Author : Desmond Hussey

When John Allen wakes, two suns, one red, one blue, peek through the line of smoking atmosphere generators fencing the horizon. He glances at his snoring wife as he shifts his weight to the edge of the bed. With luck he can get out of the house before she awakes. She’s not a morning person.

Dressing in his work coveralls is awkward due to his lame leg and arthritic fingers. He doesn’t know what caused his leg to ache so much, particularly in the morning. The “quack” doctor who comes once a year to check up on him is no help at all. He regrets the loss of mobility, but he gets by.

During breakfast, he checks the satellite readout of the day’s weather conditions. The damn monitor is on the fritz again, but after a few bangs he gets the readings he needs; 30% humidity. High temperature, 36 degrees Celsius. Oxygen 16 kpa. Nitrogen 44 kpa. Carbon Dioxide 6kpa. 32 mph winds, NNE. It was shaping up to be a good day.

John sips instant coffee as he scans the field maps on his tabletop console, dusty despite numerous air filters. Automated alerts inform him that a Nitrogen pump and a CFC emitter have failed and there are some irrigation malfunctions in sectors six, thirteen and forty-four. He should also check on the kamut field. The grain is nearly ready for harvesting. He could rely on the automated harvest indicator system, but some of these machines are older than he is and couldn’t be trusted. John prefers the tried and true methods of identifying crop readiness with hand and eye.

He hears Marg stirring. He slugs back the last of his gritty coffee, straps on his utility belt and makes for the airlock.

Outside, the breeze makes small twirling dust tornadoes across the yard. John puts his air filter on, grabs one of his many canes and makes his slow, limping way to the barn where his eeda-win beetle munches on frizzle, the tall, thin native grass that grows everywhere on this endless plain.

When he arrived fifty years ago this place was nothing more than a cold, inhospitable sea of sandy dunes with minimal plant life and a handful of hardy insect species. Today, the atmosphere is thin and dusty, but breathable. Water, drawn from deep, ample aquifers fills ancient craters with small, algae rich lakes. He’d helped introduce over five thousand agricultural and medicinal plant cultivars and personally engineered a breed of cattle that could subsist here.

For years this moon was a much needed, though humble bread basket for the seedships heading further into space. Today, he’s the only farmer left on Thuprair-E, fifth moon of the massive gas giant now cresting the horizon. The others, including his two sons, had left for more exotic and easily terraformed planets and moons. With the latest hi-tech machinery and temperate environments, the work elsewhere was much easier. John stayed. He likes a challenge.

Little Squirt croaks when John enters the tin Quonset. The giant, metallic green beetle shuffles in its stall, eager to get out. Massive, powerful pinchers clack anxiously.

It takes longer these days, but John has rigged an ingenious method of tacking up Little Squirt in the complicated harness and getting himself settled into the two-wheeled cart which contains all the tools he’ll need for the day.

“Come on, old friend,” John urges as he twitches the reigns. “We’ve got a long day’s work ahead.”

John gets his bearings, then slowly, steadily, beetle and man trundle off across a brave new world.


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