“We are going on a field trip today, and by field trip, I do not mean we are going to the fields,” Sybil said.
“Okay,” Holly said. “Should I bring anything?”
“Bring your shoulder bag, we will stop by the field on the way back.”
Holly rolled her eyes, then pretended to be studying the integrity of the ceiling when Sybil turned to give her a dirty look. How could someone so smart have such a scattered mind? Half the time Holly feared she would forget who she was or try to throw her out when she arrived for the day’s work. She picked up her shoulder bag, slid in her screen, then turned toward the door.
“Leave the screen,” Sybil said. She was blocking the portal, her broad form filling the width of it. “We need no traces today.”
Without hesitation, Holly pulled the screen from the bag and slid it onto the table. Sybil’s one rule to having an apprentice was no argument when she gave a directive.
The two women tunneled further into the ship than Holly ever knew possible. Behind the hydroponic chamber, there was a compost section for gathering nutrients to feed the farm. Behind that, there was another chamber no one knew about, except Sybil. She knew everything.
“You can come in next time, wait here,” she ordered.
Holly was happy to oblige. She loved studying the internal workings of the ship, even the steaming piles of compost in their sealed vats. She hardly had time to study the gas capture equipment before Sybil returned with a suspiciously shaped brown bag.
Two men, slightly older than Holly leaned on either side of the portal and waved casually in her direction. One had a crooked smile on his face and the other a scowl.
“Who are they?” Holly asked.
“Brewers,” Sybil said. “They control the compost, and sometimes extract the extra sugar from the vegetation before it goes in. You can meet them next time.”
Holly’s eyes went wide. “They are fermenting alcohol?” she asked. Her voice was louder than it should have been, but the equipment did not seem to notice. Shining was illegal. Holly always wondered why they were called that, but she did not want to ask now. There were more important things to know, like why was Sybil acquiring illegal substances?
Sybil gave her a nod and traced her way back to the fields. Many of the fields on these levels were assigned to Sybil’s care and she was allowed to grow anything she required. Unlike the hydroponic level, these fields consisted of artificially dense silica treated with compost tea and blended with Sybil’s own dirt recipe. The plants appeared jumbled together and completely unorganized, yet she went to the exact plant she wanted without any trouble.
She handed Holly an oversized comb and started using another one to scrape small, dark blue berries into a bag below. Holly started doing the same.
Sybil picked up a stray berry that fell to the ground and put it in her mouth. “Bilberry,” she said. The corners of her mouth tightened as she chewed. “A tart one, too.”
Holly did not have her screen to take notes but listened closely so she could record everything from memory later.
“Vaccinium myrtillus, Ericaceae family. We need to make a tincture for Mr. Lup. I’d make him a syrup, but his diabetes makes that a bad idea. He would drink the bottle up and that would defeat the purpose of the bilberry!”
“The alcohol is for that?” Holly asked.
Sybil nodded. “We will need to dry these first, they are much too wet to make an effective tincture and it would taste terrible. This will help his circulation and his vision, both worsened by his condition, and it will ease his indigestion and gout. Take some of the leaves for Gretta. We will make a tea for her diarrhea. It should help the inflammation from that stomach virus.”
“Aren’t they acidic?” Holly asked.
“And high in tannins, but if we use the berries and the leaves together it should not upset her any further. The anthocyanidins are potent antioxidants and will help her arthritis too.”
Holly noted it protected veins and arteries and helped the body with clot prevention, so perhaps Sybil would not be having that stroke.
“Do you take this one?” Holly asked.
“On cake,” she said. She smiled wide. “Makes a great jam.”