8. Bisulca

008bisulca

 

One of the goats was missing.

Cornelia pushed her hat up on her head, wiping the sweat from her brow. The artificial sun was still beating down fairly strong considering the forecast had called for rain. Any minute now, Sunn’s weather program would turn down the sunlight and engage the sprinklers high above, making her hurry inside before she got soaked. It would be helpful to know exactly when that was supposed to happen so she didn’t wander too far from shelter, but that was the downside of a ship that operated on entropy- it relied on a strong dose of randomness. The Ark had wet seasons and dry seasons. It had surges in insect populations followed by unexpected upticks in crop output. And it had rain. Real rain, the kind with no exact start or finish. The moment it all became too predictable, too programmed, the whole system fell apart.

Still, a heads-up would be nice.

Then there was the missing goat to worry about. One of them had escaped from its pen, and she needed to find it before the rain started. She already knew exactly which one it was. Clara, the runt of the herd, a female with a distinctive patch of white fur on the top of her head. Walking past the cornfield, where the green ears were so plump the yellow kernels inside were bursting out, Cornelia waved to Aaron. Her younger co-worker was tending to a patch of broken ears on the east side of the field. She’d first known him as a moody apprentice who showed little interest in farming, but somehow in the time since their Cryo cycles overlapped he’d developed into a handsome young man with strong arms, a healthy tan, and pride in his Vocation. It was amazing what a little time could do for a person.

“The crop’s looking good,” she noted. Aaron threw a half-eaten ear into his cart and pushed his sleeves up.

“Too good. Something got in here and had a feast.”

She stopped walking. “It might be one of mine. Have you seen a goat around here by any chance?”

“Can’t say that I have. But if I do, me and that goat are having words.”

Cornelia chuckled and moved on, though a bit more worried than before. The goats had been temperamental the last week. They’d been staying in their pens instead of roaming the grounds, their usual days spent grazing on patches of grass and brush. But today they were much worse. They’d spent the morning pacing and kicking at the walls of their pens, bleating incessantly. Two of the males had gotten into a fight, leaving the smaller of the two with a cracked horn.

Whatever it was that was making them act this way, it had them spooked worse than Cornelia had ever seen.

She headed to the barn to see if Clara had wandered back in her absence, but a grating mechanical sound came to her ears as she neared the pens, like someone dragging a crowbar across a steel wall. Inside the barn she found the source of the noise.

Apparently the goats weren’t the only ones on the farm acting up, the milk processor had decided join in on the fun. On any given day, the blue machine pasteurized and packaged between fifty and eighty gallons of goat’s milk, boiling, sanitizing and dividing it into individual containers before whisking it up the freight system to the food banks on Five and Six, as well as the Cafeteria on Two. The processor had been working at full capacity, quiet as a kitten’s purr, but the sound coming from it now was awful. The last thing the goats needed was another reason to be nervous. Cornelia shut the machine down, reminding herself to put in a service call for a Mechanic to come see what was wrong with it. If she had any luck at all, the defective unit was what was bothering the herd in the first place.

With the processor silenced, another sound became obvious to Cornelia. An odd shuffling and fumbling was coming from behind the feed distributor. It wasn’t a machine sound at all but something living, organic. She approached slowly, choosing her steps carefully, not knowing what she would find on the other side of the device.

Clara. The animal was down on her haunches, trying to shove herself further underneath the distributor.

“Clara,” Cornelia called out softly. She wanted to kick herself for not checking the barn properly before going off on her pointless search. “Clara, what is it, girl?” She tried to inch closer, not wanting to further frighten Clara or the others, but the goat began to panic, scrambling to her hooves and backing up against the barn wall as she tried to find a way out.

“Whoa, whoa.” Cornelia showed her open palms to the frightened creature. “It’s alright, Clara. It’s alright. I won’t hurt you.” But the goat’s eyes were wide in her long skull, her bleating rising up to a cry. Soon the others began to bleat and cry as well. Cornelia sat on the floor, making herself as small as possible to remove herself as a threat in the goat’s eyes. It took five minutes of inching quietly forward before she was able to place a calming hand on the scared animal, and ten more before she could soothe the goat sufficiently enough to return her to her pen. When the safety gate was closed and bolted, with all the goats more or less calm, Cornelia turned away from the pen with a well-deserved sigh- only to find a man standing just outside the barn, watching her through the open door.

She recognized him even faster than she had Clara, though she had far less patience for him than she’d had with the goat. Cornelia took a deep breath, leaving the barn behind with her heart pounding in her chest.

“I asked you not to come here,” she said, noticing the artificial sun had dimmed. Cornelia kept her distance from him. She’d learned to do that when it came to Zane- especially when he had that look in his eye.

“You’re still my wife,” he said with an unnerving coolness. She swallowed, or tried to at least. Her throat was suddenly so dry.

“Not for much longer. I filed the divorce requisition two days ago.” She took a long pause, waiting to see how he would take the news. “I also asked for our Cryo cycles to be separated,” she added.

Zane glanced around the farm, then back at her. He shook his head and smiled as if she’d told a joke. “Cornelia, Cornelia. What do you have against me? What have I ever done other than try to save you? Save us?”

He always did this. Always made himself the hero or the victim, never the villain. “The only one here who needs saving is you, Zane. You’re not well.”

“I’ve never been better.”

She laughed, exhausted. “No. No, this holy mission of yours has become an obsession.”

“It’s my life’s work, and I won’t apologize for it. I’m making a better place for all of us- including our son.”

Cornelia’s ears grew hot. “Our son? Our son is-” She stopped herself, starting again quieter. “Our son left us a long time ago.”

“And don’t you want to be on the right path when he comes back? Don’t you want to be ready, so we can all go to Eden together? Or would you rather live blind, led astray by Ashby and all her little heretic followers?”

“Don’t lie to yourself. This has never been about anyone but you.”

Zane looked at her as if he could see right into her veins. “They’ve gotten to you, Cornelia. They’ve really gotten to you. But I know you’re not gone. I haven’t given up on you, just like I know you haven’t given up on our boy. Our Thomas.”

She was on the verge of tears. He brought up Thomas as if it were nothing at all, as if she hadn’t spent every day since the accident trying to move past it. For all the work, all the time spent talking to Doctor Dubicki and the other Psych Doctors, begging them to synthesize a drug that would numb her, make her forget the pain and feel at peace, she was tired in her bones about it, and whenever she thought she’d made some progress, that she’d traveled even an inch past that day, the thought of Thomas, the mention of his name, brought all of it crashing back down.

“Please, Zane, I-” She cut herself short. Imani had made her way over from the chicken coops, staring at them with a concerned expression on her impossibly dark and beautiful face. Imani knew her troubles with Zane. She’d heard all the horror stories, or at least most of them. On the one hand Cornelia was grateful for an arm to lean on, especially one so steady. On the other it deeply embarrassed her. Imani was such a strong person, maybe the strongest she knew, and having her see Cornelia’s dirty laundry this way made her feel like a child.

“Is everything alright,” Imani asked, coming around to Cornelia’s side.

“She’s fine.” Zane was still answering for her. Imani shot him a look that could melt the metal beneath the dirt beneath their feet.

“I was asking her.” Imani looked to Cornelia for her answer.

“I’m fine,” Cornelia echoed, and Imani’s scowl softened.

“You’re a good friend, Imani.” Zane smiled at her in his usual, condescending manner. “Thank you for looking after Cornelia while I’m away.”

Imani put one fist on her hip. “One of us has to, right?”

His smile disappeared at her words. “What I do is much greater than look after her physical body. I’m doing everything in my power to save her soul, not to mention you and everyone else on this ship.”

“Whatever you say.” Imani turned to Cornelia. “Let me know if you need me to call the Peace Officers.” She glanced back at Zane and added, “Again.”

Cornelia nodded. “Thank you. I’m okay, really.”

“Okay. I’ll be close by.” She afforded Zane one, final glance. “Looking into getting locks put on our doors.” With that she headed back toward the chicken coops, though she didn’t go inside, opting to work on a few things within sight. Cornelia turned her attention back to the man who would soon be her ex-husband.

“Please don’t do this, Zane. Don’t make me watch you fall apart all over again.”

“Everything falls apart, Cornelia. But if you have faith, if you believe, it comes back together stronger than before.”

“Not the dead.”

He smiled. “Especially the dead. That’s the power of the Reclamation, don’t you see?” Over his shoulder she saw two men approaching from the farm entrance. She recognized them as a few of the men Zane had gotten involved with ever since he’d found religion in his own, frightening way. He called them brothers and sisters, fellow children. Cornelia called them followers. “No, I suppose you don’t see,” he continued, “but you will. Soon you’ll see the true path. And so will the others.”

“What are you talking about?”

The two men stopped a few feet back from Zane. They didn’t wear anything special to identify themselves, and that made them impossible to spot in a crowd. Zane turned to them, engaging in a hushed conversation about something serious. She strained to make out their words as the sky above darkened. “It’s finished,” she heard one of them say, but the rest was too low to hear.

“What are you going to do,” Cornelia asked. Zane glanced over his shoulder at her and smiled proudly.

“Open their eyes,” he said. The three men walked away together, leaving just as the rain started to fall.

“Zane,” she called after him, her voice becoming lost on the increasing downpour. “Zane, what are you going to do?”

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