Marlon wasn’t sure where to begin.
“What do you mean you haven’t started to harvest yet? What have you been doing for the last three months?”
Dulcie shifted uncomfortably, staring at the ground. The flat, dusty, unforgiving ground. “Waiting for them to blossom.”
“Wait for what to blossom?” said Marlon, and indeed the entire field—acres and acres of it—was entirely devoid of plant life. It was like a moonscape. And not a very exciting moon, either. “I don’t see any plants here, do you?”
“I thought they might be camouflaged,” said Dulcie. “Hiding out.”
“What kind of plants hide out?”
“Unbelievable,” sighed Marlon, checking his checklist for probably the 100th time. “Well I’ll tell you what. The boss is going to be mighty unhappy with you about this. I mean, missing the quota by a bit? That’s life. Missing it by a lot? That’s a problem. But not having a single unit after all this time?”
“Oh look! There’s one!” said Dulcie, pointing into the distance.
Marlon squinted his eyes to see. “Where?”
“There, beside the dirt.”
“It’s all dirt.”
“Yes, but the flatter part, over there. With the...brown. I think I see a plant.” She watched the spot very carefully for a moment before sighing. “False alarm. It was just dirt.” Then she switched things up: “You know what the problem is?”
“Your complete inability to farm?”
“The seeds were faulty.”
Marlon stowed the checklist. “It’s a poor farmer who blames her—”
“No, I’m serious,” she said, getting all jittery as she formulated a silly excuse on the fly. “First of all, there weren’t nearly as many as I was expecting, so I had to space them out a lot, so I reckon the seeds got lonely and didn’t sprout.”
“That’s not how seeds work and you know it.”
“Do I, though?”
“Fair point,” said Marlon. “Regardless, you should’ve seen some results by now.” He surveyed the sprinkler systems, zigzagging across the field. “You watered them, right?”
“Every day!” said Dulcie, proudly. “I followed the instructions to the letter.”
“It just makes no sense,” sighed Marlon. “And I really don’t know how to explain to the boss that he has nothing to show for his investment. He needed these soldiers to—”
“Wait, what?” asked Dulcie. “Soldiers?”
Marlon looked uncomfortable. He checked his checklist again, as if it held the key to his not having to answer her. “Just a few soldiers.”
“But they’re potatoes...” she said. “We’re growing potatoes, not soldiers.”
“Potatoes can be soldiers, too,” countered Marlon. “Some of my best friends are militant taters. A hearty race, those potatoes. Nothing can keep ‘em down.”
“But how do they hold weapons? They have no arms, no legs, no—”
“That’s just racist, Dulcie. I can’t believe you said that.”
“Listen,” he said. “We have a serious problem here. The boss’ ship is due to arrive at the end of the week, and he’s expecting a yield of at least a thousand soldiers to help him fight the Sygs, and all we’ve got to show for our efforts is a whole lot of dirt, and however many chickens Greg managed to raise.”
“Greg’s mean,” said Dulcie. “He calls me incompetent.”
“Well you are, aren’t you? Can’t even grow potatoes! Everyone can grow potatoes! You just stick ‘em in soil and they grow!”
“Maybe you got me pacifist seeds. Maybe they’re refusing to grow on principle.”
“Maybe they’ve had enough of the military industrial complex, tired of being chewed up and spit out like disposable commodities, and they decided here and now that no sir, this is far enough. Hell no, we won’t grow! Hell no, we won’t grow!”
Marlon stared at her for a moment. “Do you appreciate, I wonder, how stupid you sound?”
“You’re the one trying to enlist potatoes to fight a war.”
“Not enlist, grow.” He sighed, and dialled up his condescension. “You do realize that potatoes are some of the fiercest warriors in the galaxy, don’t you? Many a planet has been razed through the might of the tater menace. A coup is not a coup without potatoes on your side. I’d sooner have a squadron of spuds than a planet-killing superweapon, because unlike a super-weapon, potatoes have no weaknesses.”
“But I still don’t see how—”
“Potatoes kill. It’s as simple as that.”
“OK, so, I hear what you’re saying, but I just want to point out that I’ve eaten a lot of potatoes in my life, and not one of them killed me.”
She half-expected Marlon to argue with her, but instead he knelt down and scooped up some of the dirt, let it fall back down through his fingers. “Those potatoes weren’t grown in Garugian soil.”
“What’s Garugian soil?” she asked, then added: “Besides, obviously, all this soil right here that we’re standing on. Right?”
He glared at her. “Correct. Garugian soil has a special chemical compound that activates the latent anger molecules within the potatoes, agitates them, and amplifies the murder genes until the potatoes can’t help but kill everything they see.”
Dulcie let the wind blow a little before saying: “I don’t see how that makes sense, but lonely seeds is somehow absurd.”
“Seeds don’t get lonely,” he sneered. “But Gaugian soil does breed monsters.”
“Oh!” said Dulcie, clapping her hands together. “I know! Maybe I had to peel them first? Take off the outer layer? Maybe the soil couldn’t get through?”
Marlon could see, in the distance, Greg approaching in his pickup. It was such a welcome sight, he was only half-listening to Dulcie anymore. “Hmm? Outer layer, yes. Yes, probably.”
“Never said anything in the instructions about peeling ‘em, but in retrospect I suppose that makes sense,” continued Dulcie, entirely on her own. “Might wanna include that in the manual, for next time.”
“Mmhmm,” said Marlon as the pickup came to a stop, and a cloud of Garugian dust wafted past. Greg turned off the engine and kicked open the door (nearly taking the door clean off) and stumbled on out. Greg was a perpetual drunk, and an idiot...which made him a better employee than Dulcie by far.
“Y’early!” he slurred, nearly falling over on his first step.
“I’m exactly on time, as always,” said Marlon. “Please say the chickens are ready.”
“Yup!” said Greg. “All loaded up and ready t’roll!” He gave a conspiratol wink and added: “An’ tasty, too.”
Marlon scowled. “Just how many of them did you eat?” He got ready to change up his checklist.
“Just the runts,” said Greg. “Nobody’ll miss ‘em.”
“Let’s hope so,” sighed Marlon, crossing out some lines. “Alright, let’s go see them, and prep them for transport before—”
“They’re here,” said Greg, with a curious smile on his face.
“They’re... they’re what?” asked Marlon.
Greg slapped his truck. “They’re here. I brought ‘em. They’re here.”
“Here now?” asked Marlon. “Where? How?”
“In th’back,” said Greg.
“But we gave you five hundred certified fertilized eggs. Even if half of them died, there’s no way you could five two hundred and fifty chickens in the back of—”
Dulcie, who was already peering in the pickup bed, frowned and said: “Those are some weird-looking chickens.”
“Oh no,” said Marlon, to himself. “Oh no oh no oh no...”
Sure enough, when he peered over the edge of the truck, his worst nightmare came true. Greg hadn’t transported 500 unruly chickens in the back of his truck, he’d arrived with several hundred overgrown seed potatoes in various states of decomposition.
“T’be honest,” Greg said, upon joining Marlon. “I stopped the heating lamps after a few days. Stunk t’high heaven. Didn’t help ‘em hatch none, neither.”
Marlon looked over at Dulcie, who didn’t seem to have connected any dots of her own yet. “What did your seeds look like, exactly?” he asked.
She frowned at the memory. “About yay big. Round. But not like a circle, kinda pointier one one end. Hard. White, but not like white-white. More like eggshell white.”
“Yup,” said Dulcie, happy with her descriptive powers.
“Egg. Shell. White.”
Dulcie stared at him a moment.
“Yup,” she said.
“Oh dear,” whimpered Marlon, and threw his checklist across the field. “I’m a dead man. I’m so very much a dead man. I mean, you both are dead too, but me? He’ll eat me alive. After this, he’ll eat me alive.”
“What for?” asked Greg. “Seems t’me you got th’job done!”
“Got the job done?” said Marlon, voice rising with his temper. “Got the job done? I have a field full of buried eggs, and a pickup truck full of moldy potatoes just rotting in the sun—”
“They’re not rottin’, they’re just restin’, is all!”
“Resting?” snarled Marlon. “They’re resting?”
“Sure!” said Greg. “Just gotta wake ‘em up like so:” He took a deep breath and let out a very loud: “Cock-a-doodle-doo!”
The potatoes, perhaps not surprisingly, did not perk up one bit.
But the oddest thing happened: the ground beneath them started to shake. A low rumble, but not a singular sound—more like hundreds of individual rumbles all rumbling at the same time. The checklist, a few feet away, was vibrating itself silly, clattering against the sprinkler pipes.
Dulcie’s face went from confusion to fear to pure joy and she exclaimed: “My potatoes are hatching!”
Marlon was about to argue when suddenly, right nearby, something erupted from the ground, spraying blackened shell and festering goo like a volcano as a savage, zombified chick clawed and scraped its way to the surface. Its beak was crooked and crackled, and its eyes a foul black that shone a demonic red.
“I see what you mean about the soil,” said Dulcie, just before the other 496 chicks emerged from their incubatory tombs and laid waste to the field, the farms, the nearby towns, and eventually the entire planet. No one was spared...except for the mountain of potatoes in the back of Greg’s old truck. They saw it all.
Spec-taters to a massacre.
Written for Brandon with the topic: “potato farm”