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In the Petri Dish

"I'm the king of the agar-agar!"

"No you're not! I am!"

The children laughed with delight as they fought for position atop a small mound in the petri dish. In the house, the parents smiled and turned back to their guest.

"It's the greatest discovery of modern science," Raf continued. "We were actually outside the dish during the last dark. We proven once and for all that bacteria can penetrate the shells of Pito's universe. She wasn't such a smart old germ after all. If only we had more funding! We need porters. With a triple supply of agar-agar, we could actually stay out of the dish for and entire light and dark!"

"You scientists are all the same," Lem retorted. "All your foolish ambitions. Even if you do penetrate the shell, you'll never survive a light. It's against the doctrine. Gan would send down a curse and destroy us all."

"You don't understand," Ref replied excitedly. "You haven't been out there! It's incredible. We could take pictures of the dish from the lid. Think of what it would do for science! If only Hin would stop worrying about all his Ganian superstitions and give us more funding."

"Blasphemous heathen!" Lem yelled. "Get out my house! I was raised by strict articles. My parents were orthodox, and their parents, all the way back to the beginning of bacteria. I won't have you ganless scientists tearing my wife and children from the faith!"

Oh Lem," Bon said softly. "Let him talk. You don't have to believe him. He just needs to talk and get the excitement out of his system."

"There you go again. 'Let him talk. He won't do any harm.' If he plans on talking to the children, he'd better think about my penicillin first."

"Oh, Lan and Min will be okay. Just let him talk."

"Well, you can listen if you want. I'm going to get some sleep."

As Lem walked out of the room, Raf came to the edge of his chair and continued excitedly. "Think of the implications, Bon! Lan and Min have amazing things in their future. I don't understand what you see in that silly, fatalist religion of yours. You're an intelligent bacteria."

From the other room, Lem roared his displeasure. "Ganless heathen! Leave my wife alone!"

Oh, Lem. Stop worrying and get some sleep."

Raf continued. "You see, Bon, if there's no Gan, there's nothing to worry about. No 'last days of evil' of 'destruction and cleansing of the dish'. There may be inhabitable dishes out there. If not, we'll soon be able to produce synthetic agar-agar. We could form colonies to support the population if it ever gets out of hand. It'd take time, but hey, right now we've got all the time in the dish."

"Raf, I understand your good intentions, but I know that the doctrine is true. I think that deep inside, you too know that Gan is. I know that we Ganians get a little caught up in our dogma now and then, but that doesn't change the truth. If you'd just be more reasonable, I'm sure the leaders would listen to you. You're such an energetic bacteria. Gan needs bacteria like you to add life to his congregation, but we can't have scientific fanatics."

"The future is in science, not in old, closed minded bacteria telling us that we're all going to be washed out of the dish and sent off to some glorious aftergrowth or condemned to an eternal lake of penicillin. Think of the implications, Bon. We've been outside of the dish!"

Before he could resume his oration on the wonders of science, Min burst through the door. "Mommy, mommy! I'm the king of the agar-agar!"

"No you're not," Lan yelled from outside. "You left!"

Min laughed softly. "Raf, I think you'll have to excuse me. I need to get dinner started, and the house is a mess."

"I'll stop by when I get back from talking to Hin. If I can just get more funding!"

As Raf disappeared in the distance, Lem emerged from his room. "I don't want him coming around here. He might affect the children."

"Oh, Lem. Stop worrying. We're having staph chops tonight. How do you want your's done?"

*  *  *  *  *

"Hey, Bon. Guess what?" Raf had returned after a week at the dish capital. "We got the budget through. By next month, we'll be on the lid in the light. It's never too late to join the scientists."

"Raf, I think you should leave. Lem's been in a bad mood lately. If he catches you here, I think he has his penicillin with him..."

"Mommy, mommy. The dish is going to end tomorrow! A bacteria downtown said so." Min ran into her mother's arms and Lan stopped beside Raf.

"Better get out of here. Dad's got his penicillin."

"Alright. But when I get back from outside the dish, you come visit me, and I'll tell you all about it."

"You're going outside the dish again? Mom, can we visit Raf? He's going to tell us about the outside."

"We'll see, Lan. We'll see."

*  *  *  *  *

A few weeks later, Bon was awakened by light and looked at her clock. "401-79? The light's not supposed to come until 430-00." She woke Lem and they walked outside. The children were already at play on the mound.

A few moments later, the neighbors emerged from their home. "What do you think it is?" they asked.

"I don't know."

All over town, bacteria emerged from their houses with questioning looks on their faces. Then a dark shadow fell on the dish and it began to move. Bacteria fell to the agar-agar and screamed in horror. When the dish finally came to rest, they remained on the ground, not daring to speak or move. Children sobbed softly and many of the elders prayed silently.

Then the dish began to shake again. Thousands of bacteria looked up, terrified, as the lid was peeled away. Moments later, a rush of water and a blinding flash of ultraviolet light silenced their screams.

© 1986 Antone Roundy

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