Chapter 29

The ship of the fifth expedition had no time to be like Ellen in the circle of friends, family members, and proclaim the toast. About one year earlier that party, it was at a distance of the third part of a light year from the second planet orbiting the Rho star in the Corona Borealis constellation.
It departed two hundred and fifty-five years ago, in eight years it gradually lost its “wings”, that is, three hundred stages, and after that was following the inertia with the speed enough to get from Earth to Mars just in one hour.
The chronometer all this time being in standby mode and getting energy from thermo-voltaic RTG source working on one of the plutonium isotopes, resuscitated relays dead within the centuries. They, in their turn, activated computer in planetary apparatus. The latter did trigger the starship engine, the radio channel, the optical transmitter, and receiver. In addition, it checked the pressure of deuterium in two spherical tanks. Also were verified the ignition device in chemical rockets and reported that all these component, equipment and substance are ready for functioning.
After that in lander hull, the porthole opened and the telescope transmitted to the computer the picture of the surrounding space. The further assignment of this gadget was to find star Sun in the sky of a new planet.
In the same time first got warm and then began to work the maneuvering chemical engines, which turned the ship in one hundred and eighty degrees relative to its previous course. During that u-turning the telescope was continuously loaded into the optical channel the image of expanse: thus was executed the specifying of disposition of surrounding stars. After that computer compared this sky to the one stored in its memory and confirmed the accurate coincidence of the starship’s whereabouts and the calculated coordinates.
Next, the turn came for switching on the thermoplasmic engine: the merging of the heavy hydrogen nuclei began and the first protons have erupted. The starship set against the recoil of plasmic jet gushed in the direction of movement and began to slow down. Concurrently deployed the mirror-umbrella attached to open-work cylinder. This film, up to ten square kilometers area was equally reflecting light photons and wind particles of the new luminary. After its full unfolding, the expedition began to slow down like a jumper who took a leap from the rock into the water is soon stalled. The star radiation is sharply increasing along with approaching to it.
During the next eleven months the interstellar vehicle again lost almost one hundred percent of its modern mass and in a result became a satellite of the new sun. Such fast breaking was possible because at the end of the journey the engine of the same power was stopping the mass only half percent of one, which it did accelerate at the beginning of the road. No less contribution to this process brought the electromagnetic parachute.
Having killed its velocity, the expedition began to fly around the star along an orbit slightly wider than Earth’s one around Sun. Here it divided into two parts – cylinder with already empty spheres and interstellar rocket forever stayed at that orbit and the lander was carried by its chemical engines to its new home to which it was ought to cover the distance about six million kilometers.
The apparatus passed this way in ten days and after braking once again, turned into a satellite of the sphere to which it was flying so long time. Besides it, the Rho star system contained two gas giants. One of them, at the distance of 0,23 A.U. from the star, had the mass slightly bigger than Jupiter, and the other was twice smaller than first and situated at four A.U. from the luminary.
The orbit of Earth’s twin appeared to be an almost ideal circle completely corresponding to the data of ancient astronomic observations. In addition, it was stated finally that the planet has no natural satellites.
Going round the still-unknown planet, the ship was studying its physical properties, surface, atmosphere, the ozone layer, and depths, estimating biological mass. Gathered data was lightly differed from those ones, based on which the expedition was sent here.
The observations were run out, their analysis was completed during the time period assigned to it and the computer began the preparation for the landing. The land on the surface of that planet was divided into four continents. They situated along the equator and three of them were even bigger than Africa. The fourth one was three times smaller and was located slightly to the south of the equator. Gadgets, or rather their software, decided that exactly this part of the land is the most suitable habitat for human and in common for terrestrial organisms. There was the best climate on the planet and also it was not so crowded with big animals. Prior to landing the ship left tiny satellite at the stationary orbit, the antenna of which, during traveling, was transmitting the control signals to Earth.
Before entering the atmosphere two rockets again slowed down the lander and after their fuel came to the end they separated from it. Next, this apparatus was reducing its speed by a tiny parachute made out of refractory fabric. Parachutes were changed thrice. At the final stage, the landing was eased with the help of a huge cupola and the last two rockets which were switched on just before touching the surface. These two mechanisms provided to supports of the ship a soft collision with the surface and in a result that celestial body became heavier by about seventy tons.
It was a parallelepiped covered with fireproof ceramic plates. Inside length of the lander was twenty-four, its width fourteen and its height two and a half meters. Its cross-section was divided into four compartments by partitions made of light-beige cermets. Compartment tops and bottoms were made of the same material, but in different colors; the ceiling was sky blue and the floor grayish.
Only one of those four compartments had a door, an impermeable one. A seventy-centimeter wide corridor running along all compartments allowed separately get into each of them. These rooms were full of devices, machine assemblages, and vessels with chemical elements. In the most spacious compartment, one with the hermetic door, there were two auto guided units or AGU, or robots.
The apparatus landed on the plateau, along the eastern bottom of which about thirty meters below, the great river was crawling. This upland was somewhat inclined to the south and stretched almost to the ocean coast in approximately twenty kilometers. Its western and slightly upraised northern parts were covered with big plants.
Twenty hours have passed until the fire caused by the working of last rockets went out. During this time the bush- like vegetation around the planet-ship was completely burned down. There was such stillness around the ship, and everything was so dead that the messenger of Earth seemed was still in the space vacuum. Only the parachute lying on the ground changed this impression. Its folds, inflating against the moderately blowing wind, made the landing place a bit livelier.
After extinguishing of fire, the computer waited another ten days before issuing the next order. In the meantime, it re-checked some results of the studies made from orbit. In particular, it was confirmed that the atmosphere is slightly different from Earth: oxygen concentration is higher by two percents, but nitrogen, carbon oxide, and inert gases are less in the same amount. The acceleration of gravity is bigger by one percent and therefore any earthly subject got heavier by that value.
Also at that time was checked the radiation level in the entire lander, in all four compartments: energy one, technical, biological and nursery. It was found that over the centuries nothing leaked from a nuclear reactor, it wasn’t radiating any jeopardy.
Day after day the surrounds was gradually reviving. At the eleventh night, the computer supplied energy to the two robots and the program of operative reacting was loaded into their memory.
At dawn, they were ready to operate. The computer gave a command to open the entrance hatch and switched the mobile machines to the autonomous mode. Mechanical scouts “looked out”, scanned the vicinity and found out that the lower threshold of the hatch was approximately two meters above the burned virgin soil. From its locks on the wall, they got a three-meter-long plastic ladder, put it down on the ground, fastened it, came downstairs and touched the planet surface with their mechanical feet. They did not feel any emotions on that occasion as well as the ship itself, when it put its supports on the heavenly body, inconceivably far away from Earth.
It was a clear day. Several small clouds hang in the sky. A gentle breeze was blowing along the river from the south and sometimes had risen the ashes in the air; a group of calve-sized animals was moving nearby. Sometimes they uttered hissing and wheezing sounds. Besides sporadic animal wheezes, the machine receivers did not “hear” anything; silent reigned around, as usual in the wild nature. Rho star rose an hour earlier and the sensors noted that the air temperature at that time is +22 degrees of Celsius.
The burned territory had an irregular form. It stretched for nearly five kilometers south, two to the north, and in the western direction, the shrubs got burned only for one kilometer. The eastern fire track was but three hundred meters: the big river hindered the way of flames.
Among the smolder and blackened rests of the vegetation the fresh yellowish sprouts could be seen. The animals were attracted exactly by these plants. Inanimate pathfinders took photographs of these creatures and sent them into the former cosmic apparatus. There were three computers in the lander and all they contained the pictures of animals ever lived on Earth, including human beings and their ancestors.
The computer described these beings as the four-legged animals with a long neck and grey skin without any feathers or bristle. On their heads, there was an organ having no analogs among the terrestrial beings. The machines defined it as an organ of sight or an eye. When an animal was directing this biological tool to some object, it was starting to oscillate with high frequency in a groove that ran horizontally across the higher part of their heads.
Machines, according to routine named this creature H-1, which meant that it is first seen an herbivorous animal the size about domestic livestock. There could be also SH and BH creatures, that is, small and big ones. The robots decided to come closer to representatives of the planet. H-1 wheezed and ran away, but seeing that nobody was pursuing them, they quickly calmed down and went on grazing. The machines left the animals alone and returned to the exploration of the surrounding.
After they photographed the place in front of the hatch, the robots walked around the lander from the right and simultaneously were transmitting the topographic characteristics of that area to the GPC. Here they also “saw” the burnt field and wood. The only difference was that at the side opposite to the entrance hatch, that is, to the north, they found another river or rather a stream flowing along a shallow ravine in several hundred meters from the ship. Unhurriedly, meticulously scanning the vicinity, they returned at the place where they put their mechanical limbs on the new ground.
The animals ceased to pay attention to the creatures which were not like usual beasts of prey, but suddenly they began worrying anew. This change in their behavior noticed the robot A. It switched the circular survey.
To process the image it spent one nanosecond and then concluded: one more creature was approaching here, which came from the south-western forest. That was what frightened the herbivorous. They retreated to the north and flew away.
“It is probably a predator” RB signaled to the other machine. There was no reason for using language synthesizer for at least fifteen years, until the advent of humans.
The newcomer was described as follows: by the shape of its body this beast was like a terrestrial quadruped but by the organ of eyesight similar to already seen herbivorous. Its lower lip was thin snake-like proboscis with a ten-centimeter-long claw at its end. The jaws with wedge-like teeth were over the trunk. That beast of prey was about seventy centimeters height and has as many toes at its paws, as the H-1, namely, there were eight of them, four at each side of the sole. It also has light-grey skin without hair and covered with yellow lengthwise strips. It got the name C-1 because was evidently wished the flesh.
The beast ran after the quarry, but as it realized that it could not catch them, it stopped the pursuing and after slightest hesitation turned to the robots. After several seconds of doubts, it wended its way to the machines, in particular to RB which was closer. RA was by some steps farther. The brute was moving not so resolutely now: the robots differed from familiar prey.
The cyber-mechanic explorers estimated the situation as a «predator attack» and activated the corresponding instruction. It was saying that at first contact is better to use the gun in order to cope with the danger. When the robots were preparing for their first sortie, they took containers for storing the samples and only one maser.
The computer did consider as follows: after the fire, there was almost no vegetation around the lander; consequently, there would not be a large number of herbivorous animals and without them very few beasts of prey too. So, if the animals are not numerous, there is no need for both robots to be armed, i.e. to carry extra weight.
Meanwhile, the beast that had lost its ordinary prey noiselessly approached RB.
«Probably the trunk is dangerous,» RA has signaled accordingly to the program of mutual help.
The robot’s ultra-strong hull would not suffer if the animal hit it with its claw or bite it. Back on Earth, this was repeatedly verified by the lions, panthers, anacondas and other powerful predators. Nevertheless, the machine prepared to dodge the blow all the same. The RB turned to predator and bent his hands aka manipulator’s elbow joints. More than that it could do nothing, the maser had the RA.
Predator slowly came closer to RB, coiling its proboscis as spiral under the lower jaw. In ultimate second the beast jumped and threw its trunk forward, trying to pierce the machine by the sharp tip. It was apparently the animal’s way of attacking: at first it strikes with the «spear». Then maybe it turns trunk’s claw up and tears the entrails of the victim, simultaneously attracting it to put it closer and to use its teeth.
The RB, being ready to attack, instantly straightened the left manipulator and thus stopped the rushing claw. Meanwhile, the RA changed the curvature of the ray collector in order to microwave beam of its weapon would be focused in the animal’s body, somewhere in its front part. Then the machine released the impulse.
The shot had put about three kilojoules of energy into the animal’s body which was released there as heat. That was sufficient for creating explosion like the evaporation of blood and lymph in the focus area, that is, to produce the hydraulic shock. In a result, the focusing spot immediately exploded as the boiler with excessive pressure and that tore animal’s internal organs.
At first sight, nothing happened to the animal, but anyway it wheezed out loudly and immediately fell down on its side. After that, it twitched several times before finally lay still. After scanning its corpse the cyber-mechanic scouts determined beast’s condition as non-living.
Robot B began to prepare a sample of animal tissue. With its metallic manipulator-hand, it cut a tiny piece of flesh, put in into a small, almost weightless plastic box and gave it to RA. Then RB went to the river. The rules demanded that all tools, including the limbs of robots, especially upper ones, should be kept clean if the situation did not require their repeated use at once. There was no such requirement at the moment.
Escaped the predator, the herbivorous watched the clash of their enemy with the strange creatures from afar. The death of the beast noticeably calmed them. While RB was going to the river, washing its manipulators, the herbivorous beings got somewhat emboldened and were already grazing much closer to RA that stood still at its place.
“To wait without moving until the animals would come to the distance of shooting and will get the sample of herbivorous animal tissue,” Such was the new plan of the machines with which RA familiarized its partner when stood motionlessly and invisibly from the plateau, near the river, at downhill.
Their radio talks, electromagnetic shot, and death of the predator: all this happened almost in complete silence, what added more calmness to the animals. Soon they indeed began to come closer to the robots. The larger and probably the older creatures tried to keep as far as possible from the petrified things which they never saw before. The younger ones behaved with less care. Approximately in twenty minutes one of the lesser H-1s approached to the RA and this carelessness at once did cost it the life. All other members of the pack ran away, hissing.