Letters Home, Chapter 4: The Remembering Gardens
taken by Suviko
Prompt posted Nov 3 2006
|Story Type: Original|
Content Cautions: None, unless you've got a phobia about history.
Critique: Very welcome, no kid gloves needed. Commentary in general very welcome, since hashing stuff out with folks is one of the best ways to get my creative juices flowing to write *more*.
Summary: Leigh moves from Earth to a station orbiting Mars for business reasons, but gradually becomes more and more attached to the place, for reasons her family can't fathom. I still have no plot. Here, have some backstory instead. It has blood and thunder, honest!
Previous Chapters: The Grand Tour, Futures and Pasts, Great Expectations. Wordcount is now 4,322(of at least 50,000).
Two weeks into her stint on Lilivaran Station, Leigh comes up for air enough past her work training and her station orientation and safety classes and unpacking and trying desperately not to get lost every time she steps foot out her front door to consider a quiet evening. Since she won't be here too long, she's taking the view that this is a Broadening Experience, like when young ladies of leisure used to spend a year in Europe and be presented about at all the best resorts. What's the point of going to far-off exotic places if you don't immerse yourself in the local flavor?
With that in mind, she leafs through the skinny sightseeing pamphlet that is about all the Lilivaran Tourist and Visitors Bureau rises to (with points of interest marked on the map with little bright-colored dots). Her guts, alas, don't feel up to a Dining Sensation quite yet, so she scans the dark-purple dots instead -- Historical Interest. Huh, 'Memorial to the Fallen of the Uprising' sounds promising. Revolutions are always exciting, at least from a safe historical distance. She loads the Ares University Press basic 'History of Mars and its Stations, 2008-Present' textbook into her pad, slips it and a sandwich into her bag, and sets out to thread the corridors and climbways up to Kansas. Not that this part of the inner farming level looks much like Kansas; the serious crops are mostly towards the center of the cylinder's length. Here at the Outward end, it's pretty much parks and gardens and other such scenic bits. Tweenspace is even swathed in mottled blue tarping, high overhead; if you don't look at it too closely you can even fool yourself that you're under Earth's sky. Perfect for short-timers uncomfortable with this whole 'space station' idea looking to unwind and relax quietly (the ones who want to unwind and relax noisily go off to the Inward end of Kansas, where there are all kinds of recreations that need more headspace than the main decks can provide).
In a sign of improvement, she only gets lost twice, and then not very badly; the arbor-draped corridors wind and twist in on themselves to allow the maximum possible impression of privacy in a necessarily cramped area. Finally, though, she finds an archway whose plaque-on-a-stick discreetly labels it 'The Remembering Gardens'. The pamphlet isn't very specific, except that to say that since many people would find the use of recycled human remains to fertilize crops distasteful, they are always reserved for the use of the Remembering Gardens instead, so that the deceased can create beauty for all to share.
The garden is clearly laid out for strolling and sitting, with carefully-crafted focal points and star specimens, but Leigh doesn't find anything that rivets her attention until she sees the statue. It's of a woman, leaning an elbow on a knee, looking somewhere between tired and asleep, in a kind of dreamy Neoclassical way. The stone is a middling grey, not the dazzling white one would expect, and it's wreathed in vines. Back home, that kind of overgrowth would be a sign of neglect, but somehow she can't believe that here, in this almost painfully-manicured garden, the vines could be unintentional.
She settles herself on a blobby-looking but surprisingly comfortable bench, pulls one foot up under her, and studies the sculpture before her for a long moment before turning on her pad and scrolling to the relevant bookmark. Here we are; Junia Taylor. The bare facts read like almost any other early stationworker's dossier: born on Earth (in her case, just outside Atlanta) to a poor family, took an indenture contract with the corp to ship money home. She was an enviro-systems botanist, working in the air plant, up to her hips in algae through all her long shifts. A glance between screen and statue shows the sculptor either had never met the woman or was idealizing things a bit. Well, a lot, considering it didn't seem likely Mz Taylor would ever have been caught dead in eight yards of samite, or whatever that drapey stuff was meant to be. She seemed more a coveralls-and-tools kind of person, though it's not like the corp let its indents have much in the way of personal 'flair,' as they called it on her high school job back home.
Then, during the Commotions back on Earth in the late 'Teens, the corps (here as elsewhere in the system) got ragged. Resources quit flowing from home, and ships were needed elsewhere. Nowhere was quite abandoned ... exactly. But it certainly got tight all around. And on station after station, colony after colony, the indents Had It Up To Here. Ag Station 5 wasn't the first blow in the Uprising (as the Martians called it now; back home they called it the Martian Revolt), but the news of the others hadn't yet reached them here when the mood in the corridors started turning ugly.
First it was a corp security man with a spanner buried in his skull, and nobody saw anything. Then a few more out airlocks, some not found for days afterwards. They got nervous, not unreasonably, and responded with an iron fist. Workers were forcibly chipped for constant tracing, and locked in their bunkrooms every moment they weren't onshift. Tensions, understandably, did not lessen because of this, and the whole indent population became a pressure-cooker ready to blow through the first pinhole it could find.
It found Junia, or, more precisely, her killer. At shiftchange, she was neck-deep in slime at Filter 18, and insisted on staying to finish the job. The tank overseer objected, and Mz Taylor gave him a piece of her mind, referencing his forebears and what happens when you leave a life-support task half-done in a closed environment. However, since the overseer (whom history records as Wilk Blandford) was far from an engineer, he considered himself to Have His Orders, and besides, she was probably just trying to stay out past her shift's curfew to get up to mischief anyway, so he attempted to remove her physically. Mz Taylor, being in the best of times rather obsessive about her work, and in these tense weeks on edge anyhow, hauled off and punched him. He shot her.
Four days later, there wasn't a single corp worker alive on-station.
Leigh pauses, looking up again at the block of granite before her, shipped at great expense (many years later) from Georgia itself, and carved by local artisans. "In Memory of Junia Lavergne Taylor," it reads, and bears the date of her death. Below, in smaller letters, it says "who died for trying to do her job and do it right." It's not like the war memorials she's used to from back home. It's not even like a tombstone, really (not that stationers would do anything so wasteful as box up a human body and keep it from rotting, even if they had earth to bury in). It's a testament, and not just to Junia.
The Remembering Gardens are for everyone, nourished by the recycled nutrients of the station's inhabitants, and tended with loving care. On a relative's deathday, all the family members on-station troop in to help out the one permanent caretaker, to prune, fertilize, rake, or whatever is needed. It's a weirdly impersonal way to run a cemetery, by Earth standards, but somehow it all fits in with Junia's memorial. Stationers don't fetishize their dead, even their valiant fallen. All the kids know the important stories, but there's no physical object to obsess about or focus crippling grief upon. There's just a garden, and a statue covered in ivy, and the reality of needing to get your job done, and to do it *right*.
It was weeks and months before the paroxym of violent retribution bubbled down into a melange that could be shaped into a working polity, and the stories of those who got people talking about the future instead of yelling about the past were just as important as Junia's, to the Lilliputians. Somehow, though, Junia got the statue. It probably means something, but damned if Leigh can tell what.
Leigh's teachers raised her to have a critical mind, and to realize that historical accounts are always written by the winners, but it still feels like she's looking into some kind of alternate universe, reading this textbook. Terran texts call it the Outsystem Revolts, for one thing, and there's a lot more mention of the breaking economic strain the corps were under back home. For another, she half-wonders if some of the stories of deprivation in the outstations is exaggerated for propaganda purposes, because she's *read* the standard indent contracts, and they're very specific about the rights of the worker to food, housing, and entertainment options. With the distances involved, it's not like Earth had any chance in hell of reassuming control of the outworlds once they broke loose, and it's turned out decently well in the long run.