Interior - a strip-lit, banked theatre. The room is more than full, every chair is taken and some of the audience hover in the aisle at the back and by the main exit. They are abuzz with discussion. A late middle-aged man in a light-toned suit appears from a fire-exit door by the stage that has been propped open by a man in overalls and dungarees. The Late Middle-Aged Man approaches the lectern. The murmur dies down and the Man puts the briefcase he is carrying onto the desk standing next to the lectern. The projection behind him flickers into life: it says DoM - Soma Programme. The Man produces a small stack of papers from the briefcase, shuffles them on the desk then approaches the lectern. Silence lowers. The man coughs before beginning.
Man: Thank you for coming.
There is a slight squeak of feedback – the man is speaking through a discrete, modern public address system. The Man adjusts his position relative to the microphone.
Man: Many of you will know my name. I am Professor Stalinicos. For those of you who don’t know I am the lead scientist here at Stanmore on the chemical research wing of the programme. You should all have abstracts of this presentation so you should have some idea as to what we shall be discussing later. Needless to say I am not the only person responsible for this discovery. My many other colleagues many other contributions will be acknowledged in due course. I am merely here to present and, for the sake of form and those of you who are newly initiated, I will begin at the beginning. [Pause] As much as I respect our fellow scientists working on Freudian Psychogeography…
There is a small patter of knowing laughter.
Professor: [waiving hand] No, seriously, as much as progress has been made in superstructural research into mind control and mass manipulation…
Heckler: What about the Jungians…?
Professor: [pointing at the heckler in mock anger] I’ll not hear anyone speak of the Jungians, not in this theatre!
There is warm, rolling laughter from the audience.
Professor: [smiling] Where was I? Oh yes, even I as a partisan of chemical research, I firmly believe the insights we have revealed are undeniable steps forward in the quest for knowledge and control. Those of you familiar with Oblique Strategies will know once the search has begun something will be found. Though we have not hit upon the final, definitive formula of Soma, delivering all the benefits of Christianity and alcohol without any of the drawbacks, I believe we have hit upon a discovery of significance.
A pause while the Professor fiddles with his papers.
Professor: The properties of Soma are such that it acts simultaneously as a psychoactive and a depressive. Mainstream scientific consensus that such a drug is impossible to synthesise, though reports of Soma being successfully brewed stretch from the modern period all the way back to early Vedic culture. Despite numerous punitive expeditions to suspected Somatic societies as of yet no one has successfully rendered the manufacturing process out of the natives. It has been suggested that an alternating regime of stimulants and depressants might work as a substitute but attempts to set up such a regime have foundered on variations in body rhythm, lifestyle, workload, diet, gender, genetic inheritance, numerous variable factors that make it impossible to apply generally.
Professor: Research into depressants has long since established their addictive quality lies in the temporary relief they offer from the essentially mammalian cycle of tension and release. While the addict is absorbing the depressant they are effectively released from the motive drives, to eat, drink, find shelter, procreate and [waves hand – dismissing the thought] so on. This relief only lasts until the depressive substance is completely absorbed, whereupon the tension/release cycle breaks out again. We now must make a small leap to on-going parallel research into the Last Universal Common Ancestor has revealed something very interesting. We know in natural selection DNA does not drop off the genome, unless it is mutated. Redundant DNA simply lies dormant, unactivated by the body’s chemistry. [Steps away from the lectern: speaking louder] As it turns out somewhere between 18% to 22% [fetches a small torch from out of his briefcase] of the population still carry the gene [starts flashing the torch in the direction of the still open door he appeared from] for producing chlorophyll. [Smiles] Ladies and Gentleman I give you The Vegetable Man.
Out of the doorway appears a man in a small pair of y-fronts. He is herded into the room by the Man in Overalls. He shuffles toward the stage with a happy, vacant grin on his face. His skin is bright green and waxy. There are gasps and outbreaks of nervous laughter.
Professor: His name is Billy, also known as Subject Delta. We’ve ended up calling him Billy Delta. He is, uh...
The Professor reaches out and gently turns Billy to face the audience. Billy has big, bulbous, dilated eyes.
Professor: As you can see he is perfectly harmless although you will of course notice he is rather undressed. Billy doesn’t like to wear clothes as it impedes his photosynthesis; however we have persuaded him for the moment to respect the propriety of… well, um, to get dressed.
More embarrassed laughter from the audience.
Professor: Anyway, Billy here is addicted to chlorophyll. He has been our subject now for three months. In the last six weeks he has been able to fully photosynthesise.
The Professor returns to lectern. Billy remains facing the audience.
Professor: Once engaged in production chlorophyll has a very high dependence to active dose ratio, it is addictive because, like depressants, it breaks the tension/release cycle in subjects
He hands Billy the torch – Billy plays with it, flashing it off and on, smiling.
Professor: As you can hear Billy is silent. The Vegetable Man wants for nothing except chlorophyll. This state is of course brought about by gene therapy. It typically takes two to three days for a subject to completely break down the protein used to engage chlorophyll production. Withdrawal is naturally a very violent affair, causing subjects to defecate, vomit, sweat, swear and even (with the male subjects) ejaculate uncontrollably for several hours, which is very unfortunate for the subjects concerned. In terms of chlorophyll a becoming control drug, we have yet to identify a lethal dose, which means it could have very wide applications. Subjects could theoretically remain addicted to chlorophyll for years on end, maybe indefinitely. As an aside we have a couple of rather more long-term subjects, who I have not brought with me today, who have begun to develop a rhytidome-like substance on parts of their body, largely on their feet and hands; interesting, I think, as a side effect. [Sighs] Anyway, there are two significant drawbacks to chlorophyll being used as a control drug. Firstly, while the subject is rendered inert they are also not very suggestible, as you can see by Billy’s, ahem, state of attire. Chlorophyll addiction may prove to have some use in the area of subduing political dissidents, enemies of the state and habitual criminals. However the other problem is the AIDS vaccine paradox, which I am sure you all know well. The chlorophyll gene appeared very early and is consequently very short and simple, as is protein that activates it. In fact so simple even an undergraduate with the right ingredients could manufacture it. Before the protein is named and patented it will have to be suitably disguised in a complicated formula. [Shuffles papers again] Anyway, that concludes my presentation. Are there any questions?