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Red Moss

by Ren 3 months ago in science fiction
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A hopeful farmer on an alien world manages a most unusual crop to ensure a brighter future for herself.

Photo by Fredrik Solli Wande

The wave of red light gleaming through her window was the only alarm clock she would ever need. As the alien sun, barely crossing the horizon, beamed down on several acres of her red moss, it seemed to transform the valley into a gleaming stained-glass window, red as the hottest embers. Thick, and looking like a gigantic rug, her moss fields stretched out to meet the horizon, a blanket of red over an indifferent plain. She stretched as she stumbled out of bed, staring out at decades of work nearly ready to pay off. This crop had been particularly troublesome, and she had had some close calls that almost destroyed everything she had worked for, but the day had finally come for someone to appraise all of her delicious plants.

Walking to the kitchen, she poured some dark liquid into a mug and sipped quietly while staring into a screen showing all kinds of statistics about her farm. Liquid content, soil acidity, weather predictions for the week, faunal migrations, fertilizer status, battery charge of the farm hands, etc. It wasn’t an easy job, growing red moss, but it was one that paid dividends large enough to keep a dynasty alive for centuries.

The moss was used in a very specific type of alcoholic beverage, very similar to wine, enjoyed by the most elite members of society. Given that it takes over a decade for the moss to reach full maturity, and a few years after that for the drink to actually be ready for consumption, the price reaches astronomical values only accessible by those who are wealthy enough to own their own private moons. One square foot of red moss would be enough to make half a dozen bottles, if made correctly, and she had over 10 acres of the stuff.

What made the deal that much sweeter was the fact that she was the only person within this entire quadrant of space that even attempted to farm the stuff, meaning she could set whatever price she wanted. But it wasn’t necessarily money that she was after, she did well enough with her other crops, what she really wanted was land. She struck up a deal with a rather rotund businessman who promised that, if she provided an entire untouched crop of red moss to him, farmed on a new and uninhabited planet, he would give the planet to her.

She hardly even had to think about it before she was shaking the man’s hand. Her family had been farming the moss for generations before her, so she was confident she could make it work on any planet with any environment. The planet to which she was brought was pretty desolate. It complied with basic terraforming standards, but only to their bare minimums. Oxygen and nitrogen prevalence were both pretty low, and sunlight was only half what it was on her home-world, but she figured she could make it work. After all, the moss would end up creating more than enough oxygen, and barely required any sunlight in the first place.

Unfortunately, she learned, the vast faunal migrations were more than a little problematic. Satisfying the minimum level for biodiversity (the corporate bigwigs were all about minimums), the planet had somewhere in the area of 10,000 different species of animals, each with relatively small populations. The problem came with the fact that almost every species was migratory, and the farmer had set up her farm directly along the equator of the planet.

With a rotation that was faster than that of her home-world’s, the planet’s seasons shifted every few months from summer to winter, meaning that migrations were more common than not. Every day she woke up, she would be sure to check the cameras, the weather, and her surveillance drones to see what new kind of animal would be migrating through her crops today. Thankfully, she came prepared, setting up a perimeter around her crops in the form of a large force field which she could turn on and off from the comfort of her home.

Obviously, this method wasn’t foolproof, and every few days her and her robotic coworkers would have to walk around the farm collecting the bloated and bloodied bodies of every poor creature who had come in contact with the moss. The moss would writhe and hiss, exuding sounds of its hunger and its desire to trap and transform the unfortunate fauna. She would simply smack the vines protruding from the mossy growth and make a note of how much of the animal the moss tried to consume. She had to be very careful about how much the moss was fed; overfeeding would cause it to lose its beautiful red shine, but not feeding it enough would cause it to become brittle and die.

Constantly, she would check her handheld device, swiping through screens to check on the statuses of different quadrants of her farm, sending different bots to go do different things. Everything from checking irrigation pumps, to monitoring sunlight exposure, to removing harmful invasive flora, to ensuring proper nutrition acquisition. All of this and more she was responsible for handling by herself, with only her bots to help her. It was a solitary life, but a necessary sacrifice to ensure her future.

With a planet of this size, she could finally ask the interplanetary officials in this sector to grant her the title of president, allowing her to preside over an entire planetary body. Over the course of her growing this moss crop, her vision of creating a perfect, utopian, self-sufficient society had grown and expanded, and she had spent much of her free time drafting documents, laying out plans, and designing cities for her new world. She was tired of every story in the news being about how a new rich asshole had bought a new planet and declared himself the ruler, subjugating the people into living in horrid conditions. As soon as the red moss was gone, she would make a different place, a better place.

The individual from the agricultural organization came in the late afternoon to examine her crop. Coming down in an incredibly stylish pod, likely costing several hundred thousand credits, the man emerged wearing a bright white robe, his fingers gleaming with embedded gemstones. As she shook his hand, she saw him wince slightly, as if he were afraid of what dirt and debris could be hiding on her person. The fear was not unfounded, everyone in the galaxy was well aware of how viciously lethal this stuff could be.

The farmer welcomed the man into her home, offering him a glass of water or milk, which he declined – she proceeded to go over her analytics: how many pounds of moss, how long the collection would take, when it could be shipped off-world, the quality, the specifications…you get the gist. He seemed very impressed, and she carefully suited him up in protective gear and led him through a tour of her crop. Every so often, as she explained this crop’s story, he would make a small note on his notepad, nodding gently and occasionally firing off a small chuckle.

As she concluded the tour he said, “Well, Ms. Jones, I think everything appears to be in order, if you’ll just sign here, I believe we’ll be able to send a team out for collection by the end of the week.” He extended a tablet towards her with the contract she had read through hundreds of times. Just for safety, though, she read through it briefly again before signing it and handing it back to the man.

“So, that’s it then. I keep the moss alive for another few days and then you folks take it away and then…the planet is mine?” She said, almost unable to believe the words herself.

“That appears to be the terms of the contract, yes. The planet along with a sum of 400 billion credits. It’s none of my business…but if you ask me, ma’am, it seems like their short selling you a bit.”

“Oh hush, they’re giving me just what I need to start a world here. Plus, with a little bit more biodiversity and some keen farming tips from yours truly, this planet will be the envy of the galaxy in no time!” She smiled, unable to contain her excitement. Finally, her waiting would be over. Finally, her plans would stop being vague abstractions. Finally, she would have what she always wanted. Freedom.

“Well, if it works for you, it works for me. I’ll see you in a few days, ma’am, thank you for your hospitality.” He shook her hand again before turning and leaving. As she heard his ship taking off in the distance, she leapt and danced around her room in a fit of pure unadulterated joy.

The next few days, she felt like she was living on a cloud. She still made her usual rounds and kept up with the maintenance of her crop, but she could finally see the end of over a decade of near total solitude. There was a small twinge of bittersweet sadness as she watched the collectors gather up large swathes of her moss with their machines, making sure to keep their distance. Part of her felt like she was losing a dear friend or family member, but she was too concerned with her future to really care about that. As the last of her moss was lifted up into a cargo shuttle and carried away, she received the notification on her device. The planet was hers.

Obviously, it would be months before any other humans could set foot on the surface, given that the collection process had no doubt left some stray fragments that would need to be removed and the area thoroughly cleaned, but that gave her time to get to work. Instead of tending the farm, the robots were now responsible for building her colony.

Several years later, as her colony was beginning to thrive and small hamlets were appearing all throughout the various ecosystems, she received a package. A bright, white case filled with a dozen bottles of pure, top of the line, red moss wine. She smiled, and promptly placed all of the bottles deep into her private cellar, never to be seen again, and certainly never to be drank. I guess once you’ve seen the red moss completely consume an animal the size of a caribou…it makes you a little wary about putting it in your body.

science fiction

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