In science class, Jimmy Fellows let his lab partner, Maci Vermillion, do most of the work. They had a system worked out between them, sometimes one of them being in control, sometimes the other. The one who wasn’t in control got to take it easy, unless Mr. Schwartzman was especially keen on seeing each member of the class involved in the lab work.
Jimmy took the latest issue of Othersuch’s Q from the counter in the back of the room, next to the emergency eye-washer, and propped himself on the stool next to Maci as she extracted the lymph nodes from a dead rat.
“Hey, it says here that Doktor Othersuch has been working on a new sort of food. Something beyond Poppets, something superfine.”
“Yeah, whatever,” answered Maci as she squinted her eyes, avoiding the random spurt a splatters from her delicate procedure. “Could you pinch this vein right here?”
Jimmy reached over and applied pressure to the vein with his thumb and forefinger. When she grunted “enough,” he returned to the magazine.
“What do you think he’s got up his sleeve now? I mean, I understand, sorta, how he made up the Puds, and the Poppets are sort of understandable too, but I don’t see how he’s going to be able to do anything beyond them. How do you make a food “beyond” Poppets?”
“I don’t know. My dad says it's insanity. My dad say’s Othersuch is going to destroy the world.”
“Get off. Destroy the world how?”
“Got me,” Maci shrugged, carefully wiping the sweat from her forehead with the back of her wrist. “I’m not saying I believe my dad at all, but Othersuch is creepy. Those things he’s made are super unnatural.”
“Yeah, but everything is unnatural. Everything that we eat and touch and think about is totally unnatural.”
“I’m not trying to argue. I’m just saying that I think that guy’s creepy and anything “new” or “beyond” that he’s up to is going to be ten times creepier that what he’s already made.”
“Mr. Fellows, extra credit doesn’t really count if you don’t do the original assignment.”
“Hey, Mr. Schwartzman. I just noticed you had the latest issue…” Jimmy gave his teacher a smile and pointed to the magazine article he was reading. “Do you know anything about what this latest thing is? They say that Othersuch has something in production. Something beyond Poppets, whatever that means.”
“Yes,” said the teacher, returning Jimmy’s smile and taking the magazine from his hands. “I read that. Interesting, isn’t it?”
“Sure, but what does it mean?”
“We can only speculate.” Mr. Schwartzman walked around the lab table and peered at Maci’s work, nodding his approval.
“So, you want to share some of your speculations with us?” Jimmy asked, loud enough to get the other students interested. Most of the students were done with the dissection anyhow, and so Mr. Schwartzman found himself precicely where he liked to be. That is, in the center of attention.
“I’ll tell you what,” he said. “Let’s speculate together, how’s that. Can anyone tell me what a Pud is?”
He looked around the room. A few hands shot up. Puds were indeed well known, being perhaps the highest-selling condiment in America for seven years running, since they were first put on the market.
“It’s a cabbage with toes!” shouted one kid. “It’s a steaming turd!” hollered another. Mr. Schwartzman ignored them, and called upon Janice, the sickly-sweet girl in the front row.
“Puds are the main ingredient of Pudbutter.”
“Very good,” said the teacher. “And what is Pudbutter?”
“Why not eat the best of both?
Vegetable and meaty broth?
Guilt free pleasure, protein rich
Eat a Pudbutter sand-a-wich!”
By the last line, the entire classroom was shouting the advertune at the top of their lungs. Mr. Schwartzman didn’t flinch. He waited for his students to settle down, and then said
“What does that first line say? ‘Why not eat the best of both”, right? And the second, “Vegetable and meaty broth.” What does that mean? Jimmy, do you know?”
Jimmy took a moment to organize his thoughts. “It means that Puds are half animal and half vegetable, right?”
“Yes. The Pud is the first, and only, vegan meat. That means that it is classified as a vegetable, but it has certain qualities that make it an animal. I was planning on covering this at the end of the school year, but I don’t see why we can’t go over it now. Bobby, can you turn down the lights for me?”
A heavy set boy at the back of the class stood up and went for the lights. But before he could reach them, Mr. Schwartzman called him back, and had everyone clean up their lab tables first.
Ten minutes later the class was sitting quietly in the dark while the Projector screen slowly descended between them and the chalk board. The lights dimmed, a dot appeared on the screen. It looked like a grain of rice.
“This,” began Mr. Schwartzman, “Is the beginning of the universe.”
“Whoa,” said someone in mock amazement.
“Yes. Quite startling. Everything comes from that, from a tiny little dot. A point floating in space. But on the other hand, it’s not so surprising at all, is it? It happens all the time. All the time, momentous things are sprouting from specks of dust. An entire tree takes a few years, some sun and soil and water, to tower above our heads, but to begin with, it wasn’t anything but a little pebble. A nut. A seed.
“Now, we have covered DNA already, so you should know what that is. Edgar, can you give the glass a short definition of DNA?”
“It’s, uh… it’s like the map of a thing, the code that tells a thing – like an animal or a plant or whatever – what to become and how to act and stuff.”
“More or less, yes. And where is that map found?”
“In, in the cells.”
“Which one? Which cell hold the DNA?”
“All of them, right?”
“Right. Every cell in every creature has a tiny little instruction booklet inside it, and that instruction book doesn’t only say how that cell should behave, but how all of them should behave. This is a principle called Holographic Supersymmetry. This is actually the meaning of an old, old phrase that goes: Worlds within Worlds. As above so below. That means that everything belongs with everything else. It all fits. Everything has inside itself a little book -- a little bible, torah or quran -- that tells it how to act and how to act in relation to everything else.
“Now, whether or not any given thing chooses to obey that book is a different discussion, but on a biological level, when something deviates or disobeys that book, the code within, the rebellious cell becomes a cancer, and is usually seen as something damaging to the environment it lives within..."
Mr. Schwartzman paused for a moment, and the sharper of his students knew it was either to gather more information, or to think through something he couldn't quite explain. After a bit, he continued.
“Now, each cell in a body has the DNA for the entire body, but it can’t really follow out the entire instructions of the DNA. It has it’s own part to act out. It is specialized. Take, as an example, myself. I have a Masters degree in science and a Doctorate in Speculative Biology. I’m trained to do what I do, to know what I know, and to learn more of what I know and to teach it to you folks. I am specialized. If I decided to teach math, I’d have to go back to school, to start all over again, and, at my age, that wouldn’t really be feasible. I don’t really have the energy to learn something new, in part because it would take so much effort just to unlearn what I already know, which is what I would have to do, because every course of knowledge requires a different way of learning to master it.
“But you," and he pointed around, even though everybody was facing away from him, toward the projector screen, "each of you can be whatever you want. You have the freedom and energy and even the need to choose your specialty. You aren’t set in your path just yet. And still further, a baby who hasn’t been born yet has even more potential. It hasn’t grown yet. A tree is already grown, it cannot change, but a seed… a seed, an embryo, is composed entirely of cells that are not specialized yet. These cells can be thought of as super-cells. Skeleton keys.
“Are you following me?”
There are a few nods and grunts from the students. The picture on the screen changes.
\ \ / /
/ / \ \
“Now here we have a pattern, the pattern of life. Using very, very sensitive instruments, scientists have found that even in a seed, this pattern is evident, not physically, but energetically. You can see the roots going down, and the branches going up, with the seed in the center. Even though, to the naked eye, the seed is only a dot, a tiny speck, already it is ready to be something more. All it needs is soil, sun and water to put into effect its pattern. To turn structure into substance, and eventually – here is the real miracle, to bear fruit, to make more of its kind.
“The question that riddled scientist for some time is, Where does this pattern come from? Does the energy pattern live in the DNA, and if it does, how come we can perceive it, through our instruments, reaching outside of the seed, where the DNA is not?
“Doktor Othersuch answered this question by proposing that there are two sets of DNA, two maps or codes that live side by side. There is the physical DNA, and there is a subtler life that envelops that physicality. Othersuch named this the Living Cell, or the Tree of Life.
“Some of you will be familiar with the Bible story about Adam and Eve. Can anybody tell me what that story has to say about the Tree of Life?”
Maci raised her hand. Mr. Schwartzman called her name and she said “Well, the man and the woman, in the story, they ate the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, even though they were told not to. And after they were found out, God said something like “We better get these kids out of here, before they can get into real trouble by eating from this other tree, the tree we didn’t tell them not to eat from.” And then the man and the woman were kicked out of the Garden of Eden and, like, an angel with a flashing sword was told to guard it, to make sure the man and the woman couldn’t get back to the Tree of Life.”
“Do you remember why God didn’t want them to eat from the Tree of Life?”
“Uh, I don’t remember.”
“According to the English translation, God said “Let us take them away from here, lest they eat of the Tree of Life and become like Us.” Meaning, presumably, that if the man and the woman tasted the Tree of Life, they would become Gods themselves, and, also presumably, God didn’t want them to become Gods because it was evident they couldn’t even control their appetites, let alone the power of creation and destruction. But I’m getting really far out there, aren’t I.
“Let’s just say that Doktor Othersuch expected there to be a very great difficulty in trying to master the energy patterns of seeds. Already, scientist had mapped out DNA, and to a certain extent were able to manipulate it to their purposes, but they were never able to do much more than mix one thing with another. They were never able to totally harness the super-flexibility and hyper-potency of any given species. Because, Doktor Othersuch proposed, no scientist was crafty enough to really invent something new. They were all still stuck on the level of modification, of alteration, of Knowledge. They hadn’t grasped the pattern of Life.
“Othersuch believed that, at least at first, the Living Cell could only be persuaded to do things that were simple and good. And persuaded is the key word. Othersuch approached the Living Cell like it was a living creature, like it was something that had its own set of wants and likes and dislikes, that needed to be treated with respect, or else it wouldn’t do anything but hide or defend itself. So Othersuch befriended the Living Cell. Yes, he made friends with the seed.
“What I’m telling you is of course not the whole story. It’s a sort of fairy tale version of things, but it’s no less true than if I were to tell it to you in the complex, technical terms. What I’m trying to say is that Othersuch used his humanity, not just his knowledge, to effect change in the cell. And this change is where the Puds came from.”
The picture on the screen shifted again. This time the diagram was lopsided. It looked like an upside down foot on the top, but below the seed, it still looked like roots.
“Now here’s the part that I’m going to have to be horribly simplistic about, because it really gets difficult to explain at this point. What Othersuch discovered was that DNA is like a road map, like a set coarse plotted into a car’s computer. But the Living Cell was the driving force of the vehicle – the living cell was the passenger and the driver and the gas, all three of these things. In Hebrew mysticism these three – gas, driver, passenger – are called the Mother Letters, Aleph, Mim and Shin. Islam calls them Alif Lam Mim. Already, the names are there, the map is there, existing right next to the stories that say the map is hidden. But that is just how things work. Even though the book is already written, you don’t get to find out what happened to Mr. So and So until chapter Ten, when his wife discovers his secret diary hidden behind the kitchen sink.
“Anyhow. Once Doktor Othersuch discovered the properties of the Living Cell and the names of those properties, he was able to become quick friends with them. He was able to “call them up” in a way, like you can call a distant relative, and, after chatting with them for a while, he was able to ask them for a favor. He was able to persuade them to get out of the car and let him drive. Now, where he put the gas and driver and passenger is another story, and what he put in their place is also a very, very long story, but lets just say that after he commandeered the vehicle, it was no hard task to change the road map, and hence, the Pud.”
The bell rang. The students sat in dim consciousness, dizzy from the information overload. Mr. Schwartzman turned on the lights and made the projector screen roll back into the ceiling.
“You haven’t answered my question,” said Jimmy, snapping his neck to pull himself back into his body.
“Well, such is life. More tomorrow. Now you all get out of here, I’m on lunch.”