A single bead of sweat rolled down Zeke’s soiled forehead as he hammered a rivet into the side of the silo. He dropped his hammer into the dirt and ran his hand over the curved aluminum siding. Zeke let out a long exhale.
When he was in his twenties, Zeke loved to correct people over the classification of wheat. The setup was simple. Whenever Zeke was at a party and people got to making small talk about what they did, he mentioned that he designed grain elevators. Someone would pontificate, “Wheat is a type of grass,” to which Zeke would retort, “Actually, the wheat kernel is a variety of caryopsis, which is technically a fruit.”
As a younger man, pointless corrections in meaningless discussions gave Zeke a sense of pride and purpose. But now, in his fifties, these kinds of memories made him recoil in disgust.
“Stupid,” Zeke said to himself.
Zeke looked to the skyline. The rising sun painted reds, oranges, and yellows across the horizon and over the monstrous circles of wheat that surrounded him.
The door to the silo creaked as Zeke opened it. He shut the door, being careful to engage its magnetic seal, and climbed the spiral staircase to the top. Standing over five stories high, the silo was more like a lighthouse than a container for grain. Zeke stored the actual fruit of this technological boon far underground in neoprene pods the size of mecha-elephants.
Zeke sat in the captain’s chair of the command deck. The Syndicate designed the silo control centers to look like Jean-Luc Picard’s bridge. While this bridge was considerably smaller than the bridge of the Enterprise, the resemblance was unmistakeable. But this future was more about survival rather than exploration, living hand-to-mouth rather than in the stars, fending off distorted creatures from the other side of the Rift rather than communiques with Klingons and Romulans.
From his vantage point, he could see one entire quadrant of all five wheat rings. Each ring had a width of 350 feet and was surrounded by a perma-tar roadway of 50 feet in width. The roadways all connected to one central perma-tar covered 50-foot right-of-way that allowed ingress, egress, and regress to and from the Road. From the sky, the wheat zones probably looked like a dartboard with a single line running from the center to the top of the target. The way out also marked true north.
As the sun rose and the wind blew, the wheat rolled in AMBER WAVES. The command deck faced northwest, as to harvest away from the sun while turning counterclockwise.
Zeke engaged the harvesting rod, which rose along the right edge of the northwest quadrant and extended from the tower all the way to the outer circumference of the fifth ring. The rod was one foot in diameter and rolled at a snail’s pace over the wheat. As it rolled, the rod cut the wheat grass, filtered the wheat berries from the cutting, and turned the refuse back into the soil. The wheat berries flew inside the harvesting rod, like dust specs in a vacuum cleaner tube, to the silo where they were ground, processed, and stored in underground neoprene vats.
The rod rolled well for a half hour or so. Then, it stopped. Warning lights flashed and the command deck displayed a code across the main view: “949.” Zeke didn’t have to look up error 949. He knew it was the computer’s way of telling him something too big to fit in the rod’s pulverizer was preventing optimal performance. 949 also meant that, unless corrected, something non-organic would be filtered back into the soil, which could cause sub-optimal soil rotation.
Zeke dismounted the captain’s chair, descended down the silo, and ventured out to the field to inspect the rod. The sun was at 9 am in the sky. The heat had risen considerably. Walking the edge of the rod, Zeke looked for an old plastic bag, or some kind of PVC pipe, the usual 949 violation. Zeke remembered a line from a song that his father listened to when Zeke was young. “She walked along the edge of where the ocean meets the land like she’s walking on a wire in a circus,” Adam Duritz sang. Counting Crows was his father’s favorite band.
“More like a clodhopper than a tightrope walker,” he said. Zeke never saw the ocean before it boiled away.
“Son of a bitch,” Zeke said to himself. He saw a small plastic box just next to the harvest rod. Zeke picked it up—it was a five by five (or so) square inch thing that was only about a quarter inch thick. The box had some colored paper with writing on it pressed snuggly on both of the larger sides of the box. Zeke opened the box. Laying flat on the inside was a disc of about five inches in diameter. The ink had faded on the disc, but he recognized it. It was a CD, a compact disc. He turned the box over. The other side contained legible writing, Tori Amos: Scarlet’s Walk, 1 - AMBER WAVES, 2 - A Sorta Fairytale, 3 - Wednesday . . .
“Damn shame,” Zeke said.
Zeke threw the box to the ground and shined a red laser pointer on the box. It disintegrated. Zeke returned to the command center.
Once in the comfort of the air conditioned bridge, Zeke continued the harvest. The rod rolled counterclockwise for a while with the aim of stopping at the 11 o’clock position. This was a two week harvest—six days on, one off, six days off, last day gone. One twelfth of the grain could fit in a single neoprene vat.
The comms light flashed. Zeke sat upright in the captain’s chair and answered the call.
“Zeke, how are things?” the commandant said.
“Fine, about halfway through, at 11:30,” Zeke said.
“I saw a disruption in the harvest, a 949. What was it?”
“A piece of plastic. Rollin’ good now.”
“Any signs of predators?”
“No, the perimeter is secure, at least as far as I can tell.”
“Very well. Please proceed. I will comm tomorrow. Aaron, out.”
The display went dark. The harvest rod’s roll and slag had a lulling sound. Zeke was getting sleepy.
A ceramic mug appeared and hot dark liquid brewed into it. Unlike the Enterprise, where the most delectable coffee imaginable was just a command away, this was the equivalent of old school Folger’s drip coffee. Zeke pulled the mug close to his nose and sniffed the aroma of the fresh brew.
A blip appeared on the perimeter monitor. It flashed rapidly at the six o’clock position. Zeke sat in the captain’s chair and swung the display around so that six o’clock was front and center.
“Jabberwock,” Zeke said to himself.
A dragon-like wolf breached the fifth ring and was headed for the silo at top speed.
“Computer, lock on.” A green circle surrounded the red blip.
“Computer, fire.” A laser, much like the one Zeke used to get rid of the Tori Amos CD, vaporized the Jabberwock.
“Computer, perimeter shield.” A warbly heat signature surrounded the exterior of the fifth ring to a height of 12 feet.
Zeke rubbed the stubble on his chin with his forefinger and thumb. He noted the time. The harvest rod rolled slower with the perimeter shield engaged. The complex ran on solar power, but there was only so much juice in the sky.
Zeke returned to the captain’s chair and sipped his coffee. He remembered the smell of gourmet coffee, the kind you could get at a Starbucks before the Rift.
The harvest rod rolled well, albeit slower, for a while. Then, warning lights flashed a code “999” flashed.
“Computer, define error code 999,” Zeke said.
The heads up screen displayed: “Unidentified object obstructing harvest rod rotation.”
Zeke scratched his head, turned, and made his way out to the field. He scanned the rod as he walked over the freshly tilled soil. Before the Rift, he and his partner, Amber, had a tomato garden. They loved to turn the soil over in the spring and plant seeds for summer tomatoes. Freshly composted soil always reminded Zeke of her.
Nearly to the outer perimeter, Zeke hadn’t found any unidentified objects jamming up the harvest rod.
“Huh,” Zeke said.
He continued to walk closer to the outer edge of the fifth ring. The shield vibrated and hummed, displacing the air near its quasi-invisible protective barrier. Then, Zeke saw what was jamming the harvest rod. A wooden handled spade, much like the one Amber used to till their tomato garden, was jammed in the ground below the harvest rod’s roll.
Zeke walked to the spade and pulled it from the ground. As he pulled the tool from the path of the harvest rod, he saw a figure shimmering on the other side of the shield.
If this had been a dream, this was the point when AMBER WAVES to him from the other side of the Rift. But the shield wasn’t the Rift and, in his dreams, Zeke was never this tired, never exhausted down to his bones. In his dreams, he never walked into the Rift, but here the figure on the other side of the shield never looked more like Amber did. And so, Zeke dropped the spade and ran as fast as he could into his dead lover’s arms, except she was not Amber but rather the cub of the Jabberwock mother he had vaporized, and that cub was hungry, so hungry, hungry down to his bones.