YEAR 1—GENERATION 1
Grateful for this opportunity to create a new society in full harmony with nature, we enter into this covenant, promising one another our mutual trust and support. We will face hardship, danger, and potential failure, but we can aspire to the use of practical wisdom to seek joy, love, beauty, community, and life. —from the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pax, written on Earth in 2065
The war had begun long before we arrived because war was their way of life. It took its first victims among us before we understood what was happening, on an evening that seemed quiet. But even then, we knew we could easily be in danger.
My wife, Paula, shook her head as she left the radio hut in the plaza of our little village. "There's too much interference again. I'll try one more time, but if they don't answer, we'll start a search."
An hour ago, three women had gone to pick fruit. They did not come back, they were not answering their radio, and the Sun had sunk almost to the top of the hills.
Around us, tiny lizards in the trees had begun their evening hoots and chimes. Nine-legged crabs silently hunted the lizards. The breeze smelled bittersweet, perhaps from something in bloom. I should have known what, but I did not.
Uri and I were fixing an irrigation pump, but I knew his mind was on one of the women, Ninia. He had just begun living with her, and he was squinting up the path through the fields where she had gone. And then he was jerked back to the present when the wind tangled his long blond beard around the pump handle. He knelt to free it. I pulled a jackknife from my belt, stroking my own short beard. He saluted with one finger. He was a Russian Slav, and a proper Slav never cuts his beard.
Paula went back to her work at a rough-hewn table nearby, trying to make sense of weather data. A wide straw hat held her red hair in place and protected her skin from the Sun. She took a deep breath and stretched her stiff back. We all struggled with the stronger gravity. Finally she entered the radio hut again.
Everyone stopped what they were doing and listened. The hut's walls were panels scavenged from a landing pod and the roof was tree bark, so the sound carried.
"Hello?... Ninia? Zee? Carrie?"
"Hello?... This is Paula. Do you hear me?"
"Ninia, Zee, Carrie? Are you there? Hello?" After a moment, she came out to the plaza. "Maybe the batteries died again. Let's look for them."
She kept her voice reassuring as she asked Ramona to bring a medical kit and Merl to carry a radio and microphone to listen for emergency whistles. We would also need people to carry three stretchers and someone to bring a weapon: standard operating procedure. Uri picked up his rifle.
We set off westward up the steady slope of a meadow toward a white line of vines and trees a kilometer away, hiking as fast as we could. Low clouds dotted the sky, some already tinted pink. The stronger gravity meant that the atmosphere thinned fast above us, so the clouds were always low. We passed the long field that we had planted with a native grass resembling Earth's wild wheat, whose green shoots stood almost ankle-high. The air smelled of moist soil,
and spiny caterpillar-like creatures the size of fingers inched across the surface, swallowing big mouthfuls of dirt and excreting dark castings that seemed to be good manure. The caterpillars might have been larvae of some sort. We had no way to find out except by waiting.
But the presence of the wheat worried me. The wheat was a lot like Earth grass, and if there was grass, then there were grazers, maybe animals like gazelle, moose, or elephant. And if there were grazers, then something hunted them. So far we had seen only small browsers and predators like little land crabs with trilateral symmetry, but we had found bits of big crab shells—and of big stone-shelled land corals with stinging tentacles. None of us went barefoot anywhere.
Uri and Merl took the lead, pointing at tussocks of dry grass or bright coral bushes where something could hide and leap out. Lizards fled at our approach, moving lightning fast. In heavier gravity, things fell faster and animals moved faster. We humans were slow and ignorant, still aliens. I saw a burrow and aimed a flashlight into it. Something inside barked, and we all jumped.
"Just a bird," Merl said. Flightless bird-shaped animals with spiny feathers scurried around day and night, and while some were big, they did not seem dangerous. We kept going.