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Kernels of Resistance

I started this morning in line at the farm stand off 38. Deep July and muggy enough for gnats to get trapped in water bubbles. When I got to the front, I asked Edith Rebecca for eight ears of corn--our code. She took long enough picking them out that the kid behind me started making jokes: was she counting the kernels?
I panicked when I saw she'd given me the wrong ones. We changed cultivars this week. Had she forgotten? "Don't you have any of the Ilini Extra Special?" I blurted out. The crowd laughed but with an edge. I looked longingly at the Mortgage Lifter tomatoes as she rang up the right corn; I didn't want to make more fuss so I just handed over the cash.
The kid, the crowd--any of them could be working for you. I kept my head down until I got to the car. It's not like they could look at the husks and tell. Even Barbara McClintock needed the kernels. I'd have to go deeper, myself, with the genetic sequencer at home.
The sequencer was larger than the stand mixer but it had similar chrome fixtures, bright plastic panels, and rounded curves. This line was named after Ellen Swallow Richards because you can't be too careful what you feed your family. And ESR was the one who taught housewives how to tell whether the grocer had mixed sawdust into their flour. If you want to know what companies are putting into your food these days, you have to be more sophisticated though, don't you?
I've spent a lot of time around sequencers--you nod, you've probably read some secret file about me--and this one was decent. Of course, I'd reprogrammed it. I'd reprogrammed all the sequencers used by the women in the resistance to look for specific sequences in corn.
I pulled back the husk, parted the silk, looking for the discolored kernels halfway down. Edith Rebecca and her cousin Martha--creating the designer kernels, fighting the tough fight of an embedded double agent--switched the kernels out at family farm potlucks, hiding in plain sight. I pried them loose.
Beep. That sequence meant yes to meeting tonight to check King's fields. We knew someone in the nearby counties was unknowingly growing FoodCo's newest seed. We'd all seen the advertising campaign--which neglected to mention its addictive properties.
The machine beeped again: another known sequence. When I rushed to read it--well, you know what it said: you're on to me. So I was out the door, grabbing my bug-out bag, taking off through the head-high alfalfa behind the house to the old junker I'd stashed there. I'd have to put the plan in motion earlier than our group had intended. My heart was beating hard and my insides felt like a squished tomato, one that Edith Rebecca would have tossed into the bucket under the farmstand table.
Step 1: lie low. I knew it was too dangerous to wait downtown and yet I couldn't go too far or I wouldn't make it back in time to meet at King's. I decided to risk the truckers' stop over on 117 because it didn't seem like the sort of place you'd expect me to hide.
Step 2: text from the burner. No confirmation but I assumed that's because the plucky New York reporter and her comrades were all scrambling to make it out here in time.
Step 3: seed the Cloud. I sat in my car, going through all the data I'd squirreled away in different parts of the net. I lingered on my notes from that first meeting, where my FoodCo section head had sat us all down and told us what the new direction was for the next generation. Play to their sweet tooth. The way she said it--clearly someone else's euphemism. Either way, they wanted me to tweak the corn so it'd help over-express those transcription factors that make addiction happen.
If you don't let us go tonight, tomorrow's front pages will show all the sad faces I drew over the signaling cascade diagrams.
Pretty much the same face I was wearing when I told my supervisor no dice, I'm here to help feed the world, not make people dependent on corn.
So--do you want a bite?
You could say it's a ridiculous question but we are standing in a corn field. And the sun's about to come up and everything green here will turn gold, just like that poet said, some of it because of xanthophylls and some of it because of a long conversion from saccharides to cents to fill the bank accounts of your FoodCo bosses who sold King the corn seed without telling her what it really was.
Don't be nervous. You won't have to take off those aviators. And it won't muss your perfect black suit. Corn picked first thing in the morning and eaten right away is one of the sweetest things in the universe. I'm sure these reporters--all the way from New York City--would be happy with just a photo of your smile, split kernels in a ring around your lips, if you aren't willing to give them an interview. Heck, all us gals let go from Research and using our PhDs to wipe down the kitchen counters, we'll happily have a bite--right after you.
Because if King's field is just full of plain farmgirl Zea Mays, then what's the harm?
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, March 2nd, 2022
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