They finally came looking for me. Three of my crewmates in a hoverjeep, blaring out their signal horn in the bright stillness of noon. So now I’m back on the ship, back in my old dorm. Everything feels pretty much the same as it did before, although I guess it hasn’t been that long since I left.
It was Lenny from the mechanical subsystems, Vikki, and Dawn. I stumbled out of my tent and flagged them down.
“Well,” Lenny said, “so, you’re alive after all.”
“I knew it,” Dawn said. “See,” she continued, gesturing to Vikki, “he’s one of the lucky ones.” She squeezed my hand. “We’re heading back to the ship.”
“It’s only been a few days,” I said. “I was fine. It’s just a radio, after all. I had plenty of supplies.”
“He still doesn’t know,” Lenny said. “We need to tell him.”
“Know what?” I asked.
“Get on board.”
“What about the crops?”
“They’ll send out someone to watch them,” Dawn said. “It’ll be alright.”
I went back to the tent, grabbed my journal, and got on the hoverjeep. Lenny powered it up and we headed west away from my camp and towards the Hierophant.
“Not everybody is still alive,” Dawn said.
“What happened?” I asked. “Who died?”
“Frank. They found him dead in his tent.”
It seemed impossible. Frank Hagerty had been the toughest one out of all of us. He was the guy who would bust you if you drank too much in the galley, the guy who broke up fights, the guy who threw your ass in the brig.
“What happened?” I asked.
“We’re still not sure. There weren’t any marks on his body and no sign of a struggle in his tent, but there were footsteps near his camp.”
“It had to be Harris,” Vikki said. “Who else could it be? He’s off his rocker, man. Every night with those radio broadcasts from the hills...”
“We shouldn’t jump to conclusions. There are a million things that can kill you out here.”
“Is everybody else OK?” I asked.
“We’re not sure,” Vikki said. “You and Frank weren’t the only ones who stopped transmitting recently. Some of the others have gone missing too. When we checked out their campsites today they were totally empty.”
It was a long ride to the ship. I stayed quiet for the most part, watching the landscape scroll by from the backseat. We passed a few of the abandoned campsites on the way, each with their own little plots of seedlings starting to grow slow and steady in the perpetual gloom. You can already tell that we’ve started to change the environment here, hopefully for the better.
I didn’t know it at the time, but Frank’s body was in the storage compartment of the hoverjeep during the ride back. I helped unload him. They’re going to use his body for fertilizer.
Dawn and I had dinner together in the cafeteria and for a moment it felt like I was back in space. We talked for a long time. She said that the farming is going better than anybody anticipated. For all of its desolation, this planet isn’t as inhospitable as it appears. The most dangerous thing here, she said, is us.
I told her that Harris had visited my camp yesterday morning. Dawn said he had been saying pretty much the same thing to everyone else on his radio broadcasts. Martinez is sending out a team to go find him and bring him back to the ship.
Dr. Robertson gave me a physical before I turned in for the night. She says I’m healthy, but that in a few days they’re going to start doing regular psych evaluations for the whole crew. I can’t say I blame her. She said I should get some rest, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.