With due respect and honor to Heinlein, one of the greatest classic Sci-Fi writers of all time. I own no characters, places, or objects created, mentioned, inferred, or even conceptualized by Heinlein.
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This is what I would imagine a sequel to Tunnel in the Sky might be like. It begins where Tunnel leaves off. I place it at three years after the rescue from Tangaroa.
Marah - Chapter 1
"Roll 'em! Ho!" called the expedition leader and the line of conestogas crossed the threshold of the Ramsbotham Gate into the glaring sun. He was a tall, lanky fellow with a Bill Cody beard. He was dressed simply in a fringed buckskin style seen now only in ancient history books and museums. Two knives were belted on him and a hunting rifle was in the boot scabbard hanging from his mount's saddle. His face held a look of suppressed eagerness tempered by knowledge beyond his years. Man and horse seemed quite comfortable in their environment. This was expected, though still a wonder to see as they were the only people to step foot on this planet since the Outlands Committee cleared it for colonization last month. Certainly, they were the first people there with any intention of settling permanently.
As Captain Roderick Walker examined the surroundings, he mentally noted the position of the sun. He knew it was late in the evening here, though the party had, only minutes before, been enjoying lunch on the other side of the gate, and the galaxy. The sun was smaller than Sol, but much brighter even as low in the sky as it was. Marah seemed to be quite peaceful, but from his experiences just three years prior he knew that things are rarely as they first seem.
A smile crossed his lips as he remembered his Outlands Survival test five years ago. What was supposed to be a short, though certainly dangerous, end-of-course exam had changed the students involved into either seasoned veterans or corpses. When a nearby star had gone nova, it had taken nearly two years to "find" the planet where one college and three high school classes had been dumped. Each of the students, after the first month without recall, had realized that there was no going back. They had survived the experience, but not without casualties. When they returned to Terra, each face held in it a look of maturity and solemnity that should not have appeared for many years. And though most of the survivors of the "lost classes" had simply returned to their lives on Terra or had gone out to settle on other planets, a few, like Rod, had decided to make a career of the experience. After all, that was why they had taken the course. The harsh realities of their years on Tangaroa had scared all but the most dedicated off.
With the help of Deacon Maston, his former professor and now brother-in-law, Rod was able to skip ahead through most of his courses at Central Tech. He was exempt from nearly all of the required advanced survival courses. But Rod had opted to take many of them, as well as several others, including a semester as a lieutenant for another expedition, for elective credit. He knew that each planet held its own beauties and dangers and that there was always something new to learn from each. Because of this, he was the most experienced Outlands explorer Central Tech had put out in years, and probably any other school as well. He had been receiving job offers well before his graduation earlier that year. Many of his fellow students had been jealous of this since very few of them could actually pick their assignments and none had more than two or three offers. The jealousy faded quickly, however, when Rod started referring most of his offers to his colleagues.
His mother had not been too happy when he actually graduated (top of the class) and immediately was hired for this expedition. She felt cheated by time ever since she and her husband made the Ramsbotham jump that saved his father's life. Though two years in the life of Rod had passed, it seemed to be only a few days to the elder Walkers. It had taken both father and mother several months before they finally came to terms with the reality of the situation. The sixteen year old boy they left seemingly last week was now a man on his own terms, both in age and in experience. She had been adamant about his staying home after graduation; however he knew he would never be happy if he did that.
Pulling himself back to the present, he led the party of colonists toward a copse of nearby trees where they would make camp before heading to where the survey maps showed to be a prime location for a new colony. Though this was his first solo expedition, as a professional that is, he knew enough to realize that what maps and "experts" called prime location rarely was. Long ago Rod had come to believe that an expert was merely someone you did not know who carried a briefcase. These so-called experts only had to give their opinions based on brief exposure and complex mathematical formulas. Only time and experience could prove a locations worth. That had been the case with Cowpertown on Tangaroa. Though a better, safer location was eventually found for a colony, necessity proved once again to be the mother of invention. Exposed as it was, Cowpertown had been bought by blood, sweat and tears. Ways were devised to offer as much protection as possible. By the time they were found, they had many conveniences and were on the verge of many more.
Rod turned his pinto to the side waving his lieutenant onward while he rode down the wagon line making sure all was well. More than once he had to stop suddenly to keep from running over a child. He simply smiled at the families and continued on. It would be no good getting upset at something so minor so early on. Many of these colonists had no idea just how serious situations could get, just that they had money and needed to get away. And this not being one of the premium colonies, it was prone to more dangers than others. Marah, Rod thought too himself. Bitterness, not a very promising name; though it's probably a more honest description than the experts' evaluation.
He reached the end of the line and saw that everything was in order. Turning his mount around, he paused to get a better survey of the land now that the gate was gone. Terra-like enough at first glance. Marah was slightly smaller than Terra and its rotation about four hours longer. The section on fauna in the survey results was sketchy at best. There was something like a bird but with bat-like wings and shaped like a triangle. 'Harmless' the report had read. He knew better than to trust that completely. The dopey joes had been harmless enough until the dry season came. Then they were ruthless killers and had claimed many students' lives that first year on Tangaroa. Harmless was also how the same experts had described the Newbian monitors on Alteon III. Those same 'harmless lizards' wiped out most of the colony within the first six months. Looking around, Rod saw a few of the birds flying about paying the party no mind. He also saw some bison-sized creatures out in the distances off to the right. These had also been dubbed harmless. Though they appeared to be mammals, they were more lizard-like than anything else with broad scales and long, whip-like tails. The report had mentioned that these 'buffalo' could be easily killed and eaten with no ill effects.
Rod wiped his brow. It's HOT here. Many of the colonists had already begun shucking outer layers of clothing in the heat. He reached down and grabbed the canteen from his belt and took a drink. Not too much, he told himself. Then he had to chuckle to himself. Old habits die hard, I guess. The party had plenty of water to last them the first month, two if they had to stretch it. But water was in no short supply here. Only a few hundred yards away, between the buffalo and the wagon train, was a stream.
He nudged his steed forward to return to the front of the line.
"If it's this hot now, I hate to think what tomorrow's noon will bring," said Benji. Lt. Julian "Benji" Benjamin was a friend of Rod's from college and his first choice for a second on this trip.
"You got that right, Ben. If it's too bad, we're not going to make it to the site by tomorrow – the oxen won't hold up."
The party was nearing the trees, which was good. This planet had no moons so the nights would be dark. Rod had no intentions of trying to set up camp with no light. As he rounded the wagons he had the colonists start a fire in the center of the ring. He was glad he had decided to arrange the night watch schedule before leaving Terra, this left him with a little time to evaluate for himself the new world. He took advantage of the time by making a survey of the tree copse.
Rod noted that the trees here were nothing like trees on Terra. They were smooth sided, almost perfectly round, and instead of many branches with leaves they were topped with a single red 'leaf' that resembled an umbrella. There were also many waist high bushes which resembled low mesquite trees with long thorns and sparse leaves. Rod's head swung to the left suddenly. He had heard something and vaguely saw movement within the wood. He could tell that it was moving toward him and he readied his weapon of choice. Not his rifle which would alarm the settlers. His hand went automatically to his belt and grabbed Colonel Bowie. It was this knife which had saved his life on many occasions. The animal was getting closer now and Rod could only just make out its shape. It was about the size of a pig and covered in spiny quills. Rod quietly backed his mount up. He knew better than to start something with an unknown animal. He had no idea if this porcupine could shoot those spears or if they were poisoned. The movement of the horse startled the animal and it shuffled off in the other direction.
He turned back to the circle and notice that dinner was almost ready. The sun was just beginning to touch the horizon and the sunset was like nothing on Terra. The sky was turned an almost iridescent sapphire color while around the sun were halos of emerald and deep red. Must be the rings around the planet, Rod mused. Rod looked up to the stars just becoming visible. He picked out a distinct grouping in the northern sky which appeared to form a spearhead. As the first watch took their positions, Rod rode into the circle and dismounted next to the supply wagons where the cattle pens had been set up. One of the teenage boys ran up to him and offered to take care of the horse for him. Rod recognized him as the head cattleman's son.
Rod sized him up and a faint smile crossed his lips. The lad reminded him of himself at that age. Eager to learn but with a stubbornness in his eyes and a look about him that showed he was more aware of the surroundings than he appeared to be. Rod handed him the reins. "Alright, but if she complains, I'll blame it on you, uh…"
"Robert." He supplied.
"Ok, Robert. Take good care of her, and thanks."
"My pleasure, Captain." He replied.
Rod headed over toward the meal line and got his food. Beef stew, a biscuit, and a bowl of greens. He passed over the rice and gravy knowing that if he ate too well, he would fall fast asleep. Finding an open space, he sat down and began to eat. He was soon joined by Benji.
"Everything's set for tonight, sir." He said.
"Very good, Ben. Then relax a moment, it may be the only time we get to for a while."
"I think I'll do just that, Rod. Mighty fine evening, though."
"Yeah, it is. We need to keep an extra man on the western side tonight. I saw one of those porcupines in there. The report was kind of sketchy on those and I don't know what they're capable of."
"Certainly. Not worried, are you?" Benji said jokingly.
"Of course not, Ben. Just don't want to roll over on one of those in my sleep." Rod smiled. He was not worried, but that did not mean he was not going to be cautious.
"Are you sure we're safe here, Captain," a woman's voice asked. Benji and Rod turned and saw the wife of the man who had hired them. Bill Donners, and his wife Susan were the leaders of this colonial party and would be the president of the colony – or whatever they decided to call the position – when Rod and Benji left.
"I trust these men with my life, Mrs. Donners. We may never be completely safe from everything here, but they'll not let anything through to harm you."
She bustled on, only somewhat comforted by his words. Something about the manner of that man, she thought. He never seems to completely relax and yet he's so calm about the whole thing.
Finishing his meal, Benji stood up. "Guess I'll go take my place out with the men. I'll come wake you when it's your turn to watch the grass grow." Benji was rather skeptical that anything would happen this first night. Rod had to agree that it seemed unlikely. This was were the original exploration party had camped and nothing had happened to them the two weeks they were here.
"I'll walk with you. It'll settle my stomach."
The two men walked off toward the near side of the circle. Families were gathered together eating around the campfires. A few were beginning to bed down and Rod knew that some of those already asleep were the late-watch guards getting an early start on a short night. The truth was that each of the guard should easily get eight hours of sleep. It would take a while for them to get used to the twelve hour nights. Rod would not sleep at all that first night, but then not many would. A new world was always strange and discomforting to settlers. Rod, however, would not sleep for a completely different reason. After examining the guard, he headed back to his bedroll, intent on getting his six hours before he relieved Benji.