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Queen of the Burn Plain

We were thirty kilometres short when I picked out the volcano, sure that it was the one. I was up front as the cruiser blasted over the Burn Plain at three hundred metres. Down below there were magma pools, forested outcrops of solid rock, winding ribbons of lava fringed with the ubiquitous tangles of thermophytic jungle. Yellow steam rose towards us, making me glad of the cruiser's integral air systems. Up ahead, the forest thickened where the magma went subsurface.

"I'll be back around in ten days, if you don't call sooner," said Kal, from the controls. He was on a supplies run, detouring to drop me off. He's always liked my little girl looks: getting him to bring me out here was easy.

There was an entire chain of volcanoes, now, poking up through the long raft of forest, but my destination was the one I had first spotted: a rocky hump, four kilometres in diameter, its summit maybe eight hundred metres above the Burn Plain.

Kal gave me a nod. "Time for it, Gloria." His expression was grim. He was worried for me, needlessly. I kissed him on the crown of his head and went back to the exit.

Pack in hand, I waited as the cruiser dropped, a screen showing me an allaround view; all this was little more than three hours ago, but already it seems so distant. We lowered into an open space at the foot of the volcano, the door opened and I jumped clear, knees giving easily as I hit the ground.

I remained squatting as Kal pulled away, hanging at fifty metres to waggle the cruiser in farewell, then skimming away seawards on his official business. As soon as I was alone impressions of the wilds bombarded me: the intense heat, the monotonous insect buzz from the brown and green wall of jungle, the smells of burning and sulphur. Instantly my nose began to stream and the sweat began to run inside my loose-fitting jumpsuit.

I didn't have long to wait. Before I had reached the edge of the clearing, I could hear the chattering calls of safrans. A trail led up through the forest, but I paused in the clearing, suddenly nervous.

They emerged from the trail and spread out around me, more through the pressure of those emerging behind than through any desire to encircle me. These volcano safrans are metre-high bald quadrupeds like their Plateau cousins and their legs have the same unnerving multi-jointed bendiness; their thick, mustard-coloured hide and their stubbier paws distinguish them. We don't know yet if the difference is genetic or merely the result of the Plains lifestyle; the studies haven't been completed.

I looked up from the safrans and there she was, the Queen of the Burn Plain. She looked stooped and aged, although she is only 47 years old. Her yellow-white hair was long and pinned up into a bun on the back of her head. She was naked, but that didn't look out of place amongst the safrans and the volcanoes. Pulling at my damp clothing I felt like joining her.

There was something in her eyes that held me, something beyond my grasp. She looked as if she had seen everything in human history, the pain, the anguish, the triumph. She looked like a saint.

"You keep coming," she said. "You keep coming to see me. Am I a zoo specimen? Is that what it is?"

Her words shattered an illusion for me: I had wanted to be the first person to find the Queen of the Burn Plain, the first person to talk with her in all these years. I had wanted all the stories to be untrue: just rumours. But she must have seen the disillusionment on my face because she shook her head and smiled and I felt better instantly.

She turned and headed back up the hill and, surrounded by a group of safrans throwing themselves through and over the undergrowth, I followed, determined to soak up every element of the experience. In four weeks' time I will be leaving Wegener's World, possibly for good. An Interstitial Ship will be in the system and it will jump me back to Earth, a planet that is only a dim childhood memory for me. The cost of education can be high in many ways. I can't imagine leaving Wegener's.

It's evening now and we're seated in the safran settlement halfway up the volcano. The Queen — Nadezhda Ösk — hasn't spoken much, but I have told her all about myself: my parents, my friends, my Cousins scholarship, and above all, my desire to find the Queen of the Burn Plain and confirm all the stories about her that pass around the Plateau settlements.

Finally, with the sinking sun, she has relented.

"You can hear my story," she tells me. "For what it is worth. You are lucky: of all those who have searched me out, you are the one who has timed it right, you are the lucky one." I don't know what she means, but I sit and listen, surrounded by young safrans that are apparently mesmerised by the sound of her voice.


The exploratory team's cruiser landed in a carefully selected clearing at the foot of the volcano. They had set out from base camp, back on the Plateau, about seven hours before. There were five of them: Nadezhda and Addy, the geologists; Yoruba-Marrie and Marina, the ecologists; and Joel, the pilot and technician.

Nadezhda got out ahead of them all, tramping up the slope so that she could see over the Plain. She would never tire of that view. Back on the Plateau she would spend hours out on the cliffs. Checking the monitoring stations, she would say if asked, but really she was simply enjoying an experience that was still new to her. This was her first trip across the Interstice; it had taken her longer than most xenologists to acquire the reputation necessary to win a research posting. But now, at 36, she was here and she was determined to make the most of it.

A hundred metres up the slope, she clambered out onto a craggy outcrop and surveyed the scene before her. Rich green jungle spread out around the foot of the volcano, fingers of it clawing at the slopes, green patches dotted across the middle reaches. After about fifteen kilometres the forest thinned and the Burn Plain started for real: the magma pools, the rivers of molten rock, the solid outcrops too hot even for the trees. Other volcanoes and a few more substantial mountains rose from the Plain, nearby and in the distance. The sky was a bright grey overhead, although oppressive clusters of brown acid clouds hung in the distance. Out to the east it was raining and a mist was suspended above the exposed magma, a creamy blanket that rose and folded back on itself like waves on the sea.

"Come on, Nadia, stop dreaming!" It was Joel, halfway up the slope in the all-terrain vehicle. Nadezhda smiled and waved, then descended from her viewpoint and helped with the unloading.

With three hours to sunset, Joel and the two geologists set off in the ATV. After a few minutes, they stopped and Nadezhda dropped a station over the side and watched as its root burrowed securely into the ground. A light flashed, telling them it was starting to function and they moved on.

Before sunset they had completed a circuit of the volcano. The next day they would drop monitoring stations on the higher slopes, until the network was complete.

Back at camp, the first tensions were surfacing. Marina and Yoruba-Marrie were arguing, pausing only when the ATV showed up.

"What's the problem?" said Nadezhda, still on a high from the views they had been enjoying from the ATV.

It was the jungle. For three hours the two of them had been trying to find a way into the jungle.

"Can't you hear them?" said Marina. "I'm sure they're some kind of coralid, but Yorrie says they're just silvarenes. We've tried flushing them out but they won't move. We've tried finding a way into the bush but it's too dense." She waved a hand to take in the barrier of greenery, fleshy stems as thick as a human torso, tangles of twining tendrils plugging the remaining gaps. "We've tried cutting a path, but this stuff is tough — it's nothing like the Plateau vegetation, it—"

"I keep telling her," said Yoruba-Marrie. "I've been down at Plain level before, I know what it's like. But will she listen?"

They were about to start up again when a high-pitched chattering sound came from the wall of forest. "That it?" said Joel, seizing the opportunity.

"Sounds like half-strangled safrans to me," said Nadezhda, thinking out loud.

"You don't get safrans out here," said Yoruba-Marrie.

"No known records," added Marina. "But..."

Nadezhda stepped towards the wall of green and leaned against it. The fine network of tendrils gave a little but it took her weight easily. She squinted, but couldn't see the forest floor. "Have you tried climbing over the top?"

"And what if it gives way and one of us falls in?" said Yoruba-Marrie. "There's no way I'm going to be trapped in there to starve or worse."

He was right, of course, but then Nadezhda saw a look on Joel's face. "There's a way," he said. "You just need to plan ahead. Come see."

Everybody followed Joel back to the all-terrain vehicle. He worked at the tracks for a few minutes, releasing bolts and catches, and then he reached into the cab and thumbed a control. "Never used them before," he said. "Designed for ice floes and suspended marshland." He stood back as the caterpillar tracks started to inflate. After a few minutes they were fully expanded, great balloon-like things on either side of the ATV. Joel climbed up into the cab and waited as the others joined him, then he started the vehicle in motion. The noise was strange — sounds from the ground and the engine throbbing through the new air-spaces in the tracks — and the ride had a drunken roll to it. In the gathering dusk, Joel flicked on the spotlights and then they headed off along the forest perimeter.

They soon found a point where the jungle must have been starting to spread: the canopy extended down to ground level at a 45° angle. "Hold on," said Joel, as the ATV tipped back and began to climb onto the roof of the forest.

Several times, Nadezhda thought they would slide back to ground level but they didn't and eventually the vehicle levelled out. The ride was more uneven across the jungle canopy, the springiness of the inflated tracks being amplified by the way the vegetation gave as the vehicle passed over it. It was darker, now, but they were all on an adrenalin high and the spotlights were casting spectacular shadows for hundreds of metres. "Think this'll make things any easier for you?" Joel asked the two ecologists.


The safrans came out the following morning. Joel and Addy were planting more stations on the volcano, leaving Nadezhda to referee the bickering between Marina and Yoruba-Marrie.

She was helping them take samples from the forest edge but they were impatient because they wanted to be up on the canopy in the ATV. Nadezhda, because she didn't share their specialism, was the main target for their sarcasm, so she kept herself quiet and in the background. She couldn't really understand their attitude: this research post was the height of her ambitions, how could anybody feel so irritable when they were somewhere as beautiful as this, recording things no one had ever seen?

"What will you do once you're up there?" she asked Yoruba-Marrie, after a time. He looked at her, pityingly.

"We can look down into the jungle," said Marina. "We can see what it is that's making all the noises. I'm still convinced it's coralids."

"It's silvarenes," said Yoruba-Marrie. "If we get up there with binoculars we'll be able to identify them when they fly — they can't fly inside the jungle."

"We can set up a camp," continued Marina. "Then we can really get a feel for the place. Nobody's studied the Burn Plain island forest in any depth yet — but we have to be up there to do that, not down here."

"Maybe not," said Nadezhda. She had spotted movement, fifty metres along the forest-wall. She pointed, and the two ecologists stopped what they were doing and raised binoculars to their eyes.

"Safrans!" said Marina. "Four, five, six of them."

They were coming out of the undergrowth, stretching in the morning sunshine, scratching their faces with their front paws and looking pointedly towards the three humans. And then they were away, lolloping up the side of the volcano, their tough yellow skins somehow blending with the exposed rock whenever they paused. There were safrans back on the Plateau — something like bald apes with flexible limbs and staring yellow eyes — but none had been seen down at plain level until now. The Plateau safrans lived in warrens of about a dozen family groups, constructing networks of scab-like structures: half-burrows built over with saliva-bound mud and stones. A safran warren looked like an eruption of single and multiple blisters on the ground. They could use tools, to a primitive level, but the linguists had been unable to find any semantic pattern to their chattering calls and most specialists put their level of psychosocial development at somewhere close to Terran chimpanzee.

"Come on, Yorrie!" hissed Marina. "We'll track them. Nadia, you stay here, tell the others when they return."

And they were off, up the slope in pursuit of the safrans.

Nadezhda busied herself with sorting the sample bags, which had been discarded in the excitement. They were breaking procedures, leaving her alone, but she didn't really mind, she could look after herself if she had to.

The ATV came down the slope forty minutes later, a good four hours ahead of schedule. Nadezhda was seated in the cruiser, running through readings from the stations they had dropped the previous day. The readings were anomalous: reconnaissance pictures had suggested that this volcano had been dormant for several decades; she checked a print and it showed the crater, ordinary vegetation scattered around a blue lake, no signs of recent lava flows, no signs of recent eruptions. But volcanic gases were seeping out near several of the stations and the gravimeters were drawing a particularly unstable picture of magma distribution beneath the surface. Perhaps nothing to worry about, but definitely anomalous.

She left her study as she heard the ATV returning. She looked out of the hatch and Joel was waving a hand and shouting. "There are safrans! Safrans! Up on the volcano, about four hundred metres up. A whole warren — nearly five hundred bubbles. The biggest warren I've ever seen! There are safrans everywhere."


Soon after the team was established on the volcano, Nadezhda took to regular, unaccompanied evening walks. Usually, she would set out from the cruiser encampment and head up the slope towards the warren. The safrans here were less tainted by humanity than those around the Plateau base camp. They didn't come rushing up, hoping for scraps of food; they tended to ignore humans most of the time, but occasionally they would gather around staring. It could be quite intimidating sometimes, with thirty safrans all around you, some up on their hind legs to get a good look, their chattering silenced. Their yellow eyes, staring. But Nadezhda didn't mind — she stared just as much as they did — she even found herself thinking that the safrans were sometimes more amenable company than her colleagues.

They could be exasperating too, as Nadezhda discovered. After three days, she had become quite worried by the readings from the monitoring stations. They weren't quite consistent with imminent volcanic activity, but they did paint a fascinating, confusing picture: this volcano was by no means dormant.

She had spoken with Addy, at first. The other geologist was aware of the anomalies, but volcanology was Nadezhda's particular specialism and Addy — a geomorphologist — was unwilling to commit herself. Nadezhda had spoken to Joel and a conference had been convened. "We should be ready to move," said Joel. "In case things start to happen."

She had been grateful for his support. But then, the next day, Yoruba-Marrie had come down the slope, dragging a station behind him. "The safrans are your anomaly," he said, when he had finished laughing. "They've been chewing at the casements." It was true: the damage wasn't severe enough to silence the stations, but it could easily have affected the measurements.

Now, Nadezhda sat and watched the safrans in their warren. They ignored her, as they had taken to doing. Marina said their breeding season might be approaching — she had seen similar nervy behaviour before in the Plateau safrans. Wegener's World didn't have a particularly pronounced seasonal pattern and each species of plant and animal had established its reproductive cycle independently of the climatic sequence; most of the cycles were still uncharted.

She looked up and the sun was still quite high.

She decided to head for the crater. She had been so busy studying the monitor outputs that she had barely left the lower slopes in all the twelve days that the team had been there. Even after Yoruba-Marrie's discovery of the safran damage the anomalous readings had continued; Nadezhda had kept quiet, unsure of the cause, unwilling to face her colleagues' sarcasm until she had some more solid evidence. Maybe the crater would tell her something new.

She set out, heading straight up the slope at first and then zigzagging where the incline became too steep.

Close to the summit, the ground became almost completely bare. All remnants of jungle had been left behind on the lowest slopes, and the mossy turf had thinned and then diminished to an occasional patch about two thirds of the way up. Now there were just a few scabs of vegetation, clinging to the rocky ground. She knew that the greenery would return at the summit, though, sustained by the waters of the lake and fed by the soil trapped in the crater.

She reached the lip and paused to catch her breath and look out over the Burn Plain.

She was surprised at how low the sun had sunk. She didn't think the climb had taken so long. In the dusk light the magma rivers and pools glowed with their own luminescence, like some substance from another dimension. It was a malevolent glow, a brutal glow. She shuddered and hugged herself despite the heat, then turned to look over the crater. To be alone in an alien setting could be quite daunting at times, she had discovered.

She didn't notice that anything was amiss for several minutes. She was too busy scouting around for a path that would take her safely down the steep inner slope.

When she first saw that the lake had gone she didn't really believe her eyes. In the shade of the crater's lip the light was particularly poor, and she couldn't see much at all. The tangle of vegetation she remembered from the reconnaissance prints had collapsed under its own weight, whitened by the sun, a mere skeleton.

She couldn't really accept that the lake was absent until the ground started to level out and she could crouch and feel that the rock was still damp in places. And warm.

She began to panic, so she stopped, made herself calm down. She wished she had brought a flashlight, for suddenly she could see that there were fissures across the floor of the dried lake, some of them great steaming crevasses five or more metres across.

She looked about, squinting in the dim light. The crater was three hundred metres across; the lake had formed a neat circle, a little over a hundred metres in diameter, fringed by a mass of greenery.

She knew what it meant. Changes in the water temperature of a crater-lake could indicate changes in volcanic activity: the thermal power output of a volcano would often double, treble, or even quadruple in the hours before an eruption. The lake waters would start to evaporate.

They might even dry up altogether.

She began to run. She scrambled up the crater mouth, missing the track she had used before, tumbling painfully before relocating the correct route. Over the lip, she ran down the volcano, madly believing that she could actually feel the heat through the soles of her shoes.

She came to a scree slope that she had carefully skirted on her assent. Now, she braced herself and slithered down the loose surface, jarring her back, bruising her buttocks and legs, winding herself as she came to a halt.

She struggled to her feet and began, again, to run.

They were startled when she came into the camp, plastered in sweat and dirt from her fall. She tried to speak, but she couldn't make her words come out how she wanted and she had to wait to regain her breath.

"Okay, tell it slowly," said Joel, hand on her arm.

"The volcano — it's going to blow. The crater-lake's dried up and the vegetation's dead and fumaroles are blowing like crazy!"

She saw looks being exchanged between Joel and the others.

"It's true, I'm telling you. Look!"

She grabbed Addy's portable screen and spoke into it, calling up data from the monitors, convinced of what she would see in the latest readings. "Look, Addy!" She waved the screen at her, hoping that another geologist might see what she meant.

Addy was patient. She read the screen, her face growing grave. "There could be something," she said to Joel and the others. "There are gravity changes of 120 microgals over the last 24 hours; small changes in ground electro-resistivity; there have been a number of tiny subsurface tremors."


"But why aren't the laser sighters showing up any significant topological variations?" Addy continued. "If the beast was going to blow we'd expect some bulging, some kind of inflation where magma and gases are welling up — certainly with those kinds of gravitational anomalies."

"What about the crater-lake?" said Nadezhda.

"We were up there three days ago," said Joel. "Everything looked fine to me. Wouldn't we have seen some kind of steam output if it had dried up that quickly?"

"I've seen it," she said.

"We'll go and look," said Joel. "All into the ATV — we'd better not split up now."

They were up by the safran warren in a matter of minutes and the animals ignored the ATV entirely. "You don't suppose this could be the reason for their behaviour over the last three days?" said Marina. "Some kind of primitive sense?" The same thought had occurred to Nadezhda, but she had kept quiet. Safrans weren't her specialism.

The scree slope caused the ATV a few problems — the vehicle had never been taken all the way to the summit before. It kept slithering back down the slope, its spotlights picking out rocks falling around them, dislodged by the vehicle's progress. Finally they reached the lip and the spotlights flooded the crater with light.

It was precisely as Nadezhda had described: the missing lake, the dead vegetation, the new fissures and fumaroles belching smoke and steam. As they looked out in silence a small tremor shook the vehicle.

"How long do you give it?" asked Joel, turning to Nadezhda, accepting her expertise for the first time.

"No way of telling. We should have at least an hour but there's no way we can rely on that figure."

Joel spun the ATV and raced back down the scree slope amid a cascade of rocks and dust. They paused again by the safran warren and Nadezhda could see some kind of idea forming in the mind of Yoruba-Marrie. "What about the safrans?" he asked. Joel looked confused, so the ecologist continued. "The safrans — so far as we know they're a distinct subspecies and look at them: like lemmings."

It was true. Nadezhda had not noticed, but the safrans were gathering together in the warren, others streaming up from the jungle. Some groups were already moving, forming a steady flow up the slope, up the volcano.

"They carry on like that," said Yoruba-Marrie, "and they're all going to burn. Shouldn't we catch a few of them?"

"No time," said Joel. "We have to get down to the cruiser in one piece and get clear while we can." He reached for the ATV's controls, but Nadezhda put out a hand to stop him.

"Why should they be heading up the volcano?" she asked. "Does anyone have any idea?" The ground shook again and suddenly none of the others appeared to care about the safrans. "Why aren't they heading down to the forest? They can get through it, they could escape easily!"

"Shut it, Nadia," said Joel, pushing her hand away. "We've got no time for that." He pressed Drive and, before she really knew what she was doing, Nadezhda had swung herself out of the ATV.

"What are you doing?" Joel yelled, holding the vehicle back.

Nadezhda ignored him and ran after the safrans. She heard one of the others urging Joel to forget her, she'd made her choice, and then the engine gunned and the ATV accelerated down the slope towards the cruiser.

Down on the ground, Nadezhda realised how much the ATV had shielded them from the severity of the tremors. Either that or the warren had been constructed on a particularly sensitive site. She looked up the slope but the evening light was too weak for her to see the summit. She would see the lava flows, though, if and when they spilled over the crater lip.

The safrans accepted her in their midst as she joined the procession up the slope, losing her footing occasionally as the earth appeared to be pulled from under her.

It was exciting, she had to accept that it was exciting: there could be few volcanologists who had been this close to a real, unanticipated eruption.

Eventually they came to a kind of hollow in the side of the volcano and there they stopped and waited. The safrans began to chatter like mad, maybe even chanting — she wondered what the linguists would make of this, if they could ever hear it. She looked out over the Burn Plain and realised what a spectacular view the hollow afforded. The safrans around her appeared to be looking out as she was, perhaps just copying her.

She felt guilty, as she waited. She felt that a lot of meaningful thoughts should have been passing through her mind, but they didn't, all she could think of was the view.

Eventually, as the tremors increased in regularity and the ground itself grew terrifyingly warm, she could see the spotlight of the ATV, down on one of the lower slopes, heading for the cruiser.

It was then that the volcano started to erupt. The ground shook violently, and Nadezhda looked up towards the crater, fearful of what she might see. But all that was visible was a plume of steam, white against the darkening evening sky. No lava flows, no violent showers of ash and rock. She wondered if that was all it would be, if the volcano was little more than an over-sized steam-hole, and then she turned to search the lower slopes for the ATV.

Lava flows had emerged from the base of the volcano. Great gobbets of molten rock were being thrown out into the jungle, fissures were opening up to reveal fresh springs of glowing, fluid rock. Everywhere that the forest had grown on the lower slopes of the volcano was being torn apart and replaced by new outpourings of lava.

She looked to where the cruiser had been, these last twelve days. Now there was only lava.

She was certain that that was where the cruiser had been.

She searched, again, for the ATV, and eventually she located its spotlight, appearing dim now, amid the fiery display of the volcano. They had done as she had expected they would. Climbed up onto the jungle canopy with caterpillar tracks inflated, headed out over the vegetation. Given an hour they would be maybe fifteen kilometres out, out where the jungle thinned and the Burn Plain began. They could call up some help from there, be lifted clear.

But Nadezhda could see what her colleagues in the ATV could not. The Plain was alive: tongues of fire were spreading out from the base of the volcano, devouring the vegetation in their path. New magma pools were opening up in the jungle, cutting off any escape route that might have existed. She watched through tears for several long minutes as the vehicle edged towards its fate. A few kilometres out, a deep, sulphurous band cut across their path, hidden by turbulent layers of forest until the ATV was suddenly there, tipping over, down into the fiery chasm. The last Nadezhda Ösk saw of her colleagues was a puff of smoke, black against the bright, infernal backdrop.


The Queen of the Burn Plain is silent now, exhausted by her story. Towards the end her voice had grown husky, her throat dry.

They hadn't known back then that the Burn Plain jungle was thermophytic. New growth would have been sprouting even before the lava had properly solidified, plants germinating in the hot, plastic rock, gaining nourishment from the new outflowings of minerals. The current vegetation pattern would mark the extent of the most recent eruptions. In time the jungle's tap roots would penetrate deep enough to re-open the weak spots in the volcano's lower walls, priming the site for a new eruption, a new outflow of sustenance. It's one of the most incredible reproductive cycles that has been discovered; some scientists even claim that it's one of the major feedback loops in Wegener's Gaian climatic control systems, although such theories are notoriously difficult to prove.

I shift my position on the rocky slope. The safrans are moving and Nadezhda is smiling, something harsh about her expression. "I told you that you were the lucky one," she hissed, and suddenly I realise that the ground is warm to the touch.

My heart starts to pound and I look around. What do I do?

Nadezhda is still smiling as the first tremor hits. It's a big one, enough to knock me over even as I struggle to my feet.

The safrans are heading up the volcano, now, and I don't know what to do. The Queen smiles and turns to join her animals. Suddenly I realise how brave she must have been, to stay on the volcano when every sense in your head is screaming at you to run like hell, to get down off that mountain before it blows.

She looks back, says, "Are you ready to believe an old woman's story, then?" And so she hurries to catch up with the last of the safrans. My eyes follow them up the slope and I know that my legs should do the same, but even now I don't know if I am as brave as the Queen of the Burn Plain.



Changes... changes in a landscape which defy expectations and upon which survival depends. The malleable landscape of the Burn Plain took a firm hold on my imagination as soon as I conceived this story: how could we survive in an environment where solid land exists only as floating islands on a magma sea? Well, as Nadia realises, the best way is to learn from the natives. Three years later, I returned to this setting with "Riding the Serpent's Back", a story which ultimately led me to writing a big fantasy novel with the same backdrop, more of which later.

Ideas like this, tiny shards that grow and multiply over several hundred thousand words... where do they come from? The simple answer is pretty much everywhere. In this case, I'd studied vulcanology at university and retained a fascination with it. Reading an article in New Scientist about some tiny incremental advances in methods of predicting eruptions set me thinking: it seemed vaguely ironic that, among all the high-tech methods discussed, the most reliable technique still revolved around close observation of animal behaviour: cats and dogs, it seemed, were far better at this kind of thing than us. And so I wondered if that might still be the case way into the future, on a distant planet where predicting volcanic activity might be even more central to daily life.

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