Tomorrow she would visit the graves. The jungle had almost completely overtaken them, covering the markers she made with a green haze of moss and undergrowth. The crash site, too, was being consumed little by little, and she was certain that once she died--and she would die here, alone, of that she was certain--the jungle would claim the tree house she built, and all her specimen jars and pots and hand-written notes from after the compad finally gave up the ghost. Ten years, maybe twenty. Then there’d be no sign anyone ever set foot on Verdigris.
Fourteen graves. Fourteen graves for the men and women of the doomed expedition ship, the Ranger. Sent out after promising spectographics lured them to a lush and green planet unlike anything Miranda had ever seen, apart from the images of old Earth. When mankind poisoned that world, they eked out hardscrabble lives in the shells of asteroids. or on airless or toxic planets, every colony a testament to human ingenuity, to persistence in the face of hardship. Then, it seemed as if there would be a place for them, a world where not every battle need be so hard-fought. An Eden. A paradise.
Only it hadn’t worked out like that. Something in the air, a bacteria, reacted immediately to the biology of the Ranger crew. Only Miranda was immune. Miranda, and the ship’s dog, Achilles. One by one she nursemaided fourteen souls to their deaths. Terrified, saddened, pleading, angry, desperate souls.
She was beginning to forget them. Little by little. Details at first, minor discrepancies. Did Sung wear his hair like that, or like this? What color were MacBride’s eyes? They were blurring, one by one, one into the other.
At first she kept busy, if only to ward off the loneliness, the terror. She would catalog everything. She found--she thought, though she was a botanist and not a bacteriologist--the culprit responsible for the deaths of all her friends. In her notes, should they survive her, would be the answer future colonists would need.
Future colonists. Surely, though Ranger had failed, the allure of Verdigris was too great. Someone would send another ship. And maybe that ship would be luckier, less reckless. They would have her notes. Everything they needed to know.
She lay in bed watching the moonbirds circle. Achilles slept soundly. All of that, the landing, Sung’s ill-advised helmet removal, the first signs of disease, the later deaths, all of that was five years ago. In that time, Miranda wandered far and wide across this planet. It was full of strange plants and strange creatures. Moonbirds and whistlefish. iguana-like belching hulks. Flowers that bloomed one color one day, another the next.
This was their planet. The conviction seeped into Miranda as slowly and subtly as drip water through a cave, eroding the person she thought she was. Lying in that bed she was coming to an unthinkable resolution.
She had enough spare parts, she could repair Ranger’s beacon. She could leave them a message. She could tell them all about the bacteria, how to inoculate themselves. Or she could tell them to leave, that this planet was poisoned, cursed. Perhaps they wouldn’t listen. Perhaps by the time humans returned here, the beacon would have long since failed. But Verdigris did not belong to humans, to do with as they did Earth. And she had to do something.
Rising from her makeshift bed, she got to work.