Botanicaust by Tam Linsey Book Spotlight
The only crop left … is human.
After genetically altered weeds devastate Earth’s croplands, much of humanity turns to cannibalism to survive. Dr. Tula Macoby believes photosynthetic skin can save the human race, and her people single-mindedly embark on a mission to convert the cannibals roaming what’s left of Earth. But when Levi, a peaceful stranger, refuses alteration, Tula doesn’t think the only options should be conversion or death.
Levi Kraybill, a devout member of the Old Order, left his Holdout farmland to seek a cure for his terminally ill son. Genetic manipulation is a sin, but Levi will do almost anything for the life of his child. When he’s captured, he’s sure he’s damned, and his only escape will be death.
Tula’s superiors schedule Levi’s euthanization, and she risks everything to set the innocent man free. Now she and Levi are outlaws with her people, and she’s an abomination with his. Can they find sanctuary in a cannibal wasteland?
The girl didn’t know much of the Cannibal language, but she understood that word.
In the sky, a strange flying machine had appeared, its curved, metal belly glinting in the desert sun. Twigs of desiccated bushes trembled as the near-silent thing descended, and dust swept into the girl’s eyes and filled her nostrils. The woman gripping her hand lurched into a run, jerking the child off her feet and dragging her a few steps before abandoning her.
The girl twisted to squint at the sky. A cone of flame erupted from the machine and pounded the parched ground a few steps away, engulfing shrubs and people alike. Screams, worse than when Brother Eli was butchered, cut through the fiery roar.
As the familiar scent of burning flesh filled the air, the girl’s stomach cramped; she’d eaten to survive, but the smell made her want to cry. Hot embers settled around her, singeing her skin. She pressed her hands together like Mama used to.
“Jesus loves me, this I know …” The song scratched from her throat, as dry as the dust she knelt upon, tears cooling her heated cheeks.
Blackened cannibals lay scattered across the cracked earth, either screaming in pain, or silent in death.
The stream of fire eased as the bird settled to the scorched soil. Several figures emerged from inside the belly of the beast.
“Little ones to Him belong …”
They moved toward her.
They had come from the sky. But these men were green, not cream or tan like her or the cannibals. A hazy sunlit halo surrounded the nearest man’s face. When he held out his hand to her, she thought of her last meal with the fingernail still clinging to the charred flesh.
She took his hand without hesitation.
CHAPTER ONEConversion Laboratory Haldanian Protectorate
One of the insipid overhead bulbs in the Confinement Lab had developed a mild flicker, not strong enough to demand replacement, but enough to bring on the beginnings of a headache. The smell of antiseptic and the sweat of the frightened boy strapped to the lab table didn’t help matters. Tula checked the monitor for the third time. The boy’s blood pressure spiked above one-eighty. Not ideal, but within tolerances.
“Okay, Jo Boy. You good. Good.” She looked into his frantic eyes and willed him to be calm. Preparing captives for the experience of conversion was next to impossible because the Cannibal dialects were too simple and straightforward. But Jo Boy was a quick learner, and she’d spent the last ten days building his trust.
Tula pulled a piece of candy from her sheer lab coat pocket, an expensive treat, but one of the best motivators when it came to teaching new converts. “Is it okay?” she asked the gene tech.
He nodded his permission and bent over the screens, his bare, green skin stretching tightly over each vertebrae.
The equally naked adolescent on the table jerked against his restraints as the IV dripped conversion fluid into his veins. “Ow, ow, ow.”
“I know, it hurts.” She spoke in Cannibal. Time enough for him to learn Haldanian during Integration.
She placed her palm on his shaven head, looking for the telltale hint of yellow in his skin signifying the chloroplasts were taking hold. The jade tint of her own hand would have been vibrant if not for the sickly florescent lighting down in Confinement. She spent far too much time down here.
“Like tattoos. You will be strong.” The only way to convince cannibals to accept conversion was to give them a choice in terms they understood. Strength. Survival. After Integration they would understand how they were making the world better.
Jo Boy flailed against his bonds, a high-pitched squeal rising from his throat. Tula cringed, remembering her own conversion and the burn of the genetic cocktail coursing through her cells — worse than any sunburn.
Showing him the candy, she asked, “Be still?”
He quieted a little as she pressed the sweet into his mouth.
A voice boomed from the door, “Sure it won’t bite?”
Tula jumped, but didn’t turn to look at her supervisor. She could picture the scowl on his sickly green face. Had she ever seen Vitus smile?
Vitus marched into the room and leaned over the terrified boy. “Dr. Macoby, this one has not been cleared for conversion.”
Her attention darted to the electronic gamma pad next to the tech’s computer before looking up at her glowering supervisor. Copper strands around his neck matched beaded hoops dangling from his ears, but the adornments failed to disguise his yellowing skin. Must be due for another treatment. She didn’t dare say it out loud. Vitus was full Haldanian, born and bred, but to his shame, suffered from a medical condition called ripening. Every few weeks he underwent gene therapy to fortify his chloroplasts.
In spite of Vitus’s looming, Tula kept her voice firm. “The Board approved his conversion this morning.”
“Where’s the Telomerase Acquisition form?” Vitus crossed his arms. “And he seems a bit old. Did you get a Verification of Consent?”
“He’s in the early stages of puberty, but still a child by Ordinance three-one-seven. No need for consent.” Barely. Tula had rushed Jo Boy’s conversion because getting Verification of Consent from an adult within the time allotted was nearly impossible. And non-converted prisoners were euthanized. “I have the telomerase form on my gamma pad.”
Vitus snorted. “I’m sure he considers himself quite grown up. These mongrels breed at the first sign of a pubic hair.” He rearranged his necklaces over his own hairless chest and peered at the quaking Jo Boy. “If I don’t have the proper forms on my desk, the conversion stops. Now.”
The tech jumped to his feet. “Sir –”
Tula stood as well, shouldering herself between Vitus and the boy. “Don’t be an idiot, Vitus. Stopping the procedure now would kill him and waste the resources we’ve already put into him.”
“You’ve put into him. Without permission. And I still think he needs a Verification of Consent.”
“The Board doesn’t agree.”
“The Board know how old he is?”
This was an old argument. Tula retrieved her gamma pad. “He doesn’t even know how old he is. I thought our mission was to bring enlightenment to the Outside. To make the world safe again.”
Vitus shrugged, his earrings swaying. His gaze lowered to her wrist where a shiny patch of pink scar tissue over most of her right forearm had not taken the chloroplasts during her childhood conversion. “You can’t trust a convert.”
Tula’s face burned. The scar served as a constant reminder of her outsider roots. By force of will, she met his eyes. “You look like you could use a little therapy yourself, sir. Jo Boy should be done in another forty minutes, if you want to come back.”
An angry flush obliterated the remaining green in Vitus’s skin. The tech covered his jolt of laughter with a cough and turned to his computer. No one liked Vitus, and it didn’t help that he thought he was too good to allow his own Conversion Team to oversee his treatments. “I want to see that paperwork before you go home today.” He pivoted on his heel and stalked from the room in a jangle of copper beads.
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