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Cash Crop
c 2005 by emmie dee

    It was a slow, hot day on the high plains, USA, Planet Earth. The calendar window on my desk computer reminded me that it was August 17, 2073, just a week before the twenty-fifth anniversary of T-Day. T-Day. Transpace Day-the day when we officially became part of the galactic community, although as “poor cousins.” By and large, people thought it was a good thing, or at least a necessary thing, to connect our economy with that of the other humanoid species. The original T-Day came after two decades of worldwide economic depression and political upheaval caused by the drying up of oil reserves. Oh, we’d tapped other forms of energy, but it had been too little too late. Now our space friends, called Squeekies out of earshot because of their high-pitched little voices, provided us with more than 2/3rds of our electrical energy, which was now utilized in nearly all forms of transportation, as well. The Squeekies help me earn a living, too, one that I enjoy. I run an HPS in our town-a hair purchasing station. The Squeekies, like all transpace farers, are bald. For some strange biochemical reason, the energy fields created for transpace travelers destroy hair. All of our Spacers-professionals, business people, or tourists–come back from their journeys slick bald and remain that way for the rest of their lives. (Actually, once it was proven that they would lose their hair on the journeys, most people would have it removed before they went at a shop like mine. This would save them the cost of the extra weight, and would relieve the mess of hair floating around loose throughout the ships when Transpace speeds were achieved. Only a few wealthy eccentrics took their hair with them to have the experience of it floating off from their heads.) The Squeekies themselves look a lot like your stereotyped space aliens-small, silverish, large heads and eyes, and bald. On their own planets, before they travel into space, I hear that they are fur-covered. So why do I purchase hair? Not for wigs for Spacers. They’re proud of their hairless galaxy-traveling image. No, it’s the Squeekies. They think that human hair is delicious. They don’t eat it raw, of course, right off of our heads. No, it’s processed so that it becomes thick and tender, something like angel hair pasta. I’ve tried it upon their invitation, but believe me it’s an acquired taste. Gourmet human hair-long and without processing (such as coloring and perms)-brings a great price. It’s one of our planet’s best cash crops, I like to tell people. Processed hair brings a much poorer price, as it loses its flavor in having the chemicals removed.

    My shop is in a simple little storefront just off the courthouse square in a county seat town in western Kansas, and serves eight counties in Kansas and Colorado. Large cities such as Kansas City or Denver have HPS stations that can handle dozens or hundreds of customers each hour. Mine’s pretty much a one-man show. It stays viable because of the distances out here on the plains-why travel 400 miles and fight the crowds when you can sell your hair much more easily right here?

    I see a woman crossing the street. She has a long dress, no makeup or jewelry, and gloriously long, straight light brown hair. I pray silently that she’ll continue coming my way. She’s a member of a conservative Protestant sect, and perm or dye chemicals have probably never touched her hair. I can almost hear a Squeekie’s lip smacking now. Worry lines cross an otherwise attractive face. Yes, she’s coming here. Members of her sect are slow to come and sell their hair, even though they get top credit for it.

    ”Can I help you?” I ask, smiling, as she enters my store.

    ”Yes. Please. I am thinking of selling my hair. I hate to, but with this draught, I’m afraid we might lose our farm without more energy credits.”

    ”Sister, I understand your reluctance. It is a major decision, and one not to be made lightly. But as you know, the leaders of the Marshites have all agreed that as long as a Marshite woman keeps her head covered in church or in public while her hair is growing back, that it’s perfectly within your faith tenets to give up your hair. In fact, it’s regarded as a sign of true humility.” I gave her a reassuring smile.

    She smiled back. “Maybe my problem is more with my lack of humility than with my religious convictions. I’ve loved my hair, and I still do. I have trouble imagining what it will be like to lose it, even temporarily.”

    ”Yes, it is lovely. We can cut your hair, leaving up to ten centimeters, if that would be easier for you emotionally. But that would only earn slightly more than half of the energy credits of selling it all. Our Serenite friends (that’s the Squeekies) feel that cut hair doesn’t have as much flavor. On the other hand, if you give it all, you will not only earn top dollar, but after a few weeks of hairlessness, it will grow back faster than before. Here. Let me show you.” I reached back and pulled the end of my braid over my shoulder, removing the elastic band at its end. “It’s now over 2/3 of a meter in length. And I last sold mine eight months ago. So yours will grow back very quickly, as well. It’s part of the treatment we give.”

    ”But after a certain length of time, a year or two, doesn’t it all fall out again?” she asked.

    ”Yes, of course, but it always grows back. You see, what happens when we remove your hair with an electron razor and rub some medicated lotion on your scalp, your hair is removed from the follicles themselves. All of your follicles go into a rest mode, and then after a bit, the hair all comes back. Right now, you lose hundreds of hairs every day when you wash it or brush it, right?” I asked. She nodded. “That happens when your follicles go into a rest cycle. Each one is on its own schedule. All we do is get them all working together at the same time. It works beautifully. The hair grows at least as long as yours is now, down past your waist, before its growth ends. And the treatment accelerates growth. Rather than growing 2/3 of an inch per month, your hair will grow up to two or three inches a month, like mine.”

    She smiled. “Your hair is lovely, by the way, if that’s a proper thing to say to a gentleman.”

    ”I take it as a compliment. With hair becoming a cash crop, you’re seeing more and more men growing their hair long, too. And to tell you the truth, I enjoy brushing out my hair and braiding it, just like you do yours. But when my follicles take a nap, I enjoy the bald part of the cycle, too. Many women do, as well.” I hoped that I was selling her.

    ”So, uh, how much would my hair bring, using the electronic razor?” she asked, timidly.

    I took an instrument that looks something like a wide staple gun and ran it up and down a lock of her hair, then read the screen. “Just as I thought. You have wonderful, clean, pure hair, very rich in nutrients. Did you know that the Squeekie word for hair translates back as `protein strings?'” I asked. “But I digress. Let me see. It measured your hair at 1.2 meters, prime quality, that would be 1238 energy credits. A hundred more if you sign a contract for fast growth and a commitment to resell at the end of each hair cycle.”

    She blanched. “Over 1300 credits? That’s more than Lyle will receive for his wheat crop. That will make the payments we need.” Her eyes grew wide, and she beamed. “I didn’t know that it would be that much! Yes. I want to do this.”

    We filled out the forms. Her name was Elizabeth McCausland. She closed her eyes, her lips moving slightly.
She was praying, I think. For strength? For joy? I didn’t ask.

    She walked gingerly over to the booth, where we could begin the removal privately. “If it helps, I think that you will look as lovely without your hair as you do with. That’s often the case.”

    Elizabeth blushed. “You, my husband, and my children will likely be the only ones to see me hairless. I have a bonnet with me in my sewing bag.”

    ”And I will accept that as an honor and a responsibility,” I said, softly. “Shall we begin?”

    ”Please.” The hair on the top of her head was already pulled back. Gently, I lifted a lock of hair, holding it out from her temple and pointed the razor device at the hairline. The streams of electrons poured out at the follicles, and slowly her hair began to loosen, revealing the skin a centimeter at a time. There are quicker ways of doing it, of zapping the whole scalp at once, but they only work on shorter hair. It was busy and tiring work, slowly loosening the locks from their moorings and laying the harvested hair into a receptacle. She watched with fascination and a bit of dread, I imagine, as I worked past and around her left ear. Then I began with the side locks in front of her right ear. That bare, I aimed the energy stream at her hairline on top, slowly peeling back the long hair, revealing a part of her head that nobody had ever seen before. (Yes, I know that. She told me that she was born with a good head of hair.) The electrons did their work, silently and efficiently, with just a faint greenish light visible. I kept working down from the top, and then down the back, deftly lifting off and placing handfuls of her marvelous hair into the collecting box. Finally, it was done. She was completely bald, except for her brows and lashes.

    Elizabeth cocked her head to the side and smiled slightly. “I do think that you were right,” she said. “It will take some getting used to, but we don’t believe in adornment, and hair is just an adornment, isn’t it?”

    ”Right,” I hastened to add. “Your inner, spiritual beauty shines through now.” I was disappointed when she slipped the bonnet on, as she was lovely to look at. I weighed the tresses. Her hair was thicker than I had estimated. “1415 credits,” I whistled. “That’s a new record for my store.” (And a tidy commission for me. And once the Squeekies tasted it, I imagine the price might go up.)

    ”I have been thinking, Mr. Harmon,” she said. “I felt that this was something that I had to do myself. But now that I know that I can do this, maybe my husband and children can too. We have four daughters and two sons, you know. And the oldest daughter’s hair is as long as yours, Mr. Harmon. If they all come in and sell what hair they have, we will all be bald at once, and have strength in numbers. Then we can all of us grow our hair until the next harvest. We will be in tomorrow afternoon. It’s quite a wonderful cash crop, isn’t it now? It would be a shame not to harvest it.”

    Yes, it’s a small, quiet town, without much to do. But I enjoy my work. Yes, I do.

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