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       Terra Two, p.1

           Francis Rosenfeld
 
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Terra Two
Terra Two

  by Francis Rosenfeld

  © 2013 Francis Rosenfeld

  Cover Design by Shardel

  Discover other titles by Francis Rosenfeld:

  Generations - Terra Two Series, Volume 2

  Letters to Lelia – Terra Two Series, Volume 3

  The Plant – A Steampunk Story

  Door Number Eight

  Fair

  Contents

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty One

  Chapter Twenty Two

  Chapter Twenty Three

  Chapter Twenty Four

  Chapter Twenty Five

  Chapter Twenty Six

  Chapter Twenty Seven

  Chapter Twenty Eight

  Chapter Twenty Nine

  Commencement address to the class of 2198

  About the Author

  Other Books by Francis Rosenfeld

  Chapter One

  "I, the most humble Mother Joachima, now in the one hundred and sixteenth year of my life, in obedience to Mother Superior's wishes, was entrusted with chronicling the beginnings of our mission here on Terra Two and the first hundred years of terra-forming."

  "Many people would have been better suited for this task since they are more knowledgeable and eloquent than I, but I was chosen for I was blessed to witness many of the events first hand. Whether I will be worthy of this task is at the mercy of the Almighty to Whom I pray for guidance and fair resurgence of my memories."

  "As I advanced in years I got set in my ways and despite the younger sisters' attempts to teach me how to use the neural interlink for writing I can't make the wicked thing work for me, so after many unsuccessful attempts to transmit the first phrase of the chapter to the central computer I gave up and used my old touch table, a curiosity among the younger sisters and a very cherished heirloom from my grandfather."

  "Many old memories are attached to its shiny surface, polished even more by extensive use, since in the very beginning of our being here it was at times our only way to communicate with Earth as we struggled to put together our energy and communication infrastructure. Of course my grandfather intended it as a sentimental gift and would have probably been stunned to learn how extensively it was used (and what ingenious modifications have been done to it in order to enhance the broadcasting range and the battery life). Grace to sister Roberta, may the good Lord keep her in health and happiness for He bestowed on her the sharpest mind an engineer could ever wish for, the table is now running indefinitely on less power than it takes to light up a LED bulb. Not exactly a perpetual motion machine, but close. One can only mess with the laws of physics so much..."

  The words failed to migrate to her fingers, which had started to get tired from all the typing. She looked at her hands almost not recognizing them, with thinning skin almost translucent, vigorous curling veins and protruding joints. They had no embellishment aside from her ring, and showed the marks of many decades of hard labor.

  It was time for Vespers and Joachima placed the bracelet on her wrist and activated the interlink. The sisters' prayers burst into her mind with great intensity and she realized she was late. Mother Superior didn't tolerate tardiness, so Joachima kept her mind very still trying to blend in the common prayer unnoticed. No such luck, she felt Mother Superior's quick admonition and intent to discuss this disciplinary lapse later.

  Her mind slowly quieted in prayer, she set aside material concerns and presented her heart to God. The hours passed and light diminished gradually from the light rusty color of the day to a deep chocolate brown. Joachima couldn't help herself and broke her focus to look through the thick windows at the sepia gradients of Terra Two's sunsets, amazing blends of light coffee latte, milk and dark chocolate brown with delicate iridescences of deep wine.

  She rested her eyes on the soybean fields with their imposing plants from the land of the giants, three times the normal height and overflowing with pods due to the lower gravity and a soil extremely rich in nitrogen and phosphorus. They reminded Joachima that this dirt was really blessed with every nutrient a plant would ever need. Terra Two definitely lived up to its promise to be an agricultural paradise, even though it had taken some time to get used to an image of paradise with coffee colored skies.

  The reason this project started in the first place was that the probe sent from Earth to investigate the new planet, now called Terra Two, came back with surprising and somewhat disconcerting results to the science team. Everybody expected the report to show great conditions for mineral extraction, rare metals and new sources of energy. These where present indeed, as they would be on any planet, but what the probe brought back was an ideal profile for agricultural production: a perfect combination of nutrients and soil consistency in the presence of water, a blend that like the best quality flour only needed the yeast of microorganisms and invertebrates to turn this land into the bread of life.

  The science program changed on the fly from the remote possibility of terra-forming to the active pursuit of this goal. A decade was dedicated to creating a breathable atmosphere, a decade during which the thrills of the hard earned successes were only equaled by the unbelievable and almost insurmountable challenges. It was during this decade that Mother Joachima was born, the second child of a farmer family on the border of North Dakota and baby sister to her brother Thomas.

  She arrived on a gloomy day at the beginning of February when wispy frozen rain knocked on the windows with ghostly little fingers. Her parents named her Sarah, after her grandmother, Sarah Feaherty, a little eight pound bundle of joy with strangely luminous hair spun from candle flame. Her parents thought her strange colored locks were just baby hair that would change but Sarah was fated to go through her life donning these luminous tresses that made her seem descended from a pre-Raphaelite painting. Their fire didn't dull with the passing of the years and only recently started showing signs of age.

  Shortly after her arrival the family increased again with a Christmas gift for the Feast of Stephen, a little boy who of course shared the name of his patron saint.

  Sarah opened her eyes to life in the middle of a little earthly Eden, learning to walk on lush grass, soft as angel's wings, under a periwinkle sky.

  Her family was huge, with numerous cousins, uncles and great-aunts; when they got together for Thanksgiving the house was bursting at the seams. Sarah's mother had five sisters of which two had joined a convent a few miles away from their village. When Sarah was little she experienced life in the convent as an extension of her home life, a different kind of family, but a family nevertheless. When she visited this cloistered space she was going to her aunts' house, complete with home made ice cream and fudge. Her aunts loved children dearly and spoiled little Sarah with the angel hair, as they liked to call her, way too much for the taste of her parents. The aunts disregarded any call for a young child's need for discipline and made every one of Sarah's visits to the convent a trip to Wonderland, a place where no rules apply and children are spoiled rotten. Sarah especially liked to sneak into the kitchen through the refectory because she knew she would find some goodies waiting for her on the table: fresh baked pastries, warm bread with lavender honey, and hot cho
colate.

  The kitchen door and windows opened to the herb and vegetable garden and more often than not they were left ajar to let the breeze through. During her visits Sarah leaned against the door jamb and watched the nuns tend to the plants, pluck weeds, harvest food, and talk about their day.

  The most significant part of those trips, though, was the fact that only women were allowed on the premises, so the experience was for Sarah and Sarah alone, something her brothers could never enjoy. Not that they wished to, but it still made Sarah feel special, which, come to think of it, defied the purpose of her being there in the first place.

  Sarah's dad spent almost all his time either playing with the children or putting together a never ending assortment of seesaws, swing sets and tree houses, to Sarah's mother's dismay. "How many playthings can a child possibly need?" she wondered, and secretly thought that her husband was building all these play sets for his own indulgence rather than the children's.

  Some of Sarah's most cherished memories were of walks with her father, an educated botanist, who programmed the tractor to till or harvest and took the children into the fields to give them practical instruction about how plants develop and by what time, what diseases and pests to look for, which plant belongs to what family, and how to care for them.

  Between her father and her aunts, by the time she was ten Sarah became some sort of gardening expert; she never figured if it was her early developmental years or a true passion for plant life that pushed her in this direction, all she knew and was going to manifest faithfully throughout her life was that nothing made her as happy as being in the garden.

  Sarah's mother was zealously devoted to her children's education and used every resource at her disposal to further their knowledge. Their home was less of a farm house and more of a small lab filled with screens broadcasting information at all times, day or night, because she thought that as long as the children were awake they should be learning something. Since the useful life of a computerized device was a year tops and she had to have the latest version, always, the small sunroom behind the house became an experimental ground for the children to take electronics apart and put them back together.

  Sarah liked science just as much as the next gal but at some point her neural pathways became so saturated with quantum theory or new elements of the periodic table that if you shook her a differential equation fell out. When she got overwhelmed she snuck out with a tablet and hid in the tree house, quiet as a mouse, until everybody forgot about her. She liked to stay up there and watch activity unfold, unseen like a little ghost, and record her thoughts on the tablet in a secret diary. To her chagrin she found out many years later that her secret diary was the favorite lecture of her brothers who followed it like a pirate novel, careful not to miss an entry.

  By the time Sarah was seventeen her family grew bigger still once her older cousins married and had children of their own. They visited the farm a lot and the neighbors got to watch this unreal scene: a willowy creature with flaming hair walked slowly, almost floating over the grass, surrounded by a large group of children, answering their questions and smiling. This became such a habitual image for them that after a while they expected the small group to always be together and seeing Sarah alone alarmed them.

  After long and mostly decorative debates around the kitchen table Sarah made the obvious choice and joined the prestigious College for Advanced Horticultural Studies in Christchurch to further her studies in macro-biology and botanical genetics, to the pride of her parents, her father especially, and the talk of her neighbors and extended family. It was a dream come true for Sarah and she suspected that her aunts must have spent some extra hours in prayer to help it along.

  CAHS was a miraculous world where every question had answers, no idea was too outrageous and innovation came as natural as breathing. The plants Sarah saw in the botany lab were hybrids she couldn't even conceive of, not to mention design, plants whose scale was controlled to the micron, diminutive pine trees and gigantic chamomile, leaves of every shade but green processing chlorophyll, plants without roots that could move around at will, transparent roses, rubber trees genetically altered to secrete aluminum, cucumber plants that changed their color like vegetal chameleons, microscopic baobabs, sub aquatic corn fields, and a soy bean that tasted just like steak.

  If anybody took time to design Sarah's heaven it would probably have looked like that, she had to keep pinching herself the entire four years to make sure she wasn't dreaming. After graduation many of her colleagues took enviable positions at the Equatorial Horticulture Institute in Nairobi, the Green Academy of Brasilia, or the Royal Aquatic Farms off the coast of Australia, but Sarah decided to continue her studies at a small experimental farm in the south of France, a very private place which offered one scholarship every ten years to graduates with very narrowly defined specialty studies for which Sarah just happened to be a perfect match.

  Chapter Two

  "Our story began in the year of our Lord twenty one hundred and five at a farm in the south of France, a small stone building surrounded by vineyards and lavender fields baked by the Mediterranean sun. Our sun, the yellow one, pampered to have the firmament all to itself. In the modest garden surrounding the edifice I first saw the dirt of our promise."

  "The most fertile soil in the universe looked like the scrap pile of a brick kiln, ruddy and dusty, impossible to stabilize, incapable of holding water, so silky that it didn't stick to the soles of our shoes. I didn't know how dear this pitiful rubble was going to become, I was young, educated and plucky, out to conquer the world, and my challenge was not to cultivate the impossible medium but to vanquish its unyielding grit."

  She arrived in Perpignan on a clear Sunday morning carrying a backpack filled with communication gadgets and testing equipment and a couple of changes of clothes. Since there was no obvious means of transportation to the farm Sarah shrugged her shoulders and started ahead with the thought that she will get there when she got there. It wasn't very far, though, a couple of hours of pleasant strolling through a landscape of vineyards and lavender plantings.

  The farm was atop a gentle hill, evidently well cared for but with no signage, test lots or any other indication of the scientific research conducted inside. Sarah approached the front door of the old stone building haunted by the eerie sounds of a wind chime collection that hung from the bay tree by the entrance.

  She knocked with a pleasant smile on her face and after what seemed like forever the massive wood door with wrought iron hinges opened accompanied by a blood curdling screech. A tall young woman with raven hair was standing in the doorway. Her piercing nearly transparent eyes reached into Sarah's brain like a spear and brought to the foreground of her mind every moral failure and second guessing she experienced through the current year.

  "I am..." Sarah started sweetly.

  "I know who you are, we could watch you move through the landscape like a burning bush, that hair must be visible from the moon." She stopped abruptly, turned her back and started walking down the hallway. Sarah hesitated a moment, not knowing what proper etiquette dictated in circumstances like this, but then realized that she really had no another option but to go inside.

  She followed the tall woman in silence recognizing her stance, that very familiar soft walk, almost sliding across the stone floors, with no sounds. There was such sparseness in the decor surrounding her, such silence, that Sarah started feeling a little anxious and reevaluated her life choices, beginning with the curiosity for unfamiliar settings that had brought her here. The host stopped abruptly in front of the door leading to a large hall containing twelve beds.

  "That one is yours" she said. "We meet at seven", and she left.

  Sarah would have liked to ask her a few questions, like what her host's name was, where was everybody else, and if by seven she meant morning or evening, but the young woman was already gone so Sarah resigned herself to slide her backpack under the bed and take a much needed nap.
She didn't even realize where she was the next morning when very crude rays of sunlight burst through the windows as if aiming specifically for her eyes and the room was disturbed by a mild commotion of shuffling bed sheets and dropping shoes.

  Nobody seemed to care that there was a new resident in the room so Sarah cleaned up the best she could and followed the others to the mess hall. "At least they're all women", she thought, a little surprised but not giving this detail too much thought.

  The host was standing at the head of the table and waited for everybody to be seated before she began.

  "Good morning. We have a new student, her name is Sarah Feaherthy. She studied macro-biology and botanical genetics at CAHS. For her sake I will go through a few things about us. This is an international experimental farming program that accepts interns for the duration of one year. Ours is a teaching enterprise, unless you want to pursue the path of an educator, there is no reason for you to stay longer. My name is Seth Rosenfeld, I am the leader of the program. Our schedule is as follows: from eight till three we work in the gardens, from four till seven we study in the library. There is a fountain outside if you need to wash yourself. We prefer not to speak unless absolutely necessary, we find it distracts us from our tasks. We grow all our food here, if you need anything else you'll have to walk to town to get it."

  Sarah felt twelve pairs of eyes probing her intently and she had this strange feeling that she would have to explain her hair again and again, as if she did it on purpose.

  "Any questions?" Seth asked Sarah. Sarah wanted to ask who named her Seth and why, where was all the equipment, what did the science program consist of, what was expected of her, why did they all except for Seth have to sleep in the same room, if she could visit the library and take a look at the books before her first study session, if the schedule was any different on weekends, how she was going to communicate with her family, and most of all why did this place look more like a convent than a school? She quietly signaled no and they all ate breakfast in complete silence.

 
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