The Hand of God
by Omar E. Vega
Part 1 appeared in issue 121.
The following months were painful for Bill. The humiliation he has suffered was reflected in his face. He did not comment anything, but his work started to be quite painful. He could hardly concentrate on his routine work, thinking of the great project he had in mind. But someone that had seen the painful scene at the conference room came to his help one night, when Bill was walking home after leaving his office.
“Mr. Lettich,” said the stranger.
“What do you want?” asked Bill, who thought the guy was a thief.
“My name is Brian Black. I work for Carter Botanics, sir, and I was at your conference a couple of weeks ago, and I have something to tell you.”
“Well. Continue, please,” said Bill, smiling.
“First, I found your superior’s attitude extremely rude, sir. It seems he is a very uneducated guy. No one has the right to humiliate one’s employee in such a way in front of his fellow workers.”
“Well. You very well know that people whose survival depends on a salary must stand humiliations once in a while. One time I heard that in this old democratic document of the British, the Magna Carta, the phrase ‘To all free men of our kingdom’ refers only to the nobility. They were the only ‘free men’ in those times because they lived off their rents. And since they had to work to eat, the serfs were not really free. That’s the way the system has always worked, I guess.”
“Would you like a coffee, Bill? said the mysterious person. I have something important to tell you. Right at the corner there is a restaurant where we can go, if you wish.”
“Let’s go, then.”
They entered the crowed place and asked the waitress for a quiet table. After the cups arrived, Brian started to talk. “Nobody has the right to treat you such way. I felt very sad for what happened at the conference.”
“You’ve already told me that,” said Bill, with indifference.
“Yes, but I did something to change your situation. I talked to my boss about your project and your situation, and he is really indignant. He is so angry that he wants to make you an offer.”
“Do you mean...?”
“Yes. He wants you reassigned to our company right now and to start working for him. Remember his name: James Graham.”
Bill did not speak a word. He was really astonished at the news.
“He expects you tomorrow at 9 a.m.”
“He will wait for you only tomorrow at that time. It is your decision. Take it or leave it. But, if I were you, I would not miss that meeting. You will see.”
Another pause and nothing come to mind. Brian left some dollars to pay the coffee. As they left the place, he said, “Nice to talk to you Bill. I have to leave now but, trust me, this will change your life for good. Bye, now.”
While the fellow was leaving, Bill was thinking about what to do. But he did not hesitate too much. Thinking of the cruel humiliation he had suffered, the decision was quite easy.
Early in the morning Bill called for a flying taxi to go Carter Botanics. The vehicle descended to the roof of the magnificent corporation headquarters, a building 70 storeys high located downtown. Carter Botanics was, no doubt, the main company in the seeds business, famous for its high-yield crops. It also led the market in the successful business of bio-hydrogen, that is, plants that produce hydrogen by using genetically engineered processes.
Bill paid said goodbye to the robotic flying taxi, with took off right away. He entered the elevator. He looked at his watch, which showed 8:47, and went to the chairman’s office. “Hi,” he said with a smile on his face, “I have an appointment at 9 o’clock with Mr. Graham.”
“Sure, It’s not time yet, but are not you Bill Lettich, sir?”
“Yes, that’s my name.”
“Well, in that case you may enter now. Mr. Graham is waiting for you.”
Bill entered the roomy office; it was as luxurious as anything he had ever seen before. Except what he had seen in movies, of course. A huge desk was located at the end of the room in front of some large windows covered by classic red curtains. Some cream-colored leather couches occupied the room entrance, with a small wooden table at the very center. On the floor there was a beautiful Persian style carpet, which contrasted with the wood on the walls. Four brilliant brass standing lamps, Victorian style, flanked the couches. The rooms was filled with long shelves plenty of books, thousands of them, each one with letter covers and titles in golden letters. Silver and golden statues and adornments made the place even more impressing. The final touch was a huge crystal lamp hanging from the ceiling. The atmosphere was formal and silent. Bill felt a little bit intimidated by the place while he crossed the door.
“Mister Bill,” asked a smiling old fellow. “just come in.”
Bill sit across the huge desk, and waited. Graham offered a coffee, which Bill accepted smiling, and they started to talk.
“Well, Bill, I am going to get right to the point. I was informed of the humiliation you suffered in your own company and I thought it was not right. I just want you come to work for my own company.”
“Well, sir,” said Bill quite slowly. “I agree with you that it was very humiliating. However, somebody said once that no one can humiliate you without your own permission. I know hierarchical superiors try to make fun of me, but I will never accept that he was right. When a person must work for others in order to survive, it is just part of the game.”
“But you have an alternative here, Bill. I can offer you to start your own project with us: a research company under your own direction. The pay will be enough for you to have an easy life. Besides, you will be a shareholder. Does that not sound attractive enough for you?”
“Of course, sir, I am very tempted to accept.”
“I just want to know why.”
“It is not enough for you what I have already told you? That I do not like the way my competitors treat you.”
“Well, yes, sir. But I am sure that is not the only reason you called me. After all, there are millions of workers that are treated the same way, all over the world, and nothing is done. I would like to know what other motives move you.”
“Bill, you are smart guy. I will not lie to you. I will not tell you the details, but we have access to confidential data which says that Mars colonization will accelerate very soon. Hundreds of thousands will crowd Mars ten years from now. That is a lot of people to feed, and we want to do that job.”
“Okay. I get it.”
“Well, Bill. How sure are you about your project? Will you have your plant developed in a couple of years, given enough resources and people?”
“Yes, sir. I am sure of it. Just give me enough people and money and in two years you will have your seeds ready to grow on Mars.”
“That is enough for me. Talk with William Shack after you leave. You will have to sign a contract. Do you agree?”
“When do I start?”
“Right now. In two years time a transport will carry your seeds to Mars. So, start now because we do not want delays. And welcome.”
Bill’s head was turning around. He had made it. He was going to work on his own goals at last. God had given him some help, that’s for sure. After all, he was the hand of God.
Bill brought twelve of his fellow coworkers in General Genetics to work with him in his new company. When events became part of history, they would be known as the apostles of Lettich. They moved to a two-storey building in the countryside, where they worked at quick pace to develop the new plant: twenty-four hours a day, all year round they hardly stopped but for eating and sleeping, because the challenge they had was really huge. Two hundred years of genetic engineering were not enough to convert a computer model easily into a real, living plant.
It was not enough to develop an organism capable of achieving the functions planned; it had to be able to grow from a seed, like a natural plant. Fortunately for them, science was quite advanced by that time, allowing them to match DNA sequences with biological structures right in the computer. If they needed a certain design for leaves, let’s say, the software could compile the design into genetic code the same way old-fashioned computers used to translate high-level languages into assembly code. Genetic compilers were the tools that allowed Bill and its employers to succeed.
Many parts the plant had already been used in botanical markets. The hydrogen heating systems, so vital for a plant to survive at 100 degrees below zero, were copied from certain vegetables used in the gas industries. The shields required to protect the plants from low pressure, ultraviolet and cold, were borrowed from natural cacti. And the mechanism to track the trajectory of the sun in the sky was copied straight from the genetic makeup of the sunflower.
Developing black chlorophyll was a little more complicated but, after six months of work they had something that worked quite well. After they developed the first living prototypes of every part, they started the painful work of packaging all the genes in a single chromosomic set. They expended more than six months in achieving their goal. Finally, more than one year after they had started, they had a living plant capable of growing from a seed on Mars. The following year was spent in an unending cycle of tests and corrections. They finished their job just a month before deadline, just in time to send the plants to Mars for the field test. Bill traveled there with his team.
They produced four varieties of plants, all derived from the same design. One produced a kind of extraterrestrial potato, with the same flavor and texture as its earthly variety, which could be serve as a basic food component. The second kind produced very nutritious nuts, which could be milled to produce flour. The third was a kind of cactus, whose leaves could be boiled to produce a liquor quite close to tequila. And the fourth was a fruit similar to the prickly pear or tuna, a fruit Bill used to enjoy in his native land and from which he took the genetic code necessary to create the first Martian fruit. All these plants were to be tested directly on site, on the Martian land.
Charles Robert was furious. He could not understand how Lettich was capable of committing such treason. Of course he realized that he had been a little tough with him, but that situation was no more than a misunderstanding. Robert had been quite concerned with the contract for heavy oil plants for South Africa, which they were going to lose. And the Lettich humiliation was just a way for him to get rid of the stress. He was going to make his apologies. How could he realize Lettich was going to join the competition? Robert was afraid that many of the industrial secrets of his company were going to be stolen and given on a silver platter to the rival company. “Oh my God, how I hate that stupid nerd known as ‘Lettuce’!”
Pretty son he realized the problem was going to be bigger. He knew that his rival, James Graham, was not a stupid guy but a very ambitious one, in fact. The only thing that could move Graham to do anything was profit; just profit. And then, what was going on here? What kind of profit could a stupid guy like Lettich bring him?
Graham ordered one of its employees, a very obscure character indeed, to find out was going on. And he did not have to wait long for an answer. “Gold has been discovered on Mars, sir! The Martian Company has plans to send one hundred thousand people to live there in the next three years.”
“What? How come we did not know?”
“It will be made public just next week, sir. Nobody knew, except for a small group of fellows inside the Martian Company.”
“Well, Carter Genetics got the contract to feed those people for the next ten years. It is a contract for 120 billion dollars at least, sir.”
“Well,” said the employee, “now it is clear why Graham invited Lettich to his company.”
“I just don’t understand what difference Lettich could make.”
“Don’t you know, sir? Lettich was the inventor of the Genetic Compiler. A software program that converts technical drawings of plants directly into genetic code. He wanted to develop a plant specially designed to survive on Mars just to show the potential of his Genetic Compiler.”
“Well, I knew it. You can leave, John. Let me alone, please,” ordered Robert.
John left the room and closed the door behind him. Perhaps by remorse or just thinking of the huge amount of money he had lost, Robert started to cry. Minutes latter, after he wept out his tears, he discretely called one of his bodyguard and said, “Jeffrey, I have a mission for Peter Song.”
The bodyguard felt his blood pressure rise suddenly. He hesitated to ask his boss what the mission was.
“Tell him I want to get rid of Bill Lettich.”
“It will be as you order, sir,” was his short answer. Bill’s destiny was already decided.
It was late one night, just a month after Lettich had started his project at Carter Botanics. As usual, Bill was walking the ten blocks from the lab to his house. Just as he was halfway home, a man who hid his face with a ski mask stood in front of Bill and shot him three times. One of the bullets hit his left arm; the other one, his chest; and the third one almost blew up his left eye and part of his face. The shooting woke up the neighbourhood while the cowardly gunner ran from the scene.
Bill was taken to the hospital near death, but thanks to state of the art technology the physicians were able to revive him. Six weeks later he left the hospital in good condition. He started back to work immediately, trying desperately to recover the time lost. His twelve geneticists were close behind him in this task.
The police never found the gunner, and everyone assumed he was just another drug addict. But James Graham had a different opinion. He was absolutely sure that his rival, Charles Robert was the one who had given the order to kill Lettich. It was quite obvious because the only person who could benefit from Lettich’s death was precisely Robert. Moreover, the only enemy that Bill had ever made was his former company, which lost billions in potential contracts when he left. Nobody suspected Robert, however. After all, he was a respectable businessman.
But Graham knew better. He knew of Robert’s lack of sensitivity and unlimited ambition. Crime was only the logical next step in his career of abuses. So, Graham took no chances and put four bodyguards to protect Lettich 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year round. That way no stranger would be close to him ever again. So he never suffered a new attack from unknown criminals. When the attack came, it was closest to him.
Two months later, Bill and its group were waiting for the charter that would take them into orbit. They were nervous, thinking of the two years they were going to be away from home. Each one was surrounded by his own family or relatives, trying to extend the time they spent together before their departure from Earth.
The charter was not impressive at all. It seemed just like a common hypersonic plane, of the kind that made a regular two-hour trip from Los Angeles to Sidney. Hypersonic reactors using a fusion power plant were quite common, and the charter did not seem very different, except that its destination was not Earth but space.
The trip to space was smooth. After twenty minutes of maneuvers they were approaching the space vessel that would carry them to Mars orbit. It was beautiful machine, but its interior space was so crowded that it was a little claustrophobic from the start. It was like traveling inside a submarine. Despite this inconvenience, the ship was impressive from the start. Two huge plasma rockets used hydrogen plasma heated at millions of degrees by a fusion reactor to send the spaceship to Mars in a reasonable three-month trip. A heavy load in equipment accompanied the team on its Martian adventure.
The trip followed as planned. After three months they reached Mars orbit, where they transferred to a shuttle that would carry them to the surface. Once they had landed, they were received by a small group from Carter Botanics that had arrived some months before. At the landing site, hardly more than an improvised paved parking lot, there was a small and neglected building that functioned as customs office.
There were 15,000 people already living on Mars in a small town called New America. The buildings were all pressurized cylinders, and the town was protected from external hazards by large geodesic domes. Inside the domed city, the presence of a terrestrial atmosphere allowed people to feel at home. The place had plenty of grass, plants and trees and artificial rivers and lagoons, which made the stay even more pleasant. Around the town, greenhouses produced some of the food the colony required, but most of the food consumed on Mars still had to be imported.
“Well, fellows,” said Bill in his first speech after arrival, “we are here. Now let us make this project work. This is the first time in history that Man has created life from scratch. No one else before us but God has created a completely new form of life starting from zero. We are now on Mars, literally in the sky, immersed in the cosmic sphere. Let us not fail in our mission to bring this New World to life, in the same way the Ancient Father of us brought life to our Mother Earth. Let’s do it.”
Some of the scientists looked at each other in disbelief, amazed by the tone of the speech. Nothing was unexpected from the strange guy all knew as “Professor Lettuce.” In Lettich’s mind, though, things were different. He was compelled to talk in a flowery way. After all, he was the hand of God.
The work advanced quickly. Just a month after they arrived they had prepared the ground and extended the thousand of kilometers of plastic pipes needed to water the plants. Specially developed fertilizers were scattered in the fields, so the plants had all the nutrients they needed. A large network of sensing devices monitored all the variables that were relevant to keep the crops growing. The seeds were planted six weeks after their landing on Mars, and then they just had to wait for the results. The plants were growing in an open field, supported by an atmosphere just 1/100th that of Earth, Siberian-style weather and radiation. They were designed to survive even a major sandstorm without much damage. And they grew strong, indeed.
Inside a greenhouse with a panoramic view of the cactus fields they set up a long wooden table to celebrate the seeding. It was covered by a white, embroidered tablecloth and there were all kinds of meals, vegetables and fruits to enjoy. Two seven-armed candelabra, or menorah, adorned the table ends and were already lighted, although there was still enough day light to see miles away to the Martian horizon. Right at the middle of the table, Bill was sitting as the honored guest. “I do not know if you agree, guys,” said John, the jokester of the group, “but it appears to me I have seen this tableau before. Here we are: the twelve apostles and “Bill Christ.”
Everybody laughed at the joke. Everybody, except for Bill, who turned red instead. “One of you is a traitor,” said Bill.
“Are you nuts, Bill? Now are you really starting to believe you are Christ?”
“No. I am not joking,” said Bill, looking straight into the eyes of Jung, the most envious of his collaborators, “intelligence has detected a encrypted message from Earth ordering someone to kill me right now.”
“Why would any of us want to kill you, Bill?”
“Well, I do not know. I just know that someone has tried already, and nothing stops him from trying again.”
The stayed silent for a moment and said no more about it. When the conversation began again, they commented on everything but the threat on Bill’s life. That night, after the party was over, Bill went walking alone to his hotel. He was shot three times and died one hour later.
The investigators tried quite hard to find the killer but did not succeed. The crime remains unpunished to this day. The only thing the police concluded was that one of his closest collaborators was the most probable killer. Carter Botanics did not take any chances and fired them all. Bill’s corpse was shipped back to Earth, where he was buried with all the honors given to a hero. He was known on Earth ever since as the creator of the first artificially form of life of a new planet: Mars.
Six months after they arrived on Mars, there were a hundred hectares planted with the Martian cactus developed by Lettich. Then a large amount of fruit, flour, and something similar to potatoes and liquor were obtained, which, industrialized, produced thousand of agricultural products. That was just the beginning, and when the main mass migration of gold miners finally arrived on Mars, the local agriculture was ready to sustain their lives. Ten years later, a monument to Lettich was inaugurated in downtown New America. The plaque still reads: “In the name of our People to Bill Lettich, the man who created life on Mars. On this planet he was the hand of God.”
Copyright © 2004 by Omar E. Vega