[00:56] While Samanta took her walk, Saira had spent more time trying to communicate with the Nayabaru.
The calm, peaceful interaction between her and this Hesh – that much she had determined by now, that this was some kind of job description or title or both, or in a pinch perhaps a generic name shared by several Nayabaru – let her progress slowly but surely through laying some linguistic ground work.
The grammar seemed palpable – not too different from basic structures found in the majority of human languages. Vocabulary seemed easy enough to pick out once she'd gotten a handle on the deep pitch these critters used and learnt to differentiate the syllables. She couldn't directly reproduce the words, but her higher-pitched versions were clearly also acceptable.
So far, mostly well before Samanta had left, she'd gotten through communicating "I am Saira", "I am a xenolinguist" (or rather, "I work with languages", 'xenolinguist' was more specific than she was going to beat out of this talking dinosaur), and she had tried, unsuccessfully, to chat about the weather.
Chatting about the weather was made especially difficult for it being the dead of night. Chatting about the landing or Earth was made especially difficult for them not being anywhere near the landing site, nor Earth being visible in the sky – or in fact ever again, given this planet and Earth occupied opposite sides of the same orbit the sun.
The notion of ever learning enough about the language to find out how the planet had gotten here, the big mystery, seemed far-fetched. Thankfully, the English message 'Valcen' had left them suggested she might not have to – but it was still in her professional interest to press on regardless.
Samanta, however, returned a bit sooner than assumed.
She jogged a little toward Saira, as though aware of her mild confusion and equipped with an urge to minimise it as soon as possible. "Hey," she said, even as she slowed herself back down. There was no real reason for them to rely on physical proximity, what with their ability to keep in contact via comms – but they were both human and they preferred to see each other when talking.
Especially about important matters.
The Nayabaru grunted something that might have been a 'welcome back' or 'where were you?' or any number of things that were probably more platitude than communication. It seemed safe enough to ignore, but Samanta quickly slipped in a full-body gesture she hoped would be interpreted as gratitude, before turning her attention back to Saira.
"Something very strange is going on here," Samanta said, keeping her tone almost painfully conversational, evidently not wanting the Nayabaru to catch onto the content of the statement by tone alone. She sat down beside Saira, the motion a kind of swing, as though imbued with new energy.
"Remember the first biologicals we came across?" Samanta asked, before Saira could get a word in. 'Biologicals'? Was she using words she knew with certainty the Nayabaru couldn't have picked up on? "I encountered some more. Had some... intriguing things to... ramble about."
A grunt from the Nayabaru, its head tilting in passive observation. It seemed a little miffed about not knowing what its guests were talking about, but not altogether slighted – if its body language was any indicator, which, given the different cultures, it might not.
[23:56] Saira Hoshino was breaking new ground. Contacting, communicating with actual extraterrestrials for the first time was not only a massive honour and a significant chunk of history in the making, but it was exciting in ways she hadn't even anticipated. There were definitely times when the linguist would grow excited and then lose her tentative grasp on the forming communications, but she remained dedicated and optimistic. She couldn't have marked how much time had passed given the lack of sun to track in the sky above, but she was still mildly surprised with Samanta came jogging up at a brisk pace towards them. With a deep nod and accompany gesture of apology, she turned her attention to the approaching woman. It took her a moment or two to process what was being said, that the choice of words and tone were deliberate as to not let what English words the Nayabaru might have been able to decipher slip through. "Oh?" Just a single syllable that conveyed so much, because she wasn't sure if this was a conversation that they could be having here before their host. Samanta seemed alright, so it couldn't have been too hostile, but curious nonetheless. "Do we need to, uh...?" And she made a thumb gesture over her shoulder as if to indicate go elsewhere to talk quietly. Though there was no telling how good the dinosaur's hearing was.
[22:31] Samanta smiled at Saira, the expression making her tension obvious without making it apparent to creatures only just learning human facial cues. "You would know best," she said, but paused only briefly, evidently in the belief that going elsewhere together was not going to improve the situation noticeably. "Let's indulge in a hypothetical.
"Suppose you and a friend met two perfect strangers in sequence. One of those individuals runs away the exact moment the other reaches your vicinity. You and your friend then spend some time with the latter at a party. At some point you excuse yourself from the party to... vape? Anyway. You stand on the balcony and notice your initial contact is sitting in the shadows.
"And they whisper to reveal... a dangerous fate to you. They are... amicable but clearly... anxious." Samanta was clearly battling herself on the narrative front, carefully steering herself past the most common words that threatened to provide recognisable content to the Nayabaru. "Imploring you to abscond, together with your friend.
"Do you do that, or do you politely decline?" Samanta finished, maintaining her tense smile.
It was easy enough to unpack – so the 'raptorians had reappeared and were warning Samanta that the humans from the landing expedition were at some nebulous risk if they stayed with the Nayabaru.
It harkened back to Don't accept candy from strangers, except that strictly speaking the 'raptorians were the strangers. The Nayabaru were no better; Samanta had used the phrase 'lulling us into security' back when the shock about Valcen's message was fresh – less than a day ago, though it felt like an eternity.
They'd decided that there likely was some danger, but they were relatively safe – Jason had convinced them of that. Yet to have that sense of danger echoed back at them felt dangerous in itself, as though they were caught in a the middle of a propaganda war.
Perhaps that was to be expected; at the moment they were the aliens. Both these species might think it beneficial to ally with them.
[21:12] The scenario that Samanta laboriously sketched out to Saira in vivid colours was not a pleasant one. Her expression turned forced, barely containing the grimace that was threatening to claw its way onto her face. Though they were in profile and their faces somewhat obscured to a creature that did not know human expressions, it was still best to err on the side of caution. It was clear from her struggle to keep her composure that she was no more happy about this than Samanta. They were quite a ways from the ship after their ride to the little settlement. "Well," she began as a way to try to clear her mind enough for cogent speech. "Let's look at the exit strategies? We've got to hoof it back home from the party on foot, and our new friends have cars." She wasn't sure how to adapt the reality to the analogy when it came to dino-mounts and dino-claws that could probably shred their suits and incapacitate them easily if they really were of the bad sort. "Nothing in my talks have indicated anything like that, but I mean.." Saira shrugged as much as possible but it was hard to see in the bulky exosuit. Reading their body language was a developing skill barely new, and it's certainly not as though they had come out and admitted any ill intents. "It... The real kicker here is the message," she added, reminding Samanta of the English language message they had received. Her curiousity to see that through, to see what it could be, who could have left it would have overridden her sense of danger any time; an exact trait that pushed her to submit herself for consideration for this very mission. "If you're asking me my opinion, I'd say stay, but only because of this Valcen's message. I don't... i think if you're right, I don't think we could easily get away." This admission was tough for her but it was what it was.
[21:38] Samanta's expression struggled for a moment, evidently torn on the issue. It settled into an almost blank compromise as she let herself sag a little, evidently pondering how to handle the situation given Saira's remarks.
The truth of the matter was that they knew mighty little about either culture. They had marginally more exposure to the iguanodont 'Nayabaru' than to the maniraptorian 'kavkema', but in both cases, they were ill-equipped to tell propaganda from truth.
"Greg is with them," Samanta said, finally, softly. "At least they said that and I don't doubt it given they know his name." Slowly, she shifted her head to gaze across at Saira. "I'd... suggest we split up, but I'm genre-savvy enough to know that's an awful idea," she joked, tiredly. "Not enough of us to field that. Can't reach ESA on short notice for commentary, either.
"The others, they're clearly... anxious about the Nayabaru. Having someone speak out shared language fluently is definitely a good thing, but what if we are in actual, genuine danger? I do think the maniraptorans think so. And if Greg is with them, at the very least I should convince him to rejoin us, he shouldn't be by himself. Right?"
[20:57] A shiver ran through her, though it was largely unseen with the bulky suit. She listened to Samanta's further assessment of the situation, and managed a weak smile at the attempt of a joke. Her heart wasn't in it. "I don't think any of us should be alone." But that meant they both go and collect Greg, so she wasn't left behind with her hosts. Not that they had shown her any outward signs of hostility. For all intents and purposes, they had been gracious hosts, patient with her as she tried to establish the basis of communication with them. Saira supressed the urge to steal a glance at the Nayabaru that she had been 'talking' to. Over coms, a soft sigh could be heard. "What a pickle this is," she said at last, but that hardly encompassed what they were facing at the moment. While it was definitely exciting that they were the first people to come in contact with honest to goodness extraterrestials, and they knew going in that there would be dangers, but in the present, it was almost overwhelming. She let out a weak laugh, trying to cut through the tension she was feeling. "Of course it wouldn't be so easy as to just meet one group of people."
[21:26] "I don't think any of us signed up for this thinking it was going to be easy," Samanta conceded, though she grimaced a little anyway – either forgetting to moderate her facial expression, or perhaps simply not concerned that a brief frown was going to catch the Nayabaru's attention to an unwanted degree.
"Should I try to bring Greg b— should I... bargain for his return?" Samanta asked, considering the idea of 'splitting up', at least temporarily, in earnest. It couldn't be a long-term solution; but then, neither could staying in these suits for much longer.
Then, heavy-handedly, as if the simple question might somehow solve their conundrum if answered sincerely: "Would you rather trust the iguanodonts or the maniraptorans with your life and well-being?"
[21:35] While she definitely most fervantly believed that they should be together, her brain nagged at the what ifs. Shouldn't one of them be able to get word to the shuttle, to the ESA? Being together was like a herd sticking together to increase survivability. Saira visably considered this for a moment, her expression warring between wanting to screw up in concernation as she at the same time tried to control it for the sake of their hosts. Nodding, she came to a decision. "I think so. I think we should try to stick together." Samanta's next question had the poor linquist nervously laughing again. "Aw, Boss, you ask the hard questions..." Sidelong, she glanced at the Nayabaru again. "I was making some good progress here, and they don't seem to want to throw me in a cooking pot yet." If given the option, she would try to continue her work, while forcibly pushing thoughts of her early demise at the hands of the denizens of this planet aside.
[21:45] Samanta's attention lingered on Saira, evidently not interested in letting her off the hook, a stern flavour of curiosity glittering in the eyes behind the transparent face plate. For a moment, the silence simply lingered uncomfortably, near-palpable as though seizing Saira by the torso to squeeze an answer out of her.
Then Samanta mused: "I find it very interesting from the point of view of evolutionary behaviourism that the maniraptora, who are carnivorous, run and hide from the iguanodonts. They are not exhibiting the stealthy caution of hunters on the prowl. What kind of herbivore makes predators avoid all contact?
"If it was simply so that they were... not on the menu, so to speak, surely the predators wouldn't care. Lions keep a respectful distance to elephants but don't try to remain altogether unseen."
[22:07] The silence lapsed longer than she would have liked. She hadn't considered the implications until Samanta put voice to it, but the Commander was absolutely right. Her head bobbed in her helmet, the motion barely registering outside the suit. "Now that you mention it, it's down right peculiar." Saira wondered what it meant, as it seemed like there were greater implications they were missing, like a single piece critical to the picture of a puzzle. Pursing her lips, she thought through all the possibilities, but knew she wasn't landing on it. "There are instances of herd herbivores scaring off predators, but usually in outnumbering groups." But then to spin it as the two groups were sentient creatures and not merely driven by instinct, it was hard to fathom the possibilities. "Maybe something happened to disrupt what we think of as the natural order."
[22:15] "It's what gives me pause," Samanta revealed. She let her gaze creep up to the Nayabaru, resisting the instinct that told her to avoid eye-contact, smiling thinly up at the taller creature with its elongated, uncanny face, more horse than human in appearance, its narrow band of stereoscopic vision currently trained on her.
Carefully modulating her tone of voice to the casual and maintaining the artificial smile, she commented: "Like I said, something strange is going on here. I do wish there was a guide for this situation, some kind of checklist. How good is your game theory? Do you think we can devise a harmless test that might reveal how much we can trust our hosts?"
[23:56] Now that it was out in the open that something peculiar was going on with what they assumed was the natural order, everything cast sinister shadows on their interactions. Put on the spot about trying to formulate a harmless test, she fell silent, thoughtfully. What -could- they do to prove in some conclusive way that their hosts indeed meant no harm. Saira was drawing blanks, her mind just not making any useful connections, though they were tracking along her skill set. "I wish I had a good answer for you, Samanta," she said, admitting defeat for the moment with a resigned sort of regret.
[00:09] Samanta felt stuck more than anything else. The information she'd been given was the first overt warning sign, but it built up on the uncanniness of the English message and the vibe that their hosts did not particularly want them to leave, even if they weren't physically stopping them. It felt relevant.
Rationally, she knew it could just as well be a trap pandering to some common empathy. She only had the maniraptorans implied word that Greg wasn't their captive – but it would be very strange for them to abduct Greg and not threaten her with it.
Strange was to be expected, though, wasn't it? They were dealing with non-human cultures; trying to draw parallels was certainly useful, but clearly had its limits.
She only knew one thing – bringing Greg here felt fundamentally wrong. Perhaps it was only an instinctive aversion against putting all eggs into one basket, but her fondest wish now was to get back to the capsule, together.
Of course, it was the least productive thing they could do.
"...I think if we try to set up a game of prisoner's dilemma with this fellow, we'd spend the rest of the night explaining the rules, anyway," Samanta reasoned, exasperatedly. In her head, the possibility of splitting up resurfaced as a viable plan, nagging at her. "I see no comfortable options. I said not to earlier, but... how do you feel about splitting up?"
[00:14] That had been the other conclusion that Saira had come to, that even if they were to set up a game of sorts, explaining the rules would be an endeavour. It was a distinctly unpleasant sensation to realize that their options were not good all around. There was no neat solution that would keep them from feeling the first icy fingers of panic down their spines, though perhaps they had already been long past that. She nodded absently in agreement to Samanta's assessment, but when put to the question of splitting up, she grimaced but quickly hid it away. "I don't like it, but it seems inevitable at this point, doesn't it?" Which was not a pleasing thought, but what else could they do. "I should be alright here. They haven't harmed me, I can continue trying to establish a bridge but..." And here she trailed off to glance down at her wrist monitor, checking on her current supply of oxygen. "That's not a long term solutions for any of us."
[00:18] "If they're truly benevolent, I'm sure I can lead the maniraptorans back to the capsule," Samanta commented, pensively, trying to think into the longer term – difficult, with how her mind kept doubling back on the present problem. "And switch out the filters on my and Greg's suits. Do you think you can convince our current hosts to let you back to the capsule regularly?"
There was also the fine detail of how they would eventually regroup – but perhaps that was the least of their problems, given the capsule was probably not going to go away.
Unless someone dragged it away with carts, perhaps.
[00:25] Glancing towards the Nayabaru, she ran through the vocab needed to communicate that she needed to return to the capsule. She had to smother the urge to nervously laugh again, but it mostly just came out in a grunt. "I can try?" Saira's faith in herself didn't seem to be at any all time highs, but all she could do is try to build their common understanding. "If I'm really lucky, this Valcen person might have mentioned something and all they need is a prompt?" But that seemed to be too much to hope for at this juncture. Whoever they were, they spoke English, so perhaps they had some understanding about differing atmospheres.
[00:34] If we're really lucky, Valcen won't feed us to the wolves. Samanta kept the grim thought to herself – something about the kavkem's warnings had unsettled her past all rational assessment. At least she knew it was happening, even if she was ultimately doing a poor job of leaving her gut feeling out of her decisions.
So we're really doing this? In a way, splitting up was simply maximising the chance at least some of the crew would get hurt, while minimising the chance that it would happen to all of them. Against all odds, against all training, against all sense of poetic narrative, she preferred it. Hopefully she would have ample time to steel herself for the inevitable bad news on either front.
"I vote Jason stays with you," Samanta said, revealing that she wasn't likely going to wait for Jason to wake up and join them on this porch. "...I sure hope I'm not misattributing the danger levels, here, but he's got military training and I think you'll need that more than Greg and I."
[00:53] It would be a lie to suggest that Saira's thoughts were not following along the same tracks as Samanta's. She too was trying to thrust that away as much as possible to face what she could actually deal with herself. Their futures were as undecided as their feelings about their hosts, and there was nothing that Saira could do but stick to the mission. In small ways, that was comforting, or at least gave her something else to focus on. "Alright, I'm not gonna lie, that's a bit of a comfort." As one of the civilian experts picked for this mission, she had only a cursory defense course and weapons training before arrival. Jason's expertise would be invaluable if things turned south and they had to hoof it out of here. "I've still got some time before I need to return to the capsule, so I'll try to communicate that to our hosts. Who knows? I could end up needing all that time."
[01:01] We're really doing this. Samanta lingered for a moment, grappling with the implications of the decisions she and Saira had just made. The rest of the crew would have to live with this. And Samanta was going to trudge back to the capsule on foot, with Greg in tow. No doubt Greg would not be a fan.
"When I reach the capsule, I'll send out a heads-up to ESA," Samanta commented. "I suppose neither of us will hear their answer, but they should know what's going on. Feel free to add your own account when you're there. Sound good?"
[01:21] "As good as we can get, anyway," she agreed, but there was a certain thread of doubt in her voice that she couldn't quite hide from Samanta. Still, she gathered up all of her courage and managed to put on a brave face for her commander. "Good luck." It was with grim determination that she was going to get back to work, though she needed to collect herself for a few minutes before turning back to the Nayabaru. This wasn't a great plan, but it seemed to be the best options out of a number of worse ones.