“That’s good,” Ian Mitchell, the Meteorologist, said. “This planet has an eccentric orbit, more ovate than Earth’s. Because of this, the orbit is longer, but narrower. Not much, but enough to give long, cold winters. It gets some closer to the sun than Earth, like about half way to Venus, and almost as far away as Jupiter. They’ll need to be able to store food for those severe winter months. Fortunately, this planet travels its orbit somewhat faster than the Earth does, so the worst weather is over fairly quickly. But, not so great, so are the warmest times. I think the growing periods will be long enough to get one crop while farther out, then as it gets closer to the sun two and maybe three.”
“Right,” Elizabeth Wright, Astronomer, agreed. “The sun is a G2, just like Sol, so we know about how warm and how cold it will get. If the colonists are given proper supplies to get them through the first year or two, they should prosper.”
“Yes,” Jim agreed. “They have also found some things to look out for. Samples or pictures will be here this afternoon. Josh Hadad thinks that anything with an exoskeleton will be poisonous. Dab Madsen ran into one, a thing that kind of looks like a legless pig. It bit him, and he was pretty sick. High fever, with a chickenpox-like rash. Not as dangerous as Tim’s bug, but serious enough. Ben said crustations that look like clams, mussels, oysters and squid are to be avoided. But anything crablike, or like crawdads, lobsters, prawn and shrimp are ok. That seems to agree with what you’ve found, Georgiy.”
“Good. Have you told him about the two fish I’ve found?” Georgiy asked.
“Yes, I have, and pictures and preserved pieces of flesh are in the capsule. I think we should finish off everything today, and move on tomorrow. Our next stop is at the rapids, and from there we trek. Lucky for us, the boats are convertible, so carrying everything will be easy. Do check out the gravlifters, Zack. We’re going to need them.”
Three weeks later, the forest was thinning, and they could see mountains in the distance. Growing in the clear areas was a beautiful, bright red flower. It was quite large and supported by a strong stem. Carmen Santos, xenobiologist, carefully picked one and put it in a sample container. She smiled as she placed it in her bag. “It has the sweetest aroma! I’d love to have a perfume made from it.”
They were well past the rapids, and the river had turned away to the west. Everyone had been conducting research as they went, and they now had several more edibles. A root that had a bright yellow skin and pale yellow flesh and a vaguely potato flavour when baked. Several small plants that resembled Earth herbs like sage, thyme, basil and rosemary, and a tree fruit the size of a cherry but green, with a sweet, plummy taste.
As they trekked along, Casey saw an animal, about the size of a young deer. It looked like a cross between a deer and a beef steer. This was one that had been tested at the base camp but they hadn’t seen any before. He quickly drew his old fashioned Colt 45, took aim, and shot. The little animal dropped where it stood the bullet had struck right between the eyes.
“Well, Casey, you weren’t kidding when you said you were a good shot!” Jose exclaimed. “Now you get to carry it to our next campsite.” he grinned. “Hope you don’t get too much blood on your shirt!” the others joined his laughter, but Casey only smiled. He left his gravsled and went to the body. There, he reached into his backpack and pulled out a small gravlifter. He strapped it around the middle of the body, turned it on, and walked back, the gravsled obediently following him.
“He got you that time, Jose,” Drew laughed. “How come you had that?” he asked Casey.
Casey smiled. “I have half a dozen of them,” he said. “I never go anywhere without them; you never know when one will come in handy.” He pulled a piece of plastic canvas out of the load on the gravlifter, wrapped the body in it and fastened it to the load. The gravsled was folded and restored to his pack. “Fresh meat for tonight, and enough to store in the locker for another meal or two.” He was well satisfied with his little escapade, and grinned at them all.
“Ok, I can go for that,” Jim said. “But we have to get cracking if we’re to reach the next campsite before it gets too dark to set up camp.”
After the evening meal, which turned out to be a real treat with the fresh meat, Carmen went to her tent. “I’m going to start some tests on that flower. I really hope it’s not poisonous. Just think what Earth women would pay for a perfume made from an exotic flower from a strange planet! And it has a truly striking aroma. The colonists could make a mint, just exporting that.” She grinned as she walked away.
Some of the others went to work on experiments of their own, but others stayed by the fire, discussing their work, and the news from base camp. Elizabeth brought out her telescope and moved away from the fire. She spent a long time studying the stars, until at last Jim called “Elizabeth, you should get to bed now. We’ll be leaving before the sun rises, and that’s only a few hours away.”
She looked around, blinking, surprised to see that the fire was low, and she was the only one still up. “Oh!” she exclaimed. “Right, Jim, thanks. Once I get working time ceases to exist. I’ll just finish these notes, and close down.” Jim nodded, and went back to his tent. Soon all was silent in the camp, though shadows drifted around outside the barrier fence. The humans weren’t the only ones who were curious.