my face. It was all I could see, the barrel eclipsing my field of vision.
The routine was basically unchanging: up early work and/or pray all day, go to bed, have nightmares, sneak out and scout around with Dan for a few hours, and then do it over again the next day. Over time I grew to like the predictability. Occasionally I sat in on services from the other religions. I thought the Essene Revivalist Jews were interesting, and I liked their hymns. Sundays were dawn-til-dusk church. Once a month a hovertruck came from Mount Saint Anthony, bringing supplies and taking our beeswax wares. We brought in a lot of ethanol in fifty-gallon drums. For whatever reason, Gagarin had no petrochemicals, so there was nothing else we could use to power the generator. I worked the loading docks, which were kind of interesting and needlessly ultra-modern: The truck backed up and docked flush with a large garage door, forming an airtight seal that served no purpose I could see. The doors opened up and we lugged stuff around for a few hours, then it pulled away, without us ever seeing the people in the cab.
Dan always stood in the window and growled at the drivers.
Though we were supposed to be leading lives of quiet contemplation, devoid of outside distractions, Truck days were always opportunities for us to find out about the outside worlds. The leader of this world was called a “Kaskey,” for reasons I don’t want to get into right now. It was an election year, and the current Kaskey was a lame duck, not expected to win. The frontrunner was a Federalist Party Candidate named “McNevin.” From what I gathered, he’d arrived here about ten years ago, having immigrated from earth. That didn’t make him ineligible, though. He was a hardliner, promising swift and direct action if anyone tried to secede.
Meanwhile, the constitutional crisis lurched forward, with Yvgenistan and Anthonia declaring in no uncertain terms that they’d leave the Confederacy if the government didn’t back down on some boring issues or another. I gathered it had something to do with taxes and states rights, or maybe teaching Russian in schools, but I don’t know. Gagariners are always yammering on about states rights, so it’s hard to tell when it’s significant and when it’s just something to fill dead air. Bottom line: the situation was spiraling out of control, and if McNevin won, there would be war.
I was nearing a canyon on the horizon. “You want I should know this?” two voices said in harmony. Neither of them were mine.
Time passed and the desert came back to life, with patches of furgrass growing, and those pyramidal not-quite-cacti springing up surprisingly quickly. Birdish things occasionally roosted in the steeple. Now and again we’d see elephant-sized harmadillos wander by, generally chased by yipping men on horseback. One day there was a huge plume of dust which heralded the arrival of the camera crew on their hovering mobile home. They’d showed up to interview Brothers Zadok and O’Neil, our resident bee masters and my immediate bosses. They knew more about the local environment than anyone.
Beekeeping was much harder, and much more profitable than you’d expect. This is an alien world, after all. About a third of the native plants and animals would kill you dead in a minute if you ate ‘em, about another third are completely indigestible by humans, and pass right through a body with no effect, good or ill. Some of them are really tasty, though, and popular in the dieting industry. The remaining third is actually suitable as food, and really, when you think about it, the fact that we can digest anything that evolved twelve light years from earth is pretty miraculous.
Miraculous? When did I start thinking like that?
In any event, a lot of the flora and fauna we’d imported from earth over the previous half century simply couldn’t make it here, and died out. Chickens? Dead. Horses? Doing great. Cattle? Kinda’ touch and go. Shrimp? Doing great! Trout? Dead. Bees? Touch-and-go.
Why? Well, as O’Neil patiently explained to me when I first got foisted into his employ, on earth Bees navigate by the position of the sun, and their biological clocks are set to the seasons. Here, the sun is tiny, which throws them off, and the seasons are only fifty-seven days long, which puts more stress on them. We simply couldn’t let them go off