March 27th, 2023
It was with a heavy heart that Echo helped clean the broken glass from the greenhouse floor. Once again, someone in the night had stolen into the garden and vandalized it. Glass had been smashed, plants uprooted and thrown about, and gardening implements dented or broken. It was a thoughtless savage act, without any sense or justification to it. Now, at least, they knew something of the “Why?” behind it at least. Spray-painted across the glass in red had been the words “Burn the blasphemer’s grain”. It had only confirmed their worst fears. The religious differences had become violent.
This was the fourth such incident. Everything was more or less within their ability to repair. Most of the plants were found quickly enough to transplant (Echo could thankfully do more than any human in that regard). The main issue was the shattered glass. Already a number of panes had been replaced with plastic, and they were considering requesting a scavenging run for more clear plastic sheets to do a full conversion. The tools were also an irritation to replace. Echo hated having to ask the Rangers to take time out of their important work to scavenge more trowels and rakes for them.
Still, even if it could be repaired it would take plenty of effort to do it. Echo worked tirelessly finding all the uprooted plants, sorting those that stood a chance of being saved and discarding those that couldn’t to the compost bin. It was a blow to the volunteers’ morale. Food stolen before it grew was a terrible crime against the sanctuary. They had guards, several on rotation at all hours, but there was only so much they could do and only so many people the city could spare at any one time.
Echo had been offered the day off, but she had refused. She knew why they wanted her away, and the truth of it ate at her even as she did what she could for the weak and dying plants. They were worried her presence might be the underlying cause of the hostility and that perhaps removing her from the greenhouses might stop them. Echo’s mood had darkened at the thought and it remained over her like a storm cloud ever since she had arrived to find the greenhouse in disarray.
It might not have been the case. The words didn’t necessarily come from the Catholics; it could have been one of the newer groups. Many prominent workers and proponents for the greenhouse project were Catholics, and got along perfectly fine with Echo. They knew she was benevolent, never wanted anything to come to harm because of her…
The greenhouse had grown, out of necessity with the population. Not only the building itself but now they had some of the equipment to reclaim the land and build larger and larger garden plots around it. There was still plenty of food stored within the city to salvage, and that served as the base of the diet for most refugees. Still, food was being rationed at even the highest levels, and if the population kept growing then it wouldn’t be long before all this wasn’t even close to sufficient. They needed farms and farmland, not small reclaimed gardens.
The greenhouse was invaluable in and of itself. The weather was slowly warming with summer’s distant approach but there was still quite a bit that the Sanctuary needed that wasn’t fit to grow outdoors, needing the protection from the elements only the greenhouse supplied. Its destruction could cripple the Sanctuary, or worse. The thought alone sent a shiver down Echo’s spine.
She perked up at a familiar voice behind her, and turned to see Giovanni, as well as his young aide (Stella, Echo believed her name was), entering the greenhouse and observing the remaining damage, eyes lingering on the words still painted on the glass.
“Echo.” She said, dutifully repeating and bowing her head in greeting.
“Great work, thank you.” He said, looking around at the efforts she and others had made to repair the damage.
“Great work, thank you.” She said, smiling. He wasn’t as skilled as Nora in leading her replies, but he was improving since they had first met.
“This is a rather disturbing business.” His eyes moved again to the writing, and Echo followed his gaze. “It seems the truth of it can no longer be ignored.”
“Can no longer be ignored.” Echo said, nodding her agreement.
Giovanni let out a long sigh; his pointed canine ears drooped low. Part of Echo had to resist very hard the urge to pet him.
“I was hoping this matter would simply cease with extra guards. But it has grown too big and we lack the people to ably defend it. There simply aren’t enough guards to keep watch here. Honestly, we shouldn’t even need guards!”
“We shouldn’t even need guards.” Echo repeated. She had long believed this, even from the first attack, and she hated the reality of their situation.
“I will look into it, I promise.” He said. “We might have our differences but I won’t have anyone associated with the Vatican endangering innocent people like this.”
“Innocent people like this.” Echo said, gesturing to the others working the repairs. She was worried about all of them. For now, attacks were limited to the greenhouse, but what if they began targeting the people who worked there? Was Echo putting them in danger?
“I actually came for a different reason, however.” Giovanni said. “And it is one I prefer be kept in close confidence until it becomes public.”
“Until it becomes public.” Echo said, gesturing to Alma, who was working nearby on sweeping up the broken glass. Echo was technically in charge of maintenance and care of the gardens, but her impediment meant it was difficult to give orders or opinions, so she worked with Alma on those matters.
“What can I help you with, Mister Giovanni?” Alma asked, looking up.
“The Senate is planning an…expedition of sorts within the next few months. It will likely be several days round trip and we need to take count of our resources. Do you have a ledger that records your plantings and the crops you harvest? If so the Senate would very much like copies.”
“Ah, yes, yes we do.” Alma said.
“Yes we do.” Echo replied, nodding her head in agreement.
“Excellent.” Giovanni said “Stella here can start making copies.”
“Unfortunately we haven’t had time to update it given recent events.” Alma continued, gesturing to the damage still left to fix. “How soon does the Senate need it?”
“As soon as is possible, I imagine.” Giovanni said. “They didn’t give me a timeline, I just came here to communicate the request and offer my condolences on the damage. Needless to say the bishop and I are looking into it. We won’t tolerate this kind of barbarism within the church.”
“Barbarism within the church.” Echo said before slapping a hand over her mouth and bowing her head in apology.
Giovanni brushed it off. “That said, the church is not the only suspect. Echo I would ask you to request Nora look into this as well.”
“Nora look into this as well.” Echo was more than happy to agree this time.
“We can take over from here, Echo. Go see Nora about this.” Alma said.
“See Nora about this.” Echo sighed. She hated to leave, and she knew this was just another attempt to separate her from the greenhouse. Now, at least, they had a somewhat more reasonable excuse. Still, she relented and left after finishing what work she could. They still needed her for some of the more far-gone cases of replanting. She could offer some of her own energy to the plants to spur growth and revitalize them, but she couldn’t make dead plants come back to life.
Though she did largely menial work, Echo’s capacity for power wasn’t to be underestimated. If she concentrated and thought hard she could have every inch of the greenhouse from floor to ceiling covered in thick plant growth. But without soil and nutrients to keep them going that kind of energy expenditure would leave her exhausted and the plants would die soon after.
She washed her hands and quietly left the greenhouse, pausing only to repeat the several standard farewells that greeted her as she left. As she moved from the greenhouse further into the sanctuary, she noticed that she drew far fewer glances than she once had. She was becoming a fixture in the city, and her presence was somewhat more taken for granted now. Sure many still stopped to look at the beautiful barefooted nymph as she walked the streets. She often received invitations from the admirers she garnered walking about but had turned them down thus far. Most people knew of her speech difficulties and a few irritating pranksters occasionally called out something, generally vulgar or lewd, for her to repeat. She ignored them as best she could, keeping her walking pace as she regurgitated their words. A few of the more persistent or particularly offensive perpetrators generally found themselves strung up by their ankles, hanging from lamp posts by ropes of vines and regretting summoning the wrath of an angry nymph.
Most, however, were polite. Children she particularly liked. Often they would try to get her to sing with them, and Echo indulged them when she had the time. Many adults simply enjoyed having someone reply when they greeted them, and Echo handed out an almost exhausting number of “hello’s” and “good day’s” on a daily basis.
She was in the process of turning to greet someone who had offered a “Hi there” to her, when someone traveling the other way bumped into her shoulder, jerking her away. Echo mouthed wordless apologies, hands raised to try and gesture it, when she paused.
The stranger she had bumped into looked eerily familiar. She was shabbily dressed, an old and patched coat with the hood drawn over loose trousers, and she only glanced at Echo for a second before looking away.
But Echo could have sworn she looked just like Nora.
They kept eye contact only for a second before the figure turned away and kept walking. It couldn’t have been, could it? Nora didn’t own any clothes like that (Echo insisted on helping with the washing and was thus familiar with her limited wardrobe), and the person seemed…different? More tired, more ragged, with a menace in the eyes that Nora didn’t have. Echo felt a quiver of fear even staring at the back of her head. Why? The blue eyes struck her the most, bright and brilliant, standing out in her mind long after she had turned away. For a moment, Echo considered following her. But what would she say?
Nothing. Echo reminded herself dryly. It was just odd coincidence or a trick of the light, no need to overthink it.
The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa
(( https://www.jukepop.com/home/read/9042?chapter=26&sl=786 ))