Chasing EternityThe plant in the hydroponics tank seemed to writhe of its own accord. At first glance, Best thought it might be some sort of alien plant capable of locomotion. Then he saw it. The stalks had not only nuts, but berries and what looked like citrus hanging from it. Lower down, seed pods like ears of corn hung off to the side. Large green leaves would resemble green-leaf lettuce if sliced off while the roots, themselves thick as one’s forearm, sprouted what looked like potatoes.

“Ah!” said the man entering the room. “I see you’ve already found our little surprise. Magnificent, isn’t it?” A euro like Best, only shorter and slim, he moved into the room as though this were his meeting. He had a thin mustache and close-cropped black hair. He spoke with a lilt which suggested Metis. “Minister Best, my name is Luxhomme. I represent JunoCorp, and I have the solution to your food problems.”

Best looked for signs of rejuve and found none. So why, he wondered, did Luxhomme give off a vibe of great age? “Douglas Best, minister of agriculture. Welcome to Jefivah.”

Luxhomme looked around the room as though seeing it for the first time. “For humanity’s oldest interstellar presence, I thought your world would be a bit more… developed.”

“We like to think we’ve retained our rustic character.” That was complete bullshit, but state-sponsored bullshit. Jefivans could gripe about Jefivah. Outsiders could not. “Of course, an unstable climate doesn’t exactly encourage development.”

“Or food security,” Luxhomme added. “Tell me, Minister, why hasn’t Jefivah invested in vertical farms, orbital farms, and so on? Juno could help you with those.”

“As you know,” said Best, “orbital farming is regulated—heavily—by the Office of Colonial Development. Never mind we’re a core world.”

Luxhomme rolled his eyes. “OCD. Combination of the IRS and KGB.”


“Sorry. Historical references. Basically overbearing and interfering bureaucracies. And I say that hailing from Etrusca.”

Etrusca, not Metis. The lilt in his voice, often described as Celtic even by Metisians, pegged him as either a native or a long-time resident of Metis. Etruscans tended to sound more aristocratic.

“Suffice it to say,” said Best, “we’re not OCD’s biggest supporters.”

“Nor should you be. What I propose bypasses them. You’ll deal directly with the military. These will be their worlds. They can dispose of them as they please.” He held out a hand toward the squirming plant which seemed to grow its own field of crops on a single, if rather fat, stalk. “And this is what will make that possible.”

Best walked over to the plant and stared at it. “What is it?”

“The catalog name is worse than some of the out-of-the-way planets we name.” Luxhomme gave him a strange little smile. “We call it creeper, and it can produce root, tuber, grain, corn, nuts, and two kinds of fruit. Grows rapidly from spores. All it requires is soil, a little fertilizer if it grows in the desert, and water. You can get fertilizer from humans and livestock if need be. Water can be irrigated or pulled from the air. A minimum water vapor content is a requirement for colonization of a Class-E world, is it not?”

“Of course,” said Best. “Why?”

“One of the planets, currently called 978-0765309402d, is a desert, like Mars with an Earth-like atmosphere. It orbits rather close to its star despite being the fourth planet out. Scientists believe the star is a failed nova. It blew off its outer layers and expanded, but only the first three planets were devastated. 9402d lost eighty percent of its oceans, but with a deep troposphere and strong ozone layer, most of the water became trapped as vapor. Surely, Martian terraforming gear could wring water out of the air with relative ease.” The strange little smile returned. “The Navy is already using such technology to sustain its storage depot on that planet.”

“Why is the Navy abandoning it?” asked Best.

Luxhomme cleared his throat. “There are those in the Compact Assembly, your Delegate Vanever among them, who believe the military can help core worlds and even up-and-coming colonies to bypass OCD. The Navy, the Border Guard, the Corps all may dispose of planets they use for facilities as they see fit. In this case, the Navy have three worlds where they’ve been storing weapons of mass destruction left over from the Polygamy Wars. As you know, colonies may not possess such weapons. Core worlds have a vested interest in keeping them locked down.”

“What about the other two?”

Luxhomme’s smile broadened, finally looking genuine to Best. “Classic Class-E worlds. One, 978-1405952354e, is a bit cold. Not like Demeter, which is damned polar in its climate, but cooler than your average Class-E planet. The other, 978-0486821955b is warm and wet, more like Aphrodite without the centuries-long civil war. Both worlds have vegetation humans can consume and ecospheres compatible with flora elsewhere in the Compact. 1955b in particular is ideal for fruits and rice.”

“So… Why do I want 9402d? It’s a desert. Even with existing infrastructure from the Navy, it’s to support a storage depot. You’re essentially handing us a light terraforming project.”

Luxhomme laughed and spread his hands to indicate the creeper squirming in its tank. “First, this grows anywhere. Second, Mars has a glut of moisture extraction equipment. For an adamantly socialist world, they sure obsess about their cash flow. And unused equipment is a drag on cash flow.”

“It’s still more work than the other two. Sounds like the other two are ready to settle.”

“They are. But tell me, Minister, how many colonies does Jefivah have?”

Jefivah, despite being within the human sphere of influence for four hundred twenty-seven years, had none. Worlds like Tian, The Caliphate, and Etrusca, all founded well after Jefivah, not only had several colonies, but all three, along with Earth and Mars, had spun off newer core worlds. “I see your point. But wouldn’t one suffice?”

Luxhomme shook his head. “Doug, Doug, Doug, one colony would solve your food problems. Two, as Mars discovered early on, will give you surplus to sell to other worlds.” He seemed to look out a window, despite the room having no windows. Then he fixed Best with a stare. “So, tell me, Minister Best, what if a third colony gave you a means to neutralize a particularly problematic group? Say, the Temple of Marilyn?”

Whatever bad mood Best had when he arrived, it disappeared instantly. “Tell me more.”

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