Bob stood at attention before his epigeous garden. They all did, all the shroom farmers. The inspector walked before them with her clipboard and her sour face.
“Hm,” she said, checking out Francine’s garden. She made a note on her clipboard and moved on.
“Uh-huh,” she said in an appreciative tone before John’s garden, and made her note with a flourish.
Bob scoffed at that quietly. Of course she did, John’s garden was always the best. Compared to Bob’s pitiful shrooms, his were large and juicy and vibrant.
The inspector stopped before his own garden. She inspected the seals, the garden was a greenhouse, just a big glassy box with a patch of nutrients, encasing their shrooms. They were bright white and red, at least that’s what they were supposed to be. They contrasted nicely with the dour, brown atmosphere of the planet. It was still undergoing terraforming after all, and even though it was safe for people to breathe the air, it wasn’t safe for much else. Everything was a struggle, the toxicity of the soil, the water, the building materials, the colonists needed to take care of everything, needed to know chemistry and science and try really, really hard not to kill everyone around them by some rookie mistake.
That was the problem Bob had. He wasn’t a rookie, he had undergone training just like everyone else, but he was basically an average farmer sent out on the colony to quickly rack up points and retire comfortably. He never expected things to be so tough out here. After all, this planet, nicknamed Myco because that was the only thing that grew here, had been under wide-scale terraforming for twenty years now. It wasn’t like the new colonies where they battled flesh-eating plants and the rocks tried to smother them in their sleep.
This was supposed to be a cushy job, dammit!
The inspector checked the glass, and took a lot of notes. Like, a lot.
“What is it? The cracks on that side panel were on the equipment I received, I’ve made a report on that. It’s not my fault,” Bob said.
“Atten-HUT!” the inspector snapped at him, and all the farmers slammed their right foot on the dirt and stood straight. She approached him like a viper. “You,” she checked her clipboard, “Bob, are the worst-performing farmer we’ve ever had in this colony.”
“I’m sorry ma’am.”
“You, Bob, you do realise we need those shrooms to survive, right?” The inspector finished the sentence by snapping her jaw shut.
“Then why the fuck are your shrooms looking as pitiful as your face, Bob?”
“I-I don’t know, ma’am…” he stuttered.
The other farmers snorted and fought a smile. Francine bit her lip and Johh rolled his eyes. Those rotten bastards, laughing at him all the time. It wasn’t his fault they gave him faulty equipment every time. And the soil he was planting on was reused, simply scooped out from some internal garden, all the nutrients used up. It needed some time to restore itself, every decent farmer knew that. It wasn’t his fault.
The inspector noted a few more things down on her clipboard and then stood before all three of them. “Farmer Francine, good job, as always.”
She perked up.
“Farmer John, excellent crop, as always,” she nodded with a wide smile.
John nodded in acknowledgment but there was more to his expression. What was it? Where those two in on it, making Bob look like and idiot? Then Bob finally got it. John was definitely banging her.
No wonder she was giving him all the right tools and spores. It was a catch-22, Bob couldn’t possibly compete with that! The game was rigged. Unfair.
“Farmer Bob,” she said with a tone that dripped of resentment and disappointment. “This is your last warning. Turn this crop around by next week, or you are done. And you’ll be lucky you don’t become shroom food, ’cause there’s no way we’re gonna spare resources on your return trip out of season.”
Bob gulped audibly. “Yes ma’am! I’ll fix it, ma’am.”
“Dismissed,” the inspector said and turned to leave.
Bob held one of his sad-looking shrooms in his hands. The shrooms were of the Amanita muscaria, a deadly, poisonous variety back on Earth. But on Myco, and with a bit of genetic engineering and mixing them up with the classic Pleurotus, they became the only thing that could help humans survive the toxic atmosphere. So, it was easy to understand the responsibility placed upon the farmers. When they did their job, nobody noticed them, or cared about them. When something went wrong and supply went low, suddenly everybody became an expert.
He sat back in his shared quarters, he was in there with three muscled grunts that pretty much dug up the planet. He had nothing in common with them and they treated him badly, but stopped paying attention to him after a few months of endless bullying. They got fed up with him and moved on to another victim, a virologist up at Lab 2.
Anyway, rot them and rot everybody.
Bob would show them all.
Bob waited outside the inspector’s dorm. He waited quite a while, those rotten people were quite energetic. Once they were done with their lovemaking, John peeked out of the room, checking to see if anyone was there. Bob remained hidden and followed him.
John was holding onto his shirt and walked on one leg, while trying to stick his other foot inside his pants. Bob hit him with a farming shovel.
John collapsed on the floor, and Bob rolled him onto a heavy-duty dirt sack. He grabbed the two ends and grunted, pulling him all the way to the shroom farms outside.
No one was around, Bob knew everyone’s schedule. Even so, the colony felt like a deserted town most of the time, every person there did multiple jobs and there was so much automation that they worked with a skeleton crew. Also, every person they added required resources they simply couldn’t spare.
John came to while the glass pane slid into place. “No, what are you doing? Let me out!” he shouted, his voice coming through muffled. He managed to stick a couple of fingers at the end, they got stuck in the mechanism. He cried out in pain but didn’t let go.
“Rotten bastard!” Bob said and jammed his gardening shears into the opening, hurting John’s fingers even more.
He still wouldn’t let go, fighting him for his own survival. For he knew what it would mean if that pane shut.
Bob held the gardening shears properly in his hand, then with a practiced motion, loped John’s finger off.
John screamed in pain, that one was so loud that Bob looked around nervously, this one might had been heard by someone. He decided to be done with it, and loped off his other finger, then kicked the glass pane shut.
Crying and kicking, clutching his bleeding hand, John fought to get out of his glass coffin.
“Let’s see who’s the better farmer now, John,” Bob snarled and turned on the UV lights. It wasn’t just for making them full of vitamin D.
The shrooms snapped around, twirled around John’s limbs, grew on his skin, shot spores in the confined space’s air and into his lungs.
John screamed in pain until the mushrooms ate him alive.
The entire colony searched and searched for poor, missing John. Bob was the first one to volunteer, they all dropped non-essential duties and donated their time and resources into looking around. They left no stone unturned, they opened every piece of machinery that could hold a person inside, they checked every box, then checked them all again because the inspector couldn’t let go, crying in secret for many nights.
In the end, he was officially declared missing.
The inspector came to check on the shroom farms. Bob and Francine stood at attention before the three greenhouses. Since she was the better farmer, they gave her the responsibility of tending to John’s garden. It was temporary and it would be made official this day.
The inspector looked haunted, pale, with black bags under her eyes. She seemed she hadn’t slept at all.
Bob, on the contrary, had slept like a baby. Oh, sure, he was worried a bit that they’d check inside the gardens. But nobody ever thought to check in there. Not even Francine. He suppressed a smile as the inspector idly noted things on her clipboard. “Farmer Francine, your duties now extend to the care of Farmer John’s-” her voice broke as she said the words, but carried on, “shroom garden. Please take care of it, the entire colony depends on you.”
“It will be my honour, ma’am!” Francine replied, snapping her heel on the ground.
“Good. Farmer Bob, I see you’ve made real progress. The shrooms look livelier than ever,” the inspector said, forcing some pep into her voice.
“Thank you ma’am.” Bob said, snapping at attention again.
“If I may ask, what was the problem you solved?”
“It was as I said in my reports, ma’am. It was the missing nutrients in the soil,” said Bob, smiling wide.