Farmer in the Sky
|Author:||Robert A. Heinlein
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The Earth is crowded and food is rationed, but a colony on Ganymede, one of the moons of Jupiter, offers an escape for teenager Bill Lermer and his family. Back on Earth, the move sounded like a grand adventure, but Bill soon realizes that life on the frontier is dangerous, and in an alien world with no safety nets, nature is cruelly unforgiving of even small mistakes.
Bill's new home is a world of unearthly wonders and heartbreaking tragedy. He will face hardships, survive dangers, and grow up fast, meeting the challenge of opening up a new world for humanity and finding strengths within himself that he had never suspected existed.
Our troop had been up in the High Sierras that day and we were late getting back. We had taken off from the camp field on time but Traffic Control swung us way east to avoid some weather. I didn't like it; Dad usually won't eat if I'm not home.
Besides that, I had had a new boy shoved off on me as co-pilot; my usual co-pilot and assistant patrol leader was sick, so our Scoutmaster, Mr. Kinski, gave me this twerp. Mr. Kinski rode in the other copter with the Cougar Patrol.
"Why don't you put on some speed?" the twerp wanted to know.
"Ever hear of traffic regulations?" I asked him.
The copter was on slave-automatic, controlled from the ground, and was cruising slowly, down a freight lane they had stuck us in.
The twerp laughed. "You can always have an emergency. Here--I'll show you." He switched on the mike. "Dog Fox Eight Three, calling traffic--"
I switched it off, then switched on again when Traffic answered and told them that we had called by mistake. The twerp looked disgusted. "Mother's good little boy!" he said in sticky sweet tones.
That was just the wrong thing to say to me. "Go aft," I told him, "and tell Slats Keifer to come up here."
"Why? He's not a pilot."
"Neither are you, for my money. But he weighs what you do and I want to keep the crate trimmed."
He settled back in his seat. "Old Man Kinski assigned me as co-pilot; here I stay."
I counted to ten and let it ride. The pilot compartment of a ship in the air is no place for a fight. We had nothing more to say to each other until I put her down on North Diego Platform and cut the tip jets.
I was last one out, of course. Mr. Kinski was waiting there for us but I didn't see him; all I saw was the twerp. I grabbed him by the shoulder. "Want to repeat that crack now?" I asked him.
Mr. Kinski popped up out of nowhere, stepped between us and said, "Bill! Bill! What's the meaning of this?"
"I--" I started to say that I was going to slap the twerp loose from his teeth, but I thought better of it.
Mr. Kinski turned to the twerp. "What happened, Jones?"
"I didn't do anything! Ask anybody."
I was about to say that he could tell that to the Pilots' Board. Insubordination in the air is a serious matter. But that "Ask anybody" stopped me. Nobody else had seen or heard anything.
Mr. Kinski looked at each of us, then said, "Muster your patrol and dismiss them, Bill." So I did and went on home.
All in all, I was tired and jumpy by the time I got home. I had listened to the news on the way home; it wasn't good. The ration had been cut another ten calories--which made me still hungrier and reminded me that I hadn't been home to get Dad's supper. The newscaster went on to say that the spaceship Mayflower had finally been commissioned and that the rolls were now opened for emigrants. Pretty lucky for them, I thought. No short rations. No twerps like Jones.
And a brand new planet.
George--my father, that is--was sitting in the apartment, looking over some papers. "Howdy, George," I said to him, "eaten yet?"
"Hello, Bill. No."
"I'll have supper ready right away." I went into the pantry and could see that he hadn't eaten lunch, either. I decided to fix him a plus meal.
I grabbed two Syntho-Steaks out of the freezer and slapped them in quickthaw, added a big Idaho baked potato for Dad and a smaller one for me, then dug out a package of salad and let it warm naturally.
By the time I had poured boiling water over two soup cubes and over coffee powder the steaks were ready for the broiler. I transferred them, letting it cycle at medium rare, and stepped up the gain on the quickthaw so that the spuds would be ready when the steaks were--then back to the freezer for a couple of icekreem cake slices for dessert.
The spuds were ready. I took a quick look at my ration accounts, decided we could afford it, and set out a couple of pats of butterine for them. The broiler was ringing; I removed the steaks, set everything out, and switched on the candles, just as Anne would have done.
"Come and get it!" I yelled and turned back to enter the calorie and point score on each item from the wrappers, then shoved the wrappers in the incinerator. That way you never get your accounts fouled up.
Dad sat down as I finished. Elapsed time from scratch, two minutes and twenty seconds--there's nothing hard about cooking; I don't see why women make such a fuss about it. No system, probably.
Dad sniffed the steaks and grinned. "Oh boy! Bill, you'll bankrupt us."
"You let me worry," I said. "I'm still plus for this quarter." Then I frowned. "But I won't be, next quarter, unless they quit cutting the ration."
Dad stopped with a piece of steak on its way to his mouth. "Again?"
"Again. Look, George, I don't get it. This was a good crop year and they started operating the Montana yeast plant besides."
"You follow all the commissary news, don't you, Bill?"
"Did you notice the results of the Chinese census as well? Try it on your slide rule."
I knew what he meant--and the steak suddenly tasted like old rubber. What's the use in being careful if somebody on the other side of the globe is going to spoil your try? "Those darned Chinese ought to quit raising babies and start raising food!"
"Share and share alike, Bill."
"But--" I shut up. George was right, he usually is, but somehow it didn't seem fair. "Did you hear about the Mayflower?" I asked to change the subject.
"What about the Mayflower?" Dad's voice was suddenly cautious, which surprised me. Since Anne died--Anne was my mother--George and I have been about as close as two people can be.
"Why, she was commissioned, that's all. They've started picking emigrants."
"So?" There was that cautious tone again. "What did you do today?"
"Nothing much. We hiked about five miles north of camp and Mr. Kinski put some of the kids through tests. I saw a mountain lion."
"Really? I thought they were all gone."
"Well, I thought I saw one."
"Then you probably did. What else?"
I hesitated, then told him about this twerp Jones. "He's not even a member of our troop. How does he get that way, interfering with my piloting?"
"You did right, Bill. Sounds as if this twerp Jones, as you call him, was too young to be trusted with a pilot's license."
"Matter of fact, he's a year older than I am."
"In my day you had to be sixteen before you could even go up for your license."
"Times change, George."
"So they do. So they do."
Dad suddenly looked sad and I knew he was thinking about Anne. I hastily said, "Old enough or not, how does an insect like Jones get by the temperament-stability test?"
"Psycho tests aren't perfect, Bill. Neither are people." Dad sat back and lit his pipe. "Want me to clean up tonight?"
"No, thanks." He always asked; I always turned him down. Dad is absent-minded; he lets ration points get into the incinerator. When I salvage, I really salvage. "Feel like a game of cribbage?"
"I'll beat the pants off you."
"You and who else?" I salvaged the garbage, burned the dishes, followed him into the living room. He was getting out the board and cards.
His mind wasn't really on the game. I was around the corner and ready to peg out before he was really under way. Finally he put down his cards and looked square at me. "Son--"
"Huh? I mean, 'Yes, George?'"
"I've decided to emigrate in the Mayflower."
I knocked over the cribbage board. I picked it up, eased my throttle, and tried to fly right. "That's swell! When do we leave?"
Dad puffed furiously on his pipe. "That's the point, Bill. You're not going."
I couldn't say anything. Dad had never done anything like this to me before. I sat there, working my mouth like a fish. Finally I managed, "Dad, you're joking."
"No, I'm not, Son."
"But why? Answer me that one question: why?"
"Now see here, Son--"
"Call me 'Bill.'"
"Okay, Bill. It's one thing for me to decide to take my chances with colonial life but I've got no right to get you off to a bad start. You've got to finish your education. There are no decent schools on Ganymede. You get your education, then when you're grown, if you want to emigrate, that's your business."
"That's the reason? That's the only reason? To go to school?"
"Yes. You stay here and take your degree. I'd like to see you take your doctor's degree as well. Then, if you want to, you can join me. You won't have missed your chance; applicants with close relatives there have priority."
Dad looked stubborn.
So did I, I guess. "George, I'm telling you, if you leave me behind, it won't do any good. I won't go to school. I can pass the exams for third class citizenship right now. Then I can get a work permit and--"
He cut me short. "You won't need a work permit. I'm leaving you well provided for, Bill. You'll--"
"'Well provided for!' Do you think I'd touch a credit of yours if you go away and leave me? I'll live on my student's allowance until I pass the exams and get my work card."
"Bring your voice down, Son!" He went on, "You're proud of being a Scout, aren't you?"
"I seem to remember that Scouts are supposed to be obedient. And courteous, too."
That one was pretty hot over the plate. I had to think about it. "George--"
"If I was rude, I'm sorry. But the Scout Law wasn't thought up to make it easy to push a Scout around. As long as I'm living in your home I'll do what you say. But if you walk out on me, you don't have any more claim on me. Isn't that fair?"
"Be reasonable, Son. I'm doing it for your own good."
"Don't change the subject, George. Is that fair or isn't it? If you go hundreds of millions of miles away, how can you expect to run my life after you're gone? I'll be on my own."
"I'll still be your father."
"Fathers and sons should stick together. As I recall, the fathers that came over in the original Mayflower brought their kids with them."
"This is different."
"It's further, incredibly further--and dangerous."
"So was that move dangerous--half the Plymouth Rock colony died the first winter; everybody knows that. And distance doesn't mean anything; what matters is how long it takes. If I had had to walk back this afternoon, I'd still be hiking next month. It took the Pilgrims sixty-three days to cross the Atlantic or so they taught me in school--but this afternoon the caster said that the Mayflower will reach Ganymede in sixty days. That makes Ganymede closer than London was to Plymouth Rock."
Dad stood up and knocked out his pipe. "I'm not going to argue, Son."
"And I'm not, either." I took a deep breath. I shouldn't have said the next thing I did say, but I was mad. I'd never been treated this way before and I guess I wanted to hurt back. "But I can tell you this: you're not the only one who is sick of short rations. If you think I'm going to stay here while you're eating high on the hog out in the colonies, then you had better think about it again. I thought we were partners."
That last was the meanest part of it and I should have been ashamed. That was what he had said to me the day after Anne died, and that was the way it had always been.
The minute I said it I knew why George had to emigrate and I knew it didn't have anything to do with ration points. But I didn't know how to unsay it.
Dad stared. Then he said slowly, "You think that's how it is? That I want to go away so I can quit skipping lunch to save ration points?"
"What else?" I answered. I was stuck in a groove; I didn't know what to say.
"Hmm... well, if you believe that, Bill, there is nothing I can say. I think I'll turn in."
I went to my room, feeling all mixed up inside. I wanted Mother around so bad I could taste it and I knew that George felt the same way. She would never have let us reach the point where we were actually shouting at each other--at least I had shouted. Besides that, the partnership was busted up, it would never be the same.
I felt better after a shower and a long massage. I knew that the partnership couldn't really be busted up. In the long run, when George saw that I had to go, he wouldn't let college stand in the way. I was sure of that--well, pretty sure at least.
I began to think about Ganymede.
Why, I had never even been out to the Moon!
There was a boy in my class who had been born on the Moon. His parents were still there; he had been sent home for schooling. He gave himself airs as a deep-space man. But Luna was less than a quarter of a million miles away; you could practically throw rocks at it. It wasn't self-supporting; Moon Colony had the same rations as Earth. It was really part of Earth. But Ganymede!
Let's see--Jupiter was half a billion miles away, more or less, depending on the time of year. What was the tiny distance to the Moon compared with a jump like that?
Suddenly I couldn't remember whether Ganymede was Jupiter's third moon or fourth. And I just had to know. There was a book out in the living room that would tell and more besides--Ellsworth Smith's A Tour of Earth's Colonies. I went out to get it.
Dad hadn't gone to bed. He was sitting up, reading. I said, "Oh--hello," and went to look for the book. He nodded and went on reading.
The book wasn't where it should have been. I looked around and Dad said, "What are you looking for, Bill?"
Then I saw that he was reading it. I said, "Oh, nothing. I didn't know you were using it."
"This?" He held it up.
"It doesn't matter. I'll find something else."
"Take it. I'm through with it."
"Well... All right--thanks." I took it and turned away.
"Just a minute, Bill."
I waited. "I've come to a decision, Bill. I'm not going."
"You were right about us being partners. My place is here."
"Yes, but--Look, George, I'm sorry I said what I did about rations. I know that's not the reason. The reason is--well, you've got to go." I wanted to tell him I knew the reason was Anne, but if I said Anne's name out loud I was afraid I'd bawl.
"You mean that you are willing to stay behind--and go to school?"
"Uh--" I wasn't quite ready to say that; I was dead set on going myself. "I didn't quite mean that. I meant that I know why you want to go, why you've got to go."
"Hmm..." He lit his pipe, making a long business of it. "I see. Or maybe I don't." Then he added, "Let's put it this way, Bill. The partnership stands. Either we both go, or we both stay--unless you decide of your own volition that you will stay to get your degree and join me out there later. Is that fair?"
"Huh? Oh, yes!"
"So let's talk about it later."
I said goodnight and ducked into my room quick. William, my boy, I told myself, it's practically in the bag--if you can just keep from getting soft-hearted and agreeing to a split up. I crawled into bed and opened the book.
Ganymede was Jupiter-III; I should have remembered that. It was bigger than Mercury, much bigger than the Moon, a respectable planet, even if it was a moon. The surface gravity was one third of Earth-normal; I would weigh about forty-five pounds there. First contacted in 1985--which I knew--and its atmosphere project started in 1998 and had been running ever since.
There was a stereo in the book of Jupiter as seen from Ganymede--round as an apple, ruddy orange, and squashed on both poles. And big as all outdoors. Beautiful. I fell asleep staring at it.
Dad and I didn't get a chance to talk for the next three days as my geography class spent that time in Antarctica. I came back with a frostbitten nose and some swell pix of penguins--and some revised ideas. I had had time to think.
Dad had fouled up the account book as usual but he had remembered to save the wrappers and it didn't take me long to straighten things out. After dinner I let him beat me two games, then said, "Look, George--"
"You know what we were talking about?"
"It's this way. I'm under age; I can't go if you won't let me. Seems to me you ought to, but if you don't, I won't quit school. In any case, you ought to go--you need to go--you know why. I'm asking you to think it over and take me along, but I'm not going to be a baby about it."
Dad almost looked embarrassed. "That's quite a speech, Son. You mean you're willing to let me go, you stay here and go to school, and not make a fuss about it?"
"Well, not 'willing'--but I'd put up with it."
"Thanks." Dad fumbled in his pouch and pulled out a flat photo. "Take a look at this."
"What is it?"
"Your file copy of your application for emigration. I submitted it two days ago."
Copyright © 1950 by Robert A. Heinlein
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