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APril Fool

N'boza Binjube straightened his charcoal suit for the fifth time while he waited on the ambassador. I hate these chigs, he thought to himself. They're never on time, and they keep you waiting just to see you squirm. As a junior assistant to the Secretary General, he was called to do all sorts of courier work, but it never quit galling him that he had worked his way up to junior flunky.

The door parted and the chig ambassador cruised past, halting just long enough to place a packet in his hand. The ambassador didn't speak or even acknowledge N'boza other than to hand him a bulky leather-like folio.After the ambassador passed him, N'boza glanced down at the package. First of all, it smelled. Literally, it smelled a little like burnt coffee or something singed. Hair maybe. On the leathery folio was a note inscribed in spidery letters "messages found on Chromis." N'boza didn't know where Chromis was, but he knew it wasn't his worry.

He made his way through the warren of offices to where Torres awaited him. His boss, Manuel Torres, gestured for N'boza to sit, then took the folio immediately into the Secretary's adjoining office. N'boza amused himself watching the Dutch pigeons mating on the ledge, noting that it seemed to be the same technique used by Congolese pigeons.

Torres returned swiftly, passing the folder back to N'boza. "Here, el Jefe says for you to read these and make a recommendation about what to do with them. Just summarize the themes and let us know if they should be released to the public."

"What are they?" N'boza was a little surprised. He was rarely allowed to do anything which required him to make a recommendation.

"Letters from some colonists. The chigs found them on a planet and returned them to us. Public opinion is a bit dicey, and with the new peace accord, we need someone to slog through them and see if they have anything inflammatory in them. Don't worry, Binjube, you'll just be doing the preliminary grunt work. You know el Jefe doesn't make decisions based on our recommendations."

N'boza felt a bit better. His first panicky thought was that this was a trick - some way of getting rid of him. "You want me to just read them and make a list of themes. I can do that. I'll mark anything that looks bad for the administration." N'boza stood.

"Good. We'll meet again Thursday at 9:00 a.m." Torres turned on the videofeed, dismissing N'boza.

Thursday morning! Shit, it was nearly lunch time on Tuesday now. N'boza scuttled down to his tiny cubicle and put a hold on his all his netfeeds. He shoved all his pending stuff over to one side and placed the folio in the center of his desk. This is not going to be easy, he thought. No matter what I do, they'll be looking for mistakes. It was really a make or break assignment.

With that in mind he opened the packet and pulled out a thin stack of white vellum pages which appeared to have been pulled from a diary or bound book. They were spotted with age and curiously discolored. Sighing, N'boza bent to his reading. When his pastrami on pumpernickel arrived, he never even looked up at the delivery boy.

January 27, 2064
I've been appointed the archivist since this diary is the only paper we have. The "we" I'm talking about is the 14 survivors of the Vesta Colony, brought here to this planet. We've been in captivity several places since our settlement was attacked last year. At one point, we were held on a planet with an inhospitable atmosphere, because we were airlocked, but we could hear sounds of machinery and what we assumed was alien speech.

It's quieter here. Where ever we are now, the atmosphere is probably pumped in, because we can hear sounds of motors and the air has a metallic smell to it. So far we have been moved from one area to the other and mostly just waited, but the bugs here seem to have an air of expectation about them, as if we are either in our final destination, or we are in a place that has a purpose to it. Yes, I know we have no proof, but it just feels that way.

We are all fairly certain there are more survivors from Vesta than are here, Charles says he thought he saw some Vestans when we boarded the transport ship, but no one knows for sure. Right now we're just hoping and praying.

Should anyone find this account I will list our numbers here:
Amy Rachel Williams, age 31
Xavier Harold, age 22
Lashirina Lequae Hinton, age 25
Milliner Thomas Busbee, age 47
Angela Renee Utley, age 24
Marion Eugene Cline, age 29
Embuke Tamboruu, age 27
Neung Pansrichakalorn, age 23
Pilar Garcia Vasques, age 34
Maya Singh Parook, age 29
Ileana Aleksyev, age 24
Charles Ian Tilghman, age 26
Ramola Van Blaetter, age 30
and myself, Charlene Kenisha Suiter, age 29.

We're all scared, but right now we don't know what to expect. I hope

January 28, 2064
They turned the lights off on me last night, so I didn't finish my thought. Right now it seems pretty unimportant. Today they got us suited up and put us to work in some kind of mine. I don't know what it is we're mining, it's just gray rock. We have some equipment, but it's still hard work.

Pilar had some sort of fit after lunch today. She fell and started convulsing. The bugs took her away and brought her back a few minutes ago. She doesn't respond, so Ileana is sitting with her. So far the food is awful, the water smells bad, and we are living in a metal box about 30 feet long and 15 feet wide. It's just wide enough for two cots and a narrow corridor. There are enough cots for 3 or 4 times as many people as we have here. Will they capture more? Who knows? These insects don't speak our language and they ignore us most of the time. We figure there's about 10 of them, armed with some sort of gun, and only 14 of us.

January 30, 2064
Last night Pilar died. She never spoke again after her fit. We don't know what went wrong but we are all scared shitless. The bugs came and carried her away as if she were a slab of beef.

Nights here are very bad. Most of us lost our lifemates in the attack on the colony, and between the grieving and the nightmares, night is not the quiet time one would expect. We are all exhausted from the work, but its hard to sleep when you hurt so bad inside.

The food is some sort of dry pellets which remind me of cat food. We have water and these tasteless pellets, and that's all we're existing on.

February 6, 2064
I have neglected writing for a while, partly because I cut my hand on a shard of rock, and partly because I've been too tired to write. We are all experiencing symptoms of depression (at least that's what Marion says). Neung has developed a raspy cough and some congestion, which worries us all.

Last night Ramola had a nightmare and started shrieking which scared the sauce out of us all. She said she dreamed that our captors had cooked Pilar and fed her to us. She said she was stirring the cauldron when Pilar rose to the top. I'm so hungry for real food that if offered stewed human, I might eat it. No. I'm sure I'd be too disgusted, but what I wouldn't give for some stewbeef over rice.

February 12, 206
Neung has gotten worse and has asked me to set down these words. "I wish to remember my beloved Chithra, who was taken away from me. My soul will always be drawn to yours. I also want to send my love to my sister and her family in Bangkok. I have no regrets about my life and have always done my best to be true to myself and my loved ones. This is all I have to say."

I will hate to lose Neung. He was always cheerful, hard-working and kind. He never spoke too much, but when he did you knew it was important to him. I once recall that one of the Aerotech drones was snappish to Chithra and Neung gave him a lecture on manners. I will always think of this when I think of Neung.

February 13, 2064
Neung died this morning. Now there are 12 of us.

February 22, 2064
We're back up to 13. The bugs, "chigs" we're told they're called, by the new addition. His name is Alistair Riddley. Alistair was on Tellus, but managed to hide out and was not captured immediately.

The work seems to be getting harder instead of easier. When we first came, I thought that we'd get used to the work and we wouldn't be so tired all the time, but it seems that I am hardly able to write anything when I get a chance. All I want to do is sleep.

My uniform is so dirty I believe it would stand on its own if I put it in the corner. Even though we put on breather armor before we go into the mine portion, I've been wearing the same coveralls since the first of January. As for my "smalls" as Ian calls them, well, I've taken to wearing them at night only so that I don't put these dirty coveralls in the bed.

Spongebaths are the only manner of cleaning, and we don't get enough water to wash our clothes, so all of us are really dirty. I would ask for more water from the chigs if I thought it would do any good, but they ignore us when we talk to them. At them I should say. Alistair popped off on one of them the other night about the food. He ranted and raved at this one bug for at least five mics and the thing just stood there and let Alistair go on until he finally wound down. Then the thing just turned his back and walked away. Then we all got the hysterical giggles. If it hadn't been so damned sad, it really would have been comical, because poor Alistair had gotten himself into such a state and the bug refused to even acknowledge our existence. So we're still here; tired to the death, dirty, hungry and feeling like we don't really exist.

February 26, 2064
I dreamed of Ari last night. He and I were making love in a huge castle room. The bed was huge and soft. Filmy drapes were drawn around the bed and there were people out there watching me and Ari. But we didn't care, we were too self-absorbed. When it was over, Ari began to cry and begged me to forgive him for leaving me. He got up and began to dress and I became furious at him for leaving. I called him a coward and jewboy, and he called me pickaninny, which used to really steam me. I was crying and cursing him so loud that I woke up almost everyone. Then I couldn't go back to sleep because I missed him so bad. I remembered when we were married the first year and lived up in the Golan Heights. I thought about how he cried when I miscarried and how we had planned to start a new family where there weren't as many terratogens. Vesta. We thought it would be a clean start, but it was really the end.

Marion says that it's normal to blame the person who dies for abandoning you. I don't know, but I've had the most overwhelming depression all day. If only he were with me to tie my cornrows and rub my feet and tell me he loves me.

March 12, 2064
Today a cave in cost us the lives of Xavier, Ramola, and Ileana. We were working as usual when there was a strange rumble, then the wall just disappeared in a cloud of dust and debris. We dug like crazy, but it was too late, by the time we found Ramola she had bled to death. I believe Xavier was crushed and died of internal injuries, because we could find no wounds on his body. Ileana had a massive head wound. She was still alive when we found her, but she died soon afterward. She asked that I pray for her.

It is hard for me to pray for anyone here. I can barely believe that God can hear me deep in the mine, but I pray before I go to sleep and sometimes I talk to God while I work. Sometimes I make up little conversations with Ari. I find these scenarios comforting. It's like he hasn't died, and I can ignore the fact that I saw him torn to pieces by shrapnel back on Vesta. This way he's not dead, and I'm not really here. It's a shame that three people who lived the best they could are only commemorated by a few penciled lines, but I'm so tired I can hardly hold my hand up to write. I will try to write more tomorrow.

March 21, 2064
This may be the last entry with a date. Marion's watch was still running until today. Now with our last connection to time and place gone, I'll try to keep tallying the days, but I don't know that I'll be able to remember which month it is for long.

We are beginning to wonder if the rock we're mining is toxic. Angela first began to notice that her hair was thinning, and now nearly all of us show some signs of hair loss. In addition, none of us women has had a period since we moved down here. Marion says it may be exhaustion and poor nutrition, but Amy and I are convinced there's something wrong with the rock.

Maya is unable to work much, and the chigs have mercifully left her alone. She has broken a bone in her hand, which has hampered her, but the worst part is that she has gone off the deep end. She talks to herself incessantly, even all night, which has caused most of us to move away from her cot. She doesn't respond to any of us except once in awhile, and then she calls us by the wrong names. Marion keeps a close watch on her, but no one can really do anything.

April 1, 2064 (I'm pretty sure)
Well, happy April Fools Day. We have nothing to be happy about here. Maya's hand is better, but her mind is not. If anything it's worse.

We talked last night about what we miss the most, and besides our loved ones, it's chocolate. We all got a laugh out of Milliner trying to explain to Alistair (the Aussie to the Brit) what oreos were. I'd love a bowl of banana pudding, or chocolate fudge ice cream (with chunks), Amy wanted brownies, and Maya chocolate soup. Embuke wished for olives, and the rest various favorite foods.

April 9, 2064 (fairly certain)
Charles has a cut on his arm which has Marion concerned. The wound seeps and refuses to heal. He says its another clue that the rock is toxic. He suggested radioactive. Marion has sewed the wound shut again, and taken out a large infected area. He's bound Charles' arm and we all hope that a few days off work will help.

April 18, 2064
This morning when we woke up Maya was gone. We have no idea where.

April 21, 2064
Charles' arm has become infected again and it may be gangrenous. Marion is afraid to amputate and afraid not to. He says in a day or so, he'll have to do something.

There are only 9 of us left now. We are all depressed and tired. Alistair has developed loose bowels this afternoon, and we hope it is a virus or something, not the rock.

Actually, we have no hope. We just exist.

May 2, 2064
Charles died three days ago. I would have written sooner, but have been sick too. I was so weak I could scarcely move. In fact the whole lot of us have been or are so sick that no one has worked in a week. As it is, I am afraid that we may lose Marion and Alistair. Alistair is delirious and running a fever and Marion is very sick also. Marion tries to get up and help the others, but it's certain that he's sicker than nearly everyone else except Alistair.

It's funny, but at first I wondered if Alistair was some sort of a spy sent by the chigs. But now I see that he was just some poor fellow caught up in this sad mess. He was a kind man and helped a lot with Charles the last day or so of his life, telling him stories and reciting poetry. From the looks of Alistair, you'd have never guessed that he knew so much Kipling and Keats, Tennyson and Triplett.

I am very afraid. The chigs have come and brought us food, but they have not cleaned up the mess here. They did take Charles away, but our bunkroom has become unbearably foul. I don't have the strength to strip the sheets, but Embuke did pour water on the floor and used the sheets off Charles' bed to push the worst of the offal to one end of the room. We survivors have migrated to the other end.

May 4, 2064
Marion and Alistair died last night. Marion never regained consciousness. I will miss him very much. He was the steady one, the doctor, and he knew a lot about people. I admit I did not know him well before this ordeal, but I came to care very much for him. I kept thinking how much like my Ari he was in temperament and how steady he was when things got tough.

Before he died, Alistair regained consciousness and dictated his story to me. This is what he had to say:

"I was born in London to a poor family. There were 8 of us kids and no money for school. In order to attend University, I signed up for the Aerotech colony ship. I figured they'd send me to school, find me a nice wife, and get me a job, and I'd be happy. Actually they did find me a nice wife. Millie was much too sweet for me, and it wasn't two weeks into the flight that I was boffing somebody else in the hydroponics bay. Still when Millie found out, she forgave me and I thought myself a lucky man. I bet if the colony ship hadn't been blown up by the fewkin' chigs, I'd have spent my life making Millie miserable. But Millie was luckier than me. She died quick when the hull was breached, while we've had to work at dying. I just wonder how much those bastards at Aerotech knew about these chigs and if they sent us off to be slaughtered. I really feel tired now, so I'll close by saying that I'd like to have 'I Only Loved Millie' carved on my gravestone. If I ever get one. I really did love her, like I never loved anyone else. ‘You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din.' I wish I could have been as good to her as she deserved. I'm tired now. So very tired."

May 12, 2064
This part is written by Milliner Busbee. Charlene is not able to write any more. She says to say she is feeling better but is still weak. I believe that Charlene is trying to make me feel better by saying this, for it is clear that she is not well. Only Embuke, Charlene, and I remain. We've only been here five months, but it has seemed like years.

The truth is that our captors have not been cruel to us, except in their indifference. They have treated us like animals and given us what animals need to subsist: food, water and shelter. It is difficult to hate them, however. One hates an enemy, but it is difficult to hate an oppressor that does not recognize that they are mistreating you. (Charlene begs to differ. She states that we are slaves and as such, she hates these chigs.) Still, there is a quality of detachment that makes it difficult for me to hold onto my hate for the chigs.

We are still human in only the loosest definition. Charlene says that we are still human and that's what has kept us sane. I, myself, wonder if we are sane. Charlene reminds me that Marion and Pilar and all the others are diminished if we become less than human. I wish I could think of something to say that would make us more noble or more memorable. I'll just say we did what we had to do. Goodbye.

N'boza walked into the room where the Secretary General and Torres awaited him. "So, Mr. Binjube, what do you think about the documents?" asked the Secretary General.

"They're heart-rending," said N'boza. "If there are relatives of these poor people I'm sure they'd want to know what happened."

"What did happen?" asked Torres.

"The chigs used 14 people as slaves to mine some sort of ore. They didn't provide the colonists sanitary conditions and the ore may have been radioactive. They died in about 5 months."

"Did the chigs mistreat them?" asked the Secretary General.

"Not precisely. There was not much recimination in these letters. The colonists thought the chigs treated them as less than human, sub-sentient."

"That wouldn't go over well in the newsnets," offered Torres.

"No. Can't let the newsnets start stirring up things," said the Secretary General. "You know what they did over that Aerotech scandal."

"So, N'boza, what do you think?" asked the Secretary General, watching him with those dark, nearly black-irised eyes.

N'boza felt the noose drop over his neck. He thought about the poor people left on Chromis and he thought about his career. There was really no decision to make. These people were dead and he was alive. That made his decision to keep being an under-flunky easier. "If it was me, I'd want to know what happened, but to tell the truth, I fear that these letters will remind people about the war atrocities. It might be best to let these letters wait for a decade or two."

The Secretary General nodded. N'boza knew he'd made the right decision. A prudent political solution. The Secretary thanked N'boza for his work, and took the folio from him. As N'boza went through the camouflaged door, he saw the Secretary General drop the first of the letters into the shredding machine.

The End

April Fool

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