Katuk glanced toward the poles with no noticeable interest, his dark eyes flicking from one to the other. “They’re low energy use, air permeable shields optimized for worlds with large, ground dwelling animals. You’ll note that they’ve also made use of the air protection as well.”
I looked up. Glittering lines ran between the poles. From what I could see, they hadn’t filled in between the lines. So they weren’t afraid of normal sized flyers—only big ones. I supposed that might be good news.
Katuk stared at the ground. “If I remember correctly, they can be configured so that the lower ten feet are permeable to smaller creatures but not permeable to larger ones.”
I thought about it. “Can they be configured to work against aerial bombardment?”
Katuk’s eyelids lowered and then rose as he began to speak. “I’ve never heard of it. I doubt that their design would allow it.”
“Just curious,” I said.
Katuk looked up at the sky, clearly imagining ships dropping asteroids or firing meson guns at the surface. “There are force fields that protect cities, but I doubt they own one.”
“I guess I would have been surprised if they did.” Thinking about it, that meant that if the Human Ascendancy did find us we’d have to defeat them before they got close to the planet, help them hide on the planet, or maybe the old ship we’d seen might be big enough to help.
Jaclyn pointed toward the starport buildings. “If we want to find out about their defenses, we should ask that guy.”
A man had stepped out of a door in the starport’s cluster of eggshells. Tall, dark skinned, and wearing a blue jumpsuit, he turned toward us. In a deep voice, he said, “Come over here.”
“That’s the guy,” Cassie said, and we all started walking toward him.
“I heard him,” Jaclyn shook her head.
As we caught up to the man where he stood on the edge of a dirt landing circle, Marcus said, “Hey, it’s Hideaway Starport.”
The man smiled. “That’s me.” He bowed at us, and reminded by our implants that it was polite to bow back at the same angle, we all did.
He said, “I’m Geman, and you are?”
As Cassie, Marcus, and Jaclyn introduced themselves, I looked at his jumpsuit. From the design, it appeared to be a spacesuit too. “I’m Nick,” I told him when it was my turn. “Are you a pilot?”
Geman laughed. “So, if you’re a pilot, you’re going to ask me, why am I directing spaceship landings?”
“Pretty much,” I said.
He shrugged. “We’re small. We’ve got three pilots and no one with experience directing air traffic. So, we take turns because at least we’ve got the pilot’s end of the experience.”
Taking a look back at the three eggshell structure behind him, he said, “It works better than you’d think. Between being secret and being in a no blink space zone, we’re not exactly busy. We’re so far from busy that I’m leaving an empty building back there.”
Marcus glanced over at Geman, “What happens if somebody shows up?”
Geman sighed. “All of us pilots have implants. If someone shows up, we’ll talk them down or scramble both fighters.”
His twisted expression showed how little he expected that to do.
Leading us across the landing circles and down a path between two force fields that led toward the village, Geman talked as he walked. Grass grew on either side of the path, but the path itself had been worn down to dirt.
“Now,” he said, “you’re probably wondering about the force fields.”
“Yeah,” Marcus said, looking out at the grassy field beyond the glittering wall.
“Well,” Geman said, “there’s a reason this place wasn’t settled. The animals are huge. There are a dozen different huge herd animals eating the grass and half a dozen different predators eating them. We stay inside the shields and only go out in powered armor.”
Marcus checked the walls each side of the path and I followed his gaze. There wasn’t much of anything to see. I didn’t have any right to complain. I was on another planet with plants and animals and humans that didn’t grow up on Earth—not to mention the aliens. Still, all I could see were trees, fields, and grass. We could have seen that on Earth.
I didn’t have a right to be disappointed. The tree sized plants that didn’t have any bark were alien and weird in the right way, hinting that this wasn’t Earth and that there were mysteries we might even understand by the time we left. Still, when someone suggests that the planet you’re on has giant animals, it’s disappointing when you don’t see a single one.
Jaclyn nodded. “I’m not trying to criticize, but it seems to me that the colony is in a bad position. If you’re ever cut off from the outside, you probably don’t have all the parts you need to repair the shields or your powered armor.”
Geman stopped walking and turned toward her. “Don’t I know it. We’ve stockpiled parts and repair tech, but you’re right. If we’re ever out of contact for more than a year, the shield poles, the armor, the ships and the fliers will stop working one at a time. We’ll be able to move the shields and cover less ground, but it will be a lot harder without the armor.”
He shook his head and then he shrugged. “Fortunately that’s never happened. Besides, we’ve got too small a population to grow without some severe inbreeding. No one talks about it, but we’re doomed anyway.”