Sunday, 31 March 2013

Bob committed suicide.

I went to his room. I knocked, but there was no answer. I left him alone yesterday; I was worried today. He'd hanged himself from the grill over the light. His leather belt looked like it might break.

I left him.

I went to Xi's room. I knocked; she didn't answer. I knew she was there, though. I could hear her crying. I don't know if she's seen Bob. Sometimes she just cries.

I haven't done anything with the body. I can't face it. His eyes bulge from their blackening sockets. I need to tell the base, so they can send someone. It's unsafe to have less than three people here. I can't face that, either. I can't face anything.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

No sign of Bob. He's spent all day in his room. Probably sleeping. I doubt he slept while he was in The Sick Land. His dedication is impressive; he took a big risk getting that sample.

I've been to the lab twice to look at Bob's specimen. Though it's in the freezer, it's shrinking. Mal stuff can't survive outside The Sick Land. The deeper the origins, the faster the decay. It's almost the reverse of what happens to regular stuff in The Sick Land. Stuff like people.

I had a good talk with Xi today about people in The Sick Land. One of her interests is a local tribe. They've retained some of their oral culture; several of their myths describe interactions with a people who lived in the Green Zone. They talk about men with gigantic right arms. It's fascinating stuff, although the veracity is similar to that of other tribal legends. Xi's passionate discussion of her research really cheered me up.

I'm optimistic about the coming months. Xi and Bob will both leave, but there'll be new researchers. Hopefully we can do something special.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Bob was back just before dark. Lock down was half an hour away when I heard the Jeep.

I went up to the entrance; Bob's Jeep was back and didn't appear to be damaged. He'd used his night kit, too. There was no sign of Bob there.

Bob was in the lab. He was grey faced, loading a sample into the freezer. I couldn't see what it was. He finished and came toward me without looking up. When he got to the doorway, he pushed past me and into the lift. I went down and checked Bob's room. He'd locked himself in and wasn't responding. I went back up.

In the lab, I had a look at his specimen. It was definitely mal. It looked like a bulbous white fungus. It had been slit open, presumably by Bob. Inside were three teeth.

I'm pretty sure the fungus was what Bob saw in the Yellow last time we went out. I hope he wasn't exposed for too long. I guess I'll find out.

Thursday, 28 March 2013


Bob is missing.

When I got up, Bob had gone, along with a Jeep and a load of kit. It's after dark now; he isn't back. If he hasn't returned by dark tomorrow, we have to inform the base.

I don't know if he's gone to get his specimen, or driven back to civilisation. They lose a few researchers a decade like this. They go AWOL. Some turn up at the base, or at home. Some don't turn up at all. Researchers have come back after multiple nights out. It has happened. Maybe the desertions are a subtle effect of The Sick Land. Or maybe researchers go stir crazy, cooped up in a tiny bunker with only two other people to talk to.

I knocked on Xi's door when I couldn't find Bob. She didn't answer. I know she's there, though. It's weird being here on my own. I feel like the lights are flickering more. The pipes that run by the side of my bed sometimes sound like they're speaking. I catch an odd word, but when I listen fully, it's just the sound of pipes.

I hope he comes back.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Deep Green

Today was a bad day.

We took the jeeps deep into the Green Zone. We were in radio contact; Bob kept urging me to go farther. I felt fine, so I followed him. We got in sight of the edge of the Yellow. I started to get vertigo and stopped my jeep. Bob carried on.

He kept a running commentary as he got closer and closer to the Yellow. I was feeling sick, and wasn't really paying attention. He saw something ahead of him. It was definitely in the Yellow, not the Green, and he wanted it. He asked me if I minded him going into the Yellow. He said it could be the start of a promising branch of research. My condition was deteriorating; I said I'd prefer him not to go in.

We had an argument over the radio, me parked a hundred yards back. He was adamant. In the end, I threatened to go over his head. He relented. We drove back in silence, apart from his occasional complaints about the paucity of his specimens.

Back at station, I went straight to bed. Bob's not speaking to me.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

We spent this morning working on the jeeps. We're going to drive one each as a redundancy measure. In the afternoon, we packed and loaded two sets of field equipment. We've even included a couple of bicycles in case of a double mechanical failure in the Green Zone.

What we've done is over the top for a trip into the Green, even one with only two researchers. I hope it's because Bob is trying to reassure me after our night in the open. But maybe it's because he's planning on going into the Yellow if he sees a nice specimen; it's completely against the rules.

I'm not sure I want to go into the Yellow. I can refuse to go. But Bob is frantic. If I don't go with him, he might go alone. Then there wouldn't be anyone there to help him if he got in trouble. I have to go.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Bob wants to go to the edge of the Yellow. He's worried about his research; he thinks they're going to take Xi and then immediately come back for him. He doesn't have the results he wanted.

I'm concerned about going back out. Bob is agitated, and might be careless. If we go, and the jeep breaks down, we can't push it back. We'd be in the middle of the Green Zone at nightfall. People have survived before. People have disappeared before.

I had a horrible dream last night. A small deer was eating grass by a road. The road was cracked and covered in dead weeds. The deer's front leg was a black needle, jointed in ten places. I didn't scream; I also didn't sleep.

Sunday, 24 March 2013


We got stuck in the Green Zone yesterday. We'd headed out to get some more samples. The jeep broke down about ten miles from the station.

Equipment breaks down in The Sick Land. It's okay in the Green Zone, normally, as long as the technology isn't too sophisticated. Laptops don't work where we broke down. Jeeps can sometimes go around the outer Yellow, but not much farther.

We spent a couple of hours trying to diagnose the problem, but couldn't find anything. We thought it was probably just the Green. We pushed the jeep three miles toward the station. Then it started.

It was too late to get back in the station. The building is automatically locked when it's dark outside. We tried to sleep in the jeep. Nothing went wrong. I snatched a few moments, but had terrible dreams.

Friday, 22 March 2013

The relief is coming in two weeks. Xi is going. There isn't another relief scheduled yet, but they've told Bob it'll be soon.

He's convinced he needs mal from the Yellow. He wants to take a trip out to the fringes to look at potential sites. I'll go with him. We can enter the Yellow when the new recruit is here.

Xi is happier now. She opened up to me about how much she hates the life here. She said she dreams about The Sick Land. Although her academic career has been mal anthropology, she's planning to leave the field. She doesn't want to think about it for the rest of her life.

I can relate to her view. There's something different about being here. It makes you look at the research with new eyes. A lot of the stuff they've found out is horrible. When it was just pages in a book, I don't think I even noticed.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

I felt okay today. Not like before. Bob thinks I'm acclimatising to the Green Zone. I asked him  about going near the Yellow Zone. He wants some more research material before he goes, the deeper the better. Since Xi won't come out, the deep Green is the best we can do.

Bob and Xi had a long discussion about the relief. She wants to take the next place out. Bob wants to get more research done, but I get the impression he wants away from The Sick Land. I think he's going to be a gentleman and let Xi go, assuming they can arrange another relief for soon afterwards.

If Xi does get relieved, we need to organise a trip out to the Yellow Zone with the new recruit before Bob goes. You never know how you'll react to the mal in the Yellow; if three first-timers all went at once, it could be a disaster.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

We went deeper into the Green Zone.

Bob took some samples of mal cases. I get the impression his research isn't going well. He needs something to put in a paper when he gets back.

There's little animal life in the Green Zone. There are animals that have lived in The Sick Land for enough generations that they die if you remove them. Evolution provides wonderful solutions, even when the problem space keeps changing. Those animals don't like the Green Zone. There are also animals that hover on the fringes, constantly prone to mal. They don't tend to come this deep. All I've seen is a bird. I couldn't tell what it was.

Bob snipped some grass. He showed it to me, but the mal just looked like the black of dying grass. He also found a bush with some desiccated berries. They didn't look mal to me; he said it was the seeds inside that were wrong.

I didn't feel too bad when we got back. I'll see if we can go near the Yellow Zone. I'd like to take some pictures.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013


My area is the taxonomy of The Sick Land. It's an umbrella field, poorly regarded in the community; viewed as something of a hodgepodge.

It's easy to explain the central aim of our program, and its central problem. We want to organise all aspects of the mal. The problem is that The Sick Land doesn't, as far as we can see now, follow any rules.

The grounding assumption of science is that nature is reliable. You may not understand it now, but you assume there are principles behind the apparent randomness. Chomsky gestured toward it with his problem/mystery distinction. A problem is something that can be solved; a mystery is forever resistant to human inquiry. Obviously, you can't ever know whether something's a mystery or merely an unsolved problem.

We mal taxonomists work on the assumption that The Sick Land is a problem, governed by laws that are comprehensible to humans. In that sense, we're like all other mal researchers. However, they only make claims about small, local domains. Bob might say, for example, that a given problem to do with mitosis in a certain type of mal structure can be solved. We taxonomists claim that the global problem can be solved: The Sick Land is tractable to human intelligence. We've had little in the way of results. I'm the first taxonomist to get a research post for years. I'm hoping I can make a difference.

We're heading out again tomorrow, and farther.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Felt better today. Bob said we can go back out soon. I'm looking forward to it.

I've been reading about the expansion of The Sick Land. Mal geologists and paleontologists have studied the Green Zone and shown that it grows on a geological scale. It advances about an inch a decade. They can't study this stuff in the Yellow Zone, so they don't know how consistent it is over history.

The expansion is slow enough that there's no need to worry. The Sick Land is miles away from anywhere; it'll still be miles away ten lifetimes from now. They've been trying to get a fix on the advance, but with the effect the area has on technology, it's not working. I think they try to keep the expansion quiet to prevent panic. People don't really understand the distances involved.

I've been here for a while now. It's time to start getting on with some research.

Sunday, 17 March 2013


I spent the night throwing up.

The Sick Land does something to the balance in your gut, affects your inner ear. Most people are ill the first time.

I'd hoped that I'd be one of those cases, someone with ancestry, who can go into the Green Zone without adverse effects. They get the most out of their research. They get into the Yellow Zone quickly. Stanovich, one of the giants in our field, got specimens from the outskirts of the Red Zone. He died, but he put mal science forward by a decade.

I'll adapt. Bob told me that Sergei, the last guy here, had terrible sickness. He was so sick the first time, they nearly had him airlifted to hospital. But he got over it. Xi was okay, apparently. She felt nauseated, but she wasn't sick. Bob and Sergei rushed her into the edge of the Yellow. Maybe that's why she won't go out again.

We've spoken, now. She's nice enough. She's adamant about running out the clock. It's frustrating, as you need three researchers to go past the middle of the Green. Maybe she'll come around, or get her transfer. I'm not ready yet, anyway.

When I did sleep, I dreamed about pink against bark.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Green Zone

We headed into the Green Zone at eight o'clock.

We suited up in the garage. There's no evidence that haz suits protect you from the mal, but at least you know you haven't accidentally ingested anything.

We took one of the bashed-up jeeps. Bob drove. Xi didn't come. She hasn't left the station for weeks.

As we entered the Green Zone, the scenery changed. There was less plant life; even the grass was patchy. Along the outskirts, where the Green Zone is new, there are diseased  trees and shrubs in the process of dying. This sort of death isn't strictly mal, it's just a side effect of The Sick Land.

After we'd been driving around for twenty minutes, Bob asked me how I felt. I said I was fine. He asked if I wanted to see some mal. I didn't want to. I said yes.

Bob drove the jeep deeper into the Green Zone. He told me that he'd found a tree with mal symptoms. It was much further out than would be expected. After about five minutes, I saw it. It looked like an oak, but I'm no expert on trees; I don't know if oaks even grow around here.

We got out, and Bob showed me the mal he'd identified. The symptoms were mild, but distinctive. A pink, fleshy tendril hung from the bark. It was small, no more than four inches long and about a quarter of an inch thick. It hung there, dead.

I asked Bob if we could go back. 

Friday, 15 March 2013


Station Alpha is a concrete bunker. It has an entrance level and three underground floors. Bob gave me the grand tour. Xi won't leave her room at the moment.

The entrance level is just a garage and a lift. There are three jeeps and a couple of snowmobiles. None of them are in good repair, but we all do a course in automotive maintenance, so we're okay for simple problems. Bob told me they have a huge tank of diesel. It hasn't been filled up while he's been here.

The first floor (I've quickly got into the habit of numbering the floors as if the bunker goes up, rather than down) is the lab. There's a lot of equipment, old but good quality. They have huge stocks of chemicals. It's not my area at all; Bob says it's good enough.

The second floor is the living quarters. They're pretty grim. Like everywhere else in Alpha, the walls and floor are bare concrete, the lights flickering tubes behind rusty grills. It's a nightmare to change the bulbs, apparently. There's a sparsely equipped kitchen, a huge pantry full of canned food and bottled water, a communal area (with a rug and a sofa), and a 'gym'. The gym is a small, square room. Inside is a weight bench with no padding, a bent bar, some rusty plates (none of which match), a skipping rope, and a Soviet-era exercise bike.

The bedrooms are on the third floor. There are five identical rooms. Three are occupied. They're cold and damp and Spartan. At least they have the internet here.

We're planning my first trip out into the Green Zone. I'm petrified.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

First Day

I've spent the day being shown round Alpha by my two new colleagues. Alpha generally has three researchers; the guy who'd been here the longest, Sergei, left two weeks before I arrived. Apparently, he'd been here for nearly two years, and left without any signs of mal. Of course, that doesn't mean anything: once you've been exposed, you can succumb at any point. But I suppose it's a good sign.

The current senior guy, Robert McCain, has been here fourteen months. He's due to be relieved as soon as they find a suitable candidate. He's tall and gaunt, with a blonde beard. He got his PhD at the University of British Columbia in mal cell biology; he was quite pleased when I said I'd read one of his papers.

The other researcher is Xi Jin. She arrived six months ago. She doesn't seem to be taking it too well. She won't leave the station, and she's requested a transfer. Xi's an anthropologist studying human occupancy of The Sick Land in prehistory. Xi is small. She looks ill.

I'll go through the tour tomorrow. I haven't recovered from the flight.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The flight was uncomfortable, but that's to be expected. I'm a poor flyer.

We flew into a military airbase after five hours in the air. My bags were loaded into a muddy Land Rover, which took me on the four-hour drive to station Alpha.

Alpha is a square, concrete bunker on the border of the Green Zone*. It looks like it was built during communism; as I remember, it was. The Soviets were very interested in weaponising The Sick Land. They didn't get far.

When I arrived, I was basically pushed from the Land Rover. The driver threw my bags out and sped off. The locals are superstitious about The Sick Land.

I went to the entrance, where a voice told me to decontaminate. It wasn't pleasant. Since I know the decontamination doesn't, can't, have any effect on mal, I assume they were hazing me.

I've been assigned a cell three floors down. It's got a bed, a chair, a desk, and a computer. Nothing else. They told me they've been having problems with their connection; hopefully this will post.

I'll say a bit more about my colleagues tomorrow. I'm tired after the journey.

*Green zone - The outer edge of The Sick Land. It's the least affected area, and represents the beginning of the mal. There's evidence that prehistoric people lived in and around the Green Zone; I'll post more on its history at a later date.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Last day


Tomorrow I leave!

I'm excited to have the opportunity for field study; these positions are few and far between, and I'd like to thank my supervisor, Professor Grant Ramirez, for sponsoring my application.

I've set up this blog as a diary come research log. I hope to update it as often as possible. I've been assured that the station has internet access; given its location, the service is obviously intermittent.

I'll also use the blog to talk about all things mal*; I hope to bring together as many disparate strands of research as I can.

Mainstream discussion of The Sick Land is hard to come by. I hope that, as a researcher in this area, I can help disseminate information pertaining to this fascinating area and its history.   

My next post will be sent from station Alpha!

* Mal - Of or pertaining to The Sick Land. I'll try to keep the academic jargon to a minimum. Nobody wants to read that.