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Collection III (in progress)
Volume II, Unit 2
by Emily Hockaday

SciFi in Verse

Tomatoes (Volume II. Unit 2)
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Tomatoes

New Earth, Colony 1, New America

It wasn’t until after Stephanie’s
suicide that Sally put together
her and Jack’s affair.
                                    The euphony
within her note, when read aloud had, whether
intentionally or not, brought them each
to tears. When Jack read it to Sally, the words –
disturbingly beautiful; as speech,
were more lovely, despite being slurred
by sadness. Sally gazed out the escape hatch
the entire time he read. They had joked
about floating into space, – to detach
from the shuttle and drift –
                                              but this was unprovoked…

Sally knew that wasn’t true; she had seen,
for weeks, the desperation and sadness.
Even earlier this week, the scene
Stephanie’d made at dinner was a sign of madness.
They gave her tranqs, wine, and lied to her.
You’ll be fine they had said.
                                              No one was fine.
Even though they’d all passed the psychological
evaluation, their morale had sharply declined.

In her note: something about losing faith;
Sally could understand, as an atheist.
Believing in no god could be unsafe;
Especially out here, where the nothing never
ended.

            It was through astute observation,
and time, that Sally saw that her husband’s grief
was that of a lover. Her consternation
at this discovery was without relief.
She was heartbroken, and confounded;
How, in so small a space, could this have gone
unnoticed? Their mutual loyalty had been undoubted
by Sally, and now she felt absurd, forlorn.

Jack moped around the space shuttle, calling
attention to himself, testing Sally’s resolve
to be stoic; anger was gnawing
but she’d decided to let it dissolve,
to show no emotions. She couldn’t blame ‘Steph’
and neither could she be angry with Jack
who, after all, lost a lover.
                                              She would be deaf
to his angst and, in time, would recover.

* * *

It had been Jack who convinced her to come;
as a botanist, she would be useful,
and he loved her, her garden, her green thumb.
At first she pretended to be neutral.
They’d lived together for years, and the
idea of going to space was
novel, – new and unusual, certainly –
but she was reticent, and her reluctance
showed. Jack was all persuasion: he bought a ring,
he said he’d die in the abyss of space
without her. No one had said anything
like this before. She loved his voice – the bass,
how deep it was after eating one
of her heirloom tomatoes. How he
ate them like apples, straight from the plant, sun-
ripened; her genetic splicing so clean.

So they trained, and watched how the bots progressed
with the terraforming of New Earth.
It was exciting; but if she could have guessed
what effect the trip would have – if there were
some augury that would have divined
the future, she wouldn’t have come…
                                                           Jack wasn’t
the only one who was lonely, confined
within this tin hubcap; the constant
movement without the feeling of getting
anywhere. And Earth, the moon, the sun, so
far from view. The isolation was upsetting.
She spent many hours in the greenhouse
making her hybrids and strains strong enough
to endure. She also started to browse
piloting manuals, to learn the stuff.

* * *

“I don’t like this silence,” Jack said finally,
after days without speaking. “New Earth’s in view.
You’ve been hidden away
in the greenhouse hatch, I never see you,
we don’t talk anymore, aren’t you lonely?”

“Oh, yeah,” she said, “I know how lonely you
are. But it isn’t my conversation
that you want, is it?” she intimated,

hinting at the affair. Jack looked suspicious. With hesitation
he said, “Don’t be cryptic. What instigated
that comment? I don’t have time to decode and uncover it.”
His attitude made her pugnacious, bringing out a belligerent feeling.

“You’re my wife,” he said. “I feel like we no longer fit.”
“Oh, now I’m your wife?!” She had trouble concealing
just how combative she felt towards him;
she spoke flippantly, “Oh, I’d
somehow forgotten. How long has it been?”
“Sally, what’s going on, why’re you being so snide?”

She looked down. New Earth was indeed within
sight. They were to be the only two
inhabitants for months. To her chagrin,
she knew the best thing was to let go of the few
bad feelings. There was no point in berating
him.
            Scold him? What for?! They must get along,
or at least work together at creating
a habitable environment.

“I’m sorry… I want things to be amicable.
I figured it out about ‘Steph’ and you.
But I want to move past it, if possible.
And I miss her. And the space gets to me, too.”

“Look, our proximity to each other
makes us crazy,” Jack shot off an excuse.
“It’s hard not to form attachments, or smother
each other sometimes. I still care about you, more
than I ever cared for Stephanie. Her death
was a shock. I'm sorry if my reaction
has bothered you.”
                                    Sally let out a breath
she didn't notice she'd held – this interaction
went well, but she couldn't help feeling cynical.
Did he really care? or just want peace –
since they were stuck together? Miracle
it might be. Sally hoped her doubts would cease.

* * *

The landing of the ship was tumultuous.
Without Stephanie, Jack and Sally had
to manage alone, and they were clueless.
Luckily, they had some training, and
Sally had anticipated the need
for this knowledge after they lost her.
They had trouble adjusting the speed
of the descent, and so were
thrown around a little. Ultimately,
the ship was undamaged and they were safe,
just nervous and shaken. Yes, they were abundantly
happy to land, and step onto New Earth.

Leaving the craft, they felt every inch the intrepid
explorers: ready for anything, no matter how harrying.
The planet was more like Earth than expected;
while they unloaded the cargo they’d been ferrying,
they enjoyed the warm zephyrs that (they would
soon learn) blow about throughout the
Planet’s atmosphere. The likeness with home was good.
If Sally could compare the terrain, she
would say it looked like Pacific Northwest,
America, but without trees. The bots
had done a quick job; she felt blessed
that vegetation was thick in some spots.
This was encouraging as far as her own
gardening was concerned.
                                          There was one thing
that she was disconcerted by. This sun shone
so differently, casting strange light on everything.

After a month, the plants were growing
and everything looked almost normal.
The leaves were green – but slightly glowing.
She did many tests, and was thorough:
despite the color disparity, things
were fine. She could only wait. Jack was busy
drawing up plans, and anticipating
the new arrivals. After some dizzy
spells, Sally started spending less time
in the gardens, staying inside all day,
and checking the plants at night. The prime
of day was harsh and bright anyway.

* * *

The day before the colonists’ arrival
the tomatoes were ready.
                                          They had waited
for this, saw it as a chance for revival,
as if the tomatoes – this assimilated
fruit of her toil – could be the restorer
of their love, could justify
all the sacrifice, all the hardship
they’d gone through.
                                    Much produce would multiply
here, but tomatoes were special. Sally ripped
the fruit from the vine and handed it over.

As soon as Jack bit down, she could see
something was wrong; not the texture, but…
his face gave it away. He winced, slightly.
He chewed, and swallowed saying nothing.
                                                                  “What?”
Sally asked, nervous, upset. “Is it
bad?” He handed it to her. The inside
was dark – too red. She examined before she bit
down.
            “It isn’t that bad,” Jack blatantly lied.
She couldn’t say why she was so affected,
but tears stung the corners of Sally’s eyes.
She grabbed another, in case that one was defective.
Again, it was perfect in shape and size,
but tasted strange. It was bitter, and strong,
with a metallic tang.

                                    She couldn’t work here…

She’d grown them perfectly – the soil was wrong.
After spitting it out, she said, “It’s clear
that the terra-forming didn’t work.”

“Maybe it’s the garden, we can try again.”
Jack insisted.
                        “No, Jack, this wasn’t a quirk,
even if you found a better brain
for botany than mine, they couldn’t fix
it.”
      Suddenly, she felt exhausted.
“I want to go home, I don’t mix
well with this planet. I don’t care to be boasted
about for my botany in space; let’s go
when the colonists arrive. They can make
due.”
         “You’re overreacting – look, I know
this tomato thing’s hard, but don’t take
a trifling setback and blow it out of
proportion. Didn’t we always aspire
to found a colony? This is what we love!”

“It’s what you aspired to, not me. It requires
too much of me – and botany is what
I love; it isn’t trifling.
                                    I’m sorry,
but I have to go back. I have to cut
my losses. I don’t even recognize
this soil, it doesn’t respond to me.”
                        “Okay,” Jack said, calmly,
“but let’s wait for the colonists. We can’t
go until they’re settled.” Sally nodded
and asked to be excused.

                                    Jack could implant
himself anywhere with ease. Sally plodded
out of the garden and towards the gate
that held them within the terra-formed
section.
         Jack was adaptable. He didn’t relate
to her; and once the others came, he would warm
to them and he’d never leave. Maybe she wouldn’t
either. She stepped outside the colony,
contravening direct orders and regulations.
She was curious; the bots were constantly
working to replicate the station’s
environment. Soon the original
planet would be gone.
                                    She figured it was
a breach of rules that was forgivable.
When she saw the planet in its real form, she cried.

* * *

Once outside the atmosphere, she was in the clear.
The ship would guide itself home, and she knew how to land.
She went into her greenhouse and released all her fear,
happy to have plants she understood to tend.
She staked the small tomato stems with thin string,
and reflected on the planet she just left.
No one would ever see what she’d seen,
without even knowing it, they were bereft
of its original beauty – how could she
have ever expected it to welcome new seeds?
Even after the terraforming was over, the soil would have memory.

* * *

The din of a shuttle woke Jack the night
before the other colonists were set
to arrive. It was so very loud right
from the moment he heard it, unlike a jet,
creeping up on them, that he had to
investigate.
                     When he saw the spaceship
shrinking as it got farther off, he knew
his mistake, and felt immediately homesick.
He should have known – with the empty bed –
right away that it was Sally leaving him.
He thought back to yesterday, and what he had said.
He would never eat a tomato again.

But the colonists showed up tomorrow,
And he figured he owed this to them.