The sky was grey with cloud that promised rain. Marjiana eyed it with distrust as she set off down the road. She had learned to prepare for the worst. The universe was rarely kind and beneficent and one had to fight for the scraps of happiness that could be found, lest someone else steal them away.
Her side ached as she walked. It was a dull pain, one that she had grown used to over the last weeks since her injury. There was nothing else to do but become accustomed to it, for there was nothing to be done about it. The community doctor had succumbed to the rhesus virus two seasons ago. Now they made do with what little those who were left knew.
The hetman had promised a new doctor would arrive with the next ship, but everyone knew it was just something he felt he had to say. Of all of them he had to remain optimistic. Why else was he the hetman, if not for that? To lead was to believe. The rest of them, including Marjiana, focused on surviving. They knew that there was little likelihood of another ship arriving anytime soon—the greater probability by far was that none would arrive in what remained of their lifetimes—let alone one carrying a doctor.
Marjiana walked past the other five homesteads nearest her own home, each of them on its own carefully delineated half acre of terraformed land. Danjesh saw her from the field where he was busy at work and stood to give her a quick wave, before returning to the painstaking work of drawing sustenance from the poor soil. No one else was about in the fields and the surrounding houses were dark and filled with shadows. Two of them were uninhabited, the families there having passed from the rhesus fever along with the doctor. The remaining two were not empty, but might as well have been, for their inhabitants had fallen into despair and now spent their days indoors awaiting their end. The hetman came once a week, trying to stir them from their melancholy, to no effect.
Marjiana had no time for melancholy, even if her spirit had tended that way. She had mouths to feed—six ,in fact, if one counted her husband Kjessel, which she supposed she had to. Presumably he could fend for himself, but Marjiana had her doubts, based on their first five years here following the terraforming. He was an engineer and used to problems having solutions, an inner logic, and there had been little of that here so far. There had been little of anything beyond mistakes and their ill consequences, which they all had lived with as best they could. Some better than others.
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Image: Clint Westgard