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
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
"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
"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
"Yeah!" said Andrew, brightening up. "I'll wear her down
"I don't think being abrasive is the answer," said his friend.
Andrew laughed, realizing this was a joke, although he didn't understand
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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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 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
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
"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
"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
"It's Ok," said Carla. "I want to see your mother for a while
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
"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
"Alfred Simpkins," said Serena.
"I know," smiled Carla. "He did tell me his name. Actually
we have met often."
"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
"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 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
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
"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
"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
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
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
"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,
"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
"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
"He had an unfortunate accident," replied Lar gloomily. "He
was killed in a rockfall recently. It is unusual. This is not a dangerous
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
Onward, or back...