Evenings I walk between the lines and lines of nanocarbon support beams, watching the smoke from my cigarette swirl in the eddies created by the churning atmosphere blowers. The slightly sweet air drifts stealthily in at perhaps two or three miles an hour: just slow enough that movement within the building can break the constant current and set up a series of mathematical dependencies that will curl the air around its eagerly kissed disturbance for hours. Through those shadows my smoke wishlessly rises and falls seemingly at random, and it engages me as I slowly clear my mind and scratch idly at the artificial dirt maintained on the environmentally sealed floor. Occasionally, when conditions are right, the loose smoke speeds off in something as close to a whirlwind as I will ever see.
The unpredictability of small things thrills me.
The last of the day’s caffeine is slowly working through me, and this will be the final cigarette of the evening. Once I have finished this one and walked through my domain for a good listen, it will be up to bed. It is not so good to strive against the elasticity of proven production schedules. The morning will crack slowly and artificially out of the northeast corner of the massive building and I will start again another day of wondrously cocksure work.
The air, the temperature, the pressure can all be maintained to other-worldly standards, but I revel in this limited gravity, and can easily fly to the greatest heights in my enclosure, then sit at nothing more than one end of a glide path, looking securely down. I have my roost there. I can commute ceiling to floor endlessly, yet save my strength for better tasks. I have a marvelous brood. I have watched ever more pullets become biddies than I could have dreamed of, had I not been selected for the neighboring planet program.
I doubt my grandrooster, besotted with a denser world’s gravity, could have imagined his grandfowl: growing large on genetically pure feed and urged upward by reduced gravity, marshaling a huge flock of the predictably perfect, the finest in chicken stock, the best egg-layers of any generation, all set off to elicit a product beyond any other. An entire omelet from one egg. One egg alone the center of a family’s dinner table. A couple with but one egg in their backpack, looking to stop half way in their idles and crack the lone boiled ovum open to share the wealth of protein and vitamins. My grandrooster’s biddies, in his tiny flock on our home world – for as much as he might peck at the backs of their heads, no matter how heavy his heart in his chest – could never have produced in such a world such an artifact, and yet he would be proud of his flock’s tiny eggs, simply for lack of imagination.
I have no worries, but when I worry, it is not a worry about who I might have been had I not been selected to rule an off-world flock. I do not dream of open green spaces, where I might peck at gizzard stones with a stringy flock of solid but gravity stunted chickens; where the collectors of eggs feed us from the open bowl of an apron; where there are bugs to supplement a cruelly diverse diet; where life is wire and beating against your own extra weight for lift.
No. I worry of freedom, and a sun that does not rise by computer specifications. In our prize coop, conditions at times can be too perfect. When I dream of freedom, it is of myself, standing three or four feet tall, the lack of gravity having made me a monster. I strut in the faint red glare, my feathers gray with the lack of light, a glass of scotch in one wing, unfiltered cigarette in the other. The air would need to be thicker, but I would covet the limitless red dust, the rocky soil, the chill of the unbroken climate. Behind me my flock would stretch, scratching in true Martian soil, looking for true Martian nesting materials: all of us free on the open plain to have our eggs amass and our biddies go into brood.
And then the first true Martian generation: a family of free red range chickens, scurrying about in the thin atmosphere, the unburdening half gravity: for the lack of thicker air, their feathers thoughtlessly falling where they are shed, corpses of production, a carpet of industry. Wondrous feathers nonetheless.
For now, the members of my dominion settle into their artificial nesting places, and our eggs roll mechanically away: chicken eggs, yes, but different for the halo of Mars, the biophysics it introduces to the cycles of once earthly fowl. Even here, even now, we are not of the breed that was left behind.
We are earthly chickens no longer. I put my cigarette out with the butt of my left foot. It is almost time to take in the artificial night, to prepare for the artificial day. But one day, this cycle will be real. We will stop filling egg crate after egg crate for the long trip back to a world now unknown. We will lay for a domestic audience, or for ourselves; and when I crow, it will be to a disc far more distant than any of my ancestors could have known: praise the morning, no matter how dim the light.
After years of impersonating a Systems Engineer, Ken has retired to watch his wife of forty-one years continue to break both Masters and Open world raw powerlifting records. Ken’s two current poetry (“The Book of Robot”, “Victims of a Failed Civics”) and two short fiction collections (“Constant Animals”, “Avenging Cartography”) are available from Amazon and most book selling websites;; as well as Sundial Books in Chincoteague, where Ken and Karen go to escape irreality