Andrea – in search of space, picks up where Making Merry left off.
Fresh from her work on Project Prodigialis, Rear Admiral Andrea Smithson takes command of the Terra II project.
The largest in-system luxury cruise liner had been refitted and recommissioned in the Royal Space Regiment fleet as HMDSV Colin Pillinger. Its mission? To identify, locate and survey a habitable but uninhabited planet which can be populated over time to take pressure off Earth and its resources.
Andrea – in search of space. Chapter sixteen, part one.
Prior to embarking on an archaeological mission, the complement of the Colin Pillinger included four hundred and thirty-nine adults, of whom seventeen could be classed ‘stay-at-home parents’ and had as their main responsibility the care of fifty-seven children.
Staggeringly, of the four hundred and twenty-two adults available for duty, no less than thirty had training or experience in archaeology, either by study or by having taken part in organised digs, and a further one hundred and ten expressed an interest in taking part in any proposed dig on Earth-2. Additionally, seven officers in J’Lana Lustra’s science team and one in Shinshuu Tanimoto’s engineering department had studied palaeontology; two having graduated in the field.
Presented with these numbers, the management team: Andrea, Ishmael, Tarquin and Algernon concluded that the situation warranted a full and open airing. They therefore called a meeting for all senior and specialist staff as well as qualified archaeologists and palaeontologists at which the future direction of the project could be thrashed out.
The Admiral’s conference room on the Colin Pillinger was filled beyond capacity. All twenty seats around the large table at its centre were occupied and at least as many people were standing around the walls. Andrea addressed the room.
“Thank you all for coming. I am encouraged and almost overwhelmed by the response to my request. I still can’t tell you all the details of the project or mission that we’ve been sent here for, but I can talk quite a lot about this particular part of it. It is relevant to our overall mission and I think it’s going to occupy our minds and make demands of our talents and skills for some time to come.” She turned to her right and faced her Science Officer. “J’Lana?”
J’Lana Lustra pressed a button on the clicker in her hand, causing the one-metre diameter three-dimensional, holographic representation of the planet to hover above the table, eliciting gasps from those present who were seeing it for the first time.
“This,” J’Lana said, “is planet … you don’t want to know the official, technical name that defies pronunciation and is all but impossible to remember. This is the planet we’ve come to know as Earth-2. As it spins lazily in front of you, I’m sure there’s no-one here will wonder why it’s been given that epithet. However, when I switch it to its night-time view, you’ll notice a stark difference from the planet we know and love.” [click]
The room hushed. A murmur arose amongst many of those present, the general gist of which was an observation that there were no lights, no evidence of cities. London? New York? Tokyo? All missing.
“That’s the crux of it,” J’Lana said as she clicked back to the daylight view. “Let’s zoom in on the lower Thames, where we’d expect to find London. [click] As you can see, there are no buildings, no bridges, no signs whatever of human habitation. Our original thought was that this planet just looks like Earth but is very different. Let me collapse the hologram for a moment and put up on the screens – I hope everyone will be able to see a screen – what we found when a group of us set foot on the planet. The coordinates of where we landed matched those of an area of East Africa; for those of you familiar with that area it was in northern Tanzania, roughly between Kilimanjaro and Ngorongoro.” She started running the video. The room was silent until the point where the elephant ran out of the forest. They then saw, as did the landing party that the woodland they had just seen close-up was, in fact, teeming with elephant and giraffe. Not only that, but the clearing housed a significant population of zebra, wildebeest and various assorted antelopes.
“What does this mean?” someone asked.
Another said, “I wouldn’t worry. They only look like Earth animals. They’re probably totally different.” That view seemed to resonate around the room and gain some currency.
Andrea interrupted. “Again, that’s what we thought at first. Many of you know Lieutenant Joop Wijnans; he is our senior exobiologist. Joop ran DNA analysis on the saliva found on some of the leaves that exobotany had brought back from the edge of the forested area – what did you find?”
“Thank you, Ma’am. Yes. Firstly, and I hope the exobotanists won’t think I’m stealing their thunder, but DNA analysis of the foliage samples confirmed that they were a complete match with the terrestrial plants they resembled. Analysis of the saliva found on some of the leaves were a positive match with the Masai Giraffe and the African Bush Elephant. There were others which need further analysis, but I believe these will all match with known terrestrial plains-dwelling antelopes. On a later visit, I propose to collect grass samples to confirm zebra and wildebeest.”
“And, as an exobiologist, what is your conclusion, Mr Wijnans?”
“From the evidence I’ve seen so far, Admiral, I can only conclude that these samples were taken in East Africa.”
“And how do you suppose that could be?” Ishmael Al-Kawazi asked.
“I don’t think exobiology can answer that, Sir. Sorry.”
“Alexandra – can astrophysics throw any light on it?”
“We put that to the people who designed the Mass Transportation System we use for longest-distance travel, Sir. Their first reaction was that we may be looking at some form of parallel planetary evolution. However, there is so far no immediate sign of humans having evolved as a dominant species.”
“I’m glad you said so far, Alex,” J’Lana interrupted, clicking off the monitors and reinstating the holographic globe, “Let me show you what happens when we zoom in closer on part of what should be London.” [click]
The murmur around the room reached a crescendo. No-one had any problem deciding what they were looking at.
“It looks like ancient ruins. The last remnants of a long-dead civilisation,” one officer said, “poking out through the dense tree cover.” Another opined that it resembled a scene from one of the old Planet of the Apes movies.
Andrea took the floor again. “Ancient ruins. Planet of the Apes – although with no evidence of talking apes yet [laughter around the room]. Maybe even a scene from one of those awful post-apocalyptic, dystopian movies that were so popular for a while. But that leaves open some fundamental questions. Who built what is now ruins? When did they disappear? How? Why? If they didn’t suffer the same fate that dinosaurs suffered on Earth in the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event, how did they get away and where are they now? These are all valid and important questions. These questions are the reason we have been seeking out archaeologists and palaeontologists as well as our normal range of specialists. These questions are what the next phase of this project will address and aim to answer. Perhaps you could update us on the resources we have available, Captain Stuart-Lane.”
Tarquin got to his feet, looking and undoubtedly feeling somewhat flustered. “Yah. Okay. Right. Ahm. About thirty people on board are trained in archaeology or have been on organised digs. More than a hundred more have said they wouldn’t mind having a bash. Two officers are palaeo… thingummy graduates and six others have some knowledge of that stuff.”
“Thank you, Tarquin,” Ishmael said. “So, we want to set up three teams to carry out an extensive dig, working in shifts. Based on Tarquin’s numbers, each shift will ideally be made up of two or three palaeontologists, ten archaeologists and around thirty-seven volunteers. No-one is going to be press-ganged into this, every man and woman who takes part will do so because they want to. We’d like to start the work in seven days. Spend three or four days organising yourselves; selecting your groupings and so on; and let me have a definitive list of names five days from today. I’d also like the qualified archaeologists and palaeontologists to let me know, ideally within three days, what equipment and supplies will be needed to carry out this dig – include absolutely everything you think you might need; we’ll see if it’s necessary to do any pruning later. Any problems, any questions, you all know where to find me. Rear Admiral Smithson?”
“Thank you, Ishmael. I think that’s all. As ever, my door is always open if you have concerns or questions, although I doubt there’ll be many that Commodore Al-Kawazi or Captains Stuart-Lane and Pippington can’t handle between them. Thank you, Ladies and Gentlemen, we are dismissed.” Andrea rose to leave the room, followed by a commodore and a brace of captains.
They were stopped on the way out by Farid Levrentiev who asked if the senior officers felt that his training in social anthropology could be of value to the mission.
“Why didn’t you mention this before?” Ishmael asked.
“Sorry, Sir. I wasn’t sure if it would have been relevant.”
Ishmael’s rolling eyes suggested he was less than pleased with that response, but Andrea said, “Whilst I’m sure that would be useful, what would probably be of more value would be the services of an experienced forensic anthropologist.”
“Like Svetlana?” Farid asked.
“Who, prey, is Svetlana?” Ishmael wanted to know.
“Remind me, Lieutenant-Commander,” Andrea said, “what does you wife do?”
“Basically, she’s a stay-at-home mum to our two boys, Ma’am.”
“So not practising, then?”
“No, Ma’am, but she does keep up with developments in her field, and she is a regular contributor to a number of journals.”
“She’s that Svetlana Levrentiev?” Tarquin asked.
“Sorry, Admiral. Nusha and I have been reading loads of thrillers based on that forensic oojama-thingummy stuff and it’s so brilliant that we – well, Nusha really – subscribed to a couple of online journals. We’ve read a fair bit of your wife’s stuff, Farid. She’s good.”
“I know she is, Captain. I don’t have her qualifications or experience, but I do help her with her research as far as I can and I think some of it has rubbed off.”
Andrea whispered something to Ishmael, who nodded. She said, “Have her drop into my office, Farid. I’d like to have a word with her.”
“She is very keen to stay at home with the children, Ma’am. I don’t think she’d want a full-time job.”
“Understood. But I’d like to have a chat with her anyway.”