Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tidbit Tuesdays: The beginning of the end of life as they knew it

Creators is making its last appearance in the Tidbits Tuesday feature, because it is no longer the work in progress.  Next week, I'll be offering up a taste of Contributor, the first novel in my postapocalyptic/dystopian trilogy.  I hope you enjoy this opening scene from Creators!

They were losing the war, this much was obvious.  Standing and surveying the fields, Zhang Liang swallowed against the lump in his throat.  As far as the eye could see, the crops were dying.  Liang crouched and grabbed a handful of earth, feeling his own impotence as it trickled through his fingers.  It was so depleted it could no longer sustain life, as evidenced by the dessicated plant stalks waving forlornly in the hot breeze.  No matter how much they tinkered with the soil, Zhang Agritech Systems was unable to successfully replace nutrients in the soil.

Wiping his hand on his thighs, Liang stumbled over to a vivid green patch.  In a blind rage, he began yanking plants out, feeling a vicious sense of satisfaction as he tore their roots from the earth.  Even so, he knew it was an empty gesture.  No matter how valiantly the corn and soybeans fought, they were helpless against the onslaught of the virulent pigweed, horseweed, and countless other so-called superweeds.

A sudden pressure on his shoulder reminded Liang that he wasn’t alone, and he looked up into the sober gaze of Anya Ragulski, his second-in-command.

“The collectives are no longer viable,” she told him, her voice so soft it was almost lost in the drone of machinery trying desperately to provide enough water, enough of a precise chemical cocktail to support the crops needed to feed millions.

“But without the collectives…” Liang began, but the thought was too horrible to contemplate, and the words died in his throat.

“There will be widespread famine,” Anya finished, her voice so collected that Liang stared up at her, caught between horror and admiration that she could remain so calm.  However, as he studied her face, he realized there were tears in her eyes, that her expression was rigid.

“Maybe we just need more hands.  We could institute another selection process, bring more field workers into the collectives.  There are more than enough candidates,” Liang suggested, the words falling out of his mouth faster and faster, as he tried to cling to this one last surge of hope. 

Just this morning, throngs of people had stood outside the secure, electrified, razor-wire topped gates of the collective, their starved faces staring avidly at his armored motorcade as it glided by on nearly silent electric motors.  Though life in the collectives involved a great deal of grueling, back-breaking labor, its workers went to bed with a full belly every night, something about which many people could only dream.  The first ten years after the launch of the collectives had been rough because it had been so difficult to find people willing to spend hour after hour toiling in the blazing sun, but conditions on the outside had deteriorated to the point that there were now more people desperate to work the collectives than there were jobs.

“If we increase the number of hands, we won’t be able to provide them with food in exchange for work, let alone supply those who don’t work the collective,” Anya reminded him, her patient tone cracking around the edges.  She’d told him this already, but the knowledge refused to enter his head.  The more he tried to accept reality, the more his brain fought to reject it.

“Then why did you bring me here?”  Liang was unable to keep the bitterness from his voice as he pulled himself up from the ground.

“Because I knew you had to see it.”  Anya studied him with an unwavering gaze until he turned from her, yanking his protective goggles from his face and pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes.  She was right; he wouldn’t have believed numbers on a report, would have rejected the graphs and projections. 

After several moments during which Liang stared unseeingly at the hands toiling at their fruitless labors, Anya finally spoke.  “We knew this day was coming.  You know we’ve done all we can, Liang.  Our scientists have been working around the clock—but I’m not telling you anything you don’t know.  You’ve seen the data.  You know how many of them have collapsed from exhaustion, how many have had cardiac episodes due to the stress.”

Unable to speak, he simply nodded in acknowledgment of her words.  Yes, he’d seen the data, but how could anyone be expected to process the beginning of the end of life as they knew it?