Love of Botany
By Margaret Karmazin

The Prirose alone might have been enough enticement for a xenobiologist to accept the offer: aflower whose trunk shoots three meters into the air, the blossom itself a meter in diameter, sprouting layer upon layer of ruffled deep salmon petals. Entire zipbooks are published on the subject of the Prirose scent, which is said to inebriate anyone who inhales it.

This mysterious plant (and its neighboring exotic cousins) do not live on earth but on Edenal, a far moon orbiting the uninhabitable planet of Steinfeld 124 in the constellation of Sagittarius. Dr. Reginald Steinfeld discovered the place with his Lazescope in 2029 when the populace was in a frenzy of planet discovery. As the number 124 signifies, the astronomer was ambitious.

I would be the twenty-ninth human to make an extended stay on Edenal, at the moment populated by only a small crew of scientists. The moon is on the route to Divott where they were cultivating a hybro-virus useful for immunization. So, occasionally, I would have company other than the crew. My sponsors were all private: one pharmaceutical company, one cosmetic and a university. This was preferable to being owned by the government.

They arranged a ride for me on a second class cargosledge, taking off at midnight. I could hardly stand up, I was so exhausted, being a morning person of the first order. Two weeks straight run, then a hyperjump, six days more and we were there. No showers were available on that piece of junk; I had to sponge bathe. Hated it. Felt quite funky by the time we arrived.

Edenal, the month of December

Actually, it was only December on Earth, but we kept two calendars. Here on this tiny moon, it was eternal July: the tropics of Africa, the Amazonian jungle, Sumatra. An Edenal day was 2.89 hours longer than an Earth day.

I stepped out of the cargosledge into steam heat rising from the small area of pavement surrounding the pod. Fredericks, the head honcho (actually a somewhat renowned xenozoologist for someone so young: still in his thirties) resembled Merlin standing in magical mist. He was a tall, pale string bean with hair the same color as his skin; definitely not my type. Not that I figured I'd have time for that sort of thing with all I had to do, like classify every plant I could see. I didn't get the impression there was much social life there anyway, not with only six people other than myself in residence. Fredericks looked distracted and annoyed to have to meet me.

"Dr. Drumm," he said, his voice wavery. (So unappealing. I was lonely already.) He extended a limp hand.

"You may call me Valerie," I said. I gave him a firm shake to set him straight.

"Come this way," he said. "You'll be living with us unless and until you construct a personal pod. We have the materials for everyone to do so, but no one has yet got around to using them. We're all mainly interested in work here."

"Hmmmm," I said. I added, "I am rather starved. Anything interesting to eat?"

I followed him along a sort of boardwalk. Below us was thick foliage.

"I don't know about 'interesting'," he said. "We have the usual rations. We often have some local fruit but none at the moment. Gosset is off gauging temps at the volcano and Marsh is sifting dirt about ten kilometers to the east. Three of us are sleeping. We've been at it rather intensely. I'll show you the kitchen; you're on your own."

So no welcoming dinner, not even a note on the kitchen counter. What an amusing bunch. My first evening I ate alone. A sandwich of stale sprout bread and walnut tofu with a side of freeze dried lima beans. Yuck.

Eventually, I met the crew: besides Fredericks, Gosset, and Marsh, there were Chow, her assistant drone, and Bonaski, a specialist in rock dating and the friendliest of the bunch (which wasn't saying a lot). It was clear within a couple of days that I would be happier in my own place.

"How do I go about this moving out?" I asked Fredericks, whose face was, as usual, glued to a microscreen.

"What?" he said, maybe a full minute later, eyes blinking as if I had suddenly flooded a dark room with light. "Oh, you mean constructing your own minipod?"

"Yes. My own minipod."

He tore himself reluctantly from his screen. Mind you, being a scientist myself, I could sympathize with this maniacal intensity with one's field of study, but these pod people carried it to extremes. Didn't they have any desire whatsoever for social interaction? For recreation after hours? Anything besides work? Hadn't they had psyche training? Anyone with a nanobrain knew that time off to goof off was as important for work success as is the labor itself!

"The kits are in the store room. Clearly marked. They snap together, you hardly need tools. You'll have it up in half a day."

"Well, thanks," I said, understanding from the "you" that no one would be helping me.

"You're welcome," said Fredericks, eyes back on the screen.

It took me two days to set it up, with plenty of cursing involved. Overhearing me, Bonaski showed up to lend a hand. By then all that was left to do was to lay down the flooring and snap together the meager furniture, but I was grateful for anything.

"You're kind of a social type, aren't you?" said Bonaski when we were done (one table, two chairs, one cot, one shelf.) She flopped onto one of the chairs, causing it to collapse. Unruffled, she hopped up from the floor, snapped the thing back together and sat down more carefully. She was the tough type, rather mannish, with a wide, ruddy face and elfish blue eyes.

"What do you mean?" I snapped. I hated to be analyzed, especially by someone who hardly knew me.

"Well," she said, unfazed, "as soon as you got here, you spent most of your time trying to hook up with each of us. Do you realize you've been on Edenal for four days and have yet to visit the Prirose?"

What she said struck me like a good karate kick. I had one of those what-is-real-am-I-crazy sensations but didn't plan on admitting it. In a flash, I understood that she was right, that I was very much a person who needed intense contact. Then what was I doing zillions of miles out in space in the exact wrong setting for that?

"Well," I said, "what can I say?"

"I don't know," said Bonaski. "What can you say? Maybe you need to rethink your mission."

I resolved to stop pissing around and get out into that jungle first thing in the morning. The Edenal night was only seven hours long and the day about twenty. The system had two suns, one being much more distant than the other. During the "night," the more distant star was in dominance, preventing darkness but not creating full daylight. More like a seven hour dusk. Hence the thick, healthy vegetation.

To change the subject, I said, "So what's the animal life like here? I read about the firndle and the breesk, and those birdlike things, the mawk-mawks? Anything I need to be wary of when I go out there?"