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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2248284-Unnatural-Growth
Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Sci-fi · #2248284
Science Fiction Short Story Contest Example for April
Dr. Rosen lifted his eyes from his monitor, mouth twisted in irritation, a trickle of sweat glistening on his forehead. "Someone change the thermostat?"

Dr. Chen snorted, glancing over at the wall by her desk. "Disappointed that it's not an ice locker in here for once? Actually, that is odd - the A/C is still set to 'Ice Age' but it's actually comfortable in here. "

Dr. Rosen shook his head and pushed the old intercom button. "Hey Mike, could you go take al ook at the HVAC? It seems to be on the fritz."

A low rumble answered back. "Man - I just serviced that last week. No way it's out already."

Chen raised her voice, "Don't worry, Mike - there's no rush."

"Yeah, yeah," Mike replied, "I got it."

Dr. Rosen shifted his attention back to his screen, mind racing for a way to meet the deadline. The plants in the attached greenhouse were showing promise, their growth accelerated far beyond his hopes. Unfortunately, the grapes and tomatoes might be growing faster, but their fruits were smaller, with fewer minerals and sugars, and they had also become toxic. It remained to be seen whether a tweak to the retrovirus could solve this problem without sacrificing their rate of growth.

But it was only a few moments before Mike's voice crackled through the intercom. "The ventilator is completely overgrown - didn't you just have the landscapers clean this up last weekend? Anyway, we've got weeds blocking the vent."

Dr. Rosen clenched his jaw. "They were supposed to, but obviously the HVAC area behind the greenhouse escaped their notice. Mike, can you clean it up?"

Mike's voice shared Dr. Rosen's irritation. "Can't we just get the landscapers back to fix their problem? What do you want me to do?"

Dr. Chen chimed in. "You're in maintenance - don't you know how to run the weedwhackers in the shed?"

Mike had just started to tell her where she could put those weedwhackers when the speakers cut out. But only a few minutes later, the lead researcher heard the sound of a 2 stroke engine buzzing outside. Mike might be a character, but he was also good folk. It wasn't long before the temperature returned to normal, and Linda's sweater-coat came back on. Now, if only the next batch of grapes would be as accommodating.

~

Dr. Rosen eyed the yard uncomfortably as he entered the building. Had the landscapers come last weekend at all? The front of the yard looked alright, but the rear by the greenhouse was shaggy and covered in vines. Why hadn't he noticed this yesterday before sending Mike out? Dr. Chen was already in the building, frowning at her screen. "Something wrong, Linda?"

She bit her lip. "Yes, Ben. Mike's in the hospital. There must have been some poison ivy mixed in those weeds yesterday. He's got blisters all over."

"My God," Dr. Rosen replied softly.

Linda continued, "They say he'll be alright, but they've got him laid up and on prednisone. He won't be back this week."

"I feel awful," Dr. Rosen said.

"Me too," Linda replied, carefully examining her feet. "I should have called the landscapers."

The lab was quiet for the rest of the morning, but by lunchtime, Dr. Benjamin Rosen had managed to push the incident from his mind - until he realized he was sweating over his Pastrami sandwich. That didn't stop a chill from spreading as he swallowed. "Linda. Is the A/C out again?"

Dr. Chen froze momentarily, then turned to the thermostat. "Yes. Yes, it is."

Benjamin stood up and walked to the window, peering through the blinds. He should have been able to see the A/C unit. Instead, he couldn't even see through the window through all the ivy. "Linda, can you turn the A/C off?"

She raised an eyebrow but did as the researcher asked. "What's wrong?"

Dr. Rosen walked over to the front door and cracked it open, revealing a web of reedy green leaves - and then he quickly slammed it shut before they could creep in. "I think we're trapped."

Linda gasped. "That's impossible!"

Dr. Rosen nodded. "It should be - but the air conditioning unit is right outside the greenhouse air vent. If our retrovirus went airborne..."

"Oh, shit," Linda replied.

"Exactly."

Linda's cellphone was in her hand in seconds, and she punched in a few digits. "Yes, I would like to report an emergency. My colleague and I are at the Phiza Corp Bio-genetics Research Lab in Phiza Park. We're blocked in by a forest of genetically engineered weeds and vines - some of them poison ivy. We're going to need some help getting out - and the building is going to have to be burned down. Yes, I do know that it's illegal to make a prank call on the emergency line. Fine, you get the chief of police on the line - I'll wait."

Linda tapped her foot as she argued, appearing angrier and more frightened by the moment. Dr. Rosen's brow furrowed for a moment as he considered, and then he hastily grabbed the other researcher's arm. "Tell them to bring a helicopter."

Dr. Chen covered the mouthpiece and whispered, "Grab the containment suits."

Within moments, both researchers had climbed up the emergency ladder and were standing on the roof in biohazard suits - and already vines were creeping over the edge of the roof. Except Linda was still carrying her helmet and had her ear to the phone.

"Are they bringing a helicopter?" Dr. Rosen asked?

She shook her head. "Fine, get the mayor. I don't think you understand how time-critical our situation is. Yes! Plants are overgrowing the roof, and yes - it's happening now. Jesus. No, I'm not joking."

Linda's voice became increasingly more animated as she argued, and the sun continued to lower in the sky. Meanwhile, Dr. Rosen's heart sunk as he watched the vines stretch their way across the flat surface toward them - and outward toward the road and the waiting local news van. "They're going to need napalm to clear this."

The plants' growth seemed to slow as the sky darkened, but didn't stop, and Benjamin found himself wincing as he began to kick weeds away. They were already huddled in a small clearing on the roof and surrounded by weeds a foot thick when Linda cursed and lowered the phone. "The police aren't bringing a helicopter. They want to cordon the area, make sure nothing escapes."

Dr. Rosen's voice was muffled through his hazard mask. "Then we're going to die on national news."

Linda placed the helmet over her head and began to apply the seal. "Not if I have anything to say about it. The weedwhacker is still in the shed, and these plants are heliotropic. They're growing up here because it's dark underneath - the weeds below are already drying out, and they're actually not as dense. If we can climb down the side of the roof..."

Dr. Rosen nodded, and then gingerly stepped onto the nearby plants. They only compressed beneath his feet: they might be growing quickly, but they didn't react to his touch, and they were no stronger than any other weed. "I'm on it."

It was a long climb down to the workshed door, and Benjamin had to be careful not to stay still long enough for vines to grow on his suit. When he did reach the door, it took a good half hour of frantically ripping one vine and then another from door or suit and then thrusting it away before he was able to force the door open far enough for Linda to squeeze through. It was dark, and the air felt thick, though he knew it was his imagination: the suit was sealed tight, except for the submicron filters, and the weeds should be producing plenty of oxygen to breathe. Should.

The two-stroke motor came to life with a steady rumble, and soon fragments of weeds were spattered everywhere, but the thicket of vines yielded slowly. He and Linda took turns wielding it until their arms were numb and heavy, and their suits were dyed head to toes in brown and green. But fear drove them: if they stopped for more than a few moments, they would feel the slow slither of mindless vines attaching to their bodies, anchoring them down. Fortunately, the plants did not grow as quickly once the sunlight had been replaced by the faint distant glow of the street lamps - but their air filters were only rated for a few more hours, and removing their helmets while doused in poison ivy was not an option.

Still, after thousands of grim seconds of blazing muscles, the plants finally thinned and the two emerged - to cheers and the flashing blue and red of the police lights. Men in yellow hazard suits waited outside the ring of plants, with some kind of gear - in this darkness, they could as easily be flamethrowers as herbicide sprayers, and Dr. Rosen would not be able to tell.

"We - we've made it," Linda replied.

Dr. Rosen stood still, taking a deep breath, though he dared not remove his suit - that would require the help of the hazard team ahead. He blinked against the light and settled his gaze on his partner. "We have. But - Linda, are you alright? You look - taller."
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