“Systems rebooting, ship damage assessed. Reuniting the two halves of the ship and restoring airlock, approximately twenty four hours until complete.”

The voice repeated three times, gasps echoing around the fields with each start, faces tilted upward and searching for the source.  And though I knew the source from my studies, it was no less disconcerting.

***

Three years had passed since Pliny’s death, three years that I spent on the council, watching Segni’s stomach expand while others contracted.  I had fought to remain on that council, biting down my pride and common sense to satiate him, learning to choose which arguments were crucial to the ship’s survival and which were simply principle.  

Part of me grew bitter during those years, part of me that grew just as lost as the ship.  For when Pliny was alive, we shared a common knowledge, a common understanding of how to preserve the ship. An appreciation of the stories, a regard of the wisdom they held.  With Pliny, we were a team of silent guardians, protecting that which we knew to be true and right.

But without Pliny, there was no one to share the burden.  And I alone stood between the ship and destruction.

But as gardener, nobody knew.

“I have opened the position of historian,”  Said Segni, two weeks after the death of Pliny, “And I have filled it, with my younger brother, Vacki.  Like myself, he was trained by Pliny in the esteemed school of Empri. And like myself, he is most suitable for the task.”

Scowls circled the council, but no one spoke, all eyeing the two figures on the left and right of Segni, long knives from the kitchen tucked into their belts.  Nean was one of them, staring at each of us in turn and daring us to object, his fingers twitching about the handle of the knife.  Tom the porter was the other, his size alone performing the necessary intimidation, his gaze off in the distance unless prompted by Segni.

“I have created their positions for my personal safety,”  Segni had said when he introduced them, “For without a chief, the ship would have no leader, and would surely fall into chaos.  I do this for the good of the ship.”

So Vacki joined the council, on the days he decided to attend, often choosing instead to study in his room.  Considering he took no books with him, and rubbed his eyes whenever he returned, I suspected that the true purpose of his absence had little to do with learning his letters.  And though my jaw clenched when he shirked his duties, I was thankful that Vacki did not attend nor have the ambition to push an agenda, else the situation on the council would have been even worse.

But from what I had failed to accumulate in those two years in terms of political power, I had gained in knowledge and control of the gardens.

“Skip,”  I had said shortly after Pliny’s death, “You lost the bet I set and I have proved that my methods are successful.  By next week I want four apprentices, four new gardeners to teach how to attain higher yields.”

“Ridiculous!”  Spat Skip, “I won’t have you tampering with the rest of the gardens, Horatius.  I simply will not have it.  I can bear that you do not follow directions, but it would be disaster if others did too.”

“Four, Skip!” I said, raising four fingers, “Four out of your class.  I’ll take them off your hands, and they will not be your responsibility.  I’ll take them by force if I have to.”

Absolutely not.”  He responded, “That’s final, Horatius.”

“How about we make a bet, then, and if mine produce more-”

“No more of your bets!”  Said Skip, and muttered to himself, “Nonsense, chaos and nonsense, I won’t have it.”

“Then a quarter of my rations.”  I answered, “A quarter until I have finished teaching them.  You look hungry, Skip- what’s wrong, I thought this was the Year of Feasts?

Skip grimaced, and turned towards me, pausing.

“Fine.”  He answered, “Fine.  But they shall not be my responsibility in the future, Horatius, if you mislead them.”

“Of course,”  I answered, “Of course, Skip. I will ensure that their actions are in no way attributed to your reputation.”

Skip was lucky that day, that he accepted a quarter of my rations.  He would need them.

When the new gardeners arrived, he selected the four smallest, those that could barely lift a shovel, and he pushed them in my direction.

“I sincerely apologize,”  He said to them, as their faces fell, “For assigning you to Horatius.  He was last of his year when he went through my program and still cannot plant properly.  However, I cannot handle all of you myself, and must call upon his aid.”

“But, but-”  One said, as relief flooded across the students that remained in the larger group, and Skip interrupted, “I’m sorry, but it cannot be helped.  It’s for the good of the ship.  What’s done is done.”

Then Skip assigned us to a plot of fields that had traditionally had lower yields, an area I had noted had dimmer lights above it that the rest of the gardens.  And he returned to the rest of his class, leaving four dismayed ten year olds behind.

“As Skip mentioned,”  I said, my voice loud enough to carry across the garden to his group and cause his face to turn red, “What is done is done.  It is most unfortunate that some of you were selected to be part of the lesser group.  But that group is not ours.  Listen to me now, and listen closely.  The four of you are the smallest, but your plants will grow taller than anyone else’s.  And they will bear more food than the rest of the class combined.”

The four students grimaced, and one spoke, his voice low and his foot kicking the dirt.

“It’s ok, Mr. Horatius,”  He said, “You don’t have to pretend.  You don’t have to make up stories about what will happen.”

“What’s your name?”  I asked.

“Matthew,”  He muttered.

“You’re right, Matthew.”  I said, leaning over, and looking him in the eye, “I don’t make up stories, I tell them.  It’s time to make a story worth telling.”

So we began, and I taught them how to dig quick holes, and gave them the tricks I had learned from the Guide to Gardening.  

But that wasn’t all I did.

At night, I walked to the room Pliny had showed me, and I studied the books laid out on the table.  Most of them were manuals, thick volumes filled with instructions and procedures about processes and objects that I could not understand, about things called engines and oxygen regulators and generators. But the rest were journals, journals that were marked off by year, fifteen in all, all signed at the bottom with the same name.

Archim.

Each were titled by their subject, with names ranging from “Temperature Modification” to “Gravity Enhancement”, the last of which only half filled out and named “Water Controls”.

Each of the books had Archim’s handwriting in them,showing his every step in touching the ship’s controls and the resulting observations.  And after a week of reading, I found what I was looking for, in a journal titled “Lumenosity from his seventh year of experimentation.

 

***

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