cover, Common GroundFaryn is the youngest member of a scientific team exploring the planet Erikus-4.

When she discovers something odd about the trees near the river, and everyone else is too busy with their own tasks to listen, Faryn decides to conduct her own experiment. But will her impulsive act endanger herself – or someone else?

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Faryn noticed that the trees had moved the second time she came down to the river.

The first time she’d come she’d collected water samples and almost fallen in, carving a big brown-red furrow in the silvery-green grass as she first slid into, then clambered back out of, the water. Central back on Earth had confirmed that the water here was safe – Erikus-4 wouldn’t have been certified for a full scientific expedition if air and water samples hadn’t come back clear – but the water was cold and Faryn’s mother, the chief biologist, was a worry-wart. She’d insisted Faryn carry an emergency beacon for safety, as if she were still a child instead of a full member of the expedition.

So Faryn had hung around the river until her clothes dried and, having nothing else to do, had started to study the small trees which dotted the river’s edge.

Most of the foliage on Erikus-4, apart from the grass which covered the plain the starship had landed on, was a greenish-blue. These trees were silver, with delicate, twisted trunks barely the width of her wrist and long leaves with soft, serrated edges.

And most of them were only one point five metres tall.

As a junior, she was on a roster of three days on, one day off. The next day was her free day, so she’d set her alarm for shortly after dawn, logged her destination on the board, and headed to the river for a day of relaxation and solitude.

Only to find that two small trees were growing within half a metre of the furrow she’d made.

They were barely half the height of most of the others which lined the river, and at first Faryn thought they may have grown there overnight, even though that rate of growth was unheard of on Earth.

But this wasn’t Earth.