The ship was always too cold, too dry. She could taste the last few centuries in the air: all the spoiled dinners and flatulence, moldering food and bodies, and beneath everything the silver-sharp fearsweat tang.
Her naked feet slapped on the metal paneling of the corridor, and she had to take care to avoid a maroon pool of dried blood. More of a creek, really, running from the open doorway of one cabin, across the hallway, and right into the cabin opposite. She always wondered how that had happened, deducing that the ship was not on a level pitch in space, though the gravity generated should have created a flat field regardless. Maybe the calibrations were off. It was a shame there was no one left alive who could fix it, although she knew that she could teach herself the necessary repairs. The people who had built the transport had taken great pains to ensure that all the systems were easy to understand, and had loaded the computers with detailed instructions on how to run things. She had studied them for years, absorbing what she had been interested in and ignoring the rest.
She had tried to learn how to repair the stasis systems, that complex network of refrigeration and life support that housed over a thousand souls. When she first woke up, alone, the onboard emergency artificial intelligence hadn’t shut up about how everything was failing, and if she didn’t do something soon it would be the end of humanity. At first she believed it, and did everything in her power to try to get the big meat lockers working again, but there were too many subsystems, and the more pressing issue of her own survival took precedence.
“SYSTEM was wrong,” she mumbled to herself as she picked her way over a tumbled drift of small cargo containers. Their arrangement, like the inexplicable blood trail, was also a mystery. Had the ship suffered an attack while the passengers slept? She had looked over every square inch of the hull using the remote drones and found no visible breaches. Then again, not all invaders blew obvious holes in their prey. Maybe they had politely knocked and, receiving no answer, simply picked the locks. If so, why hadn’t they taken anything? SYSTEM’s databases reported everything accounted for. Perhaps the ramshackle pile of boxes was just another unsolvable mystery, put there to entertain her and help keep her sanity intact. “Way too little for that,” she said to herself, and giggled.
Earth scientists had loaded the ship with everything needed to establish a livable beachhead on the target planet. Among those supplies were tons of soil and seeds. According to the learning files on exoagriculture there had been much debate over introducing native Earth flora to an alien environment, but in the end the selfish nature of conquering man had won out. There was no way to know if the new planet would be capable of supporting human life, so it would be better to bring our own gardening supplies. It was a good thing, too, since she had needed somewhere to put the bodies, and she was not about to jettison them into space. Even though she studied the airlock systems until she was certain of their function, she was unable to overcome her irrational fear of opening the outer doors. Dumping the dead into the vacuum was out, so what could she do?
The air started to taste a little cleaner, and a little greener. The dryness of it began to soften into a light humidity, then a genuine wetness. The entrance to the rotunda stood before her, a golden light spilling forth into the corridor. An insect buzzed past her ear, and she smiled at the sound.
It had taken her a week to fill the bowl of the rotunda with dirt, and though she did not keep track of how much she used to complete the Herculean task, it was a lot. How many trips had she taken with the gravlifter from the hold to the former central meeting area, dumping and turning and lifting and repeating? Only SYSTEM knew. The lighting and irrigation rigs took longer and came after all the decomposing bodies were committed to the earth. The agricultural machines helped a lot, but it was hard manual labor that she completed all alone, toiling in the guts of the silent transport a hundred billion miles from home.
She walked out onto the lush grass of the garden, her toes cooling in the perpetual dew. She scrunched them in the dirt and let out a contented sigh. The apple grove was ready for harvest, so she took up a basket from a stack near the entrance and started picking.
2015.01.14 – 2023.08.15