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22 July 2018 @ 09:03 am
_Crux_ part 5  

The atmosphere was thin and cold, but breathable at sea level.

"Not much vegetation on land." Jamie muttered. "Just along the rivers, mostly."

"On the good side," Odessa sounded excited. "We won't have to worry about large predators, if life is just moving out of the oceans and onto land."

"Point," he admitted. "Well, shall we do this?"

Roslyn answered back, "Definitely." And fired her main engines.

"Strapped in?" Jamie called back.

"Ready." Clint answered.

He initiated the landing program, and chewed his fingernails as the ship slowed and dropped toward the atmosphere.

He'd owned the Bellefleur for eight years and never landed her on a planet this large.

When he'd left college—dropped out and faded back into anonymous space when the questions started getting too close—she'd been the first thing he'd bought. The uncles had retired rich, and gifted him above and beyond the deckhand's salary he'd banked since he was old enough to help onboard.

Asteroid mining suited him. Nobody asked who your mother was. They only wanted to assay the percent of rare metals in your haul. This Odessa Hey was nosey. Curious. Dangerous. He snorted a bit in amusement. Not that it really mattered anymore. The likelihood that they'd ever leave this system was very low.

The mining ship was clunky, and had to slow to well below the speed of sound before entering atmosphere. No blazing re-entries here. He could track the thickness of the atmosphere by sound, the first thin whisper, the whistle through the pipeworks and the carefully folded up manipulators, and finally the muffling effect, no more the clarity of dings and pings, just dull thumps and booms.

They'd picked the dry hills above a river delta for their first landing spot. Roslyn came in from the north, surveying the coast, and he came from the south, swinging inland to scan the higher hills, then following the river west until it split into channels and wound itself down to the sea.

He let Roslyn touch down first, "Such a nice young man, when he not being a punk." Then settled fifty meters south of her _Wizard of Odds_.

***

Odessa bounced from window to airlock porthole. With a planet, with unrecycled fresh air just a double sheet of lexan away she was feverish with claustrophobia.

"Give the poor little rat at least an hour," Roslyn said, calmly shaking out what she called her 'holiday' clothing. Clothing suitable for planet surfaces. Nice wool slacks in dark green, a tan sweater, a plaid jacket in three shades of tan and four of green. "Pity I never thought to bring clothes for roughing it." She dug around in another bag and pulled out a shoe. Shiny black, moderate heel. "I don't think so." she rummaged further and pulled out a flat in dull black. "I think this is the best I can do."

Odessa had put on her traveling shoes, sturdy walking shoes, but otherwise stuck to her station coveralls. And bounced back to stare out the forward windows.

She could see the wind blowing, the sand and dust stirring. They'd landed on a flat topped low hill. The ground was rock, cracked in a roughly rectangular pattern, scattered blocks of stone heaved up from the mass, and all with a coating of fine grit. She paced back to the airlock and looked at the rat, who was reared up against the wire of his cage, gazing out the open outer door. "He looks just fine."

They'd landed facing west; a hundred meters in front of them the hill dropped off toward the ocean. The coast here ran roughly north-south, with the delta protruding out into the ocean three kilometers, for about six kilometers of the coast, just north of them. Directly in front of them the hill dropped off into sand dunes and beach. There wasn't a bit of green to be seen anywhere. They'd have to hike to the river or delta to study the plant life they'd seen from above.

She switched windows, peering north. "How far from the river are we?"

"About two kilometers, and all the plants were well down below the rim, so you won't be able to see them. Makes me wonder about what sort of windstorms the planets has." She broke off with an exclamation. "Those _men_!" she punched the airlock controls and marched out.

Odessa hurried after her gulping huge breaths of the crisp cold air that blew through the open outer door.

Doctor Coutts grinned and waved from the ground, as did the tall slender man beside him.

"Have you no respect for the discoverer of a planet! I can't believe you walked out first." Roslyn stomped up to the younger man and glared.

Jamie just grinned. "It's our duty as males of the species to take the brunt of the dangerous tasks. We were driven by evolution to make sure it was safe out here before you emerged from the safety of your cave."

"Punk." Roslyn thumped his arm then turned to the older man, with a sweet smile. "I do hope you haven't let this reprobate lead you astray. Roslyn Crooke."

Doctor Coutts took her proffered hand and kissed it.

Jamie grinned and stepped around them. "James Kleven, pleased to meet you in the flesh at last." He was a few inches over six feet, slender and broad shouldered, with warm reddish brown eyes and light brown hair. Like most spacers he had a tan from the ship's full spectrum lights, a standard precaution for those living in space. Vitamin deficiencies were an easy problem to avoid.

He dropped his eyes to the ground and scruffed at it. "I wish I had more dirtside geology experience, I don't know what to make of these rocks."

Odessa knelt and studied the rough surface. The blocks were all abraided by the windblown sand. "Sedimentary, you can see the pebbles in it."

"It's awfully hard." Jamie produced a knife and scraped at the block. "Maybe a hot ash flow? Caught up all the pebbles before it cooled?"

Odessa stood and dusted off her hands. "I don't know. I took a few geology classes, but not field recognition." She headed west, toward the edge of the hill. The sand built up, making a small dune field in a dip, then the slope dropped off sharply in a ten foot cliff. She cut over to a more negotiable slope and half slid down in the loose sand looking back to see if the cliff face could tell her more than the surface above.

"It’s got the same rectangular fracture pattern . . . "

The regular rectangles were all the same size, overlapping from layer to layer . . .

"It's a wall. A brick wall."

***

Jamie sipped cautiously at Zack's homebrew and listened to the ideas being bounced around the campfire.

"No point in being surprised." Luke said. "We know people didn't get this far, we know that dead beacon wasn't ours. And now we have the ruins of a civilization. Probably killed themselves, God knows humans came close enough often enough."

All eight ships were down now, and they'd pooled their resources for a party.

Jamie and Clint had chopped enough native vegetation to provide the campfire, and after testing (and Roslyn's rats and his guinea pigs) had found no nasty surprises, and enough protein for the food synthesizers to provide a steak dinner. Both river and ocean housed critters that looked roughly like fish and clams and barnacles, but they were waited for further testing-by-pet before they ate anything that wasn't run through a food synthesizer first.

They'd found plenty of evidence of occupation, the foundations of a medium sized city here where the river met the ocean. There didn't seem to be a single intact building, and there were melted patches here and there.

"No radioactivity, nothing unusual in the way of plutonium or any of the other long lived isotopes."

"Hell, without knowing anything about their weaponry, we could posit anything. One side built a giant parabola in space, to cook the opposition. Something went wrong, the whole planet cooked."

"The whole planet? Careless buggers, weren't they." Allan was stretched full length on the sun warmed rocks, watching the stars. To the north the milky way dominated the sky, filling in the darkness of space with billions of brilliants points of light. Over head the dense, distant stars thinned abruptly, and the darkest, deepest black was relieved by the occasional brilliant point of light.

"Could have been natural, a solar flare. Stellar flare. Whatever." Matt Giesler, the astronomer collapsed beside him. "What proof is this stuff?"

"Very!" Zack called across the fire. "You'll be able to tell by the headache tomorrow."

"Thanks, 'preciate that."

"No prob. Refill?"

"Yeah, what the Hell."