The Man with Bronze Hair

Les Sklaroff

"Roots are not in landscape or a country, or a people, they are inside you." Isabel Allende

A few of those involved in the unauthorized landscaping in Smatparrox knew the bronze-haired man as Farras Grein. They were well-motivated, and knew better than to discuss either their work or his identity with strangers. They were also well-paid, but this was incidental to the satisfaction afforded by the importance of what they jointly aimed to achieve. There was good reason for the secrecy of their activities.

Rural hamlets are sometimes described as ‘sleepy’. Smatparrox, sadly, was comatose. It was not an unattractive place, but its amenities had been allowed to decline until the liveliest local feature was the traffic on the bypass. It was a place from which those in search of education, work, health-care or public entertainment were obliged to commute, provided they could safely negotiate the potholes in the roads. An oppressive bureaucracy clung like a suffocating miasma over the workings of Smatparrox Council. Any threat to the status quo would set in motion a host of defensive measures, supported by ancient statute ready to be cited with wearying detail by their overstaffed legal department. It was one of the hangovers from feudal times which had so far resisted any attempt at modernisation, along with the rest of that sorry place.

"It will shock them into wakefulness"
With eight years of research behind him, and the results overwhelmingly positive, the man who called himself Farras Grein was impatient to implement his plan. Knowing that overt action would have been met with petty obstructions, he had carefully recruited a trustworthy group with knowledge of the local terrain and an enthusiasm for the project. He intended to present Smatparrox with a fait accompli.

Fortunately, a minimum of equipment was required for their nocturnal operations, so the chances of detection were reduced. Essentially, all that was needed for each procedure was a grid reference and a means of digging a precise cluster of holes. Careful insertion of the seeding and nutrient-release mechanism would then be followed by any necessary camouflage of the resulting mound.

Although the clandestine planters were never actually observed, inexplicable signs of disturbance to the faded municipal flower-beds or other public spaces were blamed on moles, until the curiously regular distribution of the mounds was eventually noticed. Suspecting some kind of sabotage, and fearful of hidden traps, the Council belatedly called for an investigative team from Snoak.

Snoak citizens rarely had cause, or indeed sufficient interest to visit Smatparrox. The Snoak Detechs were still pursuing their own urban anomalies, and could not be spared, but on learning that it was a landscape-related matter, Central thought it would do no harm to provide a few under-employed cartographers, who might conceivably benefit from an aerial view of the ground.

By that time Farras Grein's biotaps had already begun to interlock their root system, and were rising to greet the sun.

Biotaps were in effect artificial trees, the product of research and development at the Quicksilver laboratories in Snoak City, the same scientific stable which had achieved success with SunCell MonoPods. They were self-regulating energy-storage and conversion devices which used an enhanced form of photosynthesis to yield a high degree of efficiency with no harmful by-products.

The man known as Farras Grein was himself a native of Smatparrox, and it had long been among his ambitions to be a catalyst for change in what many regarded as that provincial backwater. The provision of virtually free energy could only be a change for the better. He had said as much to his beautiful voluntary cohab and confidante, Sarsel Bridge4th, the herpetologist, whom he had met at a conference on solar energy and biosystems, where he had been greatly impressed by her paper (‘Spectrometric Analysis of UVB Transmission in Reptilian Chemotaxis’ ) before it struck him that she was also a very attractive woman.

"It will shock them into wakefulness, Pi," she had said, the night he had first told her about the project. "And not before time. It's the fresh start they've been needing. But are you ready to take the credit when the demand for biotaps turns global? Even you won’t be able to keep this scheme of yours from attracting world-wide attention. The publicity is bound to become very persistent."

What was not generally known about Farras Grein was that he and Quicksilver's reclusive founder, Pion Octyl diMotz, were one and the same. He had paused before answering, granting her one of his enigmatic smiles. "That remains to be seen, my love. Meanwhile, I rather look forward to the excitement of escaping from the confines of the lab.” A mischievous thought occurred to him. “We could venture out incognito. You can help me choose a suitable disguise, and we’ll give the Quanderpyre press something else to gossip about. Shall we sleep on it?”

Sarsel had unclipped the exquisite gold snake bracelet which he had bought her from Smigs in Yarp Street, and turned to him with a giggle that some would have been surprised to hear from the lips of such a reputable scientist.

There was no question about the biotaps’ efficiency. They had been programmed to optimize their performance, drawing radiant and chemical sustenance from air and earth. Their roots developed protective sheathing, formed junctions from which small quasi-metallic tubers rose to ground level, from where they emitted enticing pheromones. On the gently questing stems of each main trunk, the shiny leaf-blades flashed, sucking in photons, strengthening the pseudo-plant’s defensive capabilities. Here and there little blobs and heaps of organic matter continued to be absorbed, the remains, perhaps, of unwary wildlife. Under one particular biotap, of the thousands that now occupied what was once Smatparrox, close to a slowly liquefying visor, a few wiry strands of bronze hair had already been half swallowed by the rapacious soil.

©Les Sklaroff 2014 All Rights Reserved

Date and time of last update 13:48 Thu 27 Nov 2014
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