The Starlark 7
Tierra del Fuego
Image from Steve Bowers

Galilei 22, 765 A.T., Atagonia Regio, Tierra del Fuego

Two more cometary impacts have passed, and we are now deep in comet winter. The skies are filled with dust and snow-laden clouds, cutting down the already weak sunlight. On the few occasions I have found time to talk to Harlan, he has complained bitterly about the terraforming process in general.

"The impacts are cooling the world down; all this cloud reflects the sunlight back into space. This world could have been left as it was, and covered in domes for agriculture and living space. All the Stevens have managed to do so far is to cut down the amount of sunlight reaching the surface; no wonder it is so difficult to grow food."

He is right, in some ways; the farm domes have to be surrounded by acres of mirrors to boost the light levels, or the crops hardly grow at all. The crops we are growing are old strains, at least two hundred years out of date. A few experimental domes are growing the strains we brought with us on the Starlark, but the Stevens insist on testing and retesting everything from our ship before they accept it for general use. They are so insular, and so suspicious of everything that they are unfamiliar with.

I know that there are other camps like ours, out on the now-snow covered plains; those camps hold other members of the Stevens family, presumably doing the same sort of work as ourselves, trying to carve the cold, sterile soil into covered farmlands. But we don't have anything to do with those other camps. I wonder if they have the same short rations as we do; a chunk of vat-grown protein, derived from mycoprotein (some workers can't eat this because of allergies, so have to subsist on other, worse fare), a potato or two, and some corn bread made from maize engineered at least two hundred years ago back on Earth.

Those of us with the Stevens implant seem to suffer from hunger pains less than those without; I wonder if it includes some kind of crude appetite suppressant routine among its functions. If it does, I suppose I should be grateful; but I have noticed that some of the Starlark colonists find the hard work and poor diet hard to bear, and increasing numbers are falling ill, finding their way to the hospital domes and to Harlan's medics. He tells me that the colonists with Stevens implants are more likely to drive themselves too hard, and therefore to find their way into his care. I wonder if the (presumed) numbing effects of the implants might be making our situation even more difficult. In any case I do try to avoid driving myself too hard, which is hard, when there is so much to do.

The director of our camp is a middle-aged Barbara Stevens, who gives her name as Cora-Swift Barbara Stevens; from this I gather that she was born on the old colony ship itself, the Swift, now converted to a space habitat in stationary orbit high above the equator. Big as it is, the old ship is a tiny spark in the sky, as stationary as the local pole star (which, for Tierra del Fuego, is the undistinguished star Zeta Lyrae). Cora often inspects the antiquated fusion generator which I help to maintain, and whenever she does she likes to hold conversations with me about the terraformation process, and sometimes about the terrible things that we witnessed back in the old system. All the Barbara clones are curious about the greater world outside Epsilon Indi, although Cora says that the other phenotypes do not share their curiosity. The Ivans are the only other Stevens who have any interest in outside matters, or so she tells me.

"So, tell me, will there be any more ships coming this way?" Cora asked me today.

"I can't honestly say one way or the other, "I told her. "About ten ships like the Starlark were being built when we left; but none of them were targeted at this star. The AI that now rules Earth, the one that calls herself GAIA, was also building arkships, bigger and more advanced than our ship; but all that seems to have stopped now, as far as we can tell. Transmissions from the Solar System faded out a hundred years ago; some say that is because the factions who owned the transmitters ran out of money."

"And what do you think?"

"I think that is one of the more optimistic theories. Who knows what might have happened back there by now. It was bad enough when we left; that is why we had to get away."

"Do you think you made the right choice?" She was standing with her arms folded, her head on one side; suddenly I realized she was copying the way I was standing. I shifted, slightly, just to test my hypothesis.

"It's not paradise, here, Cora, but we are determined to make a go of it."

She moved slightly, apparently unconsciously, to mirror me exactly. Interesting. She seems to value our conversations, and wants them to continue. For too long now our party have been treated like outsiders on this new world; if I can build on this relationship, somehow, that situation might improve all round.

Steve Bowers

Episode 6