A skinny calf stared back at him, big brown eyes, a weepy glue-like substance rimming her lids. She snorted out breath into the cold morning air of the barn. George tapped the edge of his keyboard. He was thin too, and tired, so tired. He pulled his tattered sweater closer around himself, but nothing ever really kept out the cold that had crept across the earth.
The computer dinged quietly; the script had finished running, crunching through the latest data. He opened the file that contained the results. He scrolled through, skimming. Negative. He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes, then stared at the little cow. He thought about coffee. He missed coffee, but all his favorite mug ever contained these days was dour boiled water. There was no more coffee. Except for a few seeds locked away in cold storage up north somewhere in Europe, coffee was extinct.
George got up, his chair squeaking. He walked over to the calf ans stroked her neck. She mooed at him.
"I don't have any food for you. I'm sorry. So sorry." He cooed the words to her, but assumed it gave him more comfort than it did her. She looked at the wall of the barn. The rising sun was coming through the cracks, golden and taunting. His own stomach rumbled. He thought of the thin meat that hung against her bones, and remembered the taste of ribeye, then quickly dismissed the thought.
He untied the calf and led her outside the barn. The wind was brisk, blowing dust, the topsoil, since there was no longer anything left to hold it down. As far as he could see there was dead earth and rotting trees. However there were still a few patches of dried, dead grass, and he led the calf to the nearest one. He stood over her as she nuzzled the grass with her nose. There was something unappetizing about it, he could tell; as if she knew there was no nutrition in it.
Moving the lab to his parents' farm was an act of desperation. All the others had left him and he was alone in his work. The cities were clawing, hungry places now, and nothing could get done. Everyone was under threat. The farm at least was remote, shielded by miles of highway no one bothered to travel.
"I'm sorry I can't find the answer," he said. "Who knew a rogue protein would spread so quickly through the foodchain. We don't even know where it came from. How do we begin to fix it?"
The calf looked up at him with those sickly eyes and he wondered for a brief moment if she sagely understood what he was saying. She chewed laconically, attempting to burn less calories than she gained, then returned her eyes to the depressing grass patch.
"Our entire civilization depended on chlorophyll. One simple organelle, a perfect little machine, and all it took was one little rogue protein to sabotage the whole works forever. I can't find the fix and I'm too late." He couldn't hold back the tears any longer. They flowed freely down his face. The calf stopped chewing, and did looked genuinely concerned for him. "We are gone."