Yoko Johnson set the photography drone in the centre of the quad, stepped well back, and pulled her personal device out of a hip pocket. She tapped the Send button on the controller interface, and watched as the drone lifted off the grass and flew over a stand of poplar trees.
She paused to appreciate the weather. Outside the settlement perimeter, the native Gaian grass was turned pink for the autumn, but the Earth lawn in the quad was still green, and would stay that way until winter. Dr. Johnson looked up at the gold leaves of the poplars, and mentally awarded the Gaian grass points for being better equipped to handle seasonal fluctuations.
She took a deep breath. The air was warm enough in the windbreak of the quad, but she could sense the crispness. Maybe it was in the slight odour of sweet rot from the marshlands to the north, where the local snicker flock nested.
She sighed and headed back to the data room. The drone should have sent back some video by now, and her mapping software marked the first few positions.
Devon, her grad student, was already making notes on the screens.
"You were right," he said. "That day we went out to rescue those kids from the snicker flock. The anemones have moved closer."
Johnson watched the plot points appear on the terrain map. "But we haven't seen one move yet?"
Devon shook his head. "Even the holes in the ground that their tap roots leave seem to fill in more quickly than expected."
"Some other creature that's part of the ecosystem, maybe," said Dr. Johnson. "They need something from the tap-root holes, and fill them in at the same time."
"Where do they get the dirt from?"
Johnson shrugged. "The next hole, I expect." She checked the data screen and frowned. "How long can we keep a drone in the air, videoing constantly?"
"Two hours, tops. Longer if we're okay with recovering it manually from where-ever it runs out of power, as opposed to it coming home by itself when it senses that it's losing charge."
"So we'd need at least twelve, more like thirteen or fourteen drones to keep a constant feed."
Devon pursed his lips. "I see where you're going with that. What about the mappings?"
"It's designed to keep up. It can even keep up with multiple feeds from different survey areas, once we're ready to do things like that."
"Do you think you can get the drones?"
Dr. Johnson nodded. "If I take this to the security council, they'll be practically forcing me to take them." She looked away from the array of screens and closed her eyes. "You know what this means."
"Means we might need to figure out how to chop down land anemones."
"No." She wheeled around. "No. It means either the scans from Earth were inaccurate, or that something evolved between us leaving and finally arriving here." She pointed at the terrain screen. "They're moving methodically, in a pattern. That indicates some level of intelligence."
Dr. Johnson stood up, tapping at her device at the same time. "Keep an eye on things. I'm going to see about arranging a meeting with the security council. They prefer to discuss the urgent things in person, and I'd count this as urgent. I can show them what's on the terrain map so far."
Devon frowned. "Those things can't have the ability to jump or climb. They can't get over the defence perimeter."
"We don't know how they change locations," Dr. Johnson reminded him. She headed for the door.