Author Topic: Chapter 17  (Read 9344 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 17
« on: July 21, 2022, 03:01:48 AM »
Chapter 17

They were so tired the night before, that Argent had canceled their little get-together in the greenhouse. Then in the morning, they were so sore that it got delayed again. It wasn't until almost a full day later, that a wincing Simon limped his way down to the greenhouse. He paused at the airlock. He'd forgotten the code. Between seeing the new city, exercising in the new dome, and talking with Diana, it had totally slipped his mind.

Fortunately he didn't have to wait very long. A pair of eyes peered over at him from the green edge of the dome, and then hands appeared in their place. They held up four fingers, twice, and then seven, and then eight. He typed that into the keypad, and the airlock let him in.

Simon was assaulted by the usual humidity and heat inside, but he was getting used to the changeover by now. He reluctantly sat down on one of the benches inside, trying not to stretch already-sore muscles any more than he had to. 'Gent sat next to him, a little stiffly as well.

"Are we alone in here?"

'Gent nodded. "Massimo's back in Harmony. We've got a few hours before he's supposed to come back." He winced. "How're you doing after yesterday?"

"About the same as you, I guess." Simon looked up at the center of the dome, filtering light down from above. "I know Noah's keeping out of this place for now, but aren't you worried he'll send flying drones up top to look down on you?"

"Not really. Most of what's in here is exactly what we say it is. Those cannabis seeds are just sprouting, and I planted some sweetfern seeds in here a while back. From what I read in the agricultural database, they look just like the cannabis plants, and I can sell them too, as air fresheners. They'll make a good gift for us to give the girls, when Noah finally lets us start courting."

Courting. Simon wasn't really ready for that, but it would give him an excuse to spend more time with Diana. He wasn't sure if it was the courting or Diana herself that was making him a little queasy. Trying to change the subject, he stood up slowly. "Why'd you ask me here, 'Gent?"

His friend followed suit, just as slowly. "Come on. I'll show you." He pushed some of the grapevines draped over the entryway aside, and stepped through. He waited long enough for Simon to follow before letting them go.

Simon raised his eyebrows, admiring some of the work that had happened here since his last visit. "You've been busy."

"Sure have," 'Gent said offhandedly. "Strawberries, raspberries and blueberries are all growing on that end," he gestured to the north. "I've got sugar cane over there, and of course the vines are growing up on their trellises. If this keeps up, eventually I might be able to get some animals in the empty dome next door. None of us have ever had ham, pork or bacon before. Think of what it could mean if I'd be the first to offer them to the people in Harmony." The dome wasn't complete yet, but it would be within a year, according to Noah.

"For a reasonable price of course," Simon said, suppressing a smile. He'd seen some of the agricultural database's information on animal products. It wasn't an easy or clean process at all. 'Gent had nearly fainted last year when Simon had accidentally cut his hand and was bleeding everywhere. If he truly wanted to slaughter pigs for their bacon, he'd probably have to get someone else to do it. Being a businessman and being a farmer didn't always overlap, it seemed.

'Gent gave him a sarcastic look, and beckoned him back to one of the more secluded areas of the dome.

The sheer scale of this place snapped Simon out of some of his worries. He had to admit: 'Gent did have an impressive work ethic. When he and Massimo had gone to Noah with the idea to start an exotic foods business, Noah had insisted that they work their way from the ground up, the way that business owners did on Earth. It was the excuse 'Gent had used to keep Noah out of here.

They were getting older, and more independent, day by day. Noah understood that, and he lacked the emotional awareness to get upset about it like a lot of parents had apparently done back on Earth. 'Gent had just been the first person to stand up to him openly, present the values that he'd raised them all with, and then use those values to get him to back down.

"Down here," 'Gent beckoned at him, now that they were in the bowels of the greenhouse. He was lifting a hatch open, and there was a ladder leading below.

"Whoa. I didn't know your greenhouse had a basement." Simon grabbed the hatch cover, and then climbed down the ladder.

"It didn't, at first. This was just a storeroom for seeds. I had all of them cleared out and built—well, you'll see."

A burst of heat and a powerful smell he couldn't immediately identify hit his nose once he got to the bottom. Simon stepped away from the ladder to let 'Gent down after him, and then 'Gent hit a light switch to the side. The room lit up, showing a series of tubes and wires, connected to several large containers. A tiny ramp ran downhill between them. He walked around the whole thing slowly, mystified, until he could see two small containers on the other side.

"Ok, I give up. What is this?"

'Gent grinned broadly at him from between the two large barrel-shaped objects in the middle. "It's an alcohol still."

Simon gaped for a second, but the part of his mind obsessed with his education was already comparing what his eyes were seeing with pictures and descriptions he'd seen before. Whatever material was fermenting would need to be heated—that would be the electric heater on one end. Water would need to flow in, and it looked like 'Gent had that handled too. The water had to be cooled as well, and flow out of the final container. The whole setup didn't look that efficient, but it was complete. Or as complete as an amateur like Simon could tell. "Wow."

"I've already bottled a few liters, but that's why I need you. I think bottled is the right way to say it. They used to keep wine in glass bottles on Earth, right? They're in plastic here, but they should taste just as good."

"How?" Simon asked, still turning it around in his mind. "How'd you set all this up?"

"Oh that was easy. All the designs were in the agricultural database. Remember how I said we were short on the grape yield last month? I lied. I mashed those grapes myself, and put them into the still. Eventually I'm hoping on making brandy, or even vodka with this thing. If it was good enough for people on Earth, it's gotta be good enough for us. But we'll have to start with wine, I guess."

Simon turned to him, concerned. "Wine, 'Gent? We're not allowed to drink yet! If Noah finds out about this, you'll be in huge trouble! So will I, if he finds out I was here."

"He won't. He'll stay out of the greenhouse unless he thinks there's an immediate danger, and with your help, we can distribute this without him ever finding out. It's no different than the sugar candy I made last year."

This... was different. Candy might not have been on Noah's nutritional list for the kids living in Harmony, but at least it wasn't specifically forbidden. Alcohol definitely was, at least with the exception of the communion wine they'd had yearly. Noah brought that in from the mainland, and it was grown God-only-knew where.

Still, 'Gent's idea had merit. There had been a whole movement in America known as Prohibition. The Faith had documented the outlawing of alcohol, and then the subsequent black market that had sprung up as a result. It might not have been the safest business, but it had definitely been profitable. Besides, members of the Faith were allowed to drink in moderation, or at least adults were. And the eldest here were almost adults, including 'Gent.

Simon looked back across the still at his friend. "Why are you in such a hurry about this wine thing? Are you worried about competition or something?"

'Gent nodded. "If I don't do this, someone else will eventually, and that's a missed opportunity for me. For us. But this is bigger than just cool new foods and marijuana and wine. We're the first generation on New Eden, Simon. It's our responsibility to get things going that every other generation will use, for the rest of time!" He started pacing around the small room, back and forth on the other side of the still. Simon followed his progress, not knowing quite what to think.

"Remember that day we learned about John D Rockefeller in American History class?" 'Gent said in a surprising tangent. "The richest man of all of them," he added in an awed voice. "He's kinda my inspiration for all of this. If John hadn't already picked his name by the time I found out about Rockefeller, I would have picked the name John myself. Maybe I would have anyway, if people hadn't already started calling me Argent. That'd be ok, wouldn't it? Two Johns, this early on?"

"It would be a little confusing," Simon said faintly. He remembered the stories about Rockefeller's fabulous wealth, but he hadn't found that very interesting. He was much more invested in the stories of people like Alan Turing and Larry Page. Bill Gates too, he guessed, but he'd been more of a businessman than a programmer. Strangely, all the info about Turing’s personal life had been corrupted along with the rest of the historical database. Simon knew he’d offended some people, enough to even risk him being sent to prison, but the histories didn’t say exactly how he’d done that.

'Gent shook his head. "It's too late for that anyway. Rockefeller got rich not just because he was so smart, but because he had a product that everyone—everyone—needed! That's why I started out with food. It's something everyone needs, and I can sell it. Noah won't be making our food for us forever, you know. Eventually it'll be on us.

"That city on the mainland is just the beginning for us. Imagine what Greater Harmony will look like in a hundred years, or New Eden itself for that matter. New domes will pop up everywhere, filled with new people, and Noah won't be in charge of us anymore. We'll have to make things for ourselves, and build an economy of our own. We'll have a civilization to build, just like the ancient Americans did! The only difference is, we have their mistakes to learn from!"

Abruptly 'Gent stopped pacing, and leaned back against the wall. He slid down it, until he was in a sitting position. "They knew that free enterprise was the way to go, but they allowed competition between companies. They said that it kept prices low, but it also led to confusion and chaos. All the people living in that system suffered, not because the companies existed, but because they were mismanaged! We can learn from that, and do better here.

"Imagine, Simon! A company called Argent Agriculture, feeding every city on the planet. Another one named Argent Industries, building every dome, every terraformer, every drone, and every road. Argent Entertainment coming out with new books, magazines, radio broadcasts, tv shows and movies, year after year after year! Argent Technology developing up into space again, and maybe one day getting back in contact with Earth. All Argent businesses, improving the lives of everyone here, constantly." He took a deep breath, but it was clear he was done, at least for the moment.

Simon tried to arrange everything he'd just heard. "I... didn't know you were thinking so far ahead, man. This is pretty deep stuff here. Not that you're wrong or anything," he added hurriedly, as 'Gent's smile slipped a bit. "If anyone has the guts to pull it off, it's you. I'm just wondering. Why does it have to be your name on everything? Why not New Eden Agriculture, or Greater Harmony Entertainment or things like that?"

The question seemed to surprise 'Gent, but just for an instant. "Why do you think Rhys puts his name on the bottom of his paintings? Why did Tycho carve a 't' into the side of the telescope he built? It's not like he was labelling it. Didn't you tell me that programmers have a signature too? I bet you have one. I'm no different than that. I want to be remembered, long after I'm gone, just like you, or Tycho, or any of the others. It's what matters most to me. Millions of people know who Rockefeller is. Imagine how many would know him if he'd started his businesses at the beginning of human life on Earth. That could be me, here, if I play my cards right!"

That didn't really make sense. "We're all gonna be in the history books, 'Gent, no matter what we do. You'll be the first businessman. Adam will be the first politician. I'll be the first programmer."

"And the first pilot," 'Gent pointed out. Simon looked down, ashamed, but 'Gent didn't seem to notice. "That's one of the cool things about you, Simon. You face up to your fears. You were afraid of flying, so you're training to become a pilot. I still can't stand blood, but you don't see me helping out with Hippo on my off hours. And I want more than just being in a history book somewhere. I want the things that I start, to still be affecting people hundreds, thousands of years from now! Just like Rockefeller."

That didn't quite line up with Simon's goals, not that he'd put much thought into them. Other than making Diana's life happier, all that really mattered to him was... "What about making peoples' lives easier, or more fun? Making sure people have cool stuff, or useful stuff? That's why I want to program things. I'll never make anything as badass as Noah, but I can make stuff that helps people."

'Gent smiled over at him. "Don't sell yourself short, Simon. You're the smartest person I know, and I know me. Besides, can't we do both? Help people and be remembered after we're gone? It doesn't have to be one or the other, and it's not like we're doing anything wrong. This is exactly what the Faith wanted when they built Noah."

Simon hesitated. "We did steal a bunch of seeds from the vault the other day."

'Gent waved a hand. "Oh, that's nothing. Every one of those samples, and the ones up in orbit, will eventually be used to make a lifeform. We just pushed the marijuana seeds to the front of the line, that's all. We did what Noah was going to, only sooner."

That was true. Simon did feel a little sad for all those seeds still frozen, waiting to become something more. At least he had that chance himself. The heat down here was a little overpowering, though, and he could feel sweat start to trickle down his back. "Can we go upstairs? Unless you need to make more of that," he pointed down at the still.

"No, it's fine. All the grapes we have out there are earmarked anyway. I've got all the wine I can for now." 'Gent climbed up the ladder, and then helped him follow. They closed the trapdoor and stretched a bit in the more open space.

Simon looked around, at all the fruit trees growing, and all the products that would end up in Massimo and Argent's commissary. "You're saving up, aren't you? That's why you don't eat anything from the commissary. You're saving, uh, what's the word?" He snapped his fingers a few times, trying to think back to their economics class he'd found so boring. "Capital. That's it."

'Gent just gave him a slight smile. "Venture capital, yes. Eventually, Noah will want us to go out there and start building lives for ourselves. But he won't just give them to us. He'll make us work for them. He'll sell us land, and buildings, and businesses. He doesn't care about money himself, so he's just going to put that money right back into the new government, whatever that ends up looking like. That's why he keeps giving us an allowance, and telling us to save most of it. When that happens, I'm going to be ready. I'll be set to buy the best land, and start the most profitable businesses, right from the start."

"You and Massimo," Simon reminded him.

"And you too, if you're interested," 'Gent said without missing a beat. "Massimo's not really a chef at heart; he's a farmer deep down. He loves planting and growing and preparing food, and he doesn't mind the sight of blood," he added with a note of jealousy. "He'll stay agricultural, while I'll branch out right away. You, probably, will go with technology—Massimo Agriculture, and Simon Technology. They sound pretty good, don't they?"

They did, but that wasn't really the point. "While you do everything else?" Simon asked, trying to stay on topic.

"As much as I can handle, anyway," 'Gent shrugged. "The Americans had a 40-hour work week for a reason. More than that is where it gets unhealthy. Less than that, and people get—”

“—lazy," Simon finished for him. "I remember that part from economics, at least. Another thing Rockefeller got started, right?"

'Gent grinned in response. He gestured over at the airlock. "Look, I know I've thrown a lot of stuff at you, all at once. You probably want to think about it, and that's fine. If you want to say no, that's fine too. You can just blank out trackers every once in a while, so I can sell stuff or get more seeds. Or... you can join me and Massimo. We'll split everything three ways. And end up living like kings and being remembered like legends." At that he said goodbye, apparently intending to stay for a while.

Simon put on his breather and left the greenhouse in silence, mulling over everything. He felt like a maglev train had been stuffed full of details and jammed into his head, and now the details were all starting to pop out of his ears.

Argent was one of a kind, he could tell. Even though Simon had only known a hundred people at most, and was still just a kid, he could tell that 'Gent would go far in life. Rockefeller had done impressive things too, back in his day.

But Simon had an easier time remembering the Faith histories than their economic classes. The Ludlow massacre had happened because of Rockefeller, too. At least twenty people had died on the first day: more than half of them children. At least fifty other people had died later, in a sort of strikers-versus-company war afterwards. Noah had said the massacre was a good thing because it had started the American push towards the 40-hour work week, and abolishing child labor. Still, those people wouldn't have been killed if Rockefeller hadn't started his company. Simon was afraid that Argent was heading in the same direction.

As he made his way up towards Harmony, there was a strange humming noise that started in the air, for just a second. Then everything went dark. All the lights in the domes went out at the same time. Simon looked around, suddenly afraid for a different reason. 'Gent's greenhouse was dark, too. As was the girls' half of Harmony. Without the moons and stars above, he wouldn't be able to see a thing!
« Last Edit: July 21, 2022, 03:11:39 AM by Daen »