By ARTHUR PORGES
Hell may have no fury like a woman scorned,
but the fury of a biochemist scorned is just as great
—and much more fiendish.
If the Syndicate is half as powerful
as some people have
claimed, they'll murder me any
day now. I object on principle to
being killed by evil men for a
good deed, so maybe lynching
by stupid ones is preferable. I
mean you, and you—the suetheads
who profited by my work,
but refused your help.
You've been yammering about
narcotics for years—how drug
addiction was spreading, reaching
down even to your unmannerly,
spoiled brats, who despise
their parents and our venal society
to the same degree. The
stuff comes in by the ton across
the Mexican border; they grow
it for our benefit in Red China;
and a few "friendly" Asian
countries don't mind exporting
some now and then, either. In
spite of heroic work by our small
group of poorly financed narcotics
agents, the flow of drugs
cannot be halted.
Oh, you and your elected representatives
made a lot of panicky
moves to combat this
threat. The Department of
Health, Education, and Welfare
was given a new Bureau, set up
like the F.B.I., and headed by
Myron P. Bishop, a man trained
by that distinguished expert on
narcotics, Anslinger, himself.
But as to sensible solutions,
such as legalizing the sale of
heroin to break the world-wide
criminal control on the distribution
of drugs—that your vapid
Puritan morality wouldn't permit.
Millions of dollars for enforcement,
and to punish the
sick, but not one cent for prevention,
and almost nothing to
find out why people become addicts
in the first place, and how
to cure them.
It wasn't entirely your fault.
You listened to the experts, usually
career policemen who expect
to cure any social evil with clubs
and prisons. I am reminded of
the simpleton found measuring
two horses with a tape in order
to be able to distinguish the
black one from the white. Until
I came along, nobody had ever
reached the core of the matter.
You don't kill a flourishing plant—in
this case an Upas Tree—by
lopping off a handful of leaves.
You strike at the roots. That's
what I meant to do—and did—for
your benefit. Oh, I admit
there were a few dollars in it for
me, but so what? The ox that
treads the wheat is not muzzled.
When a man saves a manufacturer
$50,000 a year by some improved
process, or even by using
three bolts someplace instead of
four, they gladly pay him three
per cent of the annual savings,
or something like that, as a reward.
Most big outfits have such
a policy, and it's a good one.
Well, if I cut millions off the
government budget, is a lousy
$100,000 too much to ask? I just
wanted to go on with my researches
without battling a
horde of bill collectors every
month. Fat chance—I didn't get
a measly dime. You, your elected
and appointed officials, and your
kept press just gave me the all-time
horse-laugh. Well, he who
laughs last—you'll remember the
old saw; I'll see to that.
I'm writing this so you'll know
how they treated me. You mustn't
think I'm a crank, mad at
the world for no reason. My case
is better than Dreyfus' and Sacco-Vanzetti's
combined. Here I
was prepared to remove the drug
scourge forever, and at a piddling
cost. Did I get courteous
handling, or at least a fair hearing?
Not bloody likely! I was
an idiot to expect anything from
the world's most inflated bureaucracy—Dickens'
Office brought up to date.
Let me start at the beginning;
then you'll see who's right. I'm a
biochemist by profession. A
damned good one, but too individualistic
to please the big research
centers. They like docile
teams—scientific Percherons to
pull the big red wagon. So I
taught at one jerkwater college
after another. Sooner or later
my superiors, all dodderers who
stopped thinking with sighs of
relief once they had their PhD
union cards, objected to my attitude.
If I published, they were
jealous; it made the other faculty
members look bad. If I failed
to produce, then why was I
wasting lab facilities and neglecting
my classes? The students
wanted their term papers back
within five days; the other
teachers could manage it, why
not me? The difference between
what my colleagues expected
from their pupils and what I did
was the difference between the
lightning bug and the lightning.
Those students! They didn't
want biochemistry; they want
a letter on a card; a "C" would
do. Damn few of them got it
from me, I'm happy to say, and
those that did, knew more about
the subject than most PhD's.
Now, I take as my creed the
fruitful dictum: Think in other
categories. A famous researcher
once invented—or discovered—this
maxim in a dream. It is the
secret of many great advances in
science. Get off the main line.
Stop fooling with the leaves of
the tree, and turn to the roots.
Invert the problem, if necessary.
I was thinking about the narcotics
scandal. A teacher at my
college had a lovely sixteen-year-old
daughter, carefully reared,
who was badly hooked. I saw
that poor man's hair whiten in a
few months. How would you feel,
knowing that your daughter had
been so degraded by a drug as to
sell herself to anybody with
enough money to buy her a fix?
An innocent, playful sniff at a
party, and some punk, probably
an addict himself, had trapped
her in order to finance his own
habit. They talk about cures,
but people on the inside know
that permanent escape from the
trap is as rare as portraits of
Trotsky in Russia. Or integrity
among politicians in this country.
Well, I put my brains to work
on the problem. It seemed obvious
that, as in the case of Prohibition,
you couldn't possibly
lick the drug traffic by cutting
the lines of supply. Not in a
country as big as ours, with the
Mexican border and Red China
on the side of the enemy. Not
when a package the size of a
watch could be worth a fortune.
Think in other categories, I
reminded myself. How can a biochemist,
rather than a policeman,
stop the Syndicate? Then
it came to me, simple and obvious.
Hit the source, the weak
link, the roots of the poison tree.
In short, Papaver somniferum,
the opium poppy itself.
Basic, isn't it? Destroy the
plant, and you cut the heart out
of the drug traffic. No cops; no
hopeless warfare against cunning
smugglers; no battle with
big-money corruption of officials.
And remember: no chemist
alive can synthesize opium or its
derivatives. Sure, there are a few
other bad narcotic drugs from
different plants, like marijuana,
but they play a relatively small
part, and can be controlled. Besides,
it was my intention to destroy
their sources as well, when
the time came. But first the biggest
I go to work, re-examining all
the recent work on tobacco virus
and similar plant killers. New
studies on the key protein chains
of the genes were the foundation
stones of my plan. The disease
had to be highly specific and
deadly. I couldn't risk even the
remotest possibility of harming
food plants in a hungry world.
But, as I've said, with no false
modesty, I'm no slouch in my
field of biochemistry. I took a
harmless poppy rust from our
California flowers here, and
treated its genes with certain
chemicals. It was a matter of six
months, and well over eighty
tries, but finally I came up with
a virus that killed the opium
poppy like smallpox wiped out
the Sioux. No; more than that.
Some Indians were, or became,
immune to the disease, just as
insects build up resistance to the
most potent poisons. But with
my virus that's simply not possible.
I won't get technical here,
but to become immune to this
stuff would be like a man's developing
anti-bodies against his
own tissues. It couldn't happen
without killing the organism
faster than the virus does. Once
this epidemic began, not a poppy
So far everything was fine,
except that, as usual, I lost my
job. I got fifty term papers behind.
It didn't bother me, because
there wasn't a student in
my three classes who knew any
more biochemistry than a baboon.
In the first paper I'd found
this gem: "It is well known that
a mammal reproduces by suckling
its young." Faced with more
of the same, it was a pleasure to
Now, in any really civilized
society, they'd have my statue
on top of the capitol building,
and with neon lights to boot.
But in our bureaucratic wilderness
of Washington, with a
thousand government-hired cretins
running interference for
each big, appointed super-cretin,
my troubles had just begun.
I took some sample poppies to
the H.E.W. offices. They were
in vacuum-sealed plastic envelopes,
because I knew that once
my virus spores got loose in the
atmosphere, they'd spread all
over the world like radioactive
dust, or faster. I hoped to see
the Commissioner of Narcotics,
Myron P. Bishop, but His Magnificence
was harder to reach
than the whole College of Cardinals.
It was impossible to put my
point across. Plants, was it?
That way to the Department of
Agriculture. Oh, poppies. Pamphlets
on wildflowers could be
had from Documents.
I wrote countless letters,
pulled what few wires were within
my reach, and haunted Washington
like the ghost of Calhoun.
And finally I got ten minutes
with El Pomposo himself.
As I've said, dumb students
are nothing new to me. But even
the worst of them couldn't have
been any more obtuse than Bishop.
I had the dead plants, all
brown and withered. There were
simple charts showing exactly,
in terms of time, how the virus
worked, killing the poppy within
forty-eight hours, and even destroying
the viability of any
seeds that might be ripening.
Did this jughead appointed by
the President to fight the terrible
drug problem comprehend
the miracle being offered to
him? The simple solution that
would make him the greatest—in
fact, the only—success in his
post that this country had ever
known? Not he. I had to spell it
out in nursery school terms.
But I've penetrated many a
numbskull in class by dint of
persistent drilling, and finally
got through to the cold oatmeal
under his parietal bones.
Did that clear the air? If you
think so, guess again. He threw
up his hands in horror. Turn a
plant disease loose on the world
deliberately! It was a violation
of the conventions against germ
warfare. It was barred by international
law. It was unthinkable
that the United States would indulge
in such irresponsible behavior.
All right, I said. Take it to the
U.N. Let them distribute the
poppy killer. He brightened a little
at that, since every bureaucrat
loves above all to pass the
buck. A clear-cut decision is fatal
to the species. Then he gave me
a note to our delegate, Wilbur
This character was a bit
sharper. He heard me out, looked
at my deceased poppies, and arranged
a conference with a bigwig
from the State Department.
Then things got really messy.
When I pointed out that in a few
weeks every damned opium plant
in Asia would be deader than the
Ming Dynasty, this little creep
from Foggy Bottom almost had
kittens on the spot. It seems that
just now our relations with Red
China are highly delicate. If we
turned the virus loose on them,
even if it did kill only poppies
(and he had his doubts about
that. What if—shudder—it attacked
rice?) the Reds would
scream murder. They'd yell germ
warfare, and have us cold. They
could ship us opium by the long
ton—that didn't affect the delicate
It seemed to me, however, that
there was something ambiguous
and wistful in the State man's
attitude, and I thought I understood.
When a country sends a
spy to do some dirty job, they
disown him officially if he is
caught. Except for that U-2 fiasco
some years ago, when the U.S.
broke all the unwritten rules and
made jackasses of us before the
world. Now, obviously, if I killed
all the poppies in the world, that
would be a fait accompli. Washington
could deny knowing anything
about the cause of death,
especially since it would work indiscriminately
even in friendly
parts of Asia. Just as long as I
got my hundred thousand, I didn't
mind skipping the official
credit. In fact, it would keep the
Syndicate off my back.
"Suppose," I said, "on my own
responsibility, I release the
spores and ruin the opium trade
for good. Will you see that I get
He was horrified. In the first
place, nothing whatever could be
done until the virus had been
checked out by government scientists.
If I would give him the
virus, and my notes, he'd start
the ball rolling. I know that
Washington ball; it's all angles,
and doesn't roll worth a damn.
I went cold at the thought. Before
you can get an okay on anything
big from a bureau there,
your long, grey beard will be
sweeping the floor.
For a moment I was tempted
to take my plans to England,
but then remembered that by
sane legislation legalizing the
sale of drugs under controlled
conditions, they had already
licked the problem, and wouldn't
be in the market. For two cents,
I thought, I'd make China pay
me the money to keep the virus
buried. For that matter, the Syndicate
would gladly kick in with
a million. But I'm an American
first, and couldn't play it that
way, especially remembering
Professor A's daughter.
I thought the thing through,
and decided that if I turned the
disease loose, so that every good
poppy is a dead one, any decent
government will quietly pay me
off. They only need to know that
no other plants are affected.
And that's the way I played it.
The next day I sprayed a few
grams of concentrated virus into
the humid air of Washington, and
went home. If you read the papers,
you know the rest of that
particular story. In eight months
not even Sherlock Holmes could
have found a live opium poppy
on the face of the earth. Once
current stocks are gone, there'll
be no more narcotics deriving
from that particular plant. The
government sensibly outbid all
the addicts and operators in order
to save what is left for medical
use. It should last for fifty
years. All according to my
But when I tried to collect,
they didn't know me from the
late Lucky Luciano. There was
no proof whatever, they said,
that my virus did the job. After
all, their scientists had not been
allowed to check my work. I
could have faked the whole thing,
attempting to take credit for a
mutant disease which began naturally,
especially since dozens of
bacteriologists were now isolating
When I pressed harder, they
dragged out an F.B.I. file showing
I was a crank and maverick,
unable to hold a job, and guilty
of signing a peace petition in
1949. If Bishop or Cavanaugh
tried to help, I don't know about
it. I suppose I'm lucky that the
Syndicate has been equally skeptical.
Otherwise, being out many
millions, they would have liquidated
me by now.
But basically it's your fault—you,
the people. I took my case
to you, as a court of last resort.
A few papers gave me a fair
enough shake to present the evidence,
but you paid no attention.
I tried to get your signatures to
a petition to purge the H.E.W.
Department, or to start a Congressional
just laughed at me. You enjoyed
that headline: "Crackpot Chemist
Claims He Killed All Those
Poppies. Was it Self-Defense?"
Well, my jovial friends, I'm
going to teach you a lesson. I
could easily wipe out half of you
by killing some selected food
plants, but I'm not a mass murderer,
and would rather make a
more subtle job of it. I've two
more viruses just about perfected;
after the first, it's easier.
When I turn them loose, you'll
have a real grievance against me.
This time, you're getting notice
in advance, so nobody can talk
about "natural" disease. Besides,
the appended lab notes will easily
convince a few key men in biochemistry;
and they'll confirm
Now let me point out the two
plants you'll miss badly.
One is yeast. Yes, yeast. When
you read this, the one-celled organisms
responsible for wine,
beer, and alcohol generally, will
be dying as a race. In a few
months, good liquor will be
scarcer than an electric blanket
in hell. Sure, grain alcohol can
be synthesized, but bouquet isn't
that simple, and you'll pay
dearly for it—how you'll pay!—and
decent lab-made whiskey
won't be on the shelves tomorrow,
The other plant you'll miss
even more. I mean tobacco. No
more cigarettes; no more fat cigars—and
tobacco commercials on TV. Did
you know, tobacco cannot be synthesized
at all, at any price? Get
it, you two-pack-a-day fiends?
This etext was produced from Amazing Stories February 1961.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and
typographical errors have been corrected without note.