Building Beyond is an ongoing series of conversations about how much fun worldbuilding can be. Building a world doesn’t have to be hard or scary. Let’s give it a try, together.
In this world, instead of gestating placentally, babies are grown underground like potatoes and are subject to communal harvest and care.
Elle Tee is a Vancouver-based educator. An avid movie fan and playlist-maker with a photographic memory, she’s a ringer for your pub trivia night (remember those?). She also loves getting out onto beautiful BC’s trails and beaches, on an eternal quest for the perfect rock. You can find her on Twitter at @ElleTeeToGo.
Gailey: How does the dominant culture of this society distribute the work of tending and harvesting?
Tee: The creation of cooperative partnerships between retirement homes and grade schools means that it’s our community’s youth and elders who tend to each year’s new crop of offspring. Early research findings indicate that both age groups benefit from this collaboration, with children showing enhanced critical thinking and social skills, and seniors demonstrating improved memory and mood. This also allows the expectant parents to devote more of their time to doom-scrolling on Twitter, curating their personal brand on Instagram, and coming up with the perfect baby name.
Gailey: What kind of garden pests are we dealing with? How do we fend them off without harming the crop?
T: Our community farmers rely on more than just ladybugs to keep pests away. Nighttime broadcasting of yacht rock’s breezy melodies is powerful enough to drive away the crop’s biggest pest: adolescent scavengers who covet the babies’ protective nightshade husks for their psychotropic effects. Conversely, being serenaded by Michael McDonald has these babes showing enhanced brain development, and longitudinal studies will assess the correlation between this safeguard and future boat purchases.
Gailey: How are children raised to adulthood?
T: Alloparenting is the common practice for raising children; they receive emotional support from a diversified collection of caregivers. Nurtured by their community, all children apprentice in sustainable farming (pesticide-free organic babies and root vegetables), sax solos, and creating the perfect meme.
Sarah Loch (she/her) has been making up stories since childhood, first for her own amusement and then to entertain her younger siblings and cousins. She is a young adult librarian and an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. Sarah has authored and self-published several queer romances under a pseudonym while working to write and revise her first YA novel. Find her on twitter @sloch.
Gailey: Tell me about the farm – how does tending and harvesting work?
Loch: On your Tending Day, you make your way to the Nursery with the others who share your day. The morning air is crisp and just slightly cool, the sun hovering above the horizon. A breeze stirs your hair, a reminder of the changing seasons.
“Harvest soon.” Tillie smiles when she says it, a tiny expression of pure delight.
She and the others of her pod have been waiting for almost a year for their child, nearly four full quarters. Last week after Tending, Tillie showed you the little nook they all prepared in their apartment down the hall from yours. The small clothes, the shelf of books, the little cap and blanket that Ani, one of their Elders, crocheted, soft as a dream. The five of them could talk of almost nothing else, their love shining out like it could reach their child where they slept, nestled safely in the earth.
“Soon.” You haven’t been counting the days like Tillie, but the air has been warming for weeks, and the Equinox banners have started going up throughout the city. “Are you ready?”
Her smile widens. “We’re all so excited we can hardly sleep. Last night I dreamed they were here.”
The two of you walk in silence for a few more moments, before Tillie asks.
“And you? Are you going to apply? You’re more than current on your Tending Days.”
You shake your head. “No, I’d rather be the favorite Agi to all the littles. I’ll come and hold yours when you need a moment’s rest, and then I’ll go back home for some quiet. Taye and Sidney and I, none of us want our own right now. And we still need to find another Elder before we can qualify, anyhow. Zale says they quite like the break and they’re not in any hurry.”
Tillie nods, her attention drawn away from you as the two of you join the line of Tenders streaming through the gates. The Nursery plots are out of sight from here, but she still cranes her neck, looking.
You and Tillie have been assigned to the same plot all quarter, the one where their child is growing. Tillie is a good Tender, giving equal care to each cluster of babies. A stranger would never know from watching her that she is waiting for a little one, or which one.
The babies are active this morning, wriggling in their sacs, stretching as the morning sun lights their fluid environments to gold.
With Harvest nearing, they don’t have much room to move, their bodies curled and folded into the sacs. The nearest cluster of three all turn toward you and Tillie as you near the plot, waving arms and kicking legs to get your attention, umbilical cords pulsing gently where they lead down to the placenta, rooted in the earth.
You don’t know if your pod will ever want a child. But whether or not you do, Tending Day is its own reward.
Gailey: These babies sound vulnerable – what protects them from predators and garden pests?
L: As you settle in to check the bloodgrub netting under a cluster, you talk to them. The Nurses say it doesn’t matter what you say, just that they hear the words and the voice.
“Oh, looks like it’s getting a little worn here. We’ll just tape it up, make sure it lasts until Harvest. Are you excited for Harvest?”
They don’t understand, of course, but all four of them wriggle with excitement at the question.
“This is special tape.” You pick the cut edge free with your fingernail, pulling enough from the roll to cover the worn spot. “These holes are like the nets. Big enough to let the placenta roots through, small enough that bloodgrubs can’t get in. We don’t want them getting your blood with all those nutrients, do we? You need that to grow big and strong.”
From across the plot, Tillie starts to sing. You join in as you place tape on both sides of the netting, securing it back in the earth to protect the placenta.
One of the small terriers that patrols the nursery goes yipping past, clearly on the scent of some trespassing rodent. She disappears into the border trees, so it can’t be close by.
“Last mesh over here.” Tillie calls to you, straightening and wiping sweat off her forehead.
“Me too.” You don’t rush, even though the night shift will double-check, and tomorrow’s Tending crew. Bloodgrubs are serious business, even if these babies are almost Harvest-ready. They probably wouldn’t be harmed if a grub or two latched on to the placentas, but you’re not going to take that chance.
Gailey: What's the family structure like?
L: Tillie’s pod is the only family in your building getting a child this Harvest. Not everyone came to see, but most of you are there, waiting near the plot, lit candles lighting the pre-dawn to welcome the babies.
Tillie, Sean, and Akim kneel next to their child, singing the welcome with the other parents-to-be. Their Elders, Ani and Talin, stand slightly behind, singing too, hands on their shoulders.
The final note seems to ring in the air after it ends, fading so slowly that you can’t tell when silence actually falls. The Nurse in charge of this plot raises their hands, their amplified voice soft despite being clearly audible.
“These are our children. The Earth fed them, the Waters cradled them. They grew in our care.”
Tillie doesn’t need the attendant’s help, cradling their child’s sac in her arms. Gently, not uprooting the placenta yet.
“With Fire, we bring them into the Air, to breathe with us.”
Akim takes the cauterizing tool from the attendant with a nod of thanks. Sean covers his hand with theirs, and together they cut the sac.
All across the plot, other parents do the same, amniotic fluid flowing down into the ground, babies slick and wet in their parents’ arms.
“We return the Waters to the Earth, to feed a new generation. We welcome these new spirits.”
Talin helps Tillie open her tunic, nestle the child against her skin, while Ani wraps them both in a blanket. Sean and Akim wait for the pulsing to stop, then cut the umbilical cord, burying the placenta in the earth.
The five of them turn back toward you as the first rays of sun filter through the trees.
“This is our child.” They speak as one, turning so you can see the tiny head, the cap of hair still dark and wet, eyes scrunched closed.
You wait a breath, but no one else speaks. “What is their name?”
Akim brushes a finger lightly over the baby’s head. “Their name is Marin.”
All of these possibilities are just beginnings. Sarah's plan could be the foundation of a an immersive LARP that invites participants to explore a community commitment to care from the start of life to the end of it – you can and absolutely should read the full, beautiful story here. Elle Tee's structure is the start of a hilariously incisive satire about the way statistics might converge with wellness culture to shape society.
What are the potato children of your world like? What kind of care do they need before harvest? What kind of family structures do they wind up in?
Do whatever you want with these questions. You can write something down in the comments or on social media or in a notebook nobody will ever see. You can draw or paint or sit down a friend and talk their ear off about your ideas. You can stare at the horizon and imagine, letting the infinite landscape of your mind unfold just a little farther than it did yesterday. No matter what you do, take pride in the knowledge that you’re creating something that has never existed before. You’re building a little corner of a whole new world.
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