Crimson hadn’t wanted to see it. She’d tried to avoid it. She’d tried to pin her eyes on the leader of the settlers and avoid contact with rest. But the vision haunted her Mindframe like a Tilganian mind-washing program. It was exactly what she didn’t want on her ship. What she’d spent a decade omitting from her existence:
A tender little girl, fearful and wide-eyed, tucked under the arm of her helpless, comforting mother. The pink eyes and green cheeks made no difference, the behaviors were recognizable across the galaxies. A picture of family life Crimson had instinctively avoided.
Crimson now paced her dark quarters, trying to fight the cold sweat of having hundreds of comely families, adrift in the universe and clinging only to themselves, running all over her ship like an invasion of ants. The hollow sound of footsteps in the corridor outside her own door made her lonely steel sanctuary feel thin and weak. Every odd clink from outside made her eyes flash in alarm to the crossbar of the door. They wouldn’t come in—no one was allowed in her cabin!
Torn between unreasonable thoughts, Crimson held her cybernetic hand with her human one. Could she make it to the bridge between passing footfalls? It was useless to stand behind the metal door and sweat like a baby…
“Crimson!” Barked Keffler over the intercom, “You’d better get down here, or so help me I’ll throw a shovel through a Sky Pane and we’ll all get sucked out a hole the size of a football!”
“Void of space!” Crimson cursed. Holding her breath she opened her portal…
It was as though the hallways had become a marketplace. The chaos outside her door was a battle of flailing arms, wielding bags and containers like clubs. Pushing bodies shoved their way around complaining, stationary ones blocking the corridor. Crimson waded through the carnage, nearly dragging her cybernetic leg, in attempts to not step of any of the squirming, seething passengers. She bit her lip and lowered her head, trying not to allow her trachea to contract. If she could press through the bumbling masses, the Circle would provide an open space, and relieve the pressure of crowded humanoids.
She held her breath, ignoring even Krevvenar and Olper as she passed them. Finally she broke through to the wider space, and higher ceiling, which dispersed the masses of confusion. Micron and P’Xak were attempting to brief a new wave of wide-eyed arrivals, and Tager and Mog Mog were trying to corral another down a branch of the cabin corridors. Crimson strode around the chaos, and headed aftwards. After a few dark minutes she reached the glowing octagonal hole of the Arboretum and the edge of the artificial gravity field. Her stomach fluttered, and she pressed on though the glare until the six Garden and Sky Panes of the cavernous Green House ballooned away below, above, and before her. From over her head Crimson heard angry voices.
Craning her neck she saw, Keffler, her ornery gardener and galley-chef high on the green ceiling, seated on the edge of his mobility chair, looking about to leap from his chair and strangle a trio of peasant-y Bulaxians. With grumble of her own, Crimson grabbed the catwalk rail and turned into the rotation of the spinning Green House, and began mounting the wall towards the argument.
Arriving at the correct Garden Pane, Crimson dismounted the catwalk and dropped onto the spongy turf. Already the rotation of the Green House had disoriented Crimson, and she had forgotten which way was “up” in regard to the Rival Bay’s general attitude. But now she was equal with Keffler and his invaders. It was a trick of perception—but being held to the same plane by the centrifugal gravity made it seem that she could understand their words better.
Keffler was caterwauling, “No absolute way am I letting those unidentified, sphere-hugging, customs-nightmares into my Green House!”
“They must go here! They must go here!” answered the foremost Bulaxian. He waved a pallet of mini plasticrates with a poofy tuft of vegetation sprouting from its cells.
“I’m telling you there ain’t no way!” Keffler growled.
Evidently a farmer of sorts, the overalled, hard-woven rustic shoved the plasticrates forward and insisted, “This is where they go! They go here!”
Keffler was brandishing a trowel and pushing the crates away with the point. “You bring those plants in here and I’ll get the incinerator!”
Crimson arrived: “What’s going on here?”
The farmer and his settler cohorts, also carrying crates of plants, stepped back and gave bewildered assessments to the female cyborg addressing them with terse authority. Apparently her appearance took them off guard, and they paused long enough for Keffler to spit:
“These sphere-huggers wanna’ pollute my ecosystem with their funky alien pollen!”
“This is where the things grow!” snapped the farmer in his heavily accented Universal. He shoved a hand too close to Crimson’s chin in an exasperated motion.
Crimson leaned away, spurning a careless touch. “No,” she stated flatly, “No unregistered plants in the Green House.”
“But they grow here!” repeated the farmer, as if his rudimentary explanations ought to have been enough.
“No,” Crimson repeated. “You’ll screw up the onboard eco system.” She opened her arms to catch the farmers in a flesh and metal barrier and herd them back towards the entrance.
Apparently not flustered by the invasion of their personal space the farmers resisted her, putting hands against her arms and refusing to retreat. Crimson planted her human foot. With a grunt she levered her cybernetic arm forward sending two of the farmers sprawling back on themselves. They cried out in alarm, and nearly dropped their containers of plants. Bouncing back they hurled angry words in Bulaxian, and looked ready to fight for their potted plants.
“Snake spit, don’t spill their dirt—!” Keffler snarled.
Crimson didn’t like where this was going. “I am the captain of this vessel. These plants do not come in here without my permission!” No effect. “They cannot come in until they have been examined and approved.” Still the stream of foreign expletives and insistence. They didn’t recognize her or her authority. “I will speak to Amborghent Joffs!”
It took a few moments and several repetitions, but finally she heard Joffs’ name appear amidst their alien language. Finally the lead farmer, his face a green and pink contortion of frustration and anger agreed, “Yes! Speak with Joffs. Speak with Joffs!”
“Okay!” Crimson gave her most placating growl. She moved back up the slope to the spinning rim of the Green House, and hopped onto the catwalk. Clumping down the wall to the mouth of the portal she batted the intercom. “Shaak-Rom, get Amborghent Joffs to the Green House. Now!”
The angry stand-off ended when the councilman arrived. He was especially pink-faced and his hair and beard seemed extra frazzled. He was slightly out of breath. At least three full revolutions had transpired, and they were once again on the ceiling by the time the red and blue Trivven brought the Bulaxian representative through the portal. Crimson watched impatiently as the councilman struggled in change of artificial gravities.
Joffs listened earnestly, but with deeply tired eyes. After a brief explanation of the carefully guarded eco system, Joffs nodded and turned to his planet-men.
Keffler butted in, “…If they haven’t ruined it already with all their accursed flailing!” He stabbed a crooked old finger at the intruding farmers.
Joffs nodded and turned again. He seemed to speak for a very long time, gesturing to Crimson and then to Keffler, and then the Green House. The farmers argued, interrupting all these explanations with points of their own. But eventually the firm outward palms of their rep, began to back them up. Offended but submissive, the farmers turned back to the habitorial decks.
Joffs turned back to Crimson. “I’m sorry. They didn’t know who you were. And they couldn’t understand why their plants were not good enough to be in your garden. Their plants will die if they do not get the right light and care. I told them we would work something out, but it could not be today.”
“I’m not having any—” Keffler began.
Crimson shot out a flesh hand to silence him. “We’ll need a complete read-out of what plants they wish to integrate into our eco-system. We can’t risk losing our crops, or the balance we’ve established.”
“If I have any doubts,” the grizzled gardener piped up from his mobility chair, “I’m batting the lot of ‘em through the airlock!”
Joffs nodded wearily. “Of course.” He turned and wobbled back towards the entrance. By now they were coming back round to right-side up. Shaak-Rom kindly took the councilman by the arm and guided him towards the mayhem of resettlement.
“Probably too late already,” complained Keffler, wheeling his chair around and scooting back down the hill towards his vegetable boxes.
Crimson stood in the momentary quiet of the Green House. She inhaled deeply of the pollen-filled air; the smell of living things irritated her. And they hadn’t had the last spat over Keffler’s private domain. She could feel it.