Every evening since we arrived, I stand at the rail. If it weren’t for the land vermin, the sunsets, viewed from shore, would be a magnificent transition into night—night is when they come out, and why we stay on the ship after sundown. We’ve seen a few during the day, but those were sluggish, torpid, easy to kill—a pike thrust into their brains. We’re safe here at night, onboard our wooden vessel, stone-anchored in the bay, sails reefed. They don’t swim.
In the last four months, I’ve come to like this pleasant place, constant, cooling trade winds, predictable rains, and lush vegetation—a suitable planet, this one.
“Have you come to a preliminary recommendation yet?” Ernie asked from his usual spot next to me, looking toward the land.
“No, not yet, but soon, after we get back, after data review.”
Two weeks remain, and we still don’t know who built those stone piers, or the ruins, though it was undoubtedly a long time ago. The Goosers hadn’t made them—those meter-long terrors don’t use tools, beyond their digger claws that can rip the flesh from your bones in less than a minute if you get too close. Bethany had named them on the first shore day when startled by a pair emerging from their day hole.
This exposed, wooden deck is my preferred place to muse, to objectively mull over the day’s findings. As usual, my hands travel along the thick railing, to the short length chafed and worn from the ropes and chains we haul up to bring the mud-core samples aboard from the land beneath us. It’s this place amidships where I enjoy the slow, undulating roll of the ocean swells, tamed by the remaining barriers once constructed to form a seaport of sorts.
Ernie spoke the question that’s been on all our minds. “Could this place have been seeded before we arrived?”
“Possibly, but we haven’t found any evidence of that. Even if it had been, it didn’t stick. I think we have an excellent project candidate.”
“Well, it’ll be good to get back. These natural fiber clothes give me the worst itch.”
Knowing it was temporary, no one on our team really objected to them, some even enjoyed roughing it. We accepted the imposed restrictions, no technology, beyond what the probes assessed as probable native materials are permitted; in our case, a wooden ship, iron nails, and not so iron men and women. The initial orbital survey probes found piers, quay walls, and a few unnatural piles of squared up rock—deserted. Even the few remaining crumbling towers barely resembled built things. Our landing team found no tools, no monuments, no writings, pictographs, or decorative marking etched in the weathered stones—the only material, on this world, that could last over the twenty millennia the base layers had sat waiting.
There might be undiscovered evidence, but I doubted it. While we hadn’t shovel-dug deep, the last segment at the bottom of the exploratory trenches, according to the seasonal lines, dated five thousand years. Deep enough to have found evidence of the builders, a chronological assignment based on the weathering of the newest, the last laid stones.
Suitable, human habitable worlds are few, but we’ve found enough. Not only do they need to be in the Goldilocks zone, but the atmosphere, orbital peculiarities, weather variances, and radiation shielding of a magnetosphere were necessary. System gas giants were a must. Over time, those swept up the most substantial orbiting rocky debris that could hazard an inner planet. Even then, if the planetary life codes—amino acids, properly folded proteins, DNA, RNA, etc.—weren’t close, compatible matches, humans would not survive, not flourish, not propagate. If all goes well, we will list this plant as move-in ready.
Everyone calls it The Project. It’s easier to digest, to get your head around, than Expanded Proliferation Disbursement in Layered Continuums Initiative—not even a decent acronym. I remember when I first learned of the Dayton-Resnik Paradox. After understanding the physicist’s math, scientists turned to devise means to access the layers, the branches, giving engineers the tools to build time machines for travel to the past—sort of. Basically, if you go back in time, the ripples carry you to a branched timeline, without disturbing your personal one; you can’t go back to kill your grandparents before they met.
Some proposed the effect was a piercing into alternate universes, but the math doesn’t support it—there’s a singular difference between the two; moving to an alternate universe, if they exist, would take as much energy as contained in hundreds of supermassive black holes, perhaps more. We can branch-jump time layers by sipping energy drawn from the quantum vacuum.
In the two hundred years of The Project, we’ve found no technologically intelligent, let alone human, life. In every layer, the same stars, and galaxies we see today are in the right places for the time we jump to, though younger, by about fifty-thousand to several million years, not much in cosmic time. Fifty-thousand is the closest we can jump from our time. It’s where, or rather when we are today, surveying this world—my third as expedition leader. Prior attempts to go back to more recent times always failed. The physicists insisted it wasn’t a barrier per se, but the nearest point on the other side of the hump we had to jump over—their way of dumbing it down for us. We call it the sweet spot in time. Far enough back for things to be cosmically similar and close enough or our purpose: prevent the inevitable species extinction of mankind by seeding timelines with regressed stock.
Leaning forward, toward land, I envisioned the first settlers here walking along the shore, a hardy, robust group, physically and mentally designed for natural hardship and competitive breeding, survival of the fittest, with environmental pressures improving the species homo sapiens; a thing long lost to humans in our timeline. We had weeded our genetic garden too much, removed too many variances, thinking them weak spots. A reversible syndrome, but unpalatable to most—we’d become too comfortable, too civilized, too uniform. In conquering, controlling everything, we had conquered ourselves, even to the point of not wanting to share our timeline.
Nature didn’t like that, preferring constant change, competition. The first colony here would start from ground zero. They’d have primitive skills and knowledge to survive, to build, but not much else beyond simple tools and fire. If they took hold, and even if they didn’t, other colonies, years from now, will be planted far away on other continents. We’ll leave the ship here, stocked with some essentials and raw materials.
Eight hours before our time here is up. I gathered the fifteen surveyors still onboard—one three-person team was still in the field. “Before we go back, let’s hear a synopsis of each group’s raw data. Geology?” It wasn’t necessary, but it filled some time, tamping idle, individual thoughts about staying.
Sandra Fencil stood in the low ceilinged second deck, which served as our living and research area. “Tectonics present, but no indications of any meaningful catastrophic events for at least seven to twelve thousand years from now; very stable. Magnetosphere, same thing. The core is still young, hot, rotating. Evidence of volcanism in this area, but long since subsided; the hot spots have drifted far to the south.”
“Questions,” I asked? There were none. It was a rehash of what we learned from the probes, marginally verified by our eyeball observations. I knew she had more but wanted to run definitive analysis back at the Project labs before offering any amplification to the barebone facts.
“Biology, you’re up next.” Jefferson, our resident curmudgeon, started his banter.
“This is the most compatible world we’ve yet to find. No bio-forms we can’t acclimate the settlers too. Predation is limited mostly to smaller forms that skitter away from us. The Goosers aren’t hostile unless you get close to their broods, all the larger land mammals are herbivores, except for what we’ve called the Carno-cats... those help maintain a balance in the larger fauna populations.”
Yanich stayed seated, not one to spend energy without good cause unless gathering samples. “Several of the native grass and tuber species seem to have regressed from a cultivated stock—you can tell by the distribution patterns. Future selective pollen selection should create larger grain and root sizes within ten generations, a bumper crop if well-tended. The sea plant growths show an inordinate uptake of heavy metals, not a critical thing as it acts as a purification media. Not edible, though. And I wouldn’t eat the marine life that dines on it.”
“Only the expected bones of current species. Though there was a thinning out of larger mammal species about four thousand years ago—reason unknown until we get the soil cores back to base for examination. Might have been biological or some impact disaster. Potential pottery shards, but again we don’t know for sure yet, everything’s so fragmented, and we don’t have the proper equipment here to validate it.”
“Okay, is everyone ready for the trip back? Let’s get things stowed, make it neat for the colonists.” Looking around, I received assenting nods from the group leaders. “As soon as Devon and his team get back, we’ll be on our way.” We’ll be on our way even if he doesn’t get back; we preset the return time before coming here. There's no button to push.
Devon halted his team. “This is as far as we go, nothing new. Samantha, ease that rock back in place. No point in looking at the bottom of another stone. We need to get back.”
When Samantha released her long pry-bar, the large rectangular stone, partially excavated, one end propped up a few centimeters above ground level, fell back into its hole with a thud, it’s carved bottom, unseen, reverse imprinting the soil beneath it: Coliseum aurea per stadia doudecim — Coliseum, twelve stadia.