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When Astin makes the delivery,
Afshar is ecstatic over the algae-whiz,
or at least the pieces that come together
to make an algae-whiz under his capable hands.
For hours he climbs over and around and into the thing,
sometimes with no more than his toes showing outside of it.
At the end of the day, the appliance
is burbling merrily away, piping CO2
through the growth medium which is
just barely tinted with algae culture.
They celebrate with tall glasses of Afshar's yogurt, which
has a delightful texture -- a little thinner than a milkshake,
about like cream, and flavored with fruit puree.
Astin hopes that Spalling and V will like it.
By the next morning, the first tank shows
a clear pale green, and Afshar enthuses about how
an algae culture can double itself in twenty-four hours.
He starts the second tank; the algae-whiz has a series
of tanks meant to be maintained simultaneously and
harvested sequentially for a regular supply of food.
Afshar shows off the yeast-beast, now yielding
a respectable contribution to the local diet.
"I was trying for Starmite, you know?" he says,
referring to the sour-salty paste so beloved
of some spacers and so hated by others. "But this
came out a bit different. Tell me what you think."
The stuff looks different, dark brown instead of black,
and when Astin dabs it on a cracker, the flavor
is much mellower. Xe nods, adds a bigger glob
to the next cracker, and says, "It's good."
"We're calling it Chasmite, to distinguish it from
the imported Starmite," Afshar says. "People who
liked Starmite tend to do what you just did,
slather on the Chasmite. Some who didn't like
Starmite will eat just a little of the Chasmite.
So I'm calling this a success."
"I'm happy to hear that," Astin says.
"I hope the algae does as well for you."
The trader collects wishlists from all around
Sargasso Base and its Lagrange Point settlements.
The merchants in the Agora ply xyr with bits of this
and samples of that, eager for the opportunities
that regular trade will offer them.
Operetta is more methodical, providing a list
of medical equipment ranked in order of importance.
"Here's what we need the most," she says. "Drugs I can get.
It's the hardware that's making a big bottleneck."
Astin doesn't understand the analytical columns
on the spreadsheet that explain the lifesaving potential
of each device, but xe can read a top-down list just fine.
"I'll do what I can," xe says, "but some of this stuff
is restricted and all of it is going to be expensive."
"We'll take whatever you can get," Operetta says solemnly,
and Astin is again reminded how much xyr friends
depend on resources they can't produce themselves,
the reasons and complexities often buried deep.
She furnishes xyr with research papers that will be
valuable to scientists back in the Arms.
The trader moves on, passing around the loop
to small stations scattered throughout the Lacuna.
From time to time, messages arrive from V,
hints about what is available or might be desired
back at the Trunnion warehouse, along with
wistful questions about what life is like in
the Lacuna with its widely scattered population.
Astin answers as best xe can, but
trying to describe this culture is like
trying to staple Starmite to a bulkhead.
At Supply Base Bounty 3D3N, Astin is delighted
to discover that Sam the Gardener has moved in.
Less delightful is the fact that it's not going smoothly,
spats and squabbles stirring up the once-placid air.
"Sam is nothing at all like Backup is," Router confides
to Astin. "I don't know what I'm going to do with him.
He's not very organized, and he doesn't take orders well."
"There's a lot of that around here," Astin says.
"Some are like Backup, and need the guidance.
Others won't have it. Some are so obsessed
with detail that they drive everyone else up a wall.
Others seem to follow some internal pattern
that doesn't make sense to anyone else.
The question is, can he do the job?"
"Oh yes, he's an excellent gardener, even
going from theory to practice," Router says.
"He just gets so lost in his work that he
forgets to take care of himself, and
he balks if anyone reminds him."
The big ugly bay outside of Astin's room
has been transformed into a large mess
of pipes and beds and stacking pots that
promises to become beautiful someday.
Already there are sprigs of green and gold
and even red poking up from the hardware.
Astin is startled to find yet another pot
in xyr room, this one made of clear plastic
holding a growth medium of pleasing teal
that looks like some kind of crumbly gel,
with a pine-tree-looking-thing growing in it.
The Gardener is puttering over the pot,
which has a little diagnostic and control strip
extending down one side. "This is rosemary,"
he says. "Don't fool with it -- I take care of it.
I'm testing out herbs as houseplants. You don't
mind that I put one in here, do you? Because
Backup pitched a fit and that was not relaxing."
"I don't mind," Astin says easily. Unexpected resources
were nothing to be sneezed at. Xe even has
a bedspread colored in teal and honey that
would match the plant and its gel.
"Oh, good," the Gardener says with a sigh of relief.
"It's edible, just not yet because it's too young."
The tiny plant is no bigger than Astin's spread hand.
"I'll wait until you say it's ready," xe promises.
"Meanwhile, is there anything else you need
for your hydroponic garden plans?"
The Gardener gabbles at xyr for a solid five minutes
before Astin says, "Slow down and make me a list.
Put the most important things at the top -- whatever
you want most, and anything you need to start with
before you can use something else important."
"I can do that," says the Gardener, and
scurries away into the tangle of pipes and plants.
That night for supper they have cube meat out of a can,
the crackers and Chasmite that Astin brought
from Sargasso Base, and salad.
Astin samples the little red and green leaves,
finding them delicious. Xe turns to the Gardener
and says, "Thank you for raising the plants. This is
a wonderful change from packaged food."
The others chime in belated gratitude.
The Gardener ducks his head and smiles.
The next day, Case and Port help Astin
to select and load surplus military materials
that matches some of the known cache
back in the warehouse on Trunnion.
Before Astin leaves the base, Sam hands over
a list of timers, meters, pumps, rare-earth lightbulbs,
and more seed stock that he wants for his project.
"I'll do my best," the trader promises.
Astin continues around xyr loop,
unloading the last of the planetary goods
and taking on replacement trade stock.
There are notes from Spalling that confirm
his interest in compatible military hardware,
as complete products sell for more than spare parts,
and revealing a possible line on vats for growing meat.
Estelle and Babs have been trapping comets
for water and asteroids for trace elements.
They hand Astin a small box of diamonds
and a bucket of peridots in shades of green.
A few cut gems glitter around the women's throats.
"We made a few nice things for ourselves, and
saved the industrial-grade stuff for people who
are trying to start manufacturing things here,"
says Estelle. "Then we picked out the best stones
that looked promising for the jewelry market,
to see if you could sell them planetside."
"It has potential," Astin says. "I should be able
to get something for these, but how much
depends on the quality -- and I'm no jeweler."
When the trader makes it back to Trunnion,
Spalling pounces on the hardware and
carries it off to attach to whatever
equipment he has in storage.
V hums over the gemstones and says,
"Do you have proof of provenance?"
"Estelle and Babs picked them out of
an asteroid trap," says Astin.
"They didn't exactly come through
a jewel trade consortium."
The teen separates two stones
from their respective piles, one each
of diamond and peridot. "These two,
I am certain of, enough to buy myself.
I know a jeweler who likes to cut
her own stones," V says. "The others
you may try on the open market."
Spalling and Astin exchange looks.
V is dressed in grungy, ill-fitting clothes
that resembled a walking rag bag.
"You have enough funds to buy
gemstones?" Astin asks.
As V sweeps the remaining nodules
back into their containers, one sleeve
rides up. An iridescent holotat flares to life
under the full-spectrum lamp that V is
using to examine the gemstones.
"I have a little something secreted away
from my childhood," V admits. "I simply
have not wished to access it until I had
a specific plan of action. Now ..." V flicks
an elegant hand to indicate the warehouse.
"... I have a base of operations and two partners
in trade. I can venture a few small investments
to see how the potential plays out."
Astin suspects that V's idea of 'a little something'
stashed away may be roughly the size
of a small city's economy.
Figuring out how to deal with this
is a delicate negotiation in its own right,
because V could be a tremendous help
to the Lacuna's survival, but Astin
doesn't want to take advantage of V
or run afoul of the teen's impressive defenses.
V too has unexpected resources, often buried deep.
So they talk about prices and markets.
Trunnion is a border planet, without
a lot of luxuries, which means that finding
buyers for gemstones may prove challenging
but also that people who want them
won't have many opportunities.
They also look over the other offerings
that Astin has tucked into the hold.
"This is pretty," says V, fingering
a small bolt of fabric. "What is it?"
It's the pillweave that somebody made
trying to reuse bits of shed fiber
from the laundry system, a soft tan
sprinkled with vivid bits of other colors that
hadn't broken down in the wash-and-dry cycle.
Nobody else had liked it, so it wound up on Astin's ship
to see if a more distant market might have different tastes.
"That's the rainbow weave," Astin says,
hoping a better name will improve the appeal.
"I used to wear things like this," V says softly,
"neutral colors with a dash of something bright.
My favorite shirt was gray with a blue blaze across it."
One hand traced a line from shoulder to opposite hip.
"Add it to the list of things you want," Astin says,
not wanting to give away that xe will sell it
for whatever xe can get.
When Spalling comes back from dealing with
the military hardware, he leads them to a storeroom
crammed with pallet after pallet of mealpacks.
"There's a factory here that makes these," he says.
"They're cheaper than ever now, with the army gone.
I figured you could take however many will fit
in the hold, each time you swing by here."
"That's a brilliant idea," Astin says, already thinking
about how small the individual mealpacks are
and how they could be bundled with plastiwrap
into packets that would fill the odd spaces between
whatever other cargo xe was shipping.
They spend the next couple of days
scouting the local markets and making trades.
They have some luck, but they also
run up against serious limitations.
"You have a choice to make," V says.
"I ran the numbers for budget and cargo space.
You can get either the matched set of meat vats or
the automed. They would not fit in your hold together,
and you cannot afford both of them in any case."
Astin sighs. Those had been the two highest-ranking
requests from his pool of customers. Bringing back
only one would annoy a lot of people -- and it
would have to be xyr decision which one,
because they scored equally in demand.
It doesn't help that the third most popular choice,
an assortment of military equipment originally meant
for antimissile defense and now intended for protection
against space debris, is so bulky it will have to be
hunted down and shipped back over several trips.
"What are our backup options?" the trader asks.
"Sargasso Base is collecting a fair number of people,
who will need both a food supply and health care.
Say I take the automed, what else could I do about food?
Or if I take the vats, which of the small medical goods can I add?"
They debate the possibilities for some time, with Spalling
now and then adding his opinions, particularly in regard
to the gear for repelling asteroids and space junk.
"The meat vats are really luxuries," V points out.
"It takes a great deal more equipment to manage
the environment for growing beef, pork, lamb, or chicken.
This is why the set costs more and takes so much room.
The cube meat is engineered for fast easy growth, so
its vat is not much bigger than an algae-whiz."
"I'll take the automed now," Astin decides.
"I've already gotten them the yeast-beast and
the algae-whiz, but no major medical gear yet.
You look around and see if you can find us
a cube vat, then I can take it on a later trip."
They eat supper together, and the trader
brings out a jar of Chasmite to share.
V, it turns out, is one of those people
who can't stand the classic Starmite
but does enjoy just a dab of Chasmite.
"The flavor is milder but more complex,"
the teen remarks, taking another bite.
"I could bring you a whole jar," Astin says,
"if you'll swap it for a larger quantity of food."
"What about vitamins?" V says. "The factory
that makes mealpacks has to buy all kinds
of supplements and other ingredients. We could
ship those in bulk, as well as the finished meals."
"I'll take it," Astin says. Vitamins and other nutrients
have been on Operetta's short list from the beginning.
She serves as a dietician as much as a medic.
Spalling shows more enthusiasm about Afshar's
beverage yogurt. V is indifferent, but
the older veteran makes plans
to acquire a yogurt maker.
After supper, they kick back and relax,
with V and Spalling both eager for
more stories from the Lacuna.
"They gave each other jewelry?" V asks
after hearing about Estelle and Babs.
"Have they contracted a marriage?"
"I don't know. I didn't ask," Astin says with a shrug.
"Probably not. Why would they need to, even if
they're lovers instead of friends? They are
the only two people on their station. Most of
the Lacuna population is scattered around
in ones or twos. Supply Base Bounty 3D3n
is unusual for having a crew of five now,
and the only place I can think of with more
is Sargasso Base and its Lagrange settlements."
"It sounds so strange," V says, "so free."
"It is that," Astin agrees. "It's dangerous too,
though. People are so spread out that it's
difficult to help each other when things go wrong."
"That's the truth," Spalling says in a dark tone.
They don't pry. They know he's seen
some terrible things. Most soldiers have.
They just kick back and relax,
sharing a tall tube of cookies for dessert.
It's enough for now that Astin has
such good friends and trade partners,
for which xe is duly grateful.
* * *
"Human resources are like natural resources; they're often buried deep. You have to go looking for them; they're not just lying around on the surface."
-- Ken Robinson
Astin uses the "xe" set of pronouns: xe is, xyr book, with xyr, of xyrs, xyrself.
Cultured algae have many benefits for a sustainable future. For example, spirulina is 25x more efficient per square foot than any other plant. You can grow spirulina or chlorella at home. You can also culture random wild algae from a pond or other waterway for fun.
Know how to prioritize materials and tasks for planning your projects.
Autistic interactions have their own parameters, now exerting a dominant influence in the developing culture of the Lacuna. Backup has a "little brother" relationship in connection with the other (neurotypical) members of his crew. That dynamic works great for them. But trying to apply the same thing to Sam, who has a very different personality and background, is a disaster. If you've met one person on the spectrum, you've met one person on the spectrum! Router and company need to learn new ways to communicate with Sam. There are tips on coping with difficult behaviors and making neurovariant friends.
Hydroponic gardens may include beds, pipes, stacking pots, or other arrangements. In this case, the Gardener is experimenting with different types to see what works best. Learn how to build your own.
Hydrogels come in various colors and styles, a visually attractive hydroponic medium for houseplants. Rosemary and other herbs make good hydroponic houseplants. They can be grown singly or together.
The new garden is basically at the microgreen stage. Here's a recipe for microgreen salad.
Asteroid resources include precious metals, diamonds, peridots, and other things.
Cookie tubes offer a compact way to ship cookies without mashing them, either in a soft wrapper or metal can.