The Verdant Gene by Marcelle Dubé

Marcelle Dubé grew up near Montreal. After trying out a number of different provinces – not to mention Belgium – she settled in the Yukon, where people outnumber the carnivores, but not by much. Undaunted, she started her family and now has two beautiful daughters: Rotten Daughter #1 and Rotten Daughter #2. She has worked as an editorial assistant, a newspaper librarian, an accountant, a military policewoman and a communications officer. All things considered, she prefers sitting in a warm, comfy room and making stories up. She also writes under the pen name of Emma Faraday.
Her novels have been published by Carina Press and Falcon Ridge Publishing. Her short fiction has appeared in On Spec Magazine; Polaris: A Celebration of Polar Science; Open space: A Canadian Anthology of Fantastic Fiction; and Challenging Destiny 25, among other places. Polaris received the 2007 Canadian Science in Society Book Award and was a finalist for the Aurora Award, Canada’s reader’s choice award for science fiction and fantasy. Find her online at


We landed on Verdant one hundred and three years ago, in what turned out to be Year Three of the thirty-year Cycle.

In a stroke of cosmic bad luck, the probes that explored Verdant and mapped its solar system did so at apogee, when Castor and Pollux, the twin moons, were stable in the sky at the farthest they would be from Verdant, and each other. How were we to know that this stability would only last a year?

It took the original colonists a few years to realize that Verdant’s moons were slowly drawing closer to each other and to the planet. The attendant tides and wild weather soon made the colonists relocate the settlement to higher, more protected ground, but it was only at Year Fifteen of the Cycle, at perigee, that the colonists understood the full impact of the moons’ strange dance.

There have only been three Perigee Years since we landed on Verdant. With each one, we were better prepared to survive the physical onslaughts of storm and surge. But with each one, we lost more and more people to the Cycle madness.


Rachel was on the tube train before she realized that she’d left her coat at the lab. The argument with Aisha—Dr. Aisha Bennatro, friend and colleague—had knocked it from her mind.

She shivered a little, crossing her arms over her chest in an effort to warm up. It was full summer in the capital city of Haida, which should have meant humidity and heat, but perigee was tonight, and cold air had rushed in as soon as the winds rose.

Rachel glanced out the window. The storm was getting worse. The lush vegetation for which Verdant was named whipped frantically in the wind, flinging twigs and flowers in the air.

The car was close to empty, as were the streets below the elevated rail. She was a little surprised, but grateful, that the train still ran.

The university where her daughter studied had a good shelter, but Rachel didn’t like the thought of Eliane stuck there for the duration of the storm, which could last anywhere from six hours to six days.

If Eliane even went to the shelter. Perigee seemed to trigger a compulsion in those who had the Verdant gene, a mutation that began to appear in the first generation born on Verdant. Without fail, they tried to leave the protection of the shelters during the storms. No one understood why, but Rachel and Aisha had been working on trying to understand for years. Over the past year, as perigee grew closer, they had grown apart in their approaches to a solution, to the point where they could not even be in the same room without arguing.

And now, Aisha had permission from the ethics committee to use the experimental inoculation, C15, much to Rachel’s dismay. She had been about to go find Eliane when she heard about the approval. The committee had snuck it in while they thought no one would be paying attention.

She found her old friend alone in the underground lab, everyone else having left for their home shelter or the lab’s. Aisha sat at her console, dividing her attention between the holographic formula in front of her and the keypad at her fingertips.

“Aisha,” said Rachel, barging in and startling the older woman. “We’re just not ready to inoculate anyone. The C15 is still experimental.”

“We’ve been testing it for three years!” said Aisha, immediately falling into their familiar pattern of the last year. Her cheeks were red, contrasting with her white hair.

“On Verdant physiology!” said Rachel, her hands flying up to express her frustration. “On human computer models!”

“We’ve also used the brains of those who died in the last Perigee Year,” argued Aisha, her voice lowered. “The C15 works.”

For ten years they had been colleagues and friends. Rachel had come to see the older woman as a mentor. Until now.

“You know as well as I do that every generation born here has adapted further to the planet.” Now they were staring at each other, desperate to convince the other. “Your antidote might have worked thirty years ago, but we don’t know what it will do to our children today.”

“We have to do something! We can’t afford to keep losing them!”

In spite of their growing rift, Rachel felt for the older woman. Aisha had lost her father and her husband to the Cycle madness. She was determined not to lose the grandson who had just moved in with her. He had lived on the southern continent with his parents until they died in an accident earlier this year. Like Rachel’s daughter Eliane, he had apparently begun to show signs of the madness as the storms worsened and perigee approached.

Rachel wished that she had told her colleague that she had the Verdant gene, too. But it was too late now. Their relationship was tenuous enough as it was. If Aisha Bennatro learned that Rachel had the Verdant gene and hadn’t told her, she would assume that Rachel was ashamed.

And maybe she was. She had lost her mother when she was 12, during the last Perigee Year. Mother had grown increasingly agitated, insisting that God called to her. Then she simply walked out of their shelter, carefully sealing the door behind her and barring it from the outside, leaving Rachel alone until her father came home after the storm. They never found her body.

What Rachel never told Father, or anyone, was that she had experienced the same call from what she had thought was God. She had fought to follow her mother out into the storm and only the barred door had prevented it. The call hadn’t been as strong in her, however. Certainly not as strong as the compulsion that drove Mother to her death.

She sighed and tried to think of something—anything—else. But it was hard when outside the speeding train, the wind caused the tall whippet trees to bow away and trail their blue, needle-sharp tips like long, bony fingers.

The early colony had grown its own food in those first few decades, and so it had taken years to realize that well over half the small animals on Verdant disappeared after perigee. They found no carcasses, no evidence of mass die-outs. They just… disappeared. Their numbers started rising again as apogee approached.

That was a mystery for another scientist to solve. She needed to understand the Verdant gene, and how to turn it off.

A gust of wind buffeted the train, and she and the other passengers reached for the bars. At last the train entered the tube station at the University of Haida and came to a stop. Rachel hurried to the third floor library, where the locator told her she would find Eliane. The wind pushed her up the stairs, carrying the smell of the sea from half a mile away.

She found Eliane sitting on a bench by the window in the deserted library, staring out at the clouds scuttling by, her reader resting on the seat beside her.

“Eliane!” Why was she alone? Why hadn’t someone dragged her off to the shelter? A tide of anger rose in her as she realized that her daughter had been abandoned. No one wanted to be associated with the Verdant gene.

Eliane looked around, her sweet face framed by a cloud of dark, curly hair that fell unbridled to her shoulders. She broke into a welcoming smile. “Hi, Mom. What are you doing here?”

“Time to go,” said Rachel, bothered by the unfocused look in her daughter’s eyes. She gathered Eliane’s reader and her jacket. “The storm will be here soon.”

“There’s plenty of time, Mom, and the university’s got a shelter, you know.”

Eliane smiled that lopsided smile that always reminded Rachel of the girl’s father.

“They have a standard shelter,” said Rachel. She was trying to be calm, but Eliane’s resistance frightened her a little bit. “Ours is better.” She nodded toward the door.

The Verdant gene never manifested itself before puberty. Nor did it always make itself evident after puberty. Some people, like her mother, could appear safe until one day, with no apparent trigger, they began to behave erratically.

Like Eliane.

And then, at the height of the storms, when the moons were so close to each other they appeared almost to touch, the Verdant gene drove them out into the storm, as if compelled by an ancient god to obey.

“Are you leaving, Eliane?”

Startled, Rachel turned around. A boy had been sitting ten feet away, ostensibly reading from the screen of a carrel. He stood up now and came over to them, tall and very blond where Eliane was dark like her. Eliane was tall, too, much taller than Rachel.

Every Verdant generation had been taller and leaner than the previous one. The children born today would grow to well past six feet, where the first colonists averaged five feet nine inches. It was a function of the lower gravity on Verdant, combined with the pull of Castor and Pollux. Not to mention the soil chemistry.

Rachel blinked at the boy, who smiled. “I’m Sam, a friend of Eliane’s.” He looked about eighteen, Eliane’s age.

“He’s in my biology class,” said Eliane, not taking her gaze off the window.

Sam stared at Eliane for a moment before turning to look at Rachel. On his face she could see the same concern she was feeling and she realized suddenly that he had stayed behind to make sure she was all right.

Rachel’s hand caught Eliane’s wrist, as if to tether her. She was trembling and her heart pounded in anxiety.

“Sam,” she said softly, “would you like to shelter with us?”

He glanced at Eliane then back at Rachel and nodded silently.


Rachel relaxed the moment the shelter door sealed behind them. She released Eliane’s hand and her daughter turned reproachful eyes on her. Next to her, Sam seemed to relax, too. He looked around at the brightly lit central room and nodded appreciatively.

“This is definitely better than the university shelter,” he said. He took a deep breath. Last night Rachel had baked in the shelter, and the odor of parmi cookies lingered. “And it smells better, too,” he added.

Eliane laughed harder than his witticism warranted and Rachel felt herself tensing again. It didn’t help that she could feel tendrils of longing threading through her. She had thought she was trembling in fear for her daughter, but now she wondered if the trembling was a manifestation of the Verdant gene reacting to the approaching perigee.

“My grandfather built it,” said Rachel. “He and Grandma lived in it while they finished the house above.” She pointed as she explained. “Three bedrooms and one restroom.” She pointed over her shoulder. “Kitchen.”


She hesitated, reluctant to remind Eliane that there were other ways out of the shelter, but her daughter was staring off into space, seemingly oblivious to them. Besides, the tunnel doors were controlled by security panels that would only allow access with a password. Rachel had never given Eliane the password. Not after the Verdant gene manifested itself. Just as her mother hadn’t given her the password when she was a child. She pointed again, to the south and the west. “There and there,” she said softly.

He waited and finally she nodded. She had asked him here to help. She couldn’t trap him inside should anything happen to her. She leaned over and whispered the password to him.

“Don’t tell her,” she added, nodding to Eliane.

She could see that he wanted to ask more questions, but a glance at Eliane stopped him. It surprised Rachel to find a young person seemingly free of the growing prejudice against the Verdant gene. But then, she had seen the way he looked at her daughter.

Perhaps it wasn’t surprising, after all.

“Have a seat,” she said with forced cheer, waving toward the triple-seat black nargil lounger in the middle of the room. “You’ll find controls for the vid screen in either arm of the lounger. Old-fashioned, I know, but it still works.” She was babbling, and by the look in his eyes, he knew it. “I’ll fix us something to eat.”

Sam nodded and put an arm around Eliane’s back, gently guiding her toward the lounger. As Rachel began to pull food out of the small pantry, the lights suddenly dimmed, then brightened.

Sam looked at her.

“The shutters have gone down over the house,” she explained. “We’re now on battery power.” The main power for the house itself was the solar cells on the roof, which were now covered by the shutters. Now they would have to depend on the stored power in the batteries. There should be enough for two weeks of use.

He nodded and returned to fiddling with the vid offerings, and it suddenly occurred to Rachel that he was young, despite his maturity.

“Sam, is there anyone we should be calling?” she asked. “To let them know you’re with us?”

He looked over his shoulder at her and grinned. A good-looking boy. Brave, too, to stay behind and look after Eliane.

“You’re right, Dr. Annalee. I should call home. My grandmother is expecting me but she won’t be upset. I often stay at the university shelter.”

“Still, she needs to know where you are,” said Rachel. She was a little upset. She had assumed he planned to shelter at the university. Now she was going to have to deal with an irate grandmother. She nodded to the vid screen. “You can access the grid from the control panel.”

He smiled and her stomach dropped as if she had just missed a step. It was a goofy smile, the kind of smile Eliane had been giving her lately. She glanced at her daughter but she was staring at Sam.

Maybe that’s all it was. Kids got goofy when they liked each other.

The logo for the communication grid popped up on the screen. A moment later, it was replaced by a torso covered in a white lab coat. Then the person sat down and the head and shoulders filled the screen. Rachel stared, mouth open.

“Hi Grandma,” said Sam cheerfully.

Aisha Bennatro blinked at her grandson. “Hello, sweetheart. Where are you? Why aren’t you here yet?”

Then Rachel made a small sound in the back of her throat, and Aisha’s gaze lifted to meet hers in surprise.


Rachel transferred the call to her private screen in the tiny bedroom. Now she sat at her desk and stared at the image of Aisha Bennatro staring back at her.

“Why is my grandson with you?” demanded the older woman. “He should be here with me.”

Rachel tried to control her irritation. “He was at the university, with Eliane,” she said. “I invited him to come home with us because I thought he was sheltering at the university.”

Aisha’s mouth thinned and for the first time, she looked her seventy-two years. “He should be home,” she repeated.

“Well, there’s nothing we can do about it now,” replied Rachel.

In truth, she was irritated at herself more than at Aisha. It wasn’t the older woman’s fault. Rachel had assumed that Sam wasn’t affected by the Verdant gene, but now she knew that wasn’t true. Instead of having an ally to help her keep an eye on Eliane, she had two kids with Cycle madness to deal with.

“I’ll look after him,” she promised her old friend.

“It won’t be bad,” said Aisha. Her face was lit from both sides, which highlighted the deep wrinkles in her cheeks. “I…” She paused and looked away.

“What is it, Aisha?” asked Rachel.

Aisha Bennatro turned to face the screen once again. “I gave him the C15,” she said.

At first, Rachel didn’t understand what Aisha had said. Then the meaning sank in.

“By all that’s holy, Aisha,” she whispered. “What were you thinking?”

Misery filled Aisha’s eyes. “I almost lost him two nights ago, during the last storm. He’s bigger than me, and stronger. Tonight is perigee. I knew I couldn’t stop him if he wanted to leave. I can’t lose him, Rachel. I lost my father and my husband to this damned gene. I had to do something!”


After disconnecting, Rachel sat for a long moment, staring at the blank screen. Not only did she have a child in the throes of Cycle madness, the young man she had hoped would be able to help had taken an experimental drug and might suffer effects for which she was unprepared.

Worse, her whole body tingled as if she were near an electrical field. Of its own volition, her hand reached for the control panel once more, bringing up a view from the camera outside the house. Night was falling and the rounded dome of the roof, which was all that extruded from the ground, was littered with branches and twigs. And yet, the trees in the nearby park stood firm, having adapted to Verdant’s cycle by developing flexible trunks and branches that could detach easily, rather than be ripped from the trunk. Even the bushes and plants would survive, battered and bruised, but alive. As the Cycle edged away from perigee, they would proliferate, replenishing themselves. In fact, they would need to be kept at bay by retaining walls and aggressive pruning.

Everything on Verdant had adapted to the moons’ bizarre cycle.

Rachel suspected that humans were, too. In some weird way, the humans on the planet were being absorbed into the thirty-year Cycle, their genetic makeup mutating in ways that could not be predicted by using thirty-year-old DNA from people who had died in Cycle madness at the last perigee.

Aisha was grasping at straws.


The thrumming in her blood kept her awake so that when she heard Eliane’s door open, she was immediately alert. Rachel had intentionally turned all the lights off but that hadn’t discouraged her daughter, who now appeared, fully dressed with a wrist beam illuminating her way. Eliane headed straight for the main door.

Rachel fumbled for the control panel on the couch, where she had been sitting, and the lights came up. Eliane didn’t even pause, but kept going straight for the door. Rachel watched as she yanked on the lever that kept the door closed. It didn’t budge. Eliane kept pushing and pulling, her efforts growing more frantic and more uncoordinated by the moment.

“Eliane,” said Rachel. She stood up and the blanket fell to the virid wood floor. “Eliane, no, sweetheart.”

It was as if Eliane couldn’t even hear her. She pulled and pushed against the door, her breath coming in gasps. Rachel reached for her daughter and gently pulled her away. Wisps of Eliane’s dark hair brushed against Rachel’s cheek.

“Come on,” she said, turning her toward the bedroom. Only then did she see Sam standing in the doorway of the third room. He had pulled on his pants, or maybe he’d slept in them, but his chest and feet were bare. His blond hair was tousled and his face was flushed as if with fever.

“Everything all right?” he asked. He had the thinness of all young things before they reach their maturity, but his shoulders were wide and his arms corded with lean muscle.

Rachel shrugged. “I don’t know,” she said. “She was trying to get out.”

He nodded. “It’s calling her.”

Something cold slid down Rachel’s scalp. “What is?”

His eyes glittered. “Verdant.”


Eliane tried three more times to escape into the night and with each try she grew more frantic and less capable of understanding her mother. After each struggle to get her back into bed, the girl would fall asleep exhausted until the next surge struck.

The last time, Sam had to help Rachel, even though his skin burned with fever when she touched him. She didn’t dare give him anything because she didn’t know how the medication would interact with the C15. In between making sure he drank, changing the cool cloth on his forehead and checking in on Eliane, Rachel was stumbling on her feet. She even considered tying Eliane down but knew at once that her daughter would harm herself trying to get free.

Rachel sat down on the lounger to take a little break and her eyes slid shut, just for a minute. Just long enough to try to still the singing in her blood, like a whisper in the night.

She slowly became aware of something howling in the distance and startled awake from a breath of cold air on her face. It carried the wild scent of Verdant’s storms: earth, torn vegetation, and the metallic tang of lightning.

Eliane was out.

Rachel scrambled for the control panel, cursing her decision not to update to a voice activated one, and finally hit the right control for the lights. She saw at once that the front door was still firmly closed and for a brief, nightmarish moment, she was twelve again and her mother had just left, locking her inside the shelter.

“Eliane!” she called but she knew her daughter was gone. Still, she ran to both their rooms, just in case. They weren’t there.

Then she was running for the south tunnel, following the howl of the wind. The sliding panel stood wide open and as she pushed into the tunnel, the automatic lighting came on. The floor was littered with twigs and leaves that had blown in when they opened the outside door. Only as she felt the cold air on her feet did Rachel realize that she was barefoot. Uncaring, she ran for the door. The wind grew stronger the closer she came, howling like a mad thing, or maybe she was the mad thing, and when she finally burst out of the tunnel, the wind and rain slammed into her, knocking the breath from her and shoving her to her knees.

“Eliane!” she screamed and the wind screamed back at her.

Drenched and cold, she stumbled to her feet, trying to see in the inky darkness. Somewhere above, behind the storm clouds, Castor and Pollux were at perigee. She felt it in the thrumming of her heart, the tingling in her fingers. This was what she had felt when she was twelve. This was why she had beaten her fists against the door until they were bloody—not because she wanted her mother, but because she wanted to be outside.

Now terror beat down the exhilaration as twigs flew past her, some whipping her bare arms and face, drawing blood. Her feet dragged against the pull of the earth, as if she were suddenly heavier.


The wind abated momentarily, and she stood still to listen.

There! A faint keening over by the stone wall that tried to keep the park at bay. But when she tried to run toward it, she found her feet trapped by grasses that had grown spontaneously over them.

Bending down, she ripped at the coarse fibers until they finally let go. She ran toward the wall, ignoring the battering her bare feet were taking on the stones and twigs littering the path. Then she tripped over a twisted root and sprawled face first on the ground.

As she lay there, winded, she could feel the stealthy creep of grass growing up over her legs and arms. She scrambled to her feet, her heart filling with horror.

Was this what had happened to her mother? Had she fallen and been trapped by grasses? Was her skeleton even now in the park beyond the wall, nothing more than an indistinct hump in the forest floor?

“Eliane!” she screamed, looking about wildly. “Where are you?”

Within the space of a minute, the drenching rain slowed to a spatter and the wind quieted. Rachel kept moving, afraid of standing still. Then the clouds parted, allowing the twin moons to shine down on the storm-tossed landscape. And in that light, Rachel found her daughter.

At first, she thought Eliane stood behind a tree stump, with only her face showing. Then Rachel blinked and saw. A whippet tree had grown around Eliane, consuming her. In the moonlight, Rachel could see the sleek bark of the young tree growing up around Eliane’s shoulders and upraised arms. Her face was raised to the sky, her beautiful long black hair moving in the breeze as if it had a life of its own, her eyes open and no longer seeing anything.

“No.” Rachel blinked, trying to make sense of what she was seeing, all the while moaning, “No, no, no.” She tugged her feet free and stumbled toward her daughter but even as she touched Eliane’s cold cheek, bark reached up to cover the flesh.

A scream of horror rose from Rachel’s chest but before she could release it, a muffled sound caught her attention and she turned toward it, only then noticing the hump of grasses next to the whippet tree. To Eliane.

It moved and she jumped back. Then she realized what it was and dropped to her knees, frantically tearing at the tough strands, ignoring the cuts to her hands and the insistent grasses tugging at her feet and legs.

“Sam!” she screamed. “Sam, help me!”

After a moment, the movements inside the hump grew more frantic and she desperately tore at the grasses until a hand suddenly emerged, reaching for the sky. Rachel swallowed a scream and grabbed the hand.

“I’ve got you, Sam! I’ve got you!”


Year Fifteen of the Third Perigee was the first time we had adapted enough to Verdant to become… palatable. Of the population of five hundred thousand people on the planet, we lost over eighty thousand, most of them young, but some of all ages. Nobody under the age of puberty was taken.

We still don’t know how perigee causes the madness. Something about the moons’ pull triggers a response in Verdant. Whatever the cause, the effect is deadly.

Aisha’s experimental drug worked well enough to keep Sam from succumbing completely to the call of the planet, although he will bear the scars on his body for the rest of his life, as I will on my feet and legs. Ten years after Aisha’s death, Sam and I continue the work she started, though we both know that we will forever be trying to catch up. Verdant is clever, and adaptable, and very patient.

In the hundred and twenty-one years since we first landed, our rate of attrition has grown higher every perigee. We must persevere, for in the eighteen years since we lost so many to the Cycle madness, every single child born on Verdant has had the Verdant gene.




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