We spent two days setting up the camp. We erected tents, set up water sources using fusion-driven atmospheric condensers, established functional waste-disposal units.
One of the problems with the expedition lay in the nature of the crew of the Rat's Inquiry. While the botanical crew occupied itself with the primary task of this mission, there would still remain members of the crew who would not be happy with the essentially ground-based nature of the investigation. Anticipating this need, David had agreed that for however long the preliminary investigation took, the Rat's Inquiry would be free to investigate nearby stars. He explained that he had never had a college education, jumping into the merchant marines at the first opportunity, and now that he had a chance to contribute to something other than his bank account he wanted to enjoy it for all it was worth.
Four geosynch and nearly two-dozen near-atmospheric orbital satellites were launched from the Inquiry in the first two days. The fourth geosynch satellite (only three were really needed for coverage of everything but the polar regions of the planet) was also our primary Huffman communications satellite. It took less than sixteen hours for us to establish a communications link with Pendor. Something of a hit-or-miss operation, we were still managing a reasonable data link. Even with our best compression, however, it still wasn't good enough for voice transmission.
The primary mission tent was a monster of a flexible structure, going up and forming a giant double-bubble over the grasslands. Around it arose the smaller box- and circular-shaped tents that would be housing for many of the mission specialists-- botanists, biologists, zoologists, geologists, oceanographers, and so forth-- and the support personnel.
Aaden and I spent an hour getting ours up. It wasn't as easy as it looked. The tent consisted of a groundsheet, fifteen meters across and in the shape of an octagon, with holes where the groundstakes would go. Each hole was fourteen meters from it's opposite. We drove the eight primary stakes into the ground, then telescoped them up to two meters. After that the hoop sectionals had to be arranged around the stakes, the groundcloth had to be folded up against them, and the first layer of off-white cloth strung out from one to eight, leaving the gap between those two for the main door. Smaller side-gaps every other panel made airholes. Then the bubble overhead was clamped down over the top, with a 15cm overlay to keep the rain out. Tensile lines criss-crossed the roof to hold our roof up. From the eight spokes we could string interior lines and make privacy rooms in any pattern we liked. Which was good, considering we were going to need room for four in here. After that we attached the rain-canopy to the outside and staked those down with ropes as well.
The meteorology report from the Inquiry indicated that we would get our first taste of planetary rain that night. Aaden and I were just confirming the waterproof status of the tent when P'nyssa arrived from the Inquiry. "So this is home," she said.
"That it is," Aaden said, giving her a huge furry hug. "How do you like it?"
"It's... homey," P'nyssa said cheerfully. "I'll get used to it."
"Aw, it's not that bad," I said.
"No, it's not," she said, smiling and giving me a hug as well. "Like I said, it's not quite home, and it's not a starship. It's something new and I'm going to have to get used to it. But I'm a doctor and I'll do my job as well as I'm able."
"Good attitude," I said. "How do you want to arrange the insides for Sheja? Just like we agreed beforehand?" Noah was already fifteen and was soon going to be sleeping alone, by himself. Or not. He had argued for his own tent and we had given it to him.
"I don't see why we should change it now," she said.
"Then let's get to it," I said.
The planet turned once every fourteen hours and eighteen minutes. There was a lot of grumbling over the new schedules; we were all going to be brutally out of synch with the dusk and dawn for the first couple of weeks. I knew of a few people who had announced their intention to stick to at least a twenty-eight-hour schedule no matter what. I had pointed out that no matter what, their bodies were going to insist that dawn happened when it was light out, and they weren't doing themselves much of a favor.
As the dusk came, I still found myself wide awake. But with the dusk, the wind whipped harder and faster, and along the mountainside we could see the coming storm.
"It's beautiful," P'nyssa said softly, watching the clouds.
"Mom," Sheja said, tugging on her sleeve, "Can the storm hurt us?"
"Only if you go outside and get struck by lightning, hon."
"Is that possible?"
"It is if you're the tallest thing around. We've got lightning rods on top of the Mission Center, though, see? If lightning hits, it'll hit those."
"Good," Sheja replied.
I hugged P'nyssa softly. "At least this time, when we're stranded on a deserted planet in the middle of nowhere, we've got lots of friends and equipment."
She hugged me back. "And this time we've got Aaden."
I laughed. "He means a lot to you, doesn't he?"
"More than you might ever know." She kissed my cheek. "Stop trying to understand us and just love us."
"I'll do that." Inside, I picked up my PADD and with a few quick requests located the raw overhead meteorologic footage. It was a large if undifferentiated storm, bearing lots of rain and wind down on our locale. Reading the meteorology report I spotted that someone had already sent several probes into the windstorm and reports of gusts up to seventy KPH were coming in. I whistled softly on the inhale.
"I hope we got those stakes down solid."
"Asimov solid," Aaden said, smiling.
I grinned back at him. "They'd better be. Check out these wind reports."
He looked them over and nodded. "We'll be fine tonight."
"Let's hit Mission Control, then."
Consisting of the same architecture as the smaller tents but on a grander scale, the two massive tents that made up MC were each distinctly different from one another. The first one was left as a huge open space, 120 meters across, lined with tent doors that led off to offices or residencies or whatever was needed at the moment. The open space at the moment was occupied by a medium-sized SDisk and people in Stark armor busily moving crates to one side. Despite the relative silence that Stark was capable of, the din of moving and unpacking carried in the enormous hollow room.
The other tent had been broken down into laboratories and more offices, a rat's maze of complexity. I got lost in there, having to ask Lance for help out of the place. He was very helpful.
Catching back up with Aaden, he and Dr. Garenna were already excitedly going over a plan of attack. "Okay, the Sister reported that the networked plant-form was found between here and here on their map. That corresponds with these locations. That's less than an hour away."
"Evening, Doctors," I said as I stepped up to them.
"Evening, Doctor Shardik," Garenna said, smiling in that fangy way only Uncia can manage. "Aaden tells me you plan to stay planetside for the duration of the investigation. Have you decided what you plan to investigate yet?"
"Actually, no." While many of the people on the ground were listed as 'support' or 'family,' those people who found themselves with time on their hands were encouraged to contribute to helping out with children's groups or other needs, or to join a sector of the investigation and gain an education. Although I was not in any real need of 'education,' I was more interested in getting a good look at the planet first. "Although, at the moment," I said, suddenly slapping at my thigh, "Entomology might be my thing."
Garenna laughed. "Yes, the insects can get oppressive," he observed. "We were a tad surprised at just how large they are."
"I noticed that. The first one that bit me was quite a monster."
"Yes," he repeated. "I heard about that."
"We could always use you in the biology department, Ken," Aaden said. "You're no slouch there."
"No, but I'm still considering my options, Aaden."
He nodded. "Whatever you decide. Just let me know, so I know where to find you."
"Sure thing," I said, smiling. "I'm going to go rejoin Nyss and Sheja before the rain begins."
"I'll be back in a little while," he said.
Leaving the mouth of the MC, I catapulted out into the wind, holding on tightly to my coat and making my way across the short distance to my little residential tent. I ducked under the rainguard, slipped in between the two flaps that made up the door of the tent, and brushed my hair back. "Whoosh," I said.
"Is Aaden with you?" P'nyssa asked, coming out of the bedroom she had set aside for us.
"Nope," I said. "What's the bed look like?"
"It's a watercell mattress, as large as the one back home. It'll do for all four of us."
"All four?" I asked.
"For when she wakes us up in the morning." We smiled at each other, and then she jumped suddenly when lightning struck. Then we giggled.
"You okay?" I asked.
"It's so... elemental," she said. "I'm not used to being this close to the weather."
"And instead of a weekend or a night or some such, this is going to be for a long time."
"Are you sure you can handle it?" she asked.
"I can. How about you?"
"I think I'll manage. I don't think Paul and Carroll would appreciate it, but they're very comfortable people." She smiled at me again. "Come on, let's get to sleep."
She led me by the hand into our bedroom, our little corner of the fourteen-meter diameter tent. I followed quietly, and together we bedded down for the night.
I was awoken later that evening by the sounds of the tent being rustled, of rain falling hard upon the upper shield, and of Aaden grumbling as he came in. I laughed softly and rousted myself out of bed to see if he was okay. "Hey!" I hissed at him, whispering so as not to wake our daughter. "You're late!"
"Sorry," he whispered back sheepishly. "Garenna and I got into a long debate about the reasons for the network arising."
"Well, stop worrying about that and come into bed, silly. Are you wet?"
"Just a little, on my face," he said. I found a towel on the wooden table we had set up in the center room of the tent and tossed it to him. "Here."
He dried himself off as well as he could and we bedded down together, he to my right. P'nyssa had edged towards the left side of the bed, so I took up the middle position, lying on my stomach. I was trying, slowly, to get some sleep, when I felt Aaden's hand press against my naked backside. "Aaden," I mumbled softly, "Get some sleep."
He slid up close behind me and said, "I think it would be romantic, don't you?" he said, pressing a finger up against my anus. "With the wind and the rain. With all the white noise, P'nyssa might not even wake up."
The finger against my asshole was the worst part, tempting me to agree with him. He pressed harder and I moaned as silently as I could, which wasn't very silently at all. I relaxed my left leg, turning completely over onto my stomach; Aaden slid on top of me, his cock pressing against my buttocks. "I love you," he whispered.
"And I love you," I whispered back. "Gently, this time, love." His cock, already erect, pressed against my asshole without much resistance, but once he slid completely inside me I concentrated and tightened my hole around him.
He growled his pleasure at me, stroking against me with his hips; the pleasure of his cock within me made my head go light, the pain of his intrusion made me gnaw on my pillow for surcease. Even gently, it still felt like he fucked me possessed of some inner daemon, like I was a field to be plowed. My fingers flexed reflexively and I whimpered as he came, shoving his semen deep within me.
We lay panting together, my hand reaching up behind me to stroke his head, to touch him. "I love you," I whispered. "Now can we get some sleep?"
"Sure thing. I--"
"ANIMAL!" The sound was a guttural snarl from the other side of the bed. P'nyssa had grabbed up the sheets we'd pushed aside in our lovemaking and was holding them to her chest, covering herself. "Animals!" she growled again. "You..." Then she blinked.
"Ken? Aaden?" she said. "Oh, you two were..."
"What happened?" Aaden asked, rolling over to one side and unceremoniously pulling out of me at the same time.
"I... I don't know. I had this dream, that you two were animals, and..."
"Well, yes, there is something vaguely animalistic about the way Ken and I have sex," Aaden said, chuckling.
"I know that," she said, batting him on the arm playfully. "That's not what I mean. There was... it wasn't like I was looking at you. I was just looking at two animals, and I had to do something about that."
"About the animals. Like I had to get rid of you, or something. Move you aside. Make room."
"Make room?" I asked. "Room for what?"
"I don't know," P'nyssa said, sighing helplessly. "I wish it had gone for more."
Aaden put his hand on her shoulder. "It was just a dream, P'nyssa. A combination of the storm and the noises you heard us making in your sleep. That's all."
"No, Aaden, I don't think so," she said, wrapping a mitt around his arm for reassurance. "I don't have really vivid dreams like this. Not often, and when I do they're usually feeding off of someone else."
"Hmm," Aaden said. "Do you want to see a psipath? Should I call Nance or someone over to see you?"
"No..." she said. "Not yet. Let's just go back to sleep and we'll see what happens in the morning. If I don't have the dream again, I'll just log it as a weird occurrence, and we'll worry about it later."
"Okay," he said. I nodded and the three of us bedded down again for the night. This time there were no dreams.