Jim Bradley stepped out of the pre-fab dome and looked around the compound, checking that all was well. The eight four person domes and four couples domes (including the one behind him) were arranged in a semi-circle around the large one, the dining hall and lounge. He could see activity around some of them, and knew that soon they would all gather in the communal dome for breakfast, and a last planning session.
He took a deep breath of the crisp morning air, and wondered again what it was that gave it that odd tang. Sort of like orange with cinnamon and something bitter, maybe bitter almond. It was not an unpleasant smell, it was, in fact, kind of nice, since the bitterness was so faint. The door behind him opened, and he turned to see his wife Sheila coming out. As usual, the sight made his heart give a little leap, and he smiled, holding out his hand.
Smiling up at him, she took it. “Good morning, Jim,” she said. “This is the big day!” Her eyes sparkled with excitement and she looked like a child on Christmas morning. He laughed, and agreed. It was something to be excited about. Today they would begin the real work - the exploration, discovery, and evaluation of at least part of this strange planet, so like Earth, yet so different. Once again his eyes travelled over the compound, coming to rest on the ceramic body of the shuttle that had brought them down to this strange planet. Now it served as the communications and science centre.
As they started walking toward the community dome, voices hailed them. Bill and Julie Hardy, the other co-leaders, came to join them. “Well, Jim, looks like you lucked out again!” Bill laughed. “First, you won the toss to go on the first exploration trip, now you have a perfect day to start the trip. Whatever God guards this planet must like you.” There was a slight edge to his voice, for all the jollity. He’d hoped to be the one to make this first, all important sortie. They had a great deal of information on the planet, but it was all from orbit, or drones doing a ball of yarn coverage at the top of the atmosphere.
“Maybe, Bill, but have you thought that it might be a demon in charge here? This place is just too good to be true, and that means there are things hidden that we won’t be too happy about.” Jim looked around again. “We’ve already found that the big, beautiful flower on those trees is deadly.
Who know what we’ll run into? That’s why I want one more session with the xenos, just to make sure we haven’t missed anything.”
“Yeah, that’s true. We almost lost Trisha to that thing. I’ve never seen anyone swell up like that. Good think Doc Avery was able to find the antidote so fast. Another hour and she’d have been gone. She’s still not looking too well, but he says she’ll make a full recovery, as long as she stays away from those trees. Look out for them, yourselves, they do tend to overhang any cleared spaces.” Bill turned to look at Jim and Sheila. “We can’t afford to lose anyone. Doc Clarke is going with you, and she’s as good as Avery.”
They arrived at the dining hall then, and were soon inside, surrounded by the rest of the exploration team. Some were busy finishing the preparations while others were setting the table.
The four co-leaders found seats, and everyone settled down. For a while, talk was desultory as they made determined inroads on the laden dishes. Jim ate, watching them all, and knew that if any group could make a success of this venture, they would.
Half an hour later, he took a sip of coffee, and tapped his cup for attention. “Ok, folks, this is the big day. Doc Clarke, have you got a good supply of all the things you’ll need?”
Anne Clarke nodded. “Ben is making up a last batch of the antidote to what got Trisha, and that’s the last to go in my kit. I have several other antidotes that we may need, but we are going into unknown territory. I’ll do my best, but if we run into something really strange, the best we can do is pray.” She shook her head and sighed.
“Ok, Doc, we don’t expect yo to perform miracles. Though we know you’ll come close.” He looked around the table. “How about the rest of you? Everything ready? Remember, there won’t be a store handy to buy something you forgot to pack. Zack, how about batteries for the radios, flashlights and lanterns?”
“Fully charged, and I have six solar blankets for recharging. All we need is a couple of sunny days a week, and we’ll be ok there. That includes the food storage unit, and the batteries for the boats. I also have a complete test kit for any foods we might find. The water here is ok, but I can test any new sources as we go.”
Casey spoke up “I’ve got chips to hold up to half a million shots of anything we think we need to record. And my computer can process them at about one thousand a minute. It’s powerful enough to send the info here and upstairs. And I’m a pretty good shot with the rifle, too, if we run into anything we can’t outrun.”
Jim looked around the table once more. “Anyone else have anything to say?” heads shook. “Ok, then that’s it. Let’s get the show on the road. You guys, keep the home fires burning for us. We should be back in six weeks. We’ll radio if we run into anything we can’t handle, and the drones will be following us from upstairs in case of a communications glitch.” He stood, and was soon shaking hands with those who would be staying behind.
The fifteen who were leaving gathered the last of their packs and headed off down the beach to the lake, where the boats were moored. Jim, Sheila, Doc Clarke, Zack Clarke and Drew Robins took the lead boat. Two more boats held four, and the last had two and the bulk of their supplies. The motors were quiet, and after a last shouted send off, they were pushed out to deeper water and set out across the lake. Jim looked back and waved. Now he thought the real work begins. I wonder what we’ll find? First, we have to buck the current in the river, and make it to what I hope will be a good landing spot for the night. Looks ok from the drone’s pictures, but one never knows.