The Tomato Revolution
Jack raced down the king's road, his blue government-issued van ripping skid marks into the pristine asphalt. His wristwatch clicked to 14:06. Plenty of time. Seventy-five miles per hour, thirty miles away, fifty-four minutes until the Abacus had to be delivered to the king.
Clearly, Jack had forty-five minutes to spare.
The road stretched out for miles; the limit of its length approached infinity. The symmetrically dashed median lines, prepared from forty-two karat gold, shimmered as Jack blurred past. Diamond-embedded marker posts lined the sides of the road, refracting sunlight toward Jack's eyes at a 65.8 degree angle. Jack pushed a button and pulled a lever. A deflector mounted on the hood of the van shot up and reflected the sunlight away.
Up the road, in the middle of a clear-cut field, poor little tanned boys were playing king of the rubble. They pushed and clawed each other for control of the summit. Fifteen years ago, when he was seventeen, Jack had led a genius experiment in that field to simulate the Doppler Effect on prairie dogs. Now his laser velocimeters and his electron accelerators were children's playthings. Despicable. When those prairie dogs melted and evaporated into the atmosphere, Jack's father, Dr. William Reich, had grinned and shook Jack's hand. "Now I can call you son," William had said. The next month, for King Salanex's birthday, Jack invented a cloud-seeding device. The sky had released tequila for weeks, resulting in mass fiestas, and later, siestas.
A flash of movement and Jack hit the brake. A girl screamed and a "splat" came from underneath his van. Jack wrenched the van to the side of the road. The stench of scorched tar rushed through the open window. With a spasm, he coughed and clutched at his chest. His heart was at 350 beats per minute. Jack was thirty-two and in good health; this was only his third heart attack so far. He buried his face into the steering wheel. Sweat spewed from his body and evaporated. The machine gunner in his chest blasted away at the enemy. He obeyed the 0th Law of Thermodynamics and transferred heat from his flushed face to the cold rubber of the steering wheel. His breath came back and his heart resumed its natural drumbeat.
The girl was out there, probably bloody under his van. The Carbon-14 in her body would decay, lose beta particles, and turn to Nitrogen-14. Jack fumbled with the door handle. He shoved open the van door and stumbled into the choking summer air. He gripped his stomach and dry heaved, roughing his esophagus.
Liquid was dripping from his left front tire. Bright crimson shining in the sun. The consistency, though, was all wrong. It was too runny. Jack bit his thumb and cracked it in his mouth, tasting dirty salt. He reached out with a long, crooked index finger and scraped a dollop of wetness from the tire. Jack balanced the red drop that was squirming toward his finger's edge. When gravity was just about to take it, Jack popped the droplet into his mouth and let it dissolve on his tongue, tasting the sweet, robust acidity. It had a pH level of 3.9.
"My tomato," a voice said behind him.
Jack swung around. "Whoa, hey now, don't do that. I just had a heart attack."
A girl of fifteen wearing a soiled green tank top stood before Jack. Her hair was a rich cascade of black sea tossed around her shoulders. "You crushed my tomato," she said.
"Tomatoes are illegal. Besides, what was it doing in the road?"
Across the road, the young boys were watching Jack. They stood as warriors on the rubble, sticks and stones their spears and missiles. Jack's government uniform tightened, and he began to itch.
"You can't drive on this road," the girl said. She pointed to Jack's uniform. "Naughty boy. Don't got no purple crest. What's the matter, can't recognize the king's road with all its gems and metals wrecking the view?" She crossed her skinny arms over her chest. "My tomato had the right of way."
"Wait, just hold on now." Jack clasped his hand on the girl's shoulder, then flinched and jerked it back to his side. "Sorry, sorry about that. Just...take it easy. You tell, I tell, okay. You're not supposed to have vegetables. Tomatoes are vegetables, right?"
"Either way: fruit, vegetable, whatever; it doesn't matter. You'd be in trouble. So...I guess I'm gonna leave now. I'll see you never."
"Nice uniform, buddy," the girl said. "I'll bet you a mutton chop that you want to keep it. My life is ruined already, right? We can be executed side by side. Should make for a great turnout."
Jack's brow creased and he hopped from foot to foot. He flipped open his government-issued wallet and pulled out a bill. "Fine, you want to get paid; take it, it's yours. I can't get another D.O.D." The girl just stared at him. "It's a twenty," Jack said. He pulled the bill tight. "See?"
"You waste my time. I needed that tomato."
Jack's watch read twelve minutes past the hour. "Hey, I got a great idea. Hop in my van, why don't you? I'll take you to get another tomato. A brand new one, even juicier than the one before."
She chewed her lip, frowning at the tomato juice dripping from the monstrous tire. Jack put his arm around the girl and forced a gentle squeeze. "Hey, this van is like a time machine, okay. Get in and it'll be like you never lost that tomato."
Jack drove past his turnoff and scored further down the king's road. He had forty-three minutes before the Abacus was due at the testing site. The girl's name was Lily and her life followed the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. Entropy had run wild on her. She had greenish-yellow bruises on her neck and grimy fingernails, one of which, the one on her right pinky finger, was broken completely off. Lily's job obviously involved dirt. A miner? Or a sandbox technician.
Lily had questions as well. "What's that bed doing back there? You're gonna rape me."
"Nah, you're not my type. Far too skinny."
"Those trees weren't too skinny for you." Lily pointed out the window at the clear-cut fields. An occasional tree stump jutted out of the ground, but for the most part, nothing but field.
Jack squirmed and scratched his head. "What do tomatoes taste like anyway? I'm a carnivore myself. Only chicken, cow, pig, lamb, and goat. That's all we can eat." Jack counted them off again one by one on his fingers then held up his hand. "Five," he said.
"Five, yes, I see," Lily said. "That explains it. I was wondering why the mighty king has criminalized all vegetables. Five. It's all clear now."
"That's not really the reason but--"
"Nothing at all to do with keeping us hungry," Lily said. "Nope, like you said, 'one-two-three-four-five.' Five foods. You counted them for a reason, right. I mean, normal people don't just count out stuff, do they? There's got to be a reason."
"Let's just forget it," Jack said.
"You know what I eat," Lily said. "I eat oatmeal and I eat bread." Lily put up her index and middle finger. "Oatmeal. Bread. Two."
"Well, I'm very sorry about that," Jack said, "but meat gives strength to mind and body. That's why we're the higher..."
"Higher what? Go on."
"Nothing...well I was gonna say that animal harvesting is more efficient anyway. You can't stack tomatoes one on top of the other, that's for sure. If it's inefficient, it should be banned."
"Right, yeah. That's what you were going to say."
Jack had lied to Lily. He had eaten a tomato when he was a little boy though his father had insisted that the memory was wrong, all wrong, and that Jack should tell no one. False thoughts of tomato eating were evidence of treachery against the king. Dr. William was right. Jack's three Dereliction of Duty tickets were proof of that. He had received one ticket for Discussing Vegetables in a Positive Manner, one for Driving on the King's Road, and one for Reversing the Oppression of a Weaker Society. Jack got the ROWS ticket when he was twenty-five. He had grown weary of inventing weapons of destruction for the king, and he vowed to do something significant. He told King Salanex that he needed funding for the finest medical supplies. Jack was to find a way to denature the protein in a person's body just by thinking malicious thoughts about him. Jack got his grant and used it to find the cause of cancer, a breakdown of protein in the body that formed T-bacilli cells. The T-bacilli were 0.3 to 0.6 micrometers in length and were shaped like lancets. After a month of testing, Jack found his concoction. He used grass, beach sand, iron, and animal tissue, boiled them, then added potassium and gelatin. Jack heated the materials to incandescence with a heat-torch; the bright, glowing, blue vesicles could be cultured. The vesicles gave off a radiant energy, and properly administered, would destroy T-bacilli cells.
Jack brought the results to his father. Dr. William clasped his hand on Jack's shoulder. "This is worthless," William said. "Cures don't help us, Jack. Only weapons do. Do you want the population to explode? And what about them? How will this invention allow us to maintain control over them?"
Jack slapped his father's hand away. "Them? I'm sick of you saying 'them' like they don't believe in germ theory or something. To those people, we are the 'them' and it doesn't have to be that way."
"Jack, if you insist on illegally reading Karl Marx, you should at least present your platform in a clear, concise manner."
"Why don't you go run and tell the king that I'm a traitor then," Jack said. "This will be my third D.O.D. I'll be in the fish tank for sure."
"I can't make excuses for you any longer, boy," William said. "My invention is almost complete and I don't need you prancing around ruining our cancer."
"You're not happy unless you destroy people's lives, are you?"
"My loyalty is to the king. If yours isn't, you might as well go live in the slums with your mother. You want that?"
Jack put his head down. His shoes had gold soles and emerald shoelaces. "Maybe I do," said Jack. He lifted up his leg and ripped a shoe off. "If I can't help people, I'm not gonna wear the king's gold." Jack dropped the shoe in front of William's feet.
"You need some time to think," William said. "I will suggest to the king that you be reassigned." William nodded at Jack and walked out of the room. A week later, William had completed his invention, Quin-Bez, a powerful gas that destroys the body's central nervous system. Two weeks later, William was dead.
"The marketplace is right over the hill," Lily said. "I'm sure you'll think it's beautiful." Over the crest of the hill, a giant fortress punctured the sky. A steel gate blocked the entrance and a guarded checkpoint was set up.
"They got tomatoes in here?" Jack said.
"Calm down, soldier. I don't want to spoil your chitlins."
"I don't want any; you can trust me on that. I just want to know why they'd be here."
Jack pulled up behind an old Cadillac. Allan Frey, the checkpoint guard, was standing with thumbs in pockets arguing with the driver through the open car window. Allan pulled out a flask and took a huge swallow, then spit liquid into the driver's face. The driver ripped open the car door, but Allan was ready with his club. He smashed the driver in the face, and then jumped on top of him. Allan flailed and thrashed his club, spewing blood and cartilage all over the red-streaked pavement. Thwaps like a wet kielbasa sausage slapping onto cement. Jack sat biting his lower lip, one hand lingering on the door handle. The driver's beard and dreadlocks were matted in blood. He cried out for help, but Jack released the door handle. He had only twenty-two minutes left to deliver the Abacus.
Backup was called by Allan. Two guards shoved the hoodlum into the trunk of his own Cadillac and hauled him away. Jack pulled up to the checkpoint alone; Lily had retreated to the back of the van. Allan swaggered to the door. He was a gaunt man with an even thinner moustache, and he always wore chaps over his uniform.
"What brings you to these parts, old Jackie-boy?" Allan spit a gob of thick-black chaw onto the pavement. "Missed your mommy?"
Jack's face flushed. "Look, I am carrying something that can only be trusted with me. I'm the Government Transportation Sector Lieutenant, Clearance 5, and you have to let me in."
"Crossbreed," Allan said. With a glare, he waved Jack through.
Lily poked her head from underneath the bed. "It's hard to breathe under there," she said.
This place wasn't a marketplace; it was a prison. And it was bigger than Jack had thought. It was a small city. Frail women and children stuffed cotton into burlap sacks. An old man pumped water by hand from a spigot while another held a bucket in place. A bare skinned man sharpened a sword on a whetstone. Dispersed among the working people, guards with immaculate uniforms patrolled the quarter, swinging their clubs.
"Here's a good spot," Lily said.
Jack stopped the van.
"I mean pull off to the side."
Jack complied and Lily slapped him on the shoulder. "Now's your chance to get rough with me."
"Not much of a soldier, are you?" Lily squinted at Jack. "That guy called you crossbreed?"
"Never mind that."
Lily touched Jack's face. "It's time to choose. You can blend in with these mean, nasty guards or you can turn me in."
"Turn you in? You've escaped from this prison, haven't you?"
"Yeah, it's no big deal. I go in and out all the time. Been doing it since I was nine. Listen, it's your word against mine and I can't believe you didn't realize that earlier. The king's road doesn't matter any more. It's up to you, Jack."
Jack's watch was clicking. The short arm was on the fourteen, the long arm was on the forty-seven. "Just get out. I have to make a delivery at 15:00. I can still make it if I drive 104 miles per hour."
Lily leaned in closer. "They're watching you, Jack. A government soldier dropping off a wretched street urchin and just leaving? Sounds suspicious to me."
"What, do you want me to drag you around by your hair or something?"
"Yes," Lily said. "Exactly right. You are a soldier." Lily smiled. "Or are you a crossbreed?"
"Fine. Let's go." Jack swung open the van door and grabbed Lily by the hair, dragging her outside. He dragged her past the marble statue of King Salanex. Past the children with half-full bowls of oatmeal. Past three guards kicking and stomping a silent bearded man, hooting and smattering the pavement with blood-stained boots. Jack gritted his teeth and yanked Lily's hair especially hard when he passed them. So hard that she yelped a wounded cat screech.
Jack followed her eyes; he went where she motioned.
They ended up in an alleyway behind a warehouse. Lily broke free and socked Jack in the arm. "Nice work, Jack. Even had me convinced." Lily rubbed her head. "Actually, a little too convinced. That hurt, buddy."
"These people--these people are sick," Jack said. "They're sick monsters."
Lily walked behind a Juniper tree that was partially blocking the warehouse. A small window was behind the tree. "Don't ever get to see the real side of your higher class, eh?" Lily said. "You just bring King Salanex his diapers every day."
"I was a scientist," Jack said. Lily was already through the window. Jack followed, sucking in his stomach as he squeezed through the opening. The room was 18ft. by 11ft. with an eight foot ceiling. The floor and ceiling were made from oak, the walls from plasterboard. The room was empty except for a small plot garden in the corner full of tomatoes.
"Did you know," Jack said. "That based on the rebervation of this room, if you were to scream, the room would return to fifty decibels in 1.467 seconds."
"I don't believe in mathematics, Jack."
Jack smirked. "There is a lot to understand."
"Didn't say I didn't understand it, I said I didn't believe in it."
Jack shook his head. "Everything is explained by math and science. Your breathing, the relationships between concentrations and time, everything. It's all about optimization. Without it, we would all be lost.
"What gives you the right to divide time?" Lily said. "You don't know what time is."
"Yes, I do. One second equals nine billion beats of the cesium atom."
"Maybe you should live your life instead of trying to turn everything into a number."
Lily walked over to the tomato garden. "Have a tomato," she said.
It was 14:53. "No," Jack said. "I gotta go. Delivery time."
"Jack, come back. Eat one," Lily said, but Jack dove out the window and dashed toward the van. Got in. Gunned the engine. Jack sped to the testing site, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands. Jack needed to see some normalcy, needed to get away from tomatoes and crazy little girls. Jack lurched the van into the backroom of the testing center. Two men slid open the back hatch. Jack cracked his knuckles and waited. A grave man wearing a white laboratory coat approached the door. "We have a problem," he said. "The king's Abacus is missing."
Hours later, Jack drove out of the testing site, rubbing his sore neck where the king's minions had implanted a peanut-sized metal object. A rolling fog blanketed the evening sky. Jack turned the Royal Ticket around and around in his hand. It was purple and had the king's insignia imprinted on it. Jack had it memorized already. In hand sprawled cursive, it read, "By the Order of the High King Salanex and all of His Wonderful Masterful Supreme Glory, the magistrate hereby sentences Jack Reich, guilty of Malicious Dereliction of Duty: 4th offense. The minimum punishment is no less than six years..." Jack was sweating and moaning. "Six years in the Fish Tank." Jack exploded down the king's road and headed for the prison.
Allan was still manning the checkpoint. He leapt up when Jack pulled in.
"Hey, Jackie," Allan said. "Uh-oh, you don't look too happy. Heard over the broadcast that you're in a little trouble with the big guy."
Let me in, Allan," Jack said. "Someone in there stole the Abacus. I can get it back."
"The king said you don't get clearance." Allan leaned in. Jack could smell whiskey and cigarette smoke. "I like you a lot, crossbreed," Allan said. "Here's a memento." Allan spit a hunk of chaw. The tobacco hit Jack in the forehead, and then slimed down his face. Jack felt rage, but it seemed distant, like he was observing himself from afar. Warmth flowed into Jack's body. Allan's face turned to shock as Jack brought a hand up. Jack caressed the glob, feeling the texture, and then wiped it away.
"I don't want to hurt you, Allan," Jack said. "I'm not mad at you." Jack pulled the door handle, releasing the catch. "I started to feel mad, then suddenly a tomato popped into my mind, and now I'm fine. Weird, huh?"
Allan pulled out the flask and took a swig. "You are a hippie mutt. Tomato popped into your mind, what the fuck does that mean? I'm gonna pop your face into a tomato." Allan reached for his nightstick. Jack kicked open the door, catching Allan in the face. Allan fell. His head smacked into the pavement. Jack leapt out of the van and stomped. Allan's forehead split in half. He didn't move.
Jack shivered as a breeze whistled from the fortress towers. He knelt down by Allan's body. Nearby, a small ant was toiling on the pavement. It wandered, racing around then poking its head up as if trying to find the scent. But the ant never went near Allan's body. It just darted in circles, alone, the wayward beast nothing without the collective. Jack took his watch from his pocket. The second hand clicked from mark to mark with cruel rigidity: repetitive, mechanical. The fog had lifted, uncovering the orange sun. The orb dipped below the horizon in a fluid, imperceptible motion. Jack held his watch up to the sky and compared the movements, one medium creating time, the other measuring, dividing it. Allan's body was motionless on the ground. Jack slipped his watch on Allan's wrist. The sun was still dipping in the sky, creating balance with its cycles. The ant had finally caught Allan's scent; it began to slurp up the blood.
Jack shuffled through the prison, head down. Nobody paid any attention to him. He was a ghost, kicking up dust clouds into the air. Jack rubbed his wrist on the inch wide strip of white on his tan arm.
Someone grabbed Jack's arm. "Jack, why are wandering around like that?" Lily said. "You're acting weird."
"Nobody can see me, Lily," Jack said. "I gave up my watch. Time doesn't exist."
"You fool," Lily said. "Time exists, Jack. Feel your neck. I can see the tracking device from here. Let's go. We can't let the king get the Abacus."
The sun was a gentle sphere of yellow now, half above the horizon and half below.
"Jack, come on."
A red energy field of light circled the sun, protecting it.
"Snap out of it, Jack. The king's men will be here soon."
The clouds were a ceiling of incandescent orange waves flowing away from the sun.
Lily grabbed Jack's hand. "Jack, we need to--uh, hey beautiful sky, right?" Lily's face was bright; the aura from the sun had transposed itself onto her. Her skin gave off a yellow sheen.
"It reminds me of death," Jack said. "It reminds me of my father. And Allan, too."
"I killed that checkpoint guard."
Lily scrunched up her nose. "Eww. That one guy? I never liked him. He stunk."
"He wasn't that bad," Jack said. "His body is being recycled right now. That is all you can ask from a person."
"Very true," Lily said. "Say, would you care to join me for a tomato at my place?"
"You know, Lily," Jack said. "I would like that. That would be just fine."
Jack squeezed through the warehouse window, and helped Lily inside. The Abacus was on a wooden table. Jack had never seen it until now; it had been tightly sealed in bubble wrap. The Abacus had a golden frame and multicolored beads were organized in parallel rows.
"This is beautiful," Jack said.
"No, Jack. It is evil. Remember? Didn't you want to eat a tomato with me?"
Jack picked up the Abacus and hugged it close to himself. "This is obviously a sophisticated measuring device, and I need it. We won't give it to the king. If I have this, I can be the best scientist in the land."
"Jack, science destroys life," Lily said. "I know you have good intentions, but that's how everyone starts out. You can help us, Jack. We need to overthrow the kingdom and start over."
Jack walked toward the window with the Abacus in his hand.
"I trusted you, Jack. Go back to your fancy machines and chemicals. Have fun raping the world."
"I'm sorry, Lily," Jack said. "I appreciate everything you've taught me. I really do. But I was born a scientist and I will die one. There's no avoiding my genetics."
Jack pushed open the window. "Goodbye, Lily," he said. Then he smelled the tomato. Jack's nostril hairs danced. The tomato oozed vapors of sweetness; the aroma hovered around Jack's body, encircling him. The tomato sang; Jack was light headed, soaring through the air like an albatross. He floated over to the ripe red tomato and snapped it off the root. Jack pushed his thumb against the soft skin. He closed his eyes and breathed in deeply. It was the first time Jack had smelled something so fresh and full of life. No, not the first time. Smells of fresh linen, his mother's sundresses, returned to him. She had picked tomatoes with Jack, back when tomatoes could freely be picked.
It was the night before the Scientific Revolution. He was a young boy of seven years sitting at the wooden dining room table with Charity, his mother. They were both eating stuffed tomato sandwiches with garlic.
"Don't play with your food, Jack," his mother said. "Eat and be strong."
"Yes, Mother," Jack said. "I'll grow big muscles and protect you from King Salanex."
"Hush now, son," Charity said. "Let us not mention his name in our home."
A knock on the door, and then a kick broke it off its hinges. Three guards piled inside, brandishing clubs. Charity backed away toward the corner. Jack remained at the table, eating the last of his tomato sandwich. A bookish man with dark-rimmed glasses stepped inside.
Jack put the glass of milk to his lips and drank.
The man sat down in the chair next to Jack. "Enjoying your sandwich?"
"Mmm...hmm." Jack nodded as tomato chunks fell from his mouth.
The man grimaced. "Yes, quite satisfying, I see. It looks like you'll need a little training, but you'll do fine. Listen, boy. I came here to inform you that I am your father. You will later succeed me; it is all very exciting, really."
Jack took another bite of his sandwich.
The man ripped it out of his hands and threw it on the floor. "And there will be no more tomatoes," the man said. "Not ever."
Lily touched Jack's back. "Are you all right, Jack," she said.
"I should have killed him right then," Jack said.
"Enough," Jack said. "I have to think. I've had a really strange day and I don't know what to do anymore."
"Then help me," Lily said. "If you can't decide, just do something for me. Do something for the tomatoes, whatever, for something different. You pick the reason. But I need your help. We all do."
Jack scratched his newly grown stubble on his chin. "I can pull this off. You must do every detail I say, without complaint."
"I will. Complete trust. What's the plan?"
"You must organize all of the workers. I will draw up a diagram for attack."
"Everyone doesn't have to know the whole scope, just their role. I'll give you a crash course in sign language."
"In case things go wrong and I get put away. Don't worry about that. Now go." Lily scurried away. The Abacus was still clenched in Jack's fist. "For this mission, I will combine Hilbert-space physics with the Kuhn-Fourier algorithm." Jack narrowed his eyes. "It will be my last experiment."
Jack burst outside with the Abacus in one hand and the tomato in the other. Solders were organized in formation, standing upright like cedar trees. King Salanex towered above them in a gold-encrusted chariot. He held a diamond scepter. The workers had ceased activity and were watching Jack with narrow eyes. The king spoke, a deep booming voice: "Good work, Jack. You have proved yourself indeed worthy. You shall be my chief scientist; I make that a kingly promise. I grant thee permission to bestow me the Abacus."
"No," said Jack. "I refuse. You think you can become gods and quantify everything, and that is happiness. Then you can manipulate nature to use as a weapon and destroy and torture people for the sake of the elite, and that is happiness. Well, let me tell you, happiness is eating a tomato on a sunny day."
Jack slammed the tomato into his own mouth. He drooled tomato juice down his chin and smacked his lips while the king's men stared, their mouths agape.
"Seize him," the king said. Jack ran through the masses, nimbly dodging brown-shawled workers. The guards followed, pushing people out of their way. Jack reached the gate. Dead end.
"Drop the tomato," a soldier yelled.
Jack sniffed his last chunk of tomato.
Lily and the workers crept up behind the guards.
"What a great tomato," Jack said. "Whaddaya think? Fruit or vegetable?"
Then, Lily's army attacked, pelting the guards with stones and steel. The soldiers bumped into each other and fell to the ground. The young tanned boys from the rubble appeared on rooftops, flinging rocks with slingshots downward at a 45 degree angle. Uniforms became bloodied and messed. Then the women arrived with flash bombs, which were made by capturing sulfuric gas from tempered swords into a water-filled jar. As the guards rushed them, the women dumped the cotton in, which created heat. The women simultaneously hurled the jars and a sparkling flash incinerated the guards.
The king was sitting cross-legged in his muddied silk robe, bleeding from a gash in his torso. Jack walked though the schism of the fighting factions. He was holding the dripping piece of tomato and the Abacus.
The king looked up at Jack. "Is this what you wanted, Jack? Look at all this murder." The king coughed and spit blood. "Without structure, without order, civilization will collapse."
"There will still be order," Jack said. "But this time, the order won't be dictated by man."
King Salanex grabbed his dagger. "You might have become king," he said. "But you threw it all away for a tomato."
Jack tossed the Abacus onto the king's lap. "Here, take it. See if you can calculate the time it takes for your soul to leave your body. My prediction is fifteen seconds."
King Salanex thrust the dagger towards Jack. Jack bent the king's arm and plunged the dagger deep into the king's stomach. With his other hand, Jack popped the chunk of tomato into the king's mouth. King Salanex's eyes widened. He chewed and chewed, then swallowed.
"Why did you do that," the king said. "I feel warm."
The king curled up on the ground and slept. Reinforcements were firing gas canisters over the fence. The yellow smoke rolled through the prison. The bitter smell of Quin-Bez drifted over. His father's invention was finally used. The revolution would be over now. Jack prepared to die painfully. He lay down next to the king and slept.
He waited for his nervous system to corrupt.
Jack was standing in a field of dandelion clocks. A swirling gale spun millions of feathery seeds through the air. Jack put out his arms and let the downy parachutes collect on his skin. Then the air became still and the white flakes loosened from Jack's body and fell back to the earth as translucent symmetry was retained.
"Jack?" a voice said.
His mother was standing amongst the dandelions wearing a green sundress. Wrinkles creased her face, but her smile was youthful.
"Jack, you've come back to me," his mother said.
Jack rubbed his face. "Mom, I've missed you. I don't mean to be such a mess."
His mother walked toward Jack. "Have you been eating right, Jack? You look a fright. Come home, Jack. I'll take care of you."
Jack shut his eyes. "Sorry, Mom. I love you but I can't stay with you. No matter how much I change, I'll still be a scientist."
"Give me a hug, then, Jack."
Jack reached to hug his mother but his arm struck something solid. A glass wall was between him and his mom.
Charity pressed her fingers to the glass streaking the space between them with dirty prints. "I just wanted to hug you one last time, one time before they took you away."
"I know, Mom," Jack said.
Charity began to fade away. "You be a good boy, now, Jack."
Then, Charity was gone, and there were only dandelions.
Someone shook Jack awake. "Jack, wake up," Lily said. "No time for a nap."
"What," Jack said. "But the gas--"
"What do you mean? That gas made us stronger," Lily said. "Our people are going to storm the palace. It's over, Jack. We've won."
Jack sat up. "But my father was brilliant. He never made a mistake. That gas should have killed us."
The smoke was rising to the clouds. The sun's rays were muted for a moment as they struggled to pass through the hanging fog. When the rays finally broke through, translucent blue wavelengths reflected onto the prison grounds. "You did the right thing," Jack said to the sky. Then it began to rain.
Jack floated in the fish tank, snorkel on his face, oatmeal solution running through a tube into his veins. Bernard, the headman of the Luddite Tomato Society, had thanked Jack for his help. They couldn't and wouldn't have started the revolution without Jack. However, since Jack knew the order of Mathematics, he was a threat to their new way of life. The headman recommended that Jack spend six years in the fish tank so that he could be rehabilitated. It was not a prison, the headman stressed. It was for Jack's own good, and for the good of society. Jack had one request, which the headman agreed to. A brightly colored fish was to be put in the tank so that Jack could marvel at it.
A week after Jack was imprisoned, Lily donned a snorkel and came into the fish tank. Lily's signed that the headman was abusing his power, and was taking away all technology. Even digging sticks and wood-splitting axes were outlawed.
Jack nodded and put both hands together to make a circle. He then feigned taking a bite of that circle. Lily pulled a tomato out of her pocket and handed it to Jack. Jack held up ten fingers, then put his hands down and flashed eight more fingers. Lily smiled and kissed Jack on the cheek. She signed one more time and ascended to the surface.
Jack held the tomato up, and then began to crush it, dissociating it completely into the water. The pH level was rising, increasing the vapor pressure inside the tank. A section of the tank was slightly bulging outward; it was already weakened. Seventeen more tomatoes should provide enough pressure for one strong kick to break the glass. Jack bobbed in the water and kicked his legs, keeping them strong. The green speckled flower fish was cutting through the water, darting back and forth without care. Jack synched his movements with the fish and waited to start the next revolution.
© 2006 by Brian Lowis
Bio: Mr. Lowis tells us, "I live in Marquette, Michigan where I am double majoring in mathematics and chemistry at Northern Michigan University. I am part of the Nomad Poets; as a group, we perform in coffee shops, intertwining music and the written word. I also enjoy cliff jumping into the frigid Lake Superior, reading (some) of my creations to my five year old stepdaughter, and playing chinese chess. "
E-mail: Brian Lowis
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