Ok, first the update.
On the cusp of being published (some of them finally!):
- Darx Circle by Leslie Hyla Winton Noble (we are only finalizing the cover, then it’s time!)
- The Pourne Identity by Douglas Pearce, for Honeymead Books: Also, the cover.
- The as yet unrevealed title of the fairytale by the author who also only wants to be revealed upon publication of said unrevealed title (gosh, this is complex!) – once again, the cover, plus some illustrations.
- Nix Romipen – Lyz Russo, Solar Wind series #6 and final book in the series, waiting for cover.
In the editing process:
- The Blue Between by Annemarie Luck – a love story
- The Last-But-One Samurai and other stories by Marie Marshall (by, of course, Marie Marshall) – short stories, for Honeymead Books
- Kwireboy vs Vampire, also by Marie Marshall, a sequel to From My Cold, Undead Hand
- My African Dreams- photo & poetry collection by Lockie Young
I was hoping to have completed the entire list and then some before the first quarter of this year was out – haha, “Tiggers are strornry good flyers!” Cover art is becoming the limiting factor, this needs to be addressed.
I think, I’ll let my readers vote in the comments which story you want me to continue with first – please comment and let me know.
- A Friday Fairytale (Nadisda, a being of pure magic, is ripped from her magical world into the Real World)
- The Abandoned (Tribute to the film “Interstellar” – what happens to the crew that is left behind on the dying Earth)
For today, I think I’ll continue posting “The Abandoned”.
3. Wonder world
Michelin opened his eyes to someone shaking his shoulder. He didn’t really want to wake up, he’d been sleeping so peacefully, so well…
“Look, sorry,” said Trissy. “You need to heal. But you need to drink water too, and eat something…”
Michelin groaned. Did he really have to eat? He took the glass of water from her and scrunched up his face, steeling himself for that vile, sallow, recycled taste all water had, and drank – and found to his astonishment that whatever this was, it didn’t taste like water at all! It was the sweetest, purest taste, clear like liquid diamonds… he gulped it down and then held the glass out for more…
Trissy smiled as she took it, got up and refilled it at the taps at the sink. Greedily Michelin gulped down a second glass.
“What is this liquid?” he asked, baffled.
“Water,” she said. “Real water. Not the rubbish you people drink in town. This water comes out of the mountain. It pushes up from deep down under the earth. When it rains, there’s more.”
“You’re so lucky,” he groaned.
“We’ll get all of us this lucky,” she replied. “Have some food.”
He looked suspiciously at the plate she was offering. It had strange substances on it; none of it was corn-yellow, to begin with. Some was green, and some was brown, and there was a kind of white sauce over it all…
“That’s food?” he asked with deep distrust.
“Well, try some!” she urged, picked some of the brown stuff and sauce up with her fingertips and ate the bite herself, commenting “mmm!” as though she couldn’t help it.
Well, it didn’t look like food at all, but it couldn’t be poisonous. For once, Michelin’s stomach growled; he hadn’t eaten since yesterday morning, and his body resented it. He followed her example, scooped up a fingertip’s worth of the brown stuff with white sauce and popped it into his mouth.
The next moment he nearly died from sensation. The stuff was delicious; it sent him into a taste-spin where he savoured and sucked at it and hummed in ecstasy. “Oh my god,” he gasped when he had his speech back. “This is food? I could die eating!” He hungrily scooped up more and stuffed it into his mouth, and gave himself to the next explosion of taste.
Trissy sat watching him with a smug grin on her face. She observed in obvious satisfaction how he polished off every bit of the brown stuff, then took an overly cautious taste of the green stuff and went into another epic culinary delirium. Eventually, when the whole plate was empty, he looked at her with puppy-dog eyes.
“Gods, Trissy, that was good – is there more?”
“Slow down,” she cautioned. “Your stomach isn’t used to anything except corn. We have to start small.”
“But I’m still hungry,” he complained.
“I don’t have any corn,” she replied with a shrug. “Your stomach won’t handle more than this, the first time.”
“What was it?” he asked, overawed.
“Best you don’t ask yet,” she said. “Let me only say it’s all from plants. Don’t worry.”
“So we’re going home now?” he asked.
“No,” said Trissy. “Sorry, Mitch. You have seen too much without having learnt what counts. You must stay here still.” She lowered her voice, as though someone would hear them down here. “You have come further than anyone else I tried to bring,” she said confidentially. “All the others turned back after seeing my ‘desert’ ecosystem – nobody got it. You haven’t got it yet, either – but I’m tired of trying and failing. You must understand and help me; I don’t have the energy to find yet another person.”
“We’ll be late for school,” he cautioned.
Tris laughed hollowly. “School is already out, Michelin, long since. You’ve slept the whole day. But that’s not what’s bothering you, is it? It’s your parents. Don’t worry. I went back and spoke to them, and explained to them that you are helping me with a critical project, and that just now you can’t come home right away. I promised your mom to keep her current, and guess what -“ she brandished a bottle with dark liquid and a stick with a leaf on it, “she gave me a bottle of your medicine for you, and a pelargonium cutting!”
“Wow,” said Michelin. It wasn’t an intelligent comment, but she didn’t shoosh him this time. “She gave you a cutting?” That was Mom’s most precious resource! How on Earth had Trissy achieved that level of trust with his mother?
“You know how to take this?” she asked and waved the medicine.
She pushed it into his hand. “Don’t break it. She says she only has this one and the nearly empty one at home.”
Michelin nodded and put the pelargonium extract down on the benchtop.
“As for the cutting…” she eyed him curiously. “You’re not having any urge to escape? You won’t break anything and go crazy, or something?”
Michelin shook his head. “I’m quite sane, don’t you worry.”
“Then I guess I can show you.” She rolled up his vagrant blanket with frightening speed and stashed it at the one end of his sandbag bed.
“First you must clean up,” she instructed. “There’s a bathroom through that door…” and she pointed. A door he had tried and found locked last night, stood halfway open now, with some light behind it. He got up from his sandbag bed.
“Leave your clothes in the basket you find there,” she told him. “You’ll find a clean set of clothes in that room – well they look kind of stupid, but it is critically important that you put them on. Your clothes are polluting this place.”
“And shoosh,” she snapped. “You are to do as you’re told, remember!”
Well, it had been an interesting journey so far, and it had introduced him to the most amazing food he’d ever eaten, so he guessed he could keep playing it her way for now.
“Okay,” he said and went through that door, straight into a white-tiled small bathroom. There was a toilet, a shower, a bath and a basin, and on the rail there hung a towel.
Michelin closed the door, stripped down and put his clothes into the basket as Tris had instructed, and got under the shower, expecting icy water and finding to his surprise that there was both a hot and a cold tap, and both were functional. How did this hot water system work? The ones at home were all solar driven, as were the recyclers; but this deep underground, surely there was no sunlight to fuel these?
He emerged feeling infinitely better. He dried himself with the available towel and looked sceptically at the clothes that were hanging from a hook on the wall. Pale-green, of a stiff material and weird-looking. He slipped into them. They felt like the pyjamas he’d used to wear when he was a preschooler. They made him feel like an idiot. But so did Trissy, so he supposed it wouldn’t matter much.
“Ah!” Trissy looked genuinely pleased as he emerged in those stupid clothes. She herself was wearing her usual vagrant tatters – but, Michelin realized, those were clean. Squeaky clean. Like clothes that had been boiled out.
“It’s just for now,” she assured him. “I’ll get you more of your own clothes from home, and then we can wreck them boiling the Blight out of them and you can also look like a vagabond.”
“It’s alright,” said Michelin quickly. “I’ll wear these.”
“They used to be called theatre greens,” Tris informed him. “Surgeons wore them in the operating theatres…” She noted his blank expressions.
“Never mind. Follow me!”
Once again Michelin followed Trissy down passages; this time they walked instead of taking the motorcycle which had been left in the lab. The footlights came on wherever they moved by.
After enough turns for him to be thoroughly confused, Trissy opened another coded door and beckoned him in.
Michelin stepped reluctantly over the threshold, into what looked like a room in daylight. Not a room. A forest! He couldn’t believe what he saw.
Here were plants, taller than himself, the likes he had only seen in books, growing lushly in the middle of a room, with a light source coming through from far overhead with what could only be daylight.
A very soft humming and buzzing emanated from the room. He looked closely and saw small things flying between the plants.
Another over-awed “wow!” escaped him as he walked trance-like through the plants along the cement floor. Some stood in large pots; others were in smaller pots raised up on shelves along the narrow walkways that had been left between.
He cautiously touched the large leaves of something that could only be a tree.
“That’s a fig tree,” Tris informed him. “It’s not in season, or I could let you taste its fruit. You’d be amazed.” She was watching him closely. He trailed his hand over a box of shady-green soft stalks that looked dusty – but they were not, that was only the natural colour of their leaves – and they gave off a fresh scent.
“Lavender,” she commented. “It’s medicinal.”
Tris grinned at him. “I think there’s an intelligent thought coming up, so I’ll unshoosh you just for one question.”
“Where do they come from?” asked Michelin, his hand cupped around a large, round, dark-red flower with tons of petals. It smelled entrancingly sweet.
“That’s a rose,” said Trissy with a smile, caressing one of its flowers herself. “Its name is Midnight. Did you know roses have names? Haha, you didn’t even know what a rose is… “ she giggled. “Forgive me. I’m not a good teacher.”
“Rose,” repeated Michelin, inhaling its smell deeply. He had completely forgotten about his asthma; neither did his lungs react badly. “And what are those…” he pointed at the flying insects, “and why are they here?”
“Bees,” said Tris. “A few small wasps too, actually, just miniature ones for the fig trees. The plants need them. Without them they can’t make fruit. This is the very first beginning of an ecosystem I’m trying out here. Is the desert beginning to make more sense?” She peered critically at him. “No,” she judged, and sighed. “Guess you’ll get it eventually.”
“But where do all these things come from?” repeated Michelin, seriously baffled.
“I found them,” said Trissy. “They were here all along. I’ve been finding and collecting more.” She rummaged a bit and unearthed a glass from a cabinet that stood right next to a sink in the middle of this forest. She filled the glass with water and stuck the pelargonium cutting into it; rummaged a bit more and wrapped the glass and the bottom of the cutting’s stem in silver foil.
“Why did you do that?” asked Michelin.
“That’s how you propagate a plant,” she said. “There’s a good chance the little stem will make roots. Didn’t you pay attention to how your mother does this?”
“Where did she learn it?” Michelin asked, surprised. The fact was, he’d never yet figured out what exactly his mother did to the pelargoniums to make them grow.
“It used to be common knowledge,” said Tris. “Succulents like the pelargonium are easy.”
“But that leaf has the Blight on it! It comes from outside!” objected Michelin. “And you bring it in here?”
“I’ve treated it with an antifungal,” she said. “Washed it down thoroughly. Wasn’t born yesterday, you know. Are you ready for more?”
“There’s more?” asked Michelin in amazement. Wasn’t this already enough? All these plants – tall ones, that could be turned into food… who needed maize? They should plant them outside, make whole fields of them…
“I know where your mind is going,” said Trissy, “and it ain’t gonna work.”
He stared at her. She was right. The Blight would finish these plants as soon as they were exposed to the outside.
“So you want me to help you – with what?” he asked.
“There are various options,” said Trissy. She approached a box that was behind closed glass, lifted the glass flap and picked something small, round and off-white out of it. She handed it to Michelin. “Try these!”
“You mean, to eat?”
Michelin stuck the thing into his mouth and chewed, experiencing yet another new taste. It was fresh and pleasant, though nothing like the culinary wonders he’d tasted earlier.
“Button mushroom,” said Tris. “They need a lot of water.”
Aha. And here was the second problem: Water. It was impossible to farm anything that was water-intense, out there. The wind and dust dried up everything.
“So I guess, one option is for everyone to move underground and cultivate all our food in such food chambers,” said Michelin.
“It would take a lot of digging,” said Tris. “But, yes, that’s one possibility. Not a nice one though because it doesn’t solve the Earth’s problems.”
“Then what would you suggest?”
“We make plants resistant to the Blight.”
Michelin snorted. “Nothing’s resistant to the Blight! That’s why we’re in this mess!”
“Okay,” said Tris, “but that was not an intelligent comment. I have to educate you a bit more. Anyway, that’s the big goal. Inbetween we can have a lot of smaller goals. Living underground will solve some problems for a while. We must maybe find the Murph’s underground station.”
“But how?” asked Michelin.
“You see: Now you are asking the right questions! Good boy. You’re learning.” She laughed and led him onwards, towards another door at the end of the greenhouse.
“The right guy I was looking for,” she said casually, “is someone intelligent, like you. You like building things. I’ve seen your models. You like the challenge of figuring things out, too. You’re not unique in that; we’ve got a number of intelligent boys in the class, but as I said – I tried and failed to get them to see my vision.”
“I think I’m beginning to see it though,” said Michelin thoughtfully. “You want to replant Planet Earth and make it back into the paradise it was.”
She turned around and stared at him.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” she exclaimed. “You got it! You’ve seen it!”
“Though how you’re going to implement it…”
“We. How we will implement it.” She held up her hand. “This is not a school project, Michelin. This is not due on Monday before break. It will take a lifetime. Are you ready for that?”
“Do you have a better plan?” she rounded on him, flipping back into combat mode. “Oh. Except for giving up and dying young. What were you going to do with your future?”
“I have no idea,” he answered honestly. “Take it a day at a time, I guess? Survive another day of asthma?”
“Boy, do you live in Pity City,” she commented. “You’re being thrown a rope. You’re being given a space station. One big, fat, huge, major chance on life. On a real life. Want it?”
“Tell me one thing,” said Michelin. “Why did it have to be a boy?”
“Two reasons,” she said. “Firstly, I’m a shameless sexist. I believe boys are better for things like construction and engineering and so on. There’s just… something they understand better about machines and physics. It’s in the way their brains are wired. Whereas girls are better with growing things – on the whole. I don’t need another botanist, I’ve already got me. For now,” she added pensively.
Michelin nodded, though she could see from the blank look that her statement made no sense to him.
“Secondly,” she explained, “all the girls in school have their brain stuffed full of boys, and nothing else. It’s useless, they simply won’t focus on any project. And this is a big project. It needs focus.”
“And you don’t?” asked Michelin, amused.
“Boys are idiots,” she said impatiently. “Now shoosh.” She beckoned him to follow her.
They moved through another door that she opened with more codes than the previous ones. Michelin followed her into a dark, narrow chamber that ended in another security door. She closed the first door behind them.
A purple light shone at them from all sides; and a mist seeped over them. The whole process lasted about a minute, then the light went off, the mist stopped and the far door unlocked.
“What was that for?” asked Michelin.
She ignored his question. He followed her into another white laboratory-like chamber.
“This,” she said, “is where the real magic happens.”