(c) 2012 Jamie Lackey
Personal Log: Betherin Team Xenobiologist, Samuel Mustafa
Year 8, Day 62
Jacob died yesterday.
I don’t know what to do. I never expected to be here alone. The next supply ship from Earth isn’t due for over a year, and there’s no way anyone could get here sooner than that. I don’t know how I’m going to keep from going crazy.
I miss him.
Year 8, Day 64
I have to bury him. I have to get into my environment suit and take him outside and bury him in the poisonous Betherin soil because he loved this place, and because I can’t stand the thought of packing him up like a sample.
I keep imagining him packed up, under glass like Snow White, but never waking up. I don’t think I could handle it.
I know that taking him outside isn’t a good idea. His body could have serious negative effects on the ecosystem, and our primary objective has always been to observe this planet without contaminating it in any way.
But I don’t care.
He’s never going to smile at me or hold me again. He’s never going to get that intensely curious look on his face and look out into the fern-filled forest. He’ll never figure out the puzzle that is this fascinating, dangerous planet. He’s never going to communicate with the Betherins.
I think I’m going to be sick.
Year 8, Day 65
Things have changed. I–I have no idea what to do.
I took Jacob outside last night. The thick air was still hot, even hours after dark. I wanted to bury him on the hill where we first held hands, under the then-unfamiliar stars.
It was strange seeing his unmasked face, outside. It made his death seem much more final.
It made me wonder what the air would feel like on my skin.
Carrying him wasn’t difficult. He wasn’t a big man. He used to tease me about how big my hands are. Then he’d kiss my palms. He was always so gentle when we made love.
When we came here, almost a decade ago, I would have been horrified at the thought of falling in love with another man. Especially a skinny, crazy white man. But he seduced me. No one had ever seduced me before. He liked to say that no one could resist him. I’d laugh and tell him that there were plenty of people who could resist him–I just wasn’t one of them.
I didn’t realize how lost I’d feel without him.
I took a digging laser for the grave. The soil is hard, and I didn’t want some animal scavenging his corpse, then dying because of his alien biochemistry.
I didn’t get a chance to use it.
When I left the dome, a Betherin floated up to me–the one we’d nicknamed Larry. It’s a little smaller than average–closer to the size of Jacob’s fist than of mine. Larry always seems to be watching us. The others ignore us. It was glowing pale pink in the starlight. Jacob thought pink might symbolize curiosity, so I let it examine Jacob’s body. It actually touched him with one of its feelers. It bobbed for a second, flashing pink then green then white, then it retreated back into the forest, swimming through the air like an jellyfish through water, faster than I’d ever seen a Betherin move before.
I figured that its curiosity had been sated, but after Larry left, other Betherins started to follow me as I carried Jacob. Soon, there were more bobbing behind me than I’d ever seen in one place–I counted fifty before I stopped keeping track. Their flickering light made my flashlight pointless.
When I put Jacob down to dig the grave, they swarmed over him. They formed a glowing cloud over his body, and each of them reached down and touched him with a feeler.
I froze, torn between chasing them away from my dead lover and observing their stunning behavior to record for our research. They started to pulse in time, shifting from deep purple to pale blue.
Jacob’s body started to fade–he grew transparent, and for a moment, seemed to pulse with them.
Then he was gone. It was like they had absorbed him.
The swarm started to move toward me, and I ran.
Year 8, Day 66
This morning, I found a Betherin corpse outside the airlock.
They’ve never tried to communicate with us before. They never even bothered to flash colors at us, and they certainly didn’t leave bodies on our doorstep. What about Jacob’s death changed that? And what did they do with him? What do they expect me to do with the dead Betherin? I’ve never seen a dead one before–we weren’t even certain that they died.
Maybe they learned about death from Jacob?
Jacob was the anthropologist. He would have known what to do.
I don’t know what to do.
Year 8 Day 73
I ran all of the tests on the Betherin corpse that I could think of. I’ve learned more about their biochemistry in the past two days than we did in eight years of observation. My findings are all stored in the science log. The body shows no signs of decomposition, but the air in here is much thinner and cooler than outside.
The body smells like over-ripe apples.
This morning, they brought another corpse, only this time they didn’t leave it.
They waited, hanging like a shining cloud, until I came outside. Then, they moved very slowly over to the body and and started pulsing in time, exactly like they did with Jacob. One of them, I’m pretty sure it was Larry, actually pointed at me with one of his feelers.
I think they want me to absorb the corpse they left me.
Year 8, Day 82
I don’t know how to absorb the dead Betherin. They’ve been acting so strangely since they absorbed Jacob. Does that mean that somehow, Jacob still exists inside them? If it does… if we could be together again….
Maybe I should kill myself and let them absorb me, too.
But what if that doesn’t work? I don’t want to die here. I’m afraid.
I have to figure out how to absorb it.
Year 8, Day 90
I ate it.
I actually ate the body of another intelligent being. It was rubbery and mostly tasteless, but its overly sweet stench kept making me gag. Its body was slightly smaller than my hand, but I felt like I was eating for hours. After I choked it down, I started dry heaving, but nothing came up. As far as I can tell, it shouldn’t kill me, but I feel very strange. I’m going to go lie down.
Year 8, Day 102
Somehow, eating the Betherin changed my biochemistry. I ran some more tests, and I’m not–not exactly human anymore. I still wouldn’t be able to survive outside, but the air feels too thin and I’m cold all of the time.
My body feels disconnected and misshapen, and colors look different. It’s almost like they’re words. I just spent fifteen minutes staring at my computer screen and wondering what it wanted me to wait for.
And I have strange memories–they must be from the Betherin I ate. I don’t understand most of them. Some have to be very old. There’s one with an animal that, as far as Jacob and I could tell from the fossil record, has been extinct for a thousand years. They must absorb all of their dead, preserving their knowledge through the generations.
Did they learn about Jacob when they absorbed him? Is he part of them now? Are they using his memories to guide them? Do they understand his memories any better than I understand theirs?
Year 8, Day 121
They left me another body. I ate it, too. I’m getting better at understanding them. Their memories feel almost like my own. I stand at the window and Larry floats outside and flashes at me. My hands glow now, and I can flash back.
The air is making me light-headed and I can’t keep down any of my Earth food. My skin is loosing its pigment–it looks almost transparent.
I started a dictionary of colors and their meanings. Jacob and I were right about some things, wrong about others. Color isn’t the only way they communicate. Also smells, too faint for the human nose, and light waves we can’t see. I want to translate as much as I can. Finish our work. Connect humans and Betherins. Teach us to communicate.
Words are getting hard for me. I have to concentrate to remember them. I feel like my humanity is drifting away. I’m afraid, but I can’t stop now.
The second Betherin gave me one of Jacob’s memories. It was from before I met him. He was so young–maybe seventeen–and playing the oboe in high school band. I didn’t know he played an instrument.
He wasn’t very good.
Year 8, Day 157
I absorbed Larry today. He wanted me to. Wanted to understand us, like Jacob wanted to understand them. Kindred spirits.
We met in the airlock and touched, hands to feeler. He faded into me.
Left airlock open, can’t breathe Earth air anymore. Can’t remember how to run tests, want to leave more evidence for other humans, but can’t remember. Buttons are confusing–colors don’t match function. And they’re hard to push.
Hands are thinning, getting longer. Turning into feelers.
Remember loving my hands. Jacob’s memory. Remember the first time he saw me–awkward, self-conscious, beautiful. I thought he was too pale, too intense. Almost crazy, but brilliant.
He’s with me now, in my head. Part of me, part of us. Forever.
I’m leaving now. Might still have some words when Earth ship comes. Hope so. So many memories to share.
Jamie Lackey earned her BA in Creative Writing from the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford. Her fiction has been accepted by over a dozen different venues, including The Living Dead 2, Stories from the Hearth: Heartwarming tales of Appalachia, and Daily Science Fiction. She has appeared on the Best Horror of the Year Honorable Mention and Tangent Online Recommended Reading Lists. She reads slush for Clarkesworld Magazine, and she worked on the Triangulation Annual Anthology from 2008 to 2011. Find her online at www.jamielackey.com.