The high sun of summer warmed the alpine valley just enough to get the genetically modified, fast-growing potatoes sprouting. The valley folk were expecting a fine harvest at equinox so long as there was enough rain and no hard summer freezes.
The mutant sheep grazed away on the grassy slopes while their shepherds tended them with their crooks which, when pointed at wayward mutants, would transmit a signal into their brain compelling them to return to their herd. Dogs were no longer permitted in the shepherding trade. It was deemed to be ‘psychologically abusive’ to allow sheep to be nipped and barked at by working dogs. A mind-controlling synaptic receiver, surgically implanted in the skull, was determined to be much more humane.
Indigo soon discovered that his pension would not carry him as far as he had originally hoped so he was forced to take a job as an Overseer which meant that he was paid to ride a burro from kibbutz to kibbutz and ensure that no unauthorized seed sowing was occurring and that no animals, mutant or otherwise, were being abused. He felt silly— being a former astronaut and all— plodding and bobbing along on a little donkey, so he surrendered his burro and took up walking. He discovered that the vigorous exercise restored his strength along with his appetite. He also discovered that he enjoyed acquainting himself with the dwindling population of undermen that lived along his route. His tolerance for the brutish slobs had come a long way.
As he got to know them better, he began to feel inadequate comparing his Overseer job duties to the more arduous professions of the male undermen. An Overseer role was secretly deemed by the serfs as ‘woman’s work’ although it was considered ungreen to think such sexist thoughts.
Indigo dealt with his feelings of inadequacy by reminding himself that the salary for an Overseer, a Gaian Administrator— Level six, was easily fifteen times that of a more ‘manly’ shepherd. So Indigo carried on, aware of the undermen’s perceptions of him and trying to be as lax as bureaucratically possible with the serfs in hope that it would engender their good will.
By late summer, Indigo had settled into a regular routine which took him to every kibbutz and shepherd’s hut in his section of the valley, once a week. The routine gave him the sense that he had finally unwound himself emotionally from the Mars mission. But on one typically mundane day, a day when he was actually contemplating issuing a demerit so as to break up the monotony, Indigo made a stop at the Tarian Commune kibbutz. Many things changed in Indigo’s life from that moment on.
The Tarians— Nadia, Adolphus, Adani, Ludwig, Diana, Raphael and Daian— were temple-going, collectively married folk who never once in fifteen years missed a Holy Communion or a production quota. They were traditional, quaint, salt-o-the-earth farmers of genetically modified potatoes. They tended forty acres as well as the adjacent forty acres which were abandoned two years prior when the last member of the Ogden-Merchant kibbutz finally succumbed to the cancers (which was how a good portion of the valley succumbed).
Adolphus and Nadia were especially model undermen. Gaiastan held them in the greenest regard for their tireless community service amounting to forty hours of mandatory volunteerism per week which they had performed with vigor and without complaint for ten straight years. They had also never once received a demerit from any Overseer since they had been transferred into the Hegel Valley in their teens.
When news of the nationalistic spirit of Aldolphus and Nadia reached the Highlands District administrators, they sent their agents down to investigate. Upon confirmation, the administrators presented the couple to the selection committee of The Children of Gaia for recognition. After eighteen months, Adolphus and Nadia were finally selected to receive an award for their nationalistic spirit which entailed them being entered into the Future of Gaia lottery raffle along with two dozen other nationalistic souls.
Adolphus and Nadia had the amazing good fortune of winning that raffle! The winning ticket, drawn from the hollowed and polished skull of an unfortunate humate by the Ceremonial Village Manager, meant that the winner would then be entered into the Highlands District Super Gaia Lotto drawing. That winning ticket was to be plucked from a hollowed out, gold-plated underman skull by the District Vizier. Amazingly, Adolphus and Nadia of the Tarians kibbutz won that raffle as well!
It was a spectacular streak of good luck and the townsfolk celebrated the proud duo for their great, triumphant, personal accomplishment of being extraordinarily lucky. But what was the prize, you ask? Surely, it must have been something spectacular as the odds against them winning were so astronomical. Well, it was indeed a wonderful prize to win the Highlands District Super Gaia Lotto drawing, for the Tarians couple won for themselves one full ride scholarship to attend the prestigious Ivy League University System!
The only question that remained for the pair was what to do with the scholarship? Nadia and Aldolphus were, by the time of the winning, well into old age (their late fifties) and much too old to make any proper use of it. Neither of them had the aptitude to meet the academic rigors of the Ivy League, either. They agreed that it would be a waste for either of them to attend as they would probably not survive the first semester. However, there remained for them an obvious disposition for the award, someone who might derive benefit by using it to break out of her undermen caste and elevate herself to a better, greener life.
Her name was D’naia and she was the youngest of six children assigned to the Tarian kibbutz. She was the only child that still remained as the others had been reassigned to other valleys, conscripted to fight the post nuclear remnants of worldwide evil, or died in a horrific woodcutting tragedy. D’naia was dearest to Adolphus and Nadia although they would never disclose that to the other surviving foster siblings.
So it was decided that the youngest of the Tarian kibbutz’ six children would attend the Ivy League. Her travel, room and board, and incidental expense had to be furnished by the Tarians, of course, but D’naia was permitted to attend, nonetheless. She was an inspiration to all of the Hegel Valley, a nationalistic champion of their hearts.
That autumn, the Tarian’s favorite daughter boarded a train at the Hegeltown station and headed east, down out of the mountains, across the DZ where humates lurk awaiting their chance to devour appendages, over the wide, slow-churning Great People’s River, and off to the far eastern regions of Gaiastan where great opportunity and University awaited her.
She survived three semesters before flunking out, proving conclusively to all that Overman Universities are absolutely no place for feeble minded undermen. So bad was her failure that they canceled all future lottos. She returned to her kibbutz in disgrace and saddled with a mountain of tuition debt as her failure triggered the revocation of her prize.
Indigo was not thinking about D’naia’s sad story the moment he passed the adobe and log farmhouse of the Tarian kibbutz. But he did take notice of D’naia working in the garden that day and she noticed him, too.
In the year since her disgrace, she had matured into a woman, fair and tall. Despite washing out, three semesters at University with Overman had altered her thinking. She refused to wear the traditional, androgynous pantsuit of undermen women. She instead wore a bright summer dress which was probably unspectacular for University co-eds, but quite sensational in the traditional, conservative, undermen enclave. Her dress was light and floral, sleeveless, and cinched at the waist with a wide silk ribbon. The material undulated in the soft summer breeze revealing, in quick flashes, her shaved legs.
What a scandal! Indigo thought. Only undermen men ever shaved ever their legs! Indigo soaked up the vision. She was an unbelievable contrast to the gender neutrality of the women of the valley. He immediately felt the illness coming on but he couldn’t pull his eyes off her.
“Hey you,” she called out to him, breaking his trance and reminding him that ogling was a misdemeanor. “You’re that spaceman, aren’t you?”
Indigo looked away and started off down the road.
“Wait. Don’t go. Wait!”
“You’re Indigo, aren’t you?”
Indigo reluctantly answered. “Yes. Yes I am.”
D’naia stepped out of the garden and strode up to him, dress rippling, calves flexing. Indigo tried to avert his eyes.
“My guardians told me about you. They’re so proud to have a hero living in their village.”
“Well…,” Indigo feigned humility, “tell them ‘thank you’.”
“I will,” she answered in an exaggerated tenor.
“So… is that all?”
“No, wait. So tell me… What’s it like?”
“What’s what like?” Indigo asked in a contrived tone already knowing what she meant having been asked the ‘walking on Mars’ question at least eight hundred times.
“Tell me,” she repeated, “What’s it like… what’s it like being the only one left?”
This was not the question Indigo expected. It caught him off guard for it indicated, in her, a compassion that exceeded the mere novel, impersonal interest that everyone else had expressed.
It had been over thirty days (three metric weeks) since Staley disappeared. Many theories had evolved over his vanishing including assassination by Sunstein Agent, kidnapping by the Anarcho-Capitalist Underground, eaten by humate cannibals, falling to his death into a crevasse in the Gunnison Glacier, recalled back to active duty for a secret spaceman mission to Titan, and perhaps the most outlandish of them all, becoming a meditative spiritualist surviving on insects and tree bark.
“I didn’t know I was the only one left,” Indigo answered, regurgitating the official government mantra.
“Oh, c’mon. You don’t think he’s still alive, do you?” She asked, a piercing, ice-pick stare beaming from her eyes.
Indigo felt a little insulted. But rather than off-putting, it fueled a resilient and aggressive attitude within. He desired her. She was beautiful, several standard deviations more attractive than the average serf-maiden. He had forgotten visual arousal being surrounded by mustachioed women in pantsuits and crew cuts for so long. He felt a primal urge to grab hold of her, yank her silky dress up over her head, and deflower her right there on the splintery, split rail fence that separated them. He, of course, would never indulge such a savage fantasy and the burgeoning, gastro-intestinal illness aided in his effort to suppress his ungreenness.
D’naia didn’t fear him despite knowing exactly what lusting thoughts he had swirling in his mind. She smirked awaiting his answer. She knew he was harmless.
“I honestly don’t know what happened to Staley,” Indigo finally replied. “I do know that he was tired of celebrity.”
“I suppose anyone would get tired of it,” D’naia answered, eyes softening.
Then Indigo’s brain clicked, finally devising a means of punishing her for her penetrating question and refusal to exhibit proper humility towards one of much higher degree. “Are you that female that flunked out of University? How do you deal with everyone’s disappointment?” But he terribly, terribly regretted asking that the very moment the cruel words flew off his tongue.
D’naia stared back at him, her blue eyes softening further, giving Indigo the sense that he had indeed wounded her. He averted his eyes apologetically.
“You’re cruel,” she indicated, but not in a way that was a plea for mercy but rather in a way that meant that she enjoyed the duel. “What are you doing tomorrow?”
Their eyes re-engaged.
“I don’t have any plans.”
“Then meet me at the bazaar. I’ll be at the station at five.”
 By custom, all government approved female undermen names are anagrams of Diana, The Roman goddess of nature, fertility and childbirth.
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