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Part 12

Controls to the lighting arrangements of the gardens, read the notebook on luminosity at the top of page one hundred and forty four, in flowing handwriting, I have determined that the array of knobs marked 1152-1280 control the brightness of garden lights, as well as the light composition.  After several weeks of study, I have determined that altering the state of the lights has no noticeable affect on the remainder of the ship.  Additionally, I have inferred that different combinations of light settings affect plant growth, and seek in the future to determine the optimal settings by enlisting the help of a gardener, as I have little knowledge on the subject.  At present, however, all that can be determined is the settings that must be avoided else the plants should deteriorate, as listed below.

I smiled, reading the combination, knowing from the Guide to Gardening that certain types of light were better than others, and remembering a passage that stated that too high percentages ultraviolet could be detrimental to growth.  I never knew what “ultraviolet” was, so I tended to skip over that section in the past.  But there, drawn in Archim’s notes, there was a knob labeled “ultraviolet”, with a warning not to set it to high.

It took three days of checking before I was confident enough to approach the array of controls that related to the gardens.  Three days of pouring through the Luminosity notebook, searching for areas where Archim’s experiments may have gone awry.  Looking for inconsistencies among his wording, or anything that might dissuade me, or support the voice in my head that screamed at me to stop as I looked at the array.

Even when I did approach, my palms started to sweat, and I cast a nervous eye towards the last notebook on the desk, the one labelled “Water Control”. I found a section far away from the center of the garden, and my fingertips brushed against the knobs, feeling the cold in the metal sear my skin.  Hearing the knobs call out to me, demanding to be altered, to be changed for the first time in generations.

I shook, remembering Pliny’s story of the Great Thirst.  And I wondered what might occur if turning the knob resulted in the ship losing light, light that was crucial for the plants to grow.

What if I would be known by historians as the man to cause the Great Hunger?  But according to Archim’s journal, nothing of that sort would happen.

Closing my eyes, I turned the first knob, holding my breath as I waited, listening closely to silence.  I moved it barely a quarter of a rotation, it gliding with too little resistance, too eager to move.

But nothing happened when I finished- no screams echoed down the hall from the interior of the ship, no drastic change in light levels occurred.  Then I ran, sprinting through the twisting hallways to the gardens, and inspecting the lights above, where one had taken on a slight purple tinge, my heart racing as I waited for two hours to ensure no other changes had occurred.

So I returned to the control room.  To start my plan.

Identifying which knobs were above Skip’s student gardeners, I turned those knobs to high during each night before returning to medium each morning.  Then with my own sections, I raised each of the knobs slightly, returning back each time until I was satisfied with how they appeared overhead.

I never said a word as I watched Skip screaming at his students, demanding to know what they were doing wrong, even accusing them of being worse students than me.  But as the weeks passed, Skip’s plants shriveled, often dying before they could yield crops, all while my student’s vegetation took root and grew faster than even the most experienced of gardeners, something unheard of in a beginner’s class.

Soon the slumped shoulders that had arrived with my students were replaced by straight, proud backs.  Their hands worked quickly, their minds absorbing the information I gave them, until all that was left for them to succeed was practicing.  

And when that happened, I started teaching them something other than gardening. I told them stories, emulating the education I had received from an unknowing Pliny many years before.

“Matthew,”  I said, addressing the student that had spoken to me on the first day, “Why must we always grow more food than we eat?”

“We must store it!”  He piped up, as he watered his row of plants, “In case we have a bad year of crops.  To be prepared.”

“Correct,” I said, and turned to address another student.

“Mary, what happens if we do not have stores?”

“We cannot feed the ship,”  The tiny girl answered, wiping sweat from her brow, “And if we cannot feed the ship, it will be disaster.”

“John, what happened one of the last times we ran out of a resource?”

“The great thirst!”  Said my third student, his arms spread wide, “And a lot of people died.  Two thirds.”

“Yes, well done, well done.  You all are learning so quickly- the best gardeners, and the most educated.  You should be proud.  Ruth,”  I said, and addressed the last student, the quietest of the bunch but who absorbed information faster than the rest, “What is S-H-I-P?”

“Ship,”  She said, her voice barely above a whisper, and I smiled.

“Yes.”  I responded, looking over my garden, a garden of mind and earth, while Skip shouted behind me.  Over the course of the weeks, I noticed his students had steadily migrated their gardening activities towards my side of the fields, their heads cocked when I told my class stories, their eyes squinting when I demonstrated techniques.

Until one morning, when my group gathered for class, a fifth face joined us.

“Mark,”  Said the voice, as a tiny had extended outwards.

“Good to meet you, Mark,”  I said, shaking it, “How can I help you?”

“I want to be in your class,”  He answered, “I want you to teach me.”

“Of course,”  I said, while Skip turned his eyes away from where he scowled on the far side of the garden.  And a fifth student learned to garden.

Then the next week, a sixth.  Then a seventh after the following.  And by the end of the class, the entirity of Skip’s program were clustered around me before returning to their fields, ignoring Skip’s shouts as they found results in their new methods.  I helped them, of course, fixing the light levels on every student that came to me for advice, such that their plants grew tall.

The next year, Skip gave no objection as I taught his entire class, instead choosing to recede to a corner of the garden and focus on his crops, banding together with the more experienced gardeners who held their noses high as they practiced the old methods. As we had agreed, Skip was enjoying a quarter of my rations, enough of a bribe to force him to turn a blind eye after his class deserted him.  What Skip did not know was I had struck a deal with the doctors and chefs of the council after a particularly frustrating argument with Segni, agreeing to supply them with their most dire herbs in secret from the garden despite Segni’s wishes, and that I would receive a quarter rations from the kitchen in return for my efforts.

I caught the occasional glimpse of experienced gardeners watching as my student’s plants grew faster and stronger than their own.  I never spoke a word to them about the superiority of my methods, instead waiting until forty of my students were fully trained, forty students that I was confident could outgrow the rest of the workers.  

I knew forty to be the perfect number for my plans, that after convincing Segni to save a humble store of crops they would produce just enough food to keep the ship alive without starvation.  That forty could just barely put us through a fasting period.

And as soon as I was convinced that the ship could survive, I returned to the control room, reviewing the prior two years in my mind.  In the past, the only way I had convinced students to join my class was through their personal failure, when they came to me for help. As a historian, I knew the future would be no different.
So I set the lights to ultraviolet for every gardener that did not follow my system.

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Part 13

Next part coming soon. If you’re looking for something to read in the meantime, read the first few chapters of my novel here.