Chapter 4.

Worf 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 Ten-Forward.

Deanna and Beverley soon joined Worf in his duties. Deanna was anxious to meet the group who would be among her charges for the next two weeks, and Beverley 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 Deanna and Beverley unobtrusively, and accompanied them to Ten Forward 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 Guinan had supplied them with their non-alcoholic drinks, they relaxed and gossiped. Although the synthehol 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, Deanna 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 Beverley Crusher 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. Deanna had her shields up, but even so, she noted that he was a remarkably unemotional man for a human. He seemed to feel some hiatus in the conversation, for he suddenly excused himself and left them.

The others continued the discussion, and Deanna 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 Deanna.

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 Enterprise 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 Enterprise 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 Beverley Crusher 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. She absorbed the air of the place, with some boys running around making a noise. The Enterprise was usually so reserved. The children who lived aboard did not run and shout. She loved it, but knew it might upset others of the crew, especially Jean-Luc. 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. Beverley recognised Celeste as one of the ship's children. She had had to immunize her once, apart from her being dressed distinctively. Serena's child, she thought.

"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 appropriate word.

"Chaos?" suggested Beverley, and Celeste looked taken aback at her interruption.

"Yes," she said without acknowledging Beverley 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 Beverley'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 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 unctuously.

"The..." The boy tried to think of a term for the Enterprise 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 Beverley felt moved to follow him.

"That's not a good idea, you know," she 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 Beverley, "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 likes you."

"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 Beverley joined them.

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 Beverley.

"How are you, Doctor Crusher?" he asked, but before she 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! Beverley exchanged a short pleasantry or two with Jean-Luc, and found Celeste had gone ahead.

Captain Picard 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 Picard, glad of an anchor to remember her by. "A very good record. New."

They arrived at the Captain's quarters, and Furr accepted a cup of tea, which was of course Earl Grey. He liked it, although he had not tried it before.

"So, you were with the first team to Regula?" asked Picard 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 Picard 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?" Picard 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 Picard.

"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 Picard. "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?" Picard 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 Picard, intrigued.

"Yes, of course," said Furr excitedly, opening a folder. "These are hard copies which I find easier to examine than a computer screen."

Picard 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'," Picard 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 Picard 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 Picard. "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 Picard, "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 Picard encouragingly.

"It is a long way," said Furr.

"How is your system of government to operate?" asked Picard. "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 Picard. "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 Picard, thinking that Fratris was not all that old. Furr was young. "A good start."

"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 Picard.

"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 Picard. "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 Picard's communicator beeped urgently, and the voice of Lieutenant Commander Worf 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 Picard repeated his question.

"It is Fratris McNamon," answered Worf.

 

On to thrilling Chapter 5, or cowardlily retire.