Celeste stomach grumbled loudly as she wandered through the destroyed Deck 49. She was so hungry--she had eaten the last of her food when she had woken up from her sleep, and had only part of a water globe to drink. Celeste was body weary, but she had to keep going. She could even ask for help, because Jack had gone down into the cargo hold decks at least two 'days' ago (Celeste had no clock, therefore she estimated a day's end by when she fell asleep) looking for some more medical supplies. She hadn't heard from him since, neither in person nor through their comm pads, and Celeste's stomach twisted painfully when she thought that something may have happened to him in the lower decks, God forbid...
Though if she had a chance of surviving, she needed to find food and water. Deck 49 had originally been where the simulated biomes were, with scientists tweaking their conditions to see how well they would survive in near-Earth conditions rather than exact-Earth conditions. Celeste had a feeling that, if they hadn't been destroyed, some of the simulation biomes might have edible plants inside so that she could eat fresh foods instead of the canned and freeze-dried rations that were prevalent in the emergency kits they found. Her body craved fresh food, and sunlight too. Jack had been supplementing her with vitamin-D shots for the desire of sunlight, but he had no way to give her vegetables and fruit through one of his syringes.
She stopped in front of a set of metal sliding doors that were wedged slightly apart due to a large piece of rubble keeping them from closing. It looked like they had tried to close for a time, futilely, before the ship self-diverted power from the doors to maintaining the atmospheric conditions and the cryogenic stasis units--the tops were closer together than the bottom where the pillar had fallen. Celeste took a deep breath and crouched down to gauge the gap in the door. It was a bit tight, even for some of the places she'd crawled into lately, but she could manage it if she sucked in her stomach a little. Celeste put her head closer to the gap in the door to look inside.
The smell hit her first. No, it was not the rank smell of decomposing scientists who hadn't made it to their cryogenic pods. It wasn't the smell of oil, or metal, or rubble dust in the air. It was plants. Grass, maybe. Dewy grass, at that. It was almost intoxicating, and gave Celeste a bit of hope. Maybe there's something I can eat in there, she thought.
Celeste took off her satchel, and straddled the pillar that held the doors open. Praying to god and science, she straightened her arms over her head and shimmied through the hole in the doors. The metal scraped along her hips and hurt as she pushed through, but it was all worth it. Where she fell through the hole was a patch of long, tall grass that had gone to seed. It felt moist and Celeste had a wonderful feeling of comfort from the grassy smell. After brushing her hands through the grass for a moment, she stood up to see what else was there.
There were trees, like thin slivers of wood shot up from the loamy dirt. Their branches, though drooping only slightly, were covered in lush green leaves and dew drops from higher leaves occasionally dripped onto lower ones, sending ripples through the whole plant. Roots, thick and brown, stuck up from the dirt. Across the biome, against a half-crumbled wall, were flowers.
It almost seemed ridiculous, like a evil universal joke, seeing the small yet colorful array of blooming flowers along the wall. Yellows, reds, even purples--the fact that such colors still existed in this bleak, dead environment when so many people hadn't survived felt cruel. But Celeste took some comfort in them, especially considering that some types of flowers were edible.
Celeste climbed over the bits of rubble scattered throughout the hip-high grass towards the growing flowers. Back on Earth, Celeste had only seen grass like this in meadows on vacation with her family. Be careful of the snakes! their mother would call after them, the snakes like the tall grass! At least she have to worry about snakes here. Or ticks, for that matter, which used to be quite a nuisance to her and her sister when they were young.
She finally made it to where the flowers were blossoming, and for a moment was overwhelmed by the perfume they were producing. Despite her happiness at finding the plants, the amount of their smell quite nearly made her nauseous. After having only smelled scents of post-industrial times like metal, the flower's perfume was like comparing the smell of stale wheat bread to melted caramel. But she acclimated quickly, and bent down to inspect the flowers. Maybe some of them were edible...? There were dark red and pink roses, tall sprigs of sickeningly sweet-scented lavender, and mild yellow daisies. Celeste knew that at least the lavender could be eaten, and she suspected that the rose petals were possibly edible... but she would take no chances. She broke off several tall stalks of lavender and put them over her shoulder, wandering through the small patch of flowers.
The light over her head flickered as she went, sometimes going out completely and forcing her to feel her way through the plants (she wasn't about to waste the life of her comm pad for light, after all). Celeste was still astounded that these flowers had managed to survive at all, what with no pollinators, no breeze, certainly not enough light...
She was startled when she felt her fingers brush across a rough surface inside one of the flowers. There were scratchy points on the inside, but if she plunged her fingers a little further inside she felt smooth hulls. Celeste brought her face further down to the flower, trying to see what was inside in the little light that she was provided. As she had nearly brought the plant to her face, the overhead light suddenly buzzed back on. Celeste found herself face-to-face with a gigantic, dried out sunflower. What she had been touching were its seeds, dried out from the plant reaching maturity but not having enough sunlight to sustain itself. In fact, there were several of these giant, dried-up sunflowers, seeds simply sitting inside its dead petals and waiting to be taken.
Celeste grinned. She didn't know how old they were, but she did know that sunflower seeds were edible. She cupped her hand underneath the sunflower nearest her and gently scooped the seeds from the inside. It filled her palm with the seeds, the hard outsides gently clicking together as they fell into her hand. Celeste looked at the seeds for a moment, wondering if she should save them for eating when she met up with Jack, or if she should just eat them now.
Another growl from her stomach was response enough. She brought her hand to her lips and tipped the seeds gently into her mouth. They were not salty, but simply dry. And they were crunchy rather than stiff, like their freeze-dried rations. It wasn't that they were exceptionally flavorful, but they were different from the norm, and to eat them made Celeste feel a rush of happy energy. The seeds from her hand only provided a mouthful, but even that little bit of food was enough to quell her stomach's complaints.
"I gotta get some of these to share with Jack," she said. Celeste manged to stick the lavender sprigs in the waist of her pants, then collected more seeds in her hands. But her body wasn't going to listen to her mind--all the seeds that fell into her hands went straight into her mouth. Celeste didn't feel guilty about it, though. She knew her body needed the food, needed the nutrients. Jack... well, he was different from her. And, she thought with a small smile, probably not as hungry. In a matter of fifteen minutes, she had cleared out the seeds from at least ten dry sunflowers. There were a few more left and, at that point feeling sated, decided that she could afford to share the seeds from the last few flowers with Jack. She scooped out the flowers and put their seeds into her pocket. Once she had shelled out all the sunflowers she could find, she made her way through the tall grass back to the door.
Celeste was concerned that she would lose a good portion of seeds as she squeezed through the door again. She put her lavender sprigs through the door first, setting them on top of her pack as well as she was able, then straddled the pillar once again. Before she went through, she tucked the top of her pocket inside, hoping that this would keep the seeds from falling out. Then, with a deep breath, she pushed herself back through the space in the door.
When she emerged on the other side, she slid off the pillar and looked around the corridor. It seemed stark, a depressing contrast to the place she had just been where everything was growing and wonderful. But she wasn't worried about that now--what she wanted to know about were the seeds.
Celeste felt down to her pocket and was relieved to see that the seeds were still nestled safely inside. She couldn't detect that any had fallen loose of her pants, not from the amount in her pocket nor from looking at the area surrounding the pillar. Her venture had been an epic success.
"Celeste?" Her comm pad crackled, breaking the quiet. "Come in, Celeste."
"Jack," she responded, sliding her comm pad from her pocket. "Are you okay? God, we haven't spoken in days!"
"I'm fine," Jack said. "The cargo bays I was trying to get into were blocked--it took me a while to clear 'em."
"See, I told you it was foolish to split up! I could have helped you, Jack."
"What's done is done," Jack said in irritation. "Would you tell me where you are? I have some more vitamin-D shots for you."
"Deck 49. Can you meet me here? I found some food to eat. Fresh food."
"Fresh?" Jack questioned. "Impossible."
"But I did," Celeste countered. "In one of the biomes. There was flowers growing. And grass..." Celeste smiled as she looked through the crack into the biome again. "I found some edible plants."
"Really? My God, that's... so unlikely."
"Well, if you come here, I'll prove it to you."
"Fine, fine," Jack said. "I'm on my way. Over and out, Celeste."
"Over and out."
When Jack finally made it up to Deck 49, via crawl-ways, service tubes, and a few functioning lifts, he was astounded to find Celeste picking the flowers off of a spring of lavender and popping them into her mouth. Astounded, but pleased. Celeste needed whatever fresh food was around on the ship, certainly more than he did.
"Celeste," he called to her. He jogged her way and crouched down beside where she sat, setting down his pack. It was bulging with medicines now, from the vitamin-D shots he said that he had found, as well as antibiotics, pain relievers, and other types of supplements. "How are you feeling?"
"Fantastic," Celeste said, setting aside a stalk of lavender which she had picked dry. "Eating this food is... wonderful. And look, these aren't even the best part!" She fished into her pocket, making sure she scooped all the seeds into her hands, and then she held her full hands out to him. Jack looked at the seeds in her hand, confused.
"What... are those?"
"Seeds," Celeste said. "Sunflower seeds. The flowers were dead, and the seeds had just dried up on their own. I... ate so many sunflower seeds, Jack. It was incredible." She had a gleeful yet dreamy loon on her face as she described the experience. "The grass was flourishing. I wish grass were more edible, because there was tons in there--up to my hips." She smiled at him. "You want some?" She held her hands out to Jack a little further. "They're amazing."
Jack looked at the seeds hesitantly before he picked one from her hand. He put it in his mouth and crunched on it for a few moments, Celeste gazing expectantly on at him. "Well?" Celeste asked. "What do you think?"
"They're... pretty good," Jack said. "But I think you should eat them, not me."
"I had a bunch earlier," Celeste said. "Maybe we could divide them? I want you to have some, too. And some of the lavender, because the lavender is also really wonderful."
"You need all of it," Jack said. "Sunflower seeds are full of vitamin-E, folate, B6, phosphorus, magnesium... must I continue?" He pushed her hands back at her. "It's sweet of you, Celeste. But no. A doctor must put his patients before himself, and that means you get the seeds."
Celeste looked down into the handful of seeds. They looked... tantalizing. Her mouth watered just looking at them. She gave Jack a slightly apologetic look before pouring some of the seeds into her mouth and chewing on them. Rather than looking disappointed, Jack's face almost bore a smile. Celeste didn't feel quite as bad about eating the seeds, because she knew that Jack was trying to take care of her. Didn't she need to take care of herself, too?
She put some of the leftover seeds back into her pocket, then gave Jack a lavender sprig. "At least have one. I won't take no for an answer, Jack."
Jack chuckled. "Very well, Celeste." He slid the sprig from her hands and pulled off some of the flowers.
Celeste sighed contentedly, leaning back against the solid wall behind her. Her stomach was full of good food and she wasn't alone any more. Both of those things lent themselves to her feeling of optimism, the feeling that things would work out. Somehow, someday, things would be right.
And then she would make Jack have those sunflower seeds.