“Well,” announces Pierre, “as my father used to say, ‘the cat’s out of the bag.’” He and Len are sitting in the library. “I’ve read about cats, father,” Len replies, not entirely understanding Pierre’s point. “As I recall,” Len goes on, “Panthera tigris and other species of large cats were apex predators, top of the carnivore food chain. Did you know that cats were one of the few animals that could voluntarily extend their sharp, hooked claws, unsheathe them, and use them as grappling hooks to subdue their prey? They must have been very interesting!”
“Yes, yes, of course, that’s true,” Pierre replies, “but I’m not really talking about cats. I’m talking about you, Len. You are the cat that’s out of the bag. Now that Bill Banes knows about you, it won’t be long before he tells someone else. Word will get out. I’m afraid you won’t be safe here and it might be time to relocate.”
“Don’t you trust Bill, father? I know he was shocked when he first met me, but it’s been quite a while and we’ve heard nothing. He’s a man of science, like you. He understands the situation facing the planet and human beings. Why would he tell someone else if he knows it might jeopardize the future?”
“If I didn’t trust Bill, I would never have told him, but…I don’t know, maybe I should have kept quiet. I guess I’m just nervous. People can be so reactive and frightened, so easily aggressive when feeling threatened. They may not have the tiger’s extendable claws, Len, but Homo sapiens are without doubt the planet’s apex predator.”
“I’m not scared, father, Len notes, “I think we’re safe. And Bill knows nothing of the rest of the botanicus family that you sent to the wild lands to the west. For all he knows, I’m the only one. And who cares about one aging, green-skinned man in the midst of social and ecological collapse? To use another of your father’s favorite phrases, or so you’ve told me, Bill ‘has bigger fish to fry.’”
“I hope you’re right, Len. I sincerely do,” Pierre, looking tired, leans back in his upholstered chair. “I’ve always wondered, I still wonder, how Jens, Saha, Kaya and Karma got along out there in the wilderness. It’s been many years. No reports about them have filtered their way back to Halifax. No rumors, no alleged sightings, nothing. And I released some other types of botanicus, too, and no reports about them. There was the pig-like Sus botanicus, green-skinned like you, for instance. I wonder if they survived. Part of me would like to head out there and find out! I’m too old, of course. Too bad.”
“Something tells me they’re all ok, “Len answers. “I just feel that since the four have each other, can take care of each other, that they’re doing fine. I’m sure they are, father. We taught them well enough, and they’re all very smart. By now, they may have children of their own, who knows? Maybe someday, I’ll find out.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Pierre leans forward towards Len. “Things really are not fine here, Len. There are not enough people to maintain the city, and the population is shrinking rapidly. I give it ten, maybe twenty years max before Halifax is abandoned. It used to be a vibrant, even exciting place, but it’s slowly falling apart. Ironically, you may be the best suited to survive. It only takes a half day to reach the limits of the city, and once across the water, it’s just uninhabited open space. You should think about leaving. Really, think about it.”
“I’m not leaving you, father. ‘Ain’t gonna happen’. Isn’t that one of Leonard’s sayings?” Len reaches out, takes Pierre’s thin, pale hand and gives it a gentle squeeze. “Besides,” Len continues, “we’ve got work to do.”
“Work?” Len’s eyes open wide. “I’m too tired for work, Len. My lab days are over; I’ve done what I can. It’s all I can do to get up, get dressed and drink tea. I’m old, in case you haven’t noticed. And getting very old. What do you mean by work?”
“Father,” Len says gently, “we’re sitting in Leonard’s library surrounded by thousands of books. You’ve read some. I’ve read some. Neither of us have, or probably could, read them all, but we can try, right? That sounds like good work to me. What do you say?”
“I love you, Len. I really do. I understand what you are trying to do, and I love you for it,” Pierre smiles. “At a certain point in life, things just slow down, and eventually shut down. I can feel it happening to me, day by day. I want to sleep longer, my thoughts wander, I get lost in my memories. My balance is not as good as it once was. One bad fall, and that’s it for me. As my father would say, ‘Curtains!’”
“You’re underestimating yourself,” Len frowns and his skin darkens. “You’ve got many years ahead of you. And I will be right here with you. Don’t try to convince me to leave, that’s a waste of time. If you need help, I will provide it. If you teach me, I can maintain your algae/protein tanks and other systems in the house. We have all we need right here. We’ll be fine.”
Their conversation is interrupted by the piercing sound of an emergency siren, the signal that yet another vital piece of infrastructure in Halifax has failed. Three short blasts, followed by silence, followed by three short blasts; the signal that the sea wall has been breached by the tide. They are in no danger, the Gittleman house is too far above the water line to be threatened, but areas below it will have to be abandoned. Progressively, the city of Halifax is shrinking due to the rise in ocean level. Those evacuated will find shelter in other properties, now empty due to the fallen population, but the demise of the city is only a matter of time.
Len turns to Pierre, only to discover that he has fallen asleep in his chair. Len takes a blanket, covers Pierre, and sits back down in his own chair. Despite his protestations to Pierre, Len’s thoughts turn to the wild lands, and the fate of his botanicus family. The siren continues its warning and then peters out. The house lights flicker. The sounds of large machinery echo from the shoreline. “Someday I will find them,” Len thinks, leans back under the grow lamp, and closes his green eyes.