Chat-your-own-Adventure #7: The Concord Portal

Author’s Note: This story was written live on stream with the audience bidding tokens (earned while watching) to determine the path of the story.  The underlined phrases in the choice of three were the winning pathways.  Stop by if you’d ever like to participate in our interactive fiction.

Scientifically Enhanced Fruit         Poetic Device Fruit           Enchanted Fruit

The Concord grape before them was certainly the largest to ever exist. Its skin was thick enough to require a fillet knife. Its seeds were large enough to serve as baseballs. Five bottles of wine could be produced from the juice of a solitary example from the vine. The vine itself was full, more than thirty grapes growing over a titanium trellis, because the other materials they’d used had ended up buckling under the weight.

The two scientists, crouched in front of the lowest hanging grape, could not taste it. That was not part of their study. In fact, they couldn’t even smell it thanks to their containment suits. Everything around them, from the giant grapes to the gargantuan mint leaves and mighty mountainous melons called to them, asked them to frolic. Instead they had to squat there like frogs trapped in plastic wrap, and poke and prod until they had what they needed.

Dr. Coops pierced the Concord with a industrial-sized syringe. He extracted some of the juice, separated the needle from the ampule, and handed it off to his assistant Dr. Mayfence. She held it up in the fluorescent light of their white domed laboratory and examined its color and clarity. She had once, before her PHD, worked as a sommelier, and she had numerous friends who’d inquired about the juice of those grapes. They offered her more than she was paid in six months for just one bottle’s worth.

Mayfence had her integrity to consider, and her job. She’d held back. Honestly, the worst part was that they weren’t allowed to taste any of it. You were lucky if you so much as caught a whiff of any of the giant fruit after decontamination. She’d mentioned that she’d smelled the watermelon once, just a gasp of it on her suit, and her superiors had it burned. They took her off the ‘foraging’ rotation for three weeks and made her visit with the project psychoanalyst for thirty minutes every day.

Their case was full now, with ampules from ten different subjects. It was quite an assortment of colors: pink, green, yellow, orange… The perfect decorative display for a smoothie bar somewhere. Mayfence clicked the case shut and rose to her feet. She helped the elderly Dr. Coops up.

They navigated through the overgrown meadow of vine-borne fruits and spices carefully. The plant tendrils were thick as ropes, and could trip you up easily. They’d been very careful to remove all stones larger than a penny from the soil, that way was there was no risk of anything you landed on cracking your face plate. There were still hundreds of unidentified compounds within the chamber’s air.

They made their way to the decon doors and punched in the pass code. The first set opened and they stepped inside. A few of the vines unfurled into it as well, and the scientists had to push them back out before the doors would close. The fruit was practically climbing the walls now, and they had no contingency plan for when the sealed chamber was simply out of room. Someone had jokingly suggested they make fruit salad, but none of the site’s eighty-five full time staff had laughed.

They were hit with white vapor from several pressurized nozzles. Droplets formed on their visors and then were blasted away by the fans. The process repeated itself twice. Poor Dr. Coops was nearly blown over the third time, but Dr. Mayfence kept him on his feet. She knew he’d been waiting more than four decades for work like this. This was the first true biological anomaly that matched his predictions from so long ago. He’d written a book. A bestseller, even outside scientific circles. In it, he’d insisted a new wave of activity would form in the Earth’s biosphere. If people saw any of that fruit with their own eyes, they’d immediately go out and buy an autographed first edition.

Defrosted Ancient Seeds                    Oceanic Shifting                        Herbicides

In his book he placed the blame for the oddities of the future firmly at the feet of a class of herbicides. At the time they were being used across the world to rid all sorts of crops of the various weeds and hemiparasites that plagued them and their soil. Of course, things weren’t panning out exactly as he’d foretold. Where he imagined shriveling and lower yields, they were actually getting giant crops and roots of different species growing together in unpredictable ways.

Their quarantined area was just south of the United States border, in a field that had the highest concentrated use of the herbicides known. Both the governments of the U.S. And Mexico were terrified when the strange plants started popping up there, and immediately sealed it off. Currently, their staff was from a total of seventeen different countries, all eager to offer their best minds for any phenomenon that could earn their country a giant raspberry.

After decontamination they brought the case out into one of the research areas. Finally, they were allowed to peel back their hoods and reveal their sweaty faces with hair plastered over their foreheads. Off came the gloves and the boots. And the socks. They had so little freedom there, but an oversight in the dress code allowed them to go barefoot, so nearly everybody did. It was the only form of expression they were allowed. It made the whole place stink, but at least it smelled more human than the plastic armpits of their hazard suits and the perfect cakes of antibacterial soap that were replaced daily.

Each ampule had to be catalogued before they took out individual drops to stick under the microscope. Other teams were working, but they were the only ones in the room. The only sounds were their breathing and the occasional clink of glass against metal when Dr. Coops’ hand shook. They brought out the Concord juice once again, though they both had suspicions about what they would find.

Dr. Coops sighed after he looked at the slide; he stepped back to let Mayfence experience the disappointment for herself. Just as they’d thought… it wasn’t grape juice. Yes, there was grape juice in it, but there was also watermelon, raspberry, blackberry, strawberry, blueberry, rhubarb, and a hundred others that shouldn’t have been there.

The smell was as intoxicating as ever. Mayfield and Coops had worked together long enough to know what the other was thinking. They just wanted to pull out the slide and lick the drop of juice right off. Then they wanted to guzzle the ampules one by one until their bloodstream was more vitamin C than hemoglobin. It didn’t help that the suits made them so damn thirsty.

There was another element as well, something that occasionally pricked their senses with pins of fear. It was all those strange gases in the chamber. They’d narrowed down what was producing them: large multicolored flowers, no two blooms the same, produced over root knots that bore qualities of every fruit in there. What purpose the gases served, if any, was the main mystery they tried to unravel. Everything else could at least temporarily be explained in terms of cuttings. Sure, one tree had produced multiple varieties of fruit before, but that always involved human meddling. This appeared to be largely a natural phenomenon, save for the use of the herbicides as its trigger.

Give in and Drink           Accidentally Break Sample             Colleague go Mad

Mayfence fiddled with the corner of the slide rather than pull it out. Her eyes drifted down to it. Coops watched, leaning against the wall. He saw where her mind wandered, but didn’t quite reach out to stop her. She slid the slide loose. She held it up over her head and watched the light pass through the Concord juice. She licked her lips. Coops said nothing. If she did it, he would probably have another book to write afterward.

She took the deepest breath of her life, a breath full of foot odor with only the tiniest hint of juice, and held her face close to the slide. She looked at Coops. He raised his eyebrows, but kept his arms crossed. She was an adult. She could make whatever decision she wanted. One thought did occur to him. It wasn’t the first time a woman had been tempted by a forbidden fruit, but he figured there was no room in this situation to get literary.

She sniffed it directly. She stuck out her tongue. Its dry pink tip was an inch from the drop of juice. That horrible dry mouth taste, like a stale cheese growing on her gums. The juice could fix it. It would quench. The exact make-up of it didn’t matter. It was ambrosia. It was manna. Every atom was merely the physical expression of the word quench. Her tongue tapped the glass.

Aaaaaaaaaaahhh!” someone screamed. Mayfence dropped the slide and it shattered upon the floor. Great. Another few weeks with the psychoanalyst, picturing her as a giant cherry. “I can’t take this anymore! We’re not supposed to be apart! We must be one with the biosphere!” One of their colleagues, a Dr. Limmons, burst in, howling like a dog.

This was just the latest stop on his rampage through the facility. His clothes were in disarray, though he partly fixed that by tearing off his shirt and tossing his glasses to the ground. He pushed past Coops and Mayfence, grabbed their ampules, smashed the tops off on the side of the table, and guzzled their contents. He seemed to breath all the way through it, letting the juice into his windpipe and esophagus equally.

What are you doing?” Coops asked. He wasn’t angry. He was just curious, and glad someone else tested the waters. Obviously they were all going mad. They couldn’t protect against the gases perfectly. That fruity hint to the air meant that whatever the fruit intended would eventually happen. None of it was his concern. In his opinion the countries to the north and south had both gone to hell in a brightly colored Easter basket. It was time for something to rattle them.

I’m joining the biosphere!” Limmons insisted. “Have you not noticed? My name… it sounds like lemons! It’s destiny that I should be first. Don’t tell me you haven’t felt them calling.” He didn’t wait for an answer. He grabbed a stool, approached the entrance to their bountiful garden, and began smacking the glass. Coops and Mayfence pretended to be stunned, but neither of them went for the alarm button that would summon security.

On his fifth hit he broke through. It took the same number to get the second set of doors. After that he stomped inside and ran for the Concords. There was something very welcoming about them, and there was room to pass under their trellis, like it was the gateway to Demeter’s luscious garden. He stood under it as Coops and Mayfence leaned their heads in. They didn’t quite have the bravery to dip their unprotected toes into the soil.

A Gateway Forms                    Limmons Mutates                        The Fruit Moves

Limmons twisted his hands into claw shapes and leapt as high as he could. He didn’t rip the grapes from the vine; he merely tore them open near the bottom. They poured juice like ruptured water balloons. Somehow, in the time between their extraction and now, the pressure inside the grapes had increased tremendously. It showered the man in a purplish fall; he held up his arms in rapture. His mouth was wide open, taking in yet more of the strange juice.

It never hit the ground. The juice turned in mid-air and flew back up to the ruptured grapes. Then it fell again. The cycle continued until the arch of the trellis was full of a swirling red-purple membrane. The substance covered Limmons’ body. He sank into it and vanished, the last thing visible the outline of his open mouth and eyes squeezed shut. Coops and Mayfence stepped out into the garden.

What is that?” Mayfence asked, after they’d stared into the portal of swirling juice for ten minutes. She only spoke because someone finally triggered the alarm. They hadn’t caused this, but they were in it. As soon as they were seen, skipping barefoot in the mysterious and likely dangerous fruit patch, they would certainly be off the project. They might even be locked up and have their own juices extracted for study.

Limmons is gone,” Coops reasoned, “so it must have taken him somewhere.” He unzipped his suit and stepped out of it. Though sweaty, he still presented a dignified image. With his gnarled hand he pulled out a fine comb and tamed his hair the best he could. “Perhaps they need scientists over there. Or authors. Would you care to join me?” He held out his elbow.

I’d be happy too,” Mayfence said, her voice cracking. She was still so thirsty. She knew she would try to drink their gateway, even as they stepped into it.

I think this will be the first time I’ve taken communion,” Coops said when they were one step away from the threshold. They took their last breaths of the stuffy bureaucratic air that had collapsed in with Limmons. They stepped forward. At first they felt exactly what they expected: a rush of room temperature sweet-smelling liquid that implied everything would be very sticky in about ten minutes.

Things swiftly changed. They saw the juice, but as both giant bubbles cramped against each other and a wall of liquid miles away. It was like being inside a bubble inside a grape as it swirled in the stomping barrel. They didn’t feel it against their skin anymore. Their clothes weren’t stained and even their sweat was gone.

The juice changed from red, to purple, to white, to yellow, to green, and back to red. After that there was no more juice. There was a sky. That was where the juice had gone. Massive cloud banks drifted over them, but in all the colors of the fruits they’d studied. The sight of the sweet cirrus vapor helped to calm them. They wiggled their toes in new soil. It too didn’t have any noticeable stones, unless you counted the various peach and apricot pits sprouting here and there.

Garden of Potential                      Glade of Appeals                    Hedonism Patch

All around them was more giant fruit, as far as they eye could see. They stood at the edge of a still pond, its surface webbed by interlocking lily pads topped with bouquets of berries. A hundred people sat, with barely any clothing, all along the edges of the pond. They leaned back, propping themselves up on their elbows, and watched the juice clouds go by.

None of them spoke when the two scientists addressed them, but they did point to the center of the pond. The largest lily pad was topped by a giant dragon fruit, the outer points of its pink and green hull pulled down to reveal a throne of white flesh dotted with black seeds. In it sat a man with green skin, wearing a cloak of rind. There were flowers in his beard and bees buzzing about his head in a halo.

Hello,” he said.

Hello,” all those around the pond answered back. The people on either side of Coops and Mayfence pulled them down to make their reverence match.

Some of you may be confused as to why you are here, or what here is,” the green man said. He stood and strolled in a circle around his throne, lily pads rising from the deep to be his cobblestones. “You are here to make an appeal for your species. Mankind is the source of a maximum-level extinction event. Do any of you dispute this?”

One hand raised. Quick as the bees about him, the green man swept his hand towards the dissenter. He was thrown, by unseen forces, into the pond. He vanished in a cloud of juice that quickly turned back to water. No other hands rose.

You must tell me why mankind should be allowed to continue as it has. I built this place, the glade of appeals, to hear your arguments away from the vibrant buzzing and cawing of the animals of my forests. This is a world of perfect life. The nutrients in the soil below are endless. There are no predators and there is no overpopulation. I have achieved this through sciences beyond your ken.”

Ken…” Dr. Coops said. He rose back to his feet. The green man marched to him and examined the old man closely. “Ken… Daggley? Ken Daggley! Can it be you? Everyone thought you were dead.”

Coops! You old henhouse you,” the green man said. He hugged the aged doctor tightly, nearly squeezing the life out of him. “Good to see you’re still kicking. I’m glad you’re here. I may not even need the rest. Your appeal should be sufficient.”

Mayfence,” Coops said, gesturing for her to rise. “This is my old colleague Ken Daggley. He invented the herbicides that caused all this… whatever this is.” She shook his hand, but had no words. Her mouth was full of blackberries she’d snuck from the nearest bush. Daggley didn’t seem to mind. He smiled at her like she didn’t have a dark line of juice running out of the side of her mouth.

That was the beginning of my work,” he explained. “I planted that chemical to one day create the gateways to this world. It is a world I was allowed to glimpse when I bit into an unknown fruit my team discovered in South America. Its properties… were transcendent. Its juice filled with visions. I learned all our plants are connected to this place. They are tiny cousins, the fungus, in comparison. This world is so much more, and I have tools to bring the others here, but I must be convinced. What do you say, Doctors?”

Bring Everyone                                Bring No One                                         Bring Us

You must bring everyone,” Coops said without a second thought.

Have you no concerns?” Daggley asked with an arched eyebrow. “I thought you of all people would suggest that I keep mankind out of my garden permanently. The only thing people are good for to you is buying books.”

Maybe so, but what harm can they do here without limits? If the nutrients are truly endless, we have been neutered of our destructive power. I’m a scientist. I don’t take time to consider who deserves what. We have a simple set of facts. This is a world mankind cannot destroy. Let them bang their head against it for a while and see if they go mad.”

That sounds like a truly apocalyptic amount of fun!” Daggley exclaimed, slapping Coops on the shoulder. The doctor winced. “I’ve got some melon for you that’ll clear the pains of aging right up. Come with me. The rest of you, do whatever. The other humans will be here soon. You can play with them in lawlessness.”

Daggley headed for the center of the pond once more. He clapped his hands. The flesh of his dragon fruit throne molded into a new shape, something with wings, like a glistening dove with seeds for eyes. He told Coops to hop aboard.

Can my colleague join us?” he asked of Mayfence. She smiled through her full mouth. Already her pockets were stuffed with berries no human could identify.

Why do you need her?”

I think she’s risen above lawlessness.”

Fine by me,” Daggley said with a shrug. They boarded the fruit construct and took off into a dew-filled sky. Mayfence chewed all the way. She thought about forbidden fruit. Now, that was an impossibility. There was something frightening about it. What would become of man without his struggle for food? She had a vision of the far future: lethargy, roots growing over tired limbs, dispassion drifting in the sky alongside the delicious clouds. Hopefully that would come only after she’d had her fill. She opened her mouth wide and drank the very clouds in the sky.

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