Anne McCaffery is best remembered for her Pern books, but she wrote extensively in several other universes as well. She also produced the occasional one-off short story.
So, suppressing our pervasive sense of trespassing, we moved into the abandoned dwellings, careful not to make any irreparable changes to accommodate our equipment. In fact, the only sophisticated nonindigenous equipment that I, as colony commissioner, permitted within any city was the plastisteel Comtower. I ordered the spaceport constructed beyond a low range of foothills on the rather scrubby plain at some distance from my headquarters city. An old riverbed proved an acceptable road for moving cargo to and from the port, and no one really objected to the distance. It would be far better not to offend our landlords with the dirt and chaos of outer-space commerce close to their pretty city.
We pastured the cattle in neatly separated velvet fields. Martin Chavez worried when close inspection disclosed that each velvet field was underpinned by its own ten-meter-thick foundation of ancient, rock-hard clay. Those same foundations housed what seemed to be a deep irrigation system.
I did ask Martin Chavez to investigate the curious absence of herbivores from a planet so perfectly suited to them. He had catalogued several types of omnivores, a wide variety of fowl, and a plethora of fishes. He did discover some fossil remains of herbivores, but nothing more recent than traces comparable to those of our Pleistocene epoch.
He therefore was forced to conclude—and submitted in a voluminous report with numerous comparisons to nearby galactic examples—that some catastrophes, perhaps the same that had wiped out the humanoids, had eliminated herbivores at an earlier stage.
Whatever the disaster had been—bacterial, viral, or something more esoteric—it did not recur to plague us. We thrived on the planet. The first children, conceived under the bluish alien sun, were born just after we had shipped our first year’s surplus offworld. Life settled into a pleasant seasonal routine: The beef, sheep, horses, kine, even the windoers of Grace’s World imported on an experimental basis, multiplied on the velvet fields. The centenarian crops from half a dozen worlds gave us abundant yields. We had some failures, of course, with inedible or grotesque ergotic mutations, but not enough to be worth more than a minor Chavezian thesis in the record and the shrug of the pioneering farmer. If a colonist is eating well, living comfortably, with leisure time for his kids and time off with his wife on the languid southern seas, he puts up with minor failures and irritations. Even with the omnipresent guilt of trespassing.
I was not the only one who never felt entirely at ease in the pretty cities. But, as I rationalized the intermittent twinges of conscience, it would have been ridiculous to build facilities when empty accommodations were already available, despite their obstinate refusal to work no matter how Dunlapil tried to energize them. Still, we managed fine and gradually came to ignore the anomalies we had never fully explored, settling down to make our gardens and our families grow.
The tenth year was just beginning, with surprising warmth, when Martin Chavez called a meeting with me and Dunlapil. Chavez had even convened it on a Restday, which was annoying as well as unusual.