The Quest for the Sec Tomato



When my pact sister Fern and I moved out to the Householding in the spring of 6 AU, we were still children and had lived in Konawa all our lives. We had never seen food grown -- actually, we'd never seen anything growing except weeds, and the trees and grass in some of the squares and around rich people's houses. So when we got out to the Householding and saw the vegetable garden that some of the adults had put in, and the work that they were doing in their spare time to fix up the elegant old gardens that used to be around the original house and what later became the Sime Center, we were really fascinated and wanted to work on those projects.

I don't know why we like plants so much. It just seems wonderful that you can take some little brown things, dry seeds, and in a few weeks have a little plant, and some time after that have something that will give you food, or live for hundreds of years, long after everyone who saw it start is long dead. It's amazing that such a small action can have such great effect on the future, both near and immensely far. Even though I've gotten a good education in agriculture and botany, and Fern has too, we can still sometimes just stop and see the miracle all over again.

So that first summer, we worked in the vegetable garden, and learned to read and write, and took our turns doing all the other kinds of work around the place, and tried to stay out of trouble. We weren't allowed off the Householding grounds, but there was plenty to see and do, especially for two children who had never been outside Konawa before. The plants Fern liked best were the tomatoes, and we would go out every day and look at them growing and try to decide which tomatoes would get ripe first. It's hard to imagine, but we were just amazed at the way the plants kept flowering and setting fruit and the tomatoes would get bigger and bigger, but we were getting frustrated that they weren't getting ripe. We both loved to eat tomatoes, and we just couldn't wait.

One morning we were waiting for the dew to dry in the garden -- you shouldn't work in a garden while the leaves are wet because you can spread plant diseases that way -- and we were sitting in the machine shop watching Matti and Jimi trying to get this old rusty hulk of a row crop cultivator fixed up. It had been left outdoors when the Genfarm was closed down and the stock confiscated in the year before Unity, and all those years out in the weather would have ruined it for sure if the farmer hadn't set it up on some rocks to keep it dry. The wooden parts were ruined, and the metal parts were rusted together, but we really required a cultivator for the maize and some of the other field crops so Matti and Jimi were going to take it apart, replace the wooden parts, clean up the metal ones and put the whole thing back together. They'd given up trying to move the frozen nuts and were just hacksawing the bolts by that point. They'd given us some small pieces to sand the rust off, and promised that we could help paint them bright red when we finished.

So after a while we saw a wagon turn up our laneway, pulled by a beautiful gray draft horse. The Sime driving it stopped somebody for directions, then drove up to the machine shop. There was a sickle-bar mower in the wagon, so it was obvious that this Sime was a customer, but he kept looking around like he didn't see Matti, even when Matti came out and went over to him and asked if he could help him. Some of the older juncts were like that -- they wouldn't talk to a Gen, and when Matti tried to get him to recognize him by engaging him nagerically, the Sime made this superstitious sign at him, like he was a demon or something. So Jimi, who was still a child, came out and talked to the Sime, really just relaying what the Sime said and what Matti said. It was pretty ridiculous, and Fern and I were giggling just watching it happen.

At any rate, they came to some agreement, the Sime augmented the mower out of the wagon and into the shed, and came over to sit in the shade with us. We gave him some water from the bucket and he settled down and started to talk. It's funny that people like him would talk to children but not to Gens, but of course, there have always been plenty of children in-T, and most juncts didn't like to think that they might establish instead of change over, any more than they liked to think that the child might die of some sickness instead of growing up. He seemed like a nice man, even though he was junct and superstitious about Gens like Matti, and we started telling him about the garden and how we liked it out here so much better than in Konawa, and Fern got all carried away talking about the tomatoes and how she just couldn't wait until they got ripe. This Sime seemed really charmed by her enthusiasm, and while he kept a close eye on what the wer-Gen and the child mechanic were doing to his mower, he told us about the 'Sec Tomatoes'. It was a wonderful story, a sort of mix of fairy tale and practical gardening stuff, and we just lapped it up.

The way he told the story was something like this: Long ago and far away there was a Queen who wanted to have children, but no matter how hard she and her husband tried nothing happened. They tried everything the healers recommended, and they tried praying to the Sun and the Moon. They were getting old and had just about given up hope when an old woman came to them and said she had a special potion to help them, but in exchange, if the child turned Gen, they would have to give it to her.

Unfortunately, I can't tell the story as well as that Sime did, or maybe it just seemed wonderful because I was a child, but the short version is that the Queen took the potion, and soon she had a lovely daughter and the daughter started to grow up and the King and Queen were really worried that she might establish. So the Queen prayed to the Sun and the Moon that the daughter would change over. The Sun heard her prayers and told her that if she looked in the old woman's garden, she would find something that would protect the daughter from turning Gen. Well, they didn't know where the old woman lived, so they sent out all these people to look for the garden and they had all these adventures, and eventually far to the west one young man found the garden, and there were tomato plants there with huge golden tomatoes, and the amazing thing was that these tomatoes had nagers and they all zlinned like the most replete highfield Gen imaginable, as well as all this other poetic language about them being as round as the sun and bright as flame and heavy as the purest gold. Now the young man loved the Queen's daughter and wanted to marry her when she grew up, and she loved him too, but he wasn't a Prince, which is why he was out looking for the garden -- he figured if he found it, her parents would accept him even though he wasn't royal. So he picked some tomatoes and took them back and the girl ate the tomatoes and a few days later she changed over and everybody was delighted and her parents arranged a big changeover party.

Well, if you've heard enough of these stories you know that the old woman turned up at the party and was not at all happy that the girl changed over, because she wanted to take her back to live with her and help tend her garden. When she realized that the girl had changed over because she had eaten the Sec Tomatoes that the boy had stolen, she was really mad, and cursed the young couple, telling them that they would have many children and work hard to raise them and love them very much, but one by one, the children would all establish and they would lose them. Then she stormed out and vanished. Everybody at the party was really horrified, and the Princess was crying, but the young man told her not to worry. He had saved back one of the tomatoes, and they could collect seeds from it, and grow more Sec Tomatoes and feed them to their children and the children would all change over, and that's exactly what they did.

Now Fern and I knew it was just a story, but later on when we were resting after lunch she said to me "What if there really is a Sec Tomato? Or at least a tomato that looks like one?". I told her that was silly, a tomato couldn't have a nager, so only Gens would be fooled, and besides if everybody changed over, where would we get selyn? But she said that a big, heavy golden tomato would be so beautiful, that even if it was just a vegetable, both Simes and Gens would enjoy it. I pretty much forgot about it, but Fern didn't.

One day Fern got to go into the village with some of the adults. They were buying some grain for the work horses, and while they were loading it Fern started talking to some of the people hanging around the feed mill, and with one thing and another she found out about a woman who lived on the other side of the river who had a big vegetable garden and was growing yellow tomatoes. So when Fern got back, she told me that we should go over there and get some seeds from the woman and grow some of these 'golden tomatoes' next year. I started teasing her, asking her if she thought the woman was the same one as in the story, and she teased me right back, saying that it was a garden off to the west and with one thing and another, each of us pretending that the story was true, and egging each other on, and mixing in elements from other stories we had read now that we knew how to read, and that other people had told us, we decided to go on the Quest for the Sec Tomato.

We figured we'd wait until everybody was asleep and sneak out and go over there and get back by dawn, and nobody at the Householding would know we were gone, and the old woman in the story would be asleep and not catch us. Well, that's how the whole comedy of errors started. We didn't know where we were going, we didn't know how to get there, we didn't know how far away it was, but neither of us was going to say anything. We just kept walking and walking and walking, westward to the river. We got to the river before midnight and crossed it, but then we didn't know where to go and we were pretty tired of walking and pretty sleepy, too, and we saw a big haystack in a field and sort of looked at each other and decided to just take a little nap, and the next thing we knew, it was almost dawn and the roosters were crowing.

At that point I figured we'd better turn around and go back. It was hopeless that we'd get away with it, but the sooner we turned up the less chance people would have to get into a panic about it, but Fern was determined to get her tomato seeds. So we went to the nearest house and asked, and the man gave us some bread and water and directions, and we kept walking. Well, either we didn't understand the directions, or we forgot some of the turns, or the man didn't know the right place, but we got lost and tired and thirsty and I finally convinced Fern to give up and go home. I was so relieved that I'd gotten her to agree that I didn't realize that by that time I didn't know which way home was.

Well, to make a long story short, we figured if we went east we'd hit the river, but none of the roads went all the way because there was no point if there was no bridge, not that we realized it at the time. So after a few dead ends we decided to cut across some fields, and one field had some young cattle in it, and the cattle were real curious and came over to look at us, bringing the cloud of black flies and deer flies and horse flies and all that are always around a bunch of cattle, and the flies started biting us too, so we figured we'd try to outrun the flies, which worked for a bit, but then the cattle would catch up with us again, flies and all. Finally we got to the river, but there was no way we could get across it because neither of us knew how to swim, although we were both ready to jump in and stay under water as long as we could to hide from the shenning flies. So we figured we'd follow the river to where the road crossed it, but this was easier said than done, because the bank was pretty overgrown with brush, and swampy most places, so we had to make a lot of detours, and by the time we got to the bridge we were covered with mud and bug bites, and our feet were all raw from walking in wet socks and shoes, and it was mid-afternoon and we were really tired and really hungry, and Fern, who never lets go of an idea, was really disappointed that she didn't have her tomato seeds. I was a lot more worried about what was going to happen when we got home!

Anyhow, we climbed up to the road, and sat down and took off our shoes and socks and let our feet dry out, and after a while a Sime came along driving a wagon, and offered us a ride into town. The Sime Center was still at the old Pen then, so we got off there. We went in and Yenava got Hajene Tapiu and he took us into the office and we couldn't figure out if he was more upset or relieved. Now Hajene Tapiu is a wonderful man and we all love him, but he really isn't very good at reasoning with children, and he tends to get excited and carried away in situations that don't have anything to do with channeling. I can't remember all the terrible scenarios he said might have happened except that when he said "What if one of you established and the other changed over and the Sime killed the Gen and juncted herself? What would I tell Sectuib when she came home from Konawa?" Fern and I looked at each other and burst out laughing. So Hajene Tapiu said we were restricted to the garden and the main Householding buildings, and he would think about whether we would be allowed to keep sleeping in the tent or would have to be locked up at night like children in Genland. When Sectuib came home in a week, she would decide what other punishment we required. So he sent us home with Enam, our pact brother, a renSime who was helping out with some of the chores around the Sime Center, so that they could stop searching and worrying back at the Householding. Enam was pretty disgusted with us and wouldn't talk to us the whole way home.

Well, we waited out the week until Sectuib came home, and we alternated between telling each other that she was very kind and wouldn't punish us much, and then that she was very serious about the Householding succeeding, so she would be really mad that we had been selfish and thoughtless, and made everybody lose almost a day of work searching for us and worrying about us, especially the pact parents, who were in poor health and really didn't require anything more to worry about. We scared ourselves thinking that she might send us back to Konawa to try to survive on the streets, or just let us stay until we grew up and then throw us out, and sometimes we blamed each other for talking us into doing it, and sometimes we swore to stick together even if we had to live in the streets in Konawa, and by the time Sectuib came home we had gone through so much of this emotional turmoil that we were completely exhausted.

Well, Sectuib came home, really tired as usual, and she didn't call us in to talk with her until the next afternoon. We had figured out by then that the best we could do was take full responsibility ourselves and apologize and promise never to be so thoughtless and disobedient again, and ask her to punish us as we deserved. Or at least I thought that's what we decided. Mavis came and got us in the garden and took us to Sectuib's office and no sooner had Sectuib turned around to look at us than Fern started crying and begging her not to throw us out and send us back to Konawa to starve in the streets. Well, I kind of lost it then, too, and forgot my prepared speech and also started crying, but nowhere near as loud, since I wasn't trying to talk at the same time. Well, Sectuib just sat there, and Mavis stood behind her with her hand on Sectuib's shoulder, although since we were still children our nagers couldn't have been too upsetting, and after a while Fern sort of ran down, and we both just stood there quietly with tears on our faces.

So Sectuib asked me what I had to say, and I managed to deliver my little speech, although I had to stop and collect myself a few times, and she asked Fern if she agreed with it, and Fern said she did. So Sectuib said she wasn't going to punish us, but she was going to have us do some different work, that would help us understand what it meant to be members of a House, where people have to think about their naztehrhai, and put the good of the House ahead of their own whims. She took us to the first dorm, the one that the semijuncts in poorest health were living in, which was the only housing that was ready to live in at that point, except for the main house which was mostly being used as a kitchen and dining room and offices, with the killroom set up for Sectuib and Hajene Tapiu to sleep in when they required a place that was well insulated. She took us to the room Uta and Elgaria were staying in. Elgaria had had a stroke, and Uta was having several seizures a day, and they required someone to be with them all the time, to help Elgaria with the most basic things, and to keep Uta from harming herself when she fell down in a seizure. Uta was trying to help Elgaria, but she was not very strong and was afraid she might have a seizure while she was helping Elgaria and injure her. Their pact children were taking turns staying with them. Sectuib said that we would each take a six-hour shift every day, looking after these two ambrov Teiu, and that would let their pact children go ahead and do more work to help build the House, knowing that their pact mothers would be well cared for in their absence. The rest of the time we could continue to work in the garden and do our other work around the Householding as it came up in the rotation.

So that's what we did. At first it was a little scary, because some of the pact children who showed us how to take care of the women took us aside and let us know that if we didn't do the best possible for them they would make sure we really regretted it, and because witnessing a seizure is pretty frightening, and because Elgaria couldn't talk at all clearly, and drooled out of one side of her mouth, and was so helpless, even though Sectuib told us that mentally she was okay, and very angry and frustrated at being so disabled.

Sectuib always says that you can be sure you've done the right thing when more good comes out of it than you planned at the time, and several good things came out of us taking care of Uta and Elgaria. Uta was illiterate, but Elgaria had been well-educated and could read and write Genlan as well as Simelan. Uta was from out-T, so she spoke Genlan as a native. We could both read by then, and we often read to the two women for a while each day. At first we read to them in Simelan, but then they got the idea that Uta would teach us to speak Genlan and once we got good at it, Elgaria would teach us to read and write it, since she could still use her right hand, and sometimes she would write things for us when we couldn't understand what she was trying to say. We also got to know the two women well, and Uta told us about life out-T when she was a child, and after a while we felt as close to them as to our own pact parents, who were all dead by then, and we saw them as real people who were sick, and not as the scary creatures they seemed to be at first, and we really wanted to help them, and it didn't embarrass them as much to accept our help.

So that's how we learned Genlan. Sectuib was always bringing home books that she bought from second-hand stores in Konawa, and she also started buying technical books by mail order from bookstores out-T, because the out-T Gens were more advanced than us in almost everything, although before Unity, and after, too, hardly anybody was willing to admit it. Sectuib bought Genlan books about horticultural crops, plant propagation and plant breeding, and Fern and I read them all more than once, even more eagerly than the books with stories.

Just after Autumn Equinox, Fern established, and she told Sectuib she wanted to learn to be a Companion, so she could support the two women and serve them in transfer. So Sectuib trained her, and by Year's Turning she had served Elgaria once, and was able to use her field to help both women feel more comfortable. I changed over a few weeks after that and Hajene Tapiu let Fern stay with me, which made both of us very happy. For a changeover and qualifying present, Hajene Tapiu gave us some tomato seeds that he had gotten from the woman with the garden across the river. He had figured out who she was and after he gave her transfer he told her about our adventure, and she remembered to bring some seeds for us the next time she came in.

That winter Elgaria died of flu and pneumonia, and Fern and Norbom, one of Elgaria's pact children who had established, stayed with her and Fern was there to ease her death. A couple of months later, shortly after Fern gave her transfer, Uta started having one seizure after another. Hajene Tapiu was there but he couldn't control the seizures. He had me and some of her renSime pact children restrain her during the seizures so she wouldn't hurt herself, and kept working on her for hours. He tried to give her transfer because she was augmenting herself into attrition in the seizures, but she died of exhaustion first. Fern stayed with her to the end, trying to help her nagerically even though she was low field and Uta never became conscious again. Hajene Tapiu told us later that perhaps Uta could perceive Fern trying to help her, but of course, we'll never know. Fern wouldn't have left anyway.

That spring, Sectuib organized a cooperative arrangement, or as Roza would call it 'a deal', with the Konawa Land Management School, and it included six months education for each of two First Year renSimes. Sectuib picked me and Yahn, from Uta's pact family, to go. He had been doing a lot of the field crop work, and liked that as much as Fern and I liked working with horticultural crops. Sectuib told us to learn as much as we could so we could bring the knowledge back to the House and share it with our naztehrhai. So we did our best. Sectuib could see that Fern felt a bit left out, so she arranged a couple of times to drop her off at the School when I was pre-turnover, so nobody would complain, and she stayed in my dorm room and read in the library while I was at class, and we went out and I showed her the experimental plots and what we were doing, and when Fern was working at a Sime Center in Konawa she would come out and see me too.

Another thing that came out of this was that one of the instructors, a Householder, as almost all of them were, met Fern and got her some work translating Genlan horticultural literature into Simelan for the school. She could do some of it at home, or she could stay with me and work in the school library. So Fern got almost as good an education as I did, maybe better in some ways, because she could follow her own interests instead of having to learn from a fixed curriculum like I did that year.

Meanwhile, back at the garden, Fern was growing out the tomato seeds Hajene Tapiu had given us, as well as some other kinds she had gotten from here and there. She had learned how to make controlled crosses for tomatoes and other vegetables from the books Sectuib had bought, and she started her Sec Tomato project, although she swore me to secrecy about what she was doing! That summer, as she traveled around the area, serving transfer to some of the Thirds in rural Sime Centers around the District, she kept her eyes open for interesting vegetables and collected quite a few locally adapted cultivars as well as some ornamental plants, like the roses and daylilies we have in the front garden now. She even wrote to Roza at the CRF and gave her instructions on how to collect seeds from tomatoes, peppers, melons, squash and other plants and to send her some from the cultivars they were growing up there. Roza was pretty amused, and she not only did that, but she got some of the Donors who were rotating through the CRF to send us seeds they could collect on their travels or from their Houses when they got home, and even Controller Skyepar got the gardeners at Sat'htine to send us some seeds.

That winter Yahn and I began to set up the tree nursery business, and when we were planning which part of the fields to use for different parts of the operation, Fern told us to set aside an area for her to use for vegetable cultivar trial plots. Fern told Serri, the Section Head of nutrition, about all the great veggie cultivars she wanted to grow, and Serri came and told us that all the Gens would be very pleased to have more kinds of food, and the Simes would be too, once they saw it. Prins, who was Section Head of edible crops by then, was for it too, but if he'd known how pissed off Fern was going to get if anybody picked a tomato that she had marked as being from a hand-pollinated cross, or skipped weighing and recording anything that came off an evaluation plot, he probably wouldn't have been anywhere near as positive about it.

So things went on, and as more of the Gens went out on Tecton rotation to bring in money for the House and travel Nivet on the Tecton's tab, they brought home seeds too. And while Yahn and Fern and I, as well as some of the other naztehrhai, were developing the nursery crop operation, and starting to sell tree seedlings to the government for afforestation projects to rehabilitate the Ruined Lands, and many of the semijuncts were finding a reason to keep living in working with the seedlings that would grow into trees that would outlive us all and heal the lands destroyed by the greed of the junct Genfarmers, Fern was developing her test and evaluation program, her 'library' of vegetable cultivars, and her plant breeding projects. Yahn and I started going back to the Land Management School and lecturing there ourselves, and Fern gave a few guest lectures too. Most Simes then were a bit less respectful of Gens acting as authorities than they might be, but Fern is a Companion, and she could rivet their attention if necessary!

It was about then that Fern proposed the mail order seed operation. We had gotten some old Genlan newspapers that were used as packing material for some books and other things we had bought, and she found ads from seed companies out-T. As far as we knew, nobody was doing that in-T, so she said we should start a seed company. There were plenty of Gens out there making money, and they would be interested in buying seeds for more interesting food even if the Sime gardeners weren't, and the smarter Simes would realize that pretty and interesting vegetables would sell to Simes and Gens alike better than the same old boring ones would. She worked out in detail how much capital she would require for advertising, and buying paper to make packets and all, and she made a presentation to a Section Heads meeting, pointing out that it was an ideal operation for us because it would produce maximum income from minimal land, a lot of the work would take place in the off season, and much of it was very light work, like addressing envelopes and filling seed packets, that could be done by people who were in poor health. She convinced them, without even pointing out all the income she had been bringing in working as a Donor for the Tecton, and they allocated some money for the project, and it broke even the first year even counting labor, and actually brought in a reasonable profit the next.

In the spring of 10 AU, North Nivet University was expanding its agricultural college, and they asked the faculty at the Konawa Land Management School to recommend some candidates for lecturer. They recommended me, and Sectuib told me to go up there and talk to them -- if they wanted to hire me, and I wanted to do it, we could work something out. So I did, and they did, and we did. I told them about our seed company and Fern's vegetable breeding projects because they were doing some crop breeding themselves, and their charter required them to distribute both knowledge and improved crops to the people of Nivet. They invited Fern and Sectuib up there to discuss things, and the result was that the Householding got to use part of the government Genfarm that had been turned into the agricultural college, with the agreement that we would propagate and distribute cultivars developed by the college through our seed company. There was a big house in good condition and some farm buildings on the land, and the land was in good shape. Fern and the Householding could take over the land that Fall, when I would start teaching.

Over these several years, Fern had been corresponding with some of the authors of the Genlan plant breeding books she'd been learning from, and she wrote to them and asked for advice on learning to work with cold climate crops. They recommended some books, and one professor at an agriculture school a few hundred kilometers northeast of NNU invited her to spend the growing season up there and learn what she could from them to bring back to Nivet. So while Yahn and I got six months at the KLMS, Fern got six months at a Gen university out-T. She took a lot of seeds with her, and brought a lot back, as well as a hundred kilograms of potatoes, twenty different cultivars, fifty freshly grafted fruit trees for our orchard and a lot of berry bushes and grape vines. She made a lot of friends up there, although they never really understood why she liked living in-T, even after she served a few children in changeover. Lately there's been plans for some of the professors up there to come to NNU as guest lecturers. They can stay at our seed farm, our Gen members can be their escorts, and we are all looking forward to it.

Oh, the Sec Tomato? Fern bred what she wanted, and the tomato is on the cover of our Spring 12 AU seed catalog. One of the out-T students who lived with us for his orientation to Nivet wrote the description for the Genlan version and we all think it's hilarious -- what does it mean to an out-T Gen that a tomato would 'zlin sec of all, if a tomato could have a nager'? Well, it seems that some of them want to find out, because we got quite a few orders for it when we started selling seeds out-T this year. Fern is still doing some tomato breeding, selecting for earliness and ability to set fruit in cold weather, but she's mostly been working with all those out-T potato cultivars. I asked her if she's going to breed a Sec Potato next, and she just snickered and snapped her nager at me.

Ilyana ambrov Teiu


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