“What’d you say your name was?”

“Garbenzera. Rick Garbenzera.”

The director turned his gaunt, thin-lipped face to his assistant, Miranda Spring, a woman with soft features and a hard voice whom Rick would have just as easily accepted to be 25 as 40. He got a mentor-protege vibe from the two of them. They both seemed capable enough, anyway. “Can you give Garbanzo here the nickel tour—maybe turn him loose on the paperwork this afternoon?”

“Sure thing, boss, but we’ve got the audit team due in this morning.”

The director drew his hand down over his mouth. “Shit, you’re right. Can you just get him straight to the fields then? Leave him with Perry’s team.” He pulled his face into an ugly mask of grim sarcasm which Miranda reciprocated.

“With pleasure,” she guffawed and walked out of the small administrative building, calling behind her as the door fell slowly closed against its shock, “C’mon, newbie.”

Rick started to thank the director, but he’d already turned back to his work.

He caught up with her moments later, kicking up dark rusty dust clouds as he hustled. The sun was dim behind thick, permanent cloud cover, but it was still hot enough that he was sweating through his shirt in under a minute.

“Did you sleep on the way in, Garbanzo?”

“Yes, as best as I could. But it’s actually Garbenzera—“

“Good,” she interrupted, walking as quickly as one can without calling it a jog. “You’ll need the energy. Ever work with terraplant before?”

“No ma’am.” Shit, he was already getting winded. “But I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty.

Miranda laughed but didn’t elaborate. It was a harsh sound, like a normal laugh fired out of an assault rifle. “Here’s the abbreviated version,” she offered a minute later, “it’s not a real plant, so don’t treat it like one. It might be held together with gene sequences instead of nuts and bolts, but it’s just a terraforming tool like any other. You’re going to be doing maintenance work.”

Rick tried to find the enthusiasm that seemed to have evaporated since he landed. He hadn’t traveled all this way to mow the lawn and rake leaves. “Sounds good. What do you need me to—“ They crested to top of a crater wall and Rick got his first look into the basin. His eyes burned from the stink and his sinuses went to work draining themselves like wrung towels. The crater was at least three kilometers across, and it was packed solid with dense yellow-gray vines in a slimy Gordian knot. If they were building a living world here, it looked like the focus was on its intestines. “…do first?”

“Oil change. Terraplant runs hot, makes the oil too viscous if you don’t cycle it out. Find Perry over there.” She pointed to what looked like a maintenance shed a quarter way around the crater. “Don’t let him work you to death, Garbanzo—generates too much paperwork.”

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