Miss Yamaguchi's Perpetual Beansprout

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The Yamaguchi Foodstuffs Conglomerate emphatically denies causing tumours in vegetables. They did not "give a beansprout cancer". That would be irresponsible and against their 250 year commitment to responsible bio-agriculture development.

Every culture has their own version of Grimm's "Der süße Brei". A cautionary tale of a magic porridge dispenser which, thanks to one woman's forgetfulness, engulfs the entire village with an endless supply of food. The Dutch warn their children about the dangers posed by the rijstebrijberg - rice-pudding mountain. Strega Nona's pot drowns a town in pasta. Asbjørnsen and Moe recorded the legend of an avalanche of herring in Norway. Babad Tanah Jawi regaled Indonesians with Jaka Tarub's travails with a magic rice cooker. Every child of West Africa knows how Thunder gave Anansi a cooking pot which would never empty - and how it caused tragedy. It's a common concern.

But none of those stories come close to the madness of Tina's blasphemous miracle.

People need to eat and, traditionally, have grown food in soil. That's a labour-intensive process with uncertain results and a requirement for fertile land, clean water, and constant sunlight. None of these things are available on a space craft thrusting its way between planets. So the Mars Unlimited Space Kompany, in a rare show of symbiosis, launched a public competition to find a way to feed hungry astronauts on the way to Mars.

Tina was a student at the time. She was studying agricultural science and business administration with a view to taking over her family's moribund fruit and vegetable company. On hearing about the competition she immediately broke into the science lab to steal some samples.

In later retellings of the story - while dressed in her trademark black turtle-neck - Tina variously claimed to have "accidentally" acquired the samples from a roommate or to have slept with a professor in order to obtain them. The University remained silent on the true cause of her expulsion - but they are pleased to offer the Yamaguchi memorial scholarship to dozens of bright students each year. Tina earned enough honorary doctorates in her lifetime to offset never finishing her undergraduate studies.

Back to the beansprouts.

Tina's genius was in realising that a simple organism could be selectively bred in such a way that it was susceptible to diseases usually only found in complex organisms. There's very little point giving a potato sickle-cell anæmia, and rice wasn't hardy enough to withstand acromegaly. But beansprouts... Well, beansprouts happened to be just right.

From the consumer's point of view, it was simple. Place the Perpetual Beansprouts™ in a specially designed box with a dozen holes on the side. Once plugged in to a USB port, the box illuminated the sprouts with specially crafted LEDs pumping out precise wavelengths of light. Pour a little water into the container and watch the magic happen.

On a good day, the beansprouts would produce a couple of metres. Each. Chop off the ends. Wait another day, harvest them again. Forever.

Boil 'em, stir fry 'em, stick 'em in a stew. While not nutritionally complete, the humble sprout could be tricked into producing a range of vitamins. And that was good enough. Every colonist on Mars had a 'Guchi. No one cared what was in them - it was an infinite supply of vegetable matter. No one wanted to peek behind the curtain.

What was the magic ingredient? What did Tina exfiltrate from the lab?

The Yamaguchi Foodstuffs Conglomerate's dominance of the worlds' food supplies is now unassailable. Tina's name will live forever - just like her sprouts. The patents have long since expired and, besides, no one is going to stop eating just because they know the truth. Every child knows the story of Tina's struggles and triumphs. Every kitchen is a little shrine to her genius. Her reputation is immortal - and no revelation can rewrite history. We can scream the truth in the streets, and no one will care as long as their bellies are full.

Buried deep in the Yamaguchi archives is the original petri dish which revived the company and kept both worlds from starvation. The label is grimy and faded. But the four letters on it match the genetic analysis taken from the earliest samples. Our empire is built on the back of a monstrosity. The world is not a fairy-tale strangled with unstoppable plant-matter, but our souls are forever tainted; smothered by someone else's sin. Everyone needs to know.

Perpetual Beansprout is HeLa!

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