Author : William Tracy
Philip had never been very interested in history.
If he had been, he might have known about the Fertile Crescent in the ancient Middle East. He might have known how, paradoxically, a barren desert became the birthplace of agriculture. In a parched land, those who control the water can control all things that grow. The ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians built elaborate irrigation networks that supported crops on a scale previously unimagined.
That water could just as easily be cut off. A field overrun with weeds could be starved by shunting a channel a different way. The weeds dead, the field could be reseeded, and crops grown anew.
Then again, Philip had never been very interested in agriculture.
If he had been, he might have known that he was carrying on this ancient tradition himself. This time the fluid being controlled was not water, but air itself. There are many pests that can survive a long time without water, but there are few that can survive the combined assault of hard vacuum and strong ionizing radiation.
Philip had never been very interested in engineering, either.
If he had been, he might have known the hows and whys of the agricultural space station that he happened to work in. He might have known that this was one of the first orbital stations to abandon hydroponics and return to soil-based agriculture. The soil was composed of lunar regolith, painstakingly spun in a tumbler to smooth its sharp edges, phylosilicates extracted from asteroid mining byproducts, and a combination of organics carefully synthesized from chemicals or lifted from Earth by heavy rockets at great expense.
Philip was interested in none of these things. In fact, Philip was not interested in very much at all. He was not interested in the instructions he was following, or in the holographic control panel flickering in front of him, or in the cylindrical greenhouses spread out before his tiny control cabin.
He was not interested in the safety override code that he had to punch in, or in the bulkhead lockdown sequence that he had to execute, or in the warning he had to call out over the loudspeakers, or in the compartment identification code he had to enter.
He should have been interested in what happened next.
The terminating lock on greenhouse 42—not greenhouse 24—opened and vented into space. As the air eagerly escaped from its chamber, it liberated two hundred and fifty cubic meters of topsoil from the grip of the artificial gravity. It billowed and boiled madly, then leaped free to the final frontier.
Also freed from their constraints were thirteen thousand zucchini plants. The vines danced frenetically, losing and and then finding each other again. Exhilarated, they slipped the surly bonds of greenhouse 42. Free at last, they relaxed, and slowly shriveled as the vacuum lapped the water from their vascular tissue.
Also relaxed was Philip’s lower jaw. His eyes were round, as though they too were swelling in the vacuum. His hand twitched, suspended above the very button that had unleashed this spectacle in the first place.
Philip began to be interested in keeping his job.