Tau; the Greek tenth. Ceti; two monsters, one slain by Perseus and the other by Heracles. A ship, one ship of many, soon to return home across distances so vast that no human mind can conceive of what it means. One ship to come home from Tau Ceti.
Tau Ceti, 12 light years from Earth in the constellation of Cetus. A little smaller and cooler than Sol; an orange G8 instead of a yellow G2.  
Ceti f, fifth planet out and comfortably in the Goldilocks zone. Christened Tau 5 by First Personnel it has four times Earth mass, almost two times the diameter and so ten per cent more gravity, enough for a thicker atmosphere to raise the average temperature to a little cooler than Earth. The Tau 5 equivalent of cyanobacteria had done their work and, although the oxygen level was 28% lower than on Earth, it was not overly uncomfortable even with the higher gravity. 
The first mission arrived in 2112 on a 1.3g fusion powered inertial drive with electric magnetic pulsed disk) enhanced ship which operated flawlessly for the thirteen elapse years it took to get there, carrying 1224 experts in every discipline imaginable (and a few unimaginable) to set up a research base. They brought with them composite genetic seeds that quickly grew into everything from shelters to transports and tools to machinery, plus all the high technology odds and ends that are part and parcel of everyday life.  
One year later the second ship arrived carrying over two thousand; they were professionals who had come to discover and entrepreneurs (both corporate and sovereign) who had come to develop. The ships continued to arrive every year, emerging from the depths of inter-stellar space as pinpricks of reflected Ceti orange. They brought ever more exotic composites and took away the artefacts and narcotics of a burgeoning culture. For culture and drugs were what the Earth thrived on and the more distant and exotic the higher the price. 
Neala Aesa was born on Tau V in 2113 AD, a planet whose polar regions consisted of several thousand kilometres of frozen ocean and which had two great land masses that took up one third of the surface. One was in the process of being fractured into thousands of shards which in a few hundred million years would be scattered across the globe to form a myriad of islands of unimaginable complexity. The other was a massive continent that stretched across one quarter of the planet and on its’ surface every conceivable climatic condition existed from huge deserts in the north to pleasantly temperate at the equator. It was a planet that had more pre formation carbohydrates than Earth, whose current period could very loosely be compared to the late Paleoproterozoic. 
Neala’s life was much like that of any other youngster growing up in a rural area with lots of free space (there were still a few, a very few of those on Earth). From In Vitro conception (although no longer in glass) through accelerated artificial womb development to a mostly real reality (they had the space and the time), with occasional nexus (artificial learning environment). She used the latest technology, went for treks in the hills with friends, visited the provincial capital that was being extended, immersed in the latest ACE (Artificial Created 
Environments) with friends, did Reality Charmed (that embellishment of realism with fantasy overlay), did sports, had hobbies, talked about boys and in general did what most young human adults did, except in an environment with such space and virginity that homo sapiens had not experienced in abundance for over a hundred years.  
It was the year after her parents had separated from their Committed (the binding relationship with essential rights and duties) halfway to her tenth (material) and fourteenth (maturity) birthday and making the best of the long summer in which the orange-white sun rode high in the dark blue sky, when the event occurred which changed her life for ever. Out amongst the endless rows of Liss herbs that stretched to the horizon she had been collecting samples for the sub pico-resolution spectrometer, and enjoying the beauty of a west coast sunset with Ceti dying in a blaze of red indigo as it touched the distant ocean. A fragrant perfume hung heavy after the hot sullen day, almost (but not quite) bitter almond with a hint of lemon and mint. Row after row the plants were motionless except for the odd rustle of leaves from some local air eddy, nodding in quiet satisfaction in the stillness with the distant sound of breakers rolling in from half way across the world. A few tatters of cirrus stretched high in the west along the darkening purple sky. It was one of those perfect transitions into night. 
A first it had been a whisper on the wind carried from far over the horizon on the still air, almost a whistle, so slight that at times it disappeared into the deepening silence. Then it quickly built in intensity to a piercing roar which echoed off the distant hills and intervening gullies, like a wounded animal hunting desperately for the security of home. But home was so inconceivably far that distance lost all meaning and light itself took twelve years for the journey. The craft came in low from the west fighting for height as the automatics tried frantically to compensate for failing hardware, smoke pouring from the blistered underside which showed black from a desperate re entry angle. Clipping the perimeter row of bush like trees it erupted in a spray of broken metal and shattered composites which spiralled away to leave a myriad of wispy smoke trails across the dark sky. It dipped, ploughed diagonally across the long rows of plants, then spewing up clouds of earth and greenery the little craft came finally to rest in a flurry of scattered leaves and broken stems.  
Silence returned.  
Neala hurried across the intervening space between her and the shuttle to arrive breathless, heart pounding. She found the forward portals shattered, dividing struts torn and twisted into complex and tortured looking shapes. The bottom and one side section of the cabin had been torn off buckling the ceiling and throwing equipment across the floor. In the small cockpit there was no one, all three seats empty, lap and chest retainers still clipped over in neat Xs, head restraints back and arm rests blending with their recesses. Along the side the letters EF LM2 5009 and LANDER 2 were misshapen by the rupture in the streaked outer skin.  
For long moments she stood looking at the shattered vessel while early evening held its breath, settling in violet beauty as the first diamonds shone in familiar constellations across the purity of the dark scintillating air. Somewhere in the distance a damaged plant crashed to the ground to the sound of sifting earth running off ruptured metal, then silence. Shocked she stared through the gaping hole at the wrecked pilot section that moments before had been complex engineering and high technology, cabling torn and drooping like veins ripped from flesh, the instruments screens that had grown as one with the control panel hanging like eyeballs shot from their sockets. Then something caught her vision.  
“Examine it further.” her implant. 
She ignored it, that small little seed in her head; communicator, memory, processor, advisor, observer, companion (sometimes friend), downloader, uploader, security buffer and a host more. 
“Examine it further. It is a lander from the Helios, the authorities know and will be here shortly.” Her implant. 
I thought the Helios was all locked up and ready to leave? 
“It is.” 
Then what’s one of her landers doing here? 
What she noticed was an irregularly shaped flat green stone wedged into a corner of the nearest seat, translucent in the evening darkness. It appeared part of a larger piece and the torn facet had a self-imposed sheen across the surface, like microscopic Fresnel lenses. Without thinking and almost without volition, despite the fear and shock, she climbed through the shattered craft and took hold of it (cold! It was so cold!) Then realization hit and she began to cry. 
Within hours they came to remove the wreck; the technological pathologists who would take it back to their laboratories to perform an autopsy, pealing away layer after layer of the biological composite from which the vessel had been grown.  
They scoured all the land around for ten thousand metres, collecting even the smallest particle of off world material, logging and recording its’ position, orientation and relationship to every other particle. They worked slowly and methodically, bringing in automated detectors, sifters, diggers and observers while overhead imaging analysers crisscrossed the farm in complicated interweaving patterns until finally, satisfied that nothing else remained they interviewed her and her father. 
After a long period with an Automatic questioner the final act was played out with a woman (whose pleasantness was a sign of the quality of her training and implant!) and an automaton.  
“And you are sure you took nothing?” The interrogator woman asked. 
“They are looking for the green artefact you took, tell them nothing.” Neala’s implant. 
They’ll know. 
“They won’t.” 
“Nothing,” she lied. 
“No little bit of plastic or metal? No object no matter how small as a souvenir?” The automaton asked. 
“Nothing,” she repeated. 
“No souvenir? The woman stopped for a few moments as if listening to her implant, “there’s nothing wrong in that, I would have taken something to show to my friends. The ship was empty, no one was hurt and your father will be compensated for the damage to the crops. The thing is we need every little bit of material that came off the lander to find out what happened, what caused the accident. It might happen again but with people aboard, if they died and you kept back some piece of evidence that can give us a clue as to what happened, then you would be responsible for their death.” 
I have to give it to them. 
“This is far more serious than you imagine, don’t do it.” Her implant. 
No, and shut up. 
“You don’t understand the significance of the thing.” 
And you do? 
“I know why it’s important to them.” 
“Would you want that, to know that people had died because you kept back some vital bit of evidence? How would you feel, knowing that your selfishness had killed someone?” A moment of silence, “look, hand over anything that you found and when the accident investigation is over I’ll let you have whatever you want from the wreckage as a souvenir,” the woman smiled, a kind motherly smile, “what do you say?” 
“I took nothing, nothing,” Neala insisted. 
“A touch switch? Something from the panel? Surly you’d want something to take to show your friends?” 
“A piece of broken glass?” The automaton queried. 
“What happens if there’s another accident and it’s my fault? 
“The object isn’t part of the shuttle so it has no bearing on the accident.” Neala’s implant. 
“I took nothing, I just watched.” The eyes of the woman locked onto hers and Neala seemed to draw power from some hidden depth, “I saw it crash and then I went up to it and went no closer. I began to cry and then my father came.” For long moments the woman sat looking at her, as if undecided. “What did your father say?” She asked. 
“He said nothing, just took me back to the farm.” 
“Why didn’t you go and get help, why did you wait for your father to come?” 
“I don’t know, I was afraid and then my father came.” 
“But only after you stood watching, why did you stay to watch?”  
“I’ve never seen anything like it before, it was a shock, I was sad.” 
“Why did you feel sad?” 
“I don’t know... because the thing was so mangled, crushed, it was almost as if it had suffered.” 
“It affected you?” 
“But you haven’t applied for counselling?” The automaton. 
“The thing was just a machine, a pod, and I’m talking it through with my dad.” 
“Your father’s not a qualified counsellor, you’ll need a qualified counsellor then, they’ll have the clinical expertise.” The woman smiled sympathetically.  
“Accept the counselling.” Neala’s implant. 
Why? I don’t need it. 
“Maybe not for counselling but to get this automaton and woman off your back.” 
It’s just a robot that looks like a human and the woman is rather silly. 
“You know it’s rude to call them that, very rude.” 
They don’t care. 
“The people around them do and the woman is not silly at all.” 
Well I’m not having counselling. 
“My dad’s my dad, he knows best how to help me through this sort of thing.” 
“That’s not necessarily the case.” The questioner smiled again, then worked her fingers over the touchpad of a small plasmid bio-tech and watched carefully at a mini screen that had suddenly materialised. She knew it as an axiom of a technological culture that falsehood detectors do not lie. 
No lies, no deceit, no hidden tension, no physiological effect to indicate that the girl is not telling the truth. Can we trust the conclusion of the bio-tech? 
“Normally yes, but in this case a secondary opinion would be advisory.” The woman’s implant. 
And where do we get that? 
“The Automaton Repository will instigate it. I advise one last attempt with the girl.” 
“Do you know what type of spaceship the shuttle came from?” The woman asked. 
“Star ship,” Neala almost whispered the words, “it’s been in the media for weeks.” 
“That’s why it’s very important that we collect even the smallest bit of wreckage, so that we can find out why this one left the mother ship without the automated safety checks, so that it won’t happen again. So, is there anything that you can tell me that may stop an accident like this happening again?” The woman looked at her with a wide honest expression, the look of kindness helping sadness. 
“I wish I could help but I can’t.” Neala insisted. 
“Yes,” the automaton said, “well, let’s hope we find out what happened.” 
“You’re an automaton, aren’t you?” Neala asked. 
“Yes,” a smile from the bright eyes, “does it bother you that I’m not human?” 
“No, you look human to me, so no bother there.” 
The automaton smiled again. 
“Do you mind being called a robot?” Neala asked. 
“Really!” The woman exclaimed. 
“No,” the automaton replied, “but people don’t like it so I wouldn’t use the word again.” 
And so they left it at that, having no doubt concluded that no further benefit could be derived from further interrogation. Finally satisfied (of sorts), the authorities left to return to their laboratories where they dissected the ship down to the last molecule, attempting to glean some information to send back to distant Earth. That night, with her bedroom windows open to the western ocean’s warm breeze she examined her secret. Holding up the green stone she saw the light of the small moon scintillate across the mat surface, wondered at the inconceivable distances that it had travelled and then she knew, quite suddenly, that the night sky would never be the same again. One sun was not enough, infinity beckoned. 

It is a long and torrid summer, the sixth after the crash. She meets him on the beach with the orange white sun casting enigmatic shadows through the tall fronds, while the brilliant light seems to draw out moisture from the swamps that lay further up the cost, causing the distant hills to blend with the heat haze.  
The air lays heavy like a warm wet covering. He sits by the shore’s edge in a pair of ragged shorts, instructing the automated calliper that is meticulously carving a sun bleached stick of driftwood that he is holding. Long ginger hair plastered across his forehead with his spindly body framed by the backdrop of endlessly undulating sea. Born in New Port One from parents who had crewed the first ship, his chosen profession is ‘Artistic Creator’ and at sixteen, armed with his Diploma Level One and a skimmer built from ten year old bits, he is on his yearlong ‘work experience’ before going for his level Two. Now he is making his way up the western coast where he drifts from one community to another. 
He survives by painting frescos in libraries, places of worship, multi-markets, offices and any other suitable building or edifice, his work subsidised by the planetary administration and (when needed) his parents. He sells cameos to eastern tourists and visiting cognoscenti, cameos that he carves with bio technology tools that he has built and programmed himself. The authorities encourage this bohemian lifestyle because it is considered he is developing ‘local’ art, thus infusing Ceti V with a ‘culture’ which would establish it as an identifiable entity. Because Culture is a tradable commodity and artefacts are on a level with narcotics, exotic plants and spices as the most popular Earth bound inter-stellar freight. 
She sits for a long time watching him as he carves intently, trying to imagine what he might be like and what he might be thinking, attracted by his body and intrigued by the possibilities of his mind. Then the sun catches on the splinter of hard green held in the basket of metal that hangs from her neck. The flash flickers across his eyes and he looks up. 
He sees a tall lanky girl of about sixteen sitting on a hillock ten to twelve metres away. She is plain but pretty, straight dark hair parted down the middle in an odd childish way, large brooding eyes that hinted of cold places and long fingers on heavy set hands. There is a hint of oriental, but he might be mistaken; she is pretty but not beautiful. Blue shorts hold a faded open necked top pulled tight across the narrow waist and around her neck hangs an odd looking green trinket on a thin metallic chain. As an artist it should be the trinket that excites him most. 
“Hi,” he calls over, “I’m Marcus, I had a grandfather who was Chinese.” The girl looks unimpressed by his remark, “Are you local?” He finishes lamely. 
“I’m Neala, we have a farm about two k back down the beach,” she says seriously considering his question to be silly. It was obvious that she was ‘local’. 
“I like farmers,” he replies moving towards her, “they have a real joy for nature. I don’t tag none with the technocrats though, they just hit a flat hand. Too many people hit nature a flat hand, always tinkering. I don’t truck none with the Tinkers, they take and never give. What do you think?” 
You’re an idiot 
“It cost nothing to be polite.” Her implant. 
I only thought it! 
He’s got a slightly exotic look, makes him rather nice looking.  
She sits admiring the way the ginger hair is splayed across his forehead. 
“What’s a technocrat?” She asks in false innocence. 
“He has no intrusive technology,” Her implant. 
Not from where I’m sitting. 
“I meant it’s safe to talk to him.” 
I know. 
“I know you know.” 
Well, all happy then. 
He stops and faces her. “A technocrat? Well, that’s a Eastern slide you know, we weigh a lot of those. A technocrat is.... a person who... if they were building a road and came to a river, well, they’d slot every dam tree and bush in sight to make room for composite and push that road right on with no thought about the consequences. You never heard ‘system take system break’?” 
“No, what consequences, what system?” 
“You can’t slot through nature like that, mash away the ecosystem, sooner or later we pay. You never heard ‘eco ply eco die’?” He asks. 
“No, can’t say I have. How would you get the road across the river anyway?” She is slightly annoyed and he senses it in her voice. 
“I wouldn’t,” he says sharply, “I’d leave it no go, no road and no mash. Rivers are more important, they’re the arteries of the planet.” He appears please with his reply. 
She turns to look at his skimmer parked just off to one side of the local coastal long track, then turns back to gauze straight at him. 
“My family cleared three hundred and ninety hectares of virgin swamp after First Arrival” she replies,” they used the latest technology and laid it all flat. They built the track that goes down through the Foots and on to town, the one you’re parked on right now. Does that make us Farmers or Technocrats?” She smiles, her cheeks forming hard little knots that hurt. 
He stands smiling back, desperately thinking of an answer that will maintain his credibility but not offend. She looks gorgeous (is it her anger?) and it makes him feel silly.  
“Ask if they farm Natural or Domes, If Natural tell her they are one with the planet.” His implant. 
And if they don’t farm Natural? 
“Say Domes reduces the habitat destruction needed to farm Natural.” 
“Do you farm Natural?” He asked. 
“Yea, Liss Herb.” 
“Joy for nature, the planet loves you and you love the planet.”  
What an idiot! 
“Show some sympathy, he is trying to impress you.” Her implant. 
Well he’s not doing very well. 
“No,” she replies, “Natural Liss commands a higher price than Dome.”  
His gauze rests with adolescent wonder on her top, pulled tight over what he considers to be a very delectable shape. 
I have got to play this slow and steady, this is one attractive girl and I must cut away the crap and be serious. No go no show, no wad no pad and you can be sure the dam creek will not be full of sparking water. God, help me in my hour of need and I’ll daub you the finest fresco this side of Port One. 
“I don’t think God will help. Gauzing at her breasts is good, but don’t overdo it. You’ve got to be more intellectual if you want to excite her interest.” His implant. 
What do I say… what do I say! 
“You’re doing the flirting, not me. Give it a few moments then backtrack.” 
He looks moronic. 
“He’s trying to impress.” Her implant. 
With half-baked romantic ideas straight from City centre? He should come into the real world. The world of techno-planting and growing, techno-cutting and seeding, the world of bending and shaping nature to run along channels that means the difference between a good life and a bad one.  
Her smile tightens into a grimace. 
“If you want to salvage anything from this situation backtrack NOW!” His implant.  
“Well..., maybe you were technocrats once, at that time, then.... but you needed to be so that you could be farmers now and that’s the important thing.” He says quickly. 
“So without technocrats there would be no farmers?” She lets the grimace drop, “and no polluting skimmers, and no road to skim them along, and no Port City One hawkers, yea?” 
“I’m no hawker!” He exclaims indignantly, “I’m an artist, and my skimmer’s ‘T’ green electric!” 
There is a long silence as he gazes at her under the hot sun, the sound of distant breakers a cooler symphony between them that isolates with a muted rolling call. 
“I’m sorry,” her voice is low, “I didn’t mean to call you a hawker, I was angry.” She stands up, “I think I’ll go now.” 
“You’re not really going, I thought you liked him?” Her implant. 
Of course I’m not going, but without help he’s useless! 
What do I do to stop her going? What do I do? I’ll try some poetry, girls like poetry. 
“Not recommended as I don’t consider you are up to the quality required.” His implant.  
“You like poetry?” He asks hopefully  
Oh no! 
“You could always reply with some of your own.” Her implant. 
If that’s supposed to be a sense of humour forget it!  
“From Earth they trod eternal night, towards the orange Ceti light,” 
“And why a leap so very far, Just to see another star?” 
“What’s that!” She exclaims approaching him diagonally as if moving to pass and leave (although the movement is rather slow but he is too flustered to notice). Without an immediate reply he searches desperately for a new subject to discuss, something, anything to stop her from going. He notices again the strange stone that hangs about her neck.