The planet below them looked surprisingly beautiful considering that it was a dead world. Dr. Tessa Bergin studied its surface with a mixture of frustration and disgust. Strictly speaking, it was not actually dead, but the civilization they had traveled so far to contact was.
Two years ago, when they had left Earth, she had been filled with excitement to be a part of the mission that would contact the advanced civilization their deep space probes had discovered. From all indications, it was at least their equal, and very likely even more medically and technologically advanced. She had expected to learn so much from them! She had been so thrilled to escape the abject boredom of the museum she worked in and the endless rounds of restoring and studying the same stale artifacts that never seemed to actually lead anywhere.
Finally, she would get the chance to discover things on her own! Finally, she would not have to do the drudge work of the more experienced scientists!
Half way out, they had woken from their fourth deep sleep cycle to the discovery that something had gone terribly wrong. While they had slept, an entire world of people had died, taking their civilization with them.
Instead of setting down and negotiating a working relationship with another race, they would be studying the remains of the civilization that had vanished, virtually overnight.
She would be fortunate if they even allowed her to set foot on the planet! Anthropology was her field, but there was certainly no urgency to study the civilization now--dead was dead. She could only dig and speculate and try to figure out what sort of civilization had been there, if she was allowed to go. She wouldn't get the chance to study a working, vital, social structure that was completely different from their own.
Tessa frowned. Whatever it was that had devastated this world, it did not seem to have been war--which certainly supported the theory of an advanced race. They had not found traces of a geological disaster, either natural or the result of poor conservation. The atmosphere was clear--amazingly so actually considering the estimated size of the population that had once inhabited the world. But then, they had calculated that at least ten years and possibly as much as fifteen to twenty, Earth time, had passed since the disaster. If the devastation was the result of a global cataclysm, there had been plenty of time for the planet to stabilize.
It was the one thing about deep space travel that had unnerved her about volunteering to make the trip--the effect space travel had on time. Not that it made that much difference to her, she supposed. She'd left no one behind--no one on the mission had. It was one of the requisites, that they have no close family ties, and probably the only reason she'd been allowed to fill a slot. It was just too traumatic for those who took the deep space missions to return and discover so many years had passed in their absence, that their children had grown up, their parents died, their spouse had grown old--two years out and already ten to twenty years had passed on Earth, despite the speed they were traveling. By the time they got back, most everyone they'd known and worked with would have died.
Her irritation resurfaced. She'd given up the world she'd known just for the chance of discovery, and now it seemed she'd given it up for nothing!
She pushed the thought aside as Dr. Boyd came to stand beside her. He was a tall man but bent slightly now with age. Despite that, he had a kindly look about him and he wasn't nearly as testy as most of his colleagues. "Were you picked for the first landing?"
"No," she said, trying not to sound sullen even though his obvious excitement exacerbated her feelings of ill usage.
He scrubbed his hands together almost gleefully. "I'll be going."
Tessa resisted the urge to roll her eyes. As if she couldn't have guessed! "No! Really? Well, congratulations, Dr. Boyd."
He turned to grin at her, as excited as a kid, although he was probably sixty if he was a day, maybe older. He joined them from the CDC--his job, naturally enough, to make certain they didn't pick up any deadly diseases to take home with them.
In fact, except for herself and Dr. Layla Lehman (or Lay-Leh as most everybody called her), who was only four years her senior, the majority of the scientists aboard the Meadowlark were middle aged or older.
It was one of the reasons, she knew, that her opinion wasn't precisely respected, despite her degree, despite the years she'd spent paying her 'dues'--she was still under thirty and not seasoned enough.
The other, of course, was because she hadn't done any field work.
It began to seem unlikely that this was going to be her chance for it.