Philey checked Emmo's room first, and getting no response, went on to Xaero's room. He heard Emmo nattering away from the corridor.
"Now, Dearie, the flowers _must_ sit in the main energy inflow to a room, to break up the stream and soften it. It's always best to not have to make a wall."
Philey tapped then walked in.
Emmo dropped her hands from the Invisible Wall stance. Apparently she was teaching poor Xaero all about Energy Flow.
Emmo sees a copy of the Ugly's book. She can read it, easily. "It's the language of the Elder Gods. Use to write the holy books." She took the sheets of paper from Xaero with hands that shook, and leafed slowly through the first pages. "It is a history of life on a planet they call . . . " She made a raspy gargle down in her throat. "Third from the Sun. They are talking about the Blue Planet."
"That's where we were." Xaero stared at the pages. "They were nothing like anything we saw there, I think they must have been from somewhere else, and came to study Big Blue. More than once, since they had a book about it already."
Emmo glowered. "You speak as if they were ordinary . . . space explorers."
Xaero nodded to her. "Yes. We were not around them long enough to notice anything that I'd call god-like about them. If they ever come to visit again, we may learn more about them, or realize that there is much that cannot be explained about them."
Emmo sniffed, and glanced at Xaero's computer.
"Please do use it for a translation. One copy for us, one copy for you to take to whomever you wish."
"Breaking News! Reporters from GAFTV in IceFire have just uncovered a Royal Family PLOT! While reporters tagged dutifully after local celebrity Xaero L'svages and her Boy Toy Prince, we have discovered a deliberate deception! In an attempt to break up what the Empress sees as a total misalliance, Prince Fatty has been deliberately swapped for his older brother. Under other circumstances we'd be horrified at the deception being pulled on an innocent subject, but the association of Xaero L'svages with the terrorist arm of the REM is indisputable. What REM intended, once this woman had the Crown Prince completely entangled is no less than..."
"They called me Prince Fatty. For that they deserve a complete information sandstorm." Trev muttered vengefully. "Maybe I can get them left off the press list for Fenny and Pas's announcement."
"Oooo! Nasty!" Xaero grinned, "but would it be worth it? They might find you in love nests with space aliens even more often then they used to."
"You know, it's been so long since they did that, I'd nearly forgotten." Trev smiled, "Perhaps I'll pass on revenge _this_ time. After all, if they asked me, I'd have to admit that, yes, I do love a space traveler."
She snickered, "Anyhow, I thought the Empress had decided to give The Announcement first?"
"Yep, they're just trying to figure out the best time to do it."
Report on large trips back to Z
"So, with four million years of observations, we can confidently say that the red dwarf is _not_ gravitationally bound to the double stars, and we don't have to worry about it coming around periodically to trash the planets again."
"What it did to the orbits of the planets is interesting." Saji L'on projected a new diagram of the system. "The double planets, weren't. Abbi was a close in, hot dry and dead planet, very much along the lines of our first planet, and Beltova was the largest moon of this gas giant; cold but possibly with primitive life, as there was detectable free oxygen in its atmosphere. The gas giant was pulled further out and several of its moons collided. The smaller ones were dragged along, but the combination of Beltova's greater momentum and the collision left it behind, and slowed enough to drop further into the system. It gained speed and took aim at Abbi...unfortunately the encounter wasn't caught by the probe, but as you can see here, both planets are intact as they come back into sight after passing behind the star, so we think there was more of a gravatic and magnetic encounter than a physical one. Beltova slowed and Abbi accelerated, and they are in close orbit around each other as they swing back out and...bullseye! Hit some debris, possibly part of the moon system Beltova left behind, or another planet that was broken, or an asteroid belt...plenty of possibilities.
"The end result, however, was that both planets got pelted for centuries, and some of the debris was quite large, large enough to effect their orbits, both around each other and around Zwehra B. In the end, they are in a fairly circular orbit, they have cleared the region of impactors, and are now cooling."
"The forward jump shows that the crust is stable and temperatures have fallen enough that liquid water is probable, less than a million years from now."
"There is a third rocky planet in a good orbit around Zwahra A, but it is larger with gravity over double Mars standard, and as such it is of less interest to us, however it also has had a complete surface rearrangement and is cooling back toward habitability." L'on nodded to Colonel S'trooth as he sat down.
S'trooth's job was expanding rapidly, he now had the entirety of the Zwahra project under his authority in addition to the ongoing Big Blue missions. Fortunately he was good at delegating, and stood only long enough to introduce Evene S'dow, a former miltary doctor who'd gone into research in civilian life. Xaero had talked to him over the comm and exchanged reports, but this was her first face to face meeting with the doctor.
"...as of today is in charge of the Marsiforming project."
Xaero suppressed a grin—Trev had bet the position would go to a bureaucrat. Even that would have been preferable to the virtual limbo they'd been operating in, and S'dow had given her the impression he knew what he was talking about.
"Thank you, Colonel." He replaced L'on's graphics with his own. "The Marsiforming project has a single goal—at least one planet we can live on. Given that we have no experience, our timetable is going to be very approximate, but here is our best estimate as of now..."
The meeting quickly became less formal, as they speculated on the chemical compositions of the three target planets, on how to deliver the various stages of biota, Xaero brought up the possibilities of using Blue biota, and they all argued about what they did and didn't know.
In the end they decided that their lack of knowledge of the surface chemical environment was the main stumbling block, and strongly urged S'trooth to concentrate on that. L'on was bright eyed and perky at that, no doubt already seeing himself in command. Xaero thought wistfully about how she could justify being part of the crew, as the formal meeting broke up for the first public tours of the Big Blue biota in the expanded, and expanding greenhouses.
Philey and Fenery were there, along with a large number of other 'outsider' lizards getting the grand tour. Trev was playing tour guide, and Xaero could see several of the lizards paying more attention to him than the strange critters. Well, there hadn't been any way to keep reporters out once they started the tours. They'd just have to take whatever the cheepers dished out. The envoys from the Union were getting VIP treatment. They were a mixed bag of politicians and scientists, hastily assembled in the four days since the Empress had invited their direct involvement.
Xaero climbed into her environmental suit. After all the time she'd spent on Big Blue it seemed unneeded, but they didn't want the microbes loose on Mars so... From the far side of the glass from the visitors, she explained, demonstrated, fetched critters right up to the glass and otherwise helped the open house along.
Philey seemed to be having a great time; Fenery was in ecstasy now that he'd gotten over Not Being Told that Trev and Xaero had actually gone to Big Blue. At some point the reporters were going to realize that there weren't any acknowledged princes Philey's age and start asking questions, but for now they were accepted as generic princelings and ignored. So far they hadn't twigged that Metini L'azlo's child, briefly on vid at his father's funeral/// was the first Imperial great-grandchild and was living here, however temporarily, with the family.
Trev led the VIPs off to the aquatic displays, and Xaero checked that all the critters were back where they belonged then climbed out of her environmental suit.
"So, when do we get to come in and play with the critters?" Fenery demanded.
"Watch it, Brat, I know where all the carnivorous plants are located around here." Xaero teased him. "Everyone's too worried about biological contamination—both ways—to allow casual visitors. But if you're _nice_ I can get you into the geology building."
"Thank you, Xaero, that would be great." Philey said, poking Fenery in the ribs. "See, that's the polite way to behave, not all snobby like most of the aunts and uncles."
The Imperial Guard trailing them appeared to be having a hard time keeping a straight face. Xaero wondered briefly if that was horror because she'd come close to threatening an Imperial Prince, or amusement over Philey's categorizing most of the Imperial family as snobby and impolite. She didn't know Jer J'sun well enough yet to be sure, but if he was anything like Vee or Leri, she'd bet the later.
"Right now I have to tend to the VIPs." She told them. "And then we'll be splitting off the Union people to talk about some stuff that is _not_ for public consumption. So I'll see you two at dinner. In the mean time," she pulled a crystal from her pocket, "Go check this out in the surround system you saw this morning. It's the extended version of the hour long show you saw this morning." The kids brightened and marched off with the crystal and the Guard.
Xaero caught up with the tour as they finished the watery habitats and broke for lunch. The Union people were split off for special wining and dining. The reporters got more plebian fare, but plenty of explorers to talk to.
The Union diplomats got yet another surprise.
"As you have no doubt noticed, we have not been very forthcoming about our method of space travel." Trev had been nominated as the spokeslizard. "Which is because we've had a breakthrough in faster than light technology."
That got the scientists in the group sitting up and ignoring their food.
"We have explored, not only Big Blue, but have also traveled to the Zwehra triple star system." He flicked a switch to bring up a holographic display in the center of the table. "This a diagram of the system, zooming in on the two Sun-like stars, you can see that we have found a total of eight planets. We were disappointed at first, when we found the planets all lifeless and showing signs of intense bombardment." The holo was now showing the surface of Abbi two million years in the future. "Tracking the red dwarf member of the system shows the cause." The holo showed the star's disastrous trek through the system. "Fortunately the dwarf star has not been captured, and will not be back to trouble us. As we studied the situation on the three most Mars-like planets, we realized that we had an opportunity to jump start an ecology on these planets."
One of the Union Biologist looked appalled. "But the native biota! How can you be sure it was totally extinct?"
"We looked." Trev told him. "We looked _hard_. There wasn't anything alive on any of the planets." The holo flashed the orbits of Abbi, Beltova and Cirusta. "These three planets have liquid water on the surface. They are all three quite warm by Martian standards, Cirusta is large, very close to Big Blue in that respect, so we have concentrated on Abbi and Beltova, which are, respectively about ten percent above and two percent above Martian standard gravity." The holo zoomed in to show the planets' mutual orbit, and then closer to show the double planets. "We are currently designing permanent bases for both planets." Trev flipped off the holo and sat back to catch the eye of the senior diplomat. "In my Imperial Mother's name, I invite you to join with us in developing these worlds, and exploring the Galaxy."