Fruits of Labor

by Tenshi

"Chicken," Jesiah said, scrolling through the list on his datapad. "Carrots for Billy, cereal, soymilk. Thermal connectors, tile grout."

"Peaches!" Hyuga exclaimed. It was an involuntary addition to the shopping list, as they passed by a stand of surface-fruit in the grocery, and a scent like paradise assailed the cadet's nostrils.

"Sure," Jesiah said, scribbling a note with his stylus. "Get some if you want them."

Hyuga gave his commander and landlord a startled look, as if Jessie had just suggested that he pop out and hotwire the most expensive hover he could find. "What?"

"Now why does she do this to me," Jessie muttered, picking up two nearly identical boxes of rigatoni noodles. "Did we get the green one last time? Or does she hate the green one? I know we talked about the green one. Maybe I should just get the blue box...?"

"Jesiah," Hyuga said, trying to instill some reason into the young officer's brain, even though Hyuga's attention was fatally snared by the precious, fuzzy little globes of fruit. "Do you have any idea how much these things cost?"

"Well don't get a bushel," Jessie said, putting both a green and a blue box in the cart. "They look good, don't they? We've been getting a lot of nice things up from Ignas. Godsfeld down in customs was telling me--"

"I can't afford these," Hyuga faltered, stepping away from the display as though tearing out of a magnetic field. "It's too much, and they aren't on the list, so--"

"Hey," Jessie said, catching Hyuga by the sleeve of his uniform and hauling him back over to the display. "I never can tell how to pick the ripe ones, can you? Is squishy good or bad?"

"I wouldn't know," Hyuga said, tightly. "And I said--"

"And I said," Jessie repeated, looking at his subordinate for the first time, "to get some peaches, already. You think I want to stand around in the produce section all day? Cantaloupes don't exactly do it for me, you know. Here." He yanked a plastic bag off the roll and put it into Hyuga's hands, then absently filled it up with a random number of peaches. He didn't even count them, or weigh them in his hands, or pay them any more mind than if they were B-circuits, or poker chips. "I provide the board as well as the room for my sponsored students, remember?"

"But--" Hyuga said, looking at the wealth he held.

"So you like peaches!" Jessie interrupted, throwing his hands in the air. "It's not against the law. They don't have them all the time, so--"

"I had one, once." Hyuga said quietly, his hands tightening on the plastic bag. "For my birthday. I don't know where my mother stole it from. We weren't supposed to have things like that, in the hives."

"For your--" Jessie began, and then stopped, swearing under his breath. "I'm sorry, Hyuga," he said, all the bluster gone from his voice. "You're so together, sometimes I forget."

"Sometimes I could, too," Hyuga said, carefully placing the peaches in the cart. "but I don't let myself. Things have more value, that way."

"Yeah," Jessie said, looking at the peaches, and Hyuga's careful hands. "I guess I should remember that."

Dirt was still a marvel. Its color, endlessly variable texture, the tiny wriggling earthworms and the sheen on the cleavage left by a sharpened spade. The life it gave, without even thinking about it, as only a delighted afterthought.

Citan Uzuki looked up at his daughter's serious face, and thought perhaps he could at least commiserate with that last thought. "All right," he said, mopping back his hair. "You can put it in now. Are you sure?"

Midori nodded slowly, lowering the half-eaten peach into the hole her father had made in the ground. She had been quite happy with the treat until encountering the pit, and on learning what it was for, refused to eat another bite. It was a thing for planting, and with a child's logic, she would rather have many peaches later than one right away.

And why shouldn't she, he thought, the man who had once been Hyuga Ricdeau of Solaris, looking up at the surface world above him, stars swinging under his feet. There were plenty of peaches here. Tim had just brought up a bushel as payment for his father's arthritis tincture. From the kitchen was the sound of Yui humming as she rolled out a pie crust. He was living in what could only be described as a paradise, a happy pastoral lie.

Midori pushed the crumbled earth back into the hole, with no doubt that she would be there when the tree sprouted, and blossomed, and bore fruit. Citan put down his spade and knelt to help, his fingers tangling with his daughter's as they both buried a dream for the future.

He could not help but wonder what would come of it.


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