Back to the Garden
by C.E. Gee
part 1 of 2
“Time to get up, honey.”
Evelyn stretched, yawned, wiped her eyes. Her mother, who had opened the hatch to Evelyn’s sleeping compartment, leaned in, planted a sloppy kiss to Evelyn’s forehead.
Without a word, Evelyn sat up, swung around so her legs hung down into the family’s living quarters, then leapt to the deck. The hatch closed automatically.
Martian mornings were extra cold. Though modular reactors provided the settlement of Bradbury with plenty of power, Evelyn’s parents were frugal, kept the heat low while sleeping.
The deck was bare and Evelyn’s feet were bare; indeed, she was completely bare. Shivering, hugging herself with arms folded over her breasts to keep them from swaying, she trotted on tiptoes over to the head. She opened the hatch, then entered.
It was warm in the head. Evelyn’s father was at the sink, brushing his teeth. As usual in the mornings, Evelyn’s father had tuned the head’s squawk box to the light classical channel. Evelyn perched herself atop the toilet. Mars society wasn’t wealthy enough to afford much privacy.
Evelyn’s father spat, then over the music said, “After you turned in last night, the daily work orders came in. You’re scheduled for Hothouse Three.”
“Great,” muttered Evelyn sarcastically.
Louder, she added, “The strawberry crop’s ready. And the stupid bots aren’t smart enough or delicate enough to pick strawberries, so we Martians hafta do it.”
The young people of Mars, from toddlers to late teens, all of whom had been born on Mars, referred to themselves as Martians.
Evelyn shook her head in disgust. “And since that big blowout that happened before I was even born, we Martians gotta work in our pressure suits. You ever pick strawberries in a pressure suit?”
“Can’t say I ever did, sweetheart,” replied Evelyn’s father blithely. “But you shouldn’t complain. The gardens are the nicest place on Mars. They’re like parks back on Earth — let you commune with nature or whatever.”
Her voice again tinged with sarcasm, Evelyn replied, “Yeah — right.”
Evelyn’s father continued, “I wish you’d stop calling yourself Martian. You’re Solarian, just like we are — me and your mother. We’re all Solarians, even the folks colonizing Titan or the people at that research station orbiting Neptune. You should be proud of your heritage. A lot of people died so you could be a Solarian.
“Yeah — right.”
Before breakfast, Evelyn climbed back into her sleeping compartment, which was delightfully warm. Evelyn ignored the desire to snuggle back down under her blanket. With quick, efficient, practiced motions, she donned her jumpsuit and checked its power level.
At breakfast, Evelyn picked at her cereal.
She laid her spork on the table, leaned back, announced to her parents, “I’m getting sick of all this barley. We got barley cereal, barley bread, barley soup, barley tea. And the soy milk and almond milk is rationed so much, there’s never enough to put on my cereal.”
“Now, honey,” replied Evelyn’s mother, “you know barley’s good for you. And the staff over at Hydroponics and Gardening like barley’s hardiness. It grows well here.”
“And it makes beer,” added Evelyn’s father. “Bradbury exports beer to all the research stations.”
Prattling on with his typical excessive detail, and as Evelyn rolled her eyes, Evelyn’s father continued, “The Russians, the Chinese, the Indians and the British Commonwealth, the Japanese, the European Union — beer very much helps with our trade balance.”
“You’re a peein’,” snorted Evelyn, picking up her spork. “What a silly name.” Evelyn giggled while stirring blueberry jam into her hot cereal.
Now honey,” said Evelyn’s mother, “you shouldn’t denigrate other people because of their origins. You’re not a kid anymore. You’re a young lady and should behave as one.”
Evelyn said nothing in reply. She ate her cereal, drank her tea, stared at the bulkhead.
* * *
Clad in their pressure suits, Bradbury’s young people reported to Hothouse Three, which absorbed much of the excess heat from a nearby reactor. They assembled in an orderly formation to receive their morning briefing.
Within the hothouse, Bradbury’s children, from level 12 students all the way down to level one, were authorized to slide back their visors; they’d been trained to react quickly to any blow-out.
Lilly, an older girl, called out the assignments. Most of the kids were sent off to pick strawberries, which were accessed by passing through one of the many hatches that led to compartments containing either gardens or hydroponic troughs.
Lilly then began assigning the few remaining kids to other duties. Evelyn realized what was happening.
And when Lilly announced Evelyn and Aubry were to repair or replace faulty emitters in the drip irrigation system for the corn crop, Evelyn grimaced, sighed. No doubt, Aubry had arranged the work assignment.
Evelyn had often seen Lilly and Aubry talking together in low tones, as if conspiring. Lilly was near the end of level 12 studies; Aubry was level 11; Evelyn was level nine.
Though Aubry was a bit older, he’d paid much attention to Evelyn, which made Evelyn uncomfortable. And Evelyn suspected the gardening assignments they’d shared were arranged.
After Aubry and Evelyn paired up and started off for the corn, Aubry announced, “I’m glad we’re working alone together. When we get to the garden, I’ve got something I’m going to give you. It’s something you’re going to like.”
Evelyn stopped, widened her stance, put her fists to her hips. “Listen you, I’m not falling for that again! In fact, you try anything funny again, I’m telling my folks. An’ then I’ll tell your folks. Then I’ll go over to the security pod and tell Judy. She’ll slap you into detention!”
Aubry turned, raised both hands as if to shield himself. “Jeez!” Aubry exclaimed. “Calm down. I’m sorry I came on to you before. I didn’t know you then. Besides, I really do have something I want to give you.”
“What is it?” asked Evelyn.
“I’ll give it to you after we get to the garden. The cameras can’t see us if we get down under the corn.”
Evelyn started off for the garden. Aubry fell in beside her.
* * *
One of the faulty emitters was near the center of the corn crop. On their stomachs, Evelyn and Aubry removed the emitter. Telemetry would show the removal. To the dispatch center, all would seem normal.
Evelyn enjoyed the scent of the dirt, the warmth of the hothouse. And as much as she might deny it, strangely, she enjoyed being next to Aubry, prone in the dirt, surrounded by the corn. Huge ventilation fans circulated the air, which made corn stalks rustle. Bees, from hives long ago imported from Earth, buzzed nearby.
Warily, Evelyn said, “Okay, let’s see it.”
Aubry dug into his pressure suit’s thigh pocket, pulled out a ring, which he handed over to Evelyn.
“Whoa!” exclaimed Evelyn. “Where’d you get this? It’s weird.”
The ring had a dark patina, which made it appear very old. And it was finely engraved with a complex pattern of lattice-work which was intertwined with branches of vegetation.
The ring had a gemstone inset. The stone was clear crystalline but with a very slight milkiness. The gem was oval and smoothly polished and had no facets. Tiny golden specks sparkled from deep within.
“I found it,” replied Aubry.
Clumsily, because of her pressure suit gloves, Evelyn slowly turned the ring over and over to inspect it as Aubry continued, “Remember the field trip us Martians got where we went out to the site where that old Chinese probe found those fossils?”
Aubry, then said, “Well, remember that strange rock formation?“
“I was standing right there, right up against a huge, half-buried rock, listening to the lecture. I kinda shuffled my feet a little, moved some dirt, and there it was. I was in back of the group, so I was able to pick it up without anybody noticing, and I figured the crowd hid me from the shuttle’s cameras.”
Evelyn exclaimed, “Aubry! You shoulda turned it in!”
“I don’t think so,” blandly replied Aubry. “That’s not our destiny.”
“Listen,” Evelyn demanded. “I’m no dummy. I know what destiny means. And we don’t have one!”
Aubry turned his head so that Evelyn could read his expression. He smiled.
“Yes, we do,” he replied. “You just don’t know it yet.”
Evelyn handed the ring back to Aubry. He refused to take it.
“It’s yours,” said Aubry. “I want you to have it.”
Evelyn said nothing.
After a long pause, she placed the ring in her own thigh pocket, finally said, “This doesn’t mean anything — got it? I just wanna make sure you don’t do something stupid with an important artifact.”
Around a smug smile, Aubry said, “Actually, it does mean something. I can feel it means something. And I feel that you will sooner or later realize that it means something, too.”
Aubry reached over and placed his hand on Evelyn’s shoulder.
“Don’t touch me!” exclaimed Evelyn. She slapped away the hand.
* * *
At the end of the day, Evelyn returned to her family’s living quarters.
Though the passageway was pressurized, regulations required living quarters have their airlocks enabled.
Evelyn cycled through the airlock. Her mother was already home from the lab.
“How was gardening today?” asked Evelyn’s mother.
Evelyn slid back her visor, ominously answered, “We need to talk.”
Evelyn changed into her jumpsuit, unfolded the table from the bulkhead, sat on one bench while her mother nuked two cups of tea and a thick, soft, barley and oat cookie.
After serving the tea and cookie, Evelyn’s mother sat on the opposite bench, asked, “What’s up.”
Evelyn looked into her mother’s eyes. The concern was obvious.
Evelyn sipped at her tea for a moment, then asked, “Mom, what exactly does it mean when a guy gives you a really nice ring?”
Evelyn’s mother’s mouth fell open. The mouth then snapped shut. “What guy?”
Evelyn took another sip. She made an effort to not show her amusement, stifled a laugh at her mother’s reaction.
“That Adams boy?”
The expression on the face of Evelyn’s mother went from soft to hard and sharp-eyed to soft again.
“Honey, you need to be careful here. Aubry’s mother is Bradbury’s commander. And back on Earth, his granpa is on the Joint Chiefs. He’s an admiral in the Solarian Guard, you know.”
“But, what does the ring mean, Mom?”
Evelyn’s mother took in a deep breath. “Like I said, you need to be careful. I think you’re just a little bit too young yet for this sort of thing.”
Evelyn tore a chunk off the cookie, dipped it in her tea.
“Has he ever tried anything with you?” asked her mother.
Evelyn lied, “No.” This time, she couldn’t suppress a sly little smirk. “Not yet.”
“Honey, you need to be careful with boys. Despite gender equality and all that, they’re not like us.”
“I know that, mom. Please, don’t say anything about this to Daddy. You know how he gets.”
“Mom, when did you know you loved Dad?”
Copyright © 2014 by C.E. Gee