The sequal . . . well, the next novella in the sequence after _The Lawters of Mars_ which, if you haven't read it already can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Lawyers-Mars-Three-Novellas-ebook/dp/B00JN8QAU4/
Or if you want the word file or RTF for easy conversion to something else, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When in doubt, party.
The immediate effects of the quake and cavern collapse had been swallowed, the rest could be mostly addressed with money and power. The space mission had brought enough uranium from Big Blue for the first fueling of the nearly completed power plant, but funds for the excavation of an entire city were going to be hard to come by. And while that was going on, people needed to have a place to live, work and play. The government was balking over spending more than the bare minimum for the start up of an adjustment fund, so the Imperial Family was falling back on tried and true methods of fundraising.
The Charity Ball. It had quickly gone metastatic and taken over the entirety of the Icefire main cavern.
"We've all lost our minds." Xaero L'svages looked over the gaudy crowd.
"Quite the contrary. This serves two roles, really," Prince Fatrevi—Trev to his friends and fellow cops—smiled and returned the bow of an overdressed local. "It gives everyone a way to help so they don't feel so powerless, a much needed psychological boost, trust me. It gets things looking more normal, everyone all excited and dressing up, shopping and so forth. Looking forward instead of back."
"I still think the money raised is the main purpose." Xaero insisted stubbornly. She pasted on a smile suddenly. "Pasticha, you are gorgeous! Where did you find that material?"
Her cousin smiled back, smugly. "Family secret." She flicked her head spines in Trev's general direction "Still hanging around with your publisher, I see." In a tone of massive disapproval.
A snicker from behind them drew Xaero's attention. She glanced over her shoulder, then stepped aside to draw the newcomer forward. "Pasticha, this is Trev's brother . . . "
"Teri. How do you do?" Crown Prince Fensteri preempted her. With a nick name she'd never heard anyone use.
Pasticha looked him up and down. "As well as may be expected, dealing with a herd of social climbers and tourists." She sounded like she definitely considered this Teri to be the former. "And what do you do with yourself? Are you also in the publishing industry?"
"Sand, no." Fensteri's smile was widening and his eyes brightening as he realized he truly hadn't been recognized. "I manage the family business. Trev's the Dryscale of the family." He glanced around the crowded plaza. "I'm afraid I spend much too much time attending things like this."
"You have my sympathy." Pasticha actually smiled faintly at him, and to Xaero's astonishment, asked, "Do you dance?"
"Not often for the pleasure of it." Fensteri held out a hand in invitation and Pasticha's smile widened as she placed hers within it.
"Actually this isn't nearly as bad as the annual . . . " Her voice faded as they stepped away.
Trev and Xaero stared at each other. "That was unexpected," Xaero said. "Pasticha usually avoids trumales like sandfleas."
"Fenni is dancing during one of his breaks." Trev looked boggled. "He doesn't do that! His time is so tightly choreographed for exhibitions like this that some poor lizard," he nodded toward an anxious looking pseudofem in Imperial colors, "follows him around with a timer and schedule."
"Exhibitions like this?" Xaero smiled, "How'd you escape being on display?"
Trev looked smug. "I told the social office I wasn't sure I could make it. Space Base might have needed me again, you see?"
"Clearly. Such a sacrifice, being on call."
They been edging toward the dance floor, and paused now on the edge as Fenni steered Pasticha past.
" . . . Art Gallery Openings are the worst . . . " the Crown Prince was saying as they swung by. He gave her an expert twirl and they swooped back into the mob.
"Did I just see that?" Trev asked.
"A few fancy steps?" Xaero grinned at his wide eyed expression. "I do believe you did."
"Fenni doesn't do that."
As the dancers tripped past again she heard Pasticha clearly. " . . . more artistic merit in the wallpaper in the ladies room . . . " Fensteri was nodding in emphatic agreement.
Trev wrapped both hands around his muzzle in an apparent attempt to muffle snorts of laughter. Xaero stood on tiptoe to watch as the music came to an end and spotted the Crown Prince's time minder approaching him, looking uncertain. Xaero poked Trev.
"Go earn some Good Little Brother Points and take Fenni's next dance or three." She ordered.
Trev brightened. "Good idea. Must not break this up." He elbowed through the crowd and intercepted the timer just as she opened her mouth to speak to the prince. At least Xaero assumed she hadn't spoken. Fensteri and Pasticha were talking away, ignoring her.
The poor thing turned gratefully to Trev, and in moments he was paired off with a rather large matron carrying a huge freight of jewelry. The matron beamed at him, apparently quite happy to swap princes.
Xaero snickered a bit to herself, again. She could be generous with Trev's time, they were both due back at Space Base tomorrow, to continue the analysis of the data from the automated probe newly returned from Zwehra (the star, not the Goddess).
She caught sight of Pasticha and Fensteri again. They seemed to be dissecting and commenting on the refreshments. No doubt they weren't nearly as repulsive as the last ones either of them had been forced to be polite about. A romance made in, well, someplace unpleasant.
"What a hideous mess." Xaero muttered. The pictures from the probe were too clear for them to be mistaken. Hot, poisonous, smoke laden atmosphere. Temperature maps that marked hundreds, possibly thousands, of volcanoes.
"They're all like this. And we think we know why." Doctor W'terp fiddled with the controls of the display and a schematic of the Zwehra system sprang up, showing the relationship of the three stars and eight planets.
"As we pointed out in the pre-mission planning, we're not actually sure the smallest star is gravitationally bound to the two larger stars. It is nearly a twentieth of a lightyear distant, and receding from the others. We think that at its nearest approach it badly disrupted the planetary systems of both the other stars. All planets show the signs of an intense meteor bombardment, and they may have all suffered from disturbed orbits and so forth.
"The end result is, that while there are two, possibly three planets the right size and distance from their primaries, none of them has any sign of life and their atmospheres are not breathable. They are all geologically unstable, probably due to the orbital disruptions and meteor bombardment. Their surfaces are very hot, with most of their water in the vapor stage."
"Even less livable than Mars. That's not going to solve our problem of finding someplace Martians can live."
Xaero bit her lip. "How long ago did the third star pass through, and how long will it take for the planetary surfaces to settle down? Keeping in mind that we can time travel."
Heads came up around the table at that.
Nyx brightened immediately. "We could go forward until the surfaces are cool, add bacteria and algae, and then jump forward multiple times, adding more complex biota, forcing a speeded up 'artificial evolution', if I can be excused for abusing a term."
"We'd need to establish protocols for traveling, so we don't arrive out of sequence . . . cause paradoxes, change stuff that's already done . . . " one of the scientists muttered, while tapping at his comp.
They all restudied the report in front of them or consulted their computers. The mood had lightened completely, and with hope restored, the meeting changed direction slightly and charged ahead.
Within hours they had beaten out the first draft of a second mission to Zwehra. First, to the past to check the movement of the third star, then jumping forward through millions of years to study the changes to the planets.
When they started talking about a live crew Xaero perked up, but the idea was shelved until the results of another robotic mission were received. From the first roughed out plan, it looked like it would take several tenths to get a more appropriate instrument package on the probe, by which time the programming would also be done.
None of it was within her competencies, so she turned to a consideration of biota.
Hotsprings bacteria, for starters? And then the simplest and most robust of the photosythesizing bacteria . . .