Remade In Their Image, a Scifi Story
Earth possessed tachyon matter transmission technology when it launched the interstellar probes. Successful transmission of matter required two sites with the beam transmitted between them. Hence probes were sent by Earth at a fair fraction of the speed of light, with a receiver at one end should Earth choose to send anything through.
Tau Ceti’s probe found a world in a promising orbit. More importantly, the probe found oxygen. Explorer rovers were transmitted from Earth via tachyon beam. The world showed no advanced life.
Word of a habitable planet was hushed. On a world with strictly controlled population, mention of a possible new frontier could not be allowed. People would want to go and colonize and would lead to dreams of larger families. The project became top secret. Images of methane and sulfur-laced winds were advertised to the public.
Major Lehman Singh had been put in charge of the Celestra project because of his loyalty rating. He’d reached that level through careful cultivation of information sources and excellent listening skills, as well as a readiness to report what benefited his career. He could have had them executed for planning to disobey the government. Instead, he walked into the middle of a meeting and sat down. Then he made his offer.
It would be a one way trip. The risk of bringing deadly diseases back was too high. Sending anything through the tachyon Gate took power. So the amount of mass sent through the system was to be kept to a minimum. Anyone who went through would be officially listed as dead. There would be communications back to Earth, but officially, the only data coming through was from the probe itself.
To his surprise, there were half dozen volunteers within moments.
Singh falsified the necessary records. To him, it was a fair exchange. He could take credit for quietly killing off troublemakers without actually spilling blood and he might gain discoveries to his watch. He wouldn’t even have to send expensive probes if they could report anything. They gained their dream of a new world.
Supplies were sent through. The loss of those supplies was easy enough to account for. Theft, graft, and personal use of government resources were a long held tradition of all socialist and authoritarian systems.
The first group of ten through was killed by a native life form. Singh wasn't concerned. They'd known the risks and lost the gamble. He could even put it in a report, if necessary, if the government wanted further information on why no one should ever go through.
The Celesta group analyzed the medical data. A native life form that fit no biological definition had eaten through their suit and killed them. The rovers were ordered to take tissue samples for analysis. Finally, a possible solution was identified. Other diseases doubtlessly existed. A lifetime of work could be done searching them all out. A lifetime of such work wasn't a possibility.
Singh’s superiors eventually saw colonization occurring without their permission and shut it down. All who had participated had committed treason. In an overpopulated world, the sentence was always death.
It had never been proven that people could survive transmission long term. He had only proven that it could be done. Out of the Celestra group, most escaped through the Gate. The few who remained behind operated the Gate, sending through occasional supplies and messages while holding off government officials as long as they could. Eventually, there was no one left to go through, though the gate remained operational. No one on Earth’s side went through. There appeared no need to pursue, and there was a simpler solution.
Singh's replacement decided that the Gate would be best used if put to a different purpose. The promise of a new world could be put to use, since word of the passage had finally leaked through friends and family of those who had used the Gate. Candidates seeking to colonize the new world were allowed to take only a few kilos of personal possessions and told that communication home would likely be impossible. Yet there were many volunteers. And none were refused passage. They were simply refused anything and everything else.
Ariel San Jared surveyed the small crowd. Most of the community was here. Those not here already were too ill to attend. Or dead.
It was back to the debate about Earth’s lack of communication. They tried contacting Earth to report the problem. No response. Then came the third wave of colonists. No one knew who they were or where they’d come from. They all died immediately upon reassembly, so they could not answer questions. The only useful things about them were the metals, plastics and other materials on the bodies, though it sometimes took work to separate everything.
The Celesta group had known about how routine `disappearances' and `accidents' were on Earth. Had some hidden revolution seized the gate and started sending people to freedom, not knowing that it was killing them because they didn’t know how to work it? Or maybe a bureaucrat had considered this a new form of execution and they couldn’t receive transmissions back from this world.
If it could be argued as `for the good of the people' or `in the best interest of the public', any atrocity was permitted. After all, the bad information never reached the public; after all, they couldn't be burdened with the heavy price paid for their peace. The worst atrocities were done `for the sake of the children' or `for the good of future generations'.
Ariel suspected that it was a failed attempt at a relocation program. Earth tried to send people through but had no one left to keep the sensitive equipment in check. She’d had been left to deal with organic mush that had been bodies, including a few last minute escapees that had been coworkers.
"They should be cremated." Sascha had held to that tradition, as it had been for generations on Earth. You could only bury someone where there was no practical use for the land.
"That takes time. Time we don't have. Let the bodies sit in storage until we have time to deal with it." Ling was one for delays. Then again, as a medic, his concern was mostly for the living.
Ariel broke in. "We don't have the storage space now for what we have, much less additions arriving each day."
"The crematorium wasn't made for that level of use anyway," Connor broke in.
"Build another crematorium."
"Would exposure to the elements be acceptable?" Half the crowd drew back in disgust. "You could store them outside if necessary, right?"
"Exposure to nature could cause more diseases to adapt to humans." Ling was adamant.
Ideas bounced back and forth. Ling had a point. And that point ruled out dumping bodies in lakes or pits. Lack of fuel made cremation difficult. But they needed biomass, which ash could provide.
Ariel remembered a grandparent talking about old traditions. Visiting an ancestor's gravesite had been a longstanding tradition until burial had been outlawed as a practice. Within two decades, old graves were dug up and the bodies cremated worldwide. All to make room for farmland or for nature to return.
Why not do so here? If Earth wanted those bodies cremated, they could come here and do it themselves. And if everyone did die, it would leave a memorial to all of them that cremation would not provide.
"Individual burial is an option." They all looked at Ariel. No one knew what burial meant. "Dig a hole. One hole per body. Put a plaque with the name of the person. It is easy to do. And if biomass is such a problem, plant something on top of each grave."
The meetings were now segregated between the few healthy and the many sick. The first dozen of the second explorer wave were fine. Ariel and many others were not. The medics said it had to be a local disease.
Ariel thought otherwise. It must have been a transmission problem with the Gate. After all, if it was a native disease, everyone would have been sick.
Hydroponics systems were. New crops had been planted, though not enough to feed everyone. Ariel thought it was hilariously tragic that the solution to the food shortage was to wait. Not waiting for another harvest, but waiting for people to die.
But the constant flow of dead was still a problem. And if they didn’t clear the dead, there was no way for living to come through if Earth fixed its problem. Assuming of course Earth fixed the problem at their end.
Nyssa was a former chief medic and accustomed to being in charge in one way or another. "We need to find a better way to communicate with Earth."
"We lost all contact with them months ago." Visjay Persad had been a design engineer on Earth. He was currently in charge of the Gate's repairs.
"We still receive information, do we not?" Nyssa wasn't going to let it go.
"Only mechanical status data. No word from them in weeks." Visjay was always diplomatic.
"And no meaningful instructions from them in months," Shahida Hassidim broke in. She was a biochemist. And she was tired of trying to identify the dead.
"Real communications from Earth stopped months ago. Real proof they had listened to us ceased even further back. They can't hear us." Visjay simply stated it as fact.
"Or won't listen!" A voice from Ariel's group yelled.
"Or don't care."
"Maybe we're all condemned. You just haven't shown the signs of it yet!"
Ariel expected some sort of shouting match. Those around her wouldn't be silenced. The condemned and dying always had a right to speak in every era, even if the words were disregarded.
"We simply need to keep trying," Nyssa was the image of reason in that moment. “Any of our compatriots at the other end may be attempting to repair the problems with the Gate. When that happens, we need to be ready to receive any advice they may give. We need to wait until –“
"Until we're dead!" came a shout from the back of the crowd.
The shouting match began.
Ariel wondered why she’d been given the task of finding out why the graveyard smelled even worse after the last of the dead had been buried. Eventually, through her mental fog of illness and exhaustion and repeated chemical analysis, a common thread was found. It took a chemist’s background to understand its cause, and she’d taken chemistry. It took more reading to understand its implications.
Life from Earth has four amino acids. All life on this world had 3 of those amino acids. Adenine, one of the four amino acids in life on Earth, was not among them.
Adenine was the culprit. That molecule in the dead matter from Earth was killing off native life in the graveyard. Thousands of dead bodies out there were killing native life, which was the cause of the smell. Adenine must have leached into the soil around the bodies. More bodies added more adenine to the soil. That’s why the smell got worse after they buried the dead, not better.
Now that she knew the culprit, she could see it, too. It was already visible in the chemical discoloration above the burial mounds. The green of earth moss spread on the graves would spread. The constant rain might drive the earth proteins even deeper into the soil, accelerating the Earth life growth.
No matter what happened to the still living, the dead had at least made their mark on this world.
When it was realized that the burials helped the terraforming process, the burials became easier to deal with. The personal effects, however, was becoming a problem. Despite her growing health problems, Ariel volunteered to do something about it.
They had initially refused to bury personal items with the dead. After all, they might find a way to recycle the items. Or find a morally acceptable way of passing the items on to others in the community.
A forklift had been used to move the tons of items into a storage building by the gate. They’d actually just driven it through the gate to move its cargo as fast as possible and found that it made it through.
That building was within smelling distance of the graveyard. Since the graveyard was expanding in this direction, it seemed logical to move the personal effects here. No one would live here near the stink.
Earth sent them here to die. That much she was certain of now. It was only a matter of when. Perhaps the illness of the survivors was tied to a lesser version of that molecular reorganization that killed those buried thousands.
Most organically based material was similarly scrambled. Ariel picked up a set of rosary beads threaded by a real leather string. The leather was degrading, though the ceramic was fine. Around her were piles of prayer beads. It was amazing given how little people were allowed to bring with them that so much of it turned out to be tokens of the practice of religions – religions whose practice were prohibited by law. She'd only seen one copy of the State's Credo they all were given their first day of school. That the Credo book deteriorated before the religious items gave her a faint sense of satisfaction. The remnant of a government that had regulated every detail of their lives had fallen apart within days of arriving here, a sign, perhaps, that Earth had no hold on them here even in paper form.
So many of these artifacts were antiques ... Some were hundreds of years old. Most must have been passed down through their families. Only the fact that these people had no family to further pass their heirlooms to seemed a tragedy to her.
The only family Ariel had now were the people left on this planet. Her only biological family would have been children; given the radiation of the trip, and now her illness, that wasn't going to happen.
What if some of them here did manage to survive for the long term? A dozen were still healthy. A faint hope, but it was a hope. What if they didn’t? The artifacts should be preserved. Some sort of museum ... and if the Gate was fixed on Earth’s side, someone from Earth will at least see the memorial.
Hilo Miura had just been diagnosed with the same syndrome the rest of them had; he had until then been one of the 12 unaffected. Out of morbid curiosity, he'd come to see what she had been doing in the storage building.
“Why are you here?”
“I wanted to see what you were doing while waiting for the blade to fall.”
Ariel laid out another tray and filled it with plastic derived from a local bacterium. "So you believe we are being executed?" Ariel picked up a rosary and laid it flat on the surface of the still liquid plastic. It sank slowly. Ariel deftly laid several more rosaries on the plastic. They sank about half way into the liquid until the buoyancy held them there.
"Yes, I do."
Ariel poured more of the amorphous substance in another tray. The plastic was already hardening in the first tray, creating a protective cocoon around the suspended contents. The leather would decay in the next weeks within the plastic, but the rosary beads would now be preserved for centuries. "What are you going to do?"
"Earth isn't listening. And we now know that our transmissions are not the problem. We stopped sending data back. They were receiving giga-quads of data every week from us. They would notice that stream of data stopping if they’d been monitoring it. If the problem was at the receiving end, Earth would have fixed it if only to continue receiving data. They aren’t receiving data and they still send people. Now we know the problem is the management. They aren’t disregarding our warnings; they aren’t even receiving them. Nor are they paying enough attention to realize that there is someone shouting at the other end."
"And what are you proposing to do?" Ariel repeated.
"We have to shut down the Gate!"
"If we shut down the Gate, we may never be able to start it back up again."
"That may not be a bad thing. They aren’t using it."
“Hilo, Earth no longer has the expertise to build a tachyon Gate; everyone who could was either executed there or over here. We lack the technology to build a new Gate. It would be like destroying a bridge at both ends. If shutting it down damages it, we can’t rebuild from either side. Don’t you remember the old adage about burning bridges down?"
Hilo crossed his arms across his chest. His eyes glazed as he stared of into the distance. Through that wall, across the distance, lay the Gate. He then turned and walked out the door. Ariel heard him mutter under his breath, "That just might work."
Ariel awoke at dawn and found a Japanese group huddled outside. They might have been up all night or unable to sleep through the night. Biorhythm upset was doing that to everyone.
"Can I help you?" Ariel felt odd asking, but it was all she could think of.
Jinichiro and Juri looked at each other. Juri shrugged. Jinichiro asked, "I was told you had a set of mortuary tablets, Pacific Islander perhaps...?”
Ariel knew he meant "Japanese" but the aversion to national references was an ingrained habit. "Yes, I do." The items hadn't fit in with the other groupings, so they hadn't been encased yet.
Jinichiro stared at them intently for a long time; his gray eyes were a startling contrast to his otherwise purely Japanese appearance. He asked, "What were you going to do with these?"
"Encase them in plastic."
Ariel motioned for him to come inside. The rectangular sections of plastic had grown into huge piles until someone had suggested fusing them into walls. From floor to ceiling were newly fused walls of plastic sheet with items embedded within. Four of the walls had already been assembled and fused with the structure of the building. They had 2 meters of walking space between them. Markings on the floor told the welder where to fuse the next panels.
Jinichiro asked, "Where would these have gone?"
Ariel was about to point, and then decided to personally show him. Pictures from home lay on the row she stopped at. After terrorist blackouts destroyed most historical files, pictures printed on plastic film had come back into human experience. Film plastic deteriorated within weeks here. But if the pictures were encased soon enough, the ink would remain suspended in space - a ghostly image captured in space.
Images of peaceful scenes that generations had meditated on. Jinichiro studied the images. His fingertips ran along the edges of the tablets as his eyes flickered from image to image of nature scenes of a world he’d never see again. Finally, he said, "They can go here." His hand rested on a picture of Kyoto’s historical gardens. “It’s as close to a memorial at home as there can be.”
"They're playing with the frequency modulation." Moran Asahi had tracked Ariel down to tell her.
“Why do that?”
"They're going to try to alter the data transmissions so that they can blow out the Earth Gate without harming our Gate."
"It's like blowing out a receiving computer program by playing with the inputs from your sending program."
"Why tell me?"
"Hilo says you gave him the idea."
The frequency harmonics reached a painful crescendo. The keening sound of the generator’s violent shifts screamed out across the plains, above the whistling winds.
The receptors in the Gate began to glow as it attempted to charge for a matter transmission to Earth. Contact was made briefly, then broken, then remade as the frequency peaks brought enough power to cross the lightyears. With each fast frequency ramp down, the tachyon beam collapsed with a loud pyrotechnic crash that sounded as if it would rip one world apart when the cord connecting them was yanked. The receptors grew red hot as the energy discharges generated heat within the disks themselves.
There were a series of horrific pops from the Gate as the intentional overload finally burned things out. Whipping space and time with quantum strings had finally begun to alter the physical world in a way humans could see. The air didn’t just shimmer and glow but reality itself actually warped. The vicious cycling of the tachyon beam strained equipment built to defy the laws of standard physics.
Metal struts supporting the receiving unit groaned as warping of space began to warp the frame meant to hold it. The tachyon receiver vibrated longer, melting as it seemed to dissolve before the audience. Its tachyon beam to Earth cycled in and out of reality, destroying the control relays on Earth as well. Earth’s system was more powerful, designed to handle far more volume and power than the probe’s system ever would. The team on this world could repair the receiving plates, if they chose. Earth didn’t have the expertise to repair their control system. All those experts were here, witnessing the tachyon disruption or buried within sight of the show.
It was done.
Not only could Earth not send anything to them anymore, but Earth couldn’t regain control of the system and start sending by remote.
The Gate was closed for good.
STRANGER IN THE MIRROR
Ariel stared at the ceiling for a long, mindless eternity. It took her that long to realize that she was still alive. It took longer to remember where she was. She was in her quarters. She last remembered being carried into the infirmary. Had someone brought her back here? Everything hurt. She didn’t want to move, but thirst hurt more.
She pulled up to the sink. The universe spun around her several times. She turned on the faucet and let the water run. She began drinking.
How long had it been since she'd last had something to drink? Too long. Thirst sated, she didn't bother to turn off the faucet. The water was finally warming up. Ariel’s hands lay in the basin, the water running over her fingers. Steam rose up. It felt good. She hadn’t even realized she’d felt cold. Ariel rinsed her face out of habit. Then she stood up and looked in the mirror.
The face that stared back wasn't hers.
Yet it was.
She stared at the reflection in disbelief and fascination. She wanted to break it so that she didn't have to see the image staring back at her.
Her hair was still red. However, the roots were growing in a dull brown. Her skin had an odd yellow-brown tone, as if she'd picked up a bad fake tan. But she hadn't seen the sun for weeks. Her green eyes were still a greenish shade, though they were darker than they’d ever been. Even the whites had a yellowish tinge to them. She'd never been fat, just lean with enough to give her curves. Now she was skeletal. She couldn’t remember eating.
She was alive. That was something. Was the odd coloring a lingering effect of the disease? Was it an odd effect from some treatment she'd been given? She had no memories of seeing medical staff. Then again, she had little memory of anything recent.
Ariel tried to decide what to do. Get medical help? Stay here and rest? Try to help others? She lay back down. There was a sense of exhaustion. That could have been from lack of food. She didn't feel hungry. But eating was a good idea. Ariel eventually found the strength and went to the cafeteria.
No one else was there. Ariel blinked against the glare, and then realized the lighting was uneven. The lights were flickering. Generator interruptions, perhaps. Or another microorganism had infested the power system again.
She opened a refrigeration unit. She picked out a yogurt and pulled off the lid. She took a bite. And spit it out. The yogurt had a horrid, metallic aftertaste. Ariel wondered if it had gone bad. Yet the yogurt was its normal color. The seal had been good. The expiration date was a long way off.
Ariel leaned over and took a whiff. She didn't smell anything. She looked at the side of the container. It was strawberry flavored. She should smell strawberry. Or the overt artificial strawberry smells that the flavoring should have imparted.
They'd seen local life forms dissolve seals and infect plants and people alike. Getting into a yogurt container despite a good seal was not a far fetch. Ariel reached inside the refrigerator and grabbed something else at random.
It was one of the flavored soy drinks. No flavor, only pure nutrition. It was probably better for her anyway. No apparent holes, still well within its expiration date. She popped the top and smelled it. Nothing overtly bad.
She sampled it. Neither good nor bad. She finished it and dropped the container in the nearest recycle bin. She sat down and waited. They'd all been nauseous for weeks, vomiting or worse for nearly as long. It stayed down.
Ariel pulled out a second drink. She still wasn't hungry, but knew that she needed the calories. The second drink also stayed down. After waiting a decent interval, she got a third drink. Her system was churning now, but the drink stayed down.
She got up and started looking for the others.
Connor was dead. Ariel opened his eyes to see if there was a color change. They were eerie black orbs. Ariel closed his eyes again.
Nyssa was sprawled across her desk. She had a sample of nearly every medicine on the trays around her. Nyssa had a death grip on one of the hypospray. Ariel turned her over. The mixed race woman wasn't cold to the touch. Ariel lowered the still form to the floor. She found a scanner. She had to dig through a foggy memory to remember how to use it. Nyssa's heart rate and breathing were drastically slowed. But she was alive.
Nyssa's peaches and cream skin had darkened to a brown more akin of her African ancestry. The fuzzy black hair was the original shade, but her eyes were almost as dark as her hair.
Piles of medical supplies had been ripped from their racks and shelves. Some had been opened and allowed to spill onto the floor. Ariel found a medkit and went to Nyssa with a shot of glucose.
Ariel lost track of the time. Changing IV's and changing diapers was all there was time for. When someone was finally capable of helping, Ariel set them to work. There was too much work for the living to do.
The dead were transported out to the cemetery. The discoloration was universal. It varied only by degrees with it worse among the dead.
They were having too much trouble recognizing each other as addled minds and altered bodies failed to properly identify each other. Everyone was soon wearing nametags.
Mistaking someone for someone else was common. In Kuniko's case, it was a nightmare. Kuniko Miura had lived. Raiha had not. The slow awakening of others meant that a new person made the mistake every day or two, though mistaking a reflection for a stranger was still funny.
"How many are still alive?" Nyssa asked.
"How many are functional?"
"Almost all now."
The number of known side effects of the infection was growing. It created difficulty in digesting fats or sugars. It also made it difficult for the body to store fat. Their bodies all compensated by adding muscle and storing the extra energy as glucose in their livers. The coloring changes were not disappearing. The changes to the senses of taste and smell were also universal.
There were whispers of other changes. No one openly discussed changes in the sense of touch or hearing. No one would even admit to the hormonal or psychological changes.
Brewer's yeast had been described once as, "the perfect food, low in fat, high in protein and rich in vitamins". It was perfect - except for the bitter taste. Until now.
Ariel watched as Joel Cohen stared at the bowl of brewer's yeast he'd been given. He clearly couldn't believe he was expected to eat that stuff. The yeast had the color of paste and a texture of slush. Joel glanced at the half dozen people watching him. Finally, he popped the spoonful of yeast into his mouth. His face as pre-wrinkled in expectation of the awful bitterness. He chewed, swallowed, and put the spoon down. "This really isn't yeast, is it?" Joel had a faint note of hope or expectation in his voice.
"Yes, it is yeast."
Joel looked down at the slop. He took another bite. "Is it a new variety, then?"
A slow dawning of realization crossed Joel's face. A realization of a change, and an uncertainty of what to do about it.
"Ariel!" Jordan yelled.
"That's not my name."
"Ariel –" Jordan continued.
"I'm not Ariel anymore." Ariel turned around to face Jordan.
"That's absurd, Ariel! What has gotten into you –?”
"The DNA test in the infirmary doesn't recognize me as Ariel San Jared. My face doesn’t look like hers. I don't know if I still feel like she did. The computer's speech recognition system only recognizes me half the time. I'm not Ariel anymore."
Jordan looked down at her own hands, and then she looked at Ariel's face as if for the first time. On her previous life, Ariel would have been concerned about being so blunt to a friend. But those emotions were distant to her; the emotions seemed irrelevant compared to everything else that had to be done.
“I…" Jordan's voice faded out.
"If you have to call me something, I'll answer to Arisan."
The trend grew. Daniel Leeson took on Darnel. Lucas Michelson became LeShawn. Karen Wong Emerson became Carmen. Arthur Den-Wood became Arden.
Last names fell off the roll calls. Most of the survivors chose a shorter contraction of their old name. Those who didn't make a choice found themselves being referred to by a new abbreviated name. A slow consensus arose that yes, things were different. That no, they were not the same.
Half the crops had died while neglected. Many of those that had grown were warped. Some beanstalks grew in strange spirals. Some plants grew with odd colors or striations. Many were stunted and bent.
They had run out of seeds from confirmed good batches from Earth. They had had to plant the questionable ones instead. They were harvested weeks later only because there was no choice. They could not live off yeast forever.
A slight variation in color, a moderate shift in flavor, and a significant difference in nutritive value ... they'd have to start over from less than ideal stock if they wanted to eat safe, familiar foods some day.
Not all familiar foods were scarce. Mushrooms had thrived. The graveyard was loaded with them. Many gatherers felt awkward walking over the dead in order to collect the fungi. But the fungi were food, and almost all of it descended from unaffected spores. Hunger won out over fuzzy emotions.
The graveyard was blooming. Two seeds had been planted at each grave, one at the head, one at the foot, in an effort to bring forth some life and hope from the deaths. Finally, a few sprigs of green had come up. The rows were badly uneven when looked at from a distance. It didn't matter to most survivors. Something was growing properly. That was all that mattered.
"We found out what happened."
Arisan found it hard to believe that the man standing in front of her had been Jinichiro. His skin and eyes had both bronzed. Only his hair remained it same color. The shape of his eyes and face hadn’t changed much but the mottling made it seem so different. “What happened?” She echoed.
"A native bacterium colonized the transmission plates. It is what made the first group of explorers sick; they were exposed to the disease on arrival. With the extreme decontamination routines run on the Gate before more people were sent through, that bacteria was reduced to random DNA sequences. The second group through that we thought were unaffected actually had alien DNA scattered throughout their bodies.
"The first dozen of the second batch had those random bits of DNA incorporated into their cellular structure when they came through the Gate. The random alien proteins reached toxic levels when we were all exposed to a higher level of native toxins in the water supply.
A single RNA/DNA chimera from that bacterium re-infected the transmission plates and survived the sterilization routine. When the rest of us transmitted through, its DNA was intertwined with ours. Those genes are now part of every cell in our bodies. Our DNA is changed less than 2%.
"We've identified those genes that were incompatible with the bacterial DNA. If incompatible, they died. The rest of us are the ones who can live with this hybridized genetic structure. If someone's body rejects the altered DNA, they die from the mutant proteins produced by the hybridized immune system. Treating someone requires removing the bacterial changes. The only way to do that is trying to send them through the Gate and try to delete the alien addition. And since we don't have a way of receiving someone we send, you'd end up on Earth. Maybe alive, maybe dead, maybe still affected.
"We've been going over the Gate logs. The disease organism affecting us did not cause the later thousands of deaths. A fractal pattern was incorporated into every signal the day the last batch of colonists started coming through. It’s effect equivalent to placing a metal strainer on the reassembly equipment, shredding them at a molecular level. It was also programmed in from Earth’s side. Those thousands buried in the graveyard are not our fault. Shutting down the Gate will end up saving untold lives that otherwise would have been lost."
Some found it depressing that their physical changes couldn't be blamed on Earth. But they now had proof that Earth had been committing murder. All dreams of return and any goals of reconnecting with the past homeworld were gone. For people who'd dedicated their lives to research or to the state, this was too much.
Mizio had taken plastic and metal sheeting and melted it into strange forms. It looked like a rock garden. That had turned out to be his intent. There were few outcroppings of real rock on this world, and some life forms needed that rough surface to hold onto.
Icelandic moss needed rocks to cling to. It was a starvation food on Earth, but there was always a threat of starvation food here. Mizio thought expanding the food supply could not possibly go wrong. He’d asked Arisan’s opinion to see if it had.
Clumped fans of Icelandic moss resembled gray hands reaching toward the sky. Others were red or light. They were all the same species. Mizio tersely discussed what he'd done. Mizio cross-pollinated the more edible versions with the healthiest versions. Given the consistent weather, he was getting three generations of moss in a year. When he had two optimal mosses, one for taste, and one for survivability on this world, he'd cross them until he had a breed that had the best of both lines. The multi-colored moss garden was the result.
Arisan gave him the lab results and left him to it. If he didn’t come to work the next day, she knew it had failed the edibility test. And she'd have another body to add to the graveyard garden.
Analia was slow to come into the clinic. She'd been nauseous before. It had stopped months ago, but had come back with a vengeance.
Nyssa did the preliminary check.
Analia’s vital signs were normal. Analia’s blood chemistry might not have been normal, but they didn’t know what the new definition of that normal was yet.
Nyssa stared at the monitor, a dozen possibilities running through her mind. They hadn't done a full hormonal analysis of everyone yet to determine the new baseline. However, there were changes that alien DNA wouldn’t fully hide.
"Analia, have you been sleeping with someone?"
Analia sat up. "What gives you the right to ask that question?"
Nyssa had her answer. "Who is he?"
"Why do you need to know?"
"I think you're pregnant."
Analia fell back onto her elbows. It might have been the brush with death. It might have been something else. Long ago, Analia would have been horrified at what Nyssa had said. She would have been angry at the universe for foisting a child on her when she wasn't in the position to care for it. “Can you be really sure? There are tests that are 100% -“
“Our altered biochemistry alters all the results –“
“The chemical signature for pregnancy is unique. Don’t you remember sex ed from kindergarten?”
“I’ll see if I can find a pregnancy test. Then we’ll be sure.”
She felt a mix of fear and relief, since this diagnosis meant she probably wasn't going to die but might not like her life afterward.
Cady and Linden ran in. At three and four years old, they were close enough in age to be playmates. Arisan knew how lucky she was to have had two living children out of four pregnancies; how very lucky she was that the failures had died before Cady and Linden were old enough to remember them.
Cady had reddish-brown hair and rich brown skin. Her eyes had picked up a golden color, both in the iris and what should have been the whites of her eyes. Linden had black hair. It contrasted his brown eyes which were almost the exact shade of his skin. If someone didn't carefully watch the black pupil, they wouldn't know what he was looking at.
"Lushon's wife is having a baby!" Cady's enthusiasm at the idea hadn't been tempered yet with experience.
"I know, Cady."
"Daria wants the baby to be named Eve, but Lushon won't hear of it!" Linden seemed thrilled at the concept of an argument. Arguments were rare events among adults.
"Do you know the story of Adam and Eve?" Both children shook their heads no. So many parables ceased to have meaning when the animals involved didn't exist in their world that they’d stopped listening to the old stories. "Adam and Eve were the mythical first people on Earth."
"What' wrong with using their names?"
"Those were the mythical people on Earth. We're not on Earth."
"Shari wants to name her baby Alexander. Alexander was famous on Earth."
"Alexander brought together a huge empire. He founded cities and libraries. He was a real person and an inspiration."
"So, if a name is an Earth name, it's OK if the person's OK?"
"Are many names that people have from Earth?"
"No. They aren't."
"Does that mean that there aren't many good people on Earth?"
Both of her children were staring at her intently. They lived in a society where lies and myths and propaganda did not exist. Sugarcoating was also to be avoided. "You're right, Linden. There aren't very many good people on Earth." That satisfied the children for a time.
Arden came home and crashed beside Arisan on the tatami mat they slept on. "Linden and Cady were asking about babies today."
Arden's breathing sped up. "What did you tell them?"
"I shifted the discussion into one on names."
"They will learn about things soon enough. Let them ask Edra, if they want.”
Edra had almost been named Eve. Religious fears changed it to Edra. The girl had been the result of the first pregnancy among them and had been the first birth. Aside from the coloring variations they all had, she had seemed normal. That success had given them the will to try again. Edra was probably the only reason the colony existed. The next four years had been failures. They could have done genetic testing before birth, terminating the failures. But no one had the heart to do so. Or the desire to know how far they'd come.
Edra was a young woman now. She had been very mature at an early age, probably resulting from having only adults as company for much of her life. Torias and Hikahi had been born when she was 8 local years old, too far apart to be playmates.
Healthy births finally resumed. Few of them, and far between in those cases where more than one child was produced from a union. No one was chasing that goal. Long term survival was still questionable. But they had enough faith to have children and let them live to face this world.
Perhaps that was what Arisan would tell the children.
The Mausoleum was a day trip. All children made this trip before beginning history lessons. It was time for Linden and Cady to make the trip.
The large white building had dulled in the past 20 years. The cemetery stretched out on all sides from the Mausoleum. After the history lessons, they would walk through the cemetery to begin lessons on botany.
Linden stared straight up at the white polymer walls in awe of its size. Cady began to wander along its perimeter, staring at the plants at the edge. Arisan had to think whether Cady had ever seen grass before.
Arisan guided the children inside. The actinic light made the plastic walls glow with internal reflection. Cady and Linden ran down the aisles. The displays were thirty-meter rows, with 15 rows in all. Arisan followed them as they ran up and down the rows. There were periodic finger pointing sessions with repeated, "What's that!"
Linden sat down in front of the coin collection. "What were they used for?"
"They were used in exchange for goods and services."
Linden He stared at pesos, quetzal, rubbles, and others. "Why are there so many different types of coins?"
"There were many different nations on earth. Each had its own coins, with different coins having different values." Linden put his nose to one of the panels as he tried to get closer to one of the silver pieces.
Cady was staring at a photograph of a civic gathering. There were more people in that photo than lived on this world. "Who are all those people?"
"I don't know who they were."
"Were there many people on Earth?"
"About five billion people when I lived there. At one point, there were even more."
"Why did the number go down?"
"There was a war. A lot of people died."
"Did all these people die in the war?" Cady was pointing at the photo.
"I don't know how old the photo is. It could have been taken before the war, before I was born." Cady moved down the line. Photos of cats, dogs and zoo animals received cursory attention. Cady stopped again. This was the photo of a smiling baby. The suit it wore didn't indicate whether it was a boy or a girl. Arisan waited for difficult questions. It didn’t come. Cady continued on.
"What's that?" She had reached the religious items. Cady was pointing at a small tablet.
Arisan knelt down and read. "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."
"I know how to read." Her daughter's annoyance was the first hint of disobedience she'd ever heard. “What’s God?”
"It's a prayer, Cady."
"What is prayer?"
"It is when you ask a higher power to do something for you."
"Does anyone pray?"
"Because prayers don't get answered, Cady. You have to make your own miracles."
"What's a miracle?"
"You're a miracle, Cady." Arisan had a violent flashback. In that moment, an old friend of the family had given her the same answer as Arisan gave her own child. The old man's response had to be loudly cut short and later explained to her in hushed tones. Talk about religion had been discouraged then; later, it had been totally prohibited.
How long had it been since Arisan had had a flashback? Years. She couldn’t recall anything else of her childhood despite trying. Personal memories, especially those that were disconnected to the current reality, just sank deeper and deeper until they couldn't be recalled at all.
Arisan blinked several times. Linden had noticed her distraction. "I was just remembering, Cady."
Linden reached for her hand. "Can we go home now?"
Arisan left for the cemetery. A lifetime ago, that had been her primary work. With her only surviving children grown and aging, and her equipment dead, there was no work left for her beyond manual labor like the cemetery and its attendant garden.
Arisan stopped by one of the newer graves. Nyssa had died of genetic rejection syndrome. It had been a horrible. Her body had literally rejected itself, the more human tissue fighting the altered tissue. High fever, a body swelling up, delusions as the immune system attacked the brain … since the change, no one had died that way. Baring children and a few accidents, there had been no deaths at all. Nyssa's recent death reminded them that genetic rejection could still kill them. And it was slowly claiming all of the Earth born, though she’d somehow been spared.
The pecan saplings they'd planted at her funeral were fragile green shoots. Nyssa had wanted cherries. Pecans would yield food in the future, whereas all the other cherry plantings had died. Practicality won over her sentiments.
Arisan heard someone approaching. She turned around and saw two adolescents walking up the road toward the older section of the cemetery.
They started gathering from fruit trees in bloom. This place was free for all. And a free-for-all. The constant temperatures of this environment meant that plants bloomed at their own accord. Pecans, a few oranges, and precious few peaches were available year round. Mushrooms were so common they went unpicked here unless cleared out to make room for more desirable life. .
Arisan had once opposed anyone gathering food here. If someone was going to visit, it should be for personal or historical reasons. The younger generation knew about the deaths and the horrible history. How could they not? However, the tyranny was too far removed for their experience. The reminders of horrors that Ariel had known on Earth – the walls with flowers left beneath them, the Memorial Day parades, the official readings of history – had never taken place here. They had the physical reminder with all the buried dead, but they had no connection to the outrage.
The Council had decided that gathering was permitted, permitting that no trees were cut down. The ruling had meant that visitors were a constant stream to the place. Excepting funerals, the gathering was the only reason the young came here.
It would have been easy to resume to tending the Mausoleum. It needed cleaning. Tours could be conducted … No. It wasn't the right thing to do. The history had to be revisited by choice.
Arisan walked toward the young pair. A boy and girl. She watched them dig through the foliage looking for ripe oranges. Arisan noticed the plaque that the girl was standing on. Arisan read it aloud. "Alia Simmons? Are either of you related to her?" They shook their heads no. "I knew she'd died after having her only surviving child. I don't remember her daughter’s name off hand, though I do remember her well –"
The Resumption reached orbit. After a 68-year sleep, the crew resumed their duties. With the ship secure, the crew was able to turn their attention to the planet below.
There was a large area filled with Earth-based life. Green space stretched outward, away from the old Gate's site. A large white building existed nearly at the middle of the edge of the large green space. Many thought it was a terraforming base. After all, the lushest earth life was right next to it.
There were a few signs of active habitation. A community existed 20 kilometers from the Gate. Signs of prior life existed there in poured concrete foundations and overgrown roads. There were no power signatures, new construction, or clearly defined agriculture.
There had been debate back on earth about what had happened to the people who'd come through the Gate. One story had it that they'd left earth to found a better society before blowing the Gate up to keep Earth from coming after them. A second story had it that they'd all died of a native disease and shut down the Gate to keep anyone from carrying the plague back to Earth. A popular rumor had it that they'd been exiled here. That rumor made no sense to the Captain; Earth wouldn't waste a habitable planet. So many rumors existed and so little data survived from the records surrounding the event that no one knew what to believe.
Thousands of people had been sent here from Earth. One would have expected that generations of population growth would have resulted in cities by now. If far fewer people than expected lived down there, then it supported the disaster theory. But if a true disaster had hit, one would have expected no one alive at all on an inhospitable alien planet.
The Captain decided that they must have blown the Gate to prevent anyone from bringing the disease back to Earth. It was the only scenario that made sense of the stories and still fit the image presented to them below.
After studying the planet below, the captain decided it was safe to send exploration teams to the surface. They would go in shuttlecraft, of course. The Resumption would remain in orbit in order to observe. There was no reason to risk the whole ship in case native diseases still had a taste for humans.
The video images sent to the ship by the scouts looked extremely primitive. Salud, the head of the survey team, asked to be taken to their leader. To his surprise, it worked.
Within an hour of introductions to the local leadership, a woman named Arisan was asking them questions. Perhaps she had the role for her education; no one expected such primitive people to possess technical vocabulary. She was surprisingly unaffected by seeing his team in protective suits but had been among those watching the shuttle land.
Ishikawa asked about the world’s geology, ready to rib the other team members if the word was not understood though half expecting this colonist to not know what it meant.
"This world didn't have many radioactive elements in its core. Little tectonic action left the planet smooth. The oceans evaporated over time, leaving the huge beds of mud that are the topographical feature this world is known for. However, the atmosphere hit a critical mass. Water vapor thickens an atmosphere as well as provides the necessary atmospheric source of oxygen for an ozone layer to form. The atmosphere is saturated with water and keeps the surface perpetually wet.” Arisan smiled lightly at them. The team had not expected such scientific language from someone dressed so primitively.
She continued. “It's almost 100% humidity. It rains each night as the atmosphere above cools. It typically is absorbed into the soil. The life forms here act like natural sponges. That's why it is a little less humid near ground level; the top layers of life forms absorb water. The tidal forces act on the fluid soil as earth’s moon acted on water, keeping fluid and nutrients moving through the soil, albeit slowly. The rain drives nutrients from the top layers down all the way down to the rock layer a dozen kilometers down. Most of the atmospheric oxygen is derived from soil bacteria breaking down water as an energy source.”
Salud was impressed. “We’ve seen the initial terraforming near the Gate. Yet there is little sign that the terraforming has progressed in the past few decades. Do you know why?”
“Exposing the soil by sterilization would disrupt the water cycle that keeps the ecosystem here running, and risks destroying the native life that produces oxygen. Planting too much Terran life destroys the water cycle, since Terran life kills native life beneath it but cannot absorb as much water as the native life. You end up with runoff killing native life. Soil without native life has the same effect. Terraforming will either flood us or suffocate us. So we literally cannot do more than try to shape Earth life to fit the land and only spread as far as we need to.”
Ishikawa asked for numbers, which were given. The conversation then waxed and waned into statistics. Salud wondered if these statistics were the depth of their science. Simple observations, easy to make, easy to record. Then again, all the numbers could be made up in an effort to impress them. He would leave that determination to the scientific members of his crew. For that, he would need equipment from the Resumption.
CROSSING THE DIVIDE
A small entourage of local officials was waiting. The Captain took his time before coming out. It would show that he was the one who set the pace for these proceedings. His scouting party bent over backwards to make a good impression. He had no such need. He had a starship.
Kevin Donovan had to double-check the figures before answering the Captain’s question. "One native year is the equivalent of 1.4 earth years."
"So 111 earth years is 79 native years?"
"What age does that make a woman 104 local years old?"
"That would make her 136 Earth years old."
"She could have passed for fifty earth years old, Donovan."
"The record on Earth is 131 years of age, sir."
"And they all looked ancient long before then, Donovan."
“And they all received advanced medical care to live even a fraction of that time. But we can’t believe it, because she doesn’t look like a human unless genetically engineered –“
The conversation annoyed the Captain. People who claimed that they'd lived on Earth long before he himself was born were not something he'd been trained to deal with. Many of their comments and opinions would make sense if some of them had spent over a century here. It would also explain how such a small group had managed to maintain their technical knowledge despite the primitive living conditions.
The odd yellowish-brown coloring of skin and eyes they all had looked sickly. Yet it might not be a sign of poor health. They all seemed to spend hours in physical labor without ill effect. No one had done DNA testing of these people. Could the odd coloring be the price of some prior genetic manipulation? With the possibility of unnaturally long life, they had reason enough to leave Earth and make certain they weren't persecuted.
The first plantings had been chosen for majesty - oaks and redwoods. Those seedlings quickly died. When the terraforming effort ground to a halt when too few of those plantings sprouted, the last 10,000 burials were with `food plants'.
Apples, oranges, walnuts and pecans had been planted on the most graves. Peaches and pears survived in a few random spots. There were sufficient harvests of the nuts to provide a good protein source. Juniper trees seemed to thrive. Most grew into shrubs, more of a tripping hazard than a tree. But they produced berries in abundance.
The frequent storms would catch up berries from the branches and scatter them far and wide. Wild junipers had been found a hundred kilometers from the original plantings. A few even survived where no other earth-based life had reached.
The junipers had adapted and were spreading. But if so much work had gone into terraforming, why did it look as if the terraforming effort had stopped?
They'd lost most of their hydroponics capability. That much was certain. Yet they'd managed to cultivate enough food while using primitive agricultural techniques. In an effort to show their accomplishments, the locals had invited many of the crew to a typical meal.
The crew stared at what had been arrayed before them. The ubiquitous blue-green algae that had been a staple vitamin for generations were still grown here. More than one person wanted to inspect the facilities where the green algae were grown, but were refused. The small green capsules on the side of each plate were a reassuringly familiar sight, if the quality was questionable.
A steaming pot of yeast sat untouched on one side of the table. They'd all seen the locals eat whole bowls of the stuff, while most crew could barely choke down the requisite spoonful of nutrition each day. It was their only carbohydrate source on a world without grain.
Someone joked, "Maybe it's an acquired taste! I just hope none of us have to acquire it!" Similar comments had been made about the boiled mushrooms and fungi. They could understand eating it only if they were starving. But not when more palatable foods were growing in the Resumption’s hydroponics bay and dropped to their location.
A few foods were known only by legend to the crew were abundant here. Two dozen varieties of peppers were grown here. They ranged from glossy green to bright red to softer shades of yellow and orange. There was even a sky blue variety unknown on earth. There were trays of baked juniper berries layered with pecans. It was mistaken for a blueberry dish until someone tried it. The crew-woman gagged on her first mouthful before discretely making it to the bathroom. It was mentioned that blueberries did grow in the graveyard, but never produced more than tiny seeds.
The bowls of roasted pecans were consumed immediately. They were the only truly edible food on the table.
Nearly five hectares of grapevines stretched out in view. The vines were thin compared to the ropes that supported the long vines. Many of the leaves were almost airy. The guide explained that the plants had no need to store water here, so the leaves were able to grow so thin that they could not hold water.
The grapes were berry sized. However, the grape clusters were more numerous, thus giving a comparable yield to vines on earth. The grapes themselves were a reddish-purple color. The immature grapes were a reddish green. It wasn't until Salud knelt down to look closely at a vine that he realized that there was a reddish tint within the vine itself.
Salud knew these people didn't drink wine. They didn't ferment anything except "wood alcohol", that used purely for sterilization purposes. Salud had to ask, "What are the grapes used for?"
"We eat them fresh."
"Are they safe to eat now?" The grapes had a glossy look. A chemical spray coating?
"They don't have any chemicals used on them?"
“Fertilizers sometime, and occasionally alcohol to sterilize a crop. But there are no chemicals on this crop, no."
Salud picked one grape and held it between his fingers. This one was a rich purple-red. He pinched it slightly. It felt like a grape. After a momentary hesitation, he popped it into his mouth. It was acidic. Salud was about to spit it out, then thought otherwise. It might seem rude to spit. He bit down, expecting more bitterness. The grape had a distinctive lemony aftertaste. “Can I talk to the vine master?”
The middle-aged man in charge of the vineyards was busy loading the latest harvest into dry storage. The vine master eventually turned his attention back to Salud. "Was the tour satisfactory?"
"It was interesting."
"What do you think of my crop?" The vinemaster seemed sincerely curious about Salud's opinion.
"Do they taste more like grapes after processing?"
"They taste like grapes to me."
"You have a lot to be proud of out here. The fact that a whole vineyard survives out here is a miracle. They must have bred the proper taste out of grapes while breeding them for hardiness in this harsh climate." Salud meant to cushion his criticism with the compliments. They couldn't risk getting the locals mad when he wanted to fish them further for information, and this vine master was a prominent local.
"They taste like grapes, young man."
"They taste nothing like the grapes I've had from Earth. Perhaps if you tasted the Earth variety -"
"I know they taste like grapes because I ate grapes when I was on Earth. Get out!"
The younger members of the household were watching Salud. Salud waited for someone to defend him. How could the vine master possibly know what earth produce tasted like? No one spoke up.
Salud took his leave. There was no point in arguing with the senior man in front of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Haoke Suessi found himself reviewing the archeological notes.
"They possess limited technology. The harvesters, sorters, spinning wheels, looms, and balers are simple mechanical devices. Machines are driven by internal combustion engines that run off of alcohol. All alcohol is derived from bacterial sources grown in vats or grapes."
"They have plastics. All of it comes from vats of native resin producing bacteria. When they need the plastic, they heat the vat past the tolerance point of the bacteria, killing them and melting them into a solid mass. The plastic is then lifted out and carried over to a molding shop."
"Their plastic molding techniques are primitive. Pour the material into a mold, let it cool, then open the mold and remove the finished item. This technique is used for everything from lenses to windows."
"They have found a way to cast a silicate life form into a circuit pattern. Circuits produced thus are capable of less than 1% of the memory similarly sized Earth computers are. However, they will not discuss how this is done or demonstrate a working system."
"They possess ceramics. Given the abundance of clay and mud, that is not surprising. It is used for everything from dinner plates to vats with 15 liter volume. They will not discuss casting methods."
Their lack of cooperation was irritating. How could anyone evaluate their level of technology if they would not demonstrate what they were capable of? They would not even discuss how they manufactured what they could make. They did not want to be observed. Nor did they want assistance in improving their technology nor tools from Earth. They were proudly primitive.
"We initially thought that we could approach younger members of society to begin the assimilation process. Our attempts have failed. Children are assimilated into the adult culture, unable to create an age-group identity as children on Earth do. The loading of responsibility and obligation onto children so young has prevented any of the typical adolescent rebellion or alienation from adults. They also lack the idle time that would allow more in-depth questioning of their current situation."
They could not get exact census numbers. The population was probably somewhere between one and two thousand. Suessi checked the count of the cemetery and the dates inscribed on the memorials. He'd been allowed to record as much information there as he wanted. Based upon the dates, more people had died upon arrival than had ever lived on this world, and the children of the first generations had died at a rate humanity had relegated to pre-history.
The thought gave him shivers. The plague or disaster that left so many dead so soon upon arriving must have shell shocked the survivors so badly that their descendants could not imagine anything more than survival.
"If they open a Gate, we will be flooded with Terrans against which we have no defense."
"We do have a means of defense." The Council focused on Sierra. "The disease that wiped out the first expedition still exists. It hasn't had any acceptable hosts for over a hundred years, but it isn’t gone. It still exists in the cemetery in the bodies of the first expedition that we buried out there."
“How could it survive being buried?” Jen asked.
“Remember, it is native to this ecosystem. Native life goes dormant when it loses access to oxygen; the plastic coffins we used for those first deceased would create that effect.”
"Isn't there a chance it could also infect us?" Arisan asked. Like others of her generation, they would not risk another epidemic. Given their alterations, she knew, they also risked vulnerability to Earth’s diseases …
"The disease is a cousin of the one that infested the tachyon receivers. The DNA changes are great enough that it doesn't affect us. If it could, we’d all be dead as the first explorers were. But we are close enough to the original human genome that diseases brought from Earth could affect us. All we need is one sick Terran, and we would be faced with a pandemic.”
The elders had considered that possibility. They couldn’t risk another plague. They wouldn’t risk Earth trying to kill them again, either. The council then decided to give their proper warning.
As one of the only Earth born left and the only still on the Council, they picked her. Arisan was asked to ask the Earth crew to leave by the Council’s order.
"Captain, may I have a word with you?" Arisan wondered what her own face betrayed. The whites of her eyes had faded to a deep brown shade over the years, leaving only the jet-black pupils clearly visible. The eyeshade now matched her darkened skin shade. She expected that would make her own face harder to read. Still, she wondered. Living here for decades had left skills at deception long unused.
"Of course." The Captain had motioned for her to enter his conference room, the lack of obvious biohazard controls suggesting his distaste for her was entirely from her appearance and not fears of contamination. The gray walls around them all blended together into a single flowing ovoid. It gave an illusion of space, though it was tightly fitted between the hull and the engines. It felt odd to recognize something in so alien a place. Then again, Arisan had never been on a spaceship before, just the one trip through the Gate.
Arisan sat down on one side of the conference table. She sat by the door instinctively for easy escape. Arisan criticized herself for so quickly lapsing into that ever-paranoid and ever-critical way of thinking. She was on their starship; she had no escape if they didn’t want it but could very much force her out an airlock. She'd slipped into those old habits of paranoia quickly enough, though; perhaps the decades and alien DNA hadn't changed her much after all.
"You're a member of the elected Council, correct?"
"When can we expect the aid in getting our biological samples?"
The Captain's features flickered for a moment, as if his face were about to transform into a non-neutral expression before he caught himself. "And when will we receive samples of your technology?"
"That will not happen. And as I said, we didn’t have advanced genetic engineering equipment with us, so there is no such thing to give to you."
"Is this your personal decision?"
"No. It was a unanimous one."
"Refusing to assist us will not gain you anything. We offered technical expertise in exchange for assistance. You refuse. I will offer your Council one more chance. I could, if you persuade them to cooperate, ask for the chance to offer educational and technical opportunities again -"
"We do not accept your authority."
Arisan knew he was irritated by her refusal to call him `Sir'. Arisan's matter-of-fact statements were too much for him. People high up never had to learn how to work with people, only obey superiors and properly relay orders. This last rejection, refusing to recognize his authority, was the last straw.
"I want to speak with your superior!" He'd retreated to the assumption that she was just a lackey relaying a message. Hadn't he read reports that she had voted in several meetings since his arrival? That she had been a tie-breaking vote more than once since the observers had been allowed to watch? Did he think that their democracy was a show? Or that there was someone in charge that he had not seen yet?
"I don't have a superior,” Arisan stated.
“Relay my offer again,” he ordered. “And tell your Council to make the right decision this time.”
Sierra had dug up one of the bodies closest to the Mausoleum. He had been one of the original group through the Gate. He had died unaltered, and he had died of the disease that was now part of their genetic heritage.
They took the requisite tissue samples. Cultivating the disease would not be hard; they had decades of experience with native life forms.
Sierra left with her samples, leaving Arisan with the body. Arisan moved the body back into the grave and buried him for a second time. Hopefully, this pandemic would be the last.
The release had been casual. Too casual for Arisan’s comfort. Her discomfort didn’t bother anyone else, since the Terrans kept coming down and telling her what to do regardless of whether or not they could tell they’d been obeyed. They expected it. They just didn’t except anything except obedience.
Every colonist was infected with it. No one local had gotten sick from it, barring a few infants whose health had been questionable to begin with.
Over the course of several social gatherings and faux presentations on the local technology and history, they exposed the Terrans. Arisan had attended those. They asked senior crew to give their advice on why the Council should “vote as the Captain suggested”.
Arisan was asked to meet with the Terran Captain. How many decades had it been since she’d felt guilt? Grief, sure, as children and grandchildren died, though finally at a lower rate than before. Then again, how many decades had it been since she’d done anything that could possibly make her feel guilt? The simple life left no room for qualms, nor many opportunities for questionable moral decisions.
A small group from the Resumption showed up at her house. Cady’s youngest grandchild Raiha ran away when the Terrans marched in. They were there for her, not the toddler. Flashbacks to nightmares of such an armed encounter brought pure adrenaline to the meeting.
“The Captain ordered you to meet with him.”
Arisan’s eyes fell on the weapons in their holsters. Raiha looked at the strangers around the wall she hid behind, then at her grandmother, then back to the strangers. The two-year-old then scooted to a better hiding place. Arisan was marched out of her home.
The rover they loaded her onto barely held them all. Arisan did nothing but the bare minimum; that had always been the survival mode when living under tyranny. Resistance could get her killed or injured without hope of help, which was the same thing. She wondered if the Resumption crew coming for her was a sign that they were willfully meeting their fate. It gave her no comfort as she was marched onto the Resumption.
As the doors closed to the Captain’s meeting room, Arisan whispered, “I do this for you, Raiha.” It was not the last sight she wanted to see of home, but neither was rushing through a gate with the few personal possessions from her office, knowing that if she waited longer to collect anything, she might die when they finally used force to enter the facility … that memory came so clearly, unlike many of the past, quickening her heart. She’d only been able to flee and hope to live, then.
She forced herself to breathe slowly and deeply, knowing that the pathogen in her system looked like part of her but would eventually start spreading beyond her. Ideally, it would only start after they’d gotten on the ship and she’d started to mingle … and she had to admit that yes, she’d been changed by her trip through the Gate.
The colonists had already begun dismantling the Resumption’s shuttle. With no crew to help them, it would be a painstakingly slow process. The computer systems were locked beyond access, but that didn’t matter when they had no way to interface with them. The valuable metals and plastics would be recycled eventually.
The Gate the Resumption had brought had been destroyed in a shower of fire works. While the technology had changed some over time, the surviving Earth born and their children who had heard stories of the original Gate’s destruction knew enough to repeat the process.
The new additions to the graveyard stood out only for the lack of green growth. That would come with time.
The Resumption remained in orbit, silent and presumed dead, a permanent memorial to the keeper of the memorial garden. The colonists assumed this would buy them at least several more generations of peace, though starships were expensive, and Earth may choose not to try again.
© 2018 Tamara Wilhite