Friday, April 22, 2022

Emerald of Earth - EPISODE:14 Intensive Training Team 12

Almost-thirteen Emerald Marcillon lives with her parents, who have dug up evidence of aliens in Chicxilub Crater in Yucatan, they have found artifacts that point to a long-ago alien war. An alien artificial intelligence called Inamma has survived that war. It tries to steal the artifacts that when assembled, can destroy all of Humanity. But it can’t find them and kills Emerald’s parents. Emerald escapes and is taken into Earth orbit to the SOLAR EXPLORER. Inamma follows Emerald into space, and the ship’s captain, who is also her great-aunt, tries to hide her from Inamma. Emerald holds the key to the artifacts. Emerald is not the best at making friends, but manages to make a few on SOLAR EXPLORER. When her friends and crew members find what Inamma is, they fight together to protect the artifacts.

(I’m posting Fridays, because if you like what you see, share the link with a friend – and you’ll have Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday to read it, and it won’t interfere with your Homework Schedule.)


He gave her a long look. “Rashida must have been pretty sure of you to make you memorize a ship’s map.” Emerald shrugged, obscurely pleased. “Our plantation is on Level Ten, Nile Sector and it takes up about thirty units – that’s like a hundred acres american and forty hectares universal.”

“What do we do with it?”

“Farm it.”

“Do we get to eat the sugarcane?”

He stared down at her. “Do you even know what sugarcane is?”

Emerald set her lips. Finally, she said, “Yes. They grew it on the Yucatan. But why are you growing it on SOLAREX?”

“Want a lecture or should we keep pretending this discussion is a lame excuse for conversation?” He grinned down at her.

“Lecture – then I don’t have to listen to you trying to be funny.”

He snorted, crossing his arms over his chest. “OK, here’s what: we grow sugarcane not only for the sugar, but to get soda and ethanol for general purpose use in labs and habitation units. Sugarcane is a C-4 plant.” He stopped abruptly.

Emerald looked up at him, saying, “And?”

“Just wanted to see if you were falling asleep yet.”

“I snore when I fall asleep. What’s a C-4 plant?”

“It can convert up to two percent of incident solar energy into biomass.”

“Translation?”

He paused, scratched the dark scraggly hairs on his chin. Emerald doubted he was almost eighteen. He only looked a little older than one of the boys from Telchac Puerto who worked for Mom and Dad. Used to work for them, she corrected herself. Daniel said, “Most plants on Earth are C-3 plants, which means they use the carbon dioxide in the air and water to make enough sugars to keep themselves running and give off oxygen. Only about five percent of the plants on Earth are C-4 plants like sugarcane. It can take up the same amount of carbon dioxide and store it as sugar rather than using it. They don’t need as much water as C-3 plants do, either.

“Also, the bagasse – which is what’s left over after cane is crushed – is made into feed for the ship’s livestock or burned for heat and electricity. Some of it’s diverted to be made into paper and cardboard, too.”

“Nobody makes rum, here, do they?” Emerald said.

Daniel gave her a hooded look. “Of course they do. Just because people are in space doesn’t mean they’re not going to drink.”

Emerald nodded. “Great – we’re bringing alcoholism to the stars.”

He paused before answering, “You’ve heard all this before, haven’t you?”

She shrugged. “Mom and Dad talked about a lot of stuff at the dig site. They didn’t always argue, especially when they were talking about SOLAREX. Great aunt Ruby used to talk to them every once in a while, too. That’s when her and Dad would get into big fights.”

“So they didn’t think SOLAREX was a good idea?”

“Mom and Dad had pretty strong opinions. After Dad said SOLAREX stole his aunt from him, she didn’t talk to him for like two months.” She shrugged again. “The first couple of times TV Azteca sent someone out to interview Daddy, he was pretty critical of the whole SOLAREX thing. They stopped sending people after that.”

“Why’d they send you up here if they hate it so much?” Emerald looked to see if he was baiting or taunting her then closed her mouth with a snap and looked at the floor. Instead, he’d had a far-away look, almost as if he were asleep or unconscious. Daniel looked at her finally and frowned. “What’d I say?”

She was saved from answering when the bolus came to a stop and the doors squelched open on the edge of an immense cavern. The bright light was the first thing that struck her, then the humid, hot air, thick with the smell of decaying plants. It tasted like unsalted Chicxulub. She looked up. The ceiling was covered with recessed floodlights, pouring bright, hot light down on the fields. Narrow pipes crisscrossed it as well, looking like a fire sprinkler system. From ventilation ducts running alongside the pipes, every few meters she could see vents. The plants underneath them shivered and shook. Green, segmented, bone-like sprouts of sugarcane fountained with narrow, dark green leaves from the soil to thigh height. An unsalty, humid scent of rotting jungle; manure smell; semi-sweet stench of boiling plants; hint of chemical smell from a portable latrine. These were almost the same smells from the night her parents were murdered by the knife-footed robot and triggered a sudden cascade of memories.

Emerald stopped walking, her breath catching in her throat and sweat popping out on her skin. Grief over her parent’s murder mixed violently with terror when she remembered the sound of knives driving into sand.

Daniel stared at her, and after a few minutes, he walked past, spread his arms and said, “Welcome to paradise! Come on in and meet the inmates.”

Emerald didn’t move, blinking back tears instead as her pulse thundered in her ears and she tried to concentrate on something else. Anything else.

“Emerald? You OK?” Daniel said lowering his voice, mockery vanished as he turned around. She looked up slowly, opened her mouth and tried to speak. Nothing but air came out. He stepped toward her. She stumbled into the bolus backwards until she pressed against the wall.

Horrific claustrophobia hit as kids of multiple ethnicities, ranging in age from twelve to seventeen gathered behind Daniel. They all wore the same long-sleeved brown coveralls. They also wore rubber boots and heavy gloves. Anyone with long hair had tied it back, and three of them wore neon orange bandanas – the same color as the jump team on the 3V. Taking one more step forward, Daniel touched the outside wall of the elevator just as the doors began to close. They popped open again. He lowered his voice, “Hey, these guys are OK. Nothing to be afraid of.”

Over his shoulder, Emerald saw at least one person she was going to be afraid of – the girl who’d blocked her kick in the hospital.

The former victim started first in surprise, then glared angrily and turned to a black girl standing next to her, whispering something. Emerald imagined what. The black girl scowled, crossed her arms over her chest and glared at Emerald, too.

With her escape route cut off, her only alternatives were to bust out crying or face them with bold insolence. She chose silent defiance. Taking a deep breath, she marched forward, came to attention, shot the two girls an equally acid look and said, “Let’s get the orientation over with so I can get to work.”

Daniel frowned, looked over his shoulder at the two glaring girls then back at Emerald. “I guess you’ve met some of Team Twelve?”

Emerald nodded as the bolus door closed. Daniel said, “The one hatin’ on you to the left is Ayaka Kobayashi, she just turned thirteen. So did her friend, Izegbe Etuk. Zadok Szpilman is the blond kid on the right – he’s thirteen, too. The next one is Mikhail Gorbachev who’s fourteen.” A boy with close cropped, dark hair smiled and nodded to Emerald.

“Elisavet Moroshek – we call her Eli ‘cuz she hates it. She’s fifteen,” she had shoulder-length, dark curls. He pointed to the last boy, “Søren Ouyang hardly talks and is sixteen.” The short guy was skinny as a rail, with almost-white blonde hair, smiled a bit, blushed, and looked away.

Beside her, Daniel touched his chest, “...and me, Daniel Clayton, leader of the pack and your host for the rest of your life, I’m practically eighteen!”

Søren piped up, “You turned seventeen six weeks ago. You’re barely older than me.”

Daniel lifted his chin and said, “The operant word there is ‘older’. I’m Team leader, you’re not.”

Søren glanced at Emerald, lifted an eyebrow at Daniel. She took a deep breath and held it. Maybe she wasn’t the only one with enemies.

Nobody offered a verbal welcome; they just stared around her.

To the left was a long, brick house with a roof. She pointed and said, “What’s that?”

“The boiling house,” Daniel said. “Beyond that is the manure pit. That’s the wonderful smell floating on the air. It’s our source of fertilizer. You ignore it after a while. The building on our right is the shredding barn where the cane is taken by the robot carts, chopped up and washed repeatedly. The liquid is pumped to the boiling house where we clean it up and turn it into syrup. That gets pumped downstairs to be refined into whatever they’re going to use it for. The men’s and women’s bathrooms and locker rooms with hot showers are in there, too.” He glanced down at her with a peculiar look. “You’ll come to appreciate hot showers after you’ve worked here a while.”

Emerald scowled then asked, “Why have roofs if we’re in a cave?”

He looked up at the ceiling then at a watch stuck to the back of his hand. “If you wait about half an hour, you’ll find out. And you’ll see what the boiling house is used for in a month or so. The manure pit is the main source of recyclable fertilizer for the cane field.” He walked in long-limbed strides to the barn, saying, “Wait here.” Ducking inside the barn, he was back out in a moment. He handed a flat e-reader to her. “Your textbooks are in there and so is the syllabus for the academic part of ITT.”

“The what?”

“You think we just do hard labor?” He snorted. “We’re not criminals, just teenagers -- mostly. Ship decree is that we work and study. You should also know Team Twelve has both a production and academic tradition to maintain.”

“A tradition?” Emerald scoffed. “You’ve only been in space for a couple of days.”

“Speak for yourself sister. I’ve been here for thirteen months. Ayaka and Izegbe have each been here for nine.” He twitched his head sideways to the team. “The shortest time anyone else has been here is four months.” He looked out over the sugarcane. “We share this agriculture space with Team Four, but we’re going to make sure that the vice captains see us as the leaders in brawn and brains.” He turned to her. “Everybody gets assigned a locker for your boots, gloves and machete – plus your lunch if you want to bring one. The e-reader you need to take back to your unit with you. You won’t need it here anymore unless someone specifically assigns it to us. The showers are only for after work. Your locker is thirty-six. Get your boots and gloves – you might want to ask one of the other girls and see if they have a bandana you can borrow for today. Otherwise, I’d bring one every day if I were you. The lights are actually sun tubes that capture and funnel sunlight from the asteroid’s surface. You can get sunburned if you stay for too long directly under one of them.”

Emerald blinked and waited for Daniel to go on. When he stayed silent for more than a few moments, she said, “Anything else?”

He waited then said, “You’re not going to complain?”

Emerald took a deep breath, held it, and considered what she might say. Finally, she let out the breath and replied, “Would anything change?”

Daniel shook his head slowly. “Nothing.”

Emerald nodded. “I’ll go get my gloves, boots, and machete.”

“You won’t need the machete ‘til harvest.”

Emerald nodded, turned, and trudged away. It was going to be a very, very long twelve years.


Guy Stewart is a retired teacher and counselor, with science fiction for young people and adults published in ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact; podcast at CAST OF WONDERS; and in CRICKET the Magazine for Children. For links to his other online works, go to https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/. For an interview with me about EMERALD OF EARTH, try this: http://www.writersandauthors.info/2015/09/interview-with-guy-stewart.html

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