“I’ve heard of companion planting, of course,” said Fulgrind as he surveyed the fields before them. “My mother and wife both do it in the garden, mainly marigolds for the nematodes, but this…” Words failed him as he took in the nearly ripe, transparent fruiting bodies of the unfamiliar, sturdy plants dotted through the orchard and clustered around its perimeter.
“The fruit of the black peach is worth a fortune, and it’s highly regarded by various fruit eating species of bird and bat, hence the nature of these companion plants.” Albion Pergetter was the company’s salesman and knew that he was much better at pitching their products than Dr Professor Hardinger, their founder and product developer. “We sell the companion plants as part of a package if you purchase five fruiting black peach trees. Without them, we will not be responsible if you find you don’t have a harvest.”
“That’s the point where price jumps, isn’t it?” Golightly was the purchaser’s accountant. “I can’t help but notice that there’s no discount for bulk purchases and everything over four trees includes this companion plant, which you seem to be charging more for than the peach trees.”
“Ms Golightly, anything over four trees is a premium package,” Pergetter smiled sweetly.
“You’re charging 150% of the cost of a peach tree for one of these companion plants,” said Iris Golightly flatly. “You won’t sell a commercial quantity of black peach trees to my client consortium without those companion plants, even though they are prepared to use alternate pest control methods.”
“Those are our conditions of sale,” Pergetter smiled and spread his hands in a gesture that might have been apologetic.
“So,” asked Fulbright, “the companion plant fruit pods contain these, these flying lizards…” He looked again at the nearest transparent fruit pod with its apparently slumbering contents.
“Dragonets,” Pergetter corrected.
Hardcastle, the purchasing consortium’s agronomist, said, “I assume they eat the bats and birds that come after the peaches?”
“Well, yes.” Pergetter genuinely smiled this time. One of the customers was getting the genius of the idea.
“So what happens to them when the fruit is picked?” Hardcastle was counting dragon fruit pods he spoke. “Are they limited in range, hang around and starve to death? Do they eat each other until they’re all gone? Do they fly off in search of more food?”
That wasn’t included in Pergetter’s briefing material. Dr Professor Hardinger had never mentioned what happened afterwards and Pergetter’s job was to sell, so he’d never asked..
“And what’s their role in the companion plant’s reproductive cycle?” Hardcastle looked around. “I mean, technically, they are the plant’s fruit aren’t they? Do they lay seeds or does a new plant sprout from their body after they die? I realise Hardinger’s been playing all his cards close to his chest because of the Uppsala thing, but if you’re selling these now, then we’re all going to know the answer come autumn, or at least part of it. As a purchaser, I want to know up front.”
“These things will be how big when they hatch?” Golightly was taking a closer look now.
“Oh, only the size of a house cat,” Pergetter assured them. “They don’t get any bigger.”
“Flying meat eaters, the size of house cats,” said Fulbright carefully. “My poultry farming neighbours, the ones with the paddocks of free range hens, would kill me. Assuming the things didn’t turn on me if they didn’t have enough to eat. Plus,” he looked at Pergetter with what was almost dawning horror, “you haven’t run this past the regulators yet, have you? ‘Getting in on the ground floor’ means paying you to a premium to participate in the first field trials, doesn’t it?”
“Of course!” Pergetter smiled brightly at them. “You will have the advantage of being among the first to be able to produce black peaches in commercial quantities for both the table and pharmaceutical preparation plus you’ll be able to consult directly with Dr Professor Hardinger himself on any issues that might arise!”
“I’m sorry,” Fulbright smiled, “but my consortium is no longer interested in your product. We’ll be leaving now.”
Golightly said urgently, “How ripe are those things?”
“What?” Her tone had made all of them turn to look at her. “They’re not supposed to emerge until the peaches need protecting,” Pergetter reassured her. “This patch has been brought on early for demonstration purposes but that will be several weeks yet.”
“Then why are the little ones on that bush there moving in their pods?” Golightly was pointing now. “The goldy-purple ones.”
“Let’s just go back to the office, shall we?” Pergetter spoke and moved carefully, pointing in the right direction. “Away from the trees, please. I think we need to get the Dr Professor out of the lab for this.”