Author: Josie Gowler
Janelle rounded the corner. She stopped next to me and sighed, all the usual motivational talks abandoned. “It could have been so beautiful here, David,” she muttered.
The ship was on its way and I didn’t have time for pleasantries. “You knew. The whole time, you knew,” I said. The bits of my face not covered by my beard itched from the acidic mist that we’d all had a hand in creating. “It wasn’t a tragic terraforming disaster – you knew there was life already here and you went ahead anyway. You just didn’t care about the risks.” She’d tried to hide it well, I’d give her that. Both this time and last time. If I hadn’t been searching the database for pathogen inactivation pathways I wouldn’t have spotted it.
I carried on. “Next time we should care about the silicon-based higher lifeforms before we settle on a planet, not just the carbon-based ones. Appreciate more than two DNA strands.” She winced: it was the three-stranders that ate half my body, the settlement before this one. Janelle was expedition director then, too.
“So what?” she snapped, leaning right over my wheelchair. “So what? You think they care about a few crappy lower organisms back on Earth, when we need a home?” It felt like a slap – I’d expected at least some attempt at a denial.
“Not your decision to take,” I spat, as I shoved my wheelchair at her, knocking her off balance and down into the toxic lake she’d created, “Not your decision to take,” I repeated, “and you won’t ever have that power again.”
Now I’m at the landing strip all I can think about is Bailey. “Call it a cascade, domino effect, runaway collapse, heck, call it whatever you like. It’s another colossal disaster of our own making. And the biggest victims aren’t us. Again.” Despite all that, he smiled as he said: “I’m staying. I can’t leave them. Not now. It’s not… it’s not fair.” The geliphant next to him stared at me with all of its eyes, unblinking. There was empathy but no reproach, which made me feel even worse.
The last time I saw Bailey, he was riding away on a gelephant, its trumpet blaring. They will die. He will die.
So it’s another year, another failure. I sigh, counting the pioneers up the ramp as the massive storm clouds rush towards us over the pods of our brief settlement. Twenty settlers left to get on.
As they pass into the bright interior of the shuttle, I can hear the usual clichés. All picked up by the roving reporter from Earth. I’ve already had to chuck him out of the way twice. Everyone thinks they’re being original.
“Ah, loads of time.”
“Walk in the park.”
“Sunday drive, eh?”
“What kept you?”
“We’ll do it better next time.”
Next time. The thought of a next time still makes me feel physically sick, despite solving the Janelle problem. I tick the last name off the manifest, trundle through to the seats and pull myself into an acceleration couch.
Two fewer people than came here. As we reach escape velocity and the shuttle powers towards the baseship, I wish I’d stayed, too.