Change Of Plans
[21:09] Partway through preparations, with Jason and Saira inside, debriefing, scheming and deciding what to pack, while the rover was being assembled on the dustflats, Valcen – sans his awkward rucksack – could be seen clambering up the edge of the vessel, into the shadow of the partway open airlock.
Forcing his torso up, he pressed his forepaws against the glass of the inner door, tapping his right forepaw's claws against it.
There was an active comm between the sections, left running for whenever work on the rover needed another feedback loop, so when Valcen spoke, himself perhaps not sure he was yet being heard through the airtight door, it was immediately audible inside: "Can we talk?"
[21:15] Saira was busy collecting her gear for the trip. She couldn't help but pack some rations just in case Valcen was mistaken about fulfilling their dietary needs, though, it probably wouldn't be enough for as long as the expedition might take. There was a recorder with a back up battery and a little solar array that could recharge both batteries. A camera was included with plenty of storage space for the digital pictures they would be taking. Testing kits for the viability of the food and water they would be provided. Though it did seem silly to lure them all the way out there only to poison them. When Valcen's voice was heard relayed back to her, she turned to the display to find him at the airlock. She made her way there, and depressed the button to turn on the mic. "Yes. What can I do for you, Valcen?" This was only a delay tactic, as she would have to get back into her suit to talk to him outside.
[21:45] "I wish I were more in charge of operations than I am," he said, sighing, even as he eased himself into a more natural position, his muzzle still clearly visible through the glass, fogging it slightly in the process. "The Nayabaru aren't particularly satisfied with the arrangement that I take you to Katal.
"They've given me the option of either letting you explore Katal under their supervision, or delaying the move until the other humans have been found. In either case, they want me to look for your crew mates – I don't precisely blame them, I am better equipped to find them than any Nayabaru, but I'd still rather I could simply refuse."
His feathers were puffing out a little in what appeared even to Saira's untrained eye to be some form of mild agitation or displeasure. "But I would be interested in granting you supervisory rights – which is to say, you could come along. I do mean all of you, again – I don't want to see you split up any further."
[21:50] His reply was not the greatest of news. Especially as it meant that they would be trying to 'hunt' down where the other members of the crew were with the kavkema. The tensions between the two races was plain to anyone, and the Nayabaru not being involved in any search meant that at least they could guarantee that the poor raptors would not be harmed. Still, it did not seem a great choice. It was also not something that she could decide on her, even if it seemed that the choice was already made. (Searching for Samanta and the others in Valcen's company would be preferrable to any other option allowed to them.) She frowned but quickly smoothed it over with a blander expression. "I'll discuss it with Jason, but I think we will probably be joining you," she said with as much surety as she could. "Be right back." Saira left the airlock to go relay the new plan to her cohorts.
[22:08] The area near the airlock was only a few steps away from the command module that took up most of the lander – it wasn't as if the lander needed any traditional crew quarters, after all, so there was not much partitioning in the small vessel.
Jason's expression had apparently clouded over a little – but then, Valcen's part of the conversation had been quite crisp to hear even where he had been, after all. "Heard it," he muttered.
"Either we need to worry about his lack of authority, or his lack of sincerity." Speaking to Valcen individually had given Jason reason to believe only that he was proficient in English and not much else with any certainty, but he was being paid specifically to mistrust anyone they met, within reason.
"What do you make of it?" he asked, evidently keeping his own opinions under wraps for the moment, not wanting to taint Saira's first impressions with his own – but, given his background, it was only obvious that he was sceptical and focussed on future damage reduction.
[23:18] After a quick glance back to the airlock to make sure the mic was firmly lit up as red, as it would not pass on her commentary to Valcen, she sighed with a shrug of her shoulders to accompany it. "The whole thing seems sketchy. Whatever cultural mishap might have happened shouldn't warrant having to collect the other members of the mission." At least in her estimation. She was not quite what one would call happy regarding the whole detour to find the others. The necessity of it, while explained patiently by their erstwhile host did not seem wholly conveyed to the linguist. "It sounds dangerous if they were to be found by the Nayabaru..." While the Nayabaru might be under orders from some highly positioned figure to collect all the humans, that in and of itself seemed suspect. "I don't know if we have much of a choice if we want to avoid anyone getting hurt," she said at last.
[23:50] Jason nodded. "In the best case these Nayabarus would simply be concerned about their safety, but that doesn't seem to be the language used here – and I'm quite positive that Valcen knows enough about subtext that he could be conveying that if he wanted to.
"On the other hand, if they wanted to do us direct harm, they have had plenty opportunity to. They're quite well-informed about our capabilities at this point – I doubt the remaining question marks would make them hold off. Which leaves the question why they want to collect the others.
"They might simply not want us to contact these other creatures – which, if they don't trust them at all, is understandable, you don't want potential allies colluding with your enemy. But that does mean that even in the best case, the others might be accused of collusion – and I'm not convinced the best case is the only realistic scenario."
He began to pace across the small room, slowly, his arms looped behind his back. "If we'd already assembled the lander for the return trip, we could be bolder, perhaps. Right now it's likely best to play along.
"I'm not too concerned about Valcen himself – he appears to just be a mouthpiece for the Nayabarus, though no doubt a clever one, even if none of his grand claims of celestial do-it-yourself mechanics are true. But we should keep an eye on him regardless – I don't suggest relying on our gut feelings about this in either direction."
He stopped his pacing, instead grasping at the back of one of the seats, glancing at the console. "Information asymmetry," he frowned. "They know more about us than we know about them. If Valcen is friendly, we may be able to change that. So I agree with him that we should stay together – so that we can find out if he's friendly, and if not—"
Jason didn't so much as gesture to his weapon, but it was clear he was willing to put a bullet into Valcen's head if it was necessary and likely to improve their situation. Whether they would get the chance or whether that mindset would ever prove useful was another question, but it was reassuring to know it was an option in theory.
[00:50] There was no security in the idea that they might be able to murder Valcen if it came to that. If he was as grand a creature as he claimed, a little inconvenience like a shot to the head wouldn't really stop him. Which was a terrifying thought when she put her mind to it. She kept that to herself, perhaps a little too willing to believe that Valcen could and had done what he said he could. Saira listened patiently to what Jason was saying, agreeing for the most part. "Guess that decides it," she said, somewhat unhappy with the results, but that was more because she felt they were being forced or coerced into searching out the others rather than actually agreeing to it because it was a good idea. "We have no idea what the cultural divides are here, or what has caused what appears to be clear animosity between the two groups. I guess we can only hope that we are, for now, siding with the best of a bad scenario choice." She frowned again at that, clearly not completely committed to that cause, but she felt squeezed between a rock and a hard place at the moment. There was no helping that, she supposed.
[01:43] "I would say it seems rather classic, wouldn't you say? Herbivores versus carnivores. We should perhaps be glad that on this planet, the herbivores have won out; maybe if they were less in control, the greeting we got from the carnivores might have involved more biting," Jason observed, trying to lighten the mood with his tone.
[02:20] Her head turned sharply in his direction at this very obvious observation that she hadn't even considered. It was very blandly said, delivered quietly like some stealth bomber. "That's ah... that's a good point, Jason." Saira had to concede the point to him in this regard. It was hard not to. "You almost done packing?" No matter how prepared she felt, she knew that she was going to forget something vital.
[02:29] "I wouldn't use the word 'ready', but for all intents and purposes, yes," Jason confirmed, although he let his gaze slip to the console again. "But let me send another time-stamped message to ESA before the orbiter's communication window closes for the next two hours."
He had almost twenty minutes to send his message. There was no use asking for any sort of back-up – even on the best trajectory, anyone sent to help them would arrive in a few months – but it was prudent to keep mission control updated on the latest developments.
"Update Valcen and head out to the rover to keep everyone in the loop in the meantime?" he suggested.