The following short story, “Son of the Soil,” was originally published on Wattpad and has since been published here. It has received some corrections. “Son of the Soil” was written by David Davis.
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Guugel came out of his rest cycle slowly, his lone eye staring at the ceiling as he lay in his bed; the only noises he heard were the warm hum of the ship and the death rattle that was Kracker’s snoring. The concept of bed was still alien to him, and he would dwell on how artificial it all seemed when he came out of his rest state.
In their strange way, beds did have a tint of familiarity. Back home on Ottwa, his people would rest in the communal peat rooms. There they would slow down their bodies while lying upon the delicate plants. Guugel did feel a twinge of familiarity and homesickness every time he woke up inside the crew bunks. He kept expecting to see the greenery of his youth. He continued to stare at the ceiling which loomed above him, a ceiling that seemed miles away, as far as he could tell at such an early hour.
His mind wandered as he rested on his gigantic bunk in the cavernous room.
Most of the ship was gigantic to him. He wasn’t quite sure how Marken handled it; Marken was just as small as he was. Whenever he was around Marken, Guugel would feel flashes of business-related panic; there would be worries of failure, loss, and disappointment, with just a hint of sad longing. However, more overwhelming was the love of food and cooking.
Guugel had always picked up on the subtle emotional vibrations of other beings. Then he learned to avoid them entirely because, most often, they would overwhelm him. He had chosen to explore the stars… unusual for most Wot. He wouldn’t let someone else’s sad feelings spur him toward homesickness and self-doubt. He’d decided to leave the safety of Ottwa and was determined to see as much of the galaxy as he could.
The rest of his bunkmates were still asleep and actively dreaming as the wot prepared for his day. He would get small flashes of the abstract imagery of their dreams, but there were times when their meanings were unmistakable. He did not want to invade their dreams, but the dreams were adamant about invading his mind.
As usual, Kracker’s unconscious mind was flashing the energetic imagery of the Zero-G races; the dream felt almost lustful, as though he was opening up the throttle of a technically advanced racer, just like the ones he was always watching on the GIN. Kracker was addicted to racing and the pursuit of speed, as evidenced by most of his flying when he could get away from the pre-laid routes.
Guugel turned to Dorian and noticed the young Grey was tossing fitfully as he recalled a sad memory involving a sibling. Guugel promptly tuned it out. All he had seen was the presence of three Grey children in a hallway. The oldest tried to talk to one who was grudgingly acknowledging him while, down the hall, the youngest was crying. Guugel felt this was Dorian and promptly tried to flush the image from his mind.
Most unusual was Dash, always Dash. Dash always understood Guugel and was one of the few individuals the Wot had met who could hear his conscious projections. As usual, though, Dash’s dreams were indecipherable, the mental equivalent of static. Tonally, Guugel sensed conflict: rage, fear, yet some tang of optimism?
Guugel began his day as always, with a few moments at his footlocker. He popped it open to inspect his collection of soil. As he traveled from planet to planet, he would take a sample and store it in the footlocker. His people had an intimate connection with the soil. The weary Wot dug through his small bags of earth, looking for one he hadn’t tried in a while. He spied Poenva.
He unsealed the bag and poured some of the grit into his hand. Poenva’s soil was fairly acrid. It wasn’t entirely unpleasant, though, as the planet was full of life and aged stone. It felt old, and old soil was always of the most comfort. In a way, he just needed that pick-me-up.
Soil still in hand, Guugel sealed up the Poenva bag, set it back into the footlocker, and shut it. He took a moment to make sure he didn’t wake any of his coworkers and made his way to the fresher. Along the way, he spotted the robot, Blu, jumping from seat to seat in the living area. The small robot paused for a second and waved. Guugel nodded back.
Despite the robot’s energy, he felt old… far older than the ship. It was something that filled Guugel with curiosity most of the time, but curiosity was best avoided in the mornings.
He stepped into the fresher and selected his custom settings. No laundry, no soap, 2-inch lukewarm water fill, high-luminosity lighting, and no air-dry. In seconds the tub began to fill and shut off at exactly 2 inches. Guugel dipped a finger into the water to ensure the hygiene system did not have the occasional hiccup it was known for. Satisfied with the temperature, he tossed his small handful of dirt into the water.
It made a plunk, and a cloud of coppery brown billowed from the water’s surface to the bottom of the tub. Guugel stepped in, mixed the dirt in with his feet, and finally laid down, his back resting against the plasteel flooring of the tub. He spent a few minutes soaking. He enjoyed the texture of the earthy water. Combined with the bright light, this would be perfect to keep him going for his day. Everyone else had breakfast. He had this.
Guugel returned from the hygiene room a few minutes later, feeling refreshed. He returned to his bunk and reached the foot of his bed when he noticed his footlocker was open. Guugel promptly shut the locker but then grew curious. He opened it again and poured through his bags of soil, but he could not find Ottwa. The Wot searched through several times, frantically tossing bags out of the locker.
Reeling with shock, he fell backward onto the thinly-carpeted floor. His arms fell to his sides, and his palms were on the threadbare flooring. As his fingers gripped the carpet, he found telltale signs of dirt on his fingertips. He whipped upright and held the loose grains close to his eye. It was Ottwan, particularly to his former village. He peered around, noticing more bits of soil on the carpet. He began to follow them.
The trail led him down the hall to the lower common room where he had seen Blu earlier. Now Blu was absent. Blu was harmless, mostly; he was known to take things and hoard them, and generally, this wasn’t a problem. Everyone would eventually find their stuff dangling out of a vent, but this was a bit more personal.
The trail of grains led to the couch in the lounge but stopped at the cushions. Guugel took the pillowed seating and ripped it from the couch. No sign of the Ottwan dirt. Nor were there signs under the couch. He placed the cushions back on the seat and peered around, annoyed that his trail ran cold.
Suddenly, he remembered the vents.
He looked upward. Six feet from the top of the couch was a loose vent cover. Guugel climbed onto the couch and jumped as high as his small legs would allow, but to no avail. Annoyed, he clenched his fist and hit the wall. To his surprise, the vent opened as a thin wire rolled out of the vent onto his head. Dash had mentioned that he’d found makeshift rigging all over the ship, thanks to Blu.
He tugged at the wire, and it did not give way. He climbed up to the vent, brushed aside the cover, and pulled himself into the ship’s inner workings. Sure enough, he was greeted by several grains of the coveted soil. The vent was small, even for the diminutive wot, and he had to remain on his hands and knees.
Unabated by the ironically cramped quarters, he pushed forward. The vents were dark and smooth. This was an utterly gloomy and artificial environment for him, and he already felt fatigued by it.
Alongside the darkened vents, he made out crude drawings. Blu had turned the inner workings of the ship into his playground. It was too dark to see them in much detail, but he made out rudimentary versions of crew members along one side and a long sequence of symbols on the other. Blu was telling a story, but that could wait.
The vent split into two after a while, and based on where he entered, Guugel suspected the paths took him to the cargo bay or the engine room. He peered around and, spying an errant grain heading toward the engine room, pressed onward.
The temperature rose as he moved closer to the core mechanics of the ship. The heat was not intense, so much as thick and stifling. He knew he couldn’t remain for long, or else he would dry out. A light ahead of him grew in intensity with each crawling step, and when he broke the threshold, he found a large vent hub filled with plant life, and Blu, sitting on an upside-down clay pot. The little robot waved at his guest.
The makeshift garden was fascinating. The plant life had grown lush in the warm vents near the engine room, and the variety was quite shocking. Guugel wiped at his brow, partially to clear sweat and partially in disbelief. He had nearly lost himself in awe when he remembered his purpose.
Guugel picked up some grains of the Ottwan dirt inside the room. He held them toward Blu. Blu tilted his head in response, curious. Guugel gestured again, pretending to open a bag and then pouring the grains from one hand to another. He then pretended to open and close a footlocker several times. He would bring his level hands down several times in a smooth motion.
Blu took a moment and then nodded, understanding. The little robot hopped off the clay pot and knelt down next to it. He pointed to the pot and waved Guugel over. Guugel approached, uncomfortable in the heat. Blu pointed to his own kneeling stance, and Guugel followed through with his own.
Blu looked around and lifted the bottom of the pot just slightly, almost gingerly. He nodded at Guugel and tilted the pot enough to where a smaller pot was visible. The pot itself had been filled with dirt. He noticed the distinct tang of the Ottwan soil. Guugel rubbed the side of his head in exasperation until he noticed the mushroom.
It was small, still juvenile in many ways. The mushroom was a light purple with a teal swirl along the cap. The surface of the cap was smooth and rubbery, with a brilliant sheen. The mushroom resembled him in many ways. He marveled at it.
Blu picked up the larger pot and set it aside while Guugel was still entranced by the mushroom. Blu grabbed a small watering can, once a Pommo can, and tapped Guugel’s shoulder. Guugel watched as the tiny robot poured for a few seconds. Blu finished and shook his finger at Guugel, pointing at the can several times.
Content, Blu picked up the small pot and thrust it toward Guugel. He held the pot for a moment and looked back at Blu, who had already begun trimming one of his plants. Guugel shook his head in disbelief and crawled back through the vents.
Back in the bunk room, everyone was still asleep. Kracker’s snoring had grown more ear-shattering, and subconsciously Dash and Dorian had each buried their heads into their pillows. Guugel looked around the room for a moment but finally decided that the best place for his mushroom was on top of his foot-locker. He placed it there, and for a few moments, he was content. Then, quite suddenly, he pulled the mushroom off the foot-locker, setting it to the side. He opened the lid and began to collect bags of dirt.
While moving through the vents a few hours later, Blu arrived at the exit to the lower common room, usually his main thoroughfare. He was surprised to see several bags of soil waiting for him inside the vent.