Our parents are dead. Most of the original colonists to this world, more than twenty years ago, are dead or dying of this mysterious virus that struck without warning.
The older a victim, the more prone to mutate in pain and die quickly. The younger the victim, the more prone to fall into a deep sleep--and die mutating. Those who have advanced into the chrysalis stage are still alive, and they were pre-adolescents when they came to this alien world. At least, I think they are still alive. Who can tell until the chrysalis opens and releases its prisoner?
Do they have a chance? Time will tell. But time races against us. We lost eight people the first day.
Until this morning, I thought our parents would survive untouched. They're the head scientists. The leaders of our colony. King and queen of a new world.
I am a silly child to have such a hope. Why should an alien virus respect the king and queen? We are all invaders.
How long until my generation, born here, falls ill?
The only time we can determine who's still alive or mobile is when we gather the day's crop of dead in one mass grave. Our people have scattered to their homes, hiding behind locked doors, afraid that close quarters will spread the virus.
What virus rewrites the genetic code so easily, so rapidly?
There are only eight in our house now. My seven brothers and me. The silence is horrific. Less than a week ago, this house was the seat of government, our schoolhouse and social hall. It bustled at all hours of the day, full of people accessing the lab or discussing literature, making plans for the future. What future now?
Everyone not born on this planet is dead.
How could it happen so quickly? What caused it? I live in the laboratory now, trying to find an answer.
I'm nineteen years old. My biggest problem should be coaxing my brothers to do their chores or if I should let Jonas or Teryl be my sweetheart. I once thought it unfair that I'm the only female of twenty-seven children born to the colony.
Such griping is too petty now.
Other colonies reached this world decades and centuries before us. Slow travel doesn't matter in cold sleep. I wonder now about the fate of those colonies. Mother's journals record repeated attempts to contact our predecessors. All met with silence. Mother blamed politics and isolationism. After all, everyone came here fleeing the galaxy-spanning war. Our colony was formed of scientists who wanted to pursue knowledge for the sake of knowledge, rather than to build bigger and nastier means of destroying our fellow Human beings.
Are those other colonies dead, attacked by the same virus and mutations that killed our elders?
Are the strange creatures we've glimpsed through the years their survivors, mutated to the point they lost their humanity?
The twins, Gerard and Heinrich are ill.
Benedict and Dominic are sick. Gerard and Heinrich have gone into the chrysalis stage.
Calvin wanted to cut into a chrysalis, to see what's happening inside the white film. Ethan dragged him outside and pounded him bloody.
Gerard's chrysalis is hard, yet as delicate as eggshells.
What is happening to my brothers? Who is next?
Ethan and Francis sleep now. Benedict and Dominic are in chrysalis stage. By lunchtime, there were six chrysalises in the sick room.
Time works against us.
There's only Calvin to help me take care of everyone.
Calvin is asleep and mutating. His hair looks like white feathers. His eye sockets have widened and his head is elongating. I went to wake him for breakfast and found this creature in his bed.
I felt no fear when I moved him into the sickroom. He was no longer my brother, just an interesting specimen.
Did the others change before they went into chrysalis stage, but I simply wasn't there to see it?
I took blood and skin samples, but what do I do with them, besides watch the mutation progress at the cellular level?
To whomever may find this journal:
My name is Aileen Conqueston. Oldest daughter of Dr. Ian and Dr. Andromache Conqueston. Everyone, starting with Papa, calls me Princess. I was the first child born here, their symbol of hope for a bright, free, safe future.
I will be twenty years old in sixty-three days.
I don't think I'll live that long.
My brothers: Benedict, Calvin, Dominic, Ethan & Francis (twins), Gerard & Heinrich (twins).
They're mutating inside enormous eggs, as fragile as the spun glass Trevor Calross's father made as a hobby.
If they follow the pattern I saw on Calvin, they all have big eyes and long necks. White, feathery hair covers their bodies. Membranes stretch between their arms and sides.
I fear they'll end up looking like the graceful water birds my parents called swanns, after the Old Earth swans. I wonder if all the swanns we've ever seen and could never study are Humans mutated from the silent colonies on our world.
I'll know soon, because my hair has turned white. My menses were due ten days ago and haven't come. I thought it was the stress, but I think it is part of the mutation. I started to cry, and realized that I had no voice left. With no one to talk to, how would I have known?
My senses have turned hyper-acute. Every sound, smell, taste, texture can be painful, or a pleasure so intense it throws me into a daze. Either my mutation is different, or I am losing my mind from the solitude.
How soon until I sleep?
My hair is taking on a feather-like texture and structure. When I fall asleep, what hope do we have?
Sometimes I wonder if I truly want to find a cure. I have nightmares where I cure myself but can't reverse the damage to my brothers, our friends, the pitiful remainders of our colony. I went around the colony yesterday, checking every house and lab and found no people. Only people-sized eggs.
Why would I want to spend the rest of my life alone?
I'm so furious I could scream. If I had a voice.
I've discarded all sense of privacy. I go into every laboratory and read the journals and logs, to keep busy and find some clue to help us. Instead, I found the explanation.
Timoto Carr brought this curse down on us. He violated laws of common decency and the articles of colonization. I'm glad he's dead, but I'm angry he's dead, because I want to pound him until there's nothing left but a grease spot on the floor.
Carr killed a swann and captured others for study. He deconstructed their genetics, and found a 'piggyback' DNA strand attached to the main structure, encased in introns to keep it inactive. He unlocked the introns, the junk DNA we all have in our bodies, and released the genetic code-rewriting virus.
It's against the articles of colonization to experiment on any living creature. It's against the articles of colonization to manipulate genetics without the knowledge and approval and oversight of the Colony Council. My parents never would have approved such work. Mother made the swann the symbol of our colony and declared it protected.
Carr released the virus into our colony. It struck his wife first and he did nothing but watch. His journal says he believed he would have plenty of time to reverse the damage. Carr was among the first to die. Justice, I suppose, but not enough.
He has cursed us. And there is nothing in his notes to give me a clue how to find a cure.
This planet has struck at us. It is justice, I suppose, but unusually cruel. If there is justice, could there be mercy? If mercy, a cure? But I have no idea where to look.
I think I've found it.
Yesterday, I tended the garden. Maybe it was a waste of energy, but I had a need to make our house look nice, for those who find it after we have all turned into swanns.
I spent nearly three hours pulling up weeds. Huge nettles pierced my gloves, filling my hands with their needle-fine stickers. Hives covered my body by nightfall. I itched all night. And when I woke up this morning, my hair was normal.
It's still white, but no longer a mass of feathers.
Something in the nettles set off a chemical reaction in my bloodstream. That has to be the answer.
Too bad it wasn't strong enough to give me my voice back.
In my anger and discomfort, I burned all the nettles before I went to bed and nearly choked on the thick clouds of smoke just a handful produced.
There are no nettles left in the garden. I've searched the colony. Few of us had gardens and everyone else was a much better gardener than me.
There's nothing left to do but go out and hunt for nettles. Thank goodness it's early spring.
But how can I leave my brothers?
Day 22 continued
I won't have to leave my brothers. They've left me.
There is nothing in their beds but broken eggshells that turned to dust when I tried to take samples.
I don't want to stay here, alone.
I'm going to check the rest of the colony. If everyone is gone, their shells broken, I'll leave.
When I find more nettles, I'll have to go swann hunting.
What I'll do after that, I don't know. I'll figure out the dosage and delivery vector when the time comes.
Is there any hope that something remains of my brothers, inside their new bodies, wherever they've gone?