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The Seed Grower - Part I
A farmer grows illegal seeds of resistance, but her life gets complicated when an unlikely guest joins the Midsummer festival.
The Seed Grower - Part I
‘An ash I know, Yggdrasil its name, With water white is the great tree wet.’
Alaska tilts the copper vessel and pours a light stream of white water through the water outlet of the plant-growing pod. Then she sets the copper vessel on the altar, folds her hands in front of her heart and bows her head.
‘May the threads of my past, future and present allow me to safely deliver this seedling in the hands of those who need it most,’ Alaska says.
She taps a button at the base of the growing pod, and a transparent plastic encasing rolls up. On it, a red text appears:
Phoenix dactylifera Date palm tree Gender: Female
Alaska puts the plant-growing pod in her bag, straps it across her body and stands up. The soft pastel light beaming through the polychrome stained plastic windows falls on the peaceful face of the Goddess Jörð holding a Yggdrasil tree resting on the altar.
‘Thank you, mother of seeds, rain and sun. May your strength be upon us,’ Alaska says, exiting the temple.
The temple, a pre-fabricated pink container shaped like a dome, rises above the yellow cornfields ready for harvest. Alaska strolls around the temple, to the narrow trail meandering through the fields to her home, a simple capsule house she shares with her son and sister. The morning summer sky, a clear blue with patches of white clouds, is quiet. The surveillance drones aren’t activated yet. Between the temple and the corn fields is a plot of fallow land lush with lofty grass and wildflowers. Alaska stops to inhale the scent of summer, hot soil, dry grass and the delicate fragrance of the wildflowers when she sees a silhouette laying in the grass. It’s her sister Fanny. Alaska approaches quietly and lies next to her. Hidden in the grass, the sisters watch bees flying from wildflower to wildflower, their silicone wings glittering in the yellow light. It’s a dizzying dance of pink, green, and blue sheer wings as if someone had thrown a handful of petals in the wind. And there it is, mingling in the buzzing chaos of perfectly identical steel bodies, the anomaly, the outlier, the little brown and yellow hairy monster: a real honey bee. Fanny’s lips part into a wide grin.
‘Welcome home, honey!’ Fanny says, snatching the bee in a glass trap.
‘That’s 397 worker bees; well done, Fanny’, Alaska says.
The sisters stand up from the grass. Fanny lifts the trap with the erratically flying bee, and the glass shimmers in the sun. A gust of wind sweeps through the green-yellow corn fields rustling their sword-like leaves.
‘I can’t wait to have some boiled corn,’ Fanny says.
‘When was the last time we grew corn?’ Alaska says.
‘Don’t know, I think we were eight,’ Fanny says.
‘The summer before dad…,’ Alaska says.
‘Yeah!’ Fanny says.
The colorful mechanic bees, messengers of the goddess residing in the container temple, buzz in the sudden silence. There’s a complicity in how the sisters walk on the narrow pathway, the corn leaves gently brushing against their bodies, careful not to touch each other, as if by doing so, they would unleash an unwanted disease, the awful curse hanging above their heads ever since that summer many years ago. Fanny pulls the hand control pad from her pocket and switches on the virtual dashboard. She scans the data streaming in from the myriad nano-pods surveilling and feeding the plants growing on their farm. She swipes to the overview screen with a sideways movement of her eyes.
Season I Yaar farm: 40 corn varieties Owner: Siberian Seed Bank Cultivated area: 404.86 square meters Estimated yield: 3,200 corn ears Health check: Green
Alaska peeks over her shoulder.
‘What are you looking at?’ Alaska says.
The identical features of the twin sisters reflect on the dark background of the shimmering VR dashboard.
‘How many corn ears can we keep,’ Fanny says.
‘And?’ Alaska says.
‘Around 1280. It’s about 32 corns ears per variety. Which ones do we sacrifice?’ Fanny says.
‘I was thinking of keeping some for cross-pollination. We can do some experiments in the next season. I have some ideas,’ Alaska says.
‘Yeah?’ Fanny says, swiping to a map of their farm. ‘Where do you wanna do that?’
‘We can use this fallow ground here,’ Alaska says, pointing to a brown patch at the edge of their farm. ‘The strips of land surrounding it to the south will be fallow next season, and in the north, it’s protected by the temple.’
‘Hmmm,’ Fanny says.
‘We can also add some beans,’ Alaska says.
‘Sounds better,’ Fanny says.
‘It’ll be good, you’ll see. Maybe we can replicate dad’s success, remember? The drought-resistant variety he created stood the test of time,’ Alaska says
‘Thankfully,’ Fanny says. ‘The corn blight from the second season nearly landed him in jail.’
‘Oh, the corn blight! I had forgotten,’ Alaska says. ‘I don’t think they would’ve jailed him; they must’ve had duplicates in the Svalbard Seed Vault. Plus, it’s not like he unleashed the fungus himself…’
‘It came with one of the clandestine plants he was growing on the fields,’ Fanny says.
‘You never understood…,’ Alaska says.
‘You mean sacrificing the family for a dream?’ Fanny says.
Alaska touches her lips with her index fingers.
‘I will never understand that!’ Fanny says.
‘Shush,’ Alaska says.
There’s a buzzing sound that gets louder and louder, and a drone descends from the sky and stops next to Alaska’s cross-body bag. The sisters freeze in place and look at each other. Eventually, the drone lifts and flies away. Alaska lets out a long breath. Fanny purses her lips. The glasshouse of the Yaar family emerges from the corn, a small building made of recycled plastic standing beside their capsule home. Alaska yanks the glasshouse door open and is welcomed by a sticky wave of heat and humidity and the musty smell of chlorophyll and plant life. Her ears are filled with the buzz of insects, birds chirping, and all the noises made by the wildlife bots caring for the plants. Fanny tags along holding the glass trap with the now sedated bee. The sisters stop quietly at the miniature lab desk under a Tasmanian tree fern, one of their small plant luxuries gifted to their father by the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in recognition of his contribution to securing Earth’s food supply.
‘Pass me a mini-bot, please,’ Alaska says.
Fanny opens one of the jars lining up the table top and places it next to Alaska, who is inputting the maneuvering commands on her virtual dashboard.
‘Now let’s see if this baby can fly!’ Alaska says.
She taps the control pad, and the mini-bot, hardly the size of a fly lifts in the air with a thin buzz.
‘Alright, alright, alright,’ Alaska says. ‘Let’s open the bee trap.’
Fanny unlocks the glass trap, and Alaska sends the bot right in.
‘Champion,’ Alaska says. ‘Now let’s get it attached.’
Fanny watches the whole operation with a magnifying glass. The door of the plastic glasshouse opens and closes.
‘Mommy? Aunt Fanny?’
A boy of about five emerges from the plants, still wearing his pajamas and yawning.
‘We’re by the lab, Mason,’ Alaska says.
‘More to the left,’ Fanny says.
‘What are you doing?’ Mason says, peeking at the bee. ‘Is this s bee? Is she dead?’
‘No, we just put her to sleep,’ Alaska says.
‘Why?’ Mason says.
Alaska modifies the trajectory of the bot.
‘Stop! Now forward, you’re close!’ Fanny says.
Mason pulls Alaska’s sleeve.
‘Mommy, why did you put her to sleep?’
Alaska pulls the sleeve out of her son’s grip.
‘So that we can attach a nanosensor to it,’ Alaska says.
The bot hooks itself to one of the bee’s hairy legs and wraps its tentacles around it.
‘Why?’ Mason says.
‘Release!’ Fanny says.
Alaska taps the release command on the control pad, and the pod detaches itself and flies out of the glass trap.
‘Because we want to protect the bee colony and bring back bees in the ecosystem,’ Alaska says.
The sisters look at each other and nod with a smile.
‘But where did the bees go?’ Mason says.
Alaska injects a doze of pheromones into the glass trap and waits.
‘They didn’t go anywhere. We killed them!’ Fanny says.
Mason’s face melts into a cry.
‘That’s not true! Mommy, we didn’t kill the bees!’ Mason says.
‘Are you happy now?’ Alaska says.
Fanny’s arms fly into the air.
‘Shouldn’t he understand?’ Fanny says.
Alaska snatches the magnifying glass from Fanny’s hand and gives it Mason.
‘Nobody killed any bees, honey, alright? Look, the bee is moving!’ Alaska says.
Mason dries his running nose with the sleeve of his green shirt, then examines the bee.
‘Mommy, her legs are moving! One, two, three, four, five... the bee has six legs!’ Mason says.
‘We’re gonna bring her to the other bees. Wanna see?’ Fanny says.
‘Can I open the trap?’ Mason says.
‘Come with me,’ Fanny says.
A miniature flower garden is hidden behind the fern tree, separated by a plastic wall. Fanny opens the sliding door, and the buzzing of bees and the perfume of flowers fill the air. Mason stretches his arms, and Fanny hands him the glass trap.
‘Go there, by the wild roses,’ Fanny says, taking in the colours, the sounds, the fragrances.
‘They’re taking them this year,’ Alaska says.
‘The bees?’ Fanny says.
‘Yes,’ Alaska says.
Mason releases the bee.
‘They’re taking everything away from us!’ Fanny says.
Mason looks at the sisters beaming.
‘Look, the bee is eating!’ Masons says, pointing with his finger at a wild rose
‘That’s why we must support the Dust Road,’ Alaska says.
‘Other bunch of pirates and criminals!’ Fanny says, walking towards her nephew. ‘Where is your bee, Mason?’
The morning sun pours through the plastic cupola of the pink temple of the goddess, bathing in golden light the peaceful faces sitting in a circle in front of the altar. The Colony Counselor, a sturdy blond woman with a strong jaw and piercing blue eyes in her late fifties, grabs the teapot from the electric stove and pours a steamy green-golden liquid into the bowls before her, which are then passed from hand to hand in silence. The Counselor lifts the bowl to her head, lowers it before her heart and bows towards the goddess.
‘May your strength be upon us,’ the Counselor says.
‘May your strength be upon us,’ the others say.
Fanny relishes the fragrance of the tea, and Alaska takes a slurp and then sticks her tongue out.
‘Burned my tongue!’ Alaska says.
‘Shush!’ Fanny says.
‘Thank you, everyone, for joining,’ the Counselor says. ‘Today is the last day of preparations for tomorrow’s Midummer festival, and we still have quite some work to do. Is everyone clear about their duties?’
The Counselor acknowledges the nodding heads.
‘Very good. Let’s recap the festival schedule: we start with a welcome note followed by breakfast. After breakfast, the school children are invited to the fields of the Yaar family for a corn-growing class. In parallel, The Cooperatives officials will join me to visit the Seed Keepers facilities. At noon, we have lunch, and then we continue with a visit to our bee hive. How many bees are there now?’
‘So far, we tagged 307 female workers, a queen and three male drone bees,’ Alaska says.
‘Very good! Great work, Alaska, Fanny; it is an incredible accomplishment. The Cooperatives officials will be pleased, and, it will come as no surprise, they will also collect the bees this year. Let’s give Alaska and Fanny a round of applause, everyone!’ the Counselor says, clapping her hands. ‘Alright, after the beehive visit, we have an afternoon break. The program continues with dinner, followed by a screening of the Human Island sacrifice documentary by Nova Novikov. Then we close the day with the midnight sunset concert and the temple procession. Is everyone on board? Any questions?’
Heads nod, and voices rise from the circle.
‘Looking forward to the meals!’
‘Thank you, thank you. We will conclude today’s session with an important announcement,’ the Counselor says, nodding to Ms. Lunde, the elderly woman with snow-white hair hunched on a tiny plastic stool beside her. Ms. Lunde lifts the teacup to her lips and takes a sip, smiling, her wrinkly eyes crinkling at the corners.
‘At the end of the Data War, my dearest father, who returned his water and nutrients back to earth a few decades ago, had conducted negotiations with the newly formed Cooperatives and persuaded them to allow our farmers to keep their fertile lands and turn this area into a seed keepers’ community,’ Ms. Lunde says. ‘The Scandinavian Colony joined the newly formed North Colonies Alliance, which restored our lands and secured humanity’s food supply. Now, I know that, back then, not everyone agreed with the embargo policies imposed by The Cooperatives on the natural resources of the North Colonies Alliance, and some continue to disagree until today. I know there are good reasons for this, but we will not go into details. This is not why we are here today. Despite our differences, we must maintain a harmonious collaboration with The Cooperatives to continue being the stewards of these lands and our seed banks. Tomorrow, for the first time in decades, The Cooperatives officials will be joined by an AI Officer…’
Murmurs rise from the circle.
‘At the Midsummer festival?’
‘Please, let me finish,’ Ms. Lunde says. ‘Allegedly, the illegal seed trading of the Dust Road has been linked to our seed-keeping colony, and they want to investigate.’
Ms. Lunde stops and looks at every single person in the temple room.
‘I want to make something clear to each and all of you: we are not accusing anyone of wrongdoing,’ Ms. Lunde says. ‘We all know our values. But I ask that you please be mindful of the rules by which we, as a community, vowed to abide with our partners. I hope that I made myself clear!’
The Counselor nods.
‘Thank you, Ms. Lunde,’ the Counselor says. ‘Please, everyone, be mindful and no funny business tomorrow, understood? I wish you a good day! Thanks for your participation!’
The circle breaks, and all the attendants exit the temple, ready to tackle the day’s chores. No one speaks of the AI Ghost, although it is on everyone’s mind. After saying goodbye, Alaska and Fanny stroll on the winding path through the corn fields.
‘We have to destroy it!’ Fanny says, glancing around to ensure that they are alone ‘You know you can’t do your deal under the nose of an AI Ghost!’
‘Never! I’d rather die!’ Alaska says.
‘What about Mason?’ Fanny says.
‘Everything will be fine!’ Alaska says. ‘Let’s wait for Nova tomorrow morning. She will know what to do.’
The only light source in the pitch-dark room is the glow of the digits on the wallboard, reading 3:32 am. Alaska tosses and turns on her one-person mat on the floor, but sleep is impossible to catch. She gets out of bed, stumbles through the dark and opens the door to the kitchen. The sunlight blinds her momentarily, but her eyes adjust fast to the light as she exits the house and walks onto the fields.
A flock of surveillance drones buzzes over her head and then flies away. As she hurries past the terraced herbs garden in front of the glasshouse, Alaska feels a wave of incoming data from the nanobots, tirelessly working the plants and the soil. With a mental command, she deactivates the data center from accessing her: nothing in, nothing out. It’s allowed on festival days. Not even an AI Ghost can collect data without access to a device. At least, that’s what she hopes. She pulls the door open and steps into the moist heat of the glasshouse. She takes off her shoes, and the soles of her feet welcome the cool bare earth as she strolls to her father’s tree fern, standing tall in the glasshouse. The sunlight sips milky green through the plastic rooftop and the thick foliage of the arched fronds that fall like green water streams from the tree’s straight trunk. Alaska sits cross-legged under the tree with her hands resting on her knees.
‘Dicksonia antarctica, the Tasmanian tree fern, is an evergreen tree native to east Australia. In the Jurassic Period, the time of the dinosaurs, there were large forests made of tree ferns. Alright, sorry, I know you know what the Jurassic Period is. Can we eat it? Yes, when the trunk grows thick and strong, you can split it at the top, take out the starchy heart of its pulp, and eat it raw or roasted. It resembles a Swedish turnip,’ her father had said one day upon returning to the farm from one of his trips carrying the tree fern seedling.
Alaska remembers looking at the handful of leaves shooting out of the growing pod in all directions and thinking good luck turning a Swedish turnip into a tree. The Swedish turnip, as Alaska and Fanny called it behind their father’s back, took their father’s obsession with growing plants to the next level. Then, one day, their father went on another one of his trips and never came back. Stricken with grief, Alaska found solace in continuing her father’s work and ensured the tree fern grew tall and strong. As a child, she thought her father had left something of himself in that tree and that he might return as long as the tree was alive. Even after so many years, Alaska still hoped. Every time she received a clandestine seed, as Fanny liked to call them, from the Dust Road, she wanted to believe that it came from her father. That he was hiding somewhere, leading the seeds of resistance, building back the ecosystem outside of the North Colony Alliance, with the people for the people, and this kept her going. She missed her father, their only parent, who had his daughters via a surrogate mother and never married. Alaska still wondered why.
Butterflies land on her arms light as eyelashes, flapping their colorful silicone wings in the heavy, moist air, and myriapods crawl on her legs with their rubber spidery legs. She traces the contours of the tree fern stretching its green arms towards the sun shining through the plastic ceiling of the plastic house. Plenty of plastic was around to recycle and reuse, and plenty of scrap metal parts to turn into robots resembling real beings. The previous generations had been generous with the garbage they left behind.
‘Father, please guide my steps today,’ Alaska says, standing up.
The growing pod holding the female date seedling rests on the mini-lab tabletop concealed by baby corn plants. Alaska had grown it from three date seeds dug out from an ancient food dumpster somewhere in Central Europe and delivered to her via the Dust Road network. Her friend Nova Novikov, a famous documentary maker who joined the Midsummer festival as the official camerawoman of The Cooperatives every year since Alaska was a little girl, was the courier. She had been the courier of her father as well and the closest thing Alaska and Fanny had to a mother. Even though she visited sporadically, she always arrived packed with presents for the twins, exquisite items collected from her travels that would delight the girls’ curiosity. Alaska thought her father secretly loved Nova, but she never dared to ask. Then their father disappeared, and Nova welcomed a daughter, Ania, whom Alaska and Fanny loved as a sister. When Ania died, Nova was heartbroken, and she spent a whole year at the Seed Keepers Colony where the sisters took care of her. But that was a long time ago.
Two of the three date kernels brought by Nova were bare, but the third hatched thanks to the growing pod technology that created the right conditions for development, monitored the plant’s needs and health and fed it accordingly. It was a delicate process fraught with errors and usually doomed to failure, but in some cases, it worked, and this was more than she could ever hope. The seeds came with a note: We hope there’s a female hidden in these seeds. A male date tree is waiting for her in our care. She wondered who helped them get the male date tree. And also who they were. But on the Dust Road, things were kept anonymous. Once she handed over the seedling, nobody could trace it back to her.
‘So, let’s get you to your date,’ Alaska says, hiding the pod in her bag.
Will Nova be able to by-pass the AI Ghost? Alaska could only hope that everything will be fine if she followed the agreed protocol.
During my screenwriting studies, I wrote a screenplay for a short film titled The Seed Grower. The idea for this story came up as I explored the secondary world of The Deep Dive, a utopian story I wrote as a screenplay for a feature film during my studies. On a timeline, the collection There Is Hope is the dystopian prequel of that utopian storyline. The two worlds are separated by thousands of years.
The Seed Grower was well received during my studies, and my professor wanted to produce it as an audio podcast. However, the podcast producer thought that the story was not quite there. I wrote and rewrote the screenplay, but something was always missing. Finally, I gave up.
But the story idea followed me, and as the secondary world in which it lived grew, new stories were added, which led me to the thought of writing There Is Hope, a collection of climate fiction stories and my first book, which I am currently writing on Substack.
When I started to work again on The Seed Grower, I realized that, despite the title, I knew very little about seeds. I decided to remedy that by reading Seeds of Resistance: The Fight to Save our Food Supply by Mark Schapiro. To say that reading this book was a game-changer is an understatement. After finishing it, I wrote Corn, science fiction and the future of food. In this newsletter, I explored the topic of food in science fiction and imagined the future of food. I also decided to do a little experiment. I wrote a second newsletter on seeds, The Seed Keepers, from the perspective of a secondary character from The Seed Grower. Finally, I had enough material to rewrite the story.
While it keeps some of the original cast, this story version differs significantly from the screenplay I wrote in 2019—it is also four times longer. All this would not have been possible without Mr. Schapiro’s book to whom I dedicate this story.
The second part will be published in one week.
So, what do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts on part one.