And I climbed into the planet’s crust, and I took the sharp rocks into my mouth as if they were my mother’s breast, and I swallowed the red dirt until I was sated, and there I died, and there I was born again.
The colony doctor sighed. For ten days and nights he had watched the woman’s decline. The terrain she’d consumed had destroyed her digestive system, leaving her hollowed. He’d fashioned a plastic prosthetic from the replicator and sewn it into her ruined gut, but she’d need a real stomach to live. There wouldn’t be the time to grow one.
“What a waste,” he said to the nurse. “Better go change the IV.”
Even dying, the woman was happy, her mangled tongue snaking out of her smiling mouth like a strip of worn leather. Later that day, the doctor made his formal recommendation that all solo exploratory trips outside the colony’s dome should be immediately cancelled.
It was all in good fun, that’s what they said. When they dropped me in the brush I screamed in terror, for I felt the grass slide up my nose like straws, and I thought I would suffocate for sure.
But I didn’t panic long. The planet breathed for me. My eyes became the eyes of the great shaggy beasts that roam in the fields, and I saw around the whole planet, not just the dome. And I learned things, Doctor, I learned things you can’t know. Not unless you go out there yourself. I may not have my eyes anymore, but I don’t mind, Doctor. I don’t mind at all.
The boy’s bandages were thick with golden pus, seeping through like twin coins where his eyes used to be.
“Change those,” the doctor snapped to the nurse.
Even though he was blind and restrained, the boy smiled beatifically. He’d refused to name his kidnappers, the older children who had driven him out to a nearby meadow and left him there. As a result, all vehicles were put on lockdown until the colony’s eventual rescue by Central Control, estimated at three years from now. All exits were sealed, the code to trip the doors known only to the mayor and the doctor. The doctor kept the code in his pocket, a little lifeline.
Yes, that cliff, that one you can see from the window. That’s where I jumped. That’s where I flew. Yes, the exits are sealed. But I’m the mayor, so I have the code. Did you think I wouldn’t?
Yes, my body is cracked like a ripe melon. Yes, I’m technically dead. Yes, I’m speaking to you through a cerebral link. But why should that matter? I flew, Doctor. I flew.
Without the mayor, leadership of the colony fell to the doctor. His first act was to chew the frayed paper in his pocket to a fine paste and swallow it. His second was to send an emergency message to Central Control. There was no reply.
Every morning, the doctor patrolled the dome, looking for any signs. Signs of what? He didn’t know.
They were all perfectly fine, the colonists reported. All fine, except that every time the wind blew, they heard the mayor’s voice.
“Cerebral links can do that,” the doctor lied, as he realized with some uneasiness that he still remembered the code.
I heard it calling and I couldn’t say no. You don’t say no to knowledge. You don’t say no to progress.
We’re working together, the planet and me. We’re going to make this colony something better. Something wonderful. Not just some sterile pimple on its skin. It let me come back here so I could help you all see. It didn’t know what it was doing before, but it does now. With my medical knowledge and its infinite ability to heal, we can make a new life here.
Don’t say no. Say yes.
The nurse slides the dinner tray through the door of the seclusion room. The pureed food forms peaks and valleys where it was improperly blended, a miniature topographical map.
In his cell, at all hours, the doctor talks to the planet. He’d had to remove his teeth to speak the language, but through the mash of blood and enamel, he’d told her it was all right.
Three years. The nurse fingers the code written in smeared ballpoint that she’d found in the mayor’s coat pocket when his shattered body was brought back inside the dome. It’s a little lifeline.
Erica Satifka’s work has previously appeared in Clarkesworld and Daily Science Fiction, and will also appear in the upcoming Bundoran Press anthology Strange Bedfellows.