July 23rd, 2018

_Crux_ part 6


"What, no hangover?" Odessa sank down on a convenient rock. "Why are you planting a garden down here? Won't it get washed away?"

Jamie straightened, shovel in hand. "I figured that if I split the difference between the obvious average flood level." he gestured at the line of detritus, "and the highest vegetation, I'd probably not flood out, get blown out and might not have to haul water too far."

"You think the floods are over for the year?"

"Well, Roslyn says it's early Summer. I figured the worst floods would be the spring thaw, especially snow melt in the mountains. Maybe locally, too, we don't know anything about cold it gets. Or hot for that matter. I figured I'd plant several gardens and hope like hell.

He stuck the shovel in the ground and sat beside her. "I guess the real question is, do we want to stay or go? And do we have a choice?"

Odessa stared down at the river. It was broad and slow, probably a half kilometer across. "If my parents knew I was all right. If there were equal numbers of men and women. If the love of my life were here with me. If there were a couple of hundred of us . . . "

"Shot down on all points. And I see your point, too. Five women—one of them eighty years old, nine men—five of us confirmed loners roaming space all by ourselves. Not what you'd call the basis for a successful colony." He scratched his chin. "We've got the ability to make damn near anything, but our livestock consists of critters often mistaken for pests."

She nodded. "Rats, rabbits and guinea pigs. The seeds you've got are for the little shipboard hydroponics. Salad veggies, mostly. No wheat, no potatoes, no rice. Of course, us astronomers have even less. We didn't save any seeds at all. We did have a hydrocabinet. None of us thought."

"You were running for your lives. We only have seeds because they were onboard. I figure we need to plan on staying for two years. That might make it safe to go back the way we came, and head for the Alpha sing and try it, sans pilot." Jamie frowned up at the sky. "We'll fiddle up a magnetic trap and send it out, but unless we strike lucky, it'll be a decade before we find another singularity – if there is one. Lots of dead ends, you know?"

"Two years. Yeah that makes sense."

He grinned over at her. "And in the mean time you can study all of us, see if any of us fit the parameters of 'Love of your Life'. " He grabbed the shovel and got back to work.

Feeling guilty about being so unambitious, she walked back up the valley side, to the sere desert. "It's a bit like the Nile." She could see the landing hill, and the nearest ship, but detoured westward, studying the ground and the regular pattern of ancient city. Was this straight hard surface a road?

It ran in a perfectly straight line, and stepping to the side, she lined up the irregular edge of the foundations. It was hard to judge, but they seemed to run at an angle to each other. She followed the 'road' until it intersected the foundations, demolishing them in something close to a sharp line.

"There you are." Roslyn climbed down from the left. "What have you found?"

"Something bad, I'm afraid. I think this is some sort of weapon damage. Laser maybe."

Roslyn surveyed the lines and angles, and the intercept. "That would take a huge amount of power. It must have been a long time ago. But if we go through a different wormhole we are going to have to be very, very careful."

"In case it was an interstellar war? That always seemed so . . . economically futile."

"Yes, the sheer expense of fielding a space navy so far from home seems to make a war pointless. But if it was self inflicted, some of the population could have survived. Remember that old beacon at the wormhole? They must have been interstellar travelers. May have had colonies. This may have been a colony planet."

"And unless they've taken up Zen, species wide, we really don't want to meet them." Odessa agreed.

"In the mean time, I was wondering if they had any underground facilities. Water lines, sewer, power, transportation."

"A subway tunnel might have survived. We could use it for shelter." Odessa looked around. "How about that depression, there? Check it first?"


"The most likely area for a second wormhole is at a hundred and twenty degrees from the known one, and south instead of north. However, we're already awfully far south. We need to go north and toward Galactic west, although that is less important at this point. Anyway, we're going to look above the plane of the star's magnetic equator, leading and following the known wormhole by one twenty, if we don't spot something we'll continue around the star. If we haven't detected a singularity by then, we'll go south and do it all over again." Clint looked around the group, "Comments?"

"Can't we go any faster?" Zack was just being wistful though. They all knew the optimum velocity for a neutrino trap the size of the one they'd built.

"Don't worry," Allan grinned, "I'll come relieve you in sixty days. Heck I miss being in space all alone."

"Har, har. It's different when you have something to do. This is just press the start button and contemplate your navel for the next two months."

"Nobody was foolish enough to volunteer their ships for automation, so don't complain. Like as not we'll all be doing our stints." Jamie almost wished he had the first round. Get it over with.

Roslyn cleared her throat. "In the mean time, here on the ground we've found some better preserved artifacts underground. Odessa and I have been exploring."

Clint sighed. "I suppose you'd sneer at the suggestion that we should at least let other people know where we intend to go, in case we don't come back?"

The older woman grinned. "Asteroid miner habits. Sneaking off to find the best of the ore and get it to market before someone else figures it out is ingrained."

"In any case," Odessa said. "We've got a bunch of space under ground, and out of the postulated windstorms the lack of unsheltered vegetation has led us to suspect. However I cringe at the thought of such archeological destruction, if we knocked out a few walls we could get your ships under cover as well."

"All the deeper levels are flooded." Roslyn added.

Jamie frowned. "Fresh or salt water?"

Roslyn and Odessa frowned at each other, and shrugged. "It looked slimy, so we didn't check."

Zack grinned. "No suspicious splashes in the deeps? No unexplained wakes on the surface?"

"Oh, thanks, Zack, now I can have nightmares." Odessa snorted. "No, it was all quite dead. No Morlocs or Eloi, either."

"Oh, good. Degenerate cannibal aliens would be a bit much."

"I took a quick look at the recordings of the ground when I came in for a landing, coming up from the south. I didn't see any other possible city ruins." Jamie shrugged. "I hope this means that this was a colony world, not a mined out and abandoned world."

Zack departed with their jury rigged neutrino detector, and they all spent some time hauling water for the gardens.

None of the pets had died of anything they'd been fed, and seafood was added to the menu, along with a selection of seaweed and land plants.

"Ah. Steamed clams on the beach." Roslyn leaned back content. "Even if they do taste like a cross between mushrooms and liver. It still evokes a lot of memories."

Lonnie nodded. "We'll keep trying different sorts until we find some that really taste good. Pity about the fish." The swimming creatures had proven to have a large amount of uric acid in their flesh. While technically not poisonous, even the rats didn't think they were edible.

Sixty days after Zack had left, Allan took off. Zack returned in forty, and Jamie took off twenty days later. Belefleur seemed amazingly empty after over half a year of constant contact with people.

Wormholes tended to form in eddys, where the edge of the magnetosphere was regularly disturbed by an intersecting magnetopause from a companion star, or distant gas giant. Some times a burst of worm hole formation could be caused by the passing wave front of a supernova. They didn't orbit, but did drift along with the star, usually drifting away from their point of formation into one of the stable positions on the magnetopause. It was those positions that they would check, first. Then they'd check eddy points, the second star pretty much guaranteed turbulence . . .

"Jamie, stand off. I had a twitch, and I don't want anything through here until I've made another pass or three." Allan sounded excited.

"Must have been a damn strong twitch. I'll slow down."

Trolling for wormholes was a slow, painstaking business, with the ship well below orbital speed, and making vertical passes, falling inward and climbing outward through the magnetopause, which was far from stationary, although they were looking in the most stable part of it.

Allan's twitches fell off on the next two passes, but he double checked in any case, and then they consulted with the scientists.

"Typical blemish." Clint sighed. "Which means there's not a wormhole in the area, or it would have been eaten."

"Drat. All right, shall I take the array over to the leading position?" Jamie sighed. It would be a long haul, that they'd figured hadn't needed constant attendance, and Althea, who had taken off twenty days ago wouldn't be pleased to have to change course, either.

"I'm afraid so."

"Well. Might as well get to it. Althea? You listening in?"

"Of course."

"How about collecting some metal for the ground pounders, and Jeri can take over out here a bit later than he was scheduled."

"That will leave you with a long hang time."

"Yeah, maybe I'll take a double turn now, and loaf while you lot work later."