did not become an agriculture inspector with the intention of
having adventures in various far-flung parts of the galaxy, but
that's what happened. When I was sent offworld I decided to keep
some notes of my impressions, which turned out to be lucky, because
they turned out to be much more exciting than I had expected.
My friends encouraged me to try and publish them, so I did. I
hope you like them. I think more people need to know what's going
on out there and you should try to finish my story even if you
don't like it. I am not a professional writer, which you probably
guessed as soon as you started reading this, if the title didn't
tip you off, that is. I tried to polish up my stories so they
sounded more like the ones written by real writers. But what you're
getting here in the introduction is more like the real me.
guess you might want to know a few things about me, since I didn't
bother with long explanations while I was writing my notes, since
I was keeping them for myself or sending them to my friends and
relatives, like I said, and we all know me. Probably somewhere
or another on the copy you're reading of this there's a picture
of me, so you'll see that I'm female, thirtyish (I was twenty-eight
when I left Earth), of European origins, with curly hair that
my mother likes to call honey-colored (that's why my name's Honey).
I thought I should leave that whole part out, but my editor says
people will want to know. Of course I'm an agriculture inspector.
I became one because I grew up on a farm in Tennessee and I like
plants and animals, but my older brother really wanted the farm
and there wasn't enough of it to go around, and anyway I really
wanted to go to college, so I did and I got an ag degree and I
started working as an extension agent for a few months and then
I got a job with the State Board of Agriculture, and that's where
this got started.
Honey Tremaine, May 24, 2481
Publisher's Note: We at Starfire Publishing have decided
to keep Ms. Tremaine's account of her adventures largely unedited,
which may have led to a certain amount of grammatical and/or factual
inaccuracy. However, we believe that Ms. Tremaine's message is
of an importance that transcends considerations of style, and
is in fact heightened by the immediacy of its form.
Starfire Publishing, May 25, 2481
March 13, 2479, my boss Mr. Thwaite (pronounced Threet) called
me into his office in the Agriculture Board's building in downtown
Nashville. Mr. Thwaite is about my dad's age but a lot shorter
and kind of stooped and doesn't at all look like the kind of person
who could or should spend a lot of time attending calvings or
milking cows or picking strawberries or cutting tobacco or driving
a tractor or hanging around people that do all those things, which
is maybe why he spends most of his time indoors in his office,
issuing orders and keeping his gray suit clean and his gray hair
neatly brushed. I'm glad it's him that gets to do all those things
and it's me who gets to run around taking milk samples and soil
samples and attending tobacco auctions and doing more interesting
stuff like that.
down, Ms. Tremaine," Mr. Thwaite said when I came in.
Thwaite is the only one at work or anywhere else who calls me
"Ms. Tremaine." Everyone else calls me "Honey"
or just "Hon," and I never know if they're calling me
by my name or if it's just a nickname, which is fine, I don't
care either way.
Thwaite told me that as I probably knew, more and more planets
were lobbying for permission to import agricultural products.
This was a concern to the ag states, mostly the South and California.
Everything was inspected and quarantined, but still...At the same
time, farmers here were interested in seeing what was being done
offworld. So after a lot of pressure from the ag states, the government
had decided to send someone to look into it. Since the main drive
behind this had been Senator Bryson from Tennessee, they were
looking for someone from the Tennessee Agriculture Board to go.
And Mr. Thwaite thought maybe I should be that person.
asked him why it should be me and not someone older and more experienced,
and he said that it would involve being offworld for a year or
maybe two and no one with a family was willing to do it, but I
wasn't married and didn't have any children.
said I would have to think about it and I did and I talked to
my mom and dad and my brother and my sister-in-law and then the
next day I came in and said that I would go. I spent the next
couple of weeks getting physical exams and shots and filling out
all the paperwork you have to do when you go offworld, and then
I packed my bags and on April 1 my mom and my dad and my brother
and my sister-in-law drove me to the spaceport in Nashville (I
had turned in my worktruck and given my own truck to my brother)
and I boarded the spaceship and then we took off.
first stop was the Moon, which has no agriculture at all, but
it does have mining, and the spaceship I was traveling on had
to stop and unload all the stuff it was bringing from the Earth
and load up various mining products to take to our next destination.
We passengers weren't allowed to leave the spaceport because we
were only stopping for 12 hours and they didn't want to have problems
with losing us or having some kind of quarantine violation, but
we could disembark from the spaceship and go hang out in the lounge,
which was in a big clear plastic dome, so we could look up and
see the stars and the Earth floating above/below us.
of the lounge had no floor, so we could walk on the bare dirt
and say we'd set foot on the Moon itself. Some of us went out
to that area and jumped around in the low gravity, which was lots
of fun until it made me sick to my stomach and I had to stop and
go lie down. We were all sort of giddy from the excitement of
leaving Earth. The takeoff from the Moon made me feel even sicker,
so I passed a lot of the trip from the Moon to Kalininskaya feeling
pretty sorry for myself.
Kalininskaya was one of the first planets
settled. It was settled by a Russian woman named Kalinina. It
is very cold, so I guess she felt right at home. Its main agricultural
exports are reindeer-like creatures called novoleni, and
a special kind of lichen. The lichen is fertilized by the novoleni's
manure, and the novoleni live off the lichen. This kind
of thing has been banned in the US since the 21st century because
it can cause disease, but all kinds of stuff is allowed offworld.
I saw a lichen-growing area, which was a big snowy field full
of rocks. The rocks are sprayed with liquefied manure, and the
lichen grows on them. I thought it would smell like manure, but
it didn't, it smelled like snow.
Then I saw how the novoleni
are farmed. You can read my report on it if you want to: it's
available through your Percy or your Perdie on the information
site for the Board of Agriculture for the State of Tennessee.
(Maybe I should mention that while I was on Kalininskaya I had
to explain to the people there, who don't speak much English,
that a Percy is a Personal Computer and a Perdie is a Personal
Reading Devicelike a Percy, but smaller). The report is
probably not that interesting. Here are some of the important
things from it:
1) The novoleni are HUGE. They
are MUCH bigger than horses. A lot of them are 2 meters or more
at the shoulder and at least 3 meters from nose to tail.
2) The novoleni are not very
friendly. When you walk by their stalls, they will drag their
horns against the bars, or even strike out or kick. I thought
they would be more like normal deer.
3) The novoleni are factory
farmed. They live their entire lives (2-3 Earth years, normally)
confined to 5-meter box stalls. Once they are full-grown, most
of them are slaughtered. They are not slaughtered for their meat,
which is toxic, but for an enzyme used to destroy tumors. However,
it is not only impossible to farm the novoleni on Earth
(because they need the lichen, which only grows on Kalininskaya),
it is illegal: they are technically considered to be Class 10
hazardous materials (must be kept offworld at all times).
also toured the enzyme collection facility, which was like a cross
between a slaughterhouse and a biochemical lab and just as gross
as you might think. Much of what was going on there I was not
allowed to see because the enzyme extraction process is under
patent to KL Enterprises.
I went to look at DragonFarmsInc. I was very excited. You might
remember the series "Penny the Purple Dragon," which
I read over and over again when I was little. Seeing the dragons
was a real letdown at first, after all that reading about Penny.
For one thing, none of the dragons were purple. Most of them were
black, like blacksnakes. In fact, they have a certain amount of
blacksnake DNA in them. They also have the DNA of various other
kinds of snakes, many of them venomous, because one of the main
things they're used for is venom extraction for medical purposes,
because they produce a lot more venom than ordinary Earth snakes,
since they're about 10-15 meters long and 4-5 meters tall, on
average. They also produce useful enzymes in their muscles, and
of course there's the fact that people will pay lots of money
for dragonhide and dragonbone products.
back to "Penny the Purple Dragon": If you'll recall,
Penny spent a lot of her time going around helping her human friends.
She could also talk. None of the dragons I saw could talk, but
if they could, I don't think they'd spend a lot of their time
helping their human friends. I don't think they think of their
humans as friends. But I should start at the beginning.
is located on the planet Draconia. I guess they didn't think very
hard when they named it. Draconia is mostly warm and tropical,
perfect for raising really big reptiles. The main dragon farms
are located around the equator.
Like the novoleni, the dragons
are factory farmed, meaning they're always kept confined. Again,
factory farming is not legal in most parts of Earth any more.
Each dragon gets a whole longbarn, like what we'd use to keep
calves in, to itself, both because they're so big and because
they don't tend to get along with each other.
was met by Arnold Jackson, the manager of DragonFarm1. He was
tall, forty-ish, with a weathered reddish face, missing the two
smallest fingers from his left hand, and dressed in old overalls
and an even older cap, both with the DragonFarmsInc logo on them.
I could have been meeting with the manager of a cow farm back
home (except for the logo). He shook my hand and was perfectly
polite, but on the other hand, he didn't seem particularly glad
to see me.
you ever seen any dragons, Ms. Tremaine?" he asked me.
told him I hadn't.
people are a little taken aback the first time they encounter
a dragon," he said. "But if you do what I tell you,
you'll be fine."
didn't find this very reassuring, but I was there to see dragons,
so I followed him to the barns. He told some workers who were
also dressed in DragonFarmsInc overalls and caps to prepare the
first three barns for us to look at.
have to corral the dragons into the back half of their barns before
we can go up to them," he told me. "You don't want to
get any closer than about 8-10 meters from a dragon unless you're
wearing protective gear. Unlike what you might have heard, they
don't breathe firewe can't genengineer them for that, they
are living creaturesbut they can bite. So each barn has
a partition in the middle that can hold them to the back half
of their barn. We lure them back there with food, and if that
doesn't work we drive them back with electric dragon prods, and
then we lower the partition. It can be set up for complete containment,
meaning it goes all the way from the floor to the ceiling, or
for partial containment, meaning they can stick their heads over
it. I'm going to have them set it up for partial containment so
you can see them directly. We can also watch them from the observation
area in the roof, but a lot of people find it more exciting to
see them up close."
workers went off to the nearest barn, there was some muffled commotion,
and then they radioed Arnold Jackson that we could come in. He
opened the front door, which was at least 6 meters high and 8
meters wide, and we entered the barn. I realized the barn was
actually two structures. There was a concrete outer shell, a space
wide enough for two people to walk abreast, and then a concrete
inner shell. The outside walls were red and the inside walls were
white. The barn had a strange and pretty unpleasant smell, sort
of like a chicken barn but more chemical. Arnold Jackson opened
the door to the inner shell, and we walked in. The floor was covered
with cleanish sand.
clean half the barn each day," he told me. "We contain
the dragons in one half and clean the other, switching sides every
day. All the equipment and feed for each dragon is housed in the
space between the two shells, as well as the machinery for operating
the partition, the doors, and the hoists. If we have to do anything
to the dragons, some kind of veterinary procedure for example,
we shoot them with a tranq dart, wait until they're unconscious,
and then hoist them up onto the table, which we roll right into
the barn. We do something similar when we slaughter them. We can't
tranq them, of course, because that would interfere with the enzymes,
so we shoot them, just like you would deer-hunting. Tom Massino
and I are the two certified shooters at this facility. Once they've
been shot, we hoist the body up, remove all the sand, and the
barn becomes a slaughtering facility. Notice that the floors are
concrete and have channels running to drains. Of course we have
to keep the drains covered until after the sand is removed, otherwise
they'd get blocked. The body is cleaned and dismembered and the
parts are packed off to the central processing facility. We also
do our own venom extractions here and ship the extracted venom
to the central plant."
Arnold Jackson was talking I started hearing some kind of bellows
mechanism. Then it snorted, and I realized it was breathing. We
were standing near the front door. At the other end of the barn,
about 15 meters away, I could hear the whispery sound of something
scaly dragging over the sand. The upper part of the partition
had an opening about 3 meters square in it. Something black and
sinuous moved across the bottom of the opening. It disappeared
from view, and then a black head and neck shot out of the opening
with a loud BANG as the dragon lunged against the partition.
jumped back. The dragon leaned out the opening and looked at us.
It acted like a horse cranky from too much time in its stall,
but its head and neck were like the biggest snake in the world.
It pulled back its head just like a snake about to strike, and
lunged at the partition again with another BANG. It opened its
mouth extremely wide, revealing a forked tongue and two fangs
as long as my arm. It hissed at us.
tend to be territorial and aggressive," explained Arnold.
fast are they?" I asked.
can strike like a snake, so much faster than most of us can move.
As far as covering ground, we normally keep them confined, so
we don't know how fast one that was really fit could go. The winged
ones can also lift off the ground and glide for short periods
of time, because of Draconia's weaker gravity. Most of them, like
this one here, are not winged, but we do have a few; dragon wings
are a very popular product. Let's move on to the next barn, okay?"
next barn contained a winged male dragon the bright green of a
grass snake. We watched him from the glass observation post in
the roof, which was fine with me, because that black one striking
at me had raised my heart rate enough that I didn't think I'd
need to exercise for at least a week, even with the lower gravity.
He paced his barn anxiously, flapping his wingsthere was
barely enough room for him to spread them out, his wingspan must
have been at least 10 metersand flicking out his tongue
breeding season, and he can tell," Arnold told me. "We
do all the reproduction for them in the lab, but they still know
what's going on."
had thought the dragons would be slow and ungainly, like alligators,
but they were quick and flowing, like a cross between horses,
snakes, and cats. They had wedge-shaped heads, like pit vipers,
long necks, and bodies that sloped downwards from the shoulders
to the hindquarters. Their tails were as long as their necks (about
3-5 meters long), so of their 10-15 meter body length, at least
two-thirds of it was neck and tail. Their tails came to a narrow
point, just like a snake's. Dragons are cold-blooded, but since
the average temperature on Draconia is 30-40 degrees, they have
plenty of energy.
lucky: there's a venom extraction scheduled for the next barn,"
Arnold told me as we left the winged male.
dragon about to have its venom extracted was a big black male
without wings. We climbed up to the observation area. All the
barns had peaked roofs, 10 meters at the highest point and 6 meters
at the eaves. The observation areas were little rooms just big
enough for three people, located on the catwalks that ran near
the roof between the inner and outer walls.
could hear the hoists moving. "We lower the venom receptor
onto the floor and move it around, encouraging the dragon to strike
at it," Arnold explained to me. "It's impregnated with
the scent of prey. The dragons respond best to the smell of mousea
lot of their DNA is still snake DNA, despite their size. Once
they strike it, we remove it and feed them immediately."
venom receptor looked like a mouse-colored beach ball. The chains
that lowered it from the ceiling made it move around on the floor
like a mouse. The dragon crouched in one corner of its barn, watching
the venom receptor with its flat reptile eyes. Suddenly it pounced
and struck, opening its mouth incredibly wide, like a rattlesnake.
As soon as it had released its fangs, the chains whipped the venom
receptor up into the ceiling, while lowering down a piece of meat.
The dragon opened its mouth again, exposing a huge palate and
throat, and swallowed the meat.
can dislocate their jaws like snakes," Arnold told me. "We
don't know how much they can swallow at once; there're stories
about them swallowing humans whole, but those are just stories.
All the dragons that have ever existed have been kept under extremely
then took me to see the venom processed, which was very technical,
so I won't bore you with it here. You can read about it in the
detailed report I wrote while orbiting around Draconia after the
incident at DragonFarm2, if you want.
next day we went to DragonFarm2, which was about 30 k down the
road. Originally it was just supposed to be me and a driver, but
Arnold Jackson got a call that morning saying there was a problem
and they wanted another certified shooter just in case.
are only about a thousand people on Draconia. There are about
two thousand dragons, but they mostly stay in their barns and
don't use the roads (except when they're dead and are being transported
in pieces to the central processing plant), so traffic tends to
be light. Our little passenger truck didn't meet a single other
vehicle during the trip from DragonFarm1 to DragonFarm2.
drove on a two-lane paved road that was wide enough for one transport
truck, but not two. There was a narrow strip of grass along each
side of the road, and a ditch with water in it. Beyond the grass
and the ditch there was jungle. It was so thick I could only see
about a meter into it, and then my vision was obscured by heavy
ferns and vines. The sun beat down on our little tunnel of light,
and it was very hot. I could hear lots of insects, but I didn't
see or hear any bigger animals. I asked about that, and Arnold
told me that near the equator there were no native animals other
than the insects. Closer to the poles, he said, there were big
savannahs that had large reptile-like creatures. He explained
that some of the DNA for the dragons had come from these creatures.
They did not appear to be any more intelligent than, for example,
the large animals of the African savannah back home, and they
left this region of Draconia alone.
looked about like DragonFarm1: a clearing full of row after row
of concrete longbarns, painted red on the outside and white on
the inside. All the people working there were dressed in blue
overalls and blue caps with the DragonFarmsInc logo on them. They
were all men. When I asked Arnold about it, he said that most
women don't like reptiles and they don't like slaughtering, which
pretty much rules out a career at DragonFarms for them. I said
I would have thought the high salaries DragonFarms paid would
lure in at least some women, and Arnold said were a few, mostly
at DragonFarm3, which had a female assistant manager, and the
central processing plant, which employed several female scientists
DeWitte, the manager of DragonFarm2, and Jesse White, DragonFarm2's
other certified shooter, met us in the parking lot.
for coming, Arnold," Alan said as soon as we got out. "#6
is really acting up. We're going to try to drop himhe's
about due anywaybut he may be a little too much for two
people to handle. He's been a problem since he hatched. I think
half the staff is cheering that today's his day."
no problem. Ms. Tremaine," Arnold said to me, "I'm afraid
DragonFarm regulations don't permit anyone who's not a certified
shooter or dragon handler to be in the barn during a take-down
shot. It's just too dangerous, I'm sure you understand. Why don't
you go with Billy here to see the hatchery?"
said that was fine, and followed Billy to the hatchery. I didn't
want to see anyone take down a dragon anyway. I don't really like
killing things, even things like dragons, which I was beginning
to think were pretty scary, not at all like my happy memories
of Penny from when I was a kid.
hatchery looked about like any other hatchery: rows of tables
holding artificial nests, each with an egg, a heat lamp, and a
thermometer. The only difference was that the nests were in very
heavy-duty cages, and each egg was about a meter long, rubbery,
and elongated. They looked kind of like giant versions of those
candies with the white coating on the outside and licorice on
one over here is about to hatch," said Billy, walking down
to the end of one table. When I came closer I could see something
inside the egg was wriggling, which gave me a funny feeling in
the pit of my stomach.
don't have fangs when they come out, just a hatching tooth,"
said Billy. "Let's see, this one should be a female, black,
no wings. That's the kind we raise the most..." He was interrupted
by the sound of something large banging around in one of the nearby
a second, Ms. Tremaine, let me see what's going on. Sometimes
they can get kind of upset when we take one down," he said,
and went outside.
on my own, I backed away from the hatching dragon and stood near
the door. The banging got louder, and was accompanied by trumpeting
and snorting sounds. This seemed to encourage the hatching dragon,
who writhed in her egg even more vigorously. There was a click
and a hum, and the PA system came on.
handlers, all handlers, come to Barn 6, we have a containment
situation," said Alan's voice. I could hear shouts and people
running around outside. The banging was not getting any weaker.
The PA system clicked off. I peeked out the hatchery door. Several
dragon handlers ran past me, pulling on heavy protective tunics
and helmets as they ran. One shouted at me to get back inside,
so I did.
PA system suddenly came back on again, but it must have been by
accident, because instead of an announcement I heard Alan shouting,
"Shoot him, shoot him, bring him down! Oh my G"
and then a scream, and then a crash I heard through both the speakers
and the air. I put my head out the door again. An enormous black
head was weaving back and forth through a hole in the roof of
Barn 6. It hissed at the sky and dove out of sight.
heard a shot and a man screaming, and then the head reappeared.
It had something in its mouth, which it tossed up in the air like
a cat playing with its food, caught in its wide wide mouth, and
swallowed down whole. I could see the lump moving down its neck
until it disappeared into its body. The dragon sank down a little
and then reared back up, making a bigger hole in the roof. It
sank down again, and then launched itself out of the barn. It
balanced briefly on the edge of the roof, then snapped out its
wings and glided down and away, all the way to the edge of the
clearing. The dragons in the other barns must have been throwing
themselves against their walls, because I could hear the thumping
and see the buildings shaking.
back inside!" one of the handlers screamed at me, pushing
me back into the hatchery and slamming and bolting the door shut
behind us. He ran to a phone on the wall, picked it up, and pressed
# 6 is loose," he said. "At least one fatality."
He listened for a moment, then said, "understood," and
hung up the phone.
you do, stay inside," he said, unlocking a cabinet on the
wall by the phone. He pulled out a gun that was a meter and a
half long and 15 or 20 centimeters in diameter. He loaded a very
large cartridge into it and ran back outside.
other dragons were still rattling banging on their walls. The
hatching dragon squirmed inside her egg. I moved closer. Something
poked through. It disappeared for a moment, and then the head
ripped out. It peered at me with its snake eyes for a moment.
A claw sliced the rest of the egg open, and the baby dragon uncoiled.
A light on her cage lit up and there was a dinging noise. The
baby opened her mouth hungrily. I backed away despite myself.
The baby suddenly switched her attention from me to the ceiling.
I looked up too. There was a noise like the wind in the trees,
and then all the rafters creaked as something heavy settled on
the roof. The building quivered. I crawled under one of the tables.
There was a shot, and then another, and then the building quivered
again, and something very heavy slid down the roof and hit the
ground. I could hear it thrashing against the wall, and feel how
the tables trembled and the cages rattled. There was another shot,
and the thrashing became weaker and weaker and eventually stopped.
DeWitte got eaten, which I guess shows that dragons are capable
of swallowing an adult human whole. Jesse White and Arnold Jackson
both got multiple fractures from when the dragon ripped the barn
apart. #6 got shot and killed. And I got hustled onto a ship and
off Draconia in record speed, although not before I signed a waiver
saying I held DragonFarmsInc completely harmless in the matter
of my mental and physical health after my traumatic experience.
I was also not supposed to tell anyone about the incident, but
as you can see, I didn't keep my word there. I felt circumstances
compelled me to speak out.
a couple of days on a moon in orbit around Draconia, I set off
for Fischer Island.
Island is not an island, it's an entire planet. According to local
legend, it's called Fischer Island because James Fischer, who
led the colonization expedition, liked to joke that other people
dreamed of having their own private islands, while he had thought
bigger and gotten his own planet. At least, that's what it said
in the brochure on the spaceship. Although how much faith you
can put in those travel brochures the spaceship companies provide
you with so you can pass the first 1/87th of the trip being entertained
by descriptions of your destination point, I don't know. My gut
instinct is to say not very much, but on the other hand I have
a hard time imagining United Starlines or the Interplanetary Travel
Group employing anyone with enough imagination to lie. I used
ITG for this leg of the trip, and they are a dull collection of
people. Dull but efficient, apparently, because we arrived at
the Fischer Island Spaceport ahead of schedule.
by spaceship is much less satisfying than arriving by plane because
you don't get to see anything as you come in. All you get is the
same inside of the spaceship you've been staring at for several
eternities. You can't even read without getting a headache from
the gravity and pressure changes. Then it's the underground tunnels
with their shiny metal walls, the baggage carousels, the long
lines waiting to have your paperwork and your body inspected,
all without a glimpse of the place you've come to see.
public terminal of the Fischer Island Spaceport, which also serves
as an airport terminal, train station, and market, was satisfyingly
different after the boring lack of variety of the disembarkation
process. A shiny metal door swooshed open and spat me out of the
world of ITG and into the offworld's most serious producer of
fruits and vegetables.
terminal was a glassed-in structure like a large greenhouse. The
second floor rose out of the middle of the ground floor like the
top tier of a wedding cake. There were no walls or ceilings between
the two floors.
of my early arrival my escort was not there to escort me, so I
was given a tour of the place by a member of the cleaning staff.
Like most of the people I saw on Fischer
Island, he looked Subcontinental.
first floor was a mixture of fruit stands and seating for people
waiting for flights, which gave the impression that someone had
had the bright idea of combining a jetport with the produce section
of a supermarket. My temporary guide showed me around the terminal,
remarking on the different types of edible fruits and vegetables
for sale. Some I recognized and some I didn't.
second floor was wholly dedicated to food. It was about ten meters
up in the air, surrounded by just a handrail, and of course the
glass walls and glass ceiling of the building, so I felt I was
a lot higher than I would have liked. This was made worse because
the elevators were out of order, so we had to hike up the escalators,
which were also stopped. I thought it was funny that the spaceport
people were able to fly from planet to planet but couldn't keep
the escalators working.
fruits and vegetables were heaped up in big displays. My guide
led me around, pointing out all the different items for sale and
telling me where they were from. "Broccoli from Ardistan,"
he said, "tomatoes from here in Fischer City, lettuce from
Wide Plains, and these are potatoes; I don't know where they're
don't either," I said, "but originally they're from
America, like me."
looked at me, then at the sacks of potatoes, and grinned. "That's
nice," he said.
interested me the most were the things that looked like citrus
fruits, only the color of a purple potato. They were already slicedapparently
they would not spoil, even though they were in ordinary mesh sacks,
just like the regular, unsliced oranges and grapefruits. One of
the sacks I saw had been thrown onto the floor and smashed.
guide shook his head. "Some people don't like these,"
he said. "They say they're unnatural. There's a group trying
to destroy them."
I could ask him more about this fruit-hating group, my real escort
arrived. Her name was Pooni, she also looked Subcontinental, and
she spoke English fluently but with a faint accent. She greeted
me warmly, told me the inspections would start tomorrow, and asked
me what I would like to do for the rest of the afternoon. I told
her I'd like to go for a walk.
what a good idea!" she said enthusiastically. "We can
walk through the town center and up onto City Hill. Your luggage
has already been taken to your hotel, so you don't have to worry
agreed that would be fine. We descended the perilous escalator
(going down was even worse than going up, because I felt like
I was going to pitch forward right through the glass walls of
the terminal) and headed for the exit. Standing by the glass doors
was a little old lady, evidently watching out for us.
Jane!" exclaimed Pooni. "What a pleasure!" She
went over to the little old lady and began fussing over her the
way people do over elderly people they'd rather not deal with
but are constrained by good manners to be polite to.
going up to City Hill?" said Miz Jane, smiling at me. She
had short springy curls that had probably once been strawberry
blond, and bright blue eyes. "How nice! I'll have to go with
you and tell you all about it."
looked less than overjoyed at this prospect, but there was no
way to escape, so she accepted the addition of Miz Jane to our
outing as graciously as possible. We left the terminal, Pooni
leading us like an imperious mother duck and Miz Jane and me following
along side by side.
far as I had gathered from looking around while I was up on the
second floor of the terminal, the spaceport was situated a little
ways off by itself. Less than a kilometer to the south was what
was called "the town center," although the only thing
it was in the center of was itself and a lot of fields and pastures.
According to the brochures on the spaceship, it had been built
as a showplace, and it was separate from the commercial center
of Fischer City. East of the terminal was City Hill, which was
just a grass-covered rise. From its top you could look west towards
the spaceport, south to the town center, and north to Fischer
City itself. Most of the view was agricultural land.
took us fifteen or twenty minutes to walk along the quiet two-lane
road from the terminal to the town center. At one point Miz Jane
said cheerfully, "Give me your arm, young lady, I need something
to lean on," so I obliged her. We walked arm-in-arm for a
few minutes, Miz Jane telling me good-naturedly about this and
that. As we drew closer to the town center, she leaned more heavily
on my arm and began patting and rubbing it with her free hand.
I was a girl we used to walk arm-in-arm like this all the time,"
she told me, her voice quavering a little. She seemed older and
frailer than she had when we set out, and I wondered if the walk
had been too much for her and if we should have left her at the
terminal and how we were going to get her to the top of City Hill.
we would hold hands like this," she said, reaching with her
left hand across her body and taking my right hand in it. "It
was the best way to walk with your friends and tell secrets."
It seemed an uncomfortable position to me, with our outside arms
stretched out in front of us, forcing us to walk turned slightly
towards each other, but perhaps it would have worked better if
I hadn't been so much taller than Miz Jane. "It's very nice,"
I said agreeably.
this is just like when I was young," she said, looking up
at me and smiling tremulously. She began stroking my fingers with
hers. I tried to support her without crushing or hurrying her.
Pooni was getting ahead of us.
the town center!" Miz Jane cried out suddenly. I had been
concentrating so hard on shuffling along in our unusual handhold
that I hadn't noticed where we were.
the road leading from the spaceport, with its grass shoulders,
ditches, and the fields on either side of it, could have just
as easily been somewhere in rural America as on a distant planet,
the town center looked like it had come directly from central
Italy. It was small, just two or three city blocks. In the middle
was a piazza/arcade-like space flagged with yellow sandstone.
It was covered with a vaulted roof, like the inside of a cathedral.
All around this central square were buildings, built with the
same reddish-yellow brick as the arcade roof, and with the same
Tuscan-style architecture. I felt as if I'd somehow left Fischer
Island and ended up in Florence, except that instead of the hordes
of tourists I'd seen on documentaries about Italy, there were
just a few Islanders strolling around the piazza. The roof provided
a pleasant shade, while the openings where the streets ran between
the buildings allowed in enough light and air to give us the impression
we were outside. I looked up at the roof, admiring the shape of
the vaults, the lines of brick that ran from the four corners
to the point at the top, outlining the ribs of the ceiling.
had kept going while Miz Jane and I had come to a halt, so we
were now separated by the width of the arcade. Pooni stopped and
waited for us, apparently willing to leave us to our own devices.
Miz Jane was looking around as if she, too, were a newcomer here.
beautiful," I told her. "Whose idea was it to build
something like this here? Was it James Fischer's?"
Jane was getting more and more agitated. "My husband works
here," she told me. She pointed to a building off to our
right. "Over there."
What does he do?" I was surprised someone her age had a husband
who was still working.
works over there," she repeated. "Over there. In that
office. He's over there. He'll come out and say hello to us. His
office is on the second floor."
looked at the building she was indicating. There was no sign announcing
what business took place in it.
your husband's name?" I asked.
say he doesn't work there anymore, but he does. He'll come out...
Maybe we should go see him. If he looks out his window and sees
we're ignoring him, his feelings will be hurt. He works on the
second floor." She was squeezing my fingers almost painfully.
I was beginning to realize this was not normal behavior, that
Miz Jane was ill.
we should keep walking," I suggested. "We can stop by
and see your husband some other time."
came hurrying over to us. "Come on, Miz Jane," she said
firmly. "We have to keep going or we'll be late."
have to see my husband... He'll be angry if I don't say hello."
husband doesn't work here anymore. Remember? We've had this conversation
does! You're trying to trick me!"
you need to help show our guest around, remember? We need to show
her City Hill, remember? That's what your husband would want you
to do." Pooni coaxed Miz Jane across the piazza and down
a street that suddenly carried us out of Tuscany and back into
rural America. We followed a footpath that ran from the town center
up to the top of City Hill. Miz Jane allowed me to guide her along,
the climb proving to be less of a problem than I had feared. She
was no longer talking, but she kept looking around uncertainly.
reached the top of the hill and enjoyed the view. Spaceport, the
city centerwhich from above just looked like a collection
of stone buildings, lacking the grace and intricacy that was apparent
close upFischer City with its square glass-and-metal structures,
rolling hills and fields with the occasional orchard or cow pasture.
Nothing exceptional, but it was pleasantly home-like.
you like it?" asked Miz Jane.
much," I told her honestly.
glad you like my place," she said complacently and wandered
off to pick a flower from a nearby tree. She brought the flower
back over to me. It was about the size of my two hands together,
roughly the shape of a magnolia blossom, but dark reddish-purple.
"For you, young lady," she said, but then took it away
from me and set it in a small hole in the ground and admired it,
as if it were a flower arrangement in a vase.
you lived here all your life?" I asked her. A confused expression
crossed her face.
came here with my husband," she said after a while. "This
is our place. I like it here, don't you?"
I do," I agreed. "Do you live in Fischer City?"
But she didn't answer me, continuing to admire her flower instead.
Eventually she noticed me again.
your name, young lady?" she asked. "I can't remember;
you know how we old ladies are."
told her my name.
nice," she said. She fell silent for a while, staring off
towards the city.
name is Jane Fischer," she said suddenly. "This is my
island. What are you doing here?"
here for my job," I told her. "I'm supposed to look
at the farms. After this I'll go on to New Africa."
she said. "Did I tell you my name is Jane Fischer? This is
my island. Islands are very strange places, did you know that?"
I've noticed," I said.
should watch out," she told me.
was all I could get out of Miz Jane. We finished admiring the
view from City Hill and decided to walk back to the town center
and drive from there to Fischer City. Miz Jane followed us back
down the hill, clutching her flower in her hands and crushing
it. When we got to the town center she wandered off into the building
she had pointed out earlier.
we let her go?" I asked.
she'll be fine," said Pooni. "She lives there; her people
will take care of her."
she really James Fischer's wife?" I asked.
He's dead, you know. She hasn't been the same since he died, and
lately she's been more and more confused. We can't get rid of
her, unfortunately: she's considered to be a fixture around here.
But pretty soon she'll have to be confined, and then we won't
have to bother with her any more."
next morning I was met by someone who was not Pooni, to my relief,
but who looked enough like her to be her brother. He introduced
himself as Veej, and said he had orders from the Fischer City
Vegetable Cooperative (FCVC) to drive me over to their headquarters
and show me around.
is very pleased that you're here, Ms. Tremaine," he told
me cheerfully. "They're sure once you've toured their facilities,
you'll see the rumors about their products' harmfulness are just
I said, which is how I learned about the local nicknames for the
FCDC (Fischer City Dairy Cooperative, aka facdac), FCFC (Fischer
City Fruit Cooperative, aka facfac), and FCVC. I didn't mention
that I hadn't heard anything about the possible harmfulness of
their products, but I was very interested to hear there were rumors.
I also started to worry about the food I'd eaten there, which
had all been, as I'd been told with pride, locally grown.
a short drive through green rolling hills, we came to the FCVC
farm, which looked a lot like the spaceport. Actually, for a moment
I though it was the spaceport, but then I saw it was not one greenhouse,
but a whole city of them.
you have any field crops?" I asked Veej. "Or is everything
shrugged. "I'm just a driver," he said, "but farther
out from the city I know they have big fields growing all kinds
of stuff. These are just for the most special plants, and of course
the development labs."
pulled up to a building that looked like a regular greenhouse
except the glass was smoked and rippled, like what you see sometimes
in showers and bathroom windows.
HQ," announced Veej, and guided me into the building, which
let down all my expectations by being a normal office building
inside, not a dirt- or plastic-floored greenhouse full of plants.
There was a security guard by the door in a brown-and-green facvac
uniform, and a pretty well-dressed receptionist sitting behind
a desk. Both looked a lot like Pooni and Veej. Directly behind
the receptionist was more of the rippled smoked glass, so you
couldn't see the rest of the building. Veej told the receptionist
who I was, and she made a note on her Percy screen and printed
out a badge for me.
Robinson will be with you directly," she said. "Why
don't you have a seat while you wait? Can I get you anything?
Tea? Coffee? Something to eat?"
I'd already had breakfast and I didn't
want to eat any more of the FCVC's products than I could help,
so I refused and sat down next to what looked disappointingly
like a perfectly ordinary begonia, and started to read Vegetables
Now, the FCVC's weekly publication.
I had just gotten to an article on
the FCVC's revolutionary new product, high-calcium tomatoes, cucumbers,
and celery, when Dr. Robinson walked in. The big ag companies
had been working on and off on developing high-calcium vegetables
for a couple of centuries, but they'd always had an unpleasant
chalky taste. Vegetables Now claimed new research breakthroughs
had gotten rid of the chalkiness, and made "a healthful and
savory product that not only tastes great, but will completely
do away with the need to consume dairy products."
Ms. Tremaine, what a pleasure to meet you," said Dr. Robinson,
sweeping across the room. He didn't shake hands, he just patted
my hand. He was tall, taller than me, with a sharp nose and chin,
high forehead, and lots of hair that had once been black but was
turning gray. He was wearing a very good suit.
how are you finding Fischer Island, Honey? May I call you Honey?
It suits you so well."
I said, wanting for the first time in my life not to be called
Honey. "Wow, you guys must really like wedding cakes."
Robinson seemed kind of surprised by this remark, but it was just
because we'd gone into the main part of the building and it was
built like the spaceport, with wedding-cake-tiers of floors rising
from the middle and escalators running up the outside of the layers.
It was the sort of thing that probably sounded great to an architect,
but I thought it was pretty nauseating, especially the escalators.
looks like a wedding cake," I explained.
suppose it does," agreed Doctor Robinson. "We found
this to be a good design for greenhouses," he explained.
"Space-efficient while still allowing air to circulate, but
at the same time you can regulate the temperature from floor to
floor quite precisely. And once people became used to it, well
And of course now it's one of the defining features of our architecture,
as I'm sure you've read."
hadn't, but I didn't want to say so, and anyway I'd kind of figured
it out for myself by then, so I just nodded.
we have the main administrative offices of the FCVC," he
said, pronouncing all the letters properly, "so if there
are any questions you have about that
of course I'd like to know about the size of your organization,
its products and its aims, things like that," I said quickly,
"but I'm sure I can upload that onto my Perdie pretty easily.
What I'd really like to know is your development and research
techniques, and of course a tour of the facilities." I knew
a tour that wasn't a surprise inspection was unlikely to find
very many small infractions, but sometimes you get lucky and stumble
onto something so big the farm can't hide it.
course," said Doctor Robinson smoothly, leading me by the
arm over to the edge of the building, "although I'm afraid
that our escalator for the basement, where our main R&D is
done, is out of service today, so we'll have to walk down."
it seems like all the escalators in Fischer City are down,"
I said. "I haven't seen a working one since I've gotten here."
I'm sure that's not the case, Honey," said Dr. Robinson quickly.
"You can be assured that we have all the modern conveniences
here in Fischer City, and everything is in tip-top condition,
with the highest levels of service and maintenance."
thought he seemed kind of defensive over such a trivial thing,
and I also thought escalators were not exactly what I'd call a
"modern convenience," seeing as how they'd been around
for hundreds and hundreds of years, but I didn't say anything
on either count. We walked down the out-of-service escalator into
the underground portion of the FCVC HQ, which was much too big
to just be called a basement. That part of the building had shed
its greenhouse appearance and looked like any kind of a lab, although
the occasional tray of seedlings did suggest an agricultural slant
to the research.
Robinson spent a long time touring me through a few very clean,
very organized lab rooms, where researchers told me enthusiastically
how they were working on making more nutritious, tastier, longer-lasting,
hardier, better-keeping vegetables. I saw the revolutionary high-calcium
tomatoes, which I reluctantly tasted. They tasted just fine.
just had 30% of your calcium for the day," a lab worker told
me proudly. "One of these guys will give you your minimum
daily requirement, and if you need more, all you have to do is
eat another slice or two, or a few stalks of our celery, or one
of our other delicious products. You'll never have to eat dairy
products again, isn't that wonderful!"
I guess," I said. "But why?"
is it so wonderful that I'd never have to eat dairy products again?
What if I like dairy products?"
lab workerher name was Arianna, and she was also even taller
than me (it seemed like the FCVC only hired tall people), and
much thinner, with bright red hair that was pulled back scarily
tight, so I wondered if her hairstyle worked as kind of a temporary
face liftthen treated me to a long explanation, supported
by Dr. Robinson, of how humans had evolved without the consumption
of dairy products in Africa back on Earth, and that cows were
not native to Fischer Island and therefore shouldn't be allowed
there, and how the FCDC was made up of a bunch of low-life scumbags
who did nothing but cheat, mislead the public about their products,
and take money and consumers away from the much more deserving
led to a lengthy digression on the evils of the FCFC, which kept
trying to brainwash the Islanders into believing fruit was more
healthful than vegetables, and wouldn't allow the FCVC to grow
anything classified as a fruit, and kept trying to get more and
more plants classified as fruits, so that, for example, they were
currently suing the FCVC over the right to grow tomatoes, which
they claimed were a fruit.
are a fruit," I said. Both Arianna and Dr. Robinson
jumped on me and explained there was no hard-and-fast definition
of the difference between fruits and vegetables, and while on
Earth fruits were often defined as those edible parts of a plant
that contained seeds, on Fischer Island the difference was defined
according to the edible portion's sugar content and "sweetness
factor." Tomatoes generally fell on the vegetable side of
the line, but some of the new products, including the high-calcium
strains, were so sweet"we were so committed to making
a quality product, we shot ourselves in the foot," explained
Dr. Robinson-that technically they could be classed as fruits,
which was what was causing the current wrangle between the two
learned my lesson, I nodded politely and said nothing, but the
main thing I learned in Arianna's lab was that all the different
co-ops didn't get along at all, and in fact seemed determined
to do each other as much harm as possible.
saw a few more labs, none of which were very interesting, and
then Dr. Robinson proposed we go visit a greenhouse. I asked if
there were any purple vegetables that could stay good for days
even when they were sliced up, like the purple fruit I'd seen
in the spaceport, but Dr. Robinson made a face and said the FCFC
had the patent on that process, and frankly he didn't advise that
I eat any more of those fruits than I could help.
they're a hybrid between Terran fruit and native plants,"
he explained. "Both the ability to tolerate exposure to air,
and the distinctive purple color, are common features of Fischerite
plants. But who knows what the long-term effects of ingesting
that genetic material might be?"
yeah," I said. "Have people been eating this stuff for
people have been eating native flora since the first year or two
of settlement here. But the genengineered products, that have
a combination of Terran and Fischerite genetic material, have
only been on the market for about a decade."
I thought a decade was ample time for negative side effects to
show, but I didn't say that to Dr. Robinson. And my experiences
on Draconia had caused me to question the wisdom of mixed-world
the FCVC doesn't do Terran-Fischerite gene splicing, then?"
I asked instead.
because the FCFC has patented all those procedures, as I told
you. We bring all our non-Terran genetic material from New Africa."
hardly sounded any better to me, even though I hadn't been to
New Africa yet, but I just made a mental note of it and let him
lead me up the out-of-service escalator, out the HQ building,
and into some greenhouses, where I saw a bunch of vegetables.
I mean, loads and loads of them. I'd never seen such gigantic
greenhouses. The exact figures are in my report, if you want to
see them, but otherwise, just take my word for it: there were
preparing to expand our offworld markets," said Dr. Robinson,
as I entered into my Perdie how many thousand kilos of vegetables
were around me. "We already do a considerable business with
New Africa and Draconia, as well as more distant worlds, but of
course we're very interested in breaking into the Terran market,
as anyone would be. That's why we're so pleased you're here, Ms.
Tremaine"somehow I'd gone from being Honey to Ms. Tremaine
when the business pitch started"so you can see how
beneficial our products are, and how benign they are, of course,
both to human health and to the natural environment. Would you
care to see more of our production tables, and our field crops?"
said I would, and I wondered why everyone at the FCVC had been
talking down all the other products of Fischer Island if they
wanted to convince me their products were harmless. I mean, I
do know about cross-pollination.
a while even Dr. Robinson got tired of gazing upon the magnificence
of the FCVC's production tables, and suggested we break for lunch.
We ate in the HQ cafeteria, which only served vegetables, of course.
I tried various kinds of tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, beets, zucchini,
and so on, all of which were genengineered to provide me with
my complete nutritional requirements. Dr. Robinson tried to convince
me the high-protein eggplant, which was strangely rubbery, was
superior to the original because of its meatiness and delicate
flavor, but he didn't make much of a convert out of me.
lunch we went out to the parking lot and Veej drove us around
to see wheat, oat, barley, soybean, and corn fields. If you think
that sounds boring, you're right. Not that I have anything against
looking at crops, obviously, but I wasn't allowed to actually
go into any of the fields, for fear of contamination. Dr. Robinson
didn't say whether that meant contamination of the field by me,
or me by the field.
hope you'll send back a favorable report, Ms. Tremaine, or rather,
Honey," he said as he got out of the vehicle, squeezing my
hand a little too long. "I certainly enjoyed spending the
day with you, and I hope you did too."
spend the day with me a lot," I said, but Dr. Robinson looked
confused, so I told him, "your operation is very interesting."
Veej drove off then, so Dr. Robinson had to be satisfied with
what do you think of facvac?" Veej asked as soon as we were
on the road again.
said I thought they had serious problems getting along with the
other co-ops, and asked if all the co-ops were that competitive.
since James Fischer died, yeah," he said. "I mean, they
were setting up in that direction even before he died, but once
he was gone, they fell on each other like dogs."
then went on to tell me how the FCVC and the FCFC had first banded
together to try and take over the FCDC, but once that had failed,
they had turned on each other.
thought the activists would make them cooperate again, Ms. Tremaine,
but they haven't, they've just carried on, and now the activists
are getting more and more active, so I don't know what's going
asked him about the activists, but he just shrugged uneasily and
said there were some people who didn't like all the genengineering
and other stuff the co-ops were doing, and didn't like the way
they were being run, either.
how?" I asked.
wriggled his shoulders again and explained that when James Fischer
had originally set up the co-ops, they had been just that, real
cooperatives run by the workers, who shared in the profits. But
after a few decades some people thought they could make it more
profitable and more efficient to run the co-ops with stockholders
and hourly employees. James Fischer had stood against them while
he was alive, but then he had died, and there was no one to stop
wife tried," Veej said, "but she was never an aggressive
person, or good at business, and so she just got pushed to the
side, and now she's gone crazy, poor old thing. The activists
like to claim it's the food that made her crazy, but old people
just go that way sometimes, don't they?"
agreed they did, and asked Veej if, as an FCVC employee, he was
required to eat only vegetables.
pays my wages," he said, grinning, "but I still have
a mango milkshake every day with lunch."
asked him if he knew any of the activists, but he said he wouldn't
introduce me even if he did, and then he dropped me off at my
Once I was in my room I thought for
a while about everything I'd heard that day. I knew that not only
did Fischer Island not have permission to export its products
to Earth, it didn't even have permission to send samples to Novy
Mir, our offworld testing station. The only place that had gotten
that right for plant products was New Africa, and none of their
products had been certified Earth-safe yet. Certain animal products,
like the enzymes from the novoleni and enzymes, venom,
skin, and bones from the dragons on Draconia, were allowed on
Earth, but all those things were harvested, thoroughly processed,
and packaged in non-biocontaminating forms before they ever reached
Novy Mir, let alone Earth itself. And they were never ingested
as food, only used as medicine and other things that were easier
already had its own genengineered food products, of course. But
we certainly didn't have the kind of stuff available on Fischer
Island. So Dr. Robinson and the people behind him might be right
in thinking it was worth pursuing Terran importation rights aggressively.
I wrote up a long report about what I'd seen, including at the
end a recommendation that any importation of Fischerite products
be done with extreme caution, and sent it off before I went to
The next day was more or less the same,
except I saw fruits instead of vegetables, including the purple
fruits, which sat about conspicuously halved and quartered in
the FCFC offices. And the next day I went to see the FCDC, which
was also about the same, except there were cows instead of plants.
After the novoleni and the dragons it was nice to see that
the cows seemed quite normal. Although apparently they had been
genengineered to provide milk and meat that was high in vitamins,
so there was no need to ever eat vegetables if you didn't want
to. The FCFC had also assured me you could get a complete meal
just by eating their fruits. By the end of the third day of this
kind of propaganda, I was getting pretty tired of it, so I was
glad I was scheduled to set off for New Africa.
night I went out of the hotel to a restaurant down the street
called The Blender. It was supposedly where the locals who knew
where to go went. It was brightly light and the chairs, tables,
and counters were made of different colors of glass.
was pretty crowded, but I got seated right away and started trying
to read the menu. It was difficult because it had dark blue lettering
on a light-blue transparent background.
have to put it down on the table," said someone behind me.
I put it down on the table, which was the same color as the menu
material, and sure enough, I could read the words.
thanks," I said, and discovered it was Veej who had given
me the advice. He was there with Pooni.
should try Number 3," he said. "It's the best, if you
like noodles. Or Number 5, if you like curry."
said I'd try Number 3. Veej and Pooni went to walk over to their
table, when someone who looked a lot like Veej got up from the
table next to mine and stopped them.
some of your ill-gotten gains?" he demanded, putting his
hand on Veej's shoulder.
away, Joshi," said Pooni angrily, and tried to push past
him to her table.
you don't want to talk to your own brother?" said Joshi,
holding out his other arm and blocking her path.
when he's crazy," said Pooni. She tried to move his arm,
but since she was small and he was big, she failed.
I guess you'd know about crazy," he said. "Since that's
what you do."
don't know what you're talking about." Pooni tried to get
past him again, and again he blocked her path. Veej was still
just standing there, letting Joshi hold onto his shoulder.
you do. Everyone knows it was you and your friends who"
come on Joshi, that's ridiculous," said Veej quickly. "You
can't possibly think Pooni had anything to do with that. She'd
never hurt anyone, you know that."
hurts people every day," said Joshi. "Her and all her
friends. How many people have you poisoned, Pooni? How many people
have been poisoned because of you?"
don't know what you're talking about," she repeated.
you do, you're just too stupid to admit it," said Joshi,
and he let go of Veej and started shaking Pooni by the shoulders.
I thought Veej or someone nearby would step in, but they didn't,
so I jumped up and said, "hey now, hey now, enough, okay,
there's no need for any of that," and pulled Joshi and Pooni
you?" demanded Joshi, and then before I could answer, said
nastily, "you must be the inspector, here to see if
our products are safe to bring home."
and what do you think?"
don't know," I told him. I noticed that three more young
men had come up and were flanking Joshi. "I'm recommending
anyone told you the truth? Have they told you what's going
on out here?"
don't you tell me," I said.
but not here. Nothing we say here is safe."
take me somewhere safe," I suggested, and let them lead me
out of The Blender and away, in spite of Pooni and Veej's warning
followed them down the street to Joshi's apartment. I hadn't been
in a private home in Fischer City before, and I was glad to see
the apartment buildings were just ordinary apartment buildings,
although built with lots of glass, and not the greenhouse/wedding-cake
design of the public buildings.
we got into Joshi's apartment he took out a sound recorder, switched
it on, and started running it over the walls. "Checking for
bugs," he said darkly.
they really bug you?" I asked doubtfully.
stop at nothing," he said even more darkly, while his three
sidekicks nodded emphatically behind him. "Look what they
did to Jane Fischer!"
did they do to Jane Fischer?" I asked.
poisoned her, they made her crazy!"
did? How? And why?"
she tried to stop them, that's why!"
them from what?" I asked.
their plans, that's what, from their plans!" said Joshi,
starting to sound a little crazy himself.
plans?" I asked.
you know Draconia, right? You've heard of DragonFarmsInc, haven't
said I had just been there.
What did you think?"
had problems while I was there," I said. "One of the
dragons killed someone."
see! You see! Do you think that attack was a fluke? Did you know
dragon-related injuries have gone up twenty percent in the past
two years? One of my coworkers' cousins is a nurse at DF3, and
she's been keeping track. It must have been one of their fighting
dragons? They don't have fighting dragons!"
what you think," said Joshi meaningfully. "They've been
breeding them in secret."
take over Earth, of course," said Joshi.
only a thousand people on Draconia," I pointed out. "They
couldn't possibly take over Earth. And why would they want to,
money, of course, for money. And it's not just them, it's the
big guys here on Fischer Island, and New Africa, and Kalininskaya,
and all the big breeding and production planets. They're tired
of not being allowed to export to Earth. Seven billion people,
seven billion potential consumers, that's more than all the rest
of the galaxy put together. Most of these planets were settled
by people who wanted to get rich. They came here, they set up
their businesses, and they had promises from Earth that soon,
soon they would be able to start exporting their products and
make money, more money than you could possibly imagine. Why else
would anyone do it? That's why James Fischer came here, and that's
why all the people he brought from India and Pakistan came with
him. Don't let the talk about cooperatives fool you: they were
supposed to be cooperatives, but they were going to be cooperatives
where all the members would make lots and lots of money. Only
some people wanted to take more than their share, and James Fischer
died, and his wife tried to stand up to them, and they gave her
some of their new 'products', and she started to forget who she
was and where she was living, and now Earth is saying no, we still
don't want your products, we're not sure if they're safe, which
they should say, because they're not safe. And people here are
starting to get angry because we've seen what this stuff can do.
And now those of us in the Escalators and Lifts union have decided
to do something about it."
DragonFarmsInc products are exported to Earth," I said, "and
everyone seems to be perfectly healthy here on Fischer Island.
Well, except for Jane Fischer, but old people can get like that
without being poisoned."
just think that because you haven't seen everything," said
Joshi contemptuously. "And sure, DragonFarms gets to export
some stuff to Earth, but they have plans, big plans, and Earth
isn't having any of it. And the same goes for Kalininskaya. And
Fischer Island and New Africa have been cut out completely, and
they're getting more and more desperate, and experimenting more
and more, doing more and more gene splicing with local and Terran
genes, and pretty soon it's going to come back to bite them."
how can I find out about this?" I asked. "It's not like
people are going to tell me this stuff on official tours. Back
home I'd go ask the neighbors, poke around, maybe watch the farm
for a couple of days, but out here I don't have the resources
are you going next, New Africa?"
leaving on the shuttle tomorrow morning."
tour you around, tell you all kinds of nonsense, but as soon as
you get a chance to get away, go to Little Cape Town."
It's part of New Jo-Burg." He lowered his voice. "We
have connections there with the Anti-Mercy League, but we can't
share them with youthey might catch you and make you tell
don't know if I want to get involved with this," I said.
"Especially if I can't talk to anyone useful."
go to Little Cape Town, walk around a bit, go into a few shops,
try and talk to people. It'll be enough to convince you."
agreed to do that, and Joshi said it was time for me to go back
to the hotel. When I said I still hadn't had any dinner, he gave
me some food he said was safe (cutting his eyes this way and that
as he said it), and told me to go back to my room and not to tell
anyone I had spoken with him. So I didn't, until now, of course.
I didn't know how much to believe of what he had told me, but
I also knew there was something going on here on Fischer Island,
and I wanted to find out what it was. I wasn't sure exactly what
I was going to find, or how I was going to handle it when I did,
but I set off the next morning for New Africa full of determination.