"How fast is the situation going downhill? The official news is grim enough." Xaero picked up her briefcase and followed Trev to her office door. Her legal practice was about wrapped up. Raelphi was doing a good job keeping the clients happy, and she was free to head back to Sun Town.
"The excavation for the new cavern has run into problems. Mother is hoping to have an alternate plan ready for the public before that becomes well known." Trev shrugged, stopping with his claws on the still closed door. "They're arguing over whether to try an excavation in the lowlands, build more surface habitats or go public with the interstellar space program."
"Are you going to make it to Sun Town this week?"
"Yes, just one day late. I've got a meeting with the intelligence department firstday—I think they are trying to empty my brain."
Xaero grinned, "And they'd only just realized you had one. Poor fellows."
"They're trying to compare everything I know to everything they know, without letting the time travel stuff out of the bag. S'trooth is having me write verbatim reports, or at any rate, as much as I can remember, on every conversation I've ever had with all L'azlod's people, and editing it before passing it to Wilda S'haun, the poor lieutenant who has been put in charge of sweeping up any overlooked pawns." He reluctantly opened the door. "I haven't a clue what she thinks of this 'intelligence' coming out of nowhere. She probably thinks I'm insane."
"If she knew the whole story, she'd be sure. See you in three days, then." A long farewell look, in the elevator, then Xaero got off on her apartment floor alone and Trev headed for his home. No fond public farewells. Not only good sense; they'd both realized they were both more comfortable not making spectacles of themselves in public.
"The second expedition to Big Blue has checked in. They'll be landing tomorrow, and we need to get things ready for their biological samples." Doctor S'dow frowned at her. "I realize you have a legal practice, not to mention Trev's Imperial duties, but you two need to show a bit more commitment if you're going to stay with the explorers."
"It was complicated, and, well, isn't to be discussed." Xaero told him. "What have they got?"
The old scientist snorted and pushed a button to bring up the recorded messages from the Dzi.
Back to work, with a vengeance.
The automated mining and refining setup was still working, and periodically dumping a few tons of enriched uranium into orbit, so the second mission had traveled further abroad, landing on the plains near the worldwide lake.
"It's salty!" Mothe T'fayd crowed. "The water is very nearly too salty to drink."
"We've got tons of aquatic specimens, both plant and animal." Added Notte O'row, "We're going to need more space."
The radio frequency transmissions from the Dzi gave the ground crew a one day head start on setting up the needed space. Due to the Quake, building materials were in short supply, but they had priority and threw together the minimum needed pressurized and oxidized cubic in time to unload the new salt water organisms.
"Oh, this feels good." Mothy, as he was better known, bounced around the bare bones building. "I don't know what was worse, the tenth under heavy gravity or the day under zero! I feel light and my stomach may allow me to think of dinner any time now."
Xaero grinned, understanding entirely what he was talking about. "We've matched the mineral composition, acidity, temperature and carbon dioxide and oxygen saturation levels." She tapped the large tank, "Shall we see if one of your critters likes it?"
"Let's start with the microscopic ones." Mothy scanned the array of small tanks from the Dzi and picked up a syringe and needle. "Then we can start with the plants."
The tank's mechanically agitated surface slurped the tiny sample without effect. Xaero shrugged and returned her attention to the small tanks. "Some of them look like large insects, but these free swimming ones are really strange!" The streamlined scaled creatures flashed across the tanks with fluid ease, or loitered motionless save for the quiver of a few small fins, and the pulsing of the side flaps that involved their 'breathing' of the water. Their basic body shape was oval, variously elongated, generally taller than they were wide by-and-large, although some had larger blocky heads with a show of spines.
"I've seen fossils of things like this," Xaero muttered, "billions of years old, but they all died out. They may have needed water like these. Are there any amphibious forms?"
"None." Notte put in as he closed the airlock style door behind him. "Well, there are, but they are entirely different from the swimmers. The amphibians have a larval stage, during which they are aqueous, and then a terrestrial adult form. Apart from a brief overlap in that type as they mature, we haven't found any animals that can breath both air and water."
"Yeah, we collected some of those on the first mission. It makes sense," Xaero admitted, "It's not like all that water is going to evaporate and leave them dry, and the land has enough relief that the water can't cover significantly more than it currently does. Why waste metabolic load carry two types of breathing organs?" She admired the swimmers for a moment more. "They're beautiful."
Some of the specimens in the other tanks looked nearly familiar, the two-shelled filter feeders stuck to rocks were not unlike Martian animals found now only in the deep cavern pools and farm ponds.
"The parallel evolution is so odd, don't you think?" Mothy asked.
"It certainly makes Nyx's meteoric contamination theories look good, but how the sand could anything like these have survived the trip?" Xaero frowned. "How do they reproduce? Clams in the farms have a microscopic egg phase, could these? Could some have survived?"
Notte brightened, "I read a theory—no way to test it, of course—that the Mars paleo forms may have adapted to an annual freeze and thaw cycle as the atmosphere thinned and the temperatures dropped. A large enough meteor hit on a frozen mud flat might have thrown chunks of frozen mud, even microscopic chunks, off of Mars."
"It seems so unlikely, though." Xaero said. "There weren't that many large meteor strikes after life started, were there? The early Solar System had plenty, but that ended with the planet building phase, long before life began."
"Big strikes became more rare, true." Mothy said, "but they didn't stop altogether. Granted you need that unlikely event, with enough energy to throw the ejecta clear out of the gravity well without frying the living cells within it, then it has to encounter that other planet before it absorbs enough radiation—or just time and temperature—to kill everything in it, and then it has to survive reentry without heating enough to kill everything all the way through. But." It paused theatrically. "Given enough time, it is nearly certain to have happened. Many times, actually."
"Is a billion years enough time?" Xaero asked.
Notte smirked. "We'll have to wait for Nyx on that one. He's grabbed our DNA data and become one with his computer."
"It's very strange, all the similarities." Xaero shrugged and after one last survey of all the tanks reversed her way out through the multiple layers of biocontainment. Once beyond clean, she hiked across the open ground (last barrier to contamination) and back into Sun Town.