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From: Chris Maldonado <cmaldonado@voortrekker.com>
To: Sameen Lee <sameen.lee@recoveryinstitute.org>
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Date-Local: 23 Mar 2419 14:21:02 +0000
Date: 06 Sep 2421 12:57:02 +0000
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Subject: Not alone!

You always did say I didn't have much common sense, Sam. You'd be
laughing yourself silly at me right now! You will be. Here, let me
tell you about it.

After I sent that last message, I wasn't sure what to do or where
to go. I wanted to find out whether or not anyone else had made it,
but I was scared to go out of Main Control - scared to let anyone
else see me, really. I didn't know what they'd think, if they'd be
afraid of me. If anyone was left to be afraid of anything.

Also, I fell out of the chair trying to get up. So even if I did go
out, it'd be hard to get anywhere - I didn't remember any of the
lifts working, and there were a lot of ladders between me and
anywhere I'd want to go, and if I couldn't navigate a mostly flat
deck, what was I going to do to myself if I tried a ladder? Fall
and break my head open, I figured. So I stayed where I was. For a
little while, I told myself. Just until I was able to get around
better.

One thing about the length of Ross's solar day, it really messes
with your sense of time. You live on Earth all your life, and you
get used to a certain cadence of sunrises and sunsets. Extend it by
a factor of almost three, and after a while your circadian rhythm
just throws up its hands and goes off to sulk in a corner of your
head. Sure, we trained for it aboard ship, prior to landing, but
it's amazing how much that didn't actually help, you know? Somehow
you can just feel that ship's lighting isn't real, isn't quite the
same, and it doesn't get right down into you the same way.

Besides, I had enough else on my mind. A little while after I sent
you that last message, I found myself suddenly ravenous! No
surprise, I think, considering how long I'd been out and hadn't had
anything, and how extensively active my metabolism must've been
throughout, to make the changes I found when I woke up. Lucky for
me, nobody'd found time to raid the ration lockers in Main
Control. So I did, and very thoroughly - for the first third of a
sol after I talked to you last, eating and sleeping was about all I
could think about doing.

That, and trying to get up on - well, call them my 'feet' for the
sake of talking about them, although they're not really that. I
don't really think I can explain how strange it was at first. Maybe
it helps to say that - assuming you're still basically the same
shape you were when I left - the closest analogue your body offers
to my new limbs of locomotion is your tongue. But it's not a very
close analogue! They're not squishy like a tongue, or damp. Kind of
scaly, but that makes sense, considering; ordinary skin doesn't
really have the stretch, and my best guess is that the integument
that's replaced it is much more heavily collagenous. I'll have to
biopsy myself at some point and see if I'm right about that.

Anyway, it took me most of a sol, and a lot of false starts, to get
to a point where I could 'walk' mostly all the way across Main
Control without falling over or holding on to something the whole
way. 'Walk' isn't really the word, though. I used one of the comm
cameras to get a look at my gait from the outside, and it's a lot
more - undulatory - than it used to be. Have you seen those old
educational videos, from back when the oceans were still mostly
alive, where they'd show an octopus walking across the seafloor on
its tentacles? Honestly, it's every bit as weird as it sounds. But
I'm getting used to it pretty fast, now that I'm actually able to
use them in a way that isn't totally embarrassing, and I'm starting
to think they might be able to do a lot more than legs and feet
ever could. That'll be a while yet, though.

Anyway, that's what I was doing - practicing 'walking', and trying
to get a better sense of how to not fall over - when I found out
I'm not the only one who survived after all. With how much
concentration it still takes to stay up on my new legs, I don't
know why I didn't fall over when I heard the hatch iris open! If
I'd had to turn to look, I'm sure I would have. But it wasn't a
main hatch, just the starboard-forward emergency access, and it was
right in front of me, and I just sort of froze and waited to see
who'd come through.

Turned out, it was Jen from engineering. You know, with the red
hair? I'm sure I talked about her before - we spent some time
together on the trip. I wish you could've seen her face! A perfect
picture of shocked surprise. And I don't guess I blame her,
really - I've seen myself, remember, with the comm camera, and I
have to admit, I'm something of a sight these days. Especially
since the only thing I had to wear was that silly gown, remember,
that I woke up in, and I hadn't bothered to put it back on after it
fell off. Why bother, really? Well, I might've been less of a
surprise to Jen if I had, anyway!

And I was pretty shocked, too. I hadn't known anyone was still
alive at all! Certainly anyone I'd been close to. But mainly I
just...I just wanted to hide. I mean, I'm a little embarrassed
about it now, but at the time it made sense. You kind of think
about how a moment like that might go, you know? How you'll make
your long and painstaking way down the ladders from Main Control to
one of the decks where you can get access outside, or at least
expect to find people, and when you get there, you'll see someone,
or they'll see you, and there'll be that moment of recognition
where they realize you're still alive, and...oh, I don't know. But
whatever it is, it isn't being suddenly surprised by a former lover
while you're stumbling around Main Control, mother naked, on four
thick tentacles instead of the two standard-issue human legs you
were born with. Of course I was struck all in a heap!

And of course so was Jen, poor thing. She stared me in the face for
what felt like half a minute, her eyes and mouth as round with
shock as mine must've been. She looked like she was about to say
something, but before she did, she looked down and saw the rest of
me - all the rest of me, as I am now - and...

You never got a chance to meet Jen before we left, I don't think. A
shame - you'd have liked her a lot. Will like her a lot, if you
join the third expedition and come out here with us. She's one in a
million - I mean, what would you expect, in a situation like that?
A scream, right? Or a gasp of horrified shock, panicky flight,
something like that, right? Not Jen. She took her time about
looking me up and down, and then looked me in the eye again. She
looked she was about to say something, but before she did, she
started giggling, and then laughing.

I could feel my cheeks get hot, and I put my hands on my hips and
got ready to say something sharp, but before I could think of it,
she was hanging on to the access ladder with one hand, leaning on
the deck with the other, and just cackling helplessly - and before
I knew it, I was laughing too, hard enough that I barely remembered
how to sit down before I fell over again.

And we just stayed like that for a minute, cracking each other up
in the weirdest way, and it just felt right somehow. Like I'd been
waiting for that moment, that laugh, ever since I came to from the
coma. I don't know, does that make sense? I'm not sure it does, but
right then it made more sense than anything that'd happened since
we crashed.

And then she asked me what a girl like me was doing in a nice place
like this. That's Jen - jokes five hundred years stale, but she
makes up for it other ways. And it's apropos, anyway. But the
important part is, it turns out no one actually died! The people we
thought were dead were in deep coma like me, I guess so far down
their pulse and respiration weren't perceptible - either that, or
those of us still up were so far out of it, between fever and
exhaustion, that we couldn't tell the difference. I wouldn't care
to guess either way, honestly. From what Jen tells me, we still
have about sixty in coma - everyone else is at least awake, if not
yet up and doing.

And even more - I'm not the only one who changed! There's about two
dozen more like me, Jen says. Well, more or less like me, anyway -
no one's really made a detailed study of us yet, but apparently the
tentacles are reliably always there, if not all the other
changes. And now I have another reason to get better on my new
feet - once I'm out of here and back with everyone, I can start
getting some idea of how we've changed and what the similarities
are, and why, and - oh, there's just such a lot to learn here!

I will say, I'd have thought people who didn't change would have a
hard time getting used to those of us who have, but Jen says no,
that people do naturally think it's a little weird, or unusual, or
at least unexpected, but nobody seems to have a problem,
particularly. Jen says there were a couple of people who might
have, but Director Soloviev - I hadn't known he'd made it through
the crash, but apprently so - he's made it clear that, as far as he
and the remaining board are concerned, we're still the same people,
and if we happen to be physically different now from how we were
before, he doesn't see why that should make a difference in how
anyone sees us or treats us, including ourselves. That we have
enough problems just picking up the pieces of our expedition, and
we don't need to give each other more on top of that. I wouldn't
have expected anything of the sort from him, but I guess almost
dying twice over must have an effect on everybody, and maybe this
is the effect it's had on him.

I asked Jen if she'd help me out one of the main hatches, but she
says none of the lifts are working, and neither of us likes the
idea of trying to get me down all the ladders between here and
outside, not before I get myself figured out enough to manage
better. For that matter, neither of us can figure out how anyone
got me up those ladders in the first place!

But she did stay with me a while, once she'd got done the work
that'd brought her here, and help me get a little more used to the
changes. Got under my arm and had me lean on her while she walked
me around the deck, but that didn't last long - too much of a
workout, I started getting something like runner's cramps. Only
worse, and twice as many! But Jen's really nice - I said you'd like
her - and she helped me down, then had me stretch out my 'legs' so
she could work some of the knots out. She's got strong hands,
too. It was really nice. And she's coming back tomorrow - next
Earth day, not next sol - to see me again, and help me get more
familiar with myself. Pretty soon I'll be back with everyone and
ready to help make a proper home out of what we've got left from
the crash.

Look, Sam, about what I said before. Not that I didn't mean every
word, but...I'm sorry if I opened an old wound, or stirred up
something you'd rather have let lie. Please understand, I was alone
and afraid and not really feeling quite right, and I didn't know
quite what to say, so...I guess I said what I was feeling, and I
haven't stopped feeling that way but I hope you're not mad with me
for saying it. I do miss you, and I never did stop loving you, and
I do hope you'll join the third expedition, or find a quicker way,
and come find me here. Come join us here. I think you'd like it
here.

But if you don't want to hear any more from me, about that or about
anything, that's okay too. I'll stop if you say so. But,
regardless, I'd like to hear from you. Please?