"It's a very vigorous hybrid," admitted Kenishwa. "Rather more vigorous than expected. The oxygen, carbon dioxide, and water aspects of its metabolism are within the required parameters. The growth pattern is exceptional; not only do the branches grow at up to forty centimetres a day, so do the aerial roots."
"So," Cornelius Bracken was lead for more than half the botanicals projects, "what positive risks have we identified for the project?"
"It's more salt tolerant than required or expected," Kasseldyne was the unexpectedly brilliant daughter of a rich man and his much younger trophy wife, and her black skin glittered with powdered gold blush. "Multiple bird species in all locations are utilising the trees, as are small reptiles and mammals. Epiphyte uptake in test locations B, J and T has been remarkable, and there has been epiphyte uptake at over half of all other test locations. Test location C has reported positive utilisation by marine life, which was a whole set of interactions that we weren't expecting. Unfortunately, some of the reasons for those utilisations run into negative risk factors." Both she and Bracken turned to look at Wedge, who was dressed in his usual attire of field overalls.
"Where to begin?" Wedge nonchalantly turned on the midtable holographic display that he wasn't supposed to have the code for. "Vigour is a good place. A quarter of test locations, including C, report that the test plants have overgrown the designated boundaries of the test site." The map with pulsing location markers in the display switched to a picture of an island covered in what appeared to be a large leafed, multiple trunked tree that had trunks standing in the surrounding water. "This picture was taken at test location C during a midmorning high tide last month. You will note that its salt tolerance runs to being able to survive partial flooding by salt water on a regular basis. Additionally," the picture over the centre of the table changed to show a patch of dense, large leafed, multi-trunked tree separated by a tall, barbed-wire topped chain link fence from a smaller large leafed tree, "the smaller tree outside the fence came from a branch that broke off in a storm, and landed there. When the test location team came to clean it up three days later, it was already rooted and sending out new shoots. They had to go back three times to dig out the roots. That was test location J, but we have had similar reports from A, G, M, O, V, X and Y. Test location Y, in particular, cannot guarantee that all plant material has been located and accounted for."
Bracken interrupted, "So, we can't guarantee that the hybrid remains confined to the test locations?"
"I can guarantee that it is no longer confined to the test locations," replied Wedge. The picture in the middle of the table changed to a fruit-laden wild Ficus branch. "This is what our hybrid's fruit looks like. All the Ficus, of which our hybrid is one, are supposed to be fertilised by a wasp specific to each species of Ficus, so our hybrid shouldn't be able produce fruit. It has anyway, at test sites J, N, V and Y. It is not clear if this is because those are the only locations where there is a suitable wasp, or if those are the only four hybrid specimens that have reached maturity."
Bracken was not slow, stupid, nor uninformed. "Ficus propagates by having delicious fruits and then getting the consumer to defecate the seeds before they can digest them. All those birds, reptiles and small mammals?" He sighed and ran a hand through his sculpted, silver-coloured hair. "Can we check that the fruits aren't toxic to primates and the enhanced races?"
Kenishwa made a delicate adjustment to his personal data display by tapping at the controller on his wrist that, conveniently, also told the time. "They shouldn't be," he commented, "given the toxicology results we got for every other part of the plant. Oh, that's interesting." He didn't wait to be prompted. "Someone's already had the fruit analysed. An unknown fruit sample, DNA matches our hybrid pool, the reported collection point is within four kilometres of test location L, and the reported collection date was fifteen days ago."
Kasseldyne and Wedge flicked through their notes. Kasseldyne spoke first, "Test location L isn't even doing that well. The test plants have been devastated by storms twice, and it's produced one of the lowest growth rates in the entire project."
"Hmmm," Wedge was looking at the picture of a storm ravaged plantation. "Did they recover all the hybrid pieces both times?"
"We'll have to make all staff redo the test protocol hygiene training," said Bracken making a note for himself. "Assuming that everyone has told the truth, the likely explanation is that a piece of hybrid broken off in one of the storms and successfully rooted itself in a more congenial location. We'll also need to get Legal involved in recovering the plant - the ethics committee made it clear that we are not authorised to release the hybrid into the wild and it may be rooted on private property."
"If it's a growing, edible fruit-bearing tree on private property or dedicated municipal green space," commented Kasseldyne, "any attempt to remove it is likely to start a riot Up until it takes over the town, possibly trapping some people in their homes." She looked at Wedge's surprised expression, "What? Just because it's my job to report on positive risk, doesn't mean I can't see what the problems are."
"And you're not pounding on the door of the family biodome, demanding cubicle space?" Kenishwa shuddered. "I'm just glad I can live within sight of a green remnant."
"Hiding from it doesn't solve this sort of problem," declared Kasseldyne. "Given the hybrid's vigour, given its salt tolerance, that it's escaped into the wild, and the herbicide tolerance that we engineered into it, can we stop it taking over the entire land surface of Earth?"
"That isn't a problem Legal can solve," remarked Bracken. "I will have to report to the Chief Science Officer. "Kenishwa, take the lead on drafting the brief for my signature, Wedge work on the Appendixes, and Kasseldyne put together the bibliography. I will need a draft by two thirty today. We will reconvene here then. " He stood, said, "Good morning," then he turned and left the room.
Wedge asked, "Do you think anyone has given any thought to what we do if, instead of the biosphere dying off completely, the world is taken over by a giant, spreading tree?"
"Until today," said Kasseldyne, "that wasn't the problem."