Coarse string was pulled across the land, dividing it into muddy grids. Two men carrying clipboards, father and son, strode carefully across the plots in old green rain boots. The sky above was mottled a pigeon gray raining cold and straightly vertical. They stopped suddenly.
"What is that?" asked Niels, the elder of the two.
"Huh," replied Egil.
"What is planted in this plot?"
Egil flipped through several plasticized papers on his clipboard.
"This looks like plot AY456...so...this should be...control maize?"
They both stared at AY456. Growing in the center was a three foot tall leafless stalk with a purple-blue tinge to its skin.
"That can't be right," said Niels.
"It's definitely modified."
"It looks tropical."
"We're not running tropical tests right now."
"We're not running any tests in this area right now."
Niels scratched at his thin white beard.
"When was this plot last surveyed?" he asked.
Egil again flipped through his papers.
"Uh...three months ago. Aproximately. It was control maize again then, and there was nothing unusual in the notes."
"Who took them?"
Neils approached the stalk while his son looked on, and to both their horror, the stalk sunk into the muddy ground and disappeared.
"Well!" exclaimed Niels, placing his hands on his hips.
Egil dropped his clipboard in the mud.
"This is a new sort of...critter," said Niels, grinning. "Let's get a shovel."
Within an hour they were back at the plot with shovels and with Margaret, Egil's wife. Niels dug enthusiastically while Egil was more reserved and scooped up smaller portions of mud. Margaret looked at the scene with skepticism and disdain, and she shivered under her raincoat. They dug down three feet and found nothing. They took a break.
"This is ridiculous," said Margaret looking at Egil, pleading with her eyes for his support.
"It's true. I saw it," he said simply.
"It's not ridiculous!" exclaimed Niels, panting from his exertions. "It's evolution. Assisted evolution! All these microbes we make and put in the soil were bound to exert selection pressures on the things we plant here and so--"
"What if it's not?" interrupted Egil.
"What do you mean?" asked Niels.
"Plants don't move like that. Plants are rooted, they--"
"No, that's not true. The plants in the ocean, phytoplankton, they move--"
"They are carried by currents, they do not move of their own accord."
The three looked at each, Niels still smiling but the breadth of the smile fading.
"What if it's not...of this Earth?" asked Egil.
Niels laughed while Margaret looked on grimly.
"Of course it is 'of this Earth' as you call it," said Niels. "You always believed that interstellar travel was possible, but have we seen it? No. There is no evidence that any aliens have ever visited Earth. You read...too many of those books! It is far more likely that it is something of our own cause."
"Lack of evidence did not mean that something did not happen!"
"It means that it is unlikely to have happened!"
Both men were getting red in the face. Margaret picked up a shovel and started digging.
"You two always get into these philosophical arguments!" she said. "Meanwhile, we still need to track this thing down, if it does exist. Who knows what it is, but it could ruin the other experiments. Once we find it, we can argue about its origins."
She threw up large shovelfuls of soil. The others rejoined her and they worked until the pit was six feet deep and a little more than that wide, almost the entire plot.
"Where is it?" asked Niels angrily several times. Finally he threw out his shovel and climbed up to the edge and sat down in the mud. They sky was clearing a bit and the sun peeked out.
"Maybe we need to set a trap," said Egil.
He put down his shovel and climbed, then gave his arm to Margaret so she could climb out as well. They were all completely covered in mud. They sat silently in the burgeoning sun, exhausted.
"You are turning purple," said Egil to his wife, with some shock.
"Oh you are too--"
They examined each other and saw that the places were the sun touched the mud it turned a bluish purple and coagulated. They wiped it off and slung it into the pit. They stood and saw that where they had sat the mud was brown but in the sun it was purple.
"It's the soil--"
"The microbes. It is us after all."
"This will spread!" exclaimed Margaret. "We have to contain it!"
"No!" said Niels, "we must study it."
"We can do both," said Egil, sounding somewhat relieved.
The ground beneath them started to give way and they ran to nearby plots. The displaced soil returned to the pit, filling it up again. The sun was out completely from the clouds now, and they looked around and saw all the soil for acres turning purple.
"This is not good," said Margaret. "This is too fast. This is not possible. No microorganism can spread that quickly in just a few weeks."
"Dormancy," said Niels. "This has been waiting...or gestating perhaps. Light and temperature could trigger this transformation."
The sun returned behind a layer of fast moving clouds again, and the field darkened. The purple faded, except for several spots that rose up into stalks. The three attempted to get near the stalks again, but they disappeared into the soil.
"It is futile," said Egil.
"No," said Niels. "Let's take soil samples back to the lab."
"We will have to burn the field," said Margaret.
Margaret and Egil left, their hands on each other's backs. Niels stayed, looking out over the stalks which seemed to be growing in view of the visible eye.
"Such a shame," said Niels. "We'll kill you, dissect you, study you, but will not let you be what you are, this beautiful new thing."
Niels hung his head, then knelt down in the mud. He pressed his hands into it and felt the squelching material between his fingers.
"It is my fault...that you will not find your place like all the living things that came before you. You will not have a chance to fight, or to become something greater than your progenitor. Not on your own. Not without guidance. That is not the way it should be."
He stood and wiped his hands on his pants then retreated to the lab following the others.