, but those were located in unmapped regions of the world, such as the Amazon."
     "What’s so special about this one?" asked Kid. "And I know it’s a showy plant, but why do you keep it outside encased in that glass shell?"
     "Actually, that glass shell is a silicon filament," Vogel replied. "I had this Hungarian glass blower make it up specifically for the flower.  It absorbs the sun’s rays just enough to where the orchid can stay alive in an enclosed atmosphere, furthering the feeding process of its own oxygen and heat-vapor level.  The angel’s fountain to the right of it has an extra piping system which is connected to the bottom of the pedestal, automatically watering it twice a day—usually in the afternoon and night."
     "Aren’t you afraid that it will get stolen out there?" Kid had a point. "There are other people in the world who are looking to steal things of enormous scientific value.  Assuming it has such value."
     "The blue orchid is not my discovery," said Vogel plainly, "but everyone’s discovery.  It’s not just mine to share with only my colleagues, but the whole world.  It’s there to teach and provide, and its observant and appreciative subjects are there to learn the most they can about it." The doctor opened up a journal in front of him. "The reason I took you out of Pilgrimage and brought you here is because I need your help with my research of it.  There is great evidence that it has some sort of medicinal property that can boost the immune system to the point where people will no longer suffer twice a year from the common cold, where they’ll no longer have to worry about crazy ailments such as gait or epilepsy, and even prevent thousands from becoming victim to cancer."
     "The cure—to everything," Kid muttered.  Somehow he already knew.
     "Yes, the cure.  And as I conduct my final tests on a petal, or a valid specimen of it you could say, I need you to biologically open up and explore its origins."
     Kid had bounded around the desk so that he could look over the doctor’s shoulder at his journal.  The old man’s hands had flown as it sketched in the flower’s basic genetic diagrams for Kid to see.
     "You begin with the seed of the plant, a natural force pushing straight up into a root, then a network of stems as sunshine and water feed it.  What we need to do is learn how it gets that dark blue color, and how a sort of yeast-filled RNA for healing invades it during the blossoming process.  Most flowers are incapable of this, just the orchids of Asia …which makes me think it originates from there."
     "Wait—what about a catalyst, such as chlorophyll?" Kid had interrupted.
     Vogel’s eyes had filled with tears of joy.  A question.  Actually, an intelligent question! He’d torn off the first few sheets of paper from his journal and began rewriting the diagrams across the next few pages.  At first he was going to rebut the whole idea of using photosynthesis as a foundation for the orchid’s genetic make-up, but then that whole thing of inertia which constantly closed off his mind to other possibilities had to be overcome.
     "Now, suppose you don’t want to use chlorophyll?" Kid had asked. "Suppose you’re interested in creating a totally different catalyst?"
     "Then whatever chemical or element work bests, you have my permission to change the balance." Vogel had inwardly rejoiced. "Here, let me make a copy of these diagrams for you to use."
Kid had gathered up the scraps of paper, thanked Vogel profusely, and promised to return in two hours.  Then he had gone off to his room, searching through the book Vogel had given him, struggling through the miniature text until he found the Oriental specifications of the blue orchid, genetic components and all.
     According to Japanese scientists and Chinese herbalists, the RNA matched the catalyst of another flower in the Orchidaceae family.  The Cattleya.  And it was the preserved sample of a red and white Cattleya that lay inside one of Kid’s loafers at the back of the closet.  Thank goodness for recycling!
     Kid was soon back in Vogel’s study with a possible solution.  Vogel took a new pencil and opened up a fresh journal.  He jotted down a couple of equations based on the ge-netic make-up of the blue orchid, then shaded sections of the Asians’ catalyst figures and original RNA, and added the genetic make-up of Kid’s red and white flower petal, as he fitted them into chemical breakdown patterns to create a more uniform configuration. "A pharmaceutical approach to the plant doesn’t really matter for RNA or catalyst figures," he explained.
     But, of course, it mattered very much.  For each genetic equation the doctor created, Kid’s mind substituted the RNA for DNA, which was most uncommon for even a rare flower to have.  He turned around and looked out the window for a brief second; where visible from his position was the orchid at the center of the circular driveway.  He looked back up from Vogel’s new diagrams and mentally ingested them: how to use botanical equations—even more uncommon—to create a cure for sickness and disease, to create a pill or serum that people could inject or take by mouth.
     "You’re a lucky man, Kid Larson," the doctor thought to himself.  "Not even twenty-one yet, and by tomorrow, once I’ve finished with everything, you’re going to be one of the world’s leading botanists."
     "Piece of cake," Kid smiled to himself.  He leaned back in the doctor’s chair, which was kind of rude, and admired the formula he had just concocted using an RNA sample of the blue orchid and a sample of his own Cattleya.  Well, not a concoction, really just a red and blue chemical make-up.  But if Vogel’s calculations were not completely on target, the formula would have the same effect as a prescription vitamin shot.  And it would lift Kid’s career about as high as a foraging rabbit, just enough to help him cross that first log to success but not enough to help him reach for the stars; which is what he anticipated ever since he was a teenager.
     "Getting used to that chair?" Vogel asked him.  He didn’t mind him sitting there, not at all.  The boy deserved some recognition, for he had made an extraordinary breakthrough in botanical science.