by Oluwatomiwa Ajeigbe
“We cannot sustain the farm, Gozie.”
I don’t like the way the words fall easily from Iyeh’s lips, even though I know he speaks the truth. I don’t meet his eyes. I cannot. Instead, I focus on the germination drone I’m trying to repair. At least, this is something I can fix. I hope.
“We have to tell the others,” Iyeh continues. “They have to know and warn the entire community.”
I pry open a panel and look closer at the tangle of wires inside. Ah, there. A red wire that looks like it’s been burned. I trace the wire and nod. It’s the wire that connects the fan to its batteries. Without the fan, the drone had overheated and that was why it crashed.
“Are you even listening to me?” Iyeh says.
I sigh and look up at last. Like me, he is dressed in gray overalls with the farm’s logo on the breast pocket. Since it’s still noon and the sun is still up, he has a mask on his face with a pipe leading from it to the small tank hanging from the belt at his waist. The tank contains purified oxygen, something the sun seems to be sucking up more and more with every passing day. Unlike me, he is muscular and tall with a face that somehow manages to convey the kindness that resides in his pure heart. I realize I’m staring but it’s too late to pretend.
“Stop leering at me and listen,” he says, obviously trying not to smile.
“I heard you the first time,” I say with a sigh. I drop my tools and walk over to him on the other side of the worktable. I touch his face with my clean hand.
“We cannot give up. The community relies on us,” I say.
Iyeh nods slowly, still not looking convinced.
“The temp regulators are out of order every single day. All eighty-six of them. The bots break down after doing the simplest tasks. The silos can’t even keep the crops at optimal temperature—”
His voice breaks and he looks into my eyes.
“What will we do without the farm? Without food? We’ll join the millions who have perished—”
I slip off his mask and kiss him, softly, cutting him off mid sentence. His lips part instinctively and he kisses me back. I extend the kiss as long as I can and by the time I pull away, we are both gasping for breath.
“You…worry too much,” I say.
Iyeh manages a weak smile.
“I just don’t know what to do,” he says.
I take his hand.
“That is why I’m the one that does the thinking, right?” I say. “So leave it to your husband. Let me handle it.”
Iyeh smiles, for real this time.
“You have a plan, don’t you?”
I nod. I do have a plan. Or maybe the bones of a plan. Like all plans made in this new world, the chances of it working are slim—but we have to try.
“Yes, but right now, I’m planning something else.” I pull him in for another kiss. Iyeh comes into my arms with a smile, fingers fumbling at my overall’s buttons. Yes. For now, we will love each other. Let us leave worrying till tomorrow. Let us leave unsettling thoughts for night.
It is the middle of the night and I am wide awake. Iyeh is snoring softly beside me but I cannot sleep. My thoughts are jumbled together. I sigh and get up, careful not to disturb him. He struggles to find sleep on most nights and I don’t want to interrupt his hard-earned rest.
I do not switch on the lights. Instead, I feel my way to the door and step out to the balcony. The night welcomes me in her usual quiet way. I take a deep breath and try to enjoy the view.
Our apartment looks over the entire farm, giving us a view that stretches for miles into the distance. The grim mountains kiss the sky on the horizon. I look out at the countless acres of farmland and pride swells in my chest. I could never have imagined I could do something so great, so meaningful. According to Iyeh’s accounts, we have produced food for millions of people in our community and others far from us since we started this farm.
What began as an idea in a basement in Lagos, just days after the fire reached the once-proud state, has now become a source of sustenance and hope for the new world. I remember buying the first packets of seeds from shops where the attendants asked what I needed them for. Everybody else was getting emergency supplies and things like that but I filled my cart with seed bags.
“I want to start a farm. I want to fix the food issue,” I said.
They looked at me like I was mad. I didn’t blame them for their skepticism. Most people had already accepted that if the rising tides or wildfires didn’t kill us, hunger was sure to end us all.
I lean my elbows against the wooden railing, letting the cool night breeze caress my skin. I am wearing a pair of shorts and nothing else, thanks to Iyeh’s deft fingers. Up above, the sky is dark and cloudless, as it has been for as long as I can remember. There are no stars, of course, and no moon. These days, nightfall means total darkness.
I look back to the earth, to the different plots illuminated by the floodlights. From my vantage point, the farm looks healthy and thriving but I know this is not the case. I know that if I descend and inspect the crops closely, I will see the spots and blisters. I will see how the Earth is fighting us still, rejecting our attempts to try and remedy all the harm that has been done to her for ages.
I try to distract myself from the dark turn my thoughts have taken. I wish I had a cigarette but I quit when the world started burning. I guess I felt guilty for playing a part, however small, in the Earth’s demise. I could really use one now, though. I sigh and listen to the silence. Once, a long time ago, the night would be filled by the sound of crickets and cicadas but all the insects are gone. Most of the animals too. We have to pollinate manually now. This is one of the reasons why the farm is getting more difficult to sustain.
I sigh again and try to forget about cigarettes. There’s no way I can get any. There are no stores to buy such things, not anymore. Besides, Iyeh would kill me if he catches me smoking. I smile and walk back towards our room. Perhaps I will rest easier with his arms wrapped around me. The night can keep its problems and my anxiety. I will take care of everything when morning comes. If morning comes.
“I met it like this. There was a cocoa sapling growing here but it obviously died.”
Iyeh and I listened to the farmhand in silence. Okon is one of the few people from the community who help out on the farms once in a while. He is an energetic boy who is also a fast learner. He likes to help me out with maintenance of the drones and robots. He had roused me and my partner from sleep this morning to come see the latest disaster that has befallen our beloved farm.
The three of us are standing over a dead parasite. I have no idea what it is and judging by the look on Iyeh’s face through his mask, neither does he. It is about a foot long and purple with yellow spots. It looks like it had been leaching nutrients from the cocoa sapling but for some reason it had died. I looked over at the hole where the sapling used to be. A thought starts forming in my head.
“Okon, give us a minute, will you?”
The boy nods and walks away, inspecting the tomato ridges on the other side.
Iyeh looks at me as soon as Okon is out of earshot.
“Gozie—” he begins.
I forestall him with a raised hand.
“I know what you’re going to say,” I tell him. “We have to harvest what we can, close the farm and give up on the planet. Right?”
Iyeh nods, his expression resolute.
“Unless you have a better idea.” His tone clearly suggests he believes otherwise.
I grin at him before I remember he can’t see it through my mask.
“Actually, I do have a better idea,” I say. “But I’ll need your help to pull it off.”
Without explaining further, I turn around and start walking towards the workshop where I repair bots and where the computers that regulate the farm’s automated processes are located.
Iyeh heaves an exasperated sigh behind me but he follows. I hope he likes my solution. I hope he approves of it because if he doesn’t think it will work, then the farm is doomed and we are doomed as well.
“Well? Say something!”
Iyeh has been staring at the plans for more than ten minutes. He magnifies the sketches on the holograms and double checks the measurements I included in the margins. It is almost as if he is looking for a flaw in my design, something he could use to buttress his argument that the farm is irredeemable. He mutters something under his breath and finally looks up at me.
“This… it’s the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.”
I feel a wide smile forcing on my face. The knot of tension I hadn’t realized was in my chest is suddenly loosened. He likes it. We’re going to make this work.
“How will we build it though?” Iyeh asks.
I walk closer to him and take his hands in mine. My blueprints hover in midair, clearly showing the plans for my most audacious project yet. A solution to all our problems. A way to save the farm and to try to fix the deeply wounded planet at the same time. At first glance, it is a simple dome but there are several specifics. If we’re able to build this dome, it would do the job of the now non-existent ozone layer and protect us from most of the sun’s deadly rays. The dome will be installed with cooling vats to combat the heat and several other adjustments. It is a complicated project. The materials we need alone will most likely be difficult to find and we’ll need a lot of people to get the plan going but I’m not about to give up before I start.
Iyeh’s question hangs in the air between us, begging for an answer. I smile and squeeze his hands.
“Together.” I say. “We will build it together.”
We are losing more crops every day. The pests and parasites have evolved because of the planet’s deteriorating condition. They have become stronger and more resistant to the chemicals that would have killed them in the past. We are also losing crops to the environment, with the sun doing more harm than good for the plants. An entire plot of corn was razed a few days ago and we lost the whole field. Iyeh came up with a suggestion to dig out the seedlings and keep them in storage until the dome is finished. I accepted his great idea and we moved the weaker crops to the silos, leaving the ones close to ripening and hoping they don’t get destroyed before we can harvest them.
Building the dome is no easy task, even with the community’s help. The people had not been too surprised to hear that the farm was declining. They have eyes and they can see. They know it’s only a matter of time, perhaps a couple of decades from now, before the Earth becomes completely uninhabitable. When Iyeh and I presented our plan however, they were willing to help.
I divided the people into groups. I sent some people to find specific materials on my list. They had to travel to other communities to get some of the things, like the coolants we’ll be using to cool the air in the dome. Other materials were easier to get. In the tumultuous days following the spread of the fires, looting had happened all over the country. People mostly went after food and survival items, leaving behind things they thought were unimportant. Some of those things are important to us now. We gather as many solar panels as we can find. We gather other things as well: wires, batteries, generators, abandoned refrigerators.
I barely have time to tend to the farm anymore and Iyeh has taken over some of my duties so I can focus on the dome.
The first thing we do is surround the entire community with a low fence which will serve as the foundation. The fence is built with reinforced concrete and there are little gaps where gates will be erected to allow passage into and out of the dome once it is completed. I have to frequently recalculate throughout the process, calling on formulas I learned long ago and thought I’d never use again. The slightest miscalculation would be a disaster. A wrongly approximated value may cause the entire structure to collapse, burying us all.
After erecting the fence, we start constructing the dome’s skeleton framework. We use steel pipes, welding and bending them with the help of the farm’s bots which I had modified for building purposes. So far, we have made great progress. We are still losing crops but the dome is coming along quickly.
I pray we don’t finish construction too late. I pray we don’t have a dome protecting us from the harsh environment but no farm from which to harvest food. That would be the most horrible outcome, to finally be able to breathe freely but without food to eat. If we don’t finish the dome on time, we will end up as perfectly preserved bodies under the dome, starved to death but kept fresh by the structure we had built to keep us alive.
It is night.
I’m standing in the tomato field, looking upwards at the finished dome. It is the most beautiful structure I have ever seen. After weeks of backbreaking work, we have successfully created a sanctuary for ourselves.
The dome is made of glass, a deviation from my blueprints which had suggested we use metals that can’t get corroded. The glass had been one of the people’s ideas. The person who brought up the idea had been an engineer, back when people still held degrees and jobs. They had advised us to use glass because that way we would be able to see the skies. The glass is reinforced, of course. At night, it looks dark just like the stars beyond it and if I squint I can almost erase the dome from sight entirely and it would seem as if I’m looking at the sky directly.
“It’s too late for wandering, don’t you think?”
I turn to see Iyeh approaching me. He doesn’t have a mask on. There is no need for masks anymore. The dome is fitted with a purifier that extracts oxygen from outside and purifies it for our use. He gets close to me and I can see the smile in his eyes.
“What are you doing out here? Can’t sleep?” I ask.
“Actually, I’ve found it way easier to sleep since we built the dome,” he says. “I was just looking for you.”
I hold his hand and say nothing. I had met Iyeh while running from the fires. He had barely escaped from his own burning home but not before he watched his parents and siblings succumb to the flames. In those early days, most people didn’t understand what was happening. The sun burns us to teach us a lesson, to scold us for mistreating our planet. Some of us, like Iyeh and myself, were lucky to find comfort in each other’s arms. I glance sideways at him as he looks up at the dome. Perhaps the earth will erupt with fury someday and swallow us all, perhaps the sun will explode and destroy us completely. But for now, we will grow and flourish as well as we can. I follow my husband’s gaze to the skies. The stars wink down at us and a cloud drifts away, revealing the full moon.
Oluwatomiwa Ajeigbe (he/him) is writer of the dark and fantastical, a poet and a reluctant mathematician. He has poetry and fiction published or forthcoming from F&SF, FANTASY Magazine, Weird Horror Magazine, Eyes To The Telescope, Baffling Magazine, Lightspeed Magazine and elsewhere. When he’s not writing about malfunctioning robots or crazed gods, he can be found doing whatever people do on Twitter at @OluwaSigma. He writes from a room with broken windowpanes in Lagos, Nigeria.