Aug 272012

Tomato plants lined up on metal racks with artificial lighting overhead.Vetkar Allis was showing the Quality Inspector from Niepach Agro around his small-cubage agronery. Civadmin regulations required each grower who supplied raw materials for food processing to be inspected annually, but since the inspections were done by the food processing corporations who held the growers’ contracts, it wasn’t much of an inspection. Unless the grower was deficient in production or the various management kickbacks that kept the contract mechanism well-oiled. Vetkar never stinted on such things, but even if he had, it would have been difficult for an inspector to find anything to cite.

“And the total cubage allocated to variety production?” the inspector enquired boredly, his datapad at the ready.

Vetkar handed him a wisp of mylar that contained a plan of the agronery, showing each production area and including measurements and statistics. “Eight point six percent,” he said crisply. His contract with Niepach allowed him to put up nine percent of the productive cubage into products other than soy, and he’d been slowly increasing the amount of other production, year by year.

The inspector slid the wisp into his datapad’s input slot, and nodded. “You’ve added dairy? That requires an additional inspection.”

“It’s already scheduled,” Vetkar nodded at the datapad.

“Oh. So it is. All right, let’s check on the storage units.”

Patiently, Vetkar showed him over the holding bins and racks, the chemical and tool storage sheds, seed storage, and the loading bays where materials were transferred to and from Niepach delivery drones. The inspector, a rotund, rather dour-looking man who’d replaced Kegan Istril last Yearturn, took a few desultory readings with a biometer and chemstrips, noting the results on the datapad.

“I notice you’re due for an upgrade on your maintenance filter hoods,” he said, scanning the readouts, “but you’ve appealed for an extension.”

“Yes, they’re well within parameters for another couple of years’ service,” Vetkar said as he led the way past the processing area and the scooter stand, to the rows of growing vats, stacked four-high and stretching, seemingly, into infinity. Maintenance racks stretched between each row, with their controls on a stanchion at the end. Vetkar went to the first one, and lifted the cover that protected its keypad from dust and chemical vapor.

He gestured to the inspector, who looked blankly at him. “You can verify the seals, first,” he suggested. “That way you can confirm that the maintenance readouts haven’t been tampered with.” The inspector blinked. “That won’t be necessary, Agronist,” he said politely.

Vetkar suppressed a grin. The man didn’t even know how to check the seals, he’d bet. He had “new employee” written all over him, and it appeared Niepach was cost-cutting in the training budget again. “Well, that’s alright, then. Do you want me to run a random select of filter hoods, so you can check their tolerances?”

“Uh, that’s alright, let’s just look at this one, and, um…” the man pointed, “the one for that row.”

And so it went. When it was over, Vetkar reflected that he ought to invoice Niepach for the time he spent doing the inspector’s job. It would be amusing, if it weren’t for the fact that this clueless git was in charge of maintaining the integrity of a good portion of Hurst Niepach’s contribution to the food supply. One of the reasons he and Gislet had decided to put as much of their cubage as contract allowed into variety products was so that he and his family could supplement their rations from the agronery’s produce.

It cost them—the yield bonuses from high-yield soy, his contract crop, would have been more lucrative than what they could get on the specialty market for their fruits, vegetables, and modest dairy output, but it was worth it. A better future for his children started with good quality food.

The thought of his children reminded him he needed to return a call to the Special Activities Coordinator at their school. He dug his comlink from a pocket as he shucked off the new coverall he’d worn for the inspection.

“Bride’s Arms School.”

“This is Vetkar Allis, Kacek and Pralet’s father? I’m returning a call from Stipendary Gavrost…”

“I’ll put you through to his comlink.”

He carefully folded the coverall and slipped it into a plastic bag, shelving it, while he waited for the connection.

“This is Gavrost.” Vetkar was startled, he’d expected to reach the man’s message box.

“Uh, this is Vetkar Allis. You called… something about a field trip?”

The man’s voice warmed perceptibly. “Ah, yes, Agronist. We’re planning a field trip for the third and fourth levels, as you know… a shuttle trip to Pykalt Interstellar Port, and a tour of the Port facilities.”

Vetkar chuckled. “I know, I know… the kids have been talking of nothing else for days. We sent in their permission vouchers, didn’t we?”

“Oh, yes, we have them. I was calling about another matter. The charter company called yesterday. They have a surface-to-orbit shuttle for us, but the pilot they’d booked has come ill. I noted on your Parent Information Profile that you have a current STO Pilot’s Qualification?”

Vetkar blinked. “I do, yes. I did a hitch in the Home Legion as a shuttle jockey. I’ve kept up the Qualification, but I don’t actually do any regular piloting, you know.”

“Yes, but your Qualification is current, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is. But…”

“Agronist Allis, on such short notice we just can’t find another pilot, and if you can’t volunteer, we’ll have to cancel the field trip. I hope we can count on you?”

Vetkar chewed his lip anxiously. The kids were so looking forward to the field trip, it would be awful if the school had to cancel. But it would mean a whole day away from the agronery, he’d have to do the critical chores extra-early, rearrange his planting and pollinating schedule, throw extra work on his wife to do the dairy takeoff and processing… He hesitated.

Gavrost sensed the hesitation. “There’ll be four other parent volunteers and three school staff on the trip, to assist. All you’d need to do is the actual piloting,” he wheedled.

Vetkar nodded, reluctantly, even though he didn’t have a visual circuit on his portable comlink, then belatedly added, “Well… alright. I’d hate the kids to miss the chance.”

“Wonderful! I’ll stat the volunteer waiver and orientation to your message box right away. The children will be so delighted!”

Vetkar grinned ruefully to himself as he broke the connection. A regular softy, he was.

  One Response to “Vetkar: Down on the Farm”

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