Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Roses, Part 3

Gunny was clearly slowing down. AJ shouldered him out of the way and finished the edge of the bed where he’d been digging, while the older man straightened painfully and groaned. “The things we do for women.”

That set AJ laughing hard enough Gunny noticed, and just waited until he felt like speaking. “Used to have a matched set of scars to remember her by. The thorns tore the shit out of me when I salvaged them for her. Had to put ’em up against my skin so they couldn’t puncture the suit. Her nails did the same to my back when she thanked me.”

“Have a few mementos of my own, like that.” Gunny chuckled, and leaned on the shovel handle. “Where’d you find ’em?”

“Inshi Q-ship. Did a thorough search for intelligence before we dismantled and disappeared it. Couldn’t tell her that, since it was never here.”

Gunny grunted. “And now the evidence will be growing all over the planet.”

“Can’t prove it, though. Lots of horse trading among hydroponics techs. Even the most close-mouthed family trader will happily start comparing plant pedigrees and where they’ve been, when they’re swapping starts and cuttings. Might have been why I was hanging around Amanda in the first place.”

“Right.” Gunny drawled out the word, and grinned at him.

AJ shrugged, and started cutting open the burlap bags of soil amendments, laying them out to mix with the original soil so it went back in the hole in the right ratio. “I was getting toward the end of a hitch. Thinking about getting out, taking a permanent posting with her.”

“She dump you?”

AJ shook his head, and moistened a dry mouth. This was the part that hurt. “The Mining Hab war went hot, and while I was gone, Doing Things, ThreeFree blew out. It was a dead wreck by the time they called me back to salvage. I looked for her in every corpse… didn’t know she made it, ’til today.”

“Ah. Damn.” Gunny didn’t have to say more.

AJ shoveled, because work was better than standing there doing nothing but feeling. “I hope she was happy. Bet she was, down here, where she could put her feet in the soil and her face turned to the sun. Growing.”

Gunny grunted, and joined in. “She’ll live on as a legacy of weird miscoloured roses.”

AJ smiled at the friendly jibe. “She will. Skid would laugh his ass off at his namesake having to harden for three days before he could be planted.”

(Yes, these are the same Inshi mentioned in Business Not Bullets, in this anthology. It’s a very big galaxy out there, and entire wars can go on unnoticed by people on the surface of on one partially-terraformed planet.

…Thanks for reading.)

Monday, March 21, 2022

Roses, Part 2

Jenna had a list of everything she needed for the rose bed, and everything but the roses themselves piled on a cart. She looked around. “Where’s AJ? I want to make sure he likes the ones I’ve picked out.”

“He’ll like anything you decide. He always does. As for where he snuck off to… over there. Huh. Face down in the flowers.” Gunny was looking off toward the table of miniature roses, and Jenna realized AJ was crouched so low his head was even with the taller plants, face actually down in a rose plant.

The shop assistant who’d been helping them spoke up as they approach. “Oh! Those are officially called Hearts of Space. They have this lovely spicy scent.”

AJ did not look up from the black roses with a startling red-orange center. He spoke just loud enough for them to hear. “Like Amanda’s clove cigarettes.”

Jenna wondered who Amanda was. From the way Gunny wrinkled up his forehead, he was wondering, too. The shop assistant, though, kept right on going. “These have only been on-planet for… wait, you know Amanda Grimsley?”

That brought AJ’s head up, eyes wide open and locked on. “Amanda’s alive?”

“No, she died in a car accident about five years ago.” A hesitation, then, “Did you know her, Upstairs?”

AJ froze – a hesitation so slight Jenna knew no one else could see the way he reflexively cooled down at the unwelcome news. “Damn. Yeah, I met her up on ThreeFree.”

The assistant nodded awkwardly, and tried to fill in the silence after the unwelcome news. “She was the most amazing horticulturalist. She actually named that rose breed Strykers, you know? Because they have cold edges as black as space, but with a warm heart. Rumour says the original grafts she brought down, each one had individual names. The nursery that hired her, they didn’t want to call the breed that because, well, you know, the growers in the Fed… She took the secret of where she got them from to the grave. Do you know where they came from?”

AJ shrugged, hands spread out in what looked like a natural gesture. But he never made natural gestures; they were always premeditated. “Can’t say, ma’am.”

That was enough to make Jenna bite her tongue. Can’t say was a world different, in AJ’s careful speech, from don’t know. Before things could go south, she spoke up. “We’ll take… four?” She’d been planning on four roses in a trial bed.

“Six.” AJ said it firmly, and she followed his lead.

“Six. And everything we need for the bed, if this isn’t enough.”

As they loaded up the truck, Jenna paused to put a hand on her protesting lower back, and looked at the pretty little plants. “I’ll call the best one AJ.”

Her husband looked at her, looked at the roses, and resumed loading. “No. The best one’s Skid. He better not be the first one to die, this time.”

There was nothing she could say to that, except to give him a long, silent hug.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Roses, Part 1

 As they headed in from the loading area, past piles of mulch and tangles of yard decorations, Jenna looked at Gunny, and back at AJ. “Thank you for coming with us. I know you hate plants.”

Gunny snorted. “Doesn’t matter if he hates them or not. He’s the one who’s going to be doing the grunt work of digging the bed and putting them in. You get to do all the maintaining afterward, unless the chore requires enough muscle you need to call in backup. That’s what husbands are for.”

Jenna thought about that, and put a hand on Gunny’s arm. “I thought you liked roses? You grow such beautiful ones!”

“My late wife’s fault. I just put them where she told me, like he’s going to do for you.” Despite the disclaimer, there was a smile sparkling in his eyes that was working its way down to his mouth.

“I like plants fine. In their place. Properly controlled.” AJ replied. He was not a fan of mowing the lawn, but that came with the house, and damned if he’d let strangers go poking around and leaving gates unlocked for them, just because he didn’t want to deal with it. As they walked through the crowded shop, full of scents of earth and loam, pottery and greenery, he fought not to sneeze to clear his nose. And then they walked through the doors beyond. Warm, humid air wrapped him in its welcome, filled with the vibrant smell of lush growth and blooms. Light poured in from the translucent roof and wall panels, high overhead and braced with a minimum of framing, with dangling water lines run along the bracing… it felt like home, like the hydroponics sections of the larger space stations and mining habs, right down to the tables with all the greenery in their proper trays. “Oh. This is magnificent. Look at all the constant-g adaptations!”

An employee who’d come in on their heels giggled at him, and paused with her cart of things being returned. “Can I help you find anything?”

“Are you doing hydroponics sets on the tables? There aren’t nearly enough water lines…” AJ was still caught up in the overwhelming infrastructure, so very like what he knew, but so very different.

“No, no, they’re set in potting soil. Very controlled soil, lighting, and water mixtures, but not pure hydroponics. Are you looking for your ship’s greenbox? We cater to the general public who’s planting on planet, but our sister nursery specializes in spacefaring strains.”

“No, we’re here because my wife wants roses in her yard.” He looked up at the roof. “That’s cleverly passive. You don’t even have to run diurnal cycles, because the planet does it for you! How do you handle seasonality?”

“Carefully extended with heaters, but when it’s winter, we’re resting, too. Roses are this way! Do you want tea roses, rosebushes, or climbing roses?”

Jenna looked utterly confused. “Roses climb?”

AJ laughed. “Oh, do they ever! Given the faintest hint of the wrong genetics, and low gravity, and they will promptly try to take over the entire greenspace, and the tendrils, they get in everything…” He shook his head. “Given physical space and usefulness constraints, we never should have taken them to space in the first place. They’re finicky, prone to molds and blights, eaten by every bug out there, and will wilt at the drop of a degree. They’re volume hogs, picky with their chemical mix, and utterly inedible. They also all have thorns, to rip you open when you’re trying to maintain them!”

“Um…” Jenna was looking like she was questioning the wisdom of the whole madcap gardening adventure now.

As they came around the side, to another door, AJ’s nose told him what awaited beyond. His voice got soft. “And then they bloom, and you realize we no more could have left them behind and called ourselves human than if we hadn’t taken our shipcats and dogs.”

Before them was an entire greenhouse full of roses, in all their multicoloured, fragrant glory. And the look on his wife’s face… he knew why Gunny kept the yard full of roses alive. He’d learn, even in as messy an environment as in-atmo could be, to do the same.

(This is not in the next book. This is purely spawned by one of my alpha readers claiming that AJ hates plants. AJ, I protested, does not hate plants, when they’re in their proper place and controlled. Now I have two chapters, of which this is an excerpt, in which Jenna, AJ, and the resident expert on roses (well, Gunny has them, and they’re not dead) go shopping. He may have consulted with a certain widow hastily before the madcap adventure commenced. Something about digging in rosebushes recently because he lost a bet… but that’s a different story for another time.)