Homecoming (for fiction forum, story #3)

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Violet waves lapped sand darker than night. Sun rose in the azure sky, turning the feathery fronds of tree tops gold. Dawn on a cold, cold world.

Giselle zipped her jacket tight up to her neck, and stepped out on to the shore. A glint in the dark of the sand under her boots - she bent and picked up a rounded stone. White. Was it a pearl? Her fingers had disturbed the wet sand - she felt around for something like - no, she found as she picked it up - it was a coin! She slipped it into her pocket, which she sealed tight. Behind her in the shuttle the communicator buzzed. She thumbed her hand-held.
"Captain?" she preempted her caller. "This place was inhabited, no doubt."

"We thought as much, Nicol".

"By civilised people, Sir. I have evidence."

"Good. Have you seen anything else yet?"

"I just woke, Sir".

It had been eight hours since she had taken one of the shuttles and gone on reconnaisance to the west of the ship's landing site. One of the other crew had gone east, and tomorrow two of the others would go north and south. The Captain and his first officer sat like spiders in a web at the centre of the search grid.

"Report every hour on the hour, Nicol".


As the sun rose, she sealed the shuttle, took her comm unit, camera and analyser, changed her dress for trousers and went walking. The sea was indeed violet, the sand navy blue she found, and the wind sighed a sad song in the feathery trees. These were green, of a hue so pale that they seemed transparent from a distance, and seemed to come into being as the day went on.

Gisellse had gone five kilometres and stopped for an energy bar by the time the sun said noon. Short days, then. She examined the 'pearl' she had taken from the shore.

She brushed away a few grains of the blue sand which had clung to it when it was wet. Its gleam was like that of a pearl, but she knew it wasn't. It had a little flaw - an inclusion, perhaps?

Glass. A scan confirmed her guess. It had lain on the distant silent shore for a century of years or more, and now it had called to the woman from earth. She needed to have it. She put it back with the coin.

She had begun walking back from the shore, along a grassy path between trees; at first the feathery fronds, then woodier ones with fruit, as she went. Big, soft and dark purple, the fruits had a tangy smell like lime, and tasted as sharp as that would suggest. She scanned the one she had tasted, then discarded it. Suddenly as it lay there, it seemed to call her to retrieve and eat it. Appetite flared up in her, with almost the force of memory. She sank to the grass, under the tree, overwhelmed. A wild cry from far away, a predator, she somehow knew. But all was confusion.

Buzz. Captain Gaines pulled her back to herself, and she downloaded the scans she had made - perfunctorily, almost angry with him.

"Stay with it, Giselle" he said warningly.

She rallied, stung by his use of her first name. What had come over her? A wave of sorrow, of loss so great and so meaningless, was no advantage at all. She stood, giving the fruit a vicious kick as she passed it on the ground.

By mid-afternoon, she knew she should have turned back, and knew that she had been walking to no purpose. Green, as the forest closed in, and the day which had got warm, was cooling again. If worst came to it, she could spend the night in the forest or walk back in the dark. But - she shuddered - there were predators.

Just a few metres ahead, there was shelter. Her analyser detected a large stone outcrop ahead. Buildings, she somehow knew.

Eagerly, she pushed through the trees, ignoring an insect which had an experimental bite of her. Scans had shown that the fruit would not feed or poison her. The insect would learn its mistake and signal its comrades.

In front, a squat cube windowed and doored, with ramps and behind it, towers. There had been a sizable community here once.

Giselle buzzed the ship and downloaded scans of the town as she walked towards it. The Captain's voice was like an insect in her ears, and she ignored it.

The front building had been .. what? A school, a library? No disaster had overtaken these people, leaving had been orderly. The front door moved easily aside, to reveal an atrium with planters, some of which still held the remains of trees. Ornaments. To the right of where she stood, stairs led to the upper storey.

She went straight ahead, to the wall at the back of the atrium.There, portraits hung, and she wondered for a wonder why they had been left.

A hawk-nosed human-looking woman looked down at her, at the centre of three. She regarded Giselle as if expecting her, with a hint of rebuke. Obviously, a person of some importance! Giselle scanned the sepia portrait into her analyser.

Double vision for a moment, and the room spun. This wasn't 'deja vu' - it was more like always seen.

"Hello", she said weakly, to herself.

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