After half an hour, they had to admit that the plant didn't seem to do anything except throw rocks.
"Maybe that's how it spreads its pollen?" Billy Ray suggested. Everyone pointed out that the environment seemed to be lacking someone to throw rocks for the plant. They left it reluctantly, and kept going.
"Hey, here's a little dome!" Rex jogged over to it, peered in. "Skylight. Looks like a shaft that goes down maybe fifty or sixty feet."
Hondo mashed his nose against the glass. "It opens up a bit down there. Grass. Nothing moving."
Billy Ray tapped the dome. "Glass. Pretty thick. Slightly abraded. Probably not too old, not millennia, dunno about centuries."
Steve examined the base. "I don't think it opens. Can we break it, and get in?"
Rex hesitated, "Let's try the central dome first. There have to be doors somewhere."
They followed the line of domes through the gradually increasingly tall brush, and now trees. "Pine trees." Vera growled, carefully skirting another stone thrower.
Billy Ray disagreed. "Look at these needles, they're sort of flattened in one direction, not circular. Did you ever see such a thing?"
"California redwoods." Hondo circled a twenty foot green spike with big fleshy leaves growing directly out of the trunk in a spiral pattern like a staircase climbing the trunk. "Now, this is different."
That was unanimous. At least it didn't throw rocks at them. It took them two hours to get to the big dome. The pine trees surrounding it looked taller than the rest.
"Door! Here's a door!" Mark called. They clustered around as he tried various things with the handles. The rusty, corroded metal finally gave up the fight with a sharp crack, and then the door pulled open.
The canopies of the trees inside filtered the sunlight, so they walked through a dim forest. Rex fidgeted, finally pulling out a pecan to crack. He eyed it dubiously. "Look, is this, like, an exhibition? I've read some speculation that that's Earth's main value – is its unique plants. I think I'll leave them a present." He scuffed a hole in the forest litter and dropped in the pecan. "See what they think, eh?"
"That we sent them a single individual of a tree that doesn't self pollinate?" Chanel stepped past him to look out over a deeper area. "Here's where we get down."
The railed area was a broad, graceful staircase, that made about three fourths of a complete circle in getting down to the next level.
Rex tossed another pecan to his left, and started down the stairs. Under the accumulated forest detritus the stones of the steps appeared to be the original rock, left in place when the pit was dug.
At the bottom, the trees were a bit stunted and anemic. Four wide arched tunnels led off in the four cardinal directions, or at any rate lined up neatly with Rex's compass.
"We don't know anything about this planet's magnetic field. We need a whole bunch more equipment." Billy Ray ran his hands over the smooth walls. "I wonder how they made these? Why aren't they here?"
Because the tunnels were achingly empty. The detritus from the plants above spilling into them were the only signs of life. Rex walked down one tunnel, and peered cautiously into a side opening. Hondo clicked on a flashlight and followed. The rooms came in various sizes, all with low ceilings. Some had small holes in the walls, basins cut into the rock with holes at the lowest spot.
"Like bathrooms, but no one ever got back to install the fixtures." Vera said. "It feels like a new home. Almost finished, no sign that anyone has ever lived in it."
Steve touched the ceiling inches above his head. "Short aliens. Could this have been built by the Space Dinos?"
Chanel nodded. "That Metini would be about the right size, wouldn't he?"
"And they had the tech to do this." Russ said. "I got a better look at their spaceship than you did Rex, I'll bet they've got laser drills to make things like these 'pipe holes' in the rock."
"If they really are Martians." Billy Ray had his fingers deep into the holes in the wall. "When Mars dried out and lost the last of its atmosphere, maybe they first explored Earth, and then came here."
Rex ran his fingers along the wall. "And maybe they left it too late? Something happened and they never got back."
"Maybe they were from the future?" Chanel said. "And we just happened to hit a point in between their major construction and terraforming phase and actively colonizing the planet."
Rex nodded, "I'd like to think that. But this place is pretty trashed. Nobody's been maintaining it for at least decades, and possibly centuries. Maybe we can do some small time jumps, find out if they ever came back. Maybe Metini knows. I wonder how the Government is doing at analyzing his language? Do you suppose they've finished collecting bids from translator services yet?"
Chanel snickered with the rest, but it really wasn't far enough from the truth to be genuinely funny.
"Hondo? Do we have enough fuel to check out the twin planet?" Rex bounced on his heels, "Hey, shall we name this one Romulous and the other Remus?"
Hondo scratched his head, "Are you sure you don't want to be more American? I think Washington and Lincoln would be better."
"Or Washington and Adams, the first and second Presidents." Russ offered.
"Adams? I thought Jefferson was the second President?" Steve objected.
Chanel buried her face in her hands. "Adams. Adams was second." Looking around at the low ceilinged room, she felt a sudden burst of claustrophobia. She turned back and followed the dim light back to the tunnel. Light filtered by the dome's forest in one direction, a dimmed light from the other. "I'm going further down the tunnel."
She counted paces, and estimated it was a thousand feet to the next dim patch. She looked up about sixty feet to one of the small glass domes. Another tunnel crossed here, and in the dim light she could see the doorways in each corner. The rest of the group joined her, and explored around the rooms. "More houses." Hondo reported. "One for every corner."
"If the whole complex is like this, umm," Billy Ray stared at the ceiling as he worked it out. "We counted forty domes in the line we followed to the main dome, so if it's eighty-by-eighty, with four homes at every intersection, that'd be about twenty five thousand homes, or for the Average American Family, a hundred thousand people. Small city."
"But no industry," Russ pointed out. "I wonder if it's all houses, or if they carved out factories and such, further out?"
"Only one way to find out." Rex consulted his compass. "Let's take one of these tunnels all the way to the end."
"Mind the daylight, and our air supplies," Russ cautioned, "Since Hondo was the only one smart enough to bring a flashlight."
"The green patch is only about ten miles in diameter," Billy Ray said, "We should reach the end with a couple of hours, loping along in this gravity."
Rex checked his compass and led them down the cross corridor and around the next corner to strike the primary tunnel that led off in the direction that would take them closest to the plane. "In case there's an exit at the far end," he explained.
So they jogged, loped or leaped down the tunnel, as they each tried to find a fast gait suited to the gravity and atmosphere. "We didn't evolve to move in these conditions." Steve groused, as they paused to inspect some different openings. "Stores. Betcha." he said.
Chanel agreed with him whole heartedly, about both statements.
"Checkout counter right here by the door." Rex nodded. "Suburban strip center. Even Martian Ghost Towns have them."
Further out several larger caverns might have been industrial space and at the end of the tunnel, small doors beside large doors led to a shaft with stairs zigzagging up one side. The floor was covered with broken glass and the square shaft was overhung with brush.
"I'm really glad I landed outside the 'city limits', so to speak," Hondo trotted carefully up the steps, sticking close to the wall, as the stairs had no railing.
Rex consulted his compass again, and led them off through the tall brush, the shorter brush, and into sight of the plane. They all spread out and collected plant samples. Vera found a really small version of the rock thrower and refused to leave without it. They dug up a huge dirtball to avoid damaging its roots. Another hour's walk and ride on the golf cart, and they were back in the plane.
Russ fussed with some equipment he said would produce breathable air out of the thin atmosphere while Vera whipped up spaghetti and meat balls and garlic bread. Then of one accord they all crawled under blankets and slept.
After two days of further exploration, and sample collection, they decided to check the other planet.
All skepticism gone, Chanel plotted the time of day and direction of flight, and jump that would put them near the twin planet, Remus/Lincoln/Adams with nearly matched velocities. Again they jumped downward into the atmosphere. They flew over ocean, and continent, spotting a few patches of green, but nothing like the underground city or advanced plant life of the first planet.
"Well, that settles, one question." Rex said. "Whoever had plans for that planet wasn't from here."
"Can we set down?" Billy Ray asked. "I'd like to get some samples of the plants here, to see if they are the same species as the first planet."
"Someone fixing up both planets?" Rex nodded. "Good idea. I'm really starting to think it's our buddies from the Cretaceous doing this. I wish we could ask Metini."
"We'll do just that, when we go public." Billy Ray told him. "This is going to really make people sit up and take notice."
Rex nodded. "It's almost a shame to let the government in on this. You realize what we've done here?"
"Invented faster then light space travel and explored a new star system?" Hondo cut back the engines and let the plane drop lower.
"Well, yeah, but actually what we've done is opened a new frontier. A cheap frontier. We didn't spend billions to send two people to the Moon for a couple of days. Everyone can get into space now, for roughly what a house costs. And not just someplace like the Moon or Mars, but actual, almost livable planets."
"And there will be other planets, too." Russ pointed out, "with higher gravity than these two, and breathable air."
"Oh, yeah. We've barely started." Rex grinned. "Find us a nice landing spot, Hondo."
Metini L'azlod swore under his breath and wished, very, very badly that he'd managed to cram more space navigation knowledge into the brief days before this disastrous trip.
Every once in a while he caught a brief glimpse of a blue and white swirling ball, and now it was so large he was seeing it very frequently. Unfortunately he had a sneaking suspicion that that meant the tiny emergency pod he was in was not in the recommended orientation for atmospheric reentry.
If reentry was the right term. That was definitely not Mars down below.
Of course he knew that the air was breathable, even though thick and humid. And the gravity, while very high could be adapted to with lots of training and foot and joint support, not that he'd had any. He had lost weight, as recommended, but two tenths of zero G nausea wasn't the right way to do it.
He jumped at the sudden metallic clank, and smacked into the overhead. He grabbed the restraining straps for stability and looked through the porthole. The Dzi.
He cursed expressively and unstrapped. There were only two crewmembers awake and alive onboard—his stunner was military grade, and dangerous in the close quarters he'd employed it. That cold sandy little fem was going to get what she deserved, this time.
When the escape pod had been reeled in and clamped into place, he braced himself against the rear wall of the cramped space. When the hatch opened he straightened his legs and shot out, prepared to do battle once again. He ricocheted off the armored chest of a huge lizard, and was grabbed and restrained by two others. "Who the sand wastes are you?" he demanded.
"Department of Martian Security. You are under arrest, and will be charged with . . . "
"What do you mean, 'What am I doing at the La Grange Airport?'"
They all turned and looked as Rex yelped at his cell phone. "We just landed. You won't believe what we've found. Hurry up." He flipped the phone closed. "I swear, sometimes my brother just zones out completely."
"I'm going to call my Mom." Chanel said. "No, I won't tell her anything. Maybe I could go home and take a shower, too. Maybe a really long bubble bath. Very hot."
That brought nods and murmurs from them all. "Good plan," Steven said. "As soon as we put this baby to bed, I'm going to rent a car and head home."
"I ought to." Hondo called back from the nose. "I can't believe your brother is so cheap. He let the hanger lease expire while we were gone, but I think we can get it back. The moron I'm talking to says he's never heard of us, but the building is empty."
Chanel looked around the cramped, messy cabin with regret. But the exploration of space could not be left in the hands of amateurs. "Hondo? Can you let some of us off at the, excuse the term, terminal? I hate to abandon you, but . . ."
"The hot bath is calling." Hondo grinned over his shoulder at her. "Sure thing, and we'll see you, when, Rex?" He glanced at his chronometer.
It had taken three extra tiny jumps to get them back to the exact time they'd left. Chanel had recalculated that they probably gone back in time maybe a hundred years when they jumped to Alpha Centauri. She really needed to refine her jump program before these trips became common. No need to cause a time paradox. Who knew what would happen if you overlapped, and met yourself?
Chanel was the only one bailing out early. Oh well. She was a professional, an Agent of the FBI. She rented a cheap car and headed for Houston. This report needed to be delivered in person.
"Rex, have you gone completely round the bend this time?" Regis's brow wrinkled as he surveyed the ugly solar paneled DC-3. "I've never bought you a plane, and even you cannot turn a DC-3 into a space ship."
Rex gazed at his brother, perplexed, showing no signs that he was joking. "All right. Let's start from the beginning. I built a time machine that also involved some geographic displacement."
"Right. And you came home with three dinosaurs and wild tales about Space Dinos."
"And then one of the Space Dino's crashed his spaceship on Earth, specifically plowing right through that eyesore 'HOLLYWOOD' sign, before showing up on Oprah."
Regis stared at him. "Very funny, Rex. No, no little copper dinosaurs, and the eyesore is unfortunately intact." He hesitated. "I would like to think that quite a few of Oprah's guests weren't human, but unfortunately . . . "
"Regis . . . " Rex stared at him for a long moment. "Is this a time paradox? Where do you think I am, right now? I mean, where would you expect me to be?"
Regis eyed him warily. "At this time of the day, sound asleep in bed. Having spoken to you on the phone, I somehow failed to check if you were also home. Turn your phone off." He flipped open his phone and called Rex's number. "I don't believe I'm doing this." his whole body jerked at the familiar voice on the phone.
"Regis? What the hell? It's only 8AM?"
Regis stared at the phone, then hung up without speaking. "I think, umm, I'd better find a place for all of you to stay. Coming home might not be a good idea, just now."
Chanel dragged herself out of the bath with great reluctance. Ah! Her big fluffy terry cloth robe, hair dryer, makeup, her most formal business suit . . . her plans hit their first hitch when she surveyed the empty garage. "Damn. I left my car at Regis's ranch." But she still had the rental, so no problem, other than finding a place to park in the visitors lot.
She walked into the FBI's Houston headquarters confidently. She'd pop by the Boss's office make an appointment for a long meeting, and then download her three digital cameras and get ready to drop her bomb. She stepped out of the elevator and stopped dead.
There she was. In her favorite suit. Chatting with the Boss. They glanced at her as they stepped toward the elevator, and stopped dead.
Chanel looked at Chanel in disbelief.
"Boss?" She stared at herself, appalled. "I think I've found a working space ship. Unfortunately it also time travels, which may have some unfortunate repercussions."