“Hear the latest from The Caliphate?” asked Leitman as the barmaid dropped off three ales.
“They jacked up their hypergate fees again?” said Kray, not in the mood to talk politics, at least not core world politics. “Some mullah got caught putting money into a winery? What? We’re a little behind on news out here.”
“Cubists,” said Leitman. “Brought the largest mosque off Earth down on a bunch of morning worshippers and tourists. The Calis are pissed.”
Kray covered his disgust by bringing his ale to his lips. He noticed Saja’s jaw set hard. Her own father had died in a Cubist bombing. “As long as those fanatics stay away from Armagosa. People in the Plains have been known to disappear over looking at someone’s livestock funny. I doubt a Cubist would fare much better.”
Here it comes, thought Kray. The pitch.
Saja now watched Leitman with a stare Kray recognized. Woe to this man if she took his measure with that stare and found him lacking.
“What is it you think I can I do for you, Mr. Leitman?” said Kray. “I’m the constable of my township’s main settlement. I keep farmers from shooting each other over petty disputes, go after crop vandals, and make sure my woods and streams aren’t over-hunted or overfished.”
That weird little smile came back. “You also command the respect of your neighbors. They’ve chosen you constable ever since you came here from the Marines. They will listen to you.”
So Leitman had done his homework.
“And what would you have me say?”
Leitman reached into a small bag and produced what looked like a mass of sea kelp from one of the more aquatic planets. “Ever see creeper?”
Kray had not. Amargosa produced native grasses and Earth-sourced grains and vegetables. The oceans, while populated with enough sea game to feed the colony for centuries to come, proved unsuitable for the kelps grown elsewhere in the Compact. The green mass of leaves and vine seemed to writhe in Leitman’s hand.
“Creeper is a vine that produces seeds similar to cashews,” Leitman continued. “Its leaves compare to lettuce and kale, and its stalk is better than broccoli. It has a sap that tastes very much like cheese. Juno invested nearly twelve years of research just to get approval for vertical farm production.”
“Amargosa has no vertical farms,” said Saja in a tone that said, “Tread carefully.”
“Correct,” said Leitman, as though taking a comment from an excited child in a classroom. “But it does have an abundance of flatland farming. And it does much of it with little interference from the colonial government or Mars. In fact, I believe the township constables are responsible for enforcing GMO regulations.”
“It’s the start of the summer planting season,” said Kray. “Farmers have already planned their warm-weather crops for the year. Come back in a couple of months. Bring your permits.”
“Well, Kray, this is our problem. The old-line GMO concerns, the ones from the World War Era and those that sprang up from the first interstellar settlements, they hold sway with ComAg.” ComAg referred to the Compact Agricultural Commission. “Every one of the commissioners once held a board seat or a commissar position with them. A newer company like Juno… Well, we’re always told permits might come ‘Someday,’ or, ‘If you can get a colony to sign off.’ See my problem?”
It was an old story, one Kray and John Parker, a constable in neighboring Harlan Township, heard every few months. Some company or planetary project had figured out a way to make better food but couldn’t get the Compact to approve it for flatland farming. Any commercial or socialist entity that emerged in the past century and a half found itself frozen out of the market for one very simple reason.
Mars Ag provided money to fund a supposedly money-less world. The old-line commercial firms, once the corporate villains of the World War Era, had firmly ensconced themselves in the minds of humans and their friendlier neighbors as the guardians of ethical genetic manipulation. Companies like Leitman’s often found themselves relegated to vertical farms and underground hydroponics complexes.
“See the governor,” said Kray flatly and started to turn away.
“I did,” said Leitman. “He told us to show him proof it worked somewhere else. The only place to agree is a new colony called Gallifrey.”
“So what do you need me for?”
“Gallifrey isn’t ready for settlement yet. And their parent world is Jefivah.”
Kray found himself wrinkling his nose at the mention of the world. “Didn’t install a tacky statue of their goddess yet?”
“That particular sect now has its own colony.”
Kray did not pretend to know what he was talking about. He only knew that Jefivah made Amargosa look like Earth in its golden age. He picked up the mass of creeper Leitman had left on the table. “So you want me to convince a few farmers to let this stuff crawl over their fields for an easy payday. What happens if it leaves the fields unusable after harvest? What if it contaminates the other crops?”
“I’ll compensate your farmers,” said Leitman. “Juno is prepared to do everything it can to make sure we don’t leave them without a livelihood. But…” The strange little smile reappeared. “…if this works, and Gallifrey likes the results, both your farmers and theirs could open a new era of food customization.” His eyes now focused on Kray’s, as though waiting for a scripted reaction. “Think about it. And all you have to do is to convince a few farmers to let this happen while you turn a blind eye to the cultivation regs for a single season.”
Kray suspected Parker, who had his own farm in addition to being Harlan Township’s constable, had heard this pitch earlier that day in Lansdorp. He also suspected Parker shot Leitman down cold. “Now why would I want to do that?”
“What do you want, Mr. Kray? I can make it worth your while.”
“What do I want?”
“He wants his own citizens’ militia.” Saja’s words came like bullets. “But Mars and the colonial government won’t let him form one.”
“Then perhaps,” said Leitman, “both of us can turn a blind eye to each other’s endeavors.”
“You can make this happen?”
Leitman polished off his ale. “I made seven nukes disappear. What do you think?”
Gimme Shelter returns tomorrow, now out from Clayborn Press.