"Everything will try to kill you until something does so successfully," stated Mr. Mudder. "Let's get that straight up front and centre before we go any further, Ms. Chang."
Jess gave the grizzled man her most charming smile. "Mr. Mudder, I'm here to draw new colonists to Haven. I'm not sure that's the best rallying cry to draw citizens to the frontier!"
"So you're here to do another one of those puff-pieces?" he spat. "Haven doesn't need to draw people out here with more lies, Ms. Chang."
She looked around the landing pad, her transport already back in orbit. Sickly-looking trees flanked the short road to the colony dome itself with twisted and gnarled bushes and dingy grey mud in all directions. "A few embellishments couldn't hurt, Mr. Mudder."
"Oh?" He raised a thin eyebrow. "We'll see how you feel once the caustic rains melt the skin off your bones. Or the flesh-boring beetles burrow straight for your spine and make your corpse dance for a few minutes while they eat most of your brain. Or you get a rash from just touching a bush!"
"That doesn't sound so bad," Jess suggested tentatively.
"Ah, I forgot. You Earthers use the word 'rash' to mean something else. Here it means 'all your skin ripped off your body'. Looks like spaghetti as it gets torn-"
"Yes, thank you. Everything trying to kill me." Jess paled slightly, but stood straighter. "I have a job to do, Mr. Mudder."
The guide snorted. "Alright. Can't say I didn't try to warn ya."
Despite the dire warnings and somewhat queasy feeling at the pit of her stomach, Jess couldn't suppress a giddy sort of glee. She was on an alien world! The cutting edge of exploration and settlement! And sure, trying to help convince colonists to make the month long trip to the far reaches of the human frontier wasn't necessarily glamorous, but it was solid money.
And really, how hard could it be to convince people to embrace their inner pioneering spirit?
"This is impossible," groaned Jess as she collapsed into her bunk. Four godforsaken days of slogging through mud, of diving for cover when the acid rain poured down around them, of trees that she thought tripped her accidentally until Mudder pointed out that almost all the flora on the planet was carnivorous. The trees were actually trying to kill her as much as the insects!
"Surely not all worlds are like this?" she had declared after a mean-spirited bush had launched a six inch barb of steel-hard wood at her head, missing by the barest of margins.
"Oh no, Ms. Chang, most definitely not" Mudder had responded gruffly. "Most are much worse."
She groaned aloud and rolled onto her back. Every muscle was sore, every neuron exhausted, every nerve frayed from days spent in futility. She sought beauty everywhere they travelled: perhaps a rare flower (poison is often colourful!) or a gentle babbling brook (even acid babbles happily!), or signs of joy and laughter (maybe at a wake?).
She rolled her head to the side and saw her recording equipment, hastily deposited back in her quarters after her last excursion outside the relative safety of the colony dome. She was not the first to be sent outwards to the rim of human habitation for these sorts of missions. At least a dozen similar reports from colonies had been sent back to Earth already, each with a young man or woman extolling the safety, comfort, and ease of colonial life. But nobody was taking the bait, and the colonies were stagnating without fresh influxes of pioneers.
She sighed and closed her eyes. Maybe she could just get it out of her system.
The thought warmed her aching muscles, and she almost smiled as she set up the camera. And with the smallest flames of defiance lit within her, she recorded.
Jess was awakened rather rudely by Mudder banging on her door to direct her to the colony centre. There was a call for her on the main hyperwave comm.
"My gods Jess, what the hell possessed you!?”
Jess blinked in confusion at the face of her supervisor. "Sir? I don't understand."
The man was frantic, eyes darting in every direction. "The transmission you sent yesterday! How the hell did you come up with that as an idea?"
Jess blinked a few times at the bundle of nervous energy on the view screen. "Sir, you may have the wrong-"
"Jess, it was definitely you!" he snapped back. "I watched the whole thing this morning! They've been playing it non-stop on every news channel since you sent it!"
Jess was opening her mouth again when her stomach dropped. She had been tired last night, certainly, but she wouldn't have mistakenly have transmitted the file while she recorded it. That was the sort of mistake only caused by extreme frustration and exhaustion.
"Sir, I can explain," she said, the quiver in her voice kept down by sheer force of will. "It's just the planet is a tiny bit more dangerous than I expected."
"I should say so!" he shouted, his eyes still dancing through images off-camera. "I think you said 'a blighted hellhole, unfit for any human life whatsoever.'"
She winced. "Did I?"
"And, let me get this correct here," he pointed at something she couldn't see. "You said 'one hellish thing after another, each somehow more terrifying than the last', apparently!"
"Oh?" That was it, she realized. That was her career-destroying moment right there.
"You even uploaded footage of the plants, insects, and precipitation all trying to kill you!"
She groaned inwardly. She had, for a moment, hoped that she had dreamed that part.
"Well, nothing else for you there." Her supervisor turned to face her directly for the first time since the transmission started. "When can you be packed?"
"Right away, sir," she said from her toes, utterly crushed. She'd have to start looking for work as soon as she was back on Earth, but that was months from now.
"Excellent. The transport will be there to take you to Nova Terra in a few days."
"I-what?" She blinked. Was she being exiled? He couldn't do that, could he?
"The colonial government is offering double your usual rate, but I think we can get at least triple."
"Uh?" She blinked. Had she gone insane sometime during the last few sentences. "Sir?"
"I mean, with numbers like these," he punched a few buttons, and a graph snapped into the feed, "We might be able to get more than triple! Four thousand applications in eight hours! That's more than Haven received in three years!"
Jess blinked, barely keeping her mouth from gaping open.
"Well! I'll leave you too it! Nice work, Chang! Earth out."
Jess sat, staring at the screen, dumbfounded. The transmission she had accidentally sent to Earth was playing, and she heard the rallying cry that had already drawn thousands towards the new frontier:
"Everything is trying to kill me. Be damned if I'm gonna let it."