“The space habitats could be regressing too,” Archer argued back. “That’s why they don’t communicate with each other or… or use spaceships. Except for that one Walker saw.”
I did my best to ignore the bickering and started scanning for something more useful on the planet, like where would be a good place to land.
“I’m picking up a lot of useful data,” I admitted once there was a lull in the conversation about the space habitats and personnel shuttles. “The sensors on this ship are really good, and we’re getting close to the planet. I see a fair bit of wilderness of all biomes, climates, and terrains… plenty of cultivated land and small settlements, but only a few gatherings that could be described as – well, even as small towns, really.”
“That figures,” Jody grumbled. “Planet of the hick farmers. It’s of a piece with everything else we’ve found in this double-damned solar system.” There was a pause. “Sorry, Brett, but I think – just a suspicion, mind you, that my pain meds might be wearing off.”
“Probably right, but I can’t spare the time to recheck you just now,” Gary told her. “And we’re going to be coming in for a landing pretty soon, which will probably increase the stress on your system. Umm, Melissa, do you think that you could possibly…”
“I’ll check on Ensign Quinton,” Exec snapped. “I might not have ever taken the time for a formal field medic certification, but I’ve had to pitch in for a doctor under desperate circumstances before, and I saw what you were doing earlier, pilot Peterson. It’s not exactly rocket science.”
“I’m sure you’re right, sir,” Gary agreed. “Let me know if there’s anything I can help you out with.”
As Gary flew past low-orbit altitudes and descended into the planet’s atmosphere, I picked a landing spot outside one of the largest communities that I’d spotted, a small city’s worth of ornately designed buildings and sunny courtyards. Jody stopped complaining, so I suspected that either Exec had her doped up enough to zone out, or she’d gotten embarrassed over making such a fuss. And the Gaia’s hope engines roared into such vigorous life that there wasn’t much I could do but just sit there and try to take the G forces.
After only a few minutes, though, Gary had us landed. “I hope that this was a fallow pasture and not a valuable cash crop,” he speculated. “Would hate to have the natives angry at us.”
“Valuable crops, yes, but I’m not sure we can presume that they have any such concept as cash,” I pointed out, determined to establish my worth as our alien psychology expert from the start.
“Don’t give me any of that commie nonsense,” Colin Archer grumbled. “I don’t believe that any alien race could establish a space civilization without a more solid economic base.”
“It doesn’t look to me like they’ve accomplished much civilization anywhere,” Jody pointed out, sounding reasonably with-it and grumpy, so probably she’d gotten few if any pain drugs. “And from what I remember of communist philosophy, it could be right up these guys’ alley.”
“Enough of the pointless speculation on inadequate data,” Exec declared. “It’s time to go out and actually find things out about the natives from actually observing them.”
“And learn how to talk with them,” Jody replied. “My job.”
So everybody got up out of their acceleration couches, and Archer handed out the gear, and Exec went over to the Environmental console and checked out the stats on the planet’s atmosphere. “Higher in oxygen and nitrogen than Earth-normal, trace noble gases, carbon dioxide on the lowish side. Nothing that should be a problem for us, though I’m a little concerned that the oxygen concentration is edging on the danger side for hyperoxia. Peterson, do you know anything about the treatment for hyperoxia?”
Gary blinked slightly. “There’s no medical preventative or pharmaceutical treatment – just needed to remove the affected individual from the high-oxygen environment. What’s the partial pressure of oh-two outside, sir?”
“Twenty-six kilopascals, ensign.”
“That shouldn’t be a problem, then – hyperoxia requires a partial pressure of at least thirty kilopascals.”
“And do we have any idea how Kane syndrome would affect the threshold for hyperoxia?”
Gary looked around. “No, sir. Perhaps we should send a message back to ‘Discovery’ asking the ship’s medical staff if they have an opinion.”
Exec considered. “Dempsey, you’re communications. Patch Ensign Peterson through to medical. However, I don’t think we need to be overly concerned with a fairly remote possibility of complications there. The rest of the team is with me. We’ll use the airlock to make certain that the shuttle interior remains a normal-oxygen environment in case evacuation from the outside atmosphere is called for.”
To be continued…