by Phil Geusz
©2010 Phil Geusz
Id never had it so good in my life.
With practiced ease, I worked my way down the row of gourmet-quality Romaine lettuce plants. It was harvest time for this crop, and our cook was waiting. The plants came out of the soil easily, of course; they had been carefully engineered to make my job easier. Raising them was a joy. You just started the seeds, then jumped back out of the way before the emerging plant hit you in the face. My harvesting bucket was completely full by the time I got to the end of the days row, and there were still two succulent plants left. It made no sense to waste them, so I sneaked a little illicit snack in the name of quality control. There was plenty to go around, after all. My garden was very fruitful. It had to be. All of our lives depended on it.
Carefully I placed the steel-bottomed bucket on a magnetic holder, then began harvesting lima beans. This was a bit more of a chore, but still easy going in comparison to working on a real farm. Man-decades of labor had gone into designing and building my little greenhouse, and it showed. Perfectly-placed handholds ran along each row for my comfort, and even the grow-lights were shaded to keep me from getting a headache as I worked. Whats more, the tremendously high oxygen content among the greenery kept me feeling optimistic and happy all the time. I had a wonderful job! In days past Id have whistled while I worked, but my lips no longer had the right shape for it. Which was a pity, rather, but still no great burden in view of all that I had gained. Then when the harvesting was done it was truly lunch-time! I loved beanstalks, and no one else seemed to care for them no matter how hard the cook tried. What a terrible shame that this left me free to dispose of the refuse in any way I wished to
After my meal was finished I placed the special zero-gee buckets full of beans and lettuce into a carrying rack and then carefully kicked off from the wall with my powerful hindlegs. It was important for me not to get too carried away when launching myself; someone could be badly hurt by a load of produce propelled too-enthusiastically down a ships corridor. I had only occupied a lapiform body for a few months, and still needed to be careful with my hopping power. Once I had even knocked myself unconscious on a bulkhead when a mischievous rat-morph crewman loudly clapped his hands behind me just as I launched. This particular journey went well, however. I navigated the two bends in the corridor with verve and skill, and delivered the groceries right on time. But the cook, Matt, didnt seem so very impressed.
Lettuce and beans? What happened to the corn you promised me?
Youll have to serve frozen, the stuff left over from a couple weeks back. We had a bumper crop, remember? Everyone was thoroughly sick of the stuff.
But what? I asked innocently.
Nothing. Matt sighed, his whiskers fluttering in the gentle breeze of exhalation. Like most of the crew, he was a rat-person. Youre right. I guess its just going to have to be frozen, then. Not that you care.
I rocked my ears in a simulated smile. Hey, someone had to be morphed to eat the stems and other leftovers. Efficiency, you know. I cant help it if I think cornstalks and such are delicious.
True enough. But give a little consideration to the rest of us, huh? Ill be needing that corn pretty soon, Bill.
Youll have a good crop in another day or two, guaranteed. Its just not quite ripe yet.
Great! By the way, are you coming to dinner tomorrow?
Why would I, Matt? I eat everything fresh and raw.
Oh, no special reason. Matt sighed again, returning to his work.
Things were going perfectly, I thought to myself as I made a long happy leap down the main passageway. Not a soul aboard dared to say a single word to me about the upcoming big holiday. Which was natural enough, what with me being the only lapine on board and all that. Some of us were still pretty sensitive about our animal forms, despite the fact that we had been chosen for transmutation suitability every bit as much as for high skill levels within our specialties. No one ever told animal jokes, for example; it simply wasnt done. In my own case, however, Id found that rabbithood suited me rather well; when my tour on the interstellar exploration ship Magellan was over I planned on keeping the form for the long-term. That was if we survived to return to Earth at all, of course. Being the very first people in the interstellar exploration business couldnt exactly be considered good for the life expectancy, no matter how much fun I was having.
I bounced merrily off the walls on the way back to my greenhouse, encountering three rats from Engineering and the First Officer, a human norm curled up almost into a ball in the tiny corridor. They were checking out a reported minor hull leak, and I didnt envy Gloria her job as she tried to maneuver with far too little elbow room. Most of the ship was routinely closed to human norms because they were physically just too big; half the reason most of us had been required to transmutate in the first place was to cut down on the biomass (and thus the food and air and space demands) of the crew. These weight savings were enormousin fact, star travel might have remained forever a dream without transmutation and its related technologies. We wouldnt have carried any norms at all except for the fact that human bodies had first built Magellan, and thus might conceivably be required to repair her. Besides, the human race was still in some ways deeply uncomfortable with transmutation technology. Our species didnt really want to be entirely represented by animal-morphs, should we actually encounter intelligent life. This made sense, I supposed, for those who insisted on continuing to define humanity in purely physical terms.
It was a tight squeeze getting past Gloria and her helpers, but I made it. Then I was back home in my greenhouse, with all my routine days duties completed. I was a bit sleepy, so I strapped myself into my form-fitting bunk for a nap. After all, tonight was going to be a very long and special night
Deep into the midnight watches, I awoke right on schedule. After blearily running a brush through my silky fur and nibbling a quick snack I got right down to business. It was time to harvest a very special crop.
Eggplants were not originally planned as part of the Magellan crews diet. So I brought some seeds aboard with me as part of my personal weight allowance, and received approval for them despite raised eyebrows. In the end, no questions were asked. Still, the plants proved to be the very dickens to cultivate in null-gee, and the fact that I was compelled by circumstances to raise them in secret made things all that much more difficult. There was a seedling nursery in a closed compartment at the back of the greenhouse that no one but me ever visited, and with a lot of tender loving care my little crop flourished there in privacy. Eventually I ended up with a pretty fair yield of the purple fruits, ripened right on schedule. Unfortunately, I quickly discovered as I went about my harvesting, eggplant greens are not nearly so tasty as beanstalks. Well, you couldnt have everything, now could you?
Still, my work went quickly. While the eggplants were being washed, I rounded up all of my harvesting buckets and went to work on them. Busy, busy, busy! Shredded green paper bound for the recycler anyway formed my grass, then I added carefully hoarded bits of sugarcane from my little hothouse section. A few tightly rationed jellybeans rounded things off, and then it was time to return to my eggs.
Coming up with a way to decorate eggplants while leaving them in an edible state had proven a major challenge. We were a long way from the nearest craft store, after all! In the end, I decided to wrap them up in colored paper and tinfoil that I had been scrounging here and there whenever the opportunity arose. They ended up looking more like Christmas presents than Easter eggs, perhaps, but I figured that folks would sort of get the idea.
Then came the hardest part. Magellan had a crew of forty-seven. Only a minimal watch worked at night; for social reasons as many people were lumped together on the same schedule as possible. Still, I had to be very, very careful. It is a long-standing tradition, after all: The Easter Bunny never gets caught making his deliveries!
I had more fun than I would have believed possible for a grown man. Twice I was nearly caught in the act by light sleepers, and once I was certain Id been seen by a crew-rat on a bathroom run. Still, it was delightful to sneak around the darkened ship and leave my labeled baskets beside bunks, under desks and on top of vacant consoles. Then, to cap things off I hid my remaining eggs all over the place, some of them with odd little prizes like a packet of rationed coffee or a precious tidbit of chocolate tucked inside the wrapping.
I got away with it clean. The great Bunnys blood must have run true in me after all.
Next morning, the Captain had an unscheduled Easter egg hunt on his hands, though he didnt seem to mind too terribly much. After all, I had taken the precaution of hiding an egg within easy reach of his bunk, which I suspect improved his receptiveness towards the idea considerably. And then for once I ate my dinner with the rest of the crew, as guest of honor in fact, sitting right next to the Captain. Matt served me bamboo shoots and other delicacies I hadnt even known were in the freezers, and a good time was had by everyone. All in all, our first Easter in space was a big success.
The vast reaches between the stars are not so dead and cold after all. At least, not when we humans enliven them with simple joy and fun.