Escellion was a lovely world ~ from the air. It was difficult to believe how inhospitable it had proven to be even though it looked like the Garden of Eden from Marci’s window. Travelers who ventured out into its seductive grace never returned. Some were found dead right after she arrived on the first ship. There was not a mark on the bodies. They had been outside at night for the duration of the nightly rain showers. It looked as though the travelers simply died of getting rained on. The bodies of the travelers were examined, and found to be heavily dosed with some kind of foreign element. It was in their bodies and on their clothing. It was then that the unsafe unknown chemical was discovered in the water on the planet. Massive filtration systems were attached to the plumbing immediately to prevent further deaths from contamination. The sludge from the filtration systems was disposed of as far away as safely possible from the dome.
Escellion had no oceans. The landmasses are not separated into continents like they are on Earth. The only deep water seemed to be near the poles of the planet, but most of the surface was one continuous quagmire. Every place there was solid ground; it was covered with a jungle of impenetrable underbrush, and huge rock hard towering hardwood trees that could not be utilized, because no saw blade would cut through the scaly bark. It was almost like magic how the blades would melt and warp if somebody tried to use a power saw on them. When the tree was examined, there was not a scratch on the coin-like bark where the ruined saw blade had beat futilely upon it. The lush, dense and exotic woodland was surrounded by water and green sticky mud. From the sky, large lizards that looked like enormous alligators could be seen sunning themselves in the afternoon sun on tiny land masses here and there. Large amphibian fish would crawl up onto the small islands that stuck up out of the green mucky water here and there to hunt and drag the prey back into the water. The scientists were interested in what looked like the carboniferous period unfolding before their eyes in real time. Even though no explorer could venture out into the primal world and hope to return alive, Escellion was giving researchers massive amounts of information about the development and growth of their own world through satellite imagery that was being sent back to Earth by information packets on the transports.
When Escellion had first been discovered, it was suggested that deep trenches could be dug and piled up to create small islands that would make a base for small towns and outposts. Large lakes and rivers could be formed to drain the swampy areas and create farmland. Cities much like Earth’s Venice would be brought to life. Watercraft and helicopters would be Escellion’s vehicles. If the dense forest of hardwood trees could be bulldozed or dug out of the ground, possibly to use as an island foundation, trees that could be cut and milled could be planted instead to stabilize the newly built islands and hold the soil together. The poison in the water prevented all of that. The toxic chemical prevented vehicular travel in the environment. If the water could be tamed, the planet could be utilized.
Research was started immediately to see how the poisonous chemical of Escellion could be neutralized, or at least figure out what recognizable elements it was made of. The chemical defied analysis. It recalibrated electrical systems as if it had a mind of its own. It acted like a computer virus if it got even close to any type of console, destroying the operating systems and the bios, painting the motherboard with a strange colorful mold, rendering the computer useless and irreparable. It seemed to morph and melt metal of its own accord in many places on the existing structure. Maintenance got called so often that new construction had almost come to a complete standstill. It completely melted a large earth moving machine that got left out in the rains overnight. The next day it looked like a colorful used birthday candle.
Marci dropped a note into the company suggestion box that by gardening on the top of the structure, some protection might be afforded by the turf like covering of topsoil and plant life. She added that sometime in the future, tiered planting near the dome could provide more effective food production. Plans to cover the dome with intensive gardening plots were soon being implemented experimentally.
Those who braved the hostile planet’s danger worked in the small window of safety to plant and grow produce during the driest part of each day. Earth was desperate for all the food that could be harvested and shipped back. Vehicles used for farming were carefully housed in a covered and sealed bay area just inside the dome after the incident with the earth mover during the first week.
One thing the colonists found that was odd about this, was that the chemical did not affect the plant life at all. It did not enter or contaminate the produce. Food could be carefully harvested, wearing protective gear, and rinsed in filtered water, and it would be perfectly safe. Although the nightly rains were a real problem for growth and progress; they made the vegetation lush and food production very high. Manufacturing tinned goods for resale was the main push of the colony. Canning facilities were set up in the deepest parts of the dome, far away from the night rains to preserve the precious cargo for shipment. Originally the farmland had been designated as building site for more domes and more workers; the nearby forests were going to be the lumber to build with. In light of the subtle hostility of the environment, those plans were scrubbed until research could be funded to identify and overcome the mysterious chemical.
Colonization of the planet had to take place regardless of personal risks involved, or expense. In short: too much was at stake to turn back now. The population of Earth depended hungrily on what could be gleaned from Escellion. Earth was a dying planet. It needed food and resources or mankind would soon perish. The only safe place for setting up a colony so far, that was not swampy or too dangerous to land in, was this Mountain Top Dome. Underground construction had begun in the center of the dome. It was far away from the moisture of the night rains. The colonists had hoped to find minerals here, but so far, they have found mostly a soft chalky limestone. It was hoped that this area could be sealed effectively if polymers and plastics were used instead of the lightweight metals of the original structure. The soil was taken onto the top of the dome where it has been used in the planting experiments. Marci had sent a letter to her dad last year to try to get some strawberry seeds for the project. The seeds were due any time now.
The animal life on the planet seemed impervious to put up perimeters, so setting up a mining operation in the nearby rocky terrain was strongly discouraged until the chemical could somehow be controlled. The animals ran from the rain. They seldom crossed the nearby mountain stream either. Farming was usually safe inside the stream barrier, and they could not get through the dense forest behind the dome where the refuse pile was. If men could conquer the rains, they could safely use the nightly rains to further exploration and utilization of the planet’s assets. The rain’s peculiar effects on metals and electronics at this time prohibited any further exploration, unless an explorer wanted to traverse the prehistoric mountain environment in a plastic dome on nylon bicycle fittings. So far, no vehicle has been found safe or effective for the rocky terrain. Attempts to remove some of the obstacles to extend the colony perimeter or create roads into the interior have been bafflingly difficult and frustrating.
No sentient life had ever been discovered. It is believed that some catastrophic event has wiped out the once bustling planet. Anachronistic ruins of great cities were visible from the air. There was never any safe place to land near enough to explore them; though some have tried. It was such a puzzle to see the evidence of a once advanced society that seemed to have been blown out of existence on a world that was young enough to have dinosaurs like sauropods roaming the northern lands. The satellite picked up a rare image of what looked a flying version of the velociraptor around the equator near the mountain. On Earth the raptors were carnivores. If they were meat eaters here too, and not only able to run very fast, but also to fly; they would be a formidable danger to the scientists who tried to study them. When the images were reviewed it was noted that the moderately sized flying lizards looked very similar to the dragons of legend on Earth.
A foray was taken in a heavily plastic armored amphibian vehicle manned by explorers wearing space suits to try to investigate some of the countryside past the normal vehicular travel. A video was sent back of lovely exotic plants that looked like enormous lily pads the size of a kitchen table, and mysterious blue trees with pale lavender leaves. You could not see the trees until you were almost on top of them. Somehow, they were invisible from a distance. There were calamite-looking plants that looked like enormous horsetails. The scientists guessed that like the fossils of Earth, the woody trunks were probably hollow, and could be useful in creating plumbing if anyone could safely get close enough to one to attempt to cut it down. There were large bushes with the metallic red and green leaves like one that sprouted and grew near a window beside the dome after it first landed. There were gigantic trees festooned with lichen growing so close together that it would be almost hopeless to try to walk between them. They seemed to all be a part of the same tree. That was the green you could see from the sky. That was the same forest behind the sludge and refuse pile. Tall fern trees and cordaites with impressive root systems filled in any empty space in the forest with an impenetrable undergrowth.
Something moved in the branches of the top of the forest, but the scientists could not make out what it was. One thought he saw an enormous eagle, another thought he saw the back of a large cat like a lion or a cougar. There were different and strange animals, like a pig looking thing with a turtle shell on his back and the alligator with hinged jaws and heavy electrical voltage. They never did see the elusive velociraptor with wings that images from space had reported, but most of them actually were rather relieved that they didn’t. They came across an enormous catfish with a powerful tail that smashed through two of the dense tires on the vehicle. He hunted down a small pig with a turtle shell on his back on the shore. The huge catfish simply looked at the swine looking animal and it seemed to be drawn to him even though it was fighting not to go near it. The fishes’ maxillary barbels on the sides of his mouth could freeze whatever animal it touched. The unfortunate creature froze solid and the catfish climbed out of the water, right up onto the bank using his front fins like legs and took his catch back into the water to eat. Bright and colorful perch swam in a copious school beside the boat and surprisingly, unitedly blasted a large gash right through the hull of the vehicle! Water was pouring into the now disabled vehicle, forcing the crew to climb up on top of it.
There was a gigantic scorpion looking creature on the banks of the small island nearby that was covered with hair and had a large razor sharp stinger on his tail. He seemed to be able to read minds. He did not notice the voyagers until they noticed him. Before they said a word to each other, he had come running from a distance to the bank waiting for them. A massive alligator with an oddly hinged jaw bit the vehicle from the rear shorting out all of the electrical equipment with a formidable electrical charge that instantly stunned the travelers and the transmission was lost as they fell. The crew never returned. The ruined vehicle was never recovered.
Other field trips were attempted, but the chemical would help the larger inhabitants of the swamp to bring the vehicles to a standstill after a while, so the scouts rarely ever survived to return to the dome at all.
“Sir, I have come to make a report.” The green grillion stood at attention waiting for Seph to acknowledge him.
The older and larger cobalt blue grillion returned the salute and the young adult relaxed and lowered his wings. “Tell me, is there news about the dome dwellers?” asked Councilor Seph.
The scout drooped his head dejectedly. “Sire we have almost sixty cloaked members of the crew working shifts day and night trying to make the human savages believe that the water is so dangerous that they should pack up and go home. We pick the ceramic scales off of the dome any place we can to let the chemicals in the rain morph the metal underneath. It has kept the human maintenance crew working constantly and unable to create more structures.”
“As you know, we used energy bolts to help the rains destroy a vehicle that was left outside when the savages first came here; but now they keep the other vehicles locked away from the moisture at night.”
“One team spends their shifts making sure the cameras and security equipment the savages have put out in rain proof containers to monitor movement around the dome only reveal what we want them to see.”
“A young child who calls herself Debby was expulsed this afternoon in an attempted murder. It was the Agenda sir. The child has been taken into custody by the kennel keeper Blung to be kept with the other humans we have rescued from the excursions into the wilds. We got her before the Snafton did. It was a narrow escape; but not as bad as the ruined vehicle being attacked in the deep swamp. The situation was extremely perilous. We almost had to let them die because a griffin had caught our scent. The only thing that saved them was the targan that caught the bora bora. Griffins are terrified of them. He flew off and we got to the travelers just before the afgar did.”
“The humans repeatedly attempted to use very noisy machinery to slice through the hardwood forest to the back of the dome and into the interior. We melted the cutting devices just before they touched the trees. The trees are sound and undamaged. There is a possibility that the humans have given up on cutting the trees. We melted over two dozen cutting disks.”
“There is a team that spends their days appearing as large stones that fill a roadway into the interior. It is an unpleasant job. The humans lift and try to toss them. They must be very careful to project the heaviest weight that they can, or someone could get hurt. Our crew levitates the largest boulders we can find by magic from the ruins and swamps and anywhere else into the roadways to supplement the teams. Sometimes the humans almost break through. We spend a lot of time at night repairing those stones. The humans smash them with heavy equipment. When the equipment is used, we exert whatever magical abilities we have in a sort of pushing match to prevent the machinery from getting to the stones that are actually grillions sir. We would ask if it is possible to disable the stone moving vehicles. We need the help of the Council of Elders sire.”
Seph sighed. “Tell the grillion citizens that we on the Council are very grateful for their tireless and fearless work in containing the savages. I will ask the Great Master for help in the matter of the interior road. I am certain that the vehicles can be disabled discreetly. The Great Master may decide to bring a few wildlife jailers to assist you. You have been valiant and we will not leave you to defend Escellion alone. I will keep you informed.” Seph opened the door to his office in the capitol building of Afton and invited the young grillion out. He turned to go into the inner sanctum where the oldest and wisest grillion of the nation was holding court.
The day had come that Marci’s dad had not only sent strawberry seeds, but he sent lettuce seeds too. She saved one strawberry seed for herself. Excavation from the center of the dome was underway. Most of her day was spent loading bins of soil onto the lift to be used on the top of the dome. Now that the seeds were here, the gardening project on the dome had top priority. It had been an easy thing to pocket a fistful of dirt for the cup she used to sow the seed. She decided to grow the small house plant in the study where the camera did not seem to work anyway. She decided that the kitchen trashcan was just the right size to go under the window. She emptied it, washed it out well and turned it upside down beside the window to put the plant cup in the window near the sunlight so it could sprout.
That evening Marci was just finishing up the dinner dishes when she noticed a small drip in the corner of the window. She quickly snatched up the newly cleaned out trashcan and stuffed it under the window to catch the malicious night rain before it did her family harm. She was grateful that only a tiny amount had gotten into the carpet. She hoped the tiny dose of chemical would not hurt her kids. She would dispose of the water in the filtration system after all the danger of a leak was past the next morning. She quickly fired off a maintenance report to request having the window resealed. She warned the children of the danger. Anna slept in the bed with her mother instead of on the couch. She closed off the room as well as she could until the work crews could fix the leak. Meanwhile the potted plant got to sit on the computer desk. She would have to tuck it inside a cabinet door when the crew came to fix the window.
Now that food production had been stepped up; Unsi had to be careful to repel the laborers who came too close to his station. He used an illusion of a foul smelling odor from the bush to drive away the workers. He garbled the report and requests to have his ‘bush’ removed. Outside the window of the Strey apartment, Unsi watched Marci with relief. It was good that the Marci woman was collecting the water. On the event day, the chemical reservoir might come in handy. Soon the family would have to flee for their lives when the Agenda was carried out. Marci did not know it, but the window had been completely trimmed of its water seal and was now ready to push out easily from the inside.
The cup with the dirt in it must have a great deal of importance for her to be prepared to hide it if anyone came into the apartment. Unsi found the living seed in his mind. He nudged it a little to help it wake up. He wove the image of his bush beside the window in case Marci woke up during the night to check the leak. He carefully garbled the maintenance report so that it was illegible inside the memo folder, and returned to Afton for the night. The council needed to know about straw-berry seeds.