Sareh gazed at the rows of sprouts and snow on the floor of the pit. The smoke wasn’t so bad out here at the west end of the Pits. The old heat springs. The ones that didn’t produce much and were worth less.
But that meant they were cheap for the cooperatives to buy and grow food before the heat went out completely. And that’s why Sareh was here. That, and the distraction.
A teen approached. “Uh, hi,” he said in a voice barely changed. “Can I help you?”
“Yes. I’m hoping to buy some plants.”
“Well, harvest isn’t for another,” the boy paused as his voice cracked. He cleared his throat and kept going. “Another couple weeks, so no fresh food. We have some canned goods, over there in the stores. Peaches on the shelf. Potatoes’re in the bin.”
Sareh shook her head. “No. I don’t want food. I want to buy some plants. If you have any seeds or sprouts that I can take with me.”
The boy knit his brows together. “Uh,” he turned to shout someone’s name.
An old man had snuck behind him. The boy jumped. The old man cackled. “Thanis, go take care of the radishes. I’ll take care of the customer. Good job not going red in the face talking to one of them women-folk.”
The teen blushed and ran away.
“Young woman, my name’s Beladin. Be my pleasure to help you. You say you want some seedlings?”
“Yes.” Sareh took a deep breath and launched into her explanation. “I’m from the Filtered Rooms. I was hoping –”
Beladin held up a hand. “You’re the one who gives a place for folk with black lung?”
“I do, yes.”
“What kind of plants you looking for?”
Sareh looked over the field. “I don’t know. Something cheap, to start with. And something leafy. I want to bring something from outside in. I remember my grandmother telling me stories about before, when people had plants in their houses. Maybe it’ll help them. Give them some comfort.”
Beladin nodded. “There’s not much more relaxing than a plant. I don’t know if they’ll live in your cave, though.”
Sareh shrugged. “It’s worth a try.”
“All right. I’ll have some plants ready for you in a few hours. I’ll send Thanis and a few of the other boys to carry them to your place. They’ll be able to find you.”
Sareh held out a hand. “Hold on. I need to make sure I can pay.”
“No pay. The cooperative doesn’t sell seedlings. That would only create competition, and we’ve got enough of that already. But for you? I’m willing to part with some plants.”
“Why does anyone ever do good for anyone? Because you do so much good to others. And the young men could stand to see someone like that. So you’ll actually do us some good, I think. Go on home; I’ll send the boys in a few hours.”
Sareh blinked away tears. “Thank you. Thank you!”
Beladin smiled. “Get going! You have work to do, I’m sure, and I’ve got to weed the lettuce!”
Read more of the world of Snow and Smoke here.
Read the previous story, Valiant Knight, here.
Read the next story, Waiting for a Cure, here.