High above the city, in the old castle on the hill, the great botanist Professor Chloroplast put down the soldering iron. “Now we’ll know,” he said.
His assistant, the young Dr Xylem, looked up from the flower pot on the other side of the room. It contained a sweet pea plant, to the leaves of which he was attaching sensors on clips. “All ready here, sir.”
The Professor stepped away from the large box on the table. Lights flickered across its surface, needles crawled along dials, and readouts scrolled across screens. “We’ll have to wait a little, for it to calibrate first.”
“Do you really think it will work?” asked Dr Xylem, voicing a doubt he hadn’t dared express during the years of research and effort.
“Work?” the Professor scoffed. “Of course it will work. Haven’t all the tests we’ve done confirmed what we thought? If this works,” he added, “and it will work...can you imagine the implications? A Nobel Prize is the least we can expect, my boy. The very least.”
“You’re right, Professor,” the young Dr Xylem said. He still looked apprehensive. “I was just wondering if we’ve thought this thing through.”
Professor Chloroplast bent to adjust a knob or two. “What’s there to be thought about?”
“Nothing, I suppose.” Dr Xylem replied. “I just can’t help feeling we’re missing something.”
“You’ve checked the notes over and over for yourself,” the Professor snapped. “If there was anything I’d missed you’d have caught it.”
“The instruments are all ready, Professor,” Dr Xylem said diplomatically, looking at the line of green lights on the box. “We can start now.”
For the next half an hour the two men were too busy to speak. They pressed buttons and turned knobs, watched dials and peered at the screens. At last the Professor sat back, satisfied, and sighed with deep satisfaction.
“Success,” he said. “After all these years, after all the effort – success, complete success!”
“Success,” Doctor Xylem echoed. He glanced back at the readouts on the screen. “I must congratulate you, Professor.”
Professor Chloroplast waved a languid hand. “The facts were always there to be discovered,” he said. “We were just the first. Well, let’s try it on the carrots now.”
So they tried it on the carrots, and then on the money plant in the jar in the corner. Finally Dr Xylem leaned out through the window and fixed wires to the rose bush in the garden. Each time the results were the same.
“We’ve done it,” Professor Chloroplast concluded. “Let the world know now that plant intelligence is a proven fact.”
Dr Xylem nodded. “The mail is ready, sir. I just have to send it.” He walked over to the laptop on the far side of the room, and after a split second’s hesitation, clicked on send. Within moments, science publications around the world were buzzing with the news.
“Can you imagine what we’ve achieved here?” the Professor asked. “From the dawn of time, man has been exploiting the vegetable kingdom. Indeed, until fairly recently, people were reluctant to admit that plants were even alive. And now we’re proved, beyond a shadow of doubt, that they’re intelligent. They can feel and think and even communicate.” He glanced happily at the monitor where the plants’ thoughts had been translated into roughly comprehensible language. “That they think by way of chemical reactions doesn’t change anything.”
The phones began ringing busily, and for the next hour the Professor took one call after another, giving impromptu interviews. At last there was a respite, and he sat back, wiping his brow. “Phew,” he said. “Fame is hard work. I’m really rather hot and bothered.”
“And you’re going to be a lot more hot and bothered soon,” Dr Xylem said, looking out of the window.
“What do you mean?” Professor Chloroplast asked, frowning.
“Come here, sir, and have a look,” Dr Xylem said, pointing.
The Professor and he stood at the window, watching, neither of them inclined to speak.
Carrying pitchforks and torches, a huge mob of furious vegans was climbing up from the town to burn the castle down.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2013