Author: Emma K. Leadley
Karl twitched in his sleep. He dreamed of tomatoes. Fresh, vine-ripened tomatoes with their firm texture, sweet innards and tantalising smell. He twisted one from its stem and bit into it, juice and seeds running down his chin and–
The hub lights came on, his alarm beeping.
“Dammit, just when it was getting good,” he grumbled, rubbing his eyes and stretching. Morning ablutions done and suited up, he entered the mess area and nodded to his colleagues. Grabbing a coffee with its stale, recycled-water taste, he thought back to the tomatoes again, mouth watering.
Moving on to the biodome he looked over the growth data. The legumes were fine; they were growing up their supports, albeit slower than calculations predicted. The alliums had overtaken their growth curve. Fresh garlic proved a hit with the crew. But the nightshades were more difficult. The last crop of potatoes had grown but reached a size limit beyond which nothing could coax them to expand. Everyone compared eating them to chewing on cardboard, worse than the ration packs. They weren’t enough to sustain the calorie requirements of a hungry crew, let alone keep them happy with texture and taste. At least the chilli peppers weren’t looking too bad.
He’d dropped the idea of eggplants; they weren’t calorie dense enough for the space they took to grow. But the tomatoes should have been easy. Only he couldn’t even get them to flower, let alone grow their fruit. He thought back to his last meal on Earth. The whole family crammed round the table, heaped spaghetti bolognese onto their plates and shouting over each other, as ever. Light years away now. He took off his glasses and wiped the tears from his eyes. Semi-blinded, he knocked his coffee mug onto a batch of tomato seedlings.
Two months later, they started flowering.