Chapter 2.
The discerning customer and her mother returned home. There was something exhilarating about the chance to get real dirt on you, and to need a real, water shower. They were both unusually tired, probably because of the slightly high gravity, and both went early to bed, luxuriating in the unfamiliar open space. The houses they had were all detached, with little gardens. This surprised Serena, since they were presumably only used to house a stream of transients. She wondered if some local inhabitants had been moved out of their houses for the travelers. In any case, she did the "right thing" by doing a little gardening, which may have done more damage than good.
During the next few days Serena was on duty some of the time as a Security agent, accompanying some of the senior officers, or guarding the area they had been allocated, but this was light work itself, and allowed her to make a few new contacts, and gave her plenty of free time. In that time she made a point of mixing with the colonists, and was pleased to see that a few of their children made the effort to cultivate Celeste's acquaintance, and she did not reject them.
At least she'll have some friends for a few weeks, Serena thought.
The colonists had been given a large housing estate, including some high-rise buildings, which they found a novelty. They had come from two bare, desert-like planets, and this rather tough planet seemed somewhat like Eden. Serena hoped Regula might be better still.
She went out for a walk in the woods near the house, and was surprised to meet Andrew Black.
"Hi, Andrew," she said with a smile. "I didn't pick you for a walker."
"Oh, I like to get exercise when I can," he said cheerily. "Want to walk together for a while?"
"Why not?" said Serena with a smile, but warily.
They chatted for a few kilometers, and found themselves back at the shops. Andrew took the plunge.
"Um, Serena, would you like to have dinner with me tonight? There's a great restaurant on Seal Street."
"Well, fine, if Celeste can come," she said with a slight frown. "I don't like to leave her alone on a strange planet."
"She's looked after herself all day today," he said. "Couldn't you get someone to mind her tonight?"
"I don't like to," she replied. "Well, we'll just forget it."
"No!" he said hastily, "I'd love to have her along."
"Ok," she said. "I'll meet you there. When?"
After they had organized themselves, Andrew sighed and made his way back to the house he was sharing.
"Doing any good with the iron widow?" asked his flatmate curiously. "Have you managed to break through her force field?"
"I'm going out to dinner with her," said Andrew, a little gloomily, "but she's bringing her kid."
"It's a start," said the other. "It's the first base you've hit."
"Yeah!" said Andrew, brightening up. "I'll wear her down eventually."
"I don't think being abrasive is the answer," said his friend.
Andrew laughed, realizing this was a joke, although he didn't understand it.
Jack felt his duty required him to meet the leaders of the colonists quickly, and both lots at once. It was always possible to have people take offence at imagined slights, and if he met one group first it might alienate the other. Unlikely, but a chance easily avoided. He invited the leaders to dinner on the first night, and discovered that this included five from each party.
The guests wore their most formal dress, but this was mostly fairly simple. Normington momentarily regretted having dressed up very formally, but decided that they would have expected it of him, as captain of an interstellar ship. He noted immediately that some of the males wore identical Van Dyk beards, and assumed they were of the same party. The other group all seemed to have prominent, rather rabbit-like, front teeth, which was presumably from their genetic heritage.
The group was more heterogenous than he had expected. They were two different races, virtually, and he had expected them to form two factions. Instead they gathered in a single group and gossiped, before he called them to the meal. He felt a spark of pleasure. The trip was going to be a happy one.
For a while the group simply ate the courses as they were offered by the tusked waiters. Then Normington made a formal speech welcoming them to the Sieve of the Jumblies, and remarking how pleasing it was that they seemed such a united group. When he had finished, one of the Tolian men, Felix Lattif, rose and thanked him.
"It is we who should welcome you, Captain," he said. "You come to take us to our destiny, whatever that may be."
The meal finished, and conversation became general. There were only three women among the ten guests, and two of them were very quiet. Normington realized that they came from farming communities where women tended to stick with the "traditional" roles. The third, Etillia Braz, was more extroverted. He found himself talking to her and one of her fellow Ardurians.
"This is Amerbrec Zatof," she said. "Possibly the premier citizen of our group."
"Well, that will have to await proper elections," he said with a slight smile.
"I don't know anything about your plans for government," said Normington. "I gather you ten are it, but I know nothing more."
"I don't know whether you know the set-up on the planet, Captain Normington," Zatof said, and taking it as a rhetorical question, went straight on. "The planet has two large continents, at either pole, and large mysterious buildings at the poles. It was decided that both our groups could settle, one on each continent. They would be like independent states, or countries, but with an overall governing council. We decided to start arbitrarily with ten members, five from each group. The whole thing can develop from there, but it's a structure to start with."
"As the population grows, it could be expanded," interposed Etillia.
"Our basis will be a two-party political system," went on Amerbrec. "We'll have a nominal opposition for a start, but they'll just be there to stop us doing anything silly at first. After our first five-year term, we'll have real elections, and maybe real political parties."
"I doubt the politics will be too deep for some time," remarked Etillia. "Our people are generally unsophisticated at this time. But leaders will emerge."
"It sounds to me as if a couple of good leaders have emerged already," remarked Normington. "I hope the others are of your calibre."
Suddenly there was a shaking of the building, and most people grabbed for some support. It stopped after about thirty seconds, and the silence turned back to excited babble.
"An earthquake?" asked Normington tensely.
"Yes, it's quite an unstable planet," said Amerbrec. "We've had a number of tremors while we've been waiting. We've tended to get used to them. The buildings are very well built. I suppose the most dangerous place would be out in the open, if the ground opened up beneath you!"
"It's not something I think I could get used to," said Normington with a wan smile. He had lived aboard a stellar ship so long that anything other than a plastic floor made him uneasy. A shaking planet was too much.
"You get used to anything," observed Etillia.
After some desultory further conversation he felt he should mingle more, especially with the other group, so he excused himself and moved on. He had a good discussion with Felix and Ambrasia Lattif of the Tolians, and more cursory gossip with the others. He managed some conversation with everyone present.
Later he spoke with Vad Arres.
"A pleasant evening, Vad," he said. "There appears to be no friction between the leaders, at least. It augers well for the trip."
"How did you find them as leaders?" asked Vad. "A lot will depend on them."
"Well," said Normington more doubtfully, "there were some who seemed very good. I have to admit that a few of them seemed a bit slow on the uptake. I suppose with only a few hundred to choose from you won't find many leaders, and the community may be a little inbred perhaps. But a few leaders is all they need for now."
"Did you notice that quake, sir?" asked Vad. "It gave us a stir, but apparently they happen all the time."
"I noticed it very well," said Normington. "I am not fond of earth tremors."
Vad himself had to meet the colonists, and he organized this for the following day. He and Otto Brill, his ship's doctor, arranged to meet the Ardurians first, and then the Tolians. Serena Moulton was assigned Security duty with them, though it was just a formality. Celeste and some of her new acquaintances went off to play somewhere together.
The meeting took place in a hall. The hundred or more colonists fitted in comfortably, and Vad introduced himself. He welcomed them to the Sieve of the Jumblies, told them something of the conditions in which they would be living on board, and introduced Doctor Brill. He told them a bit more, and asked them to make themselves available later for a thorough medical checkup, just a formality. They had been staying on a strange planet, and may have picked something up, and being from a single community they might carry diseases for which they themselves had developed immunity, but which might spread through the ship.
There was something of a question and answer session, then the bulk of the group left. The Ardurian leaders stayed behind to thank him.
"A very welcoming manner you have, Commander," said Jarran Dezic. He was an elderly, but very fit man, and his wife Arandnia seemed very full of energy as well. "I feel that the two weeks aboard the Sieve of the Jumblies may be the highlight of our trip."
"Our stay on Argonaut has been very pleasant, though" said Arandnia. "The accommodations have been first class, and the Argonauts very good, though I suspect that they do not have any particular fondness for foreign humans."
"This must have been a difficult decision for you," remarked Otto. "To pull up roots and go so far away?"
"Brildan talked us into it," smiled Etillia Braz. "He has the soul of a salesman. He has made it all sound so exciting."
"Brildan?" asked Otto.
"Brildan Furr," Vad answered for them. "He was on the original survey ship, and he liked the place so much he talked his people into going."
"He thinks it will be a Mecca for archaeologists and tourists," said Fillat Bleek, a small, rotund man, who had not spoken previously. "He was the geologist on the ship. He says the planet has an adequate supply of all the common minerals, beautiful plants, and fertile soil. Even if nobody comes, it has the potential to be a sort of Paradise."
"I understood that the computers failed," said Vad. "They lost all the visual records, and a lot of the other findings too?"
"But there were people on board," said Bleek. "They remembered what they saw, and some pictures had been printed out."
"Enough to win both us and the Tolians into wanting to live there," said Amerbrec Zatof, with a smile.
"It's a wonder Furr isn't one of the ruling council, then," said Vad. "He would be the best informed of all of you."
"We tried to convince him," said Etillia. "He refused, but we got him to accept a place on the Opposition benches at least."
"He's not sure he'll stay," explained Bleek. "He's our wanderer, our black sheep, if you like."
"Is he here?" asked Otto. "I'd like to meet him."
"No, he's en route still. We expect him any time now, though," said Amerbrec. "There are still a few to arrive. The two biologists, and the archaeologists."
"They're not your own people, then?" asked Vad.
"Bock is, originally," said Bleek. "But that's a coincidence to some extent. We advertised for specialists, and he answered. He's one of the biologists," he added. "He left our planet years ago."
"How long have you been on Arduria?" asked Otto.
"A couple of hundred years, now," answered Bleek. "It's coming along nicely, but it is still somewhat primitive. This sounded good in comparison."
"But we're used to roughing it if necessary," added Jarran Dezic.
"The Sieve of the Jumblies may be a bit of a shock to the sysyem," said Vad, "after living in the open all your lives. I hope nobody is too claustrophobic."
Jarran laughed. "We're not all hayseeds, Commander," he said. "We have a few bureaucrats and shopkeepers, and mechanics. We have already had some confinement on a much smaller ship, and we survived it."
"If you have any trouble, you can go into the Sims for a while," said Otto with a smile.
"Sims?" asked Bleek.
"They are rooms where you can stand or sit and have your senses overwhelmed by sight, sound and smell," replied Otto. "It seems real, but it's all illusion."
Serena returned home and had lunch. Celeste came in to eat, in a good mood for once. She had met some children who were going to try to teach her tennis, and then go and play in the toyshop again. Serena told her when to be home by, and went off to work in an unusually good mood herself.
She was still rostered with Vad and Doctor Brill. They repeated much of what they had said and done with the Ardurians, and met the leaders of the Tolians this time. Felix Lattif was obviously the driving force among them, and tended to dominate most of the conversation.
As they talked, there was another quake, and Vad looked upset. Lattif smiled at him. "Don't worry. There are quite a few tremors around here. They're not expecting anything big. They won't hurt you."
Vad recovered himself, and the discussions continued. He and Otto Brill heard more about the arrangements on the new planet. Each continent would have a group of four in charge, with a president elected between them.
The small numbers in the two towns would mean that there was no obvious reason for conflict between the groups, but they were not going to be a bunch of primitives. Each town would have modern technology. There would be one or two specialist technicians with each group, but a limited amount of spare parts until they began to mine the planet.
Both groups had been on Argonaut for a few weeks, and had become quite well settled in, but it was more in the way of a vacation. They would not be here long, or again. They had the local knowledge, however, and for this short time were able to treat the Sieve of the Jumblies crew as their guests. Serena and Celeste found themselves mixing with both groups, and Celeste had to mix with the children.
This was no hardship. She disliked the restrictive world of the starship, and was less her self-centred self here, enough to pick up acquaintances, if not friends.
She was shown around the town by a boy named Eric and his sister Shauna. They were Tolians, and often met in Darras' shop, or played at fishing for the creatures that lived in the streams. As on most planets which had native life forms, water was abundant near towns, but it was not easily drinkable for humans. There was not enough of it generally.
That meant, of course, that any fish they caught might have been poisonous to eat. Since they caught none in the few days they were there, no problem arose. Celeste was unusually relaxed during this time.
Serena, however, took the opportunity to have a talk with her teacher, Mister Simpkins. She found him walking alone in the light forest near the small city. As she approached he looked up, startled out of his ruminations.
"Ensign Moulton," he said. "how are you? Are you a walker?"
"What?" she asked, then, "Oh, no. I'm more of an aerobics person. I rarely get out onto the surface of a planet, and the Sieve of the Jumblies is not a great place for long walks!"
"Are you just trying to escape the pressures of the big city, or were you after me in particular?"
"I was wondering if I could talk to you a bit about Celeste," she began, and he smiled and said, "Any time. You can talk to me on the ship, you know. But I'm quite glad of your company. You don't mind if we keep walking?"
"Oh, no," she said. "I enjoy walking. I just don't seem ever to do it!"
"What was your particular concern about Celeste?" he asked.
"I'm worried about her." Serena frowned, not quite sure how to express herself. She had the curious shyness many have in the presence of a teacher, some holdover from childhood, and the suspicion that this person might possibly know her daughter better than she in some aspects. "She hasn't adjusted at all to shipboard life. She hates it. She has no friends. Now she's on the planet she has picked up with a small group, but I worry about her."
"She has a strong character," said Mister Simpkins doubtfully. He was in the dubious position for a teacher of always being in proximity to the parents of his charges, so that it did not pay to be too blunt. He would refrain from the words "little bitch", as this would reduce useful communication with the mother. He chose his terms carefully.
"She is rather slow in her reading, but I feel it is part of a more general disdain for learning. Her mathematics is poor, but she does have quite an eclectic general knowledge. If she is not reading at home, she must be watching a lot of video."
"She does," admitted Serena. "She doesn't seem to mix at all. I wish she had some friends."
"For her age, she is rather selfcentered and doesn't have a lot of time for others," he said, in some embarrassment. "I think she regards herself as highly intelligent, and somewhat above the others. She's -er- wrong. She is above average intelligence, but the children of the Sieve of the Jumblies are generally well above average. They reflect the genes of their parents. They are just as intelligent as she, but they have settled in to life on the ship. She hasn't. I must admit, the children aboard are not a typical cross section of society."
"Thank you," said Serena. "I've been thinking of asking Carla to have a look at her, but I don't want to waste her time."
"It wouldn't be wasting her time," he said in surprise. "That's her job. She likes to know about everyone. You could make an appointment for yourself, too. You have the problem as well."
"A single mother?" she said.
"Well, I meant the problem of having a difficult child," he said with a blush. "But Carla is quite happy just to have a chat with you. As I said, she likes to know everyone."
The two of them walked for quite a distance, talking about Celeste, and whatever else came to mind.

Serena felt ridiculously hesitant about approaching Carla Smith. She put it down to her position in Security. A Security officer has to feel unusually self-reliant, and admitting that she was having some trouble with her child would be tantamount to admitting a weakness in public. She analysed the thought, then pushed away her shyness. Carla was living in a comfortable apartment. Not one to welcome the chance for bushwalking or generally roughing it, she was making the most of her planetside stay, seeing the sights of the town, and the nearby capital city, but happy to spend her leisure time at home. She had organized times for her regular counseling sessions, and did this in the comfort of a very-well apportioned living room. Serena knocked on her door, and it opened quickly.
"Hello, I'm Carla," was her welcome. "Come in and be comfy."
She went in, and Carla immediately made her feel at home. She wriggled somewhat nervously, though, and Carla produced a cup of tea.
"How did you know I drink tea?" asked Serena curiously.
"Her teacher mentioned that you might be coming to see me," said Carla with a smile, "so I looked up your records. The computer knows all about everybody."
"I suppose he mentioned why I might come?" queried Serena.
"Your daughter, Celeste," said Carla. "He told me something about her, but I'd like to meet her myself. I like to start from scratch."
"Oh, then when can I make an appointment?" asked Serena.
"Now would be as good as any time, if she's around."
"She'll be at the shop, or somewhere with her friends."
"The shop?"
"The toy shop in town. All the children hang around it. I was talking to the proprietor, and he seemed to think Celeste was behaving quite normally. You know, a particular personality type. But I worry."
"Go and get her, and I'll see what I think," said Carla. She waited in the room.
She heard the approach of Serena and Celeste, both apprehensive for different reasons. She waited politely for them to ring the door alarm, then opened it. She smiled warmly.
"Hello, Celeste," she said, stepping aside to let them in. "Hello, Serena. Don't be alarmed, Celeste, it's just going to be conversation."
"I'm not alarmed!" said Celeste indignantly, but blushing. "Are you going to read my mind?"
"That's not a very polite greeting, dear," said Serena. "Miss Smith said Hello."
"Hello, Miss Smith," said Celeste sulkily.
"Please call me Carla," said Carla. "I'm not a doctor. We're just going to gossip. I hope we can be friends."
"Oh, yeah?" thought Celeste sardonically, then blushed scarlet as she thought, She can read minds! "Hello, Carla," she said feebly.
"I'm not going to read your mind," continued Carla, in what seemed an inspired guess. "I don't have that ability. I sense your emanations." She would have said, 'state of arousal' to an adult, but that didn't seem appropriate. "I'll ignore them if you don't want me to do even that."
"Ok," said Celeste sullenly.
"Do you want me to stay?" asked Serena uncomfortably.
"No," replied Carla, sensing her wish to go. "I'll see Celeste home afterwards."
Serena gratefully backed out the door, and Carla asked a lot of questions about Celeste's life, her feelings about the ship and crew, her hobbies, and so on. Celeste found herself talking fluently, flattered by Carla's obvious interest in all she had to tell.
"They say you can read people's minds on the ship," said Celeste timidly.
"Oh, that's just a trick I like to play," laughed Carla. "When I've been gossiping with someone for a while they often forget what they've told me, or they don't realise they did tell me. Then later I offer to read their tea leaves or something, and I tell them back all the things they already told me. It's a parlour trick."
Celeste immediately wondered what she might have told Carla that she did not know she had said.
"Your mother told me you don't expect to get very old?" said Carla eventually.
"What?" asked Celeste in surprise.
"You say things like, 'You'll be sorry when I'm dead,' and 'You'll miss me when I'm gone.' I'd like to talk about what you mean by that."
"I don't mean it," she whispered. "I just say it to make mummy..." She could not think of a way to finish the sentence.
"Pay attention to you?" asked Carla sympathetically, and she nodded.
"It's something you shouldn't do," said Carla. "It makes you sound like you.. don't enjoy being alive."
Celeste looked down.
"If I was dead, mummy might get married again. I know she thinks that, but she doesn't say it."
Carla pulled Celeste close, to hug her, but she wriggled away, looking embarrassed.
"You mustn't think that!" said Carla, not persisting. One problem at a time. "She loves you more than she wants another husband. And if a man wanted to marry her he would love you too. You haven't been reading stories about nasty stepfathers, have you? They aren't true."
"No, I don't read much," fibbed Celeste, inching a bit away.
They talked a while longer, then Carla walked her back home.
"You don't have to come," said Celeste politely. "I know my way."
"It's Ok," said Carla. "I want to see your mother for a while too."
On the way back, Celeste talked a little more freely. As far as she was concerned, the interview was over, and this was just gossip. She had already forgotten that Carla had warned her about that.
At the house Celeste got permission to go down to the village, and Carla stayed to talk to her mother.
"I don't think she's suicidal," she said. "So let's get that one over quickly. She's never actually done anything like that?"
"No," said Serena.
"It's to get attention. She's worried about your remarrying. She says she feels like she's in the way of it, but I suspect she worries about it happening."
"It's a problem, certainly," admitted Serena. "Most men don't want to become involved with a woman with a child. But it hasn't been an issue. I haven't had the time to look for a new romance."
Carla felt she was lying about her lack of desire, but said nothing about that. She returned to Celeste.
"You were right. She doesn't like to be touched. I don't know that it's a problem. That shop owner you mentioned was right there. That can just be a sign of a particular type of personality. Some people like a very big body space. Not the ideal thing for a spaceship. She is not as emotional as she seems. She is very repressed, and depressed, but a lot of her emotional behaviour is quite calculated. She is quite self-centred, perhaps a bit too much for her age. She opened up a lot more when we were walking home."
"She doesn't seem to have friends," said Serena. "Although she has picked up with a couple of the colonists' kids."
"That can just be another facet of the 'loner/observer' personality," said Carla. "Or it could be related to her rejection of the ship. She might be subconsciously refusing to make friends aboard. But I think we can just wait a while to see how she develops. I'll have a word with her teacher."
"Alfred Simpkins," said Serena.
"I know," smiled Carla. "He did tell me his name. Actually we have met often."
Serena blushed.
"I didn't mean to embarrass you," said Carla hurriedly.
"I embarrassed myself," replied Serena with a smile.
Some days later, Darras was visited again by his customer.
"Is it ready yet?"
"Yes," answered Darras. "You can have a look at it. Come into the sanctum sanctorum at the back."
They passed through the alcove into the workroom, and Darras called out "Open sesame." A panel opened, and the android was revealed, sitting as if dead.
"Open sesame?" asked the customer drily.
"It's my classical education," responded Darras cheerfully. "It's quite ready. All I have to manage is its introduction on board the Sieve of the Jumblies. This is your owner," he addressed the android. The client looked at it in surprise, even wonder. "You will obey his orders, and when your mission is complete you will destroy yourself, attracting as little attention as possible when you do so."
He turned to the client.
"If you wish you can give your instructions now. It is perfectly ready. It will absorb all you tell it. This way it will not be necessary for you to have further contact."
The other thought carefully, and said, "I want you to kill the following people." A list of names followed. "The essential thing is that you must only do it when I am somewhere with a foolproof alibi. It does know the meaning of 'alibi'?"
Darras nodded. "It has a huge knowledge database. Anything might be of use to it in its work, and it's easy to fill a computer with information. It has a human consciousness as well, imprinted over everything else. It will understand anything you tell it."
"If we meet again, you do not know me," the client said. "If you are caught, you do not know me. You do not know why you are doing this."
"That is true," said the android unexpectedly. "I do not know. For the rest, it is in my programming to erase my memory completely if caught, and fuse my circuits to conceal the genius of my creator."
"It is also programmed not to be used against me," commented Darras, mildly taken aback at what might be sarcasm in his creation, "but apart from that you can pretty well command it as you like."
"It's uncanny," said the client. "How do you do it?"
"Well, it's my secret," said Darras, "but speaking vaguely, I create the exoskin in a similar way to the way a matter transmitter recreates a missive."
"Oh!" said the client, none the wiser. Matter transmitters could duplicate a piece of material over a short distance. They had been tried on animals, but the animal's duplicate was always dead. The cost of duplication was so enormous in terms of energy that it was rarely used at all. He looked again at the android, and shook his head in wonder. He must stop thinking of it as "it".
Captain Jack Normington enjoyed his stay on Argonaut. There were orchard-growing areas, and he browsed through them, and thought of home. But he soon began to itch to be back in space, and to count the hours until takeoff. Vad was running the loading, and he had little to do but "bear responsibility" at this time. There were a few stray members of the contingent who had not yet appeared, but otherwise everything seemed to be under control.
He had met the leaders of the colonists socially, but had not found any particularly congenial soul-mates. He still awaited the arrival of Lar and Gramm. They were acknowledged experts in their fields. Gramm had been aboard the initial expedition, and was the one who had involved the Tolians. He was an enthusiastic amateur archaeologist himself, and was keen to meet the two.
The days passed, and the end of the Sieve of the Jumblies's stay approached. Celeste and her friends haunted the shops, and the playground. Serena began to pack, and sighed. The stay had been quite pleasant, and Celeste had been reasonably happy...
She looked around for a bit of help, and went out. Someone had seen Celeste going down to the shops again. She walked downtown. As she came near Celeste staggered out of the shop.
"It came, mummy!" she said excitedly, struggling to balance a large package.
"What came?" said Serena in irritation. "I didn't give you permission to go out!"
This was somewhat unfair, as Celeste had been allowed a lot of freedom, but she had had a sudden panic, because they were about to leave.
Celeste stopped in confusion. "Mister Darras got in the Kritonian panda! He sent a message. I should have asked you! I got too excited, and I wanted it before we got packed!"
Serena sighed. They would soon be safe back on the Sieve of the Jumblies, so she did not pursue the matter. As they walked up the road Eric and Shauna ran up and joined them. Celeste looked around her package at them, and said "Hello. We're going onto the Sieve of the Jumblies now."
"So are we!" said Shauna. "When we get settled in, can you come down and see us?" She glanced questioningly at Serena, as did Celeste.
"I don't see why not," said Serena with a smile. "But Celeste has to come with me now to pack."
There was a sudden movement of the ground under their feet, and they struggled to keep their feet. It was quickly over.
"What was that?" asked Celeste in panic.
"Just another earthquake," said Eric, with a touch of scorn. "You asked yesterday when there was one, too."
"It wasn't so bad yesterday," she said defensively. "That one was big!"
Serena asked Eric, "You've been here a bit longer than us. Do they have many quakes? Celeste was upset by yesterday's one too."
"It's a bit shaky here," grinned Eric. "It's a crusty zone or something."
Serena noticed that the supplies from the colonists were being stored in large crates, which were at present piled in stacks. They seemed like skyscrapers in contrast to the buildings of the Argonauts, which were generally only one storey high. Some of the colonists were walking about, counting, making inventories.
Serena and Celeste went back home to pack. They collected all their belongings and these were put on the shuttle. Celeste went off to mix with her friends again. She put the panda, now out of its container, in with the other luggage. It leaned loosely against a wall of the shuttle. Serena did not pursue the matter with Celeste. She knew someone would store it safely. There would have to be a number of flights, as there were too many containers stacked up for the shuttles to fit at once.
"Be here at 1350 hours," warned her mother, and she nodded. Celeste looked hesitantly at her friends. "Which of you wants to choose what we'll do?"
"Eric always chooses," laughed Shauna.
"I'll choose a walk in the forest," he said. The others affected winces, but went happily down the street with him. As they walked Celeste heard her name called, and turned to see Carla Smith waving to her. She looked hesitant, and replied, "Oh, hello, Miss Smith."
"I asked you to call me Carla," said the counselor with a mock reprimand, and Celeste answered, "Oh, you mean, all the time? Hello, Carla."
"Hello, Celeste," responded Carla, "and Shauna and Eric. Enjoy your last romp."
"How did she know our names?" asked Eric as they skipped on down the street.
"Oh, she doesn't have much to do," hazarded Celeste. "She might spend her time learning all the names. She has to know everybody."
In the meantime, other humans had begun to appear. One of the expected archaeologists had arrived, but he seemed to have come from nowhere. He said he had been delivered down from the Agitator, which had stopped briefly out in space, then continued on. He introduced himself to Vad.
"I'm Zetopek Lar," he said. He had a flat, unaccented voice, and an air about him that Vad characterized to himself as 'droopy'. Vad shook his hand, and was surprised by the firmness of the handshake. Lar noticed his surprise, and said, "Excuse me. I am more of an excavator than a theoretician. Years of work with the pick and shovel have made me strong."
"You still work with a pick and shovel?" said Vad in surprise. "I would have thought sonic instruments, and rock radar would have made them extinct by now!"
"They are used for delicate work," said Lar flatly, "but in a harsh climate a simple tool that needs only the strength of your arm is best. The batteries remain strong!"
"What happened to your associate?" asked Vad. "Professor Gramm?"
"He had an unfortunate accident," replied Lar gloomily. "He was killed in a rockfall recently. It is unusual. This is not a dangerous craft."
"You're staying with the Tolians on board," said Vad, after the appropriate expression of sympathy.
"As I am here," Lar answered. "They are my employers."
"What is the interest in Regula IV? It seems to be some sort of Paradise for archaeologists," said Vad. "We may have to prise Captain Normington away with a crowbar. He's an archaeology nut."
This rather disparaging remark about his superior officer did not seem to mean anything to Lar, and his expression did not change. He answered as if there had been no comment.
"The planet, interestingly, has two large continents. In fact, the two groups of colonists will inhabit one each. What is fascinating is that each continent seems to have been inhabited by a different society. The ruins on one are completely different than those on the other."
"Did the advance teams learn much about them?"
"They didn't stay long," said Lar. "They established that there was a magnificent civilisation to investigate, then that the planet could support human life, then returned. You might ask Brildan Furr, of the Ardurians. He was actually on the survey mission. I suspect he was the one who convinced his planet to bid."
"I will," said Vad. "I have to meet him properly soon."
"I am looking forward to seeing the Sieve of the Jumblies," said Lar. "It will be interesting to speak with Captain Normington. He is not unknown in archaeological circles."
This was a surprise to Vad, and would probably have been a surprise to Jack, too. He had written some articles in his off time, and sent them off, but he never had much feedback.
This apparently seemed like a good exit line, as he turned and walked away with no more ceremony. Vad grinned at his behaviour. Diplomatic relations throughout his career had inured him against offence at anyone's discourteous behaviour, which was generally not intended to be so. Well, that's nearly everyone met, he thought. About time to relax for a day or two.
He had not finished, however. Two more arrivals met him, both employed by the Ardurians, although they would serve the whole planet of colonists. They were biologists, one a specialist in plant life, the other in microbiology. He took a greater immediate interest in Illana Borzovska, the microbiologist, as she happened to be spectacularly beautiful, while Brendan Brock, the other, was a stolid male. Serena was impressed when Illana took the trouble to greet her as well. Security staff were often treated as part of the furniture. Many of them preferred it that way, but not Serena. Vad welcomed both with equal warmth. They were introduced by Etillia Braz, who seemed to be the most sociable of the Ardurians. As they spoke there was a notable seismic shake, and they looked around apprehensively, but Vad reassured them.
"It happens all the time," he said. "Nothing big. The buildings are made to withstand it. Have you both just arrived?"
"We're not together," said Illana, somewhat stiffly. "We happen to be working together, and we have done so before, but I have actually been here a few weeks. I took the opportunity to do some walking in the forests. I always try to find places to walk and swim."
Vad asked Brendan for some information on the planet Regula IV, and Brendan began to tell him what little he knew. A new figure came walking down the street, and came across to them. Vad noticed from the corner of his eye that this newcomer also appreciated the charms of the beautiful but cool Miss Borzovska.
"How are you, Illana?" he asked. "I always look forward to seeing you again."
Serena stood nearby, but he did not notice her, captivated apparently by Illana's beauty. She was used to not being noticed while on duty, and regarded this as a valuable attribute in her job. Vad was immersed in discussions with Bock.
"And I you, Brildan," said Illana with a warm smile. "Did you enjoy your trek?"
He looked momentarily taken aback, but replied, "Oh, very much. I love walking through the scrub, especially where it's beautiful. I didn't see you."
"I was swimming when you passed," she said, "au naturel. And I was enjoying the solitude."
"We never know what we are missing," he sighed. "I heard you were in the party."
"Are you to be our leader in this foray?" she asked.
"Oh, no, no," he protested, "I leave the leading to..."
He broke off as there was a cry and a crash simultaneously. The group ran in the direction it had come from, and they and others saw a figure prone beneath a large packing case. Some children ran in from different directions, and Illana ran to meet them and head them off.
"Something bad has happened," she told them. "Go back to your quarters and wait."
Celeste was curious to see what had happened, but she did not press. Eric asked her, "Did you see what happened?"
"No, I was still on my way back," she answered. "I think something fell. It must have been the earthquake."
Illana had used her body to herd them back, and she stooped to bring herself down to their level. Her voice was soft with concern. She put her hands on the shoulders of Shauna and Celeste. Celeste felt a momentary concern, but Illana quietly told them that there had been an accident, and they should go back to their homes on the planet, and wait for their parents to come to them.
They moved off, reluctant to miss whatever was to be seen, and momentarily gathered at the first corner. Celeste could see Serena involved in the thick of the investigations. One of the Ardurian girls who had been gathered into their group, said, "Isn't she nice?"
Celeste was startled out of her chain of thought.
"Who?" she asked, and the girl answered impatiently, pointing to Illana, "That lady."
"Yes, she is," answered Celeste. "It was very kind of her."
"And she's so pretty," sighed the girl. "She's so slim. I'll never look like her!" She was plump, but not unattractively so.
"I'll never look like that either," thought Celeste with a pang which surprised her. She looked down at her own figure reflectively.
"But you're pretty, Beryl," said Eric. "You don't have to look like a twig to be pretty!"
Beryl looked a lot happier, and the children went to their homes. Celeste went obediently to her house, and waited, curiously, for Serena to return and tell her the details of what had happened. While she was waiting she opened up her diary and read through her records of the last few days.
Saviour Bliss appeared as if from nowhere, and had Serena and the team seal off the immediate area. Vad asked Brildan Furr his identity, as he was a stranger, and after he had identified himself, added, "A terrible introduction to the group, Mister Furr. Would you mind waiting outside the barrier?"
"Of course," said Furr. He found himself standing beside a beautiful woman with blue eyes, but he was too much in shock to take an immediate interest. He had not expected anything like this! Who was it? Carla noticed his shock, and sympathised.
The case was removed carefully, but a quick check by Doctor Brill showed that the victim was dead. The case had fallen on his head. Amerbrec Zatof was brought in by Vad to identify the victim, and said, "My god! It's Felix! How awful!"
"And only the other day he said an earthquake couldn't hurt you," said Vad grimly.
They moved outside the barrier while the medical team waited for the local authorities to arrive before they could remove the body. Furr was agitated, and cried, "Who is it?"
"It's Felix Lattif," said Vad, and Furr asked, "What happened?"
"The quake must have shifted the top packing case," said Vad, "and it fell on him."
"Of course, the quake!" gasped Furr. "That's it. It shifted the crate somehow, and it fell!"
"He's quite upset," observed Carla quietly to Vad. "He must have been quite close to the victim. He seems shocked."
The Planetary Patrol had arrived and were scanning the area.
"You're the officer in charge of this lot?" asked a huge trooper, and Vad identified himself. "Looks like an accident all right, although it was a bit careless to stack things so high in an earthquake zone. Still, I suppose you off-worlders wouldn't think of that. No recent traces of any sentient beings up top. A tragedy. Well, I'll leave you to attend to details. Rites and customs and so on."
Then he was gone, and Vad was left with the 'rites and customs' to look after.

Onward, or back...