Onboard a self-sufficient power plant, located on the outskirts of Saturn, a woman dies. Harvester, a man in charge of picking seeds from a carnivorous moss that turn the bodies of the dead into energy, falls in love and uses the seeds from her body to find out the truth about her mysterious death.
As the dreamland slowly vaporised into the cold atmosphere of the confined apartment, Harvester dragged his drowsy legs over the edge of the bed while picking away the crust in his eyes. A drop of sweat coyly made its way down his bald head and chin, where a hint of stubble rose above the cratered skin. Harvester grabbed a mug from the bedside table, containing the remains of last night’s coffee, and took several sips. Gradually the room was illuminated as a shield withdrew from the window. While he let the rest of his limbs catch up with reality, he stared at the opposite wall towards his roommate Harv’s bed. The coverlet already neatly tucked along the edge of the mattress.
“Told you not to snooze,” Harv said as he stepped out from the adjoining bathroom and dried off his hairless head with a wet towel. “You’re going to be late again.” He went up to the closet, took hold of his grey tights and t-shirt and with great difficulty pulled them onto his sticky limbs.
“The dead aren’t going anywhere, or the seeds for that matter,” Harvester said and gulped down the last drops of the coffee, almost licking the inside of the mug. “Let me just shave and then I’m ready to leave.” With heavy legs Harvester moved towards the bathroom and let his boxers fall to the floor.
“I’m going ahead okay,” Harv shouted out of sight. “Feed the plant for me will you.” The front door slammed shut behind him.
Harvester turned on the shower and enclosed himself inside the cubicle. There as customary, he scrubbed his skin until it reddened, gripped the shaver from the ledge, and monotonously let the razor caress every inch of his body; discontinuing the tiniest outgrowth of hair. The jet of water allowed the last drip fall upon his shoulders and Harvester replaced the shaver with a well used bottle of liniment, and moisturized the irritated skin with obstinate precision.
In the bordering kitchen an intense lamp aimed at a small plant resting on coagulated jelly, underneath a transparent cover. Harvester opened the refrigerator door, un-wrapped a brown cube and placed it at the roots of the plant. “There you go, breakfast for a champion,” he said with a loving voice. The roots burrowed pryingly into the brown mass as tendrils reached out with ghostly arms to feel the surroundings. Harvester withdrew his fingers and closed the cover, obstructing the plant to journey outside its closed environment, even though he shared its simple ambition. After dropping two caffeine pills and three different vitamins into his empty stomach, Harvester made his way towards the graveyard. When walking along the corridor, Harvester shortly passed Shipper, a new face to the outpost, who was transporting an empty incubator in the opposite direction. Harvester politely greeted him with a nod, but there was no response, only a glare and an increasing space between them.
As the quarantine doors, confining the Field from the rest of the compound slid open, Harv glared up at Harvester with an impish smile behind his gas mask. “Let’s get suited up,” he said. “Muster is already here.”
Even though the microphone kept the voice clear and loud Harvester gave him a questioning look. “Can’t hear you,” he said, and gestured with both hands at his ears.
“Don’t be silly Harvester,” Harv said with an even broader smile. “You’re not fooling me today I’ve already checked my gear. Need any help with yours?”
Harvester moved up to his locker. “I’m fine thanks.” He snatched his mask from the top shelf and a tube of glue, all crumpled and half empty.
Meanwhile, Harv stepped inside the preparation booth to get the rest of the suit sprayed on. “I heard we’re getting a new body today,” he said, and a black fluid slowly drenched him layer by layer until his body was completely covered.
“Why so excited? It’s not like this is the first,” Harvester said and attached the mask to his face.
“Well, I think this one is a local.” Harv moved out from the cubicle, his body now protected by a thick latex garment, and grabbed his belt.
Harvester took his place and the warm spray made the skin tighten underneath the coagulating fluid.
In the Field incubators stood in neat rows, containing corpses covered with a green moss. Wormlike rootlets with thin white threads crowded themselves firmly into the flesh. Even though the mask itched uncontrollably, Harvester was glad it sheltered his face while walking amongst the dead; reducing the stench emitted by the decomposing process and the secreted gas. They walked up to one of the incubators where flowers now covered the inside. Delicate petals gracefully rose from thin flower stems.
“You wanna take this one?” Harv said and looked up at Harvester with a wishful glance. “You need it to make your quota?” Within the tiny yellowish flowers, transparent capsules with black seeds were multiplying, waiting to be picked and gathered.
“No it’s okay, you take it.” A task only a few have been granted. A hazard even Harvester despised, making him toss and turn between starched bed sheets at night.
“Are you sure,” Harv said and leaned over the lid. “We can do it together if you like?”
On the other end of the graveyard, Muster, sheltered by a white cloak and a sealed helmet, greeted them with a wave.
“I’m not really in the mood, you take it,” Harvester said, and gave Muster a half hearted wave back.
Harv gazed at the flowers and their capsules overfilled with seeds. “Don’t forget Courier is arriving today.”
“Shit you’re right, I better do it.” Reluctantly Harvester picked up a plastic bag from the belt and opened the coffin’s lid and reached for the first capsule, concentrating not to crush it between his gloved fingertips.
“I’m going over there to see if there’s any more who’s ripe,” Harv said as he turned to leave.
“Could you please try not to sound so excited?”
“Well maybe you’ll be excited to know that it’s a female that’s coming today. A young one from what I hear, fresh.”
Harvester looked up at him. “A female?”
“Thought you might like that,” Harv said, gave him a blink and moved down the aisle. Leaving Harvester with a certain look he hadn’t had in a long time: a look of excitement. “When you’re done with that one,” Harv said as he walked away. “Leave it to Cleaner will you, the bones are getting dry.”
Methodically Harvester picked one tiny capsule after another. When finished he carefully tied the bag to his belt and pushed the incubator into a small room.
A few rows away, Harv singled out capsules from another incubator.
“Ever tried one yourself?” Harvester said as he stepped up to Harv.
“What, a seed? Can’t see a reason why I should. Besides, you know all too well people like us could never afford it.”
Muster closed in behind them. “We all need vacations once in a while.”
“A hallucination that’s all,” Harv said and continued to gather the seeds. “Like a dream, and dream you can do for free.”
“But what if your life is so ordinary, so tedious, that there’s nothing for the mind to work on?” Harvester said. “What if there are no dreams?”
“Take my advice - leave the seeds for the junkies.”
Muster checked the inlet of the incubator. “So you’ve never felt like tasting one Harv, not once?”
“It’s not real.”
“Maybe it’s more real than this world,” Harvester said and sighed. “I hate the fact that others have dictated everything, don’t you think people should be able to pick their own line of work? How could they be so sure I was best suited to do this, and don’t give me that logical assignments and one-for-all crap, it’s just bullshit if you ask me.”
“You’re getting worse aren’t you?” Harv said and placed his right hand on Harvester’s shoulder, guiding him away from Muster and the incubators.
“I don’t even enjoy sleeping anymore.”
“You should take better care of yourself,” Harv said. “So focused on your own depression you’re not letting your mind rest.”
A tap on the window interrupted them, and on the opposite side Shipper leaned against an incubator with a fresh body.
“I think it’s her,” Harvester whispered, with a hint of a smile behind the visor.
In the ceremonial hall, Harv and Harvester, garments now replaced by green two-piece outfits, gently moved up to the woman’s incubator and opened the lid. Her husband, a few feet away, leaned against the wall, arms crossed over his chest. With a pointy forceps Harv pulled out the first seed from a test tube and placed it on the woman’s stomach. Her skin softly greyish with a vague blue tone around her lips, but the body was still fresh enough to keep its texture as if still alive. Dark hair was neatly combed down her meager shoulders, brushing up against her breasts. “She’s beautiful, don’t you think?” Harvester said with a soft voice.
Harv hushed him quietly and picked up the second seed, putting it on top of her right thigh. “You act like you’ve never seen a woman before,” he said, and placed the last one in the soft cavity between her collar bones.
“Could you two please not talk while we do this?” her husband said behind them.
Harv turned around. “What’s your problem?”
“My problem, you mean except this supposedly noble charade of a planting with you two eyeballing my wife. If it was up to me-”
“But it’s not up to you is it,” Harv broke in. “She’s a human just like the rest of us, mortal like you and me.” He closed the lid. “A human appreciates becoming part of another form of life.”
“I rather rot away silently in space than being consumed by this parasitical plant,” the husband said with a grunt.
“Parasitical, that’s not what you called them last week when you asked for a free sample.” Simultaneously the three of them turned around and saw Courier leaning against the doorway. “Isn’t that right, Filer?”
Harv held out his bag overfilled with capsules to Courier with great excitement. “Nice to have you back so soon, here’s my share and I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know that it's even more than expected,” Harv said and then handed him another bag. “I’m afraid Harvester here hasn’t reached his quota, but I’m sure he’ll make it up to you next time.”
Courier compared the contents. “I sure hope you’re not stealing any?” he said, and looked up at Harvester who shook his head. “Only a bit of laziness then I guess.”
“We’re done here, right?” Filer said and passed Courier in the doorway. “I guess I’ll see you later, unless you want me to take those seeds out of your hands here and now?”
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you? I’ll see you later in your office pal,” Courier said, and Filer left with a glance over his shoulder. “So what do you have here?”
“It’s Filer’s wife, we’re ready to move her into the graveyard,” Harv said and shifted to the side so Courier could view the woman fully. Harvester didn’t budge an inch.
“That’s good, more seeds to pick for you then.”
“We always enjoy new arrivals here,” Harv said.
“I bet you do. How’d she die?”
Harvester took a step aside. “They don’t tell us things like that,” he said while blocking Courier’s view of the woman. “You’ve got your seeds what’s keeping you?”
“You know, Harvester,” Courier said and led him out from the ceremonial hall and into the outer corridor. “Boss asked me if I knew someone who might be interested in transferring to…”
Harvester withdrew. “You know that’s impossible,” he said, and almost bumped into Shipper who was approaching behind with a cleaned incubator.
“Then you don’t know me,” Courier said with an arrogant tone, and addressed Shipper with a gesture.
“You’re right about that.” Harvester stared at Courier. “I don’t know you, and I sure don’t know why someone like you would do me any favors?” Harvester wouldn’t let a man like Courier make fun of him, making his hope grow for something as impossible as changing professions. How could he be so cold, lying to his face like that, knowing how much he wanted it to be true; but it couldn’t be, it just couldn’t. He would always be a harvester.
“You shouldn’t mess with him like that,” Harv said, as he watched Harvester walk away, and then returned into the ceremonial hall.
Courier remained in the hallway, both bags in his fist, when Muster stepped up to him.
“Think you can spare some?” Muster said and glared down at the bags.
“You know Filer has to declare them first.”
“Come on, save me a trip will you, no one will notice. I’ve got four gas chambers breaking down, and my wife has her period again. Two seeds are all I need, just a little something to get her off my back for tonight. You know I’m good for it. Next time I’ll clear my credit, you have my word. I’m just a bit short right now.”
Courier placed one of the bags in his right pocket while keeping the other in his hand. “Sure sounds like you need to travel but this is the last time,” Courier said and reached into the bag, pinched a capsule with numerous seeds between his fingertips and dropped it in Muster’s hand.
“Don’t know how to thank you, you’re a life saver,” Muster said with a wide smile on his face. “What would this sector be if we didn’t have you?”
“Sucking up to me won’t make your bill less heavy,” Courier said and walked away.
As the lights went out and the darkness of space transcended the ship’s hull and swept through the vacant hallways of the Power Plant - anxiously awaiting the inhabitants to once again awaken and fill the silence of night with morning routines - Harvester laid in bed with the woman still clinging to his mind. Penetrating his fantasies; the world he seeks refuge in the few minutes before falling asleep, making him unable to cease shifting position.
“How are you doing over there?” Harv mumbled from across the room and leaned against his elbow. “Maybe you should take a short walk or something.” Harv fluffed his pillow and made himself comfortable.
On his back, Harvester stared up at the ceiling. Almost as if he could hear the flowers grow upon her body, nestling their roots deeper beneath her skin, he couldn’t seem to get the woman out of his head. “Do you think Courier lied?” Harvester said. “I mean, of course he did but maybe he can pull some strings. Surely he has connections, Boss at least. Have you ever met him?”
“Don’t get your hopes up,” Harv said with a tired voice and turned to face the wall. “Let’s just get some sleep. You’ll need it if you‘re going to make up for last week tomorrow.”
Harv’s breathing gradually became deeper and softer, but for Harvester the lingering morning was just not approaching soon enough.
At the Field, once again the suit was sprayed onto Harvester’s body and he moved down the dark aisle towards the coffin where she rested; motionless as he left her, asleep in the arms of the green moss.
What he didn’t expect was to see a tiny flower already rising up from her right thigh with a delicate capsule at its end. Harvester took a quick look around - there was no one in sight - and lifted the lid with one hand. With the other, he gently picked the capsule the way he was born to do. But this one, he was going to keep for himself.
Seeds tightly within his closed fist, Harvester entered the cafeteria, now empty from the rest of the crew, and paused before the dust-grimed window that barely let through the smothered light from distant stars. His rubber soles were heavy on the metal floor, a gravity made by man to ease their presence in the unfriendly environment. Then a book, a lexicon of sort, cast aside on one of the tables caught his attention. Enticed by its threadbare cover he picked it up and started to flip through the tattered pages with pictures of strange creatures. Must have been forgotten by one of those collectors’ he’d heard about, so he looked around and then closed the book for safe keeping. A souvenir from this endeavor he thought and headed for the kitchen, because this evening had another purpose, and walked straight up to the cupboard and reached for a glass. There, Harvester stared at the seeds, besieged by the low hum from ventilators, impatiently awaiting the water to boil. He then let the seeds fall down towards the bottom of the glass and poured the hot water onto them; watching as the crystal clear liquid slowly brewed into a green tea. When the seeds had dissolved completely, Harvester leisurely sipped the tonic and felt the hot water run down his throat, gradually being absorbed by his body.
Awakened by a warm hand stroking his lower arm, fingers brushing up against the rough hair, Harvester reopened his eyes. Moist lips pressed up against his. Blue eyes gazed intently at him, her head was slightly angled and the cold nose tip touched his cheek. The dream faded into another.
The woman walked towards him, smiling. Harvester was now surrounded by cheerful friends, people talking, greeting him as he entered a room he’d never seen before, but yet so familiar. Chest warming, the heart pulsated; a sensation he so clearly felt, even though his arms around the woman’s waist didn’t belong to him.
“What are you doing here? I’ve been looking for you.” He could hear himself say and her hands withdrew as she glanced down towards the floor. He didn’t want to say the words he spoke, knowing their intent to make her sad.
“They wanted to take me out for dinner. I wasn’t going to stay long,” the woman said with a discreet voice. “Why don’t you celebrate with us?”
Harvester didn’t want to leave, still the legs moved him out from the restaurant, and he felt her heartbreaking stare behind him.
Apartment; furniture assembled themselves and walls raised as the woman opened the front door, almost tripping on her own feet while closing it behind her. “You waited up for me, how sweet,” she said.
The silhouette of her husband in a chair was visible. Harvester merely an observer now, and together they watched her get undressed.
She moved up to her husband and crawled into his lap, caressed his chin and kissed him.
“You’re drunk,” her husband said and faced away. A remark Harvester himself wouldn’t have chosen. But she was drunk; he could almost smell her breath as if he was there.
“So? I’m enjoying myself,” she said and got up, walked over to their king-sized bed and gently pulled her slender legs under a bedspread. “Is there something wrong with being happy? Thought you loved me?”
How he did love her. Selfishly.
“It’s a scholarship, that’s all. Why can’t you be glad for me?”
“Knowing what that would mean to us, how could I.”
Like a ghost Harvester kneeled down before her, hand on her thigh. She did not feel his presence, she did not know him at all, but he felt her. Am I entering her dream or is she entering mine, Harvester wondered.
The next day, five more flowers rose from the woman’s body, two long enough to create the capsules Harvester desired; while the color of her skin faded, gradually reducing her beauty into the grey tone as the equals beside her.
“Not worth opening for,” Harv commented over Harvester’s shoulder. “Staring at them won’t speed things up, believe me I know.”
“I had a dream about her last night,” Harvester said, intoxicated by the memory of her.
“Please don’t tell me you’re falling for a dead chick, you’re not that desperate are you?” Harv moved towards Muster who stood by another incubator, checking up on the cylinder connected to the containers end.
“Is your friend okay over there?” Muster said.
Harv glanced over at Harvester by the woman’s incubator. “He’s just his usual self, nothing to worry about.” But Harv was worried. “Can I ask you something? Have you ever tried a seed?”
Muster leaned against the incubator. “Sure, lots of times. You wouldn’t believe the things my wife picks up from her dreams,” he said while examining a small screen above the incubator, and the headed for the next coffin. “Why do you ask? Interested in traveling all of a sudden?”
“Not really,” Harv said and followed. “But I’ve been thinking lately and you all seem to use them as some kind of vacation from yourself…” Harv turned as he heard the quarantine doors open and saw Harvester leave for the cloakroom. “Don’t you like your profession?”
“It’s not a question about liking or even running away from anything,” Muster said. “It’s just for fun Harv, nothing else.” He pointed at some capsules inside the incubator.
Immediately Harv grabbed a bag and opened the coffin’s lid. But he couldn’t help to glance over at the cloakroom where Harvester was getting undressed for his appointment with Doc.
That same afternoon at the docking station, a ship had arrived; creating an atmosphere of organized chaos. By the loading dock Shipper awaited to collect a new corpse when Courier exited the ship. “No rest for you there, Shipper?” he said, and greeted him with a smile.
“You know what they say,” Shipper answered. “Suns may perish, wind will fade, but there will never be a shortage of dead bodies.” At the same time, a starship attendant handed him an incubator.
Courier shrugged and peeked through the lid where an old man, face all crumpled and stiff laid. “Is his family on the same flight?”
“Nope, but his wife is buried at the same Field, brought her in last month,” Shipper said, and began to haul the incubator through the noisy hangar, making his way between other arriving residents and stacked-up crates of supplies. “So what’s the deal with those seeds you’re meant to pick up?”
Courier pushed the button for the door to open, leading them into the hallway. “You mean you don’t know?”
“Hey, I’m just learning the ropes, all they told me was to supply the dead and stay away from the moss,” Shipper said and heaved the incubator over the threshold.
“Not much more to it. We’re all here to serve a purpose and as long as there are dead people I’ll keep providing the seeds.” The doors closed behind them and the roaring sounds of engines were reduced into a low hum.
“But they know it comes from dead people right?” Shipper said and halted.
“You think they care, the only thing they do care about is being offered a few hours escape from their own lives. And then they all end up here, as fertilizer for a new generation of seeds,” Courier said and grabbed the side of the incubator to help Shipper push it the rest of the way.
“It’s all a cycle isn’t it.”
“So what’s the deal with Filer’s wife? Not often you collect them so young.”
“Heard she got some scholarship or something,” shipper said. “Apparently someone found her in the swimming pool laying face down.” Courier let go of the incubator and left Shipper to push it by himself towards the graveyard.
With the stethoscope against Harvester’s bare chest, Doc listened with an occasional “hum” between the heartbeats. “Everything seems to be in order,” he finally said and moved over to his desk, took out a file from a chest of drawers and carefully noted down his statement. “So how do you feel?”
“My face is sore again,” Harvester said as he pulled on his grey t-shirt. He got up from the examination table and made himself comfortable in a chair.
“Are you moisturising enough?”
“Every morning, as you prescribed,” Harvester said and rubbed his cratered cheeks.
“Well maybe you should start doing it in the evening as well.”
“I thought – maybe it’s possible to change our gear instead. I mean Muster doesn’t have to glue on his mask every day.” Harvester squirmed in his seat as if trying to avoid Doc’s stare. “I wouldn’t mind a change you know.”
“Each job is different. You know his contact with the moss differs from yours and Harv’s. You don’t want to be contaminated would you?” Doc rose to his feet and placed his hands against the desk. “Routines are a good thing. They make us safe. I know it’s in our nature to crave for chaos but we all need to resist that hunger, you understand that don’t you?”
“I guess so,” Harvester said and got up. “But it’s hard not wanting anything. What do you want, Doc?”
“Why do you assume I want something?” Doc said and straightened his back.
“There must be something?”
“I don’t need or desire anything because eventually I’ll forget about it. It’s nothing more than an obsession.” Doc stepped up to the door. “My advice to you,” Doc said. “Is to get some rest, have a good night’s sleep and I’m sure the cravings will be gone.”
Harvester stepped out into the corridor, longing for the rest Doc advised, but not for the sleep. He could do without that, but he needed to see her again.
Before long at the graveyard, Shipper pushed the incubator up to the glass wall and tapped the window twice. Next to him, Courier observed Harvester standing in the Field by an incubator. Lid open behind his slim body, back turned towards them, gathering the daily yield of capsules from the woman’s incubator.
As Harvester met them in the hallway, his suit dripping from quarantine spray, he reached for the incubator while Shipper took several steps backwards and left in haste.
“Need a hand there Harvester?” Courier asked and grabbed the other end, carefully watching Harvester’s closed fist.
“No thanks I got it. I’ll get the bags for you, no need to get suited-up.”
“Here all by yourself? Where’s Harv?”
“Doctor’s appointment, usual checkup,” Harvester said and moved through the quarantine doors with the incubator, but returned shortly with the plastic bags.
“So did you hear about Filer’s wife, apparently she drowned,” Courier said. “Shipper told me all about it, and there was something about a scholarship…”
A creepy feeling of recognition crawled along Harvester’s back. Could the fragments of the dream be the woman actually talking to him through the seeds? There was only one way to find out if the illusion was created by fact, and the means was pinned between his fingers.
Harvester once had a dream, a memory of sort. As most of them, he’s viewing himself from behind, an observer, standing in the Field with the cold pressing up against his bare skin; dreaming of a place where wild flowers grow.
But this dream was nothing like that. A sticky feeling, like honey on the fingertips, materialised, so he looked down and saw the moss clinging to his nails, tendrils reaching up along his arm.
Then Harvester turned and behind him was the woman. “You need to stop running Harvester,” she said even though her lips didn’t move. “You don't belong here.”
The wave of her voice made him tremble with pleasure. “I want to stay here with you,” he said, and the room began to shiver; roof and floor no longer attached to the walls. The light dimmed while a shadowy figure emerged from the background. It was an animal Harvester had never seen before: large with a soft greyish fur and with two great antlers. Hooves clamped against the floor as it walked up to them.
She leaned closer, her lips brushed up against his ear. “I want to show you something,” she whispered.
Time altered and Harvester found himself in an apartment he had visited once before. In the bathroom, the woman let a comb run through her wet hair. The shower mouthpiece was dripping, smothering steam stuck to the walls.
Harvester’s presence was not noticeable, but as if he was there he yearned to stretch out his hand, to touch her bare lower back. She was so close. He could almost smell the dampness of her skin.
The woman looked at her husband, through the reflection in the mirror, as he leaned against the doorway behind her. A towel was wrapped around his waist and in each hand were two empty glasses, with only a hint of green tea left at the bottom. “Maybe it’s time for us all to choose,” her husband said. “We can’t change who we are.”
“Then maybe it’s the world that needs to change,” she answered while putting away the comb.
Blood was smeared on the bathroom walls, with marks of their hands on the surface. Pleasurable sounds of moaning echoed out of sight, water caressed their bodies. Her husband’s hands on her naked skin as he pressed her against the wall. Blood trickled down her thighs.
She kissed him affectionately, then harder, forcing him to move his hand against the wall to brace himself.
Harvester merely a witness, unsympathetic to why she wanted him to watch, teasing him like that. The ceiling light began to flicker and slowly the room disintegrated until nothing but dark water remained.
Harvester struggled to reach the surface while the woman slowly sank below him. Air bubbles brushed up against him on their way to the surface.
From the depth he could hear her voice. “You need to wake up Harvester,” she said.
In his office, Filer scribbled down numbers in a black binder with a letter scale before him, while Courier placed two small bags on the desk next to it.
“Are those from her?” Filer said. “Think you can get her seeds separate from the others next time? I don’t want anyone else to have them.”
“You know there’s no way to tell them apart.”
Filer positioned one of the bags on the scale. “I wish she didn’t have to be buried in that place, she deserves something more dignifying than being manure.”
“You know all too well the conditions for employment on this Power Plant, you both signed up.”
“It’s just hard for me you know,” Filer said, and wrote down the weight of the seeds in the binder. “Maybe if I just saw her one more time?” he took out a tray from a drawer under the desk and handed it to Courier.
“You know that’s not the answer.”
“Do you think she was afraid?”
Carefully Courier separated the seeds from the shell of the capsules. “Who – your wife?” he said, and began to divide them into different piles.
“When she died I mean. She once told me that the meaning of her life was not being afraid on her deathbed, you think she was?”
“I think she meant it as a metaphor. Besides, I hear drowning is far from the worst way to go.”
“Kind of ironic actually, I mean who needs to learn how to swim on a space station?”
“So what happens now?”
“We shut down the Reindeer Project.”
“Are you sure – sounds like she knew what she was talking about?”
“And make us all unnecessary? Your ignorance is infallible,” Filer said, got up from the desk and walked over to Courier with a smile on his face while placing his hand on a desk lamp. “Did you know that mankind easily could have created a light bulb that would never run out, but we don’t and do you know why? Because that would destroy everything. Sometimes the best solution is letting some things never be discovered.”
“I guess you’re right, for all our sakes,” Courier said, pulled out tiny bags from his pocket and began to fill them with the seeds.
Harvester awakened with a gasp and with eager hands he checked his arms, legs, waist and face: all appeared normal. His breathing slowed down, eyes fixated on the roof above him. Was she trying to tell him something, or was it just a hallucination; being someone else for a couple of hours, like the drug intended. But she talked directly to him, this time she knew his name, showed him things he would never ask for to see.
His train of thought was interrupted as the front door opened and Harv entered the apartment. “Are you okay there Harvester?” Harv said and sat down beside him, nonexistent eyebrows made the murky expression on his face even more distinct.
“It was just a dream.” Harvester sat up and rubbed his rough hands against his cratered face. “I found a book,” he said and dragged himself out of the bed to once again moisturise.
“A book? Haven’t seen one of those in years. What’s it about?”
Harvester moved out from the bathroom. “Some kind of lexicon I think,” he said and headed for the kitchen. “It’s on my bedside table if you wanna have a look.” Harvester leaned closer to the plant under the cover.
Harv peeked over at the table and began flipping through the pages. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about something,” he mumbled as he studied the pictures.
Harvester put the palm of his hand against the cover and a spark of movement was noticeable in the sleeping plant. “Talk to me about what?” Harvester said, and gently waved the hand around the glass. The leaf moved with him.
Harv set the book down and stepped into the doorway leading to the kitchen. “What are you doing? You should let it rest.”
Harvester leaned his ear against the cover, and he heard a vague sound. Like a high-pitched hum of high voltage wires heard from a distance, except that it was more like a song; the rhythm and tone being varied, almost pleasant. “You should listen to this.”
Harv frowned. “Like I said, I need to talk to you about something. I met Courier in the hallway after my check-up.”
Harvester leaned back against the cupboard. “Did Doc find anything, I mean you’re always so careful with the equipment and everything, the moss can’t possibly-”
“What are you talking about, of course not, I’m fine.”
“So what is it?” Harvester reached for the refrigerator door, pulled out a large jar with green pills and swallowed three without water.
“Like I said, I met Courier-” Harvester offered the jar to Harv. “No thanks. You know how I hate him messing with you all the time, but the thing he said about him talking to Boss…”
“I know what you’re trying to say and don’t worry, I know it’s impossible and he’s just-“
“That’s the thing, he wasn’t lying. He really did ask if they couldn’t arrange for you to work for them instead.”
“Why? He detests me.” Harvester closed the refrigerator and went back to his bed.
“Maybe they thought you would perform better there than as a harvester,” Harv said, moved over to his own bed and began to undress. “Anyhow it didn’t go through. Sorry pal.” His tights dropped to the floor and Harv switched off the lights. “For what it’s worth, I’m kind of glad you’re not leaving.”
“So that’s it,” Harvester said and climbed under the bed sheets. “I’m officially stuck here.” Although the hope of change now shattered within him, a warm feeling took its place. As long as he had the woman he needed nothing else. “Can I ask you something?” Harvester said and paused. “I had a dream about this animal.”
“Don’t remember when you dreamt this much,” Harv said as he sat up in the dark apartment. “So what kind was it? Insect-like or a mammal, or was it one of those who flies, with wings you know?”
“It had four legs, feet not like ours, harder if you know what I mean. I remember that, and some kind of fur.”
“Fur, is that so, probably a mammal then. You should check it out in your book, could be important. You know, like a symbol or something.”
Harvester turned the light back on and began to search through the pages. Shortly he found a full-sized page with a sketched picture of the animal from his dream. “That’s the one, a reindeer,” he said and held the book up for Harv to see. “It doesn’t make any sense. Why would I have a dream about this strange animal?”
“You must have seen it before?”
“Yeah, in my dream, I told you that.”
“I mean before that, before you dreamt about it. You must have seen it in a book or on a picture somewhere.”
“Not that I can think of. There’s not really much reading material on this boat if you know what I mean.”
“So you’re telling me you’ve dreamt of an animal you’ve never seen before. That’s not possible,” Harv said and turned to face the wall.
Harvester knew he had never seen that animal and he also knew that his unconscious wasn’t trying to tell him something, it was her. So the remaining question; what kind of importance this was to Harvester, still gnawed at his mind. So once again he flipped the book wide open and let his fingertip brush against the thin paper in search for an answer: It didn’t take long until he found it. A short paragraph about how the reindeers could be used as a filter in order to acquire a drug from the poisonous Fly Agarics. They did this by feeding the animals the mushroom, and then drinking their urine.
The next morning, Courier caught up with Muster outside the graveyard. “What are you doing here?” Muster said, surprised by Courier’s sudden reappearance.
“Don’t worry I’m not here to collect your credit.” Courier placed his arm around Muster’s broad shoulders. “Is your wife feeling better?”
“Oh much, thank you. Finally she got one of her favorite trips, not one of mine though.” They reached the quarantine doors and Muster squirmed away from Courier’s overstated friendly squeeze and glimpsed through the window. Neither Harv nor Harvester had arrived. “Silly actually,” Muster said. “You would think it would be a dream where you are on a planet or flying, anything exciting really. But not my wife, no her favorite is with her taking a simple swim. Can you believe that, a swim?”
“Maybe she likes the water?”
“Oh she does, she really does, must have been a whale in her former life,” Muster said with a chuckle. “But at this time of the month you know, with the menstruation and all, it’s just not possible for her to take her daily trip to the pool, and that really sets her off.”
Harvester closed in behind Muster. “You mean she can’t be in the water when she bleeds?” Harvester said, and gazed over at the woman’s incubator through the window.
“Right, something about a possible infection, I never listen long enough to fully understand.”
She didn’t tease me, Harvester pondered. She wanted me to know something. He turned towards Harv who stood beside Courier. “Come on Harv,” he said. “The seeds aren’t picking themselves.”
Enjoying his sudden brief of eagerness Harv followed him inside the cloakroom without hesitation.
Before Muster had a chance to pass through the door himself, Courier grabbed on to his arm. “Hang on a minute will you, I need to talk to you about something,” Courier said and retracted his hand. “I didn’t leave last night because I think there’s something we need to discuss.” They turned towards the graveyard as Harv and Harvester entered the Field. “Have you noticed something different with Harvester?” Courier continued.
“Well he is asking a lot of questions about the seeds, no actually Harv did.”
“Harv asked about the seeds?”
“Yeah, I think he might be up to something?”
“Keep an eye on them for me will you? If anyone is stealing seeds, especially from Filer’s wife’s coffin, I need to know about it - or you can forget any more trips.”
Absorbed in his work Harv picked seeds from the woman’s coffin when Harvester suddenly tried to take over. “Let me do that,” Harvester said.
Harv pushed him aside. “I really think you need to pick from another body.”
A few rows away, Muster observed the harvesters’ dispute. Once again they were hovering above that woman’s coffin.
“That’s not your call Harv, I need this.”
“Listen to yourself, this is not healthy,” Harv said. “You dream about her all night, and during the day all you do is picking her seeds.”
Suddenly a high pitch sound of sirens was set off and a simulated woman’s voice spoke through the surrounding amplifiers. “Evacuation, gas pollution, evacuation, gas pollution…” the voice repeated itself.
Harv turned around and saw Muster run for the exit. “Go, just go!” Harv shouted and pushed Harvester. But Harvester turned to close the woman’s lid and instead Harv stumbled into him. As he fell inside the incubator with his upper body, hands down against her spongy stomach, Harv was caught between her side and the rough edge.
Instantly Harvester bent down to help but Harv shielded himself with his other arm. “The suit will hold,” Harv said while brutally trying to pull out his hand. “You get out of here, I got this.”
“I’m not leaving you, we got time.” Harvester grabbed on to Harv’s arm.
In the corridor, Courier ran up to the window when Muster sprinted through the quarantine doors and they sealed shut behind him. “What the hell are you doing? I told you to watch them, not kill them you fool,” Courier said.
Inside the graveyard Harv and Harvester was now at the door; violently trying to bend it open with a fire extinguisher.
“They were stealing again,” Muster said out of breath while pointing at Harv. “You can’t let them out, Harv fell into the coffin.”
Courier pushed Muster aside, ran into the cloakroom and grabbed an emergency suit. “Use the pin,” Courier yelled to Harvester on the other side of the glass. “Push it in between the doors.” At the same time Courier took hold of each side of the narrow opening and managed to pull them apart. He grabbed a bottle of quarantine spray and drenched them, along with himself with the strong liquid.
“I’m okay, it didn’t tear,” Harv said, while Courier carefully rolled him over to check the outfit.
Cleaner, a young man in his late twenties entered. “How the hell did this happen?” He hauled Harv up from the floor. “Come on you two, let’s get you out of these costumes,” he said and escorted Harv into the shower, followed by Harvester.
But when Harvester shortly came back, he was surprised to see Courier still there, alone on the bench. “You think he will be okay?” Courier said and took off his helmet.
Harvester sat down by his side. “Cleaner knows what he’s doing. But if it wasn’t for you, Harv would have been in some bad shit right now. Not many people would have done what you did.” Courier being one of them was Harvester’s last guess. “So why did you?”
Courier honestly didn’t have an answer for that. “Can I ask you something?” he said although he knew the answer. “What’s your obsession with Meadow?”
“Meadow what?” Harvester said.
“Filer’s wife. Why is it that every time I come here I see you standing by her coffin, and at the planting it almost felt as if you claimed her as your own?”
“I think she speaks to me through the seeds,” Harvester said.
Courier stood up, suit drawn down to his ankles. “So you have been drinking them?” Firmly he pulled it off the rest of the way and tossed it on the floor next to him.
“I needed to be close to her.” In shame Harvester could not bear to meet Courier’s stare. “I’ve never seen anyone like her before, and when I first saw her - as if alive in my dream - it was…” Harvester pleadingly gazed at Courier. “I couldn’t stop. I needed to see her again. I needed that other world in order to survive this one.”
“Enough with the dreams,” Harv said as he stepped out from the shower followed by Cleaner. “Entertaining yourself with these fantasies, pathetic dreams of that woman, it’s quite disgusting and not to mention wrong.”
Harvester turned around. “I’m sorry Harv, I really am. But she’s trying to tell me something.”
“Cheer up will you Harv,” Cleaner said in an attempt to loosen up the harsh atmosphere. “Don’t be so hard on him. We all need a break sometimes.”
“I won’t have anything to do with this,” Harv said and left. Cleaner tagged along.
Courier silently stared over at the graveyard.
“I know I’m in trouble for stealing,” Harvester said. “That’s why I didn’t tell you at first, I would have been stupid if I did.”
“You’re not very smart for telling me now.”
“I realize that, but I need your help. At first I thought the dreams were hallucinations, but then she showed me an animal I’ve never seen before, a reindeer. It means something, right? She wouldn’t have shown it to me otherwise.”
“She told you about the Reindeer Project?”
“A project, is that why she was murdered?”
“Murdered, where did you get that crazy idea? She drowned, it was an accident.”
Harvester stepped up to Courier by the window. “She had her period. When she drowned she had her menstruation, and Muster said women can’t swim that time of the month. So then why would she be at the pool?”
“How on earth do you know that, that she had her period I mean?”
“She showed me. If I only had one more seed I’m sure I’ll find out who killed her.” Inside the graveyard two other cleaners’ smothered the opened incubator with a toxic smoke. “But she’s gone, isn’t she,” Harvester said. “They’re killing her all over again.”
“They are only doing their job.”
“Don’t you understand? She won’t breed any more flowers. Now we’ll never know who killed her or what she was trying to say.” Harvester grabbed Courier’s arm. “I need your help, I’m not making this up, and if you only let me have the last yield I’ll prove to you and everyone else that I’m right. I’ll go through all the seeds until I find her again.”
With a frown Courier moved away from Harvester. “There’s no way I can let you do that,” he said and stepped out into the hallway.
“You knew about this all along, didn’t you?” Harvester said. “That the seeds aren’t giving your customers hallucinations. They’re giving them the experiences of the dead - their memories.”
“Of course I knew. But if this were to come out it would gridlock the entire station, not to mention all the other Power Plants. We would all be useless, what do you think would happen to us then?”
“I don’t care what happens to me anymore.”
“Kind of selfish of you, isn’t it?”
“You’re right, drinking her seeds was selfish, but it’s beyond that now,” Harvester said. “It’s not about me anymore.”
“So what is it about?”
“It’s about her, Meadow, she discovered something and she was murdered because of it.”
“I can’t give you the seeds, you know that.”
“Then you have to tell me what this is all about. You know everything that goes on around this place, and you knew Meadow didn’t you? There’s something you’re no telling me and I want to know, otherwise I tell Boss and I bet he’s not gonna like this.”
“Okay, I‘ll show you, but you have to promise me you won’t tell anyone.”
Harvester glanced over at Meadow’s incubator. “You have my word.”
The lab was not as sanitary as Harvester expected and instead of the stench he was accustomed to at the Field this place smelled of life rather than death.
“What is all this?” Harvester asked Courier as they strolled down the aisle. Tables were overfilled with numerous plants in different shapes and colors. An almost indistinguishable hum filled the air; like an electric surge that flowed through him.
“Meadow found a way to use the plants to run the machines instead of the gas the moss produces,” Courier said. Wires, connected to different screens displaying regular curves, were attached to the plants leafs. “Apparently she found out that they can be connected to our consciousness and that way we could teach them to operate gear by thought.”
Then all of a sudden, Harvester noticed a sudden peak on one of the screens and the door behind them sealed shut.
“What are you doing here?” Filer said and leaned against the wall. “You told him didn’t you?”
Courier turned around. “He already knew.”
“I guess it doesn’t matter anymore, Meadow is dead and so is the project.” Filer had often visited Meadow here late at night, and he always found this room a bit unpleasant. As if the plants weren’t only observing his every move, but his thoughts as well.
“Have you ever considered that maybe he killed her?” Harvester said and pointed at Filer. “In her dreams, or whatever they are, she showed me how much he disliked her project.”
Filer stepped up to Harvester. “Did you drink her seeds?” he said and shoved him against a bench. “Is that what you’re telling me?”
“I guess,” Harvester said, thinking more about that hard edge that pressed against his spine than about being afraid of someone like Filer. “I love her and she talked to me.” Harvester pushed him away. “She showed me how you made her cry that night she got the scholarship. She even showed me how you two made love while she was bleeding.”
“You’re sick, that’s my wife you’re talking about.”
“At least I didn’t kill her.”
“Then let’s drink her seeds and she’ll tell you that I’m innocent,” Filer said, and looked over at courier.
“But her body is destroyed due to the quarantine.” But then Courier remembered. “Although, I believe Muster might have some.”
Filer flinched. “You gave Muster her seeds? I told you I didn’t want anyone else to have them.”
“That wasn’t your call. Listen, his wife had a dream about swimming in the pool, it might just be a coincident but it’s worth a shot.” Courier pushed for the door to open when Cleaner suddenly entered.
“Harvester, there’s been an accident,” he said while gasping for air.
They all looked at each other and then followed Cleaner, shortly entering Harvester and Harv’s apartment. The living room was well lit and like a wall, a strange odor hit Harvester as he made his way through the crowd by the front door, making him almost stumble into Doc who leaned over Harv’s bed.
“What’s that smell?” Courier said, and covered his face with the sleeve of his arm while peeking over their shoulders.
Harvester withdrew. “He’s infested,” he said and grabbed on to Courier’s sleeve. On Harv’s arm, long tendrils were clinging to the skin. In the corridor the curious inhabitants quickly scattered. “It’s the moss, somehow it got to him,” Harvester said and faced Cleaner who remained in the doorway next to Filer. “I thought you told me he was cleansed?”
“He was, it couldn’t have come from the Field, I promise, I scrubbed him twice with the chlorine,” Cleaner said. “Maybe it was that plant you keep in the kitchen as a pet.”
“Impossible, it would never hurt him,” Harvester said, and followed Cleaner into the kitchen where they observed the plant, intact inside the box. “See, its okay, it hasn’t moved.”
By the bed, Doc pulled the bedspread over Harv’s lifeless body. “No, it’s definitely the moss. I’ve seen it before.” Agreeing that the infection must have come from some exterior source, they moved out into the hallway and Doc shut the door behind them. Cleaner turned to leave.
“Where are you going?” Harvester said. “We can’t just leave Harv like this?”
“I just need to get my gear, I’ll be back to sanitise the apartment. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it,” Cleaner said and moved for the Field.
Harvester re-opened the door. “I need to get something,” he said, shortly returning with the plant from the kitchen. Harvester had always thought of Harv as a colleague rather than a friend. But he had been wrong. “This is all that is left of him,” Harvester said and lifted the plant up for all to see. They all stared at the moving tendrils inside the box.
“I’ll get Shipper to bring an incubator,” Doc said. “Will you help us get him to the graveyard?” He looked over at Harvester. “We can’t do this without you.”
“Yeah, I’m coming,” Harvester said, and with the plant under his arm he followed Doc to the cloakroom to once again get suited up, mask glued to his face.
Remaining outside the apartment, Filer and Courier watched them leave. “He’s not going to drop this is he?” Filer said.
“I still think we need to talk to Muster and get those seeds, it’s the only way to be sure. This has gone all too far,” Courier said with the picture of Harv’s lifeless body etched in his mind. Accidents don’t come in pairs.
The next day, Harvester stood in the hallway by the window, watching the graveyard, gazing toward the incubator where Harv was now buried. “I think this is what he would have wanted,” Harvester said, as Courier stepped up beside him.
Courier glanced over at the incubators. “I went by your place, you weren’t there,” he said while observing Harv inside his coffin where a couple of flowers grew from a green puddle on his stomach.
“All this time I’ve been dreaming of getting away, and now the graveyard feels more like home than my own apartment.” Harvester looked up at Courier. “So what happens now?”
“I’m not sure, but I think you’re wrong about Filer. What did he have to lose worth killing his wife for? Its people like Muster that has everything to lose.” Courier leaned closer to the window, both hands against the glass. “I went to see Muster yesterday and he said he didn’t have any seeds left, but there was something in his wife’s eyes, as if she was afraid, and maybe she has a good reason too. I’m not so sure Harv’s death was an accident and there’s only one way to be certain. We have to drink his seeds.”
“You would do that for me?”
“The answer is right there, all we have to do is dream it. Otherwise, I fear that we might be next.”
Once again Harvester entered the Field, mask glued to his face, latex firmly on his body. He gazed down at Harv, peacefully sleeping inside the incubator. “I’ll see you tonight - friend,” Harvester said, opened the lid and reached for a capsule.
They’ve called him Harvester for as long as he can remember and with that name his life was preordained. He’s still there, at the heart of the Power Plant; at the place where she used to lay, the place where flowers still grew. Because he was, and always would be: a harvester.
Written by Alex Backstrom
Cover Design by Alex Backstrom
Year of Creation: 2010
One of the stories Property of Scavenger was adapted from 2011