fiction

Sung Home: Chapter Forty Nine. {fiction}

It was still early in the day when we arrived at the Maker complex, the massive solar array atop their buildings shining like a beacon.

Victorio and I went to their infirmary, along with the two Makers who had been abducted with him. Like Victorio, the other man had been beaten. The man’s daughter, a girl of about eight, wasn’t physically harmed but stared wide-eyed and was trembling, still so petrified she wasn’t even able to cry. She clung to her father so hard that he had a hard time taking off his shirt so the medic could look him over.

A kindly woman, who turned out to be a psychologist, took the pair aside to a quiet part of the infirmary and spoke softly to them while the father held his daughter on his lap.

As a medic cleaned up Victorio and treated his scrapes, I watched the little family out of the corner of my eye. After a few minutes, the girl’s trembling subsided and she started crying, which the psychologist seemed to take as a good sign. Before long, the girl’s crying waned and she fell asleep in her father’s lap. Then the father wept as the psychologist spoke quietly some more to him, as if giving him instructions.

Victorio was pretty shaky too, and once his physical wounds had been sufficiently attended to, the psychologist came over to us, speaking to Victorio.

“My name is Nola. You’ve just been in a potentially traumatizing situation. I recommend that you drink lots of water, eat some food, take a long bath and then sleep as much as you can for the rest of the day and the night. Allow your body to tremble or shake without trying to stop it. This is your body’s way of releasing the trauma, not something to be alarmed about, even though it can seem weird or scary.”

To me she added, “The same pretty much goes for you, even though you didn’t get beaten up. Don’t share what happened, or ask him to, for a few days at least. When you are both eating and sleeping somewhat normally, you can talk about it. This is a good time to be quiet together, be of physical comfort without talking too much.”

“I killed a guy who was going to hurt Victorio and me,” I blurted out.

Her eyes widened. “Oh! In that case, everything I said to him definitely applies equally to you too.”

That would be easy enough. I felt completely spent. I had killed Lem. I figured I should feel happy about that, and I was certainly relieved. People like that just shouldn’t get to be around others, and death was one way to make sure of that. But I felt more sick than joyous, and I didn’t know why.

Ching Shih said that she probably hadn’t killed Jeff, just knocked him out. I didn’t know how I felt about that. I sure never wanted to see him again, that’s for sure.

“I’m usually in the room next door to the infirmary,” Nola said, “you can come find me there if you have anything especially alarming come up.” She gave us both a sympathetic look and left.

We met Robert in the hallway as we were walking towards our room. He had come bearing food on a large tray, along with a pot of what smelled like lavender and mint tea. The three of us continued to our room and found Frank and Ching Shih already there, talking about the operation.

“Nola, the psychologist, said that Victorio and Lakshmi shouldn’t be talking about what happened,” Robert informed them. Frank and Ching Shih looked at each other and rose from their chairs. I had been sleeping in the same room with Ching Shih while Frank and Victorio had shared the other.

“The room on the other side of this one is free too, if you two don’t want to share a room,” said Robert.

“Yeah,” nodded Frank, “that’d be good. Thanks. Rest well, everyone.”

Ching Shih departed through the little doorway connecting our rooms, and Robert left us with our meal.

Victorio looked a lot better than he had, but still wobbly. The bruises all over him gave him the look of someone who had been dead and buried for a few days, but his strong appetite alleviated my concerns.

It was easy for us to keep our promise to Nola that we wouldn’t talk about what happened yet, because neither of us particularly wanted to. Victorio collapsed on the bed after our meal and I went to soak in the tub. The image of Lem and Jeff, vicious and taunting, kept resurfacing in my mind, clattering against my nerves. My body started to tremble and, as instructed, I let it, even though it disturbed me.

As the trembling subsided, tears of relief poured down my cheeks. The image of the brothers, dead on the floor, evaporated, and my mind and breathing quieted. I dried myself quickly and slid into the bed next to Victorio, drifting easily to sleep.

I awoke as the sun was setting, to see Victorio sitting on the couch eating from the tray that Robert had set on the coffee table. Wrapping a blanket around myself, I joined him.

He fed me little bites of some delicious cracker-type thing that I couldn’t identify, except for the rosemary and garlic in them. Kissing me gently with his still bruised lips, Victorio then went to take his own bath. I crawled back into bed and sank into a dreamless oblivion.

The next day, we found Robert in the common room, which was like a giant living room. He showed us where the dining hall was located so we could return our tray and dishes and get breakfast. Then he filled us in on the activities of our traveling companions.

“Frank and Ching Shih are planning with Mystery and the others. Tochuku has been in thick with the other techies since you first came. Hardly seen him at all. Would you like me to show you around?” Robert gestured broadly, apparently indicating the entire complex.

I certainly had been intrigued. I wondered what was in all the strange rooms. How did they live in such a small area and still support so many people? They had to have at least 200 citizens in their little neighborhood.

We descended the steps from the housing block down to the maze-like building where nearly everything the Makers used was either grown or constructed.

“What was that room where things were growing?” I asked.

“Ah… the greenhouse! Yes, that’s actually my favorite place,” said Robert, as he led us to the room where I had spotted greenery when we first arrived.

Large double doors opened into the multi-storied central building that we had seen as we made our way into town. It wasn’t so much a building as one humongous room, holding more plants than I could ever have imagined in an area that size, square-footage wise anyway. Cubic feet were another matter.

Not only were there long, densely packed rows of wooden planters on the floor brimming with a huge variety of grasses, but small white round containers of plants, strung together with thin white plastic strips that rose up in columns all the way to the ceiling several stories above us.

The entire volume of the room, dozens of yards long, wide and vertically, held plants, some native ones that I recognized, and many others I didn’t.

A number of people moved amongst the planters, on the floor and at all levels above, picking what was ready to eat, trimming away dead leaves and placing young plants into empty containers. One man was singing a cheerful song about birds and bees, and a few of the others joined in for the chorus when it came around.

“We grow using hydroponics mostly, though the ones on the floor and outside are grown in soil. You probably couldn’t see from where you came in the building, but all around the perimeter of the residential area and the east side of this complex we have a whole orchard with fruit and nut trees. They dug up the cement sidewalks all around to plant the trees,” explained Robert.

At a glance, there seemed to be an unimaginable variety of plants there. In one column rose marjoram plants, the next cilantro and the next thyme. Beyond that were pinto bean plants that wound themselves around the plastic strips, climbing towards the ceiling.

On the broad wooden planters below these, placed on the floor, grew amaranth, brilliant maroon heads swaying in the gentle breeze generated by the mist and air that moved through the whole room. Devon would swoon if she could see this.

Between the rows sat tall extendable ladders so that all the plants could be accessed for planting and harvesting. Horizontal scaffolding had been built every 12 feet up or so, providing another perch for tending the plants. This giant garden spread out and upwards.

“Here’s our algae farm,” Robert pointed to a series of enclosed tubes, like cylindrical aquariums that also rose upwards.

“Algae?” Victorio asked. “What do you want with algae?”

“People all over the world have used it for food. Very high protein and full of minerals and vitamins. And they hope to use it for fuel too.”

“Sounds gross!” I said.

Robert laughed, “It’s actually okay once you get used to it. They dry it in thin crunchy slabs, and flavor it with herbs and salt. You can powder it and drink it in water too.”

“And down this way,” Robert continued, leading us down one long row of greenery and around a corner, “are our aquaponics tanks.”

I stared in gaping wonder at giant metal open-air tanks in which flitted and swirled a huge population of fish. Tilapia. A sturdy latticework of plastic strips was suspended across the surface of the water, and on top of those sat long, narrow planters, each with lettuce, spinach, kale or other leafy green vegetables growing in them.

The roots of these plants grew out of the bottom of their planters and straight into the fish-tank water.

“The plants use the nutrients provided by the fish poop, which also helps to keep the tanks clean,” explained Robert. “The Mayans, Aztecs, and Chinese did this, ages ago.”

“Is this your only source of meat then?” asked Victorio. “Yeah, pretty much,” replied Robert. “We grow plenty of legumes and nuts, so we really don’t need meat. Some people here don’t even eat the fish, but a lot of us like it.”

This is an ongoing series from a forthcoming fiction novel by Laura Ramnarace.
Tune in weekly for the next chapter in ‘Sung Home’.

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Laura Ramnarace, M.A. was driven to earn a master’s degree in Conflict Resolution while on her quest to find out why we can’t just all get along. She has published a book on inter-personal conflict, ‘Getting Along: The Wild, Wacky World of Human Relationship’, published a newspaper column also titled ‘Getting Along’, and submits regularly to Rebelle Society. Since 1999, she has provided training to a wide variety of groups on improving personal, working and inter-group relationships. ‘Sung Home‘ is a work of eco-fiction set in southwestern New Mexico.

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