A Gardener's Touch


He slept in a small storage room in the basement of the greenhouse. It was a little damp but it smelled like life so Grenville didn't mind. There was a large locker room with an adjoining shower room so he could get himself clean at the end of the day. His clothes went into the recycler each night and a new pair of synth pants and a shirt were ready for him in the morning. His boots were the only semi-permanent thing he owned. He'd get a new pair of those every six months. When the head groundskeeper got to work in the morning Grenville was always awake and waiting for him in the greenhouse. They would have breakfast together in the garden commissary where Grenville ate all of his meals and they went over the day's itinerary.

The old man also assigned homework to Grenville. There was a public data terminal in the commissary that he was allowed to use after hours. He would do his research on the plant life of Earth and present his findings to his boss each morning. Much to the old man's delight he discovered Grenville was a voracious learner and absorbed everything he read with total recall. Once he'd completed his studies of earth's flora he began to expand his education to include the plants he'd encountered on the different planets he'd been shipped to during his 13 years in the army. These were only of interest to him as none of these species were allowed on Earth.

Sometimes Grenville would bring something to the attention of his boss and surprise the old man. He'd noticed some contamination in one of the flowerbeds at the boundary of the garden and he suggested that perhaps a shop on the other side of the wall was housing an invasive species of plant in their display. He wanted to study it to determine what the source was. Grenville was not allowed to leave the grounds so he had no idea what was on the other side of the wall.

In reality it was the Chuuruthian embassy. They were a race of feline aliens which looked somewhat like Earth's Caracal cats. Small in stature at 1.5 metres tall, tan furred, and gentle natured, they wore colorful robes and beautiful earrings in their large pointed ears. They were desperately trying to open trade talks with Earth, the newest member of the Interplanetary Gate Network community. The Chuuruthians were struggling to get out from under the stranglehold of a competing race, the Allsa Komanae, who in contrast were physically large but hid themselves completely in black, hooded robes. Cunning and secretive by nature, they weren't shy about smearing the reputations of the Chuuruthians. The Allsa Komanae interfered with their trade negotiations, accused them of grievous crimes to get them banned from worlds and seemed to be doing everything in their power to restrict them to their home planet.

Earth, being the new kid on the block and having no desire to be pulled into the muck of interplanetary war, strictly enforced the Gate Network's policy of restricting foreign policy disagreements to the Assembly's council rooms. Any visiting aliens found imposing their political agendas on another race while on Earth risked having their planet's access to Earth revoked.

Additionally, there were the standard rules that every alien visitor had to abide by including not importing alien plants into Earth's biosphere. It was suspected that the Chuuruthians had smuggled something in. The old man asked him to collect some samples of the corrupted plants in airtight containers so he could forward it along as proof.

Later that week an officer from Earth's Security Council came to the garden to interview the Head Groundskeeper. He explained that a plant was found on the roof of the Chuuruthian Embassy when the Security Council did a surprise inspection. When confronted with the evidence they denied having brought the actual plant, but did admit to having an extract of it for medicinal purposes. The plant was the source of a medicine they desperately needed to combat a disease which had suddenly and mysteriously struck first the trade delegates then the Chuuruthian home world. The Security officers had opened one of the containers and the aliens went into some kind of hyperactive state. They became very excited when they smelled the new hybrid flower and asked for samples to bring home to test as a cure. Unfortunately this behavior convinced the Security Council of their guilt and the Chuuruthians were ordered to vacate their embassy and to leave Earth. The plants in evidence were destroyed as per standard quarantine protocol.

The officer explained that the Security Council wanted all further samples of the hybrid destroyed. Grenville took him in his small work cart over to the far corner of the garden but the flowerbed had already been roughly dug up. The officer noted in his report that it was likely the Chuuruthians who had stolen the plants but Grenville tried to point out that the markings in the garden's dirt weren't from Chuuruthians. The officer disregarded the simple gardener's opinion and reported the theft to his head office. He asked Grenville if there were any other samples left in the garden and was told no.

Grenville had met Chuuruthians when he was a soldier as they often ran the field hospitals and many were skilled surgeons. He always found them to be charming and honorable and he hoped they would be allowed to return to Earth. There were so many cold and indifferent alien species out there, especially the Allsa Komanae in Grenville's direct experience. Earth needed to be friends with the good ones.

After this event life settled down to a peaceful routine and the garden flourished under the tender care of the old man and his apprentice. Grenville found a stockpile of building materials and he and his boss designed some new displays to present their magnificent collection in new and exciting ways. The public visited the gardens in numbers they hadn't seen in years. Grenville did his best to remain out of view and the old man, seeing his discomfort with publicity, did his best to shelter the big man from the prying eyes of the public.

On those rare moments when Grenville was cornered for an interview, he only had to speak for a few moments before the interviewer assessed him as too simple minded to be responsible for the new vibrant state of the grounds. The old man's reputation grew. He spoke with Grenville about this but the ex-soldier wanted nothing to do with that kind of attention and was happy the old man was getting praise Grenville thought was deserved.

It was an especially hot day in late August and Grenville was working in the greenhouse by himself. There was a particularly virulent disease attacking some of their prize orchids and he was gently applying a treatment to the leaves. He had permission from the old man to work without a shirt in the heat of the greenhouse where the public was not allowed to go. In his single minded concentration he didn't hear the far door opening nor was he aware of the soft footsteps of the visitor until she was almost at his work bench. He froze when he finally heard her and slowly looked over his shoulder.

An older woman, maybe in her early sixties stood behind him, her eyes taking in the roadmap of scars across his broad back. Her face showed the pain she imagined he'd suffered for each of these injuries.

"You poor man," she whispered.

"They don't hurt," Grenville replied.

"But they did, didn't they," she stated.

Grenville didn't know what to say so he just nodded and turned to face the woman.

When she saw how many more scars he had on his chest and stomach she gasped and braced herself against the workbench.

"Oh my god!" she breathed and reached forward unconsciously to run her fingers across the remnants of the savage rips that ran diagonally over the slabs of muscles on his chest. She was oblivious to his sweat as her fingers traced and counted each of the bullet hole scars peppered across his skin. "How did you survive all of these?" she whispered, awestruck.

"I don't know... I'm lucky I... guess," he said struggling with the words. He looked over the woman's head hoping the old man would come back from his meeting to save him.

The woman's concentration was broken by his odd speech impediment and she glanced up to see his nervous expression. She suddenly became aware of what she had been doing. She saw his worker bracelet and knew he must be frightened. She knew not to apologize but instead she introduced herself.

"I'm Director Kayleen Daniels. One of my duties as City Councillor is overseeing the running of all of Capital Cities Municipal Gardens. It is my understanding that you have been apprenticing with Head Groundskeeper Scott for almost two years," she said trying to recover her dignity.

Grenville nodded, continuing to glance nervously at the far door.

"My colleagues on the council are very impressed with the work you two have done on this garden. You have improved our city's reputation and we think it could be made even better. We were considering having you two oversee the care of the other six as well."

That drew Grenville's attention back to the woman. "There are seven... gardens?"

"Yes... oh! Of course, you've never left this one since you were assigned here, have you," she chided herself. She had so little contact with the worker class.

He shook his head.

Just then the old man entered the room and saw Grenville's look of relief at spotting him. He scooped up the neatly folded shirt and carried it with him as he approached. He handed the shirt to Grenville who immediately put it on.

"Madam Director Daniels! To what do we owe the honor of your visit?" he said.

"Good day, Mr. Scott. I was just telling your apprentice here that the council would like you and him to oversee the remaining six municipal gardens as well. If we can bring them up to the same level as this one we'll qualify for special categorization in the interplanetary gate travel guide. We get that and our ranking as a preferred destination is guaranteed. That will increase our tourism and boost revenues for the city."

"What about the other groundskeepers? They aren't going to like the interference," the old man said.

"Well, they can work for you or not work," the woman stated bluntly. "There is too much to gain for us to be held hostage by their egos."

The old man knew other higher ranking egos were behind this move but he held his tongue. He was on good speaking terms with most of the other groundskeepers so maybe he could work something out.

"Some of the smaller gardens have budgetary constraints that may make it difficult to bring them up to this level. Will there be any room in the budget for them?"

"You've managed miracles with the city's largest garden and from what I understand your budget has been static for the past five years," the Director asserted.

"Well, yes, we have done some creative restructuring but that is mostly the boy's doing," he said pointing to Grenville. "I told him what I wanted to see and he went through our scraps to build the displays. I don't know what resources the other gardens have."

The woman turned her eyes back to Grenville and he felt her appraising stare. It made him distinctly uncomfortable.

"Let's see what kind of creative miracles you can perform with the others before we talk budget," she finally said.

The Head Groundskeeper knew he wasn't really being given a choice in overseeing the other gardens so he just nodded.

With a final look at Grenville, Kayleen nodded and left the greenhouse.

The old man sighed and plunked himself down on a stool. "I should have known better than to get creative with the garden. I'm sorry son, we're in it now."

"What do we... do?"

"I'll make some calls and let the others know what's up. What I think we'll have to do is meet with each of the Groundskeepers and review what they have both in terms of the flora, manpower, and their inventory of supplies. We can make a master list of resources and pool them all to support whatever designs we come up with for each. Each garden will need to be uniquely special but follow some master theme if the Director is going for a special categorization. I'll apply for a special travel permit for you to go between the gardens. I'm afraid you are going to be doing most of the work here. You can enlist the support of the other workers at the other gardens." He patted Grenville on the arm and walked back to his office in the main building to make his calls.

In the end the old man managed to convince each of the Groundskeepers that the benefit they would gain by this process more than compensated for the invasion the Director had forced upon them. They knew he wasn't a glory hound and would honor their claim to their own gardens.

Once they saw what they had to work with the old man and Grenville put together the master design. Grenville began the meticulous process of moving the required supplies between each of the seven gardens and building the beautiful new displays at each. It was exhausting work and each night, after seeing to the needs of his own personal orchids, Grenville would return to his basement room, strip naked, have a long hot shower, and drop into his bed, asleep before his head hit the pillow.

It took seven months but the spring after they had been approached to take over, it was done. Groundskeeper Scott and Apprentice McKree stood at the back of a stage in their beloved Capital Gardens while the entire council of city elders and many politicians congratulated each other for their vision of Capital City. The press and public ate it up and attendance at all seven gardens was at record highs all summer. As Capital City was located in a temperate climate zone the winter months remained relatively mild and attendance continued to remain at higher than normal levels. The indoor displays were especially popular during the winter months. This boosted revenues at all the gardens which meant for the first time in years the groundskeepers received year-end bonuses. Happy times indeed!

Grenville continued to go from garden to garden tweaking this or that display, balancing plant arrangements, repairing some of the water features in the water themed garden. Soon he was able to leave this to the workers he trained at each municipal garden. He just wanted to get back to tending his personal orchid project in the greenhouse of Capital Gardens, something he rarely got to do these days.

Capital City received its special categorization for its Seven Gardens and the following year tourists from many planets poured through the gates in record numbers and the city's economy boomed. Director Kayleen Daniels was elected mayor in the next election. In a rare moment of benevolence she revisited Grenville in the greenhouse and asked him if there was anything he wanted as a reward for his work. She was aware of his integral but silent role in making this all happen. She was prepared to make an empty promise if his demands were too outrageous but didn't expect the man to just smile gently, shake his head, and turn back to his work. She watched him work for a few minutes then left, confused and strangely shaken by the brutally scarred man's quiet calm and delicate touch with the fragile flowers.

Vivian Dremmond, the wife of the previous mayor, was livid at how her husband had been swept from office by this shark of a woman. She had taken to discretely following the new mayor trying to find something scandalous to unseat her with. From her position in the main hall of the garden headquarters she watched Kayleen step unescorted into the greenhouse only to emerge a few minutes later wearing a confused and troubled expression on her face. After the mayoral entourage had left Vivian slipped across the space and stepped inside the steamy greenhouse. At the far end she saw someone working at a work bench. There was no one else in the building so Kayleen must have spoken with him. She kept to the shadows by the door and observed the target for a while. The heat in the room was very uncomfortable and soon she saw the man take off his shirt. He folded it carefully and set it aside. It was then that Vivian saw the scars. So many of them across his broad back and on his huge arms. She had to get a closer look so she screwed up her courage and marched towards the man as if she owned the place. As she got closer she made out more detail of his scarring. It was not the patterned scars of some body art piece but rather the scars of a terrible and painful violence this man had endured over a long period of time. His hair was shoulder length and wavy and was almost white blond. Her step faltered from their bold strides.

He came out of his intense concentration as he noticed her footsteps. He turned to face her, expecting to see the Mayor again and was surprised when he was faced by a stranger.

Her face went white with shock when she saw the horrible scars across his chest and stomach. She looked up to his face and saw its handsomeness had not been spared the scarring. His blue eyes were nervous and wary and he glanced to his shirt now behind her, too far away to casually pick up and slip on without potentially touching her, something he couldn't do.

Vivian saw the worker bracelet and got confused. Why would Kayleen come to speak to someone like him?

"Hello," she started.

"Hello," he returned, his voice soft and deep.

"My name is Vivian. What's yours?" she asked.

"Grenville," he said.

"Did my friend Kayleen come to speak with you?" she tried.

Grenville heard the falseness in her voice and got worried. He didn't think it would be a good idea sharing information with this woman so he just shrugged.

The gesture was distracting as it moved his scars in disturbing ways. Vivian found herself somewhat mesmerized by the display. So much violence! In her safe, sheltered life of high society she'd never been exposed to anything like this. It shook her more than she cared to admit.

"What do you do here, Grenville?" she asked timidly.

"I take care... of the plants," he said.

"Vivian! What are you doing here?" Kayleen asked in a loud voice.

The woman jumped and spun around to see the Mayor standing a few feet away. She knew she probably looked guilty so her quick mind devised an answer to explain herself.

"I've been looking for some expertise in redesigning our gardens at home. I know I'm not supposed to be back here but here's where they keep the experts so I understand," she said smoothly.

Kayleen had returned because she couldn't accept the idea that Grenville wanted nothing from her. Her mind didn't work that way. Instead, she believed that he was just biding his time, keeping the debt open and she wouldn't allow that. She would have his answer today. Returning to find this snake in the grass, obviously plotting something set off warning bells. Her mind ticked over Vivian's answer and she saw how it might look if suddenly the ex-mayor's property took on the grand look of one of the Seven Gardens of Capital City. Like it had been his plan all along. She wouldn't allow that either.

"Yes, but this expert is already spoken for. He'll be very busy for the next while redesigning the grounds of my estate." The plan was forming in her mind as she spoke it aloud. Her eyes gleamed triumphantly as she saw Vivian deflate.

"Now if you don't mind I need to speak with my chief designer, in private," she said driving home the point by gesturing to the far door.

Vivian's cheeks were burning with suppressed rage but she nodded and left the building.

When Kayleen and Grenville were alone she gazed up at his chest and traced the brutal lines with her eyes. There was a strange kind of raw beauty in the patterns they made on his skin. Giving herself a little shake she looked up in his eyes and saw the nervousness there. He knew he was out of his element and she could easily ruin his life. She was comfortable with having this power over others. However, she felt oddly protective of him. For all the terrible violence he'd obviously been through he had an innocence to him and for some reason she wanted to keep that safe. Well, to be honest Kayleen didn't have a maternal bone in her body so maybe it was more accurate to say that she just wanted to protect this asset for herself. A plan to do just that was still forming in her head but it involved moving him from Capital Gardens to her estate. And wouldn't his living conditions be so much better there? It was for his own good.

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