There was a long moment of uncomfortable silence as the seven people gathered around the softly glowing tabletop exchanged uncomfortable glances, each trying to catch a clue of another’s attitude. It was broken by the creak of Ed's chair as he leaned back, drumming his fingers on the radio console. “The space lift,” he noted, “Is heavily shielded against all kinds of radiation, even against exotic particle exposure to an extent. Even at 600rem, an expedition could survive exposure for, say, an hour. Longer if they moved to the center of the lift.”
Dr. Faust spoke up next. “Assuming the phenomenon is natural, there is much that could be learned by taking samples of the flora.”
“I don’t see why,” Covington shrugged, talking around the stem of his pipe. “We’ve seen highly radiated places on Earth reclaimed by nature.”
“Reclaimed in spite of the radioactivity,” Milo allowed. “But what if the plant life here is actually adapted to it? Perhaps even reliant upon it?”
“Anything brought back to the ship from an exoplanet is subjected to a rigorous screening process,” Amila reminded the elderly doctor. “We are all alone out here, with no recourse if something goes wrong. We can’t be too careful.”
“Of course we can,” Captain Carter objected, pounding the side of a clenched fist on the top of the table with emphatic but not violent force. “Westward is an exploratory vessel, and calculated risks are never absent from exploration.”
Amila planted her palms on the table and leaned forward. “Our mandate,” she reminded Francis with forced calm, “Is to identify a habitable world and facilitate its initial colonization. We are not obligated to set foot on every planet we see.”
“Obligated!” The captain stepped back, his expression one of frank amazement. He stalked around the table to stand beside Phobos again. “Obligated! As if this—” And here he gestured to the globe beneath them, “—were some sort of routine chore! Gentlemen, we are the first humans to leave our Solar system, orbiting the first charted exoplanet, and it supports life! There is, quite simply, no conversation to be had here.”
Amila stiffened in a way that made Lamont wince. Carter’s slight could not have been missed by a person with half her intelligence.
The captain turned and locked his hands resolutely behind his back. His eyes were blazing as he locked them on each of the senior staff members in turn. “It is not a question of whether to make a landing. It is a question of how. Your jobs will be to present me with a plan.”
Amila slowly and deliberately returned her papers to the folder and closed it. She was not known to be a sensitive person, but her eyes were visibly glistening. She pursed her bright red lips tightly. “We’ll need time,” She said.
“Certainly,” The captain agreed in a reasonable tone. “You have—” He glanced at his wristwatch casually, “—24 hours. Enjoy your evenings.”
Once again, there was an uncomfortable silence and an exchange of glances. Santana quickly and wordlessly exited the deck. To Lamont’s mild surprise, the next staff member to leave was Phobos, his long, loping steps carrying him swiftly on Amila’s loudly clicking heels.
Captain Carter unclipped the collar of his uniform jacket and retreated to his glass-walled office.
“Well,” Said Ed with a sigh before clamping his pipe between his teeth. “There goes New Year’s Eve.”