Curtis died eleven days ago. Farrah died eight days ago. Leah died six days ago. Harry died three days ago. Jerome died yesterday. I was the last, I was next.
I slide down the embankment to the river. At first we avoided drinking from it, but after Farrah died we realized there was no other choice. It was drink the poison or die even faster.
I could feel whatever it was inside me, tearing me apart. It wasn't painful, but I knew it was there. An alien germ, in my system, working to kill me.
I was alone for my death. Unlike the others. Unlike my friends.
It was all terribly depressing, everything that went through my mind. But what else was I supposed to do? For the past few days I've lived in my memories, trying to go home.
Jerome and I had been alive together only last night. When I'd woken up this morning, he was gone, his arms still and cold around me. I’d buried him alongside the others, in the deep graves in the soft ground of this planet that wasn't home.
I convinced Jerome to come scout this new world, escape to a new place we could call home with me. Did that mean I killed Jerome?
Harriet would say I didn't. She told me that it was none of our faults, that we were just doing our jobs as humans and as astronauts. But Harry was also lying dead and gone in a hole I'd dug in the ground.
I had a hole ready for myself. When I felt fatigue rushing in on me like the others had I would go lie down in my grave, and if I didn't wake up, I didn't wake up ever again.
I spend my time sitting in the graveyard. It's just me, and five mounds of dirt and five rocks marking their graves and a hole in the ground and the creature that is always watching us. It's dark like a shadow and has yellow circles watching us and never blinks. In the month here I've just come to ignore the thing.
It unsettled Farrah. And after Curtis didn't wake up after a nap, she became unhinged. So much so that she tried to kill it. That's what killed her- not this sickness, but the creature among the plants.
I didn't mind it too much. It was silent company among the graves.
I lay down on the dirt. Of course, it wasn't dirt, it was some makeup of elements I couldn't understand how to explain but for some reason made Leah's eyes light up with excitement as she explained what it was. Anyway, I called it dirt. For some semblance of home.
And I close my eyes. I'm not tired at all, there's just something about darkness that lets me focus. Allows me to clear my head.
Jerome and I and four other astronauts were sent off to a planet far, far away that was meant to sustain life.
And now here we were.
There was no time to be sad or mourn. I just relived my entire existence for hours, squeezing in as much life as I could while I awaited this alien disease to take me too.
I think about the clear blue skies and sparkling water and the green grass I would trade anything to run my fingers through right now. What was it about Earth that made me feel such longing for it?
I sigh. I run through protocol.
Adequate oxygen? Check.
Running, filterable water? Check.
Solid, not too solid ground? Check.
Available land for colonization? Check.
Alien diseases that rip you apart from the inside out, allowing you to watch yourself slowly die?
We'd sent message back home. Don't come here. We wouldn't be making it back alive. We were dying. Like stars, Harry had said as a joke. It'd been accidentally included on the transmission.
We were kind of like stars. The six of us, full of life, light, hope, promises- only to die with a whimper and a bang and darkness, leaving loneliness behind.
I pushed myself up and ran a lap around the graveyard, then down to the water, then back up and towards the creature among the plants, not too close, then back around the graves. I just run and run, losing myself in the rhythm of my feet on this soft ground.
Fatigue overtakes me, and I limp over to my grave. Is this the end? Am I about to die?
I'm just tired from running. My heart stops racing.
There's a chance I won't die. After all, we don't know anything about the disease. Here's what we- I know about the disease:
- it manifested after that creature first got here. Farrah blamed it. I don't blame the creature because it's been watching since the first day
- You can feel it killing you from the inside out. Slowly. Painlessly.
- It worked at different paces in everyone.
- Fatigue is the number one warning
- It rots your body in thirty minutes
Yeah, that was a weird one. But after Curtis died and we were digging his grave, his body had nearly decomposed completely before we'd even dug the hole.
There was one other thing I noticed when people were dying. It was by age.
Curtis was the oldest at 47. Farrah was his daughter, only 20, but she didn't count towards my theory because she'd died from attacking the creature. Leah was 36. Harry was 31. Jerome was 28. I was only 26.
But this was a theory that'd never actually get to be tested because I've been sending messages back to Earth every day for the entire godforsaken month we've been on this planet and if another human ever steps foot on the dirt I'm sitting on right now I swear my ghost would get my revenge.
The food is disgusting now. It tastes like cardboard. Frozen cardboard. I hate astronaut food.
Sleep was difficult. I slept in my grave, covered and wrapped in six blankets. My mind swirled with my crew members and their final words or what they were like on the ship or when their birthday was. We built a home for ourselves within the comfort of each other, but now that was gone.
If I somehow didn't die, I wouldn't get to leave. I'd be here waiting my entire life, because we didn't know if this was contagious or if this could kill me later so I couldn't go back to Earth and I was going to spend the rest of my miserable lonely life on this planet, whether I lived for seven more hours or seventy more years.
I could never go home again. I could never see where I came from again, save for my memories.
The next morning, I check the transmission sending to Earth.
Do not come. Biological disease wiped out entire crew. Do not, I repeat, do NOT come.
It's the same message every day. It's automatically sending these messages every single day, powered by solar. I just like to make sure it's working smoothly, so I know it'll be working when I'm gone.
Because, like I said, no one better step foot on this planet ever again.
I drink the poisoned water, I eat some dry astronaut food. I wait for days, my mind racing. I run around and I reread the one book I brought and I wish I could go home. Even though my version of home is gone, in the ground beside me.
I wish I couldn't feel this thing ripping me apart. I could feel I was dying. Imploding in on myself like a star.
Four days after Jerome's death, I wake up exhausted. Fatigued. I don't even have enough energy to be startled by the creature, it's unblinking yellow orbs peering over the edge of the grave at me. I haven't yet seen it move from its shadowy spot among the plants, but here it is. Waiting with me. I wonder if it feels anything, anything like remorse.
Briefly I wonder if it would bury me, like my friends, like my ancestors were buried on Earth.
“Could you bury me?” I call out to it, eyes pleading.
It doesn't make any movement, doesn't blink, doesn't acknowledge me at all. But at least I asked.
I close my eyes, feeling darkness wash over me. This was it. I was going to finally die, beside my crew and that alien thing hovering above me and home millions of light years away, warned to never ever come here.
It does indeed end with a whimper and a bang. I'm still alive when I implode in on myself, and it makes me scream and I wonder how no one else in my crew made a single noise when it killed them. I'm still alive when the creature moves, dirt falling on me from above. I'm not alive when it's done, my body far from anything I've ever known as home. Home only known in the other people surrounding me.