The colonial greens were gone at last! Well, except for a small and regular daily recommended dose for Momma, who was the only person on the planet who wanted to eat them. Literally.
In place of colonial greens, there were orange-berries. They were half the size of a grape and came in immense bunches, and were so sickly-sour that they fast became a treat for her and any other kid who could find them. She was under instructions to try them fried, but still sneaked a handful of raw ones into her plate.
The bittersweet taste of them tantalised her tongue.
The fried ones were sort of okay. Frying turned them bland, but not completely bland. Just… way less interesting. Susan figured it'd make a pretty neat sorbet, and said so out loud for the umptieth time.
"We've told the kitchens, already," said Momma. "But they have priorities."
Yeah. Like testing out anything else even remotely edible. In any and all successful and quasi-successful forms.
And figuring out how to store it all with a minimum amount of energy expenditure.
And in really gross news, Colonial greens could be pickled in their own juices. Yeaurgh.
But Momma loved it and it was doing wonderful things for her, so Susan contained her retching about it until it was well out of sight. Like, whenever she had to do field work. Or when she, Shanice and Kori teamed up to work on the path to the beach.
They'd almost reached the halfway mark, and already decided to detour around a huge tree that could easily make a living high-rise.
Shanice was pretty brilliant at spotting completely new things, but she bagged the suspected variants, anyway. And when it came to netting insects, she had a superbly quick arm. Kori was happy enough to be the muscle, lugging huge amounts of samples back for them to subdivide and hand in to central analysis.
People were already working on extra room for the science house. Anthill. Complex. Whatever. It was bound to get an appropriate nickname soon enough.
Between the three of them, they made a heck of a lot more progress than Jaime's Wanderers ever did.
"Get a load o' the tree!"
…and speak of the devil…
Jaime only had two hangers-on, now. Others had become distracted by more interesting things to do than tool aimlessly around Wiwazheer and make a nuisance out of themselves.
"You still workin' on this stoopid path?" Jaime challenged.
"What can I say," said Kori. "I like the beach."
"You'll never get there," said Jaime.
"Yeah, you'll never get there," echoed one of his lieutenants.
"Yeah," said the other.
Great. He had an echo chamber.
"If you decide to help, maybe so," said Susan. With any luck, it'd take them a few days to get that one.
"Why'd'ja go around that stoopid tree?" demanded Jaime.
"It's so big, you could'a made a tunnel," said a lieutenant.
"Could'a knocked it down," added Jaime. "If you could getcher parents to help."
"Wah, wah. Little babies."
Susan made a big show of calmly sipping her water. "There's a sting-bug on your leg."
The resultant panic could have won a prize.
Meanwhile, the three of them got back to cutting a path.
"Does he ever do anything?" wondered Shanice, looking over her shoulder to check that they weren't coming back.
"He didn't want to come here," said Kori. "His parents made him and he doesn't like that he can't go back."
"Sucks to be him," Susan shrugged. "He either gets over it or gets lonely."
Sooner or later, like the animals who would not help the little red hen, it all came down to who helped by how much. And Jaime would not get much sympathy when he complained about receiving the bare minimum when crunch time came.
Susan worried about him, sometimes. But only rare sometimes. The rest of her worry was reserved for Momma and the impending sib.
She couldn't worry about everyone. That'd just break her soul. She had to stay with what was important. And, after the necessary tasks were done, that meant busywork like this path. It kept her muscles moving and her mind on getting the job done. The reward of the beach seemed as distant as the moon, right now. It could take them months. Especially with new little saplings popping up in the cleared area.
Work was what she needed to keep her mind away from all the things that had gone bad, before. What she didn't know was why Shanice and Kori insisted on helping her. There were things to do all over Wiwazheer that were more fun than cutting a path to a beach over a mile away.
On their next water break, she asked.
"Why're you even hanging around with me, anyway? This is all boring and hard work. I wouldn't hold it against you if you cleared out for more interesting things."
Like the animals. The ones in the pseudo-wombs would be ready for birthing, soon. And the food fabber was running overtime, making sure they had enough 'milk' for them.
"Better'n running into Jaime," Kori shrugged. "And I feel like I can be honest with you two."
"Gradual, safe exposure," said Shanice. "It's weird, I know. But no matter what's going on? I feel safer when you're around. And the leaves and the trees kind'a feel like walls and a roof. Sort of." She fooled with her canteen. "And… I tried going out on my own, once? When you were busy with planting?" She shuddered. "It's worse. When you're not around."
Susan forced down the desire to shove her, even if it was a playful shove. Shanice didn't cope well with any kind of force. "Great. I can add 'security blankie' to my resumé."
"Naw, that only counts if you're paid," clarified Kori
"Volunteer security blankie?" offered Shanice.
Susan laughed, almost choking on her water. "Yeah. That'd do it." She sighed and swapped arms. Machetes were great for hand-swapping, as far as cutting things went. "I think we can get another yard by sundown."
"Betcha we can make a yard and a half."
"Yeah? How much?"