The building would cover a good square city block, at least two acres, Inside it was warm and humid with outside light coming in from all sides and the top. On tables, about thirty inches off the ground were thousands upon thousands of small green sprouts. Each sprout was in it’s own brown container and each brown container was on a tray of a hundred or more containers. Trays were side by side covering tables that covered all the floor space leaving only enough room for walkways between the tables. Everything but the plants and their containers was coated with a heavy coat of army green paint. My fellow students scattered throughout the building and busied themselves reading gauges, taking notes and picking at plants. I stood with my mouth half open for a good minute until Sarah decided I might need some instruction.
“Come on,” she pulls me by the arm a little until I start to follow her, “every other day we have Agricultural class and plan our on-site day. Most of the time, when it’s raining, we come in here. This is more of a just do whatever you find to do day, ‘cause of the rain.” She walks me to a pile of smelly dark brown dirt and points to stacks of the small brown potting pots. “We can put that in them,” she said, “if you want, or look around, just do what the others have found to do.” I grab a pot in one hand and a scooper in the other and fill a pot while she talks. “Pack it in just a little,” she says. I pack it and then, without even being told I place it on a tray from a stack of trays sitting on the potting table. Sarah nods at a job well done and starts filling pots herself.
“I bet they’re having a big meeting on you right now to decide what to do with you. You worried?”
“Already had the meeting. My life is planned.”
“They sending you back?”
“No,” I start to tell her I’m her new brother but think better of it. I should let her parents break the news. “Some kind of work study program Mr. Jasper got me into.”
“Really? Never heard of it. I’d bet Jasper just made it up. You stowed away on a barge? How’d you think of that?”
“We lived near a space dock. I watched the ships come and go all the time and I knew I wanted to go. There aren’t many stowaways?”
“Jasper’s is always looking for workers but they aren’t kids.”
I look up at the clear plastic ceiling at the sheet of water covering us, “how long will it rain?”
“We’ll get some sunshine before the end of the day. People will be back in the fields in the morning, they’ll have to wait a while before the equipment can go back in.”
I watch the water come off the side of our building and run away in channels it has made in the ground outside our protected area, “do you have any idea how beautiful this is?”
“I’ve lived here my whole life. My parent’s came with Jasper on the first settler ship but I’ve seen films of Earth, I’m glad I’m here.”
We fill pots for a good hour more before a bell rings and various transportation comes to pick up students. I get into the car with Sarah. She doesn’t seem to think anything of it.
I do get in a bit of a rush to finish my homework in my room but it comes with cookies and milk so I feel pretty good about it. I hear a loud, “what? You’ve got to be kidding? come from the kitchen but it was just something Sarah was required to say if she’s going to be a proper adopted sister. My next task in achieving my goals is sitting before me. Half the homework sitting on the small desk in my room is the same as in my classroom on Earth but half is very different. I hurry through the old stuff and then slow down and really start studying. Instruction in horticulture, agriculture, cultivation and a short article in “Today’s Farmer” are all on my reading list and these are not about how to grow a bean in a jar but things a real farmer needs to know. I get lost in pages about irrigation, hurry through my dinner as much as I can without being a total jerk and then return to my room. I’m not only behind the rest of my class on these subjects I’m behind the kindergarten classes.
There is a tap on my bedroom door.
Mrs. Armstrong peaks into the room, “You’re still reading? Time to sleep, young man.”
In class I move to the lead in English and near the lead in math within days but when it comes to farming my question’s are considered to be worthy of laughter. I even get sent to room two afternoons every day and a couple of times I go out into the fields with the almost babies in room one. While my classmates are grafting branches onto root stock I’m learning how to tell a weed from a desirable plant. Over the next months I slowly move from being the class joke to at least being trusted to do some basic stuff with irrigation and I’m a decent tractor driver. By the end of my first school term on Jasper’s World I’m awarded the “Most Improved Dirt Farmer” award. It’s not a traditional award, it was created just for me by my fellow students. It’s a cube of clear plastic filled with what I’m pretty sure is manure but I accept it with pride that is in no way contrived.
I make friends. Working together for an hour or two every day makes it easy to get to know each other. There are sports too and I’m a natural runner. Running outdoors in good clean air on dirt is something I could do forever so cross country is my sport. I do okay, I’m not the star or anything like that but I keep up enough to be respectable.
I get a vid chat from at least one parent every night. My sister even misses me enough to poke her face in once in a while. Within six months my mother’s eyes don’t even water. The whole group is planning a visit but space travel is expensive when you travel in the passenger section of a ship. It could be awhile before they can come to Jasper’s.
Instead of summer vacation on Jasper’s they have planting season. There is a constant shortage of people and equipment. Everything with an engine is involved and everything with two legs is working from sun up to sun down. Before the war farming techniques were becoming fairly advanced, at least on Earth. When Jasper’s World first started farming it was almost like caveman days, they were using hand tools and homemade tractors made out of parts of old cars and trucks. It’s not all that much better now-a-days. With some of the war effort tapering off Jasper’s has a deal with the Army and army green equipment is getting more common but real, made for farming, equipment is still rare.
One of the things Mr. Armstrong is good at is putting together different parts from several vehicles and creating useful farm equipment. On rainy days or when the crops can do without him he creates his visions in a small green plastic barn near our home.
“Grind that down good and clean, that arm needs to get under the ground and push the potatoes up the the surface but it can’t be sharp so it’s going to have to handle a lot of force.”
I run the grinder until I can almost see myself in the metal and then Chester hands me the end of the wire feed welder, “you sure?” I ask, he’s only trusted my welds to things of lesser importance.
“You’re getting good at this Trenton, just take your time, I’ll check the weld.”
I join up the metal with clamps and find myself a comfortable position; by the time I’m through even I would compliment myself on my welding, if that sort of thing were considered polite.
One of the most important tasks while plants do their growing is to check on them. There is some skill involved. Although there are very few insect type pests on Jasper’s World there are a few and when they make a stand it is important to deal with it as soon as possible, so I needed to learn how to identify these small creatures. A basic understanding of irrigation in order to see malfunctions, even though most of these malfunctions come with large flooded areas, is needed. The primary skill is that a person be able to walk long distances without getting too badly lost; turns out I’m pretty good at walking and not very concerned with getting lost.
The cotton plants are just getting started good and only come up to my knees. I walk in a foot wide path that receives no irrigation if everything is working right. If I find myself walking in mud it’s a sure sign something is wrong but I also look for plants that are not getting enough water. I carry a round point shovel balanced on my shoulder and stabilized with one hand on it’s wooden handle. My baggy knee length tan shorts contain a pair of pliers in my left back pocket, my right front pocket is filled with peanut sized replacement water emitters, my left front pocket holds a bottle of water, my right back pocket contains a smashed packet of trail mix and a small steel safety pin is pinned to the edge of my right front pocket opening. These are the tools of my trade. For comfort I have a broad brimmed woven grass hat, a very white tee-shirt (to reflect the sun) and light weight running shoes.
The cotton seed was drilled into place, two plants eight inches apart then a foot of space before the next set of two plants eight inches apart. I can hear the gurgling of water on each side of me as water drips from emitters located in between every two sets of cotton plants. I scan from side to side taking in two rows of cotton plants on each side of me as I walk at a brisk pace. On the next row over to my right I spot a set of plants that have wilted slightly. I carefully pass through the wide spot between plants, stand my shovel in the dirt path and unclip the safety pin from my pocket. I bend down and find the thin black plastic tube with an emitter pressed into its opening. Very carefully so as not to damage the emitter I clear a bit of scale from the orifice of the emitter and water starts to drip out of the tiny cleaned exit hole. I watch for a few seconds and time the drip to make sure I have not damaged the emitter. I set the emitter back into place between the two cotton plants. Another life saved, actually two lives saved. Life, as we observe it, is never created, it never begins, it is just passed on. Life that comes to an end cannot be restored, at least not by people and I have saved two. There is no way to know how many other lives will come from the seeds of these two plants or how many people will benefit from the cotton used in materials or the seeds pressed into oil or used for feed, it’s good to be a farmer. I continue my brisk walk constantly scanning from side to side looking for another life to save.
Sometimes I think about all the things that could have gone wrong with my plan and I’m amazed that it worked at all. Without the people here going to bat for me I’d have been on the first barge back to Earth before the mud dried on my shoes