The ride through Halifax is unproblematic; the vehicle’s transponder, registered with the city government, is automatically detected and because Jacques Lehmann is the head of the Food Science Institute, his vehicle and its passengers are pre-cleared for passage. Private vehicles do not clog the streets of Halifax. Once the city became self-contained and self-sufficient, the private ownership of autos ended, and Jacques and others of his status provided with government vehicles and drivers.
Similarly, travel to the wild lands and back is completed without incident. Although various sections of highway required some off-road negotiation, the four-wheeled vehicle was sufficiently equipped to navigate such stretches.
As the distance from Halifax increased and dawn began to break, the four botanicus, Jens, Saha, Kaya and Karma began to stir, and by the time the sun rose over the horizon, they were fully awake. The risk of being stopped or questioned far behind them, Pierre and his companions did little speaking; the scenes of unbroken wilderness kept them too enthralled to engage in conversation.
Unlike “camping” trips to wilderness in the past, little to no preparation needed to be made; no tents, no food, no weapons. The main provision was fresh water and some food for Pierre and their driver, Leon, whose complete attention was placed on the uncertain road conditions before him. Huddled in the back seats, the dressed and disguised botanicus stayed silent, lest their true identities be revealed. As it was, Leon had already determined that there was something different about the four, but his father’s instructions were clear: mind your own business. And he did.
They reached the selected valley around noon; the temperatures were high and were it not for the cooling system in the vehicle, Pierre and Leon would have been very uncomfortable. As it was, given the preparation for departure and orientation to their future they’d previously received, the four were ready for their new home. As the vehicle pulled to a stop at the end of an old and overgrown logging road, Pierre and his passengers exchanged a swift goodbye. Tears in his eyes, and his alone, Pierre walked with the group into the forest where they sat together under the shade of a large Ash tree. The botanicus removed their clothing and handed it to Pierre. They wiped off their makeup, all of them in rapt attention to the wooded scene around them. Their colors indicated curiosity and interest, and they and Pierre formed a small circle and held hands.
“This is your new home,” Pierre began, anticlimactically. “Not just here, this spot, but everything you see before you. As we’ve discussed, you’re safe here. There are freshwater streams, and all the space you will ever need. Whatever wildlife you encounter will pose no threat. It is here that you will and can form your larger family. You are perfectly suited to this changing world, and it will welcome you. I love you all, and will miss you, but knowing you are here and safe is all that matters to me. We will never see each other again but know that I will carry you in my heart for all of time.”
For all his sentimentality, his four progenies are too overwhelmed to reciprocate. The experience of the natural world flooding their senses, they can barely listen. Their colors begin to pulse in unison, and Pierre stands up and steps back. The others hardly notice as he turns and walks back to the vehicle carrying the bundle of clothing. As he bends to open the door, he hears footsteps behind him, turns and finds Jens. “Goodbye, father. Thank you for bringing us to our new home. I will never forget you.” They hug, and Jens turns and walks back to the group, who, colors flashing, are staring up into the treetops and cooing. Thus, it was done.
Pierre arrives home in the late evening, only to find Jacques still sitting in the library sipping Oolong tea. “Len has been very attentive,” Jacques says, reaching out his hand. “Welcome back. I decided that I couldn’t leave until you returned. How did it go? Did Leon do well? Any problems?”
“Slow down, Jacques, all your questions will be answered,” Pierre replies. “I need to wash up and get something to eat. Walk with me to the kitchen and we’ll talk.” The two men stand facing each other, still holding hands, and then give each other a hug. “Are you hungry?” Pierre asks Jacques. “Let’s see what I can rustle up.”
Sitting at the kitchen table, Pierre recounts the journey, and then the discussion gets philosophical. “Tell me,” Jacques asks Pierre, “do you really believe selfless self-consciousness is possible? What does that even look like? I can’t imagine. Is an egoless society possible?” Pierre is silent. “Hmm, Mon Ami? What do you say?”
Pierre holds up his hand, his palm facing Jacques. “Hold on. We can’t rush this. It’s at the heart of my work. Let’s take it slowly.” Pierre takes a bite of protein bar, the food product he helped create, and slowly chews in silence.
“As you know,” Pierre begins, “this whole endeavor is premised upon the question of what happens if hunger, and its corresponding fear, greed, and aggression – the three poisons – are eliminated from the human experience. We know what damage fear, greed, and aggression have done to our world. Egoless society can’t be worse than that! But as to the larger question, what type of society will emerge? I can only hope.”
“But,” Jacques, inquires, “aren’t you taking humanity backwards, towards something more like primitive animal behavior? If the individual ego of self-consciousness is not present, how will botanicus organize themselves, how will they interact? Will there be leaders? You’ve created a remarkably self-sufficient organism, severed the animalistic, evolutionary dependency of killing and eating for a living by giving botanicus photosynthetic skin. I get it, it’s momentous. But what will arise from that? Botanicus have a big brain. How will they use it? Who will these people become and in what ways will they find meaning?”
“I can’t answer those questions,” Pierre continues, “Homo sapiens are intensely social animals, and Homo botanicus are as well. Even in our own individualistic society, there is a social self. One can even say that no individual self exists successfully except within the contex of the social self. It may well be, as you speculate, that I’m taking humanity backwards, back to before self-consciousness stirred a process of objectifying and subjectifying not only the self, but everything else. But this does not dictate the development of a simple herd instinct. As unified as the botanicus experience is, they do not have one single mind, they are not members of a hive or a school of fish. They are individuals who happen to see the world differently than us. Very differently. And I expect the society that emerges will be very different as well.”
“Yes,” Jacques leans forward and places his hand on Pierre’s forearm, “I understand; however, how does a society form when there is an absence of a sense of personal destiny? What will drive progress?”
“I think you are missing the point, Jacques,” Pierre places his other hand on Jacques’. “I’m talking about the progress of no progress, the ability to be at peace with enough. When hunger is absent, forms of craving and grasping are absent too. In that context, “I” is “we.” It’s actually how things are now you see, for us. Individual ego is a sustained hallucination. The only true reality is interconnectedness, the great unity of being. If anything, Homo sapiens have gotten onto the wrong track. You remember railroads, oui?” They both chuckle.
“Ok,” Jacques interjects, “I know you have thought deeply about this for a long time. I admire your optimism. Frankly, I’m exhausted and need to go home. We can continue this conversation another time, alright? As it is, tonight marks a watershed in our lives. We are no longer young men, and whatever society arises from your hybrid plant/animal humans, if it happens, will occur long after we’re gone. I need to bid you goodnight.”
They rise and Pierre walks Jacques to his home’s entrance, where a driver and car are waiting in the courtyard.
“Goodbye, Mon Ami.” Pierre says while he embraces Jacques. “Thanks for all your help and support. By the way, I have an idea about an alternative food source I’d like to develop. I’ll be in touch.” Jacques slides into the seat of his vehicle, waves his hand, and he and his driver depart through the steel gates at the end of the driveway.