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Date-Local: 19 Mar 2419 06:54:32 +0000
Date: 02 Sep 2421 05:30:32 +0000
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Subject: Made it...

God, Sam, how I wish you were here. Maybe you could help me. You were
always the best of company.

None of us ever really expected to find anything complicated. Proks,
maybe, if we were very lucky. More likely just smelly slurry that
might have been something someday if we hadn't showed up first. But
this? No. Never in a million years. Certainly not in twenty-three.

Sorry. I know I'm not making sense out of this. I'll try again. They
probably already have some of it from SCARS, but let me tell it to you
my own way.

What I heard, the midcourse corrections had us coming into the system
weird. Not so weird we couldn't make orbit, but enough that we had to
correct so the landing boats could reach Site One and back. Partway
through the correction, we hit something. Or something hit us - I
talked with one of the pilots before he died, he told me they didn't
catch it on radar and that shouldn't have been possible, not with the
damage it did. Had the idea it must've been directed, somehow. I don't
know if that makes sense, but either way, it holed us.

Holed us bad, and with the thrusters still firing. If they hadn't
been, the fuel system would've been evacuated - we might've stayed
up. But the blast gave us a vector we couldn't overcome on OMS thrust,
and of course we'd exhausted the primaries. It wasn't a surprise when
we hit the atmosphere. The surprise was that anyone walked away from
the impact site. Just under three hundred of us. Doesn't sound like
much of a miracle, but believe me, we were happy to take it until a
better one came along. Wasn't even that bad a landing site, for all we
didn't get to choose much - rolling sandy plains, some large body of
water within eyeshot, maybe an hour's leisurely walk. We could do
something with the place, once we got our feet under us.

We didn't worry about the sickness at first. Barely even noticed it -
most of us were more or less beat up, and not everyone had made it to
a crash couch in time. We were all working thirty-hour days between
broken bones and soft tissue trauma, inventorying what we had left by
way of supplies, getting the worst toxic leaks from the wreck under
control, and trying to jury-rig enough of a hab to keep the weather
off - we hit smack in the northern temperate zone, and the climate
isn't too bad, but about three hours out of every day we get storms
you wouldn't believe. Fever, lower back myalgia, mild lower GI
distress? We had two reactors still up, enough surplus power to run
the handful of heads left with intact sequestration systems. Plenty of
paracetamol and neoprox. We had so many problems trying to kill us, we
were just glad this one wasn't.

Then, all of a sudden, it was. Day Six, the sepsis syndrome caught us
completely by surprise. Thirty-four dead in less than half one of
Ross's long bright days - onset to lethality in minutes, the medics
had never seen anything like it. The ones who died had been feeling
worst, but we all had it by then, and still didn't know what it
was. We found what tools we could for our one surviving biochemist,
and she set to work trying to isolate the causative agent - with a lot
of luck, maybe she'd figure out how to treat it before it killed us
all.

Probably would've been easier if she hadn't been hurting too badly by
then to sit up. But she got far enough for us to pick up when she had
to leave off. Light microscopy doesn't give you much structural
detail, next to nothing about life processes, but we could see well
enough what it looked like: something like an amoeba, sort of
polymorphic that way, but with a trophism like nothing we'd ever seen
and flagella it used like a mosquito uses its proboscis. We fed it
whole blood and watched it suck the cytoplasm clean out of two dozen
erythrocytes at once. Leukocytes it just *absorbed*, we're still not
sure how - they'd hit the cell membrane and just, I don't know, just
melt into the thing. And then it'd divide, and both daughters would do
it all over again. We never saw the whole cycle take more than a
minute.

We had plenty of antiparasitics, of course - med bay wasn't what you'd
call intact, but the starboard-aft hold had most of the backup supply,
and enough came through the crash to supply we who were left for a
long time. Nothing we had touched them, though. Not even the really
exotic stuff that hadn't been approved for human use yet, and we just
brought because who knew what we'd run into? They didn't even seem to
notice. We weren't equipped any more for blood filtering or that kind
of complex intervention, and supportive care was the best we could do
- try to keep the fever down with ice packs and neoprox, keep the
kidneys and liver and heart and lungs going, and hope some of us would
start to pull out of it before the last of us up and about weren't up
and about any more.

I don't really know what happened after I went down. I think it was
Day Ten? Eleven? There weren't many of us still up by that point. Just
over a hundred had died, I think. One thing, we'd just gotten Eve
shifted to a new pallet and I was trying to clean up the mess of the
old one and keep her from getting too hot, both at the same time, and
next thing, I was here, flat on my back in what's left of Main
Control. Nine days gone, just like that. I didn't even know we'd
gotten any power back on in here - I don't think we had, when I went
down. Don't know why I'm here, either. We saw enough delirium before I
went down, there may not even be a 'why'.

I don't feel bad at all. I can see I've changed; whoever put me here
put me in a gown first, and there's not as much of me under it as
there would've been a couple weeks ago. It fell right off my neck when
I tried to stand up. That didn't go well. I think I should be hungry,
but I feel full, like I just ate. I wish I knew if anyone else was
still here. I've been awake a few hours, I think, but I haven't heard
anyone. I don't hurt, though, and I'm not burning up. Right now I'm
still mostly okay with that.

I really hope someone else is still here. I don't want to be alone
like this.

Getting up in the chair at the sender console was hard, but I did it,
and I can still use a keyboard well enough. I thought it was important
to try to let someone back home know what happened. I don't know if
the followup expeditions launched on schedule, I don't remember
hearing before and not much of the mission log made it through the
crash. If they did -

I was going to say, tell them to make turnover early and go anywhere
else. Even back home would be better than this place, with its barren
vistas empty of vegetation, its anonymous sea we never even found the
time to try to name or go and see up close. Smeared along half a mile
an arrowhead stain of ship debris, at its apex a shallow crater
centered on the shattered remains of all our hopes and dreams, and in
a nearby shanty village, rows of corpses - decaying? mummified? Who
knows if anything else can eat us here? - whom no one had time or
strength to bury. Go anywhere else but this ball of death and deceit
whirling around its lonely star. There is nothing for you here.

...is what I was *going* to say. But - really, I don't know. As I sit
here I can feel my strength returning to me, and with it grows the
conviction that it really isn't bad here. Look at what this planet's
done to me already! - and yet I survive. I still remember myself. And
soon I'll be up and about again, able to see what may be seen and do
what need be done. Yes: many of us died. People I knew. Friends I
remember and mean never to forget. No few closer than friends - spend
so many years closed up with only a thousand or so people, sooner or
later those with whom you were recede in memory, making room for those
with whom you *are*.

Not you, Sam. I've never felt that way about you. How I wish you were
here! But maybe you will be. If the third expedition hasn't launched
yet. I know we talked about it. Well - fought about it. I've never
stopped regretting that, and I hope while I've been gone you might
have come to understand why I had to go. Maybe we could see one
another again. I would like that very much. I think you could help
me. And you were always the best of company.

But what worse can this planet do to me than it has already done? What
worse can it do to any of us who still survive? We came here not
knowing what we faced - only that it could hardly be worse than what
we left behind. And even still I feel that very strongly to be
true. We could never be together there, Sam. Here, who'd be to stop
us?

I know it sounds frightening, what has happened to me. It *was*
frightening. It was scary and painful and frequently disgusting, and
that's just what I remember! But I don't hurt any more. I'm not sick
any more. And I'm not afraid any more. You don't have to be,
either. It's really not that bad - the body never remembers pain, you
know. I remember that I hurt, but I don't remember *hurting*. Does
that make sense?

You can come here. Join the third expedition and come find me
here. Come sooner, if you can. There might be a research ship. I miss
you, and I hope you miss me. We can be together here, and though I'm
feeling much stronger now, I still wish you were here to help me. I
still can't hear anyone, and I don't want to think I'm alone here. Not
forever, anyway. Besides - once I get more of my strength back, make
up for what I've lost in the last little while, I think you might like
seeing me. I think I do. And I'm sure I want to be close to you again.

Well. That's enough for now, I think. I'm sure I'll have more to say
later, but once you get this you'll know I'm still alive, and even
though we couldn't send our landing report, there's really no reason
not to send the followup expeditions. Not really. Some won't make it,
but enough will. And if we weren't going to take that kind of chance,
why come out here at all?

I'm going to send this, with all the power the transmitter will
take. It'll get to you eventually. Then I'm going to try to stand up
again. I think I can manage it, now. It'd be easier if I still had
legs, I suppose. But four limbs shouldn't be *that* much harder to
manage than two, and I'm still enough of a biologist to remember how
muscular hydrostats work. I think it's just a matter of figuring out
which impulses go where...oh well. By the time you're here, I should
be all finished embarrassing myself with them, I hope.

I never stopped loving you, Sam. Please don't have stayed angry with
me. I hope we'll see each other again. In the meantime, I'll see if
anyone else is still alive. And with whoever's left, I'll start
preparing for those who may come after us. By the time they get here,
if they do, we'll be ready to make our new settlers a home.