Friday, September 25, 2009

Daily Story 163: Envy

When you sign on for a long-term mission you have certain expectations. You know that it's not something to do lightly; while these days off-world duty isn't a one-way trip, it's at least a five year commitment. You can get big pay for doing lab work on a miserable ball of ice, you can enjoy all kinds of luxuries on a mining platform floating over a gas giant, but those didn't interest me. I held out for something better, let my seniority and karma build up until I was top of the list. And then Jade came up for transfer.

Jade is larger than Earth but has almost the same gravity due to it's composition. The entire planet is brilliant olivine beaches and deep jungles, with perfect weather all the time. It's paradise. The pay is terrible compared to other off-word missions but you spend nothing at all on food because a quick stroll into the trees will provide you with more nuts, fruit, and vegetables than you could eat in a month. Most of the researchers go native within a week, rarely wearing shirts or shoes. The only problem has been that nobody ever wants to come back.

They've moved out of the government facility onto the beach, erecting little grass huts. I can see the 'village' from my window - it's a fantastic view, with the houses giving way to a green sand beach... beyond that the perfect ocean's cresting waves and a chain of islands that drape across the horizon like a pearl necklace. People would kill for this view back on Earth, but to me it's a slap in the face. There's no sand on my floor, it's perfect and clean as always. I don't have a tan, and I haven't sampled Jade's famous native plants. I've never even set foot on the surface.

The official response to my situation was an apology carefully worded to convey sympathy without any guilt. They pointed out that it was impossible to anticipate an allergic reaction as rare as mine seemed to be, and they could not be held responsible - after all, everyone knows off-world duty comes with risks. Since the contaminant is in the air all over the planet there was nothing for them to do but seal up my room; certainly they couldn't be expected to keep the entire facility air-tight. I've tried covering the window to take my mind off of it, to make my "three-to-five" year wait be more bearable, but even with my eyes closed I can see that perfect, idyllic hell.