This Terrible Minds Flash Fiction Challenge made me squeee with glee. The randomly selected setting was a Martian greenhouse, and I’m obsessed with Mars colonization. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury is my pilgrimage read, a book I must re-read at least once a year. I believe humans will set foot on Martian soil in my lifetime, and I hope the Lord grants me a long life. We’ll most likely see the Virgin logo planted on Mars before the stars and stripes, but I can live with that. Americans aren’t interested in doing the impossible anymore, especially with all them gays trying to hitch up n’ stuff. We’re sons and daughters of immigrants and pioneers. Venturing into the unknown is in our Yankee blood like high cholesterol.
I’ve written several stories set on Mars, and I will sign a notarized confession stating its’ because I want to write the next Martian Chronicles. They don’t involve plant-zombies, but in this story, we have met the Triffids, and the Triffids are us.
Subgenre: Zombie Apocalypse
Setting: A Martian greenhouse
Element: A Dream
The spines, the teeth and the nails of thousands of weedies scraped against the greenhouse’s Plexiglas walls. Yet In the peaceful confines of Laura’s garden, the mix of floral scents made her barely aware she was the last human alive.
She noticed a weed bud sprouting around the tarragon and basil row. She knelt down, dug two fingers around its base and pulled it loose. “How do these things get here?” she asked, to no one. She tossed the weed into a nearby bin and walked down the herb garden’s path. Ahead the flowers grew.
The flower plots were a sampling of Earth’s last land species, tended and crafted my humans, fragile as their vanity. Since her staff had ran or succumbed to the weedies, she was the sole tender of the greenhouse. Gardening was precise art and badgering her staff to do it her was always straining. The workload was burdensome, but at least she could do it her way without dithering fools cutting stems too short or overwatering plots.
In the corner of her eye, she could see the mass of weedies follow her like paparazzi, hurling themselves at the transparent walls. She noticed a dead leaf clinging to a cornflower stem. How have I missed this one? At least there dead leaves clung like scabs to the stem. She took out her shears, snipped them free and dropped them into a canvas bag tied to her waist. She thrust her finger into the soil, measured its dampness and texture. “The fertilizer mix is all wrong.”
She continued her inspection of the flower rows, with her paparazzi following her. The path curved toward the right, close to the greenhouse walls. As she inspected the daffodils, a sight shocked her. As her old assistant, Davis, pressed his rotting face against the pane, elongated nails and chitinous spines tearing though his blue coveralls, a daffodil petal was fringed with brown. She cupped the flower in her hand, feeling the petals’ dry texture.
“It’s dying.” Another missed detail. She cursed herself. She could cut it down to the bulb; nurture it back to health with right compost/manure mix. She ran over to the compost bins, the weedie herd following her, and she threw open the lid of the largest one. Damp emptiness yawned back at her. She checked the others and they were also empty.
The compost bins were tied to the food and waste processors, and with her staff thinned down to one, they had processed nothing. Without organic compost, the soil would lose nutrients and the garden would brown, dry out and die. She crouched on the ground and few sobs hacked from her. The last pure thing crafted by humanity was housed around her, and it had little hope, just like homo sapiens.
Earth geneticists thought merging the human genome with plants would solve the food crisis. Homo Photosynthesis. If humans could photosynthesize food, all they would need is sunlight and water. The first generation survived, turning a shade of green and thrived. Six inch spines sprouted from their bodies, perhaps an evolutionary response to protect themselves, or to extract moisture from the air.
A new virus appeared, incubated in the plant-human hybrids and spread. Homo Photosynthesis turned predatory and their spines served a new function, a means to suck blood and nutrients from the remaining pure humans. The Martian Government suspended travel to and from Earth, and for a few years this prevented the weedies from spreading. A year before, a ship of Earth survivors broke past the blockade, the weedie virus a stowaway.
Everything in my garden, she thought, the only true act of beauty humanity has ever done. They have to live, even for a while. Even as something else.
She rose and crossed the greenhouse to the atmospheric control room. Her greenhouse project was funded by the Martian government to modify Earth plant strains to thrive on terraformed Mars. Instead of genemods, she opted for an organic approach and cross bred samples that could acclimate to the soil. The government sent her notices that if she didn’t produce fast results, her funding would be cut. She shredded the notices and mixed it with the compost.
Her children weren’t quite ready, but few children are truly ready for the outside world. She took a deep breath, and fully engaged the Martian atmosphere program.
She left the control room, her paparazzi pressed against the glass. Within a week, once the atmosphere matches the barometric pressure of the outside, the greenhouse will open its vents, allowing the seeds to travel on the Planetia winds.
And so to bed. She retrieved a couple of things from the kitchen and the medical bay, and dragged a chair to a clearing in the middle of the greenhouse. She settled into the chair and uncorked the cold bottle of white wine made by a Marenis vineyard. She let cool relief drain down her throat and then took the syringe from her pocket. Her paparazzi, no longer thrashing against the panes, looked at her with dull, pupiless eyes.
She was falling asleep, a dream washing into her consciousness. Endless archers of cornflowers swayed in a field under a dun-red sky. Roses burst from the settlement’s ruins. Daffodils bright yellow against rouge soil. Peaceful, asking little of the Martian soil.