Saviour Bliss supervised all the settling in of the colonists, and made
a point of meeting the respective leaders. He was pleased to detect no hostility
between them, only a quietly simmering excitement about the adventure they
were all undertaking together.
Andrew and Serena were not required on this particular duty, as they had
both put in a lot of extra time on the planetary surface, so Serena retired
to her quarters, and Andrew went to O'Riley's Bar.
Carla and Briony soon joined Saviour Bliss in his duties. Carla was anxious
to meet the group who would be among her charges for the next two weeks,
and Briony was technically in charge of their accommodations. All of them
began to relax when they found out that there was no obvious tension between
the groups. It was obvious, however, that of the four experts they had hired,
Brendan, Illana, and Zetopek Lar had no real inclination to mix with the
colonists, and the three latched on to Carla and Briony unobtrusively, and
accompanied them to O'Riley's at the end of the formalities. The fourth,
Brildan Furr, was quite at home among the Ardurians, and melted among them,
although he was friendly enough to the crewmembers.
When they had settled down, and Leanne had supplied them with their non-alcoholic
drinks, they relaxed and gossiped. Otto joined them. He had set his team
to checking the health of the colonists, a task which would extend over
the next two weeks. Although the synthetic alcohol in some of the drinks
had no intoxicating effect, it gave a psychological boost to relaxing.
After some talk about what they had heard about Regula IV, which was surprisingly
little, Carla asked them their plans. Did they mean to stay long?
"We have to stay at least eighteen months," said Illana with a
small smile. "That's when the next ship is organized to bring supplies.
But I'm hoping to stay about five years. That's long enough to get to know
a place really well, and start to tire of it."
"I don't have any fixed idea," said Brendan. "If I don't
like the place, or they don't like me, I might leave again on the first
ship. We're hired to give our expert advice and assistance. If we've done
all that in a year, I might go. On the other hand, if the place turns out
to be really fascinating, and difficult to investigate, I could stay years.
It depends on how much I'm earning my pay, I suppose."
Lar did not volunteer to continue, so Otto Brill asked him what he hoped
to achieve on the planet.
"I may find that the ruins are impossible to enter," he said neutrally,
"and leave soon. If they are a soluble mystery, and sufficiently intriguing,
I may stay forever."
There was a pause as they waited for him to elaborate on this, but he did
not. Carla was not particularly sensitive in this crowded milieu, but even
so, she noted that he was a remarkably unemotional man. He seemed to feel
some hiatus in the conversation, for he suddenly excused himself and left
The others continued the discussion, and Carla noted that Brendan seemed
cheerful, and looking forward to the journey with a touch of high excitement.
Illana was subdued and cool. She participated in all the talk, but did not
reach out to anyone. Very self-contained, decided Carla.
In the meantime, Serena returned to her room and began reading, then watched
a holovid. Celeste was playing a complex game on the computer, but it suddenly
occurred to her that Serena spent most of her spare time in the room. She
never went out to mix with other adults.
It's because of me, thought Celeste. If I were not here, she would probably
be down in the front of the ship socializing. I don't want to spend all
my time sitting here at the computer with her keeping an eye on me. I need
to get out of here.
Life is quite complicated, she thought, in one of those sudden expansions
of awareness that enfold us from time to time. She would have to expand
Serena's social life.
"I think Ensign Black likes you," she said innocently.
"I know he does, honey," said Serena, with a start of surprise.
"But I don't want to go out with him, or anything like that."
Celeste considered an argument based on the fact that he had gone out with
her on the planet, but did not know enough about it to argue well. She decided
on another tack.
"That Mister Furr is quite nice," she said. "I saw him looking
at you. I think he likes you too."
"Has he been talking to you?" asked Serena suspiciously. "I've
told you not to talk to strange men!"
"No," sighed Celeste. This was all too difficult. She decided
to be direct. "I just saw him talking to you. I'd like to go and play
with Eric and Shauna, and some of the others. Do you mind if I go down there.
It would give you a chance to go and have a drink in the bar."
"No," said Serena in surprise. She certainly didn't object to
Celeste having some friends. "You can go and play with them. But don't
be late for school, and be home for dinner."
School on the Sieve became something of a struggle. Alfred Simpkins was
one of only three teachers, because there was not a large number of children
aboard the ship. The colonists had a teacher each, but room became a problem.
For this reason classes became less structured, and some time was given
to intermingling the regular students with the strangers, in the hope that
they might learn something from each other, formally and informally.
Celeste stuck with her Tolian friends. She associated with the Ardurian
children, but was somewhat distant with Beryl. She did, however, visit the
Ardurians in the company of Eric and Shauna, and over the next few days
after departure became a common visitor in their area too. She was not the
only one. A few other Sieve children had made friends with the travelers.
Mister Simpkins was surprised at the change in Celeste. She seemed to have
relaxed at last, and seemed happy in the company of her new circle of friends.
They were not usually with her in school, but even there she seemed interested
in most things, and had even turned into a keen, if laborious, reader. He
found Serena in the bar one day, and asked if he could join her.
"Sure," she said. "What will you have?"
"Oh, a beer of some sort," he said. "I hope you don't mind
my looking you up, but I had to say how much Celeste has improved lately."
"She does seem happier," said Serena. "I hope it's not just
a phase. She actually seems to be settling in to shipboard life."
"Yes," he said. "My only worry is that it may be tied up
with her new friendships. And they are only aboard for a couple of weeks."
"Well," she said doubtfully, "if it's only two weeks of peace,
let's enjoy those two weeks. I hope it's not. She really seems to be taking
an interest in everything at last."
Down in the Ardurian area Otto Brill finished talking with some of the colonist
women who were pregnant, and was able to assure them that there were no
problems with their children. He absorbed the air of the place, with some
boys running around making a noise. The Sieve was usually so reserved. The
children who lived aboard did not run and shout. He loved it, but knew it
might upset others of the crew, especially Jack. Shauna and Celeste were
sitting and gossiping with the girls, while some of the boys hovered about
their conversation as they played, on the periphery of the conversation.
Otto recognised Celeste as one of the ship's children. He had had to immunize
her once, apart from her being dressed distinctively. Serena's child, he
"Why do all your people try to look the same?" asked Shauna. "All
the men have the same beards, all of the adults dress the same."
"It's because we believe that all people are equal," said Belinda.
"If one dresses extravagantly that one is saying, 'I am better'."
"But some adults must make the decisions," said Celeste. "If
everyone decides what they will do it'll be..." She struggled for an
"Chaos?" suggested Otto, and Celeste looked taken aback at his
"Yes," she said without acknowledging Otto otherwise. "Chaos."
"But the people who make the rules and laws are elected," said
Belinda. "They're just the same as everyone else."
"As soon as you elect them, they're not the same as everyone else,"
said Shauna, but neither Beryl nor Belinda could accept this, and the small
group argued on unsophisticatedly, to Otto's amusement..
"Who are the elected ones?" asked Celeste. "Do they look
different so you can tell them?"
"Well, we don't need to tell them," said one of the Ardurian boys.
"There's only a couple hundred of us, so we just all know them. There's
Elder McNamon over there. And Beryl's parents are both Elders. That's what
we call them, Elders."
"Do they have to be old?" asked Celeste.
"Naw, it's just a name," said the boy.
Elder McNamon had noticed himself being pointed out, and came over.
"Did I see myself the object of your interest?" he asked, somewhat
"The..." The boy tried to think of a term for the Sieve children
which would not give offense. "These girls were asking about Elders.
How we run things."
"It is good to see young ladies show an interest in politics,"
McNamon said. "If you wish to discuss the intricacies of our system,
feel welcome to come to my office for a talk. I have little to do until
we reach the planet."
"Well, no thanks," said Celeste. "My mum wouldn't like that.
But thank you for the offer."
"Your mother would be welcome as well, and your father," murmured
the Elder. As he moved away Otto felt moved to follow him.
"That's not a good idea, you know," he remarked.
"What?" he asked, puzzled.
"Inviting young girls to come to your office alone. You mean no harm,
but others might form the wrong idea."
"I do mean no harm!" he exclaimed. "Do you think I would
harm the young ladies?"
"Probably not," said Otto, "but their mothers might not understand.
It is not a good idea to do it."
McNamon looked nonplussed. "I had not thought of it," he said
shortly. "I will do as you say. But there was no harm."
"You seem to be popular with these men," said Shauna drily, in
the mean time. She was a few years older than Celeste.
"What do you mean?" asked Celeste.
"Mister Furr was looking for you the other day. Did he find you?"
"No," said Celeste, shortly.
"I've seen him looking at you," Shauna added. "I think he
"He must be a hundred!" exclaimed Celeste.
"Perhaps he thinks he might be your dad one day," grinned Shauna.
Celeste laughed, but looked thoughtful.
They went on their way, gossiping, and Otto joined them. He chatted with
the girls, asking about the culture of Shauna's people. Suddenly Shauna
A metallic-looking man had come walking stiffly down the corridor towards
them. He, or it, was ignoring them, and Shauna pressed herself against the
wall to avoid it.
"What is that?" she gasped.
"Haven't you seen an android before?" asked Otto curiously. I
thought most people would have one by now. They'd be especially useful in
farming, with so many repetitive tasks."
"I suppose there are only repetitive tasks," suggested Celeste
thoughtfully. "If they didn't do them themselves, they'd have nothing
"You have a distorted view of farming communities," laughed Otto,
with a surprisingly deep chuckle. "There are other more intellectual
tasks, but you may be right. Besides, they need maintenance, and programming."
"What are they for?" asked Shauna doubtfully. She was embarrassed
at showing herself ignorant among these sophisticates.
"They do a lot of simple labour," replied Otto. "Especially
where it's dangerous. It's a lot easier to send an android wandering outside
on the hull than it is to put someone in a suit and have them stumbling
about in magnetic boots."
"Can they talk?" asked Celeste.
"Yes," said Otto. "They look simple, but that's only because
they are made for a purpose. They have very sophisticated bionic software,
and could carry on a meaningful conversation. They might even pass a Turing
"What's that?" asked Shauna, but Otto laughed again, and told
the girls it was something they would learn in school in a couple of years.
The girls made faces to each other. That was the reply every time an adult
didn't know the answer.
Celeste parted from Shauna at last, and who should she pass in a corridor,
but Brildan Furr! He was, however with the Captain. She stood aside to let
the two pass, but he spoke to Otto.
"How are you, Doctor Brill?" he asked, but before he could reply,
he went on. "And hello, Celeste! I can't stop to gossip now. The Captain
and I are going to talk about archaeology for a while. I could talk about
it for hours, and probably will!"
Celeste grimaced at this prattling, and walked on without speaking. The
man was an idiot! Otto exchanged a short pleasantry or two with the captain,
and found Celeste had gone ahead.
Captain Normington was a bit surprised at this outpouring, but he had already
found Furr somewhat manic in his attitude, as well as garrulous. However,
he had been on the original team to Regula IV, so no doubt he would have
a lot to offer. He smiled at the young girl, with no idea who she was, and
passed on. He did not recognise her as the young woman who had nearly run
into him some days earlier.
"That's the daughter of one of your security personnel," said
Furr, realising he did not know her. "Serena Moulton."
"Oh, yes," said Normington, glad of an anchor to remember her
by. "A very good record. New."
They arrived at the Captain's quarters, and Furr was poured a whisky. One
of the advantages of being captain was that he could break the rules against
alcohol. Real whisky was scarce, so this was precious stock. Furr liked
it, although he had not tried it before.
"So, you were with the first team to Regula?" asked Normington
as an opening formality.
"Yes, Captain," said Furr. "On the Minor Endeavour. We didn't
have a chance to stay long, but what we found makes it one of the most interesting
planets I've ever seen."
"The Minor Endeavour is a small ship is it not?"
"Yes, purely built for speed and exploration. I think the name is some
sort of joke, but I don't know its history."
"So, what was so interesting about Regula IV?"
Brildan Furr shifted in his seat. He had become a little tense as he spoke,
and Normington realised he was seriously dedicated to this planet.
"First, it has vegetation, and insects, but no other animal life!"
He straightened up, and bent forward. "That's unheard of. There are
insects of every size, to fill every niche, but there are no animal ancestors.
The other thing is that the structures are huge, and we have no idea how
to get into them!"
"Like the Egyptian pyramids?" Normington ventured.
"Maybe," said Furr. "As I said, we had no time to investigate
deeply. But our ship was equipped for very deep scanning, and we found no
sign of rooms inside. I'm not talking of normal buildings, though. These
structures are huge!"
"What scale are we talking about?" asked Normington.
"They go about two hundred kilometers into the air. To be more accurate,
they go up past breathable air. To stand on top you would need a pressurised
suit, or a force field."
"That's an unbelievable scale!" exclaimed Normington. "Have
you any hypotheses about either mystery?"
"One suggestion is that the planet was artificially terraformed,"
replied Furr. "The flora may have been introduced as a garden, and
it has simply spread in the millenia since the place was inhabited."
"So, you think it may have been a dead world, selected by some advanced
race for colonisation, and they have since died out themselves?" Normington
was deeply interested.
"That's the major theory," agreed Furr. "Based on a short
visit, of course. The other puzzle we have no idea of. We have never encountered
a civilisation which did not have doors of some kind!"
"Do you have photographs of these buildings?" asked Normington,
"Yes, of course," said Furr excitedly, opening a folder. "These
are hard copies which I find easier to examine than a computer screen."
Normington was a little surprised at this. A picture on a screen can be
enlarged, color enhanced, and so on. He himself, however, understood the
pleasure of holding a real book, and he guessed it might be a similar feeling.
Or, less likely, Furr might be one of those rare breed who still suffered
from computer phobia.
The photos showed enormous structures, with blank metal walls. They had
been taken mainly from ground level, but a few were from space. Each group
of structures was in a comparatively small area, and the countryside around
was completely bare of any trace of buildings, even crude huts. But they
might have been completely obliterated over millenia. It may have been inaccurate
to speak of groups of structures, as there seemed no spaces between them.
"When you say 'millenia'," Normington suddenly asked, "are
you guessing, or have you dated the ruins?"
"Guessing," admitted Furr. "The metal is still uncorroded,
but it is very stable in composition. It would not corrode in millions of
years. The plants have obviously been growing a long time, though."
"Of course, the ruins are enormous," said Normington thoughtfully,
"and they need only one door. It might be disguised. It might even
be buried beneath drifting sands."
"That's unlikely," replied Furr. "Not much sand around. Inland
it is all good soil."
"Without animal life?" asked Normington. "No worms?"
"There are insects, which may fulfil some of those functions,"
said Furr. "I don't feel there is a door, but I could be wrong."
"And your hopes for the colony?"
"Moderate," smiled Furr. "But we believe the place is sufficiently
intriguing that scientists will want to study it, and we hope there may
be a strong tourist trade. The tourists will probably only come if we can
get in. It's a bit far to travel to see gardens and metal walls."
"And if that doesn't happen," said Normington, "you will
have a beautiful, fertile world to live on in peace."
"Exactly," said Furr. "I won't be too unhappy if we simply
live there happily."
"There are tourists who will go a long way to see a good garden",
said Normington encouragingly, although he knew this was extremely unlikely.
To visit a far planet tourists would have to abandon all that they knew
at home. There were a few colonies of permanent tourists, though. It was
a lifestyle which intrigued him, and he wondered how they could afford it.
But a space ship could be a self sustaining colony, as he should know.
"It is a long way," said Furr.
"How is your system of government to operate?" asked Normington.
"I understand you will have an overall parliament with two states,
so to speak."
"Yes," he agreed. "We will be living in two separate locations,
but in touch. We thought it best to operate independently for the most part,
but we will eventually fill the planet, so we need to be one, for trade
for example, or defence, if need be. We are going to have a proper government,
and are going to have a nominal opposition, so that a true two-party system
will develop. We don't imagine too much conflict while our numbers are so
small, but we are setting it in place. The two parties don't even have any
opposing policies yet, but doubtless they will develop."
"And you are not in the government? I would have thought your experience
with the place would have made you an automatic selection."
"Well, I don't see myself in that role, but I have agreed to go on
the Opposition benches, when we build some." He laughed.
"Who are your High Council?" asked Normington. "I believe
that Felix Lattif was to be on it. He will need to be replaced."
"Yes, well his replacement will be from his people. On our side we
have Fratris McNamon, who I hope will be the actual President. He is a formidable
intellect and a good organiser. He is old, but should have a few good years
left to get the thing up and running. Actually, with Felix dead, I think
he would be the obvious one. Our others are Etillia Braz and Jarran and
Arandnia Dezic. All very competent people."
"So, you have plenty of good representatives," said Normington,
thinking that Fratris was not all that old. Furr was young. "A good
"We are lucky to have enough," said Furr. "We are a farming
community basically, and most of the others would find running a government
pretty hard going."
"Obviously you are not a farmer yourself," observed Normington.
"No, I was a bit of a black sheep," grinned Furr. "Our world
is purely subsistence, and I got off it when I could. But when this opportunity
arose I thought of them, and convinced enough of them to seize the opportunity."
"How are the resources?" asked Normington. "Are there ample
minerals and so on?"
"We lost the computer records entirely," said Furr, "but
we had seen the readouts. There are adequate supplies of all the common
metals and minerals, and easy enough to mine. The plants are still an unknown.
We don't know whether they will support us, or whether we will need to plant
the seeds we have with us."
They talked on, and were nearing the end of their discussions, when Normington's
communicator beeped urgently, and the voice of Saviour Bliss answered his
acknowledgement with "You had better come down to the Ardurian area,
Captain. There has been a death."
"Who is it?" cried Brildan Furr, and Normington repeated his question.
"It is Fratris McNamon," answered Saviour Bliss.
or abandon all hope (go back)