The Seed Grower - Part II
A farmer grows illegal seeds of resistance, but her life gets complicated when an unlikely guest joins the Midsummer festival.
The Seed Grower - Part II
The pod landing platform is the tallest construction in the seed keeper colony. Its neon green surveillance tower rises ten meters above the four meters high protection wall surrounding the colony, segregating its territory from the outside world, ensuring that nothing comes in or goes out without the required authorizations. Underneath the suspended platform, the terraced flower beds are in bloom, and women are busy plucking bouquets and making flower garlands for the pink temple. Alaska waves at them while climbing the stairs in a hurry, looking at the flock of metal birds buzzing round and round above the platform. She clutches the bag strapped across her shoulders and joins the Counselor, Ms. Lunde, and several other colony members in the waiting area.
It is too early in the day for small talk, so Alaska scans the blue sky dotted with white clouds in search of the first guests scheduled to arrive. A green passengers’ pod, the Siberian Airpod, is fast approaching the platform, and the circle of flying drones opens to make spaces for the landing—Nova’s shabby single blue pod trails behind the shiny passengers’ pod.
‘Happy Midsummer festival,’ the Counselor says, walking towards the delegation of five Cooperatives officials. Alaska shakes hands and smiles at the men and women dressed in elegant seaweed fabrics with luscious skin and healthy, well-fed bodies.
‘Welcome to the Seed Keeper Colony,’ Alaska says. ‘I hope that you enjoyed your trip!’
One after another, the colony committee and The Cooperatives officials crowding the arrival area leave the platform. But Alaska lingers, waiting for Nova. She still feels the impulse to run to meet her, filled with excitement like when she was a girl. ‘Alaska, don’t run on the platform!’ her father used to say, but little Alaska was too excited to listen to him. Many summers had passed since those days, her father was long gone, her relationship with Nova had changed, and now there was a protocol to follow. ‘One day, it won’t be me climbing out of this pod,’ Nova told her, and Alaska brushed the thought away, laughing as if it were a joke. Still, a fear seeped into her bones, and every year afterward, she waited for the pod’s door to fling open and for the familiar face of her friend to appear and stop her heart from beating out of her chest. The surveillance drones clear the sky following the delegation, their buzzing now faint in her ears, or is it the buzzing of the blood pulsating in her head while the blue pod remains stubbornly still? Suddenly, there’s movement in the Siberian Airpod, and a strange figure emerges. Long silver hair flows over a silky grey robe, pale, almost translucent skin glowy in the morning sun and blue eyes that seem to look through her. Alaska’s eyes are glued to the silhouette as it hovers past her without a glance, and her hands clutch at her pouch so tightly her fingers hurt. She stares at the see-through skin glowing in the sun, at the heart-shaped gadget pulsating at the back of the chest, shimmering red through the layers of energy it generates to give shape to this most bizarre being. And then, ignoring the stairs, he hovers down from the platform’s edge and is gone—indeed, a ghost.
Shaken by the encounter, Alaska stands there for a while, unable to move. Then a thought crosses her mind, and her head snaps back toward Nova’s pod, where she sees a teenage girl with long black hair and almond-shaped eyes. Alaska gaps at the trail of bots squirming at the girl’s feet. Nova’s filming bots! The girl takes a step in Alaska’s direction and then stops, hesitating. And before she knows it, Alaska spins on her heels and flees the platform pressing the pouch against her body, and all she can think of is a widowed male date tree withering away in the desert.
‘Welcome to the Midsummer Festival of the Seed Keeper Colony!’ the Counselor says, walking onto the stage erected in front of the container temple.
Nova had told her to wait. ‘The day this happens, don’t panic. There’s a contingency plan.’ So now Alaska sits on a chair before the stage and waits, heart thudding in her chest.
‘Let’s see, who do we have here this year?’ the Counselor says. ‘In the first row, we can see our guests of honor: the representatives of The Cooperatives, our partners, the founders of the North Colony Alliance, the keepers of Earth’s genome, and the stewards of the Taiga, our boreal forest, the last standing forest and our hope for the future. Give them a big applause!’
Alaska looks at her sister’s neatly folded hands, lifting from her lap and clapping. She watches the jowls and bellies of the five Cooperatives representatives jiggle in their fine seaweed clothing as they stand up to receive the stiff applauses.
‘Thank you, thank you,’ the Counselor says. ‘Also in the front row, we have the Counselor and board members of the Stockholm Colony, our longtime partners who, with their micro-farming practices and the seeds provided by the Seed Keepers Colony, feed a population of over two million people.’
Alaska watches her own hands clapping as five bony figures clothed in well-worn seaweed overalls stand up to receive warm applause.
‘Despite food shortages, the Seed Keeper Colony, in cooperation with the Stockholm Colony, will again be able to donate 1,000 meals to our neighbors south of the borders who, as we know, are in great need. And, this year, The Cooperatives will double that count for 2,000 free meals. Thank you to all who have made this possible,’ the Counselor says.
Alaska’s body feels tense and restless, and suddenly the chair is too hard, the air too stuffy, and the space between Fanny and Ms. Lunde is too narrow.
‘Where are you going?’ Fanny says.
‘On the second row, we have the school teachers from the Siberian Taiga College and the Scandinavian College for Micro-Farming,’ the Counselor says.
Alaska squeezes past her sister without answering. She walks past the school teachers—and a few privileged parents that were granted a permit to enter the seed keeper grounds—who stand up for a lively round of applause.
‘And in the remaining rows, we have students from both schools. Let’s give hearty applause to the next generation working on the future of our planet,’ the Counselor says.
Alaska stops at the back of the seating area, searching the crowd. Who is her ally? Who is her enemy? What is going to happen next? Will she find herself in the impossible situation of destroying the date seedling? She cannot bear the thought. Her eyes stop on the new camerawoman, the young girl with long black hair busy taking closeups of the schoolchildren. The first group, occupying the middle rows, are children from The Cooperatives headquarters in Siberia. You could tell them apart from the second group occupying the back seats by their shiny new clothing, glowing skin and considerable body size. A 10-year-old from The Cooperatives was considerably larger than a 10-year-old from a Stockholm Colony school with their seaweed-fed spindly arms and legs and washed-out green overalls.
‘Thank you all for joining us! The Midsummer festival is a time of plenty and sharing,’ the Counselor says.
The camerawoman takes a panoramic view of the stage, slowly rotating, taking in the atmosphere and every face until she reaches Alaska and stops.
‘As well as a time for learning. As always, we have a fantastic educational program lined up for you! You will start with a visit to the cornfields, where you can learn about the 200 corn varieties our colony cultivated in this year’s first cropping season,’ the Counselor says.
The teenage girl lowers her camera and looks into Alaska’s eyes, who, in turn, nods her head, smiling politely, pulling a mask over her face.
‘And then, for the first time, we invite you to see a beehive! Big applause to Alaska Yaar, our beekeeper!’ the Counselor says, searching for Alaska. ‘There she is, at the back!’
All the heads turn to look at her, and, for a moment, Alaska stands there naked, feeling like everyone could read her thoughts: Who are you? And what have you done with my friend?
‘And now it’s time for breakfast!’ the Counselor says.
Once a year, there was a feast—three all-you-can-eat meals in a single day. Alaska looks at the stacks of bread and bowls of spreads, the platters of fresh vegetables and fruits, and the jars of marmalades and lemonades piled on the tables. Not only the quantity but also the quality of the produce made these, without a doubt, the best meals of the year for the vast majority of the guests, except for a few lucky Siberian representatives who might have access to enough good food all year round. But for the school kids from the Stockholm Colony, the festival meals will be the best meals of their lives. And one could see it on their faces and their ravenous appetite.
‘Mason, don’t stare!’ Fanny says.
Alaska wonders how many more people they could feed south of the border with all this food. But it was a futile thought. This kind of food was going nowhere near the border, and even on the underground trading network of the Dust Road, it was rare to find. The millions of hungry mouths baking in the dust bowl of what used to be Central Europe needed genetic material to grow their food. But that was even in shorter supply. And the punishment for allowing seeds to trickle south of the North Colonies Alliance was expulsion.
‘Mommy is also staring!’ Mason says.
Alaska forks some food from her plate and takes a bite.
‘I’m looking for my friend,’ Alaska says.
‘She didn’t come,’ Fanny says. ‘What are you gonna do?’
Alaska lets the fork drop on her plate, takes a deep breath, stretches her neck and moves her shoulders to release the tension.
‘I’ll figure something out,’ Alaska says.
Fanny glances at Alaska’s fork and untouched breakfast plate and keeps eating.
‘Why didn’t your friend come, mommy?’ Mason says, reaching for his glass of lemonade. ‘Did something happen to her?’
‘None of your concern, adult talk. Eat your breakfast, and don’t stare,’ Fanny says.
Mason gulps down his lemonade.
‘Those kids are also starring!’ Mason says, pointing his finger to the school children from The Cooperatives, who are giggling at the sight of the poor Stockholm kids gorging on food they had never seen.
‘Mason!’ Alaska says, yanking her son’s hand. ‘Don’t point your finger at people; this is impolite!’
The boy’s eyes well up with tears springing from a place within that he doesn’t yet understand, but that is bubbling up in his chest, tightening it.
‘I’m sorry, baby,’ Alaska says, hugging her son, trying to soothe him. But it’s too late; the bubble in the boy’s chest is bursting, and he starts crying. With her wailing son in her arms, she glances at the table of The Cooperatives officials and notices Shia quickly looking away.
‘Who is she?’ Alaska says. ‘And why is she flying Nova’s pod?’
‘Grandmother Nova? Is she coming?’ Mason says.
Alaska pats her son’s head.
‘No honey, she is not coming,’ Alaska says.
Fanny wipes her plate clean with a piece of bread and empties her glass of lemonade.
‘The corn lesson starts in 15 minutes,’ Fanny says, standing up.
‘Why isn’t grandmother Nova coming?’ Mason says.
‘Mason, do you want to show your corn kernels collection to the other children?’
‘Now?’ Mason says, yanking himself from his mother’s arms.
‘Or you can wait until next year,’ Fanny says.
‘No, I want to show it now!’ Mason says, reaching for his aunt’s hand. ‘Aunt Fanny, why isn’t grandmother Nova coming?’
‘I’ll tell you later,’ Fanny says, walking away hand in hand with Mason.
Alaska peeks at the food on her plate, drums her fingers on the table and is about to stand up when Ms. Lunde approaches and sits beside her.
‘Pretend you’re having a pleasant chat with an old lady,’ Ms. Lunde says, taking a fork. ‘Do you mind?’
Alaska looks at Ms. Lunde, pointing with the fork toward her plate, and nods in approval.
‘You seem to have lost your appetite,’ Ms. Lunde says, taking a bite and chewing slowly. ‘You young ones never knew famine. I always eat while I can. For all I know, this might be my last meal in a long time.’
Alaska doubts they will run out of food by lunchtime but doesn’t say anything.
‘Nova Novikov is nowhere in sight,’ Ms. Lunde says, taking another forkful of Alaska’s food and chewing while she speaks. ‘At midnight, I will temporarily turn off the security so the new courier can escape with the package. I don’t know who that is, but they will contact you during the day.’
Alaska forces a smile.
‘I have no idea what you’re talking about, Ms. Lunde,’ Alaska says.
Ms. Lunde reaches for Alaska’s glass of lemonade.
‘Do you mind?’ Ms. Lunde says. ‘It’s scorching hot already, and it’s only morning.’
‘Help yourself,’ Alaska says.
Ms. Lunde gulps half the lemonade glass in one go, then burps loudly.
‘Pardon me, I’m an old lady,’ Ms. Lunde laughs. ‘I know about the delivery, don’t ask why. I’m usually in charge of plan B. Today is a plan B day.’
Dumbfounded, Alaska watches as Ms. Lunde wipes her mouth with a cloth napkin and stands up.
‘Where is Nova?’ Alaska says.
‘That’s what I’m trying to find out,’ Ms. Lunde says, waving goodbye. ‘Don’t be late for your corn class.’
Corn. Corn. Corn. Everything is corn. This is corn. And this is corn. And this is corn. Maize. Maize. White. Blue. Red. Criollo varieties. Flor del Rio. Glass gem. Navajo Copper. The popcorn varieties. Alaska peels off layers of thick maize leaves, revealing ready-to-harvest corn ears that she rips and then passes on to the children. Totahu:n. Rarámuri Chiquita. Rarámuri Chomo. Rarámuri Gileno. The corn ears pass from hand to hand, caressed by fingers, like precious jewels, the colorful grains shining in the mid-day sun, gleaming in the children’s wide eyes. The sound of the wind running through the undulating corn fields like a green and golden sea, everyone hidden in the swift waves, smelling the richness, crushing kernels between their teeth, sucking in the sweetness. Such abundance growing from the soil, fed by the sun, watered by the rains, and cared for by the loving hands of the seed growers.
‘Only on our farm, we grew 40 corn varieties this season,’ Alaska says.
The children are gathered around her in a circle, keeping her hostage with questions that echo in her head, bouncing around on neural paths before she can catch their meaning.
Her mind is wandering, thinking, searching, and it takes all she has to force it back to the present moment.
‘Yes, we grow them in micro-crops. The idea is to harvest enough corn to replenish the Siberian Seed Bank,’ Alaska says.
There is a new courier. Alaska glances at the camerawoman. Could it be? But she is so young.
‘What is a seed bank?’
‘Where is Siberia?’
‘My mommy works at the SSB!’
‘Siberian Seed Bank, duh!’
‘A seed bank is a germplasm bank.’
‘Your mom has germs?’
There’s laughter again. Team Siberia against team Stockholm. The rich against the poor. Alaska needs to distract them.
‘Who wants to see blue corn?’ Alaska says.
‘Like, it’s really blue?’
Alaska gently pushes the mob of children to the sides, peeking at the camerawoman, now talking to Mason, who seems fascinated by the filming bots and the girl’s long black hair and, apparently, her wrist, which he now caresses with his fingers.
‘Follow me!’ Alaska says.
Alaska walks to the blue corn crop while watching the camerawoman and Mason. She plucks a corn ear and peels off the leaves.
‘Wow, it’s blue!’
‘This is sick, man!’
The kids laugh.
‘Here, pass it from hand to hand!’ Alaska says, handing the blue corn ear to the girl standing eagerly beside her.
‘Why is it blue?’
Now the camerawoman searches through her pockets.
‘My mommy told me that the color is blue-purple. And it comes from anthocyanin.’
Now the camerawoman takes something out of her pocket and shows it to Mason.
Now Mason looks at the something that the camerawoman took out of her pocket and then points with his finger toward Alaska.
‘Anthocyanin,’ Alaska says, walking towards Mason and Alaska. ‘This is a polyphenol, a substance found in many plants that gives flowers, fruits and vegetables their color.’
‘It’s also an antioxidant.’
Now the camerwoman whispers something in her son’s ear and then shakes his hand.
‘Alright, everyone, it’s time for the lunch break,’ Alaska says.
‘If you’re hungry, follow the bee!’ Fanny says, holding a yellow bee sign up in the air.
‘Will we get to taste honey?’
‘Honey is served with the lunch dessert!’ Fanny says.
The excited children follow the bee sign held high by Fanny. The camerawoman follows them, carefully not to look in Alaska’s direction.
‘Mommy, mommy,’ Mason says, pulling Alaska’s sleeve. ‘Look’.
Mason holds something in the crook of his palms.
‘What is it, honey?’ Alaska says.
Mason crouches and opens his palms, revealing a little pouch.
‘It’s a secret from Shia,’ Mason says. ‘For you.’
Alaska crouches next to her son, looking at the curious little thing.
‘Shia is the name of the camerawoman?’ Alaska says, emptying the pouch.
‘Shia Santos,’ Mason says. ‘She has a tattoo on her wrist. It’s a bee.’
Five smooth seeds roll out on the palm of Alaska’s hand.
‘What’s this?’ Mason says, picking a seed.
‘Careful,’ Alaska says. ‘Don’t lose it! It’s a seed.’
Mason stands up, holding the tiny seed between his index and thumb fingers.
‘What will grow out of this seed?’ Mason says. ‘Can we eat it?’
Alaska inspects the seeds.
‘I don’t know yet,’ Alaska says.
The excited giggles and laughter of the schoolchildren are getting increasingly distant. But now, a buzzing sound is filling the sky. A surveillance drone!
‘Give it to me!’ Alaska says.
‘No,’ Mason says, yanking his hand away. ‘I want to hold it a little longer.’
As the high-flying drone bird dives from the sky, Alaska’s trembling hands pull her son towards her, covering him with her body, closing her eyes in fear, hoping that the drone won’t be able to detect the illegal seeds through the flesh of their offline bodies. The buzzing goes round and round in circles poking at Alaska’s ribs, bumping into her head and elbows.
‘Mommy, I cannot breathe,’ Mason says.
‘Shush,’ Alaska says.
The buzzing sound intensifies. It called for help! Soon it will alert the whole colony—the AI Ghost! Alaska feels the blood draining from her veins, and her body is shivering cold and clammy in the high noon heat of the summer.
‘Hra, hra! Away you crones!’
The buzzing sounds lift into the air and disappear quickly into the distance. A hand rests on Alaska’s shoulder.
‘It’s alright. They are gone.’
Alaska lets go of her son and peeks at the friendly face of Ms. Lunde, her body shaking uncontrollably. Mason opens his palm, and his face brightens into a smile. The seed is safe. They are safe.
‘What do you have there, son?’ Ms. Lunde says.
‘It’s a seed,’ Mason says, lifting his hand for Ms. Lunde to see. ‘But it’s a secret. It would be best if you didn’t tell anyone, Ms. Lunde.’
Ms. Lunde turns with questioning eyes to Alaska, who opens her trembling hand, uncovering the other four seeds.
‘The camerawoman,’ Alaska says. ‘Her name is Shia Santos.’
‘So she is the new courier,’ Ms. Lunde says, picking one of the seeds, marveling at it. ‘Reckless girl!’
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 third part will be published in one week.
So, what do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts on part two.