by Jeff C. Carter -
Barney Keepagami wriggled his fingers into the soil, searching for the fine thread-like feeder roots of the genetically modified plant. There were machines that could handle such simple tasks but he liked to dig. His finger brushed an invisible string and when he closed his eyes he could trace it back, branching like a fractal, to the heart of the plant. He slowly pulled away the dirt and exposed the tangled roots to the light.
He grabbed a handful of dry Eclectia soil and packed it around the roots, praying that the plant would not choke on the orange grit. He hoped that one day these hybrids, part ancient earth plant, part alien plant, would find purchase on the planet below.
He held up a small pot containing one of the grey alien weeds that clung to the planet’s barren surface. It was useless for agriculture, yet Barney admired its tenacity. If mankind hoped to last on Eclectia they could learn much from this dauntless creature.
Barney left the experimental agriculture lab, passing through a series of decontamination chambers. He finally emerged with a whoosh, stepping into the space station’s massive greenhouse. He took a deep breath of air and held it, savoring the fresh clean taste that was so rare on Avenir.
The thick canopy of plants purified the air supply and provided the luxury of fresh food to the lucky few who could afford it. It was a marvelous system, and Barney knew that the seaweed aquaculture labs of the underwater cities were even more abundant. Barney dreamed of a future beyond stagnant space stations and dank underwater cities. He dreamed of a lush and verdant Eclectia, a place where people could cultivate the soil, live off the land and make a real connection with their world.
A whiff of stale air assaulted his nose and he turned around in time to see a tired looking enforcer wander through the indoor forest. “Officer Solorzano?” Barney called.
Solorzano squinted, his eyes unaccustomed to the strange yellow glare of the simulated sun overhead. He shaded his eyes and spotted Barney. “Barnacle!” He indicated the trees with a nod of his chin. “You call this retirement? Working as a gardener?”
Barney gave the enforcer a friendly squeeze on the shoulder. “Something like that. How have you been?”
“I’m beat. The P.K.’s running us ragged. The good news is that I can finally throw you some of the overflow.”
“I’m sorry, but I’ve got my hands full here. I don’t have the time for a cold case right now.”
Solorzano shook his head. “This one is red hot. What do you know about the St. Christina’s Riot?”
Barney had seen the news. The entire affair had been so shocking and aberrant. So inexplicable. The investigation was still open. There were clues out there, answers to be found. An old stirring welled up inside of him.
“Not much,” Barney said, “but I’ll do some digging.”