Expansion. Short Story.

“Any word yet?”
“No, none. It could be another two weeks before we hear anything back.”

Sarah sighed, “Ok, you can go have a break for a while.”
“How long do you think until it’s fixed?”

“I don’t know. I really don’t what with Andy…”

Brad nodded, then stood from the table, stretching. He started to leave, “Be careful. It’s, it’s gotten worse out there.”
Brad didn’t reply, he took a deep breath then left the room, Sarah sat in the vacated chair, it was still warm.

The room was small and crowded with equipment, creating a humming along with a faint whirring noise. Occasionally there was a faint crackle, each one giving Sarah a jolt of adrenaline, but it was always a disappointment. Interference, something useless being detected. She rubbed a hand across her eyes and took a sip of the coffee she had. There wasn’t much left, soon it would be gone, at least until they figured out a place to grow the damn plants. Realistically, it should have already been done, but then so should a lot of things. For now they had to focus on surviving. She glanced at the log, then noticed Brad hadn’t filled it in, shaking her head she wrote a short note, “No contact.” It was all so pointless. It wasn’t like they’d even be able to get much help, mostly it was to warn others not to come. Sarah idly tapped her fingers against the recorders, ready to start it if needed, they’d give some warning then, hopefully, there would be a long string of useful advice. Sarah’s fear was that they would get in contact, but that they would say they needed more information before they could give relevant advice or opinions. It had been agreed, as a community, that should it be asked, samples would not be sent back. It was too dangerous. There was no cure, no treatment, you either lived or died. So far it had a mortality rate of sixty percent. They had yet to lose any key people, but it was only a matter of time, given that so far half of the people were infected. The most disturbing thing about the entire situation, at least in Sarah’s view, was that they still didn’t know how people were getting sick. They were exclusively eating from supplies on the ship, air masks were worn after the first illness, but despite the precautions, people still became sick.

 

Sarah stood from the chair and started to pace in the small room. It felt good to be moving, even if it was her day off. She was a glorified gardener, like most of the people on the ship. Building shelters was still on going, but it wasn’t as important as agriculture. When the winter cycle of the planet started, they could easily live in the ship. Intensive study had been done on the planet for years before they actually arrived. They had catalogued most of the larger animals and found the air breathable, the variations in the soil would allow for a multitude of earth plants to be grown and that it had survivable weather patterns. It was still surprising how different the animal and plant life were, after all, it had similar conditions as Earth, yet the differences were mind boggling. Sarah was most interested in exploration of the sea, something that hadn’t been done too well. It wouldn’t be all that necessary, the smaller shuttles could bring them about the planet easily enough, or at least they could if they were functioning. Perhaps she just had romantic ideas about great ships crossing the sea, bobbing on waves. Beyond that it would be interesting to see what kinds of creatures lived in the large seas. When they had first arrived they supplemented their diet with plant and animal life, but since the sickness began it had been halted. As far as they could tell the food wasn’t poisonous and nor were the plants, though some allergic reactions had happened, as was to be expected. They had been prepared for the possibility of disease, after all they were on a new planet, but they hadn’t expected anything so virulent. It incapacitated those who were ill, leaving them bedridden and drifting in and out of consciousness. Though that was for the best in most cases as their bodies would spasm in pain, even while they were unconscious. They had to be careful with doses of painkillers, the next supply drop wouldn’t happen for another month. They were sent regularly, unmanned ships carrying food, medicine, back up seeds and the stored animal semen, to diversify breeding and help prevent genetic disease in the animals they had brought with them. Hopefully the first one would have some equipment they could use for repairs. They weren’t sure what the first shipment contained, someone had either lost the file or it had never been given in the first place. Each shipment contained details of the next, so after this point they wouldn’t be vainly hoping for something that wouldn’t be coming. They could of course, request things, and even get an itemised list of what was coming, if they damn communication system weren’t broken. Sarah kept telling herself that the warning got there in time. It took a year of travel to reach the planet and a year was given to give settlers time to well, settle, and warn of any supplies that were needed, or inform Earth of new developments. So far the system had worked out well and had provided a quarantine to prevent sicknesses spreading from the planets. All the people who were settling the planet were in good shape, most were young, the oldest being forty, Sarah didn’t want to think about how the disease would burn through the elderly or young.

 

Sarah switched off shifts with someone else and left the small room, she moved through the ship until finally she was outside, breathing in the air and enjoying the heat from the sun. Sure there was a danger in being out here, but there was a danger in doing anything at the moment. Everything was a risk until they could figure out what was causing the disease. The ship itself landed in a large clearing near a wide river, a good place to start building. The larger animals were still wary of the ship and the new scents, so they generally stayed away. They had set up a perimeter of fences around the ship soon after they arrived, which acted as a deterrent for some of the other animals. Sarah looked around the clearing, taking note of who else was outside, then she headed towards the river, scanning the area as she went. The river itself also contained a fencelike structure that created a small pool, clear of the larger creatures and most of the smaller ones. The structure of the fence was made of a thin netting, that allowed water to flow through freely while stopping larger particles. Sarah longed to go swimming in the river, or one of the many lakes dotted nearby, but it had been deemed unsafe for the moment. They didn’t know what kind of creatures might be lurking, so instead she settled with sitting on the bank, her feet just slightly in the cool water. She had another hour or so before she had to get back to work, at the moment they were trying to make the clearing larger by cutting into the surrounding forest. After a short while enjoying the water, she stood and went back to the ship, wanting to eat something before she had to get started.

 

The working shift helped remind Sarah why she had kept her distance over the last few days, everyone was still panicking, tension was high. Work was done silently, gone was the joking comradery they had shared in the beginning, now most people just wanted to get the work done and head back to the ship, hoping they would be safe there. As she finished up and headed back to clean off, she skirted around a small clump of people, two of whom were yelling. She didn’t want to get dragged into another fight, the last time she had tried to intervene to calm things down she had been left sitting on her ass with a black eye. After she cleaned she went to the cafeteria, there was a change in the atmosphere, she felt it as soon as she entered, some people were smiling, there was a laugh, low and quick to die, but it was an honest to goodness laugh. She grabbed a tray and joined the queue, looking around to try and figure out what happened. It didn’t take long before the man in front of her, Jacob, turned around, smiling, “Did you hear? Andy is getting better!”
“That’s great! How is he?”

“He’s still weak, but they doctor said he would recover in time. Andy reckons he’ll be up and able to fix the communication issues in a few days.”
Sarah felt herself relax slightly, a tension that she hadn’t realised she was carrying left her.

“Doc was real hopeful about it too, thinks she can get some good info and support from back on Earth and we can request some supplies. They won’t get here for a while, but we’ll know they’re coming at least.”
Sarah nodded, thinking, they’d be able to talk to loved ones, the ones who stayed behind, who hoped to come on the second and third ships. It wasn’t until later that Sarah realised what Jacob had said, he’d used the words “back on Earth.” It bugged her for a short while as she lay in bed, trying to fall asleep. Then she realised, it was the first time she had heard anyone refer to Earth as something other than home. People were starting to hope again. Smiling, sleep took her.

 

Sarah paused outside the door, she could hear the yelling from down the hall, she raised her hand to knock, then on second thought just walked in, she was supposed to be here anyway, right? It took Andy a second to realise someone else had entered the room, he froze in the middle of his tirade, the man in front of him was pale and wide eyed. “Just. Just don’t do it again. All right?” The man nodded and scurried from the room. Andy took a deep breath and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Simple things. These are simple things, why is it so difficult?”
Sarah shrugged, giving him a moment to collect himself. As he did, she studied him, she had never heard Andy raise his voice, not once in the three years she had known him. He dropped his hand, he looked pale, weak, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have yelled at him.”
“I’m not the one you should apologise to.”
He grimaced, “I know, I know. I flew off the handle and I shouldn’t have. Christ. I’m just so tired and cranky the last few days.”
“Well, the doc did say you’d need lots of rest and you didn’t listen, at all.”
“This stuff needs to be done.”
“Yeah, but not at the expense of your health. Take a few hours off at least, grab some food, maybe a nap?”
Andy nodded, “Yeah, maybe. First, I’m going to go find Jacob and apologise to him. God, I was such a dick. I don’t know what the hell…I knew I was being unreasonable, but I just couldn’t stop yelling.”
“It was all the meds you were on, screwing with you.”
“It’s no excuse.” Shaking his head, Andy left the room, Sarah looked at the machines, they all seemed to be ok. Would she be needed here after all? It wasn’t like she could do this by herself, she needed some kind of direction. She looked at the doorway, wondering if she should run after Andy, then decided against it. He needed some time. She didn’t know how long he had been working, but Sarah guessed it would have been non stop once the doc let him leave the med room. Sarah took a seat, someone had to monitor the communications at all times, so she might as well do that for now.

 

Andy returned a few hours later, “Oh god, I didn’t mean to leave you here alone, is no one else scheduled?”
Sarah shrugged, “we just took it in singles because there wasn’t much we could do besides monitor it.”
“Makes sense. I’ll have to talk to Jenny about that.”

“How’s Bob doing?”
Andy grimaced, “Doesn’t look to good. I think I should start training someone else to be my assistant.”
“That bad huh?”
“I’m hoping for the best, but it’s still a good idea anyway, in case something like this happens again. If I hadn’t gotten better, he would have been able to fix it eventually, but it might have taken a few weeks rather than a day or two. Any word?”
“No, I didn’t know what was needed, so I figured I’d just wait in case of contact.”
“Good idea, I was onto them already, they’ve sent some medical info on to the Doc already and confirmed what supplies they’re going to send. We’ll be getting some meds in the next shipment, hopefully one of them will work.”
Something was off about Andy, but Sarah had decided that it was just an after effect of the illness, it had taken a lot out of him, before he had been muscular and tall, now he hunched slightly and he had a gaunt look about him. Others were starting to recover too, and no one else had started to get sick, what ever the cause it seemed to have passed. There were still restrictions in place, food was introduced carefully and prepared well, but over the next few weeks they expanded their diet successfully. Those who died were buried in a small, makeshift cemetery, a place for both friends and family to grieve when they arrived. And in time, everyone started to relax, what ever it was, it had past.

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About Alan James Keogh

I am a 24 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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