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The Seed Grower - Part III
A farmer grows illegal seeds of resistance, but her life gets complicated when an unlikely guest joins the Midsummer festival.
The Seed Grower - Part III
Looking like astronauts in full-body bee protective suits, the Stockholm school kids are clumped together, staring at the AI Officer.
‘They look like they’ve seen a ghost!’
The Siberian kids are giggling and elbowing each other.
‘He can hear you!’
Alaska clears her throat, scratches her forehead and presses her lips together, trying to keep a straight face.
‘Glad you’re finding it all so amusing,’ Fanny says.
The AI Officer hovers under the tree fern contemplating its leaves, oblivious of the considerable audience gathered around him, albeit at a respectful distance. What is the Ghost doing in here? The question had been on Alaska’s mind for the five minutes since they entered the glasshouse intending to teach the students about the art of growing bees. Instead, they found the Ghost casually inspecting her father’s Swedish turnip. He didn’t acknowledge their presence, and they hadn’t stopped staring at him for what already seemed like a tense eternity. Who was going to break the ice?
‘Mommy, is that the Ghost?’ Mason says.
There’s a collective gasp followed by roaring laughter as all the heads turn to look at the five-year-old Mason pointing his finger toward the AI Officer. Fanny’s face turns a dark shade of crimson, and Alaska is overwhelmed again by a visceral need to join the children’s laughter but manages to control herself.
‘That is an AI Officer from the Cooperatives,’ Alaska says. ‘Now, what did I say about pointing fingers at other people?’
‘And calling them names?’ Fanny says.
But Mason ignores his mother and aunt, boldly approaching the Ghost and poking him with his finger. In the sudden silence, one can hear the faint buzzing of bees from the adjacent flower garden.
‘Everything alright, young man?’ the Ghost says, looking down at Mason.
The school kids catch their breath.
‘Is it true that you’re an officer and not a ghost?’ Mason says, looking up at the AI Ghost.
‘Mason!’ Alaska says, reaching for her son.
‘It’s alright, Ms. Yaar,’ the Ghost says, turning his pale blue eyes toward Alaska. ‘I know what they call me. Plus, I’m an AI. I rarely get offended.’
And suddenly, the spell breaks, and the students press around Alaska, poking and probing at the Ghost’s robes, threatening to topple over her father’s tree fern.
‘Everyone back off and give the officer some room to breathe!’ Alaska says.
‘Does he breathe?’
Alaska pushes the children back.
‘If you want to see the bees, back to cueing in pairs of two in front of the flower garden,’ Alaska says.
The students look at the AI Ghost, then at Alaska, pondering their options.
‘Alternatively, you can wait the rest of the day buckled up on your seats in your respective Airpods,’ Alaska says.
Suddenly, the kids seem very preoccupied with looking at their toes while forming neat rows behind Fanny, who slides the open door to the flower garden. The loud buzzing of bees fills the children’s ears, and the fragrances of the flowers tickle their nostrils.
‘What’s this sound?’
‘This is the buzzing sound that the bees make,’ Alaska says.
‘Please remain in pairs like this. Enter two at a time and align against the wall,’ Fanny says. ‘The bee garden is tiny and full of flowers. Please be mindful.’
‘Why do they buzz?’
The AI Ghost looks at Alaska, stretching out his hand.
‘I’m sorry, Ms. Yaar,’ the Ghost says. ‘I did not mean to cause a commotion.’
Alaska looks at the transparent hand waiting for a handshake.
‘Why do they buzz?’ Fanny says, following the children. ‘Bees use vibration or floral buzzes produced by their thoracic muscles to remove pollen from the flowers.’
Alaska grabs the Ghost’s hand lightly, and, to her surprise, the Ghost’s fingers wrap around hers into a tight grip, and she feels a strong field of energy emanating from his body.
‘Oh,’ Alaska says, pulling away her hand.
The Ghost’s lips widen into a thin smile and they both stand under the tree fern listening to the chatter.
‘The bees have muscles? Are they beefy?’
‘Yes, bees have muscles, and they use them to create different buzzes,’ Fanny says. ‘For example, next to the floral buzzes, the bees have a thermogenic vibration that creates heat with little energy, and flight buzzes that give them power flight. Moreover, the bees can modulate their floral buzzes based on the flower characteristics and pollen availability to optimize their energy use when collecting pollen.’
‘I’ve been wanting to see how your late father’s little experiment turned out,’ the Ghost says, looking at the tree fern. ‘May his water and nutrients feed the earth in peace.’
Every time she’s around the Ghost, Alaska feels like she’s in a boxing ring and keeps getting knocked out.
‘You knew my father?’ Alaska says.
The Ghost looks at Alaska in silence. On the other side of the plastic wall, Fanny takes out several hearing aids and distributes them to the children.
‘Who wants to hear the different types of floral buzzes?’ Fanny says.
‘Share with each other! Go to different flower bushes and listen,’ Fanny says.
The bee hums are soon enhanced by the buzzing excitement of the children, who scatter around to do their little experiments. Fanny exits the flower garden and joins the duo under the tree fern.
‘Oh, he didn’t tell you? The Swedish turnip was my gift,’ the Ghost says.
The door to the glasshouse opens and closes, and Shia Santos approaches them, wiping the sweat from her brow.
‘Am I late?’ Shia says, squatting on the floor and pulling filming gear from her bag with both hands at an astonishing speed. Then she stops mid-motion, and a thought seems to cross her mind before she slowly glides with her eyes up and down the Ghost’s silhouette.
‘I didn’t have a chance to say hello, Ms. Santos,’ the Ghost says. ‘I took the liberty of watching your documentary before today’s premiere. I was rather impressed. You ought to tell Ms. Yaar what happened to her friend.’
The Ghost nods curtly to the three women and then disappears, leaving a heart-shaped gadget floating in the air.
‘I’ll see you later at the ceremony, Ms. and Ms. Yaar,’ the Ghost says, buzzing out of the glasshouse through an opening in the ceiling.
Alaska and Shia look at each other.
‘Meet me inside the temple during dinner,’ Alaska says, walking into the bee garden. ‘We have about half an hour left. Would you like to join us?’
Shia grabs her filming gear and follows Alaska.
‘How did he know that we call it the Swedish turnip?’ Fanny says, looking at the small ceiling opening through which the Ghost had vanished.
The cheerful chatter of the festival guests eating at the long dinner tables is accompanied by the high-pitched clinking of forks and spoons on ceramic plates and the slurp of soups and drinks as they enjoy the third and last meal of the day. Alaska is wolfing down the food on her plate, anxiously looking around the tables.
‘Mommy, can I have your corn?’ Mason says, chewing.
She cannot see Shia anywhere. That’s her cue.
‘Don’t talk with your mouth full,’ Alaska says, standing up.
‘Where are you going?’ Fanny says.
Alaska squeezes through the narrow space between the long tables packed with guests, heading toward the compost latrines. The door of one of the latrines opens, and Ms. Lunde comes out, rubbing her lower back.
‘Squatting toilets!’ Ms. Lunde says.
‘Everything alright, Ms. Lunde?’ Alaska says.
Ms. Lunde grabs Alaska’s arm.
‘How am I going to stand up if I squat at my age?’ Ms. Lunde says, waddling beside Alaska. ‘Where are we going?’
Alaska scans the surroundings.
‘I’m meeting Shia in the temple. The Ghost said that she knew what happened to Nova. Can we trust this girl?’ Alaska says.
‘I don’t think we have a choice,’ Ms. Lunde says.
Flowers line up the quiet stone alley leading to the container temple.
‘I don’t know what to do about this year’s delivery,’ Alaska says. ‘I’m starting to think that my father’s disappearance had something to do with his underground activities and also the Ghost. It gives me an uneasy feeling. What will happen to my son if I fail and I get caught? I don’t want him to grow up like me without his parent. At the same time, if I chose not to do this, if all the people living north of the alliance borders chose to live their safe lives and stop caring, how would our world look like for my son? For his children? Is this what we want to leave behind? The Cooperatives are run by the same greedy data moguls that brought upon us The Data War. What guarantees that our way of life will last even for the foreseeable future? They can take everything away from us in the blink of an eye.’
The neon blue letters shining on the facade of the pink container temple read: Cultural Center of the Seed Keepers Colony.
‘About that,’ Ms. Lunde says. ‘The Ghost wants the tree fern.’
Alaska smiles bitterly.
‘I thought as much when I found him in our glasshouse earlier,’ Alaska says. ‘It will feel like I’m losing my father for the second time. And Nova is gone. I don’t know if I can deal with so much loss in a single day.’
Ms. Lunde pats Alaska’s hand.
‘Impermanence. Everything is impermanence,’ Ms. Lunde says.
On the temple’s front door is a poster depicting a young girl with almond-blue eyes dressed in a white kimono titled Human Island. Alaska pulls the temple door open and stops. She lets the door close and looks at the poster.
‘Is this Shia Santos?’ Alaska says.
‘This girl is full of surprises,’ Ms. Lunde says.
They both look around quickly and enter the temple.
For a while, the alley is again quiet, then hurried steps and voices break the silence, and Fanny walks toward the temple entrance pulling Mason’s hand.
‘Are we playing detective, aunt Fanny?’ Mason says.
‘Yes, we’re playing detective. Now hurry up!’ Fanny says.
‘You’re walking too fast!’ Mason says.
Mason trips on a stone tile and drops his corn ear.
‘Wait, I dropped my corn!’ Mason says.
‘Forget about it!’ Fanny says, pulling the boy’s hand.
‘No,’ Mason says, yanking his hand out of his aunt’s grip and picking the corn ear.
‘Are you gonna eat like that, full of dirt?’ Fanny says.
Mason rubs the corn against his shirt.
‘Now it’s clean, right?’ Fanny says.
Mason grins at his aunt and takes a bite.
‘Looks, there is Shia,’ Mason says, pointing the ear corn toward the poster.
‘The camerawoman?’ Fanny says.
‘She showed me a picture of my mommy and asked me her name,’ Mason says.
‘How odd,’ Fanny says, opening the temple door.
The alley is quiet once again. Then the ghost hovers to the temple entrance.
‘Nice poster,’ the Ghost says, cracking the door open and slithering in.
Alaska and Ms. Lunde let the curtain fall behind them and stop before the altar next to Shia. Polychrome light falls from the stained windows of the dim temple room, gently coloring the smooth face of the goddess. Thick flower garlands are draped around her neck, flower vases ornate the altar, and bowls of vegetables and grains pile at her feet.
‘I’ve never seen so much opulence,’ Shia says. ‘In the Japanese seaweed colonies, we only have a couple of dried flowers decorating the altar of the wooden shrine.’
‘Still, you have a wooden shrine. Our goddess is hosted in a container,’ Alaska says.
‘True,’ Shia says.
‘But we are certainly blessed beyond measure,’ Ms. Lunde says, folding her hands before her heart and bowing her head. ‘Thank you for the plentiful harvest, Mother. May the earth bless us again the next season.’
Shia smiles gently, then searches through her pockets, takes a small picture and gives it to Alaska.
‘Where did you get this from?’ Alaska says.
‘I found it in Nova Novikov’s flying pod,’ Shia says.
‘What happened to her?’ Alaska says.
Shia lowers her head, tears streaming down her cheeks.
‘She is dead,’ Shia says.
Alaska feels a numbness taking over her body.
‘Dead?’ Alaska says. ‘But…how?’
Shia lifts her sorrowful almond eyes and gazes at Alaska.
‘She took my place in the Human Island sacrifice,’ Shia says. ‘I’m sorry, please forgive me. I was weak.’
‘So the sharks are real,’ Ms. Lunde says.
‘Nova finally found her peace,’ Alaska says, trying to hold back her tears.
Shia searches again through her pockets and takes out a note.
‘I read Nova Novikov’s instructions and will do everything possible to deliver the date seedling where it belongs. Even if it costs my life,’ Shia says.
‘Shush,’ Ms. Lunde says, pointing toward the curtains.
The temple door opens and closes, and there are voices in the antechamber. Alaska places a hand on Shia’s shoulder.
‘At midnight. In the field behind the temple. Don’t be late,’ Alaska says, and then, swift as a cat, she jumps on the altar, then on a window seal, opens the window and jumps out.
Ms. Lunde grabs Shia’s arm and leans on her. Some moments later, the curtains are pulled, and Fanny, Mason and the Ghost appear.
‘Shia Santos, we caught you! You’re under arrest!’ Mason says.
Ms. Lunde laughs, tightening her grip on the girl's arm, now shaking like a leaf under the Ghost’s gaze.
‘Am I also under arrest, young man?’ Ms. Lunde says.
Mason looks at Shia and Ms. Lunde, pondering the situation in his five years old head.
‘No, Ms. Lunde,’ Mason says. ‘Shia used you as a cover-up to escape the law. But now you can go home and rest. You’re safe.’
Mason takes Shia’s hand.
‘Don’t be afraid. You’re not really under arrest. We’re just playing detective,’ Mason says.
‘I’m afraid we’re both under arrest, Ms. Santos,’ the Ghost says, winking at Shia.
‘Ms. Lunde, you should escort the Ghost to jail. I’m afraid he will try to trick us and run away,’ Mason says.
Ms. Lunde waddles to the Ghost and grabs his arm.
‘Officer, the young man left me without a choice,’ Ms. Lunde says, escorting the Ghost outside.
A gust of wind blows past them running through the Ghost’s silver-white hair.
‘Nice special effect,’ Ms. Lunde says.
The Ghost looks at the clouds darkening the blue sky.
‘You’re quite full of surprises yourself, Ms. Lunde,’ the Ghost says. 'Playing detective at your age.'
Ms. Lunde leans heavier on the Ghost's arm.
‘Even an old woman can still play, Officer,’ Ms. Lunde says, inspecting him from the corner of her eyes.
'Of that, I have no doubt,' the Ghost says, returning her gaze.
‘Will you bring me back to the dinner tables?' Ms. Lunde says. 'All this running around made me hungry, and I’m afraid that those Stockholm kids will clean the plates before I can get a bite.’
Before the midnight sunset, the children gather outside the temple to receive the flowers offered to the goddess.
‘Mommy, mommy, look, I have a flower crown!’ Mason says, pushing his way through the crowd to join his mother.
Alaska cups her son’s tender hand into hers, and an overwhelming need to protect the little boy overcomes her. Is she doing the right thing? Does she have a right to risk so much?
‘You look very handsome, Mason,’ Alaska says, stopping before the stage.
The musicians tune their instruments, and a group of girls and boys walks on stage for a dance performance. Alaska looks at the happy faces enjoying the last hours of their beloved Midsummer festival. Her exchanges with Nova seemed so natural every year, like a normal part of the annual festival. But this year, she dreads the midnight hour. What if they get caught? What if something happens to her?
‘Mommy, it hurts,’ Mason says, trying to free his hand from Alaska’s grip.
‘I’m sorry,’ Alaska says, releasing him.
‘Look, there’s Shia!’ Mason says. ‘I want to go to her!’
‘Don’t run!’ Alaska says.
Little Mason runs toward Shia, holding the flower crown in one of his tiny hands. He tucks at the girl’s skirt to get her attention, and Shia turns to him, smiling. Alaska looks at her son, tilting his head backward to look at the girl’s face, stretching his skinny arms holding the flower crown, and he says something, then Shia says something, and she lowers her head so that Mason can place the flower crown then he touches her long black hair. And music bursts into the air, and the girls and boys on the stage start dancing.
‘Did he ask for her hand in marriage?’ Fanny says.
‘Probably,’ Alaska says.
The sisters smile tenderly at the boy’s innocence.
‘Are you going to do it?’ Fanny says.
‘There is no going back,’ Alaska says.
‘I’ll go pick up Mason and keep him entertained,’ Fanny says. ‘Take care.’
Alaska looks at her sister with raised eyebrows.
‘I thought you would at the very least try to persuade me not to do it,’ Alaska says.
‘Do you want me to persuade you not to do it?’ Fanny says, looking into her sister’s eyes. ‘Or did you already persuade yourself?’
The midsummer sky gets darker as midnight approaches, and the crowd applauds the dancers. The music stops, and a man lights up a bonfire with a torch. The chords of a harpsicle vibrate in the air, and a tall man with a blond Viking braid steps onto the stage and walks to the microphone. When he sings, his deep voice reverberates into the fast-approaching night, rising and falling, calling Odin, singing him the tale of the creation and end of the world, Völuspá, Prophecy of the Seer. The crowd sings along when the singer gets to the part where a beautiful world is reborn from the ashes of death and destruction.
‘She sees rise up a second time the green earth from the sea. Waterfalls fall, the eagle flies above, he who on mountains catches fish.’
The last chords of the harpsicle fade into the dark, and Alaska’s eyes glisten with tears. All doubt has vanished from her heart, and she knows what she has to do.
The sky is still a dark blue with twilight at the horizon when Alaska hurries down the path from her house through the cornfields. She stops at a safe distance and watches the lonely figure waiting in the field behind the temple. A gust of wind blows Shia’s long hair, and Alaska rushes to her, holding a package she hands to the teenage girl.
‘You must leave now!’ Alaska says. ‘Be careful!’
Shia squeezes Alaska’s hands and bows her head.
‘I’m sorry about your friend,’ Shia says, disappearing into the night.
A pained sound escapes Alaska’s chest, and she presses her palm against her mouth, trying to silence the ache that punches her in the gut. The sky is getting clear fast as the midnight sun is peaking again from below the horizon, and for once, Alaska wishes it was winter so that she could disappear into the pitch dark night. But she will have to mourn her friend another time. Now she must return to the temple before anyone notices her absence. The festival is almost over, and her work is done. Everything is going to be fine.
Alaska enters the temple and pushes her way through the crowd stopping besides the altar. Every year, the festival ends with the distribution of food offerings made to the goddess of fertility. The children receive boxes filled with grains, fruits and vegetables from the altar with broad smiles, anticipating the happiness of sharing these foods with their families. Not all of them will eat the food. The families of the Stockholm school kids would prefer to sell, as fresh produce from the Seed Keepers Colony was a rarity and could get them a handsome amount of money. Especially seeds could be sold for a hefty price in the underground network of the Dust Road. However, Alaska wondered what they did with those seeds without fertile land to cultivate them. There may be underground seedbanks. A hand squeeze startles Alaska from her thoughts.
‘The girl is gone,’ Ms. Lunde says, nodding and walking away into the crowd.
So it’s done.
‘Mommy, look what I’ve got!’ Mason says.
Mason approaches his mother, holding a box of corn seeds.
‘Honey, you already have all these kernel types in your corn collection. It would be best to gift the box to someone in greater need,’ Alaska says.
Mason pulls the box to his chest.
‘But the Counselor gave it to me!’ Mason says.
Alaska kneels next to her son and then points with her hand towards a blond girl with ponytails standing beside the altar empty-handed.
‘I bet that girl would love a box as well. What do you say, Mason?’ Alaska says. ‘She does not have a field of corn like you do.’
Mason looks at his box, the girl, and then sheepishly at his mother.
‘Come on, off you go! Sharing is caring,’ Alaska says, nudging her son toward the girl.
‘It looks like generosity runs in the family,’ the Ghost says, hovering over Alaska.
‘Am I in trouble now, officer?’ Alaska says, standing up.
The Ghost eyes Alaska in silence.
‘Your new friend is very nimble,’ the Ghost says, scanning the room. ‘She already disappeared with her little gift!’
Alaska feels a cold shiver running down her spine.
‘I’ve allowed her to go,’ the Ghost says. ‘But I have to take you with me. I cannot go back to the headquarters empty-handed. I hope you understand, Ms. Yaar.’
Alaska looks at Mason, talking to the blonde girl with ponytails who now holds his corn seeds box.
‘I wouldn’t want to make a scene if I were you, Ms. Yaar,’ the Ghost says, exiting the temple.
Fanny waves at Alaska from across the temple room, but Alaska shakes her head sideways. Fanny’s smile vanishes from her lips, and she pushes her way through the people. Alaska tries to move her legs, but they feel like they are made of rubber, and her knees buckle under her, and she is about to fall.
‘Alaska!’ Fanny says, catching her in a tight embrace. ‘Go to your son. He is waiting for you.’
Then she gently pushes Alaska into the crowd and exits the temple.
‘No, Fanny, don’t!’ Alaska says, folding on the temple floor.
A woman wearing a white hooded dress sits on a bench looking at a tree fern. Her hands are folded in her lap with white handcuffs wrapped around her wrists. A soft, recorded voice speaks in the background.
‘The Cooperatives aim to reestablish Earth’s ecosystem.’
The buzz of bees and humming of birds fill up the large glass dome enclosing a tropical garden filled with flowers, trees and wildlife. A bee lands on the woman’s hand.
‘We estimate it will take over 200 years to see the first restoration results.’
The AI Ghost hovers into the garden and stops next to the bench.
‘It is all for a greater good, Ms. Yaar,’ the Ghost says.
The hooded woman turns her head and looks at the Ghost.
‘What was your deal with my father, Officer?’ Fanny says.
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 Letter from the Future will be published in two weeks and it will be written by Fanny.
So, what do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts on part three.