Chapter 17.
The expedition was not entirely fruitful, but the journey was pleasant. Jack and Vad went walking with backpacks, accompanied by about twenty of the colonists.
None of the children were allowed to come with them, because there might be unexpected hazards. The ground might be unstable, because nobody had walked on it in millenia; there might be deadly plants, waiting to cast deadly spores on passers-by; the insects might attack them. And of course, there was only so much room on the ground shuttles. The Sieve's large shuttles could have carried the group there, but that would have spoiled the whole feeling of adventure. And they did have a lot of spare time while the colonists set themselves up.
None of these problems arose. Illana and Brendan were with them and examined plants all along the way. All were harmless, though none were edible. The insects proved to be without stings, and did not bite. In fact, they proved to be fearless, as they had not encountered any other species. By the end of the day's expedition many of the explorers had a pet insect, ranging in size from that of a small mouse to a small cat, clinging to their clothes. Their backs were sufficiently like fur to be able to be patted and stroked. The numbers of insects were down from the colony. It was noticeably colder here, and the explorers wore insulation.
The first structures came unexpectedly. There were no paths through the undergrowth, and the group was hacking through heavily overgrown areas with machetes, when they suddenly came across a sheer wall of metal.
The obvious thing was to work along the wall, but nothing was found. There was no break, no imperfection. And it was round, curving gently but perceptibly behind the brush as they cleared it.
Eventually they came across an area that was clear, and they could look at it. This left them little the wiser, as it appeared that the wall simply went on forever, with no indentations to mark possible entrances.
"Stand back," said Jack eventually. "I'm going to do a little clearing."
He took out a stunner, and aimed it at the ground.
"Be careful it's not set to kill!" advised Brendan. "We had something funny happen yesterday."
"I know," said Jack grimly. "Funny was not the word. However, Mister Bliss has examined all the weapons since. At the moment, though, I want it strong."
He fired a sweep, and the ground flew up in a cloud. A few centimeters below the ground was revealed a flat metal surface, the same as the walls, with a raised ridge running in what seemed a straight line.
"The ground seemed so flat," said Jack. "I had a hunch."
"What is it?" asked Vad.
"My guess is that it's a runner," replied Jack. "I think those edifices slide along those grooves. If these are some sort of doorway, the people who lived here must have been huge!"
"Some sort of aircraft hanger?" said Vad. "Vertical take-off craft?"
"Possible," agreed Jack. "Let's go on."
"While we are here," said Vad, "Let's see how impervious this wall is."
He drew his stunner, and set it at its highest cutting temperature. He aimed at the wall, and let it burn for a half minute. When they examined the result there was a hole, about ten centimeters deep.
"So, it can be penetrated," said Vad. "But it's pretty tough. Only a little hole after thirty seconds of intense fire."
"We don't know how thick the walls are," remarked Anders. "They could be a meter or a kilometer."
"They must be pretty thick," offered Vad. "They're holding up huge walls."
They enjoyed the walk, but learned little more. The walk had taken the greater part of the day, which was about fifteen earth hours, with an equal time for night.
When they returned they all sank into chairs gratefully, and thought about the muscle soreness they would have next day. Vad had become enthusiastic.
"I'd like to come out in a flyer," he said, "and have a look at the top of those things. There has to be a way in."
"How about now?" asked Anders Yerrow. "We have a flyer here."
Vad responded enthusiastically, and the two walked over to the flyer, and were quickly off.
"Where do they get the energy?" sighed Felicia Yerrow. "I hope they get back before dark."
"Commander Arres can look after himself," said Jack. "I hope they find something!"
But they did not. The flyer soared up about three hundred kilometers and found the top of the building to be flat, featureless metal. From their perspective it was impossible to see exactly what shape the buildings were, but they seemed to go uninterrupted to the horizon. Buildings seemed to slot into buildings without any openings. They were unable to get out and wander around, as they had not brought insulated space suits. The air at the top of the edifices was negligible in quantity.
They enjoyed the flight, but on their return Vad was bubbling with curiosity.
"It has to have a purpose," he said. "It was made, but what for? Why have a whole city of thousands of square kilometers that you can't get into?"
"It only needs one entrance," said Yerrow. "We just haven't found it yet."
"But why?" asked Vad in irritation.
"There are possibilities," said Jack. "I can think of some, but they are entirely speculation."
"For example?" asked Vad.
"The beings who lived here could not breathe this atmosphere. They created a city completely hermetically sealed."
"With their level of technology, why not terraform the planet?"
"Well, strictly, terraform means to make like earth, but I understand your meaning."
Don't be so pedantic! thought Vad, as Jack went on, "The argument against that, of course, is that they turned the rest of the planet into a huge garden, with an atmosphere that we can breathe. The planet could not have evolved the way it is naturally."
"What of the theory that it may be natural?" asked Felicia. "Perhaps some great catastrophe destroyed all the animals above the insects."
Brendan and Illana were in the room, which was a large community meeting place. They had been paying more attention to each other than the convesation, but now Illana broke in.
"But there are no organisms below insects either! There are parasitic forms that the insects probably brought with them, but no single-celled animal forms in the rest of the biosphere, no microscopic animals. If the insects could survive a catastrophe, so could bacteria. This place has to be artificial!"
"It is a great mystery," said Jack, "but I fear it may be ultimately insoluble. I begin to doubt that you will have a great deal of traffic in archaeologists or tourists, if they are unable to get into the buildings at all!"
The colonists looked crestfallen, but Brendan said, "It may not matter."
They looked at him.
"This place is a paradise for subsistence farming," he said. "There are whole oceans of water without a dangerous organism in them. The sea is salty from run off from the rivers, but there are no fish. We can bring some in when we work out what we want. The unique thing is that there's no ecology to destroy. The entire land mass is fertile and has a reliable rainfall. For a farming community, it seems a very pleasant place to stay."
"There are also good minerals in the ground," said Vad. "We have been doing our own survey, as Furr's records seem to have been altered a bit."
"There may still be a fly in the ointment," said Jack. "Mister Smart seems to think there may be some sort of instability inside the planet. He has been investigating."
"An instability?" Anders was perturbed. "We understood that the planet was very stable. In fact, that may be a long term problem."
"Why a problem?" asked Illana.
"Because without tectonic activity erosion will gradually flatten the landscape, and rainfall will decrease. Still, there is so much water surface on the planet it should not be a problem, and it's a very long-term problem."
"Still, I will find out what Mister Smart has discovered later," said Jack. "In the meantime, I think I will have a look at what you have done here so far."
"By all means," said Anders. He and Felicia jumped to their feet, and accompanied him around the settlement.
Those who were staying permanently were already in completely established homes. At the moment they had a sameness about them, because they were made from the same materials, walls rolled out automatically from surprisingly small machines, and fitted invisibly together, struts invisible between them, roofs in single layers.
The main differences were in layout, which varied with the size and constitution of each family. Not a lot of the families had children, but a lot consisted of married couples intending to have them soon.
For the moment they had set up in a close community, but eventually they would spread out, when the land was understood better. A few individuals had already chosen to be somewhat distant. Eventually, when they had their farms, these houses would be folded up and transported there, and then would begin to fill up with the belongings that would make them homes, and other homes would be built from the native materials. The local plants and trees were inedible, but their decomposition products had still made the ground fertile, and their wood would make excellent timber.
For the moment everyone lived in a plastic home, but soon the handymen would have wooden and brick structures. When visitors began to arrive, bigger shops would appear. With only a hundred people in each community it was a bit early to start thinking about newspapers or entertainment media, although these would soon appear. For the moment a few subspace video centers would service the whole community.
Jack savored the atmosphere of a new, enthusiastic community, with everyone moving about, building, organising, creating. The children were running about, where they were not helping, making a healthy noise in an open environment. Something, he realised with a momentary pang, that they could only do in the Sim aboard the Sieve. Was the Sieve a good place to raise children? He dismissed the thought as irrelevant. Children who lived there had to be raised there. There were worse places.
He thought briefly about Celeste Moulton, the real one. She had not been happy aboard the Sieve, but had been denied the chance to grow into it. He hoped her killer might yet be brought to justice. Intellectually, there was no difference between the murder of a child and the murder of an adult, but emotionally a world of difference. The child was deprived of the chance to.. He repeated the phrase, to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Was it a deprivation to never learn about true evil?
There was a difference about life on a planet, a scent of perfume in the air from the myriad plant life, the distant roar of a waterfall, and the wind stirring the trees. The feeling of real gravity. As yet, none of the imperfections brought about by pollution.
The colonists of Regula IV had centuries of background to help them avoid destroying the existing ecology, but there was always the thing that you did not know. In some way they would cause catastrophes, and their experience would go into the human race's database of information. Bit by bit man would improve his ability to go into new worlds without damaging or destroying them!
He sighed. Time to go and see whether Derek had solved the mystery of this world. Would they be able to stay? He had a great faith in Derek's inyuition, which led him to suspect that the colonists may have to leave again. Better to find out before they took the other group to their home, and settled in permanently.
He found his way back to his personal shuttle, and flew himself back up to the ship.
Anders Yerrow walked along with his arm around Felicia. They had fallen behind in their building by going on the expedition, but they had all the time in the world.
"I hope they find nothing wrong," said Felicia. "I've fallen in love with the place already."
"I can't see that it's possible," he replied. "There's no tectonic activity, and the place has obviously been stable for millenia. Why would it become unstable now?"
They came to the spot where they had quickly put up a tent, and found a house! The last rays of the setting sun lit it up with a warm glow that made it look like more than the shell it really was.
"What the dickens?" gasped Anders.
Three men appeared from the side.
"You were so busy entertaining the captain," said Fred Smit, "we thought we'd stick it up for you. Hope you like it. If you don't you can change it yourselves."
"Thank you, Fred," said Felicia earnChap18.htmlestly, giving him a kiss. "You people are real friends!"
"You know," mused Anders, "at this moment I don't think anything can move us!"
Over at the other end of the town, Brendan Bock and Illana Borzovska sought out Etillia Braz.
"Are you busy?" asked Illana.
"Yes," she grinned, "but looking for an excuse to stop work."
"Brendan and I have decided to marry," Illana said, "and we thought we might as well rush in where angels fear to tread. You're the senior person now, so we thought you might marry us."
"Are you sure?" asked Etillia. "A long engagement is a good way to get to know each other."
"It's a small settlement," said Brendan. "Living in sin might give some scandal, so we thought we'd plunge into it."
"We're going to be stuck here for a while," said Illana, "so plenty of time to repent at leisure."
"I heard about your intentions," said Etillia. "Your plan to be the government, so to speak. You still plan to stay, then?"
"If you'll still have me," he said, with a grimace.
"No plans to stand for council?" she persisted.
"No," he said. "But I can see a lot of work here for a biologist."
"The only problem," said Illana, "is that both the biologists will be living on the one continent."
"We can get around," he said. "We'll have a penthouse at the north pole, and another at the south pole."
"They'll be built on top of the metal buildings," Etillia said. "I was going to call them ruins, but after the look we had today, they haven't the slightest touch of decay about them."
"Are they right on the poles?" asked Illana with interest.
"Right on," she agreed. "Now, about this wedding. We can't have the colony's first wedding here in the dead of night. How about a big do tomorrow afternoon?"
Illana and Brendan cheerfully agreed, and Etillia began to organise it. They went off, Illana to find her best clothes, Brendan to tell his friends and have a drink.

On to Chapter 18, or back to my page.