Introduction to the Farmer

This is the first chapter of the draft of a story I putatively called The Farmer. The personnel roster for this older story can be found here. I rewrote it as a much different story, and finished the novel. Now I need to shop that around and get it out there. Simple, right? What we have here is a relic. but a readable one.

It’s another day here. It’s hot, like it always is…​it seems a shame it only rains at night, but I guess if it rained through the day we couldn’t get any work done. The sky’s blue and there’s the high wrack that floats across the sun now and then. It’s a little hotter than what it normally is, since the horizon seems closer than what’s usual. Another day working for the Farmer.

The wrack’s overhead now, hazing over the sun, and there’s this breeze drifting in from the Ponds. I can smell the ensilage from around the Ponds and it reminds me of the work I did some time in the past, about a week ago I imagine. I’m out here in the field with the scythe, cutting and chopping all the rampants down, these being the weeds that grow overnight after the rains…​they’re not so hard, so long as you don’t kill the crop or the sucker that hangs from them. There’s a few of us working at this stretch, about thirty of us, mainly younger bronzed ones like me, coloured that way after time under the sun and wrack. It’s good, working for the Farmer…​he feeds us and clothes us and does everything else, like lets us walk near the horizon or swim in the Deeps and keeps the bigger flimpers away from us with that net he’s got strung up in the sky about two or three kilometres up. I’ve been here since I was born, and that’s been a while, I suppose, considering that I can’t even remember when I was born. I’ve heard around the Lines that few can…​what’s the point of knowing when the Farmer started you up? Useless stuff and it doesn’t keep you busy out in the fields or paddocks.

There’s this hooting noise, and I know it’s time to start this stint. I’ve done it a thousand times; this rending and sweeping with the scythe, hearing it’s blade whirr day in, day out…​I’ve seen it put some people to sleep, and I’ve watched the scythe kill them as well. It can be a dangerous beast when it wants to be. It isn’t going to kill me though, not now, not ever; I’m too good for it. It isn’t too hard doing all this, just mow, mow, mow…​and give room for the crop to grow…​one of the suckers has fallen near my feet. This little animal lives on top of the crop and it helps it grow somehow. Only the Farmer could tell you how it does it, it is that hard to work out. It’s a funny little thing…​it’s a pink and green wet thing with a round mouth. It smells like insects and it watches you with its five eyes. I can hold one in both my hands, but I don’t like doing it since they smell and they are valuable to the Farmer.

The crop dies without suckers on top of them. The overseer cries out at me for malingering and I put the cute little thing back on the crop head. It isn’t a great idea to annoy the overseers, especially when the Farmer’s crop is concerned…​I can’t stand working triple stints. When you’ve seen your fellows flayed under the wrack or had the pinions snatch them for carelessness, then you learn not to annoy anyone. I’ve got the smell of sucker on me now, and it’s a hell of a task to clean it off…​I heard an overseer call it a pheromone. It’s meant to be this scent to attract the gnat-things which land in their eyes and makes them go orange.

You’d seriously want to believe how valuable the crop is to the Farmer. Someone told me, perhaps an overseer, that it causes illnesses and other things to heal quicker…​it’s got something to do with an antiviral enzyme, but the crop is worth a lot of money to those who need it, like the people from offworld. It’s all too big for me, I’m sorry…​all I know is that I work and work, and for specialities, I work some more. I live, I avoid triple stints, flimpers, pinions, oh-hells and death and I do all right. Simple, like the wrack floating under the sun.

I gaze upwards where I can see the huge net in the sky…​I can just make it out against the thin cloud. It sparkles and crackles every now and then as a flimper or some other airborne beast collides with it. I wonder how it manages to stay aloft with all the dead things on it and then I guess that the Farmer has that one figured too. He leaves nothing out. The Farmer is truly an incredible man. I do often dream if I’ll ever meet him as it’d be an honour and most of my fellows would be bursting with envy. Still, not all meetings with the Farmer would be great. If you got done for misconduct, over-malingering, rebellion and a lot of other wrongs I do know that’d your life would probably end soon after meeting him. I’ve seen several of my fellows go that way, or so it’s assumed.

I remember Isass, who was in a work-class adjacent to mine, kill an overseer with a scythe. The Farmer’s guards came and clamped him down, and I watched them receive orders from the Farmer on their radios. Isass was shot and left for the oh-hells to get. His body wasn’t there next morning, and pinions aren’t nocturnal so it was an oh-hell that got a meal.

The Farmer could be described as caring more for his crop than for us. I’d never utter such a thing as it would be an ungrateful thing considering everything else we get.

I’m looking forward to a swim in the Deeps when this stint is over, then a decent sleep. I’ve a fair idea we get a free day soon, on top of the gratis-time we’ve earned. I’ll probably go to the towers that hold the net up and help out with the guards. You can see the ships that come here for the crop land from there and it can be fun listening to the communications on their radios.

I’m belted on the back of the legs by an overseer. ‘Don’t dream - do that when you sleep.'

I give my attention to the mowing; back and forth, to and fro. The rampants are cut easily by the scythe, spurting sap everywhere. I often wonder what good there is in cutting rampants every other day; the blasted things grow overnight practically. Why don’t they use some sort of chemical on them, or work out some type of genetic thing to kill them? I swear; we spend at least half our work time mowing the damned plants. I know they compete with the crop for soil space, yet you do wonder.

There’s often much speculation among us at night of the worth of it all, so I know I’m not alone in my speculations. It’s a blasted meaningless task.

I feel daring enough to ask an overseer why. The nearest one comes over to me and motions me to switch my scythe off. I can sense a triple stint in the air.

‘It’s part of crop maintenance.' The overseer had set his jaw firm and I know he’s noted me down for the future. ‘If they grew they’d kill the crop.'

‘There must be a way to stop them from growing.' I watched the overseer carefully, waiting for him to cancel all my accrued gratis-time. ‘We seem to spend much of our time mowing it all away when we could be working on other things.'

‘Any suggestions, bright one?'

‘What about poisoning them, or getting the laboratories to work out a genetic solution. I imagine there would be plenty of ways when you thought about it.'

‘The best way is to get you to mow them down by yourself while I allocate all your gratis-time to your workmates here…​you’ve collected nineteen hours, there’s ten of you here and I’ll add on an hour and give each of the others here two each. When you’ve done that perhaps you can clean the ancillary silo up; by yourself.'

For a moment I can understand why Isass did what he did. I feel incredibly angry with myself. You simply don’t question your work. I glanced over at the overseer, who was watching me with a vile grin. I knew him; he’d been in one of my old work-classes until he was promoted by the Farmer. He’d worked no better than any of us, so I can imagine it was something other than sheer labour; perhaps his tongue.

I watched my fellows troop of towards the line of buildings that were the sleeping, recreational and minor administrative houses. No doubt they’d be making their way to the Deeps after this as it was truly hot out here. The overseer called for a remote camera to watch me and then he traipsed off as well.

I swore under my breath. This was the third time this year, and all these rampants would take me to at least sundown to clear, then I had the ancillary silo. There was no escape; I weaved in and out of the crop mowing the weeds down with fury, aware that the blasted remote was about twelve metres above me. I thought to make a gesture at it but thought better of it considering the triple stints I’d be up for until I was retired. The men at the radar station often laughed at me and the work I did, claiming I was bred for nothing else and that was my lot until a pinion snatched me…​no pinion would attack me with the scythe I carried, unless it wanted to lose a few wings and its proboscis.

I had to avoid cutting the crop by mistake; that felony was worth two months in the solitary lock-up and to kill a sucker was worth one. I must admit to a certain bit of skill here; it isn’t easy to avoid the crop with the rampants growing between them yet I could do it in my sleep. I did dream of other things every now and then. After a couple of hours I had mown about half of it and I was reasonably pleased. I’d finish it mid-afternoon and then I could tidy up the silo which would take three or so hours.

Another remote brought me out my luncheon and I devoured that. There’s no shelter out here amongst the crop and the thin wrack in the sky didn’t give any relief from the sun. I’m used to this but I’ve seen some of the Farmer’s servants, ones who stay indoors with soft hands, wilt in this heat. Some of us laughed at them yet I felt sort of sorry for them, after all, their tasks were elsewhere and I recalled hearing from someone that everyone’s job differed.

Mine only differed with how hard it was, I suppose. I finished my luncheon and I resumed the task at hand, a small thing really but one a fraction of me found to be worthless. It was exactly that which had lead me here so I buttoned that thought up.

In and out of the smelly crop I went, hurling pieces of weed everywhere. It is a good thing when you realise how much you get done when you know it won’t do it for you itself. Anger motivated me to no small degree as well; nineteen precious hours of gratis-time were lost through this and my fellows swum in the Deeps at my expense. Somewhere, in the administrative section, the overseer was probably asleep at the console which operated the buzzing remote camera above me. It seemed everyone lounged while I worked.

A beep from the remote alerted me to caution. I put the scythe down and looked around me to see why. A pinion, probably a higher male, was circling the Ponds, about half a kilometre from me. It had come in from the south and had avoided the radar stations, not that anyone there feared them, being inside and armed. The crop doesn’t give good cover and I couldn’t run a third as quick as I needed to be to get to the Lines before it attacked. It had seen me, which was obvious considering I was bound to be the only fellow in the open for about four kilometres in radius. I didn’t stand a chance; a single fellow never did…​

It came at me with speed, it’s multitude of wings propelling its bristly long body forward. I could see its jaws spread wide and its proboscis extend out ready to blow its poison all over me. It was definitely a higher male. I switched the scythe on and faced it. The remote beeped out another warning…​it didn’t fire! Damn the overseer; he must be asleep! It was one of those accursed models that required control. All it was going to do was film the pinion!

The pinion swung around me in a huge arc. I know it had attacked work-classes before since it gave the remote a fair deal of respect. A big brash boy with its opalescent underside. I nervously watched it circle me , and I hoped that the overseer was awake, damn him. The remote still followed it, rotating on the spot…​just filming the thing! The pinion seemed to realise this for it buzzed ominously as it swooped. It spat its poison at me. I dived for the ground and I heard the poison sizzle overhead. The scythe shot out in front of me and I scrambled for it. I copped a rake in the back as it tried to snatch me with its legs.

I grabbed the scythe and swung it upwards. I caught it the underside sending bits of its flesh everywhere. It stank of insects abominably and I watched it retreat into the air. It flew down on top of the remote and shredded the machine with its chelicerae. I had to avoid the wreckage of it as it fell. Then the pinion hovered above me buzzing angrily. It bent its bulbous head forward and charged. In a panic I fell to my knees and swung the scythe around with all my strength. I succeeded in winging it and it crashed in a heap right on top of the crop. I ran in and beheaded it. but not before it fired its last salvo of poison at me. I caught the stuff full in the chest and I felt my lungs go tight. This was it…​I dropped the scythe and staggered away until my sight darkened and I couldn’t breathe any more…​

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