My fingers gingerly stroke the emerald leaves of the precious orange sprig. Oranges, such vibrant little globes, watch me, playfully hiding behind Citrus sinensis leaves. I resist a chuckle. We almost lost them all. The trees with fruit like late day’s sun, struck down by a viroid. What something so small can do.
I spare a glance towards the door. At one point I would have found the gaze of a guard. Now, all I find is a plain metal door, gradually abandoned by its most favorite and frequent of colleagues, as they came to trust me. I was a level three, abet an almost four, when they came for me. From my grouping at the academy, they took me. They brought me to Nash, my mentor. A level three with a mentor. Simply unheard of. They don’t even begin to separate us out until level four, and preparation doesn’t begin until level five, let alone internships, which begin at level six.
Apparently, I was an excel and they were desperate. The greenhouses were suffering, and there were no appropriate suitors among the level fours, fives, and sixes. Apparently, my unwarranted study of plants and my in-depth knowledge of all categories relating to them made me the best candidate. I suppose there are worse positions than vegetation keeper, but still. It came as quite a shock to suddenly, without explanation, be whisked away from everyone I knew and most of what I was familiar with.
A little brunette boy pulled from his peers and placed among vegetation and those elder to him. An honor, surely, but that did not mean they respected me, no. They tolerated me, forced to watch as I stumbled through row after row of brilliant plants.
The color was a shock. Sure we had grass, but what else, the ever gray or white walls? The occasional splash of red? But there I was, standing among greens, reds, and oranges, brighter than I have ever seen before, so much more than the little characterchures. I was frozen with awe, unable to move, but once I started, like the elusive perpetual motion machine, I would not stop.
I ran up and down each aisle, making sure to touch every last bush, tree, vine, and shrub. No herb nor root evaded my touch. Nash laughed as I began calling out genus and species names. “Boy, you have more enthusiasm than a level ten offered leader,” he said. “Not that someone of their age has much energy left to give. The years seem to sap it out of everyone, lest it wasn’t there from the start”. One of the guards shot him a pointed look. “Oh, Osmund. You know it’s true”. Nash was a brilliant mentor. It’s a shame what ‘had to be’.
Nash taught me how to truly care for the plants. He shared knowledge of the best fertilizers, the optimum amount of water, and the most efficient ways to spot and deal with infections among our stock. “Now Norvell, just lift the leaves like so, then give them a good spritz. Your turn”.
We saved many of the plants, but several of the populations suffered serious damage. It was Nash who proposed that we seek aid from the farmers. “You wish to involve outsiders. What is so urgent science your yield survived?” the overseer questioned him. “I’m saying my yield was small, and all it will take is one more outbreak to lose even that. The farmers, they have many to spare and would be more than willing to trade. We give them a few cheap commodities and we ensure tomatoes survive”.
His request traveled along the chain of command, pondered by many, before it was eventually decided that he and his apprentice should be permitted to secure the trade. Nash informed me of our upcoming travels the night before. “Sleep well kid. We have a long way to go in the morning”.
We set out at the sixth hour of the morning. We took the pod rails to the city’s limits, Nash humming all the way. When the pod came to a stop we found ourselves on a lesser maintained road. On that road was a man. Beside that man there was a clunky mass of metal, colored red, regularly spattered my patches of rough orange.
“I have been assigned as your driver,” the man said. “If you would please come with me-”.
“No, no,” Nash says, cutting him off. “I will be driving”.
“But, vegetation keeper-” he starts again.
“I will be driving,” Nash repeats, extending his hand. “If you take issue with that, bring it up with your overseer”. The man nods, dropping a metal ring with little pieces of oddly shaped metal hanging off of it. Nash grins at me as the man enters the pod. “Are you ready for your first road trip?”
The metal contraption, I would later learn to be a car, bumped along the road. Never before had I ever experienced such irregular travel. It was almost enjoyable I noted, a slight smile finding its way to my face. “You like that, huh? Well wait until you see this,” Nash said, fiddling with a few nobs. A static sound came over the speakers, then a loud vocalization was bellowed abruptly, nearly causing me to jump. Nash fiddled with the nobs again, decreasing the volume. Suddenly, I was no longer grasping my ears, but instead taping my feet to a rhythm. “Welcome to the world of music, my boy”.
He taught me to sing that morning. It was off-key and far less melodious than the voices from the ‘radio,’ as he called it, yet what I felt during those hours spent in the car was far superior to anything from the academy. Eventually, though, it had to end. The car rumbles to a stop outside a strange red building with a half hexagonal roof. The smell, as we departed from the car, reminded me of fertilizer, the greenhouse, and the place where livestock lives.
A figure approached us from beside the red building. “Visitors, welcome”.
“Mr. Madigan, It’s a pleasure,” Nash said.
“Nash, is that you?” the man asks. They embrace. “It’s been so long”.
“Ah, you know how the premier is about external travel”. The two men share a laugh, the new man patting Nash on the back before he turns to me.
“Now who is this young gentleman?” Nash answers.
“This is my latest apprentice, Norvell. Norvell, this is Joseph Madigan”.
“You can call me Joe,” the large, tanned man said, extending a hand towards me. I accepted it, shaking as was customary. He gave me a firm squeeze, before releasing my hand. “My wife is inside,” he said, nodding towards another building. This one had a pointed roof like two cards leaning against each other and its exterior held a white hue.
“Wife?” I asked. He looked startled by that, turning to face Nash then me. He smiles.
“The beautiful young lady with the pie”. I couldn’t bring myself to ask what a pie was.
When I walked in that door I met three people who would change my world. The first was Judith Madigan, who caused me to pause and think on what constituted ‘young lady’. The latter two were Anson and Julian of Southsint. Like Nash they would show me what it was I lacked. Judith would show me a mother's love, Anson would show me freedom, and Julian companionship.
I roll an orange from its branch, stuffing it into one of the pockets of my dark green coveralls. I stroll out the door, precious fruit in pocket. I wave at a few passers-by as I meander down the hall towards the vegetation keepers' quarters. There are two rooms. One for the apprentice, one for the master. One day I will have to move into the master's room. Soon enough I will be forced to, but for now, I leave it as it lays.
I heard there is more space there, but what are a few extra steps to compare to respect? I am the master, I have the right to the room, but no matter what skills I acquire, Nash will always be the true master and that will always be Nash’s room.
I sigh as I enter the apprentice quarters, the door sealing behind me. I pull my prize from the pocket, placing the stolen commodity on my desk, before slipping out of my coveralls. I pull on yet another item of green clothing, a t-shirt, and a pair of white slacks.
On the counter sits a bowl of long since cooled soup. The soup is watery and obviously tinted with nutrient supplements, but in comparison to the tasteless gray slurry I used to eat, it is absolutely divine. I shake my head, grabbing the orange and the soup, then plopping down on my bed.
Countless hours go into these crops. We raise them, nurture them, help them reach maturity, only for the greedy grasp of the leaders to snatch them all away, gobbling down our lives' work. I peel back the epicarp.
There isn’t enough to share. A few dozen plants here and a few dozen there are not enough to feed an entire city. But there could be enough. The farmers would trade. We could train more farmers, but you would lose power now wouldn’t you premier? You can’t control the farmers. You don’t like them, you just tolerate them because you have to.
What else are you hiding? I pop an orange slice in my mouth, savoring the sweet and tart citrus flavor. What else are you depriving us of?
I ponder the questions with each bit of my meal until the lights dim.
At the first light, I find him, sitting by the city’s edge. “You made it,” the blond boy says.
At my current status, acquiring transportation is almost boringly easy. A trip from the greenhouse to the border is a cakewalk, unlike acquiring cake.
Julian flashes me a grin. “What, not happy to see me, green eyes?”.
“You said I was like another brother?” I say.
“Yeah, what of it?”
“Well, if ‘brotherhood’ is anything like what you described it to be then I ought to either smack you, make fun of you, or find some obscure reason to pretend to be mad at you for”.
He laughs. “Yeah man, and oh, you forgot doughnut theft...Ah, right,” he says, staring me up and down. “I’ll bring a doughnut for you to steal next time, okay? Get some practice in?”
“I don’t even know what a doughnut is? How will I even know what to steal”.
“I’ll tell you”.
“To steal your doughnut?”
“Yep”. I sigh.
“I’ll look forward to it, but did you bring it?”.
Nobody pays attention to another kid in white. Teachers don’t remember faces. Sorters watch only their assigned kids. Other adults pay them no mind until they join their ranks. Only a kid could notice. They would notice, that is, if you tried to insert yourself into a group. They know their grouping, but much like adults, they pay no mind to the others. That is why no one noticed the two extra boys as they weaved between groups, or even as they slipped away.
Nobody noticed until the first kid found the first code, another an unfamiliar book, and a third a strange box. But that was only children. The adults wouldn't know until many speak of programs foreign to the city, several speak poetic lines, and the halls of the academy are covered by multicolored doodles all childish in nature. No, they did not pay attention, and even as they cracked down on that one academy, they did not notice its spread to others until it had already teased the minds of many young, leaving them hungry for more.
Nobody could explain. The children wouldn’t speak. They could not see. A few speculated an attack, but by who? Certainly not the excel grower of vegetables? No, you are foolish for even suggesting that. The idea is preposterous.
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I like the use of higher language it made some sense, what with the job they're collectively doing, and what your mains position is. This was a good use of a prompt, and I didn't catch anything, as far as errors. Thanks for writing!