The Seeds of New Earth (The Silent Earth, Book 2)By: Mark R. Healy
She fought to maintain a neutral expression, but I thought I detected a hint of repulsion in the slant of her mouth.
“You try it,” she said by way of answer, offering the container to me. I dipped my finger into it obligingly and pressed it to my tongue, smacking my lips together awkwardly at the odd sensation.
“It tastes… interesting,” I said. “But don’t take that to heart. I’m not an infant.”
She drew the container back and peered into it thoughtfully. “I still have to mix some other ingredients in to increase the nutritional value. Sunflower oil and a few other things. That might make it taste better.”
“Or worse,” I said sardonically.
“Watch it, or I’ll make you drink the whole lot.”
Moving around the side of the counter, I began to help her clean up, wiping at the translucent soybean skins and adding them to a bucket of organic waste by the window that would later be transferred to compost.
“You still have a little while to work on the recipe, Arsha,” I said lightly. “We’ll make a chef out of you yet.”
She refused to join in the banter, making a noncommittal gesture. “There’s going to be less time for everything after tomorrow.”
I paused and looked at her thoughtfully. She seemed uncharacteristically edgy, fiddling with the hem of her black cotton blouse, the typically bright blue of her eyes now clouded with concern. She noticed my attention and in an instant the look was gone, replaced by the surety and confidence I’d come to expect as she busied herself about the kitchen.
“We’re ready,” I said encouragingly. “I know we are.”
“Yeah, you’re right. We’re ready,” she agreed, but her thoughts were obviously elsewhere. “Pass me over that bowl, will you? We have a lot to do tonight.”
“How long till we die?” I asked her.
She paused, hunched over the little wooden chest she’d dragged across the carpet, swirls of dust eddying around her in the golden morning sunlight. She seemed to consider for a moment, then straightened, wiping her nose with the back of her hand and inadvertently leaving a smudge of dirt there.
“Why are you so… obsessed with this notion of dying?” Arsha wanted to know. She seemed to notice the dust for the first time and swatted at it with her hand. It jumped and danced at her beckoning, but for all those particles displaced there were an equal number waiting to drift back in to take their place.
“I’m not obsessed with it. I just think it’s a very real concern. We need to know how long we have left so we can plan out how we’re going to do this.”
She lifted her backpack from the chest and slung it over her shoulder, flicking her head to free loose strands of hair from her face.
“You could probably guess just as well as me,” she said, moving past and heading out toward the back of the house. “What do you think?”
I finished fastening the torch batteries into the solar charger on the windowsill and followed her, securing my own backpack as I went.
“Somewhere as high as one hundred and as low as fifty. That’s going by the theoretical lifespan of our power cores.”
“Sounds about right.” She pulled the door open and proceeded into the back yard. Following through, I stopped beside her at a trough of mulch, scooping a hefty amount of it up between my hands.
“So let’s work with the lower estimate,” I said. “Let’s say twenty years from now is where it ends for you and me.”
She carted her own load of mulch toward the nearest garden bed. There were more than a dozen of the beds in all, raised wooden rectangles of earth aligned with the kind of precision that permeated everything Arsha created. Green sprouts of all types of fruit and vegetables emerged from the soil, bathing in the refulgent yellow sunlight, and thick grass grew freely between the beds, bent over and crushed in places where we had been traipsing around the garden. I took my own handful of mulch to the garden next to hers.
“We need rain,” she said absently, straightening from the potato plants she was tending and lifting an eye to the sky. “The tank’s running dry.”
“I’ll take a couple of buckets to the stream this afternoon if I have time.”
“So,” I went on, distributing the mulch around some turnips, “twenty years. We need to have everything in place before then.”
“Right, as long as the Marauders don’t roll in here and hack us to pieces earlier,” she said, then, looking across at me, pointed her finger with a wiggle. “Make that a little thicker over there, okay?”
I scooped at the mulch, redistributing it as she’d suggested. “Well, let’s assume we can stay out of the Marauders’ way. What’s twenty years? One generation of people, and maybe the start of a second?”
“Yeah, that sounds about right.” She turned, wiping her palms on her pants, squinting at me in the sunlight. “I can see where you’re heading with this.”
“Look, I know it’s been a point of contention before, but we need to make a call on this, considering what we’re going to do today.”