Never been much good at the clean-up. It’s all shovelling and throwing, time for thinking and getting lost in it. I wanted to be a soldier, before the war. Then the killing started, and all I wanted was a nice plot of land. Land to build a house. I’m not interested in those ship-conversions homes. They’re all too metallic, too sterile for the likes of me. I like muddy boots in the walkway and dusty coats on hangars stained with the grime of a day hard at work. Can’t help the grunt that comes out of me each time I hoist dirt from the hole.
Gravity is stronger here, saps the energy from your bones a lot quicker. The inhabitants of Solation 3 would make quick work of this, but they’re too busy fighting. Sweat soaks the back of my shirt, running down the dip of my back and into the line of my pants. I push away the hair that’s fallen into my eyes, the usual wheat colour now pink with dust. The plot’s almost dug now. The dark red dirt soaks up whatever lands on it; water, blood, sweat, whatever. I thank the gods for it. Don’t know if I’d have the stomach for this job, otherwise. The mask I wear is good for filtering out the smell – so strong it burns, hooking into your nose like a parasite ‘til you lose whatever’s sitting in your belly.
“Pick up the pace!” screams a soldier, waving his gun in the air.
He seems to think it’ll scare me into obedience. I’d shoot him dead but I need him like a man needs a dog. Neither of us will bite the other, cause it’s both our hands that keep the food growin’. There’s no surviving alone on Solation 3. No waste, neither.
“Come on, then! Night’s fallin’! Don’t fancy a night out in the Brush, do you?”
In between bending, scooping and throwing dirt, I snatch glances of the Brush. Big, blue things with thorns like gnarled hands and roots that want to eat you. Stomach grumbling, I wonder if the roots would taste any good to us – give the brush a taste of its own medicine, as it were. Might taste like carrots, or some other vegetable. Truth is, I don’t remember their names. Haven’t had the pleasure of eating earth-grown food for so long. Here, we call ‘em all ‘the reds’, cause of what it takes to grow ‘em. I use my booted foot to cut through the hard dirt, taking the last of it from the rectangle hole.
“Push ‘em in!” calls the soldier again.
And before I‘ve had a chance to climb out, the other men start kicking in the bodies. I stand on an arm, a head, a shoulder trying to get out. I hoist myself up with a grunt, sweat dripping into my eyes, gorge rising. Takes a moment to see clearly again, and when I do, the soldier is holding out a payment transmitter.
“Here, for services rendered.”
I yank my sleeve out from the cuff of my glove and hold my arm out for him to scan.
“May your garden be bountiful.” He scoffs as if he thinks he’s doing me a favour.
I suppose he is, in a way. My garden needs fertilizer, and they need a place to hide their collateral.
Ella Holmes was born in Victoria, Australia and grew up surrounded by artists and creatives. Her passion for writing and storytelling began at an early age, where she penned numerous short stories and articles throughout her schooling. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, drawing, and studying history.