<< BACK TO RS001 LOG From: Chris Maldonado
To: Sameen Lee Delivered-To: Sameen Lee Received: from relay7.qec4.rs001.l4.earthsys.gov by mta4.recoveryinstitute.org with ESMTPS id vbe3v6cu3yf192m for Received: from relay11.qec6.ganymede.earthsys.gov by relay7.qec4.rs001.l4.earthsys.gov Received: from qec3.helio.earthsys.gov by relay11.qec6.ganymede.earthsys.gov Received: from qec.sv14417 by qec3.helio.earthsys.gov Subject: Love from Esperance Date: 7 Apr 2419 21:57:18 +0000 Date-Local: 21 Sep 2421 20:33:18 +0000 Content-Type: text/plain; charset="utf8" I promised myself I wouldn't talk too much about the memorial. But that was before... I don't know what I was expecting. Rows of seats, I suppose. Trying to find a comfortable spot while Director Soloviev talked too much about people he didn't really know or remember very well. Our friends, our loved ones - his employees. Because it was the expected thing, the thing that people do at a time like this. Trying to bring closure, whatever that means. Instead, we made a garden together. Right at the center of our hab, in a roundish open space that I hadn't got around to asking why it was even there. Now I know. The first thing we did, right in the middle of what was to be our garden, we brought in a piece of Voortrekker herself and stood it on end in a deep trench we'd dug to receive it. A tombstone, I suppose you could call it, but I don't think any of us really thinks of it that way. Four meters high, two wide, a jagged chunk of hull plating with just the top left corner of the 'V' from her name still visible on the charred surface. We helped a lot, those of us who've changed, bringing it in from the crash site and setting it in place. But I don't think there's a living pair of hands on this planet which didn't touch it, didn't help carry it at least a little way. Once we'd got it set in place, once we had the concrete curing around it and the braces set to keep it upright until its footing could take the weight, the Director did say some things. I won't try to write them all down here - I don't remember them all, and anyway Jen and Eve and I were crying together, just like everyone else - little knots of people, big groups, I don't think anyone was alone in it. I hope no one was, anyway. I wish I could remember all of what he said, but what I do remember, I don't think I'll ever forget. I don't know how long I'll live, as I am now. But thinking back on what the Director said, I don't mind if I live a million years, or a thousand, or ten, or one. I never liked to think about it. Not for myself, and a thousand times as much, not for the people I love. I never could imagine anything coming after, anything except the end of everything. It's not as if I know otherwise, even now. But I think I might not mind not knowing, because not knowing doesn't mean I can't hope, and now I know what I can hope for. I can hope that it's not the end of everything, after all. I can hope that it's only a little time we have to spend apart, and when that time is done, we'll be together again, in a place where no shadows fall. There were freshly turned patches of earth in that roundish place at the center of our hab. I suppose we all knew they were graves. Does it seem ghoulish that they're also part of what gives our new garden life? I don't think it does. When our trees and our flowers are grown, when our memorial garden has become the cool and quiet place of solace that we'll help it be, we'll see our friends and our lovers in every blossom, every branch, every blade of grass. We'll walk and stand and sit and lie with them, all the time we spend there. And they'll be there with us, too. And when new people come to join us here on our new world - you among them, both of you, I dearly hope - we'll bring them to our garden of memory and tell them the stories of those who came before, and have gone, and whom we hope some day to meet again, in a place where no shadows fall. That's what we did for one another, too. All the time we were laying paths, building benches, planting seeds. We told each other stories, and laughed together, and cried together, and somehow by the time we were done, it...it wasn't so much. We still miss them, and we always will. But the cloud that'd been over us - I'd hardly even noticed it was there, with all the time I'd spent hidden in Main Control, but it had settled in on me too, it had found me once I came out of my hiding place and met everyone else again. It's gone now. Like taking a deep breath when you hadn't even realized you weren't able to, before. I think it's that way for all of us now, and I think that's the way it was meant to be. We're not carrying such heavy hearts, any more, now that we've laid our dead to rest. Well, and for one other reason. We've never really called this planet anything other than "Ross", and that makes sense, doesn't it? Our star is Ross 128, and our planet is in the catalogue as Ross 128 b - but that's a bit of a mouthful, so we shortened it for comfort. We never really had time to think about calling it anything else. But the Director evidently has, because as we finished our planting and mourning, he told us he hasn't been thinking of this planet as "Ross" for a while now. He said he thought it was time for us to decide on a name, and asked us for suggestions, and he had a name of his own in mind to suggest: Esperance, which means 'hope'. So our planet isn't Ross 128 b any more, except in the catalogue, which can do what it likes. We live on Esperance now. And our hab, the colony that we're building? That's Hope. Director Soloviev did all that for us, in the space of a few hours. I'm not sure if I underestimated him before, or if he's changed more than I would have imagined he could. Either way, I'm glad I was wrong about him. We need the person he's become. Of course, we need all of us, really. We aren't trying to keep to the original build schedule - that'd be impossible even if everyone had survived the crash, because almost all of our lifting gear, earthmoving equipment, and heavy machine tooling didn't. But even at the slower, merely backbreaking pace we're setting, there's so much work to be done! As soon as we were done building our garden, Jen got together most of us who've changed, along with the Director and about a dozen others who haven't, and we went to work setting up solar collectors. That engineering problem she mentinoned, right after she got me out of the ship - one of our reactors was getting dangerously unstable, and we were going to have to shut it down soon. That'd only leave one up and running, and we'd need almost all its output to run the QEC and maintain our cryo systems so we can keep from losing our livestock embryos - there'd be almost nothing left for the hab, the labs, and the heavy equipment we've got left. So we needed as much solar capacity as we could get, in a hurry. As soon as Jen said that, I knew why she'd got all of us who'd changed and didn't have other work to do that they absolutely couldn't let wait a while. All that gear is really heavy! Usually you'd need six or eight people to carry a single panel, but two of us could manage it - the balance was a little tricky, and it was thirsty work, but we could do it, and we managed to clear out most of one whole cargo hold in the space of twenty, twenty-two hours. Somewhere in there I think most of the unchanged people went to get some sleep, and others came onto the job? I was mostly in the hold and not paying much attention to anything except the work, but I started seeing new faces after a while. Anyway, most of the unchanged people started setting up panels once we had enough of them out, while we switched to hauling storage batteries. Even for us, it took five to a battery, and we only managed to bring out nine of them in twelve hours before Eve made us stop - we didn't really mind, we were mostly played out by then. But nine will be enough, at least for a few sols! We'll have to watch our consumption at night, and some of the high-energy experiments will have to wait until we can bring the reactor we have left back onto the hab power grid, but we'll still have enough power for almost everything. None of our systems even flickered when Jen isolated the failing reactor, and it's in cold shutdown now. By that time we'd all gone to the refectory, though. I hadn't realized how hungry I was until I smelled food, and then I was ravenous! I think we all were, even the unchanged people who'd been working with us - it was getting late in the sol by then, and most people were in bed or on shift, but we spent a solid hour and a half in there anyway before people started leaving. Tired as I was, it felt really good! I mean, eating, of course, but more than that just...just being together, all feeling good about the work we'd finished together, laughing and joking and sharing a sense of accomplishment. I never really knew what that was like, before - I never really quite knew how to get along with people, mostly, so I mostly just hid in my lab or at home, and even on the ship I tended not to spend that much time just being around people outside my quarters or the bio section. You both know that, of course! It's a wonder we ever even met - Sam, if you hadn't kept coming and finding me at that convention...But here, it's just different somehow. I mean, you'd think it would be weird! With how different we are, how different I am especially. But people just seem like they're not quite the same somehow. Or maybe it's me, I don't know - maybe it really is me. Whatever it is, though, it felt really wonderful just to be sitting together laughing and talking with everyone over supper, and all of us knowing we'd all just done something amazing together. I think that might've been my favorite time here so far. I am pretty worn out, though - amazing or not, it was a lot of work! But there's one other thing I want to tell you about before I finish up and send this. It really is amazing, and I'm honestly not sure how I feel about it. So, I mentioned that we planted trees and flowers in our garden. You're probably wondering how we knew whether they'd even germinate! Well, I did end up finding Gareth in botany the other day, like I was talking about in my last message. I didn't get to ask him right away about joining a fetch team, though, because he and Elva were checking on one of her experiments. I don't know if I've ever mentioned the two of them, but they're adorable together - he's built like a wall, and even by my standards she's a little tiny thing, maybe a meter and a half and so slight you almost expect her to float from place to place instead of walking. They spent a lot of time together back on the ship, and they're almost inseparable now, which is no surprise considering. But the experiment... Remember before I left, when I was telling you all about the ship and our plans for the colony? Hydro farming was an interim measure, just while we worked out how to cultivate in the ground here? We thought it'd take a couple of years! Elva was just doing basic testing with one of the ADM maizes and a couple of hardy cereals, planting them in our new soil and watering them with our new rainwater. We do that mainly just to find out what stops them germinating, what kinds of fertilizers they need, simple stuff like that, and we expect it to take a long time for two totally different ecologies to fit together. But when I came and peeked over their shoulders, what did I see but three dishes, each with a sample of Ross's sandy soil and a half dozen green shoots poking up out of it! They were laying out new experiments on a slate and talking a mile a minute, and I didn't want to interrupt, so I got my hand unit off this terrible armband and took a look at the experiment files. This was actually the fifth attempt, and the first four had been inconclusive - the seeds had sprouted and then just sort of died, a day or so later. Looking at the microscopy, the cell walls had odd little punctures, and the cells themselves didn't look right. Like the stain hadn't taken properly, or something - it took me a minute to remember where I'd seen something like that before: in the blood samples we tested with the bug, not long before I went down. After I told Gareth and Elva what I thought I was seeing, we took a sample from one of the new shoots and looked at it under the scope, and - there's no way those plants should be alive right now, because they are just full of this bug, swimming freely in the vascular tissue and apparently sessile in the parenchymal cells. Then I had an idea - well, what I really had was an absolute certainty, but those still don't count until you confirm them. I checked Eve's med files on those of us who've changed, including my own. She hasn't had time for more than the most basic micro studies, but looking at blood samples is pretty basic, and guess what? Sessile in the leukocytes, and swimming freely in the plasma - just like in the plants, only adapted to the mammalian cell structure and circulatory system. Nothing like what I'd seen before. More like... I said before that I don't want to assume "why?" is a question that makes sense here, and I still don't. But just think about it a minute. No one's ever seen anything like this before - a prokaryotic pathogen that can cause disease in plants *and* humans? It's been four or five hundred years since anyone even thought seriously about the possibility! But what we're seeing here is even more unlikely than that, because I'm increasingly convinced that "pathogen" and "disease" aren't the right words for this. Not at all. What we're seeing looks a lot more like some kind of endosymbiosis. We're not sure yet whether it's commensal or mutualistic, and we haven't ruled out some kind of novel parasitism, but it doesn't really matter - the point I'm making here is, we only have one other example of anything even remotely like this, and that's the relationship between eukaryotic cells and mitochondria. But that took millions of years to evolve, and this has happened inside of a couple of months. I don't know what to think right now. This thing, whatever it is, is truly incredible - it's beyond anything we could ever have come out here hoping to find! And what it's already done is so astonishing that no one's even making any guesses about what it's going to do next. I don't have the words to describe what I'm feeling right now, as a scientist and as a human being, just to be witnessing this at all. To say nothing of helping investigate it! But at the same time...I'm not even sure I still am a human being, and whether I am or not, what I am now is what the bug has made of me, and it's still in me now. Eve and I haven't taken biopsies yet, but I see no reason not to assume it can't colonize any and every type of cell in a human body. And part of the reason I won't make any guesses about what it might do next is because I see no reason not to assume that, whatever it does next, it won't do to all of us who've changed. To me. And that's terrifying. I miss you - I miss both of you so much! I know you'd both comfort me if you were here right now. As much as I wish you were, though, I'm almost glad you're not. I don't know what's going to happen next, to me or to any of us. It hasn't hurt us yet, not in ways that are lasting, but we don't know that it's going to keep on being so nice. So, much as I miss you and wish you were here, right now I'm more glad you're both back home where you're safe. I'm going to stop here, I think, and go find Eve. Wake her up, if I have to. She's got to be thinking about this too, and maybe she can tell me something that'll make me feel better...if not, maybe just talking about it with someone who's in the same situation will help. Silly as it is to say, please try not to worry too much about me - a lot of this is just the way you start to think when you're up too late on a lonely night. Writing to you about it has helped some, though, and one way or another, I'm sure I'll be fine tomorrow. After all, we don't have any reason to think it will do us harm, either, and I think I'll have an easier time remembering that once the sun's come up again. I think I'll sit in the garden and watch that sunrise, when it comes. Voortrekker's shard faces west, and there's a bench in just the perfect spot to let me watch the orange light of our new sun touch its tip and spread down over its surface. I put that bench there myself, and I'm going to sit there and watch the sun rise and remind myself that, if our new home wanted to hurt us, it would've done so long before now. And until then, I'll go find Eve, and we'll get through the night together. I love you both. Stay safe and look out for each other, and Lia, you heal quickly and get back up on your feet again, please! Both of them. With love as always - your Kit.