Erin seated herself at the back of the quiet hall, choosing a spot where she was within sight of at least three troopers. Pretty much everyone was present, and as the General stepped up to the front of the room, the babble of voices died down.
“I don’t know how much of the debriefing papers you may have read,” he began. “But Earth Gov requires me to give you the run down on the planet you are about to land on. If you’ve already read all this, then please be patient. If you haven’t, then pay attention. Thetis is not Earth, and there are some big differences between the two worlds.
“The sun’s name is Peleus. Those of you who have heard any Greek mythology will know he was one of the Argonauts. That is because Peleus is in the Puppis constellation. The planet was called Thetis after Peleus’ sea nymph wife. Over three quarters of the planet is ocean, with almost half of one side water, so in that regard she is similar to Earth.”
He paused, looking around at the assembled colonists, probably to assess if any of this was sinking in, Erin thought. Which was doubtful in the main.
“There are two moons, Gabriola and Kuper. The planet has large Arctic and Antarctic areas, bigger than Earth’s. There are three large continents, which are mainly desert and prairie, and half a dozen decently sized islands with forests, mountains, grassland and so on. These are the areas that Earth Gov have designated suitable for first colonisation.”
Erin knew all this. She’d read the brief in detail. However, she kept quiet and watched the faces of the other colonists. For some, it was obvious that they’d read it all too. Others, however, appeared to be hearing this information for the first time. Whispers of ‘two moons!’ went around the room, and she shook her head in disbelief. Who on earth would travel for three weeks to somewhere they hadn’t even bothered to read up on?
“The planet is slightly smaller than the Earth,” the General continued. “This means the day is just over 22 hours long.” A few more gasps of disbelief. “As it is somewhat further from the sun, though, the year is 394 days in length. This was arbitrarily divided up into nine months of thirty days and four months of thirty-one days. There are thirteen calendar months, although the year here is actually 92 hours shorter than the Earth year. The two moons are pretty much in synchronous orbit, one much larger behind the smaller, closer one. However they never veer out of each others conjunction. Occasionally you’ll get two full moons side by side – normally there’s one full and one partial behind in shadow. The tilt to the planet is practically identical, which gives you the standard four seasons.”
She noticed he’d failed to mention the electricity imbalances so far. Oh well, she thought. They’d find out quick enough about that.
“We have a four hour window in which to land, unload the equipment and for the freighter to take off again. Due to the gravitational pull and electromagnetic influence of the two moons, space craft cannot remain on the surface of the planet for any extended period of time. If we fail to unload in the allotted time span, the freighter will have to take off and remain in orbit outside the lunar range for a period of approximately two weeks before we have another window of opportunity to try again.”
“Won’t that affect us?” someone asked.
The General shook his head.
“The gravity is so similar to Earth’s that your body won’t notice the difference. It’s more in the electro-magnetic imbalances that happen.”
The person asking the question nodded, as if in understanding, but Erin doubted he did.
“We will be landing in 24 hours from now,” the General told them. “During this period, you will each be allotted responsibilities, in order that we can have the freighter unloaded in its four hour window of opportunity. The trooper who showed you to your quarters back on Earth will have your list of duties. Please find them as soon as we have concluded here and they will instruct you.”
She could tell from his choice of words that he was trying to modify his language in order to be understood by the less literate of the colonists, but he kept slipping back into official-speak.
She knew from what she’d read back on Earth that the electro-magnetic problems were caused by the reaction of the two moons with the poles of the planet; they interfered with the smooth pattern of the magnetic fields that normally arced out from one pole and back in to the other. As the moons followed a slightly elliptical orbit, it was when they got to their closest point to the planet that the interference happened.
Primitive diesel engines would work on the planet, as long as they didn’t rely on any form of electricity to start or run. As would gas-powered appliances, assuming you had the gas to run them, and that the pilot light didn’t rely on an electrical charge to stay lit.
With a start, Erin realised that everyone else was getting to their feet, moving around the room to find their allotted trooper. She looked first for the Jones family, thinking it easier to spot a group of five than a single trooper in the melee. Sure enough, they were heading towards where she sat.
“Hi kids,” she smiled at the three children, who all vied for the two seats either side. She halted their squabble in its tracks, however, by lifting Inca, the youngest, onto her lap. “So what kind of job are you going to do at the unloading?” she asked them.
“I’m going lead all the horses out,” Luca told her seriously. “I’ve been helping feed them, and I think they all like me lots.”
“Horses do tend to like the people who feed them,” she agreed straight faced. “How about you Iona?”
The nine year old frowned a little.
“I’m not sure. I could help put all the chickens in their boxes again, but they might lot like that and then they wouldn’t like me when we get onto the planet. And I don’t think I’d like that.”
“You’ve got another good point. Maybe you should all help with your suitcases and then your mom and dad can help with the unloading of the big things?”
“I want to drive the tractor,” Inca said.
“You can help me drive it once we’re on the ground,” Erin promised.
“Erin, love, they won’t let her drive tractors,” Daisy fretted.
“Who’s they?” Erin grinned at Inca. “The only form of authority is the General, and I don’t think he’s going to be worried about who’s driving tractors. Especially since I’m going to be driving it with her. Unless you’d like to drive a horse?”
“How do you drive a horse?”
“With long reins,” she told Luca. “I’ll show you how it’s done.”
Their trooper suddenly appeared next to them.
“I wondered where you’d gone,” he said by way of greeting.
“Thought it more prudent to sit tight and let everyone else wander around,” Erin explained with a smile. “Saves bumping into people I’d rather not.”
“Sensible,” he nodded. He pulled out a piece of paper. “Right, Albert you’re down for unloading animal feed and hay. Daisy, you and your eldest have been allotted the chickens. The two girls can help you if they’re up to it, otherwise, they have to be in here with the other small children.”
“Who gets to run the crèche?” Erin asked wryly. The trooper grinned at her.
“Not you, so don’t worry. A couple of the older teenage girls have been allotted that task.”
“So what do I get to do?”
“Special duties. The General wants your assistance with the paperwork.”
“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding,” she groaned.
“Nope. Apparently, you made the mistake of letting slip that you have a brain in your head and therefore, you get to help give out the placements, allocate livestock and generally tell folks what they’re doing and where they have to go.”
“Like that’s going to make me even more popular than I already am.”
The trooper laughed, making his usually grumpy face look almost mischievous.
“The General is waiting for you in the control room. I suggest you sharpen your wits and head down there right away, ma’am.”
“Don’t ma’am me,” she muttered, getting to her feet and placing a curious Inca on her chair. “Right you lot,” she addressed the children. “I have to go do the boring bits of paperwork. You lot get to do the important stuff, got it?”
“I want those chickens in their crates in double quick time, understand? But nice and gentle. Listen to your mom, and follow her orders, as for this part of the journey, she’s chief in charge of that bit of the freighter, and you’re her crew. Right?”
“Excellent. I’ll see you in a bit then.”
“Erin?” Iona asked in a small voice.
“Will your homestead be anywhere near ours?”
Erin smiled at her.
“I’ll see what I can arrange.” She turned and winked at the parents. “See you on the surface if not before.”
Daisy nodded and bit her lip with nerves. Albert patted her on the back and made encouraging noises.
“I’ll take you down there,” the trooper said, glancing around the room. “Come on.”