They followed the newly-named Yarthout River all day, their little craft handling its rapids with a smoothness and ease that surprised Vas. Wisely, he kept his surprise to himself; Malia and Ezra would be unbearable enough about their success without him acknowledging it. The boat had been their idea, after all: a quicker way to take a survey of this uninhabited planet.
The cliff sides grew lower and lower as the sun, too, sank down, until by late afternoon, they were floating through a meadow of strange blue-flowered grain.
It was dinner-time when they reached the confluence of what he was now thinking of as “their” river and a wider, wilder waterway; Ezra and Paz guided their boat to the V between the two rivers, where the ground raised into a hillock covered in another flowered grain, sprinkled with trees that seemed to be some sort of fruit.
“It seems almost pastoral.” Malia had been saying things like that since they made landfall; Vas did his best to ignore all of it. It was unscientific, for one, and had no place in their research. For another, it set a mood in the party’s mind, coloring the places they studied in insidious ways that would end up skewing their later feasibility reports.
He would have ignored it again, but Paz was getting in on it now. “Not almost, Mal. Look at the way the trees are planted up there. That’s not a random placement.”
He opened his mouth to stop their silliness, but the view over Paz’s shoulder stopped him dead.
“That,” he croaked, “is a wall.”