Alice Dieffenbachia

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George's dieffenbachia, Alice, was six feet tall. When asked his secret, he would smile. "I talk to her every day."

Which miffed his fellow physicists – especially those he shared a lab with. His daily murmuring grated against Riley's scientific soul.

Every day, George came into the lab and watered Alice, murmuring unintelligibly. Then he'd sit in his office to work on his quantum research. When he left at night, he would pat a leaf, murmuring some more.

"We should kill it." Riley was working on equations for the experiment he hoped to run at the Large Hadron Collider next month. He'd been working on this for years, waiting for a chance to run it at the LHC. Today he was running simulations through BoB, the lab computer. Next month he would prove the flaw in the Standard Model of particle physics.

Dane, the third scientist who shared the lab, shook his head. "That's George's baby. Anything happens to that, we lose George. George is the reason we're getting time at the LHC."

Riley understood. He'd come to this laboratory to work with George, one of the most respected quantum scientists. Working with George gave him the chance to work at the LHC and to make a name for himself in science.

That afternoon, George stopped by Riley's desk. "What are you working on?"

Riley stared. This was his project. His baby. "I'm going through the calculations I want to run at the LHC."

"About those. I saw the calculations you're running through BoB. They don't work. Want me to show you where the flaw is?"

"There is no flaw." George was trying to screw with his calculations? No.

"If we're going to spend the money on the LHC, I want to know the calculations are accurate. There's still time to modify your project to incorporate accurate calculations."
Modify? No. George had to be jealous – he didn't have anything to test at the LHC. His research was more practical, he'd said, and he'd finish his paper before the trip. The man was out of his mind.

The end of the day, George once more said his farewell to Alice.

Dane had left early to spend the evening with his wife. That dedication wouldn't get him far. But that left Riley alone in the lab. After two hours working on his equations, he looked at that plant.

On a whim, he studied the leaf George had touched. What was that? He put a loupe in his eye and looked closer.

Impossible. But he was sure he saw circuit-like connections in that leaf.

Another leaf, too, had the connections. How would George do that?

He stood on a chair to get a good view at a young leaf on top. The circuits were easier to see in the paler leaf. The plant was growing with circuits.

He nearly toppled off the chair. Alice was a computer. A living computer. Somehow, George had turned the plant's photosynthesis into a quantum computer.

The next morning, Riley sat near the plant 'for better light'. George murmured at Alice again, but he wasn't speaking English. When George shut himself in his office, Riley touched a leaf. It vibrated in his hand. George had turned it on.

For a week, Riley kept trying to figure out Alice. When George wasn't looking, he took an old, drying leaf off Alice to study it more closely.

George came running. "What did you do?" He eyed Alice. "You took the old leaf."

Riley tried to hide it, but it was bigger than his hand. "I thought it needed trimming–"
"That leaf wasn't ready yet. Give it to me."

George took the leaf, murmured to Alice, then carefully put the leaf back. And it stayed. "All you had to do was ask. Now get back to work."

Three hours later, George and Dane went for lunch, the slackers. But Riley was glad he was alone in the lab. The simulations failed.

He eyed Alice again. If the dieffenbachia really were a quantum computer, it could give him his answers much faster. He read his calculations to Alice. Nothing happened. He touched a leaf. It vibrated gently, then something bit his hand.

An imprint of a circuit glowed on it. He touched the imprint, and it fell apart. He muttered the equations again and touched another leaf. Again, the bite. Again, the circuit.

He put his hand under a microscope. The circuit spread... then paused. Then stopped and disappeared.

Holy crap. It couldn't find a connection to tie the circuit to. Did George have some sort of quantum computer in his hand?

That evening, George said goodnight to Alice, then stopped. "What did you do?"

"Nothing. Why?"

"You input your flawed calculations."

"I–"

"You don't think I recognize your work? Now I have to erase everything I did today.

You're fired."

"What?"

"Your calculations are still flawed – worse than before. You're not here to learn. Why didn't ask about Alice? Dane did. He's learned a lot, here. You're fired."

"You can't do that! The LHC–"

"I've already cancelled it. Your work isn't ready."

Riley would have cried, if the anger hadn't taken over.

George didn't come in the next morning, though Riley stubbornly did. Dane frowned, then watered the plant. He touched a leaf, then glanced at Riley.

Riley tried not to watch him.

"George told you about the LHC, didn't he?" Dane said, then left the room. He returned with two police officers.

"I'll have the film to you this afternoon," Dane was saying. "It's on the computer."

"What film?" Riley asked as he was handcuffed.

"You don't think a computer like Alice could take video?"

#

After the cops took Riley away, Dane downloaded the video onto BoB. After changing his image to Riley's and the time of the attack to earlier, he emailed it to the cops.

Then he pulled up George's paper and started editing it to make it his own.

About the Author: 
BJ Muntain writes science fiction full of aliens, explosions and exploding aliens.