by J.S. Rogers
Calypso Mission Log: Landing Day +3
Log recorded by Psych Officer/Biologist Emily Harris
Crash landing on Calypso. Cause: lateral engine failure. Dead on impact: Mission Commander Jenkins, Science Officer Wu and Medical Officer Buczynski. Engineering Officer Adams and I were thrown clear. Dave has broken ribs and a bad leg injury. I have a deepish but clean cut to the right thigh, now stitched and healing; no other injuries.
The dead crew were buried with curtailed rites, as Dave needs constant attention. Burial ground is north of the Hab site, makeshift grave markers in place.
Have commenced Hab assembly, slow work on my own. Damaged lander is providing shelter for now. Oxygen/nitrogen mix is close to Earth normal, and though air temperature is low, dipping at night, I have used GrowZone insulation to maintain the lander environment to barely adequate.
Hab complete; salvageable kit transferred from lander. Hydroponic GrowZone oriented to south of the Hab. Water production online. The soil here is dry, colours more to the red/blue part of the spectrum than on Earth. When dry, shades of lavender and pink predominate, when wet it’s almost purple. The air is so dry at this season on Calypso, in the mornings I can see clear across the plain to the surrounding hills, colour of bruised plums.
Dave is in sick bay, Mostly dozing, has been speaking in confused snatches. Now unconscious; high fever; red raw puffy skin round his compound leg fracture. Giving him antibiotic shots, but he really needs major surgery.
I’m no surgeon!
Dave died today. Am now alone on this uninhabited Earth analogue, twenty-four light years from home. Our mission ansible was amongst the kit destroyed in the crash, so instantaneous communication with Earth is no longer possible. I’m uploading log reports to the orbiter as a mission record for historical purposes. Maybe someone will find them useful if a second mission is ever sent to Calypso.
Took stitches out of thigh a few days ago; skin warm, a little swollen, normal healing.
Seeds in the GrowZone sprouting. Should be able to transfer seedlings to the outside farm area, and produce a harvest well before the rations run out. Air temperature still cold, but the soil is warming.
Spent the long Calypso day out in the rover. Landing site is on a broad plain, bleak at this season and ringed from south-east to west by the red hills we imaged from orbit. Craggy, impassable by rover; no further exploration possible. On the plus side, found two water sources below a dry creek which runs from hills south past Hab.
Temperatures currently range between minus five overnight to plus fifteen daytime. Accumulating climate data indicates that overall days are lengthening and warming. Diurnal variations of light wavelength are interesting: dawns are green-tinted, ranging through bright pink by noon and shading off to bronze at sunset.
Feeling low. Spent some time at Dave’s grave, on the sunny side of the Hab by the farm. Think I wanted him near for company. As the mission Psych Officer, I understand the human need for company. Found myself wittering on, telling him about the Hab, the crops, the logs sent to Mission Control. Not sure he’d think the logs a worthwhile effort.
Being a biologist is proving useful. Analysis of local Calypso soil is encouraging: the necessary range of nutrients and acceptable level of microbe activity. Soil temperature and sunlight now sufficient for seedlings to be transplanted to the farm. Have set up irrigation channels from the nearer water hole, hoping for rain or snowmelt. Till then will rely on water production from the Hab support unit. Told Dave the good news on my visit to his grave.
- Good long rain last night. Creek bed running a stream, irrigation channels brimming. Spent the morning planting out seedlings in polytunnels: maize, peas, tomatoes to add to my rations.
- Surprised on checking the seedlings to find the maize has already sprouted new leaves and multiple stalks. Not normal growth for maize, but no complaints if I get a bigger crop. May be responding to Calypso conditions? Growth metre confirms they’ve shot up six to eight centimetres since yesterday.
- Problem: power supply stopped during the night. Apart from plunging Hab temperature below zero, means overspill heating to polytunnels isn’t functioning. Seedlings will die tonight if I can’t fix the problem. I’m no IT expert: that was Dave’s area.
Wearing my torn spacesuit for warmth this morning, checked solar panels and batteries. No issues there. Eventually found that software managing the climate controls had crashed, but couldn’t trace the fault. Kept hearing a silly saying of Dave’s, ‘Try turning it off and back on.’ God, I wish he were here, solving the problem with his strong capable hands. Suddenly feel so helpless.
- Thinking of Dave brought up the mental image of that bit of kit he used to fix everything. He called it a “sonic screwdriver” – some kind of old joke, I think. The mission inventory calls it a solid state reboot interface. I can auto-start the system with that. No sign of the tool in the Hab or lander, though. Only one place it could be: in his overalls.
Evening. Steeled myself to exhume my friend. So sorry, Dave. Dreaded uncovering him, but dreaded equally not locating the screwdriver. I found his overalls and the screwdriver all right. Then I dropped the spade, scrambled out of the long shallow pit in horror. Couldn’t think or breathe.
No body. Not even bones. He’s gone.
OK, work the problem, came a thought. Didn’t seem to be my thought: a man’s voice, Dave’s, pushed into my mind. I sampled the soil round the grave. Nothing obviously abnormal. A lot of fibrous root systems, but this area is close to the maize field.
Retching, I dug out the north burial site. Found three bodies – the remainder of the crew, right where they should be, and how they should be after nine weeks of decomposition. Filled the graves, forced myself to walk steadily back to the Hab, where I fixed the climate control OK. Thank goodness for the sonic screwdriver.
Couldn’t sleep. Calypso has always felt empty, but safe nonetheless. Now it feels threatening. Either I’m mad, or something weird is going on. Solitude causing hallucinations? The psych evaluations I run weekly say I’m sane, whatever that means.
How can the law of entropy apply to the rest of the dead crew, but not to Dave? Makes no sense. What is different about Dave?
Eventually I slept. And dreamt. Dave sitting next to me, his face turned to mine but not in conversation. And yet I seemed to hear: You’re not mad, Emily. Use your training. Keep working the problem.
Waking, for an instant I saw Dave’s shape: bulky, strong, energetic.
Spent the day out in the rover. Bare plain round the Hab now transformed – covered with varied plant growth, mostly clumped shrubs with leaves all colours from violet to pale green. Only three weeks after the previous trip; phenomenal growth! Took soil samples and specimen cuttings. Thick sticky sap extruded and then coagulated from each specimen. Really gooey. Stuck to my skin where glove was torn.
Analysed my samples. Repeated the tests three times – same result each time. All living organisms on Calypso have identical DNA, a long complex sequence. Soil shows the same extensive networked roots I found in Dave’s empty grave.
Rushed to the farm on a sudden thought to sample my crops. Guess what? The maize plants, peas, tomatoes – all Terran – now show the Calypso genome. But phenotype is still three distinct plant types, recognisably what I planted.
Told Dave about the DNA analyses today. It helps to mull over the weirdness, talking to no one. Today, I was too excited to feel scared: tomorrow I harvest my first crop of peas. Can’t wait to have real food!
Dreamt again. Saw Dave fleetingly, indistinct. I thought I heard: Just respect the living. You’ll get what you need. No idea what that means. Respect myself, maybe; certainly isn’t anyone else here to respect. Not even Dave, no matter how much I wish the empty grave means he’s alive.
Am I creating illusions? If I find signs of psychosis, what then?
I decide to keep uploading this log.
Peas are delicious! Ate the first few raw, straight from the pod. So ripe they’d fallen off the plant, quite tidily. Then made a tasty soup with chunks of ham-flavoured protein. Next week tomatoes will be ready. Then, oh joy, the maize.
Sun is getting hotter every day. Came back to the Hab with a headache, hard to shake off. Must wear a hat tomorrow.
Dream: Dave’s voice telling me: You will find what you need. Look again. I can’t see him anywhere, just a shimmer from the angled light of Calypso’s sun. His voice rises from all directions.
I awoke bemused, worried that my dreams are getting delusional. What is it that my subconscious – manifest in the Dave dream-figure – thinks I need? Ran another psych eval – still normal.
Collected the ripe tomatoes. A pile was already gathered, heaped under the plants. No need for my pruning knife. Odd. Must be an evolutionary explanation. Did Calypso plants evolve to drop fruit when ripe to enhance prompt germination without birds? I’ll run some controlled trials next season.
If I stay sane.
Woke feeling slightly feverish. Too much sun, despite the hat. Maize corns were waiting for me in an orderly pile on the soil this morning. Second pea harvest will start in a few days, hmm…
Peas in pods, piled on the ground. No avoiding the conclusion.
Although I’m apparently the only living ambulatory creature on this planet, someone or something is harvesting my crops for me.
On a whim, checked the plant and soil specimens which have been culturing since collection. Surprised to notice a microbe with different DNA. Not enough to ID as yet. Will check in a couple more days.
Came round from a sudden blackout this morning to find myself shivering and sweating, collapsed in the maize field after a dizzy spell. Crawled back to Hab. Temperature way off the scale. Injected antibiotics, took blood specimen with shaking hands.
Last laugh is on me. I’m ill, but not with a Calypso bug. Somehow we brought a microbe from Earth, maybe in the water system. Can hardly move, headache, hacking cough, high fever.
Antibiotics not working. I’m coughing blood, chest on fire. Can’t crawl out of bunk even to pee. Got water by my bunk, but haven’t eaten in days. So tired.
Struggling to breathe. Coughing up blood frequently now. These notes from brief lucid intervals between coma-like sleep. Hallucinations, too. Saw Dave outlined in the Hab door which I must have left open when I staggered in three days ago. Couldn’t make out his face, but heard his voice, low and husky. It’s too late now, Emily. We’re out of time.
He faded into piercing light. I found myself twisting in sweaty sheets, then floating up, away from the pain and heat, giving up the desperate struggle to breathe.
Woke suddenly, in the dark. The agony in my chest had gone, and I was back in my own mind. I felt cool, dry, clean even. The Hab door was shut, but I could see from my bunk a small light at the workstation, flashing a “report complete” alert from the blood culture analysis. I got up, checked the culture results. Legionnaire’s Disease. I should be dead.
I looked again at the Calypso samples of plant material and soil. There was my Terran bug again, outnumbered by antibodies swarming all over it. On an impulse, took a fresh blood sample from my arm. Smeared a drop on a slide, under the microscope. A battlefield: macrophages swiftly engulfed the Legionnaire bacteria and wiped them out.
I wasn’t going to die after all.
I had a sudden flashback, the image of Dave silhouetted against the light as he leaned toward me from the Hab doorway.
Back to pottering around the farm, but my illness has made me forgetful. Several times I’ve come to from a daydream, not knowing how I’d got where I was. Taken more blood samples to check for…who knows? Must be something to indicate what’s wrong.
Dreamt again last night. Dave, of course. I woke hearing his words, annoyed at the lack of meaning: It’s chemistry, Emily. They never had an interaction. That’s the difference.
What difference? Who’s “they”? There is no sign of any intelligent life, or even animal life, on Calypso. No one here but me. And three dead colleagues, who never even….
Oh God, they never took a breath of Calypso air – they died in the sealed lander. They never encountered Calypso biochemistry.
Dave did. He lived and breathed on Calypso for weeks. And so have I.
Back to the lab desk, again. A closer scrutiny of the Calypso genome, now fully sequenced. Some base sequences look familiar, I’ve seen them before. On the floor near Dave’s sickbay bunk, I find what I need. A hair. I add another. A crossmatch will give me results in the morning.
Final Calypso Mission Log entry
The difference is there, in the genes: mine, Dave’s, all Calypso life. We’re somehow bound together, in a Gaia-type single organism. If future Earth missions arrive here, I’ll leave it to them to fully investigate how it happened. I just know Dave has helped me join in a new form of shared life.
I’m at home, no longer alone. And outside the Hab, Dave is waiting for me in the bright Calypso light.
Emily Harris, Calypso Mission Psych Officer/Biologist, signing off.
©2016 J.S. Rogers— Published electronically at DigitalFictionPub.com: February 7, 2016. You may link to or share this post with full and proper attribution; however, the author retains the complete and unrestricted copyright to this work. Commercial use or distribution of any kind is prohibited without the express written permission of the author.
Join the Digital Fiction Pub newsletter for infrequent updates, new release discounts, and more: http://digitalfictionpub.com/blog/join-the-digital-fiction-pub-newsletter/