The expedition was not entirely fruitful, but the journey was pleasant.
Jack and Vad went walking with backpacks, accompanied by about twenty of
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
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.