The soil had soured somewhat.
We still planted it, of course, for what else was there to do? But the stems grew spindly and the plants were weak and we’d sometimes find the fruits lying fallen and rotten in the rows. Mite removal was now a daily affair in the weakened fields.
The Corps had come here with big plans, strafing the young outpost with greenstim they’d brought with them from across the emptiness. In their exuberance, they had missed some subtle character of the gossamer web we had carefully hewn out of the barren rock, growing and tending it since the days of the founders.
There were still a great many things humanity did not know.
A month later to the day we woke up to see that the cliff vines had fallen — huge coiled mounds of the stuff. They had lain there until we couldn’t bear their silent condemnation any further and finally we’d carted them off to the reactor. The embarrassment we felt was unfounded, for there was nobody watching but the stars, but we felt it just the same.
The crops already in the soil had been productive, but from that point forward the seedlings had suffered. Nothing specific or acute, more of a stubborn refusal to thrive. The yield since then had declined precipitously, and breakfast was now chalky blue-tinged cubes the printer churned out.
The Corps had reacted as one might imagine; springing into motion with scans and bold-sounding science, but in time that early burst of vigor faded. This was destined to be a long moment. Clumsy footsteps had left us needing not just action but discovery, and the cosmos always seemed to prove even more reluctant to betray her secrets out here in the far reaches.
As the long moment grew longer, the new arrivals did what people do when they are lost or uncertain and returned to the familiar comfort of doctrine.
In the morning the Lieutenant would read from the Charter, reminding us why we were here. Reminding us of that this was about expanding humanity’s footprint, and how the O-nets had shown us that this footprint was not yet broad enough.
We were galactic now, yes, but somehow never galactic enough.
It was a three-moon day, so harvesters filled the walkways between the raised plasteel beds. He could see them from the hill, stooped in the crop rows with blue icons on their work frocks glinting in the light to keep the drones from getting agitated by their presence.
As he watched them work, his fingers toyed absently with the cuff of his shirtsleeve. In a strange and sentimental moment, he had stolen down to the foundry as the separators chewed the fallen vines into reactor, hand-feeding the discarded fiber into the fab to produce the off-grey shell he wore now. It was indistinguishable from any other, and bore no blue insignia: drones were powered down during the planting, as there were few dangers on this world that couldn’t be dispatched with a seed-knife. Well, other than fellow humans.
He turned, scanned the horizon. They were out there somewhere near the fringe, small splinter groups of the originals who had left, preferring to trust their own methods rather than relying on Martech to remedy what it had so recently wrought. Whenever they stopped in for supplies there were whispers of exotic new cultivars, and of experimental methods, born of necessity, that allowed for full-cycle agrology. Those murmurs were tempered, however, with undertones of privation: these new techniques were still early, and for now life on the periphery remained harder than in the core. It was a growing ideological rift that kept them self-consigned to the outskirts, not some newfound cornucopia. Not yet at least.
The colony would make it, of that he had little doubt — basic sustenance could always come from the replicators, but… well, that was no way to live. It was culture and a way of life that had borne the brunt of the Corps’ misguided ambition; basic survival was now a simple fact of modernity.
Standing up, he shouldered his ruck. Four days’ journey to the camp out there at the edge of the greenwaste, providing the drop he’d received was accurate. He’d need to be back in a fortnight for the core’s planting cycle. Best not delay.