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Science Fiction Speculative Fiction

My species claims humans are futile. Farming is often cited as an example. Humans toil all their lives using tractors, threshers, and other primitive tools to cultivate fruit and vegetables for food and flowers for dyes. All of which can be produced in a nanosecond with our technology. 

It started as a formal conversation among our government. We discussed where to build a new interplanetary fuel station, and one member of my crew jokingly suggested Earth. We laughed, then the topic shifted from Earth’s fuel sources (even their best nuclear energy is amusingly inefficient) to mining, farming, then back to human futility, as it always did.

But whenever the footage in our database paused on human farmers, they had smiles on their faces. This was happiness. I knew happiness. Happiness meant camaraderie with my crew. Happiness meant enjoying my favorite mercury-flavored refreshment after a long shift. Happiness meant progress.

Farmers lived solitary lives. Some of them had families and pets, but otherwise belonged in scattered communities. They lived frugally, even when growing an abundance of crops. Some days, they grew nothing; either their crops failed, the soil was infertile, or were inconvenienced by bad weather, and they had to start again.

I could not, for all my hundreds of tenyears of life, locate their source of happiness. What was happiness to humans, if not companionship, comfort or progress?

Unanswered questions were poison for my species. Unanswered questions meant millions of variables. Unanswered questions meant uncertainty and entropy, and therefore disaster.

One night, as this unanswered question stalked me deep into my sleep cycles, I decided I would find this source of happiness myself. My next experiment would be to grow a farm in fifty-tendays, or five months in Earth’s time.

This is Azulynen’s Log - Day Zero.

Azulynen’s Log - Day One

I chose fertile farmland in Echo, a census designated area in Utah, America. I wouldn’t risk disturbing any humans as the population was seventy nine and the nearest signs of life were within a seventy three mile radius. I did not disclose the experiment to my crew, except that I would be taking a sabbatical from work. Then I landed on Earth after properly cloaking my spacecraft.

As luck, another word for entropy, had it, I settled on an abandoned farm. The only traces of its occupation were a portrait of a square-nosed human in the barn, and all manners of preserved tools such as pitchforks, shovels, bear traps, a tractor, a plow, and a harvester. Some required repairs. After scanning the heavy machinery, I cleared it of all its rust and mechanical faults. 

If this was to be a fair experiment on a planet that hadn’t yet achieved post-scarcity, I would make as little interventions as possible with my technology. Save for my scanner that acted as a knowledge database, I turned off the replicators and generators in my ship, and placed a timer for the system to reboot in five Earth days.

This left me without food. I had tools, but no seeds to grow, and no water source to grow it with. It took my body fifty Earth days to starve, and only ten to die of thirst. Delirium settled in five days. This part of the experiment was necessary to spur me into action.

The water I drank from a lake a mile’s walk away quenched my thirst. There is no Earth equivalent for what we drink back home, but after a quick scan, dihydrogen monoxide turned out to have similar enough properties. After another scan, I identified the opuntia cacti in the area as an edible food source, mostly used in Mexican cuisine.

To avoid touching the cactus with my bare phalanges, I gathered tools from the barn, as well as tarpaulin, to cut it down and carry it. The dry heat made me perspire like no planet had before, and I ached from the push and pull, which grew as I gathered and chopped wood to light a fire, and persisted as I chopped the cactus pads and fruit to grill on the leftover barbecue.

The taste was sweet but the texture was rough and chewy. I didn’t know if I liked it yet, but I didn’t stop eating.

After I finished, I collapsed onto a bed of hay, stinging from exertion. I wasn’t any closer to finding out how humans derived pleasure from farming.

Azulynen’s Log - Days Two to Five

The next four Earth days persisted in the same manner. I decanted the water from the lake into leftover non-biodegradable plastic bottles for later drinking, and harvested more cacti. My basic needs were met, yet, for the first time in nine tenyears, I found myself understimulated. 

At work, I had logs to file, meetings to hold, mail to transport, sheets to compile, and at home, I had fellow members of species to communicate with, hypersites to peruse, and entertainment from human and alien databases to experience at my leisure.

In Echo, only the gulls occasionally stopped to perch on the barn roof and stare. I had locked myself out from my communicative devices, and would not confess I was violating the non-disclosure code to stay on Earth based on a whim. I was completely isolated.

Locked from my necessities, and growing tired of cacti and water, I explored the area further on foot on a fruitless search. The only way I could grow crops was to either ask the nearest human for seeds and fuel, or break the rules of my experiment and replicate the resources needed.

I ruled out interactions with humans as a desirable outcome considering the superstitious nature of Echo’s population, many of which were firm proponents of the Second Amendment. Therefore, I altered the parameters of my experiment once the system rebooted.

I allowed myself to replicate seeds and fuel with no restrictions, but not the food produced as a result of those two resources. In literal and metaphorical terms, I replicated the wheat, tomato and potato seeds to eventually create a sandwich with fries, a universal human delicacy, but couldn’t replicate the sandwich and fries dish itself.

After many false starts and database consultations, I powered the tractor and drove along the untilled soil with the plow attached to the rear. It took the whole day to execute. It took another day to plant the seeds manually.

I didn’t feel happiness as Echo’s dust spread itself into my folds, and the mud stained my surfaces, yet I felt something as I dug my phalanges deep into the soil. It felt physical, tangible, alive somehow. Perhaps humans derived sensorial pleasure from farming. But it wasn’t enough to sustain an entire lifestyle.

Azulynen’s Log - Days Six to Fifteen

It took ten Earth days for vegetation to grow, and only the tops of the leaves popped out from the soil. The work never ended. There were always more seeds to care for, always cacti to gather and cook. As mini-experiments, I made cacti jerky to snack on and kept the fruit to eat as desserts. I still had not found happiness, as work was never a substitute for happiness, whether that was on Earth or on my home planet.

Azulynen’s Log - Days Sixteen to Twenty One

More days passed. I sometimes stared at the crops, understimulated, craving any form of contact, and it came, but not in the way I had expected or hoped. An overall-wearing human drove outside the farm, and before he noticed my true form, I changed my appearance, using the portrait as reference. I struggled to wave a hand up casually as the human approached.

He called me ‘Matt’ as he pulled out a cigarette. I tried to flash my friendliest smile, but it felt like I was wearing a mask made of human skin.

Overalls blinked, rubbing his eyes with his free hand, and told me I wasn’t supposed to be alive. I froze, unsure of what to do, and not wanting to budge in case my disguise fell apart. Without another word, Overalls drove off. The encounter vexed me for the remainder of the day. I kept on guard from that point onward.

Azulynen’s Log - Days Twenty Two to Twenty Seven

Over the next few days, I trained myself to maintain a human disguise, which I donned whenever I farmed. I knew I’d perfected my human form when not even the gulls stopped to stare at me.

I awoke to a field of ruined crops a day later. A scan revealed a fox’s paw prints in the dirt. I had not seen them before, but farmers considered foxes vermin, and laid traps as deterrents. I re-tilled the soil, replanted my seeds, then set a bear trap in the area that the fox had dug holes in.

A snapping noise disturbed my sleep cycle. I investigated the farm in my human form and found an emaciated fox caught in the trap, leg crushed and bleeding, screaming like a dying hatchling. It sounded awful. My organs churned with guilt. I had harmed a lesser being who ate my plants for their survival.

I rectified this immediately. I freed the fox. I regenerated the limb it had lost from the trap. When it did not leave, too hungry and shocked to walk, I broke the experiment’s rules for a second time to feed it a plate of cooked rabbit. I watched it sample the plate, regaining its strength with each bite. It stood, and I assumed it would flee. But it approached me and stared with its green-gold eyes, still hungry.

I fed it another plate and watched it leave at last, but it returned the next morning, bearing that same hungry look. It recognised me as a food source. I had an infinite amount of food to provide. As long as my crops remained untouched, I obliged, as it did too.

Azulynen’s Log - Days Twenty Eight to Thirty Seven

Another ten Earth days passed until the crops grew back to the same height as before. Even more days passed afterwards, and I would water the crops and watch them grow, feed the fox and watch it leave, water the crops and watch them grow, feed the fox and watch it leave, repeat and repeat.

Azulynen’s Log - Days Thirty Eight to Ninety One

I repeated and repeated for quite some time, as I had nothing to report until this moment. I have settled into something called a routine. I understood regulations and authority, but not routine, as every day back home posed a different problem. There were always complaints to resolve and last-minute orders to follow. But this time, I was my own superior.

Some days, nothing happened. The crops ceased to grow. I would be left to my own devices, where I simply sat and watched the clouds slice the horizon, feeling the wind on my face. Some days, such as this one, rain crashed down on my farm.

It was the first time I saw precipitation. I sat outside until I shivered, then took shelter in the barn, watching the downpour intently. The crops had grown to full height, but hadn’t yet bore the fruit and vegetables desired, and I feared the weather would uproot or overwater it.

The feeling that I had lost fifty days of progress, and would have to start over yet again, gnawed at my organs. Without a soul to talk to, I waited for the storm to pass, alone. I remained alone until the fox shot into the barn like a comet, its fur slick with rain. I patted its shaking form dry with a moth-bitten rag, and used the heat from my generator to warm the area.

I soaked in the warmth. Humans did the same around campfires and in homes with basic hydrocarbons. The fox did too, staring at me, but not with hunger. I thought it was afraid, as it saw my true form. Then it curled up beside me, wrapping its fluffy form around my leg-like appendages. 

Foxes weren’t pets, like cats and dogs were to humans. Humans kept pets to increase their serotonin levels. I hadn’t considered this fox to be a pet, more an untamed animal that I had entered an unwritten contract with, but I entertained the idea of keeping it as a pet, and acted as pet owners did by stroking its fur.

It turned and gently nibbled my phalanges, letting out little squeaks, and rubbed its nose against my skin. This was how it showed affection. It loved me. 

Our species showed affection in a performative way, changing our forms to shape each other’s needs and desires. The bond we shared was different, like that between a father and his hatchling. Perhaps the love the fox felt for me was conditional, as I was its food source, but mine was unconditional, as it did not provide for me in any tangible way, and was often a nuisance.

Pets do not grant their owners happiness based on a neurochemical change. But at that moment, the fox made me feel happy. 

Azulynen’s Log - Days Ninety Two to One Hundred And Twenty Two

I plucked tomatoes from their plants. I pulled potatoes from their roots. I threshed wheat. I perspired more under the sun, and the dust and dried sweat made my crevices chafe. I was filthy. I was tired. Yet, at last, I had a plentiful crop.

The fox, which I’d named Calyxnythyn, begged for food as he usually did. After feeding him, I stroked his forehead, which elicited squeaks that made me want to pull his face close to mine. 

This was routine. This, again, did not produce happiness on its own, but it brought something much less tangible than happiness, which is already such an abstract concept: purpose.

Work was not a substitute for happiness, and our sole purpose wasn’t to work. If it was, my job back home would’ve been my purpose. But as humans did, we found purpose in work. Good, hard work that sowed good seed.

Two events halted my routine, hence the subject of my report. The first was a transmission from my home planet. Beeblebryx, a colleague, left a voice log as he was concerned, and also invited me to chug mercury shots in the office plasterium. It had been so long since I’d tasted mercury, and I missed it, yet the thought of replicating it never crossed my cortex all that time I spent on Earth.

I contemplated my response as I continued my harvest. I lazily guided my phalanges to pick tomatoes, my mind in another place entirely, until Overalls’ shouts pulled me from my stupor. He’d returned. I snapped back to focus, and found him pointing a shotgun at me.

I was careless. He’d seen me without my disguise. He stepped forward, as if approaching a bear. I opted to keep calm and stay still after running through my human encounter protocol.

He said he never believed that this ‘Matt’ died by hanging himself. He wanted to use me as a scapegoat to explain the unexplainable, and threatened to display my corpse as a tourist attraction. He ranted and raved and took more steps forward, clearly inconsolable.

Calyxnythyn ran between me and him, snarling. He lowered the gun, aiming at the fox instead.

I wasn’t worried about my safety. It would’ve taken more than a shotgun blast to kill me, and I could’ve regenerated any lost limbs. But I don’t know what I would’ve done if any harm came to Calyxnythyn.

I yelled for the human to wait, with as much emotion as I could’ve coaxed through my strained vocal cords. He aimed back at me. I tried to explain in simplest Earth terms that I could change forms and used Matt’s likeness to hide myself from humans.

He said nothing. He wasn’t convinced.

I tried to appeal to emotion by apologizing. I tried to empathize with him losing his friend, although my capacity for it was limited. I exhausted all the options in my protocol that didn’t end in violence. I tried to appeal to his better nature.

Overalls stood his ground, but did not take another step forward. 

My last option defied common sense. There were better times to talk about my farm. But I talked about how I grew it, what I hoped to do with it, and what I learned from farming like a human, and had yet to learn.

His shoulders relaxed. He lowered his guard, but still kept a tight grip on his firearm. It dawned on me then that I had not cooked for a human before. Humans appreciated hospitality, especially on a scarce planet. So I tore the tomato off the plant and offered it to him.

I said: “If you spare me, I will cook you some roasted potatoes and tomatoes, all home grown. I will attempt to make bread.”

Overalls blinked once, twice, then thrice. At best, the human would’ve refused. At worst, he would’ve shot me or the fox. I would’ve been disappointed in the human, but not surprised, and I would’ve gracefully traveled back home in defeat.

Then the human lowered his gun and took my offer. Once dinner was in front of him, he cleaned the plate.

Azulynen’s Log - Day One Hundred and Fifty

The human agreed to leave the farm in my possession. He has visited twice, on one occasion gifting me a home baked pumpkin pie, another dish I hadn’t considered trying with the replicator before. It was very filling. That doesn’t mean I am not cautious, especially if he intends to reveal my existence to the world, but for now, we are even.

I can’t say whether or not my experiment has been a success. I cheated twice. I lived off cacti for months. I am also still figuring out the definitive answer to what happiness is, not just to farmers and to humans, but to myself.

My experiment continues. I intend to stay on Earth.

June 06, 2024 18:16

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2 comments

Timothy Rennels
21:11 Jun 11, 2024

Very enjoyable read!

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07:55 Jun 10, 2024

I really like this Joshua. The voice sounds realistic and otherworldly at the same time. His journey is believably told and flows naturally. Love the relationship he builds with the fox. And the lowkey ending really suits the tale. Thoroughly enjoyable read.

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