§ 2020-12-25 02:23:02


[02:23] All too soon after Baishar had left them, as night properly smothered the rest of the sounds out of the forest, Greg's exhaustion transformed into sleep. He shivered occasionally, plainly not conscious of his own quivering, his body seeking a heat that their surroundings didn't grant them. Edaaj had already propped the bag Greg had been left with to his one side and flanked him from the other.

It had been hours since Baishar left – not quite long enough to feel abandoned yet, but long enough to grow impatient with anxiety.

Just as Edaaj might have considered rearranging Greg's impromptu shelter to include some detritus, twigs and decaying leaves in some semblance of a warming nest, a light appeared amongst the trees, faint and distant at first, but unmistakable in the darkness.

A light, like the one that had warned Rakashei and her to stay away. The light that had heralded Rakashei's near-capture by the Nayabaru. The light she'd only barely escaped.

And despite everything she'd witnessed recently, there was still an instinct: A fragment of the Tarnish is looking for you. Except this time she was to stay put. This time, she was meant to let it find her.


[02:33] Edaaj shuddered. She'd had some opportunity to try to steel herself, but she nevertheless felt the stabbing urge to flee, or at least cover herself, and panic, hot and acid, rose up into her throat. But she didn't dare, didn't dare. Not now. Being discovered attempting to either flee or hide, when she was supposed to be awaiting them, was not how she wanted to encounter the Nayabaru. And the Tarnish...

[02:35] That part, she hadn't been ready for. She reminded herself about her discussion with Baishar on the subject. The Tarnish wasn't real, not literally real. The humans lived in the light. But her flesh crawled when the beam of light passed too near. What if it was real?

[02:36] Of course, if it was real, she was doomed in any case. There would be no way to emerge from this not Tarnished.

[02:40] She forced down her fear, took a deep breath, and spoke aloud – not loudly, and in a cracking voice, but clearly audible – in Kendaneivash: "<We are here!>" And, as the light swung in her direction, she squeezed her eyes almost shut, still half-expecting to be shot with some poisonous dart or experience some metaphysical burning from the light's glare.


[03:05] Spill from the cone of light highlighted tufts of feathers flitting in her direction. Blinded, she couldn't immediately see, but it had to be Baishar, it just had to, please let it be—

Baishar was beside her an instant later and beside him, with a bag strapped to his shoulders rather than hanging from his neck or chest, was a stranger, clearly younger than her, looking at though he'd only recently come to adolescense at all, staring directly toward her for a moment of intensity.

Then his gaze was on the human beside her, partly eclipsing the light that was washing across Greg, pawing lightly at his form. Raising his head and casting it back, he said, much louder than any kavkem would dare, in Naya: "[He's still alive.]" And then, in a language Edaaj knew was that of their visitors, with a shocking clarity to his words: "He's still alive."

Valcen, then – there were no other trilinguals to consider.

Then he was looking back at Edaaj. "<Why are you here?>" he asked, sharply, bristling in what would registered as frightened confusion, were it not for how dangerously full of energy he was. "<They will make us speak Naya shortly, so be quick with your answer.>"


[03:12] Edaaj had not been told what Valcen looked like; she had no idea what she'd expected, but a boy? Her tired confusion was visible in her expression, but it was clear that now was no time to ask.

[03:17] Unfortunately, a full account of her motives in doing such a blatantly dangerous thing was a long one, and now was not a time for that, either. "<The short version,>" she said indicating Greg's shivering form, "<is that I wanted to keep an eye on him, and also I want to learn things from you. I can explain that much better at some point in the future, but for now, just know that I will try to make myself useful to you in exchange.>"

[03:19] She glanced nervously at Greg. "<Can we get him warm fast enough? I did the best I could without trying to bury him in things, but...>"


[03:41] And then there was a Nayabaru looming over them, the bright source of light in one hand, the other coming down on the log, peering at the human's faceplate in concern. It had markings of a Hesh. Up its head went, thundering some deep bellow that made it difficult not to flinch. Then it reached past Valcen, who was rapidly backing out of the way, and moved to hoist the human up.

As it did so, the flashlight awkwardly pointed at the canopy, giving Edaaj some reprieve. "[Valcen,]" the Nayabaru barked at the boy, but a stern stare bit into Edaaj from its left eye. "[If I need to remind you one more time to speak our language...]"

"[Apologies]," Valcen dipped his muzzle. "[I was only asking if she even speaks Naya]," he lied. "[These wild kavkema don't necessarily have the education, so I tend to assume—]"

The Nayabaru cut him off. "[I don't care. Don't do it again.]"

"[All right]," Valcen conceded in a tone of diplomacy, but there was a bristle in his feathers that made it clear he would much rather be tearing the Nayabaru's throat out. Apparently and unfortunately, that didn't suit his purposes.

"[They don't like feeling left out]," Valcen said to Edaaj, hoping that she understood enough of his Naya to keep up with the conversation. ...he certainly hoped he wasn't ruling out all future conversation with Edaaj.

Meanwhile, the Nayabaru begun carrying the human back to where it had come from. With the flashlight no longer blinding her, she could see – barely – that there was a small procession of ceratopsian steeds between the trees, one of which had instantly begun grazing at the ferns as they had stopped. Two humans were there, having just jumped off their ride, making some noises at each other that were unintelligible at this distance and with Edaaj's low mastery of their tongue.

Baishar came up beside her, pressing lightly against her flank.

"[I have no tasks for you at the moment]," Valcen added, with a demonstrative loudness that made it clear he wanted no further scolding from the Hesh, though his glower was apparent.

Baishar whispered into her ear, the sound well out of earshot of the Nayabaru, his posture pretending that he was simply nuzzling her: "<He's hoping it'll stay that way.>"


[03:52] She didn't know how to interpret Baishar's remark. Was her offer being rejected? ...had there been enough context to ensure that it was even understood properly? Apparently Baishar himself had not had an opportunity to explain her motive to him – which, considering how the Nayabaru evidently felt about the use of Kendaneivash, was quite expected. But what now?

[04:00] If nothing else, no one was attempting to attach a metal monster to her skull yet, or bringing out any needles or things. She did not feel confident, now, in trying to maintain conversation with Baishar in her own language, but she fluffed her feather nervously and replied to Valcen, in hesitant and rather atrocious Naya, with "[I... understand. And I s-say – speak – Naya now.]"


[04:37] Ugh. Okay. Poor Naya. Not that they would be able to discuss anything substantial in the language in any scenario, but the broken Naya wasn't likely to make this entire operation any smoother.

Unless. Unless it became so difficult to speak to her in Naya that even the Nayabaru allowed him to speak to her in Kendaneivash. Valcen picked at one of his claws contemplatively, then began to trot back toward the collection of ceratopsians and alien visitors.

"[You were right to bring the alien to us]," Valcen remarked, still louder than the kavkem average, but considerably less demonstrative – more like he was holding an actual, casual conversation, even though judging by his glances toward the Nayabaru it was definitely still a demonstration. "[We can help him.]"

He seemed to consider asking something, then changed his mind and instead addressed the Nayabaru: "[Their lander is a day away from here and the nearest settlement isn't likely to be equipped for this. We can't bring him to Katal, it will take too long to get him there. We should bring him to the nearest town with telecommunication and connect with Katal, the Yeresoa there can assist.]"

The humans were fussing over their returned member as the Hesh glanced back toward Valcen and said: "[You said you can handle it.]"

"[I said I can supply some first aid and that I knew how to handle it]," Valcen corrected, gently. "[And I will do the former, but you need to decide where we go from here.]"

"[There's a fourth alien still out there]," the Hesh snorted. "[We need to continue.]"

"[The Karesejat can likely find the last one. Surely it's more important none of ours die on us]," Valcen reasoned with a tense, practised patience. "[So... phone?]"

It was eerie, watching a kavkem speak to the Nayabaru like this, with a firm, instructive tone of voice. He wasn't quite their superior, that much was clear from the way the Hesh treated him with disdain, but he had to have some relevance in their social structures – not that Edaaj knew much of anything about said structures to guess what.

It was perhaps even more eerie that he was effectively casually calling off the hunt and the Nayabaru were seriously considering it. Maybe the others would have a chance after all, if the traps didn't close around them.


[04:48] As Edaaj listened and tried to follow the conversation – she thought she understood the essentials of it – she began to understand something of what Baishar had meant when he'd said that Valcen was not trapped in his relationship with the Nayabaru. It was clear to her that while he was not particularly fond of them, nor they him, his position here – whatever it was – allowed him a certain degree of agency.

[04:51] It occurred to her that the Nayabaru must find it galling. She didn't know whether they understood what he was – or at least had been – but certainly he didn't look any different from a kavkem.

[04:55] She spoke to Baishar, trying to learn from Valcen's example by not speaking so softly as to arouse suspicion. "[I, er, stay near you? For now?]" From her nervousness, the question appeared to be almost as much of an appeal as an request for direction. If nothing else, he was famliar to her – more than nearly everyone else around, at least.


[05:18] "[Please do]," Baishar confirmed.

The Nayabaru was glancing up to verify their current location by the new set of stars they were immersed in, snorting a little in irritation that they were still no easy guide. By the looks of things, it next busied itself by trying to get their absolute bearings from other indicators, such as landmarks and a clear memory of the path travelled.

And then, from between the convoy, Nadani surfaced. Her approach was cautious and curious, as though Edaaj were a potentially dangerous stranger rather than someone she'd spent years living beside and supporting.

Valcen's attention had veered back to Edaaj now that the Nayabaru was busy with the navigational task. "[Was Baishar able to answer your questions, or may I be of service in answering some?]" he asked, paying no extra attention to the approaching kavkem.

Evidently he was of the opinion that Edaaj might get away asking some questions even in their current situation, with the conversation as open as it was. 'Why are you helping the Nayabaru?' was transparently poor conversation material, but maybe she could try something else? Or simply try to greet Nadani as an old friend and politely decline that line of conversation.

How dangerous could the situation get if she blew her cover? What would blow her cover? Valcen seemed deeply sceptical that she was even here, confused and disapproving, but evidently willing to throw his weight into playing along.


[05:38] "[I have... numbers?... many questions,]" Edaaj replied weakly, pretending she had not yet seen Nadani. She wasn't ready for this yet, either. Somehow, in her mind, she'd imagined that she'd have more time to address the various things she might encounter, though she hadn't the faintest idea why. "[Many things. But, now, maybe about humans, and their-]" She struggled with 'devices' or 'vehicles'. "[-things from their world. How they fly here.]"

[05:45] Would Nadani expose her if she was suspicious? Surely Edaaj had to assume so. But how to acknowledge her without making her suspicious? As she approached, there was no question of continuing to pretend to ignore her...

[05:48] "[Excuse me,]" she added, as if catching Nadani out of the corner of her eye. "[This kavkem I know. ...Nadani? You with them too?]"

[05:50] Now that she had a clearer view of Nadani's body language, she fought down the urge to cry. Or scream. Or vomit. How could that have happened to her?

§ 2020-12-25 23:54:26


[00:02] At least Nadani was only cautious, not aggressive or stand-off-ish. "[Yes]," she said, so softly that the Nayabaru should surely take offense – but there was no negative reaction. Perhaps they had already gotten used to Nadani. Perhaps it spelt good things for Edaaj's chances to have less supervised conversations with Valcen later.

"[It's good to see you]," Nadani said, although she sounded hesitant about it. There was a sliver of sincerity in the statement, but the caution prevailed. Perhaps she wasn't sure whether Edaaj would consider it good to see her, either. Perhaps she had the 'good sense' to feel a little embarrassed about her change of allegiance – not that it was her fault, but to her it likely felt like her own decision.

Valcen, meanwhile, allowed some of his tension to transform into amusement. "[Rocket science as an elevator pitch]," Valcen chuckled sardonically, more to himself than anyone else. A few of the words were lost to Edaaj's understanding of Naya – perhaps even to the Nayabaru understanding of it, given the lack of elevators in Nayabaru culture.

Then Valcen gave himself a slight shake as though to dislodge something and spoke: "[The basic principle is a harnessed explosion, trapped in a tube resilient enough to contain it, open at one end only – so it explodes into one direction. The direction they choose to let it explode into is 'down' and they let it explode a lot – so it keeps pushing the tube up, up, and up, until it's left the atmosphere.

"[To use it to travel, they stick something onto the other, closed end of the tube,]" he concluded.

The Hesh glanced back at him with a look of confused scepticism. Why are you teaching this wild kavkem information useful only to Darhala?, perhaps. But nothing was said. Instead, it gestured sharply into a direction mostly downslope, with a slight veer into the direction they had been wandering into in the first place. "[Estedat]," it said. "[We will take the aliens to Estedat]."

Valcen dipped his muzzle in a gesture approximating approval. "[Excellent. We will follow]."

§ 2020-12-26 22:22:19


[22:22] Edaaj wiggled her head slightly in acknowledgement of the explanation, though she was obviously distracted by Nadani's presence; still, the image, however vague, settled itself in her head – a tube of metal, ascending into the sky, balanced upon a pillar of terrible light and fire and noise- and to think, she'd been disturbed by only the use of light to see by...

[22:31] "[A heavy thing going so fast must be hard to... point? Er, steer... so how would...]" She paused in thought, as the group began moving. The answer was suggested to her by basic principles, but, perhaps, also by the awareness of a mindset that would see not quite blowing up their vehicle as an agreeable propulsion method in the first place. "[More explosions?]" she guessed.

[22:35] She looked to Nadani again, and asked, in a quieter voice, "[You are well? We didn't know what had happened to you.]"


[22:42] "[More explosions]," Valcen confirmed, a trace of amusement in his voice. His initial tension had yet to evaporate, but he seemed to be finding his way through the framework of that emotion. The question and answer session was so abstract that the Nayabaru were unlikely to take offense.

Nadani crept closer to Edaaj, still cautious in her approach, but moving more as a friend might who was curious if they had been forgiven for a slight or had to fear the other lashing out, less like someone prowling for prey. Docile. She looked perfectly docile. "[I'm fine]," she confirmed, softly. Evidently judging Edaaj to be fine as well, she asked: "[How are the others?]"


[23:15] Edaaj repeated to herself the story that Baishar had intended to tell regarding her presence, to ensure that she did not say anything suspicious. Things were... or at least they seemed to be going well so far, as much as that term could be applied to what she was trying to accomplish, and she didn't want to mess it up. "[I was the only one to come away with Baishar. The others were well but still on the move, the last I saw of them – it has been some hours now.]"

[23:24] Of course, going well was also a matter of what one was considering. It was a relief that Nadani hadn't... hadn't completely failed to recognize her, or something, hadn't become someone utterly different. She looked and smelled the same. But the changes that were there were disturbing, in their own way; Edaaj would never have imagined Nadani having reason to approach her so cautiously, as if a q'umok.


[23:38] If only Nadani were like Edaaj and merely pretending – Valcen, Baishar and Edaaj could likely take down the convoy and liberate the humans from the Nayabaru if it they didn't also have to deal with Nadani. Not that it was wise to do so before Greg had been helped, but their situation was admirably strange: Four kavkema and, as far as Edaaj could tell, only two Nayabaru, only one of whom seemed to be playing the role of permanent convoy guard, while the other forayed outward, weaving between the trees to find evidence of other kavkema or other, even less likely threats.

"[Are they at all... angry at me for not coming back?]" Nadani asked, revealing both that she definitely considered the choice to stay with the convoy her own decision and that she still cared, to some degree, about the opinions of her old group mates.


[00:15] Was that was it was like? Baishar had said that it was a very noticeable thing for the one undergoing the conversion; a sudden revelation, perhaps? Aloud, Edaaj said, "[I do not think they would be eager to see either of us again... but I think they would place the fault with the Imitorunyemaa. And their makers. They don't understand what it's like, you see.]"

[00:26] It was a reminder, she thought, of exactly whose company she was falling in with. Here she was, seeking to learn from someone who had changed people, including Nadani – was helping the Nayabaru – whose plans she did not know and might not even approve of – and for a very, very brief moment, she thought about looking for the nearest opporunity to slip away to... somewhere, and...

[00:29] ...and then what? Even if she were not simply captured again, even if she found the others of her group again, it would never be like it was. And if Evenatra found them and told them about Imitorunyemaa, they might indeed not even be eager to see her again.

[00:31] This was where she was. She wouldn't be going anywhere else, not now. The thought caused whatever had been keeping her going over the last few hours, whether apprehension, excitement, or something else, to start draining out of her.

[00:38] "[Will there be an opportunity to sleep at this.. Estedat place, do you think?]" she asked Baishar and Valcen, wearily. She realized she hadn't really had a solid day's sleep in... well, far too long.


[00:48] At Edaaj's comment about where the blame would fall, Nadani glanced briefly to Valcen as though to apologise on their behalf, but Valcen seemed unperturbed, soothing her emotions. As they walked, she brushed up to Valcen's side affectionately, revealing that she considered him an ita at the very least.

"[Almost surely]," Valcen assured Edaaj. "[Unless something forces us to keep moving when we get there.]" However, he didn't sound as though he had any particular situation in mind that might force their hand.


[01:13] Edaaj gave a tired nod. She fell in beside Baishar, rather closely so; not quite brushing up in the way Nadani was with Valcen, but not that far off either. Possibly she was trying to mimic Nadani's behavior; or, possibly, she'd simply meant what she'd said about staying near him.

[01:14] "[Things seem to be going well, anyway,]" she murmured to him.


[01:51] It was going well for some definition of 'well' that included high tension. Baishar simply swerved his muzzle in a subtle motion of affirmation, evidently not feeling the need to comment on it verbally.

The convoy had settled into a steady arrangement by now. The Nayabaru had hoisted the sick human onto one of their steeds, where another human was helping to prop him up. The other walked beside that same animal for the time being, perhaps seeking closeness out of concern for the fevered Greg.

"[You]," one Nayabaru barked toward the cluster of four kavkema. "[I want two of you to track down that final alien.]" It had taken the Hesh a long time, but it had evidently figured out a compromise solution to the problem of leaving the fourth human wholly unchecked.

Valcen grimaced lightly, but evidently didn't even think of debating with the Hesh on the subject. He tapped his muzzle against Nadani's shoulder lightly. Then he said to Baishar: "[You know about where we're headed – we will try to wait for you there.]"

Baishar looked crushed by the implication that he was supposed to leave again. Not bothering to hide his feelings, he gave a soft whine, pawing lightly at Valcen's flank with his forepaws.

"[Come now, I need someone I can trust to be reliable out there, and it's not like the Nayabaru will let me go]," Valcen sighed. He started to shrug his rucksack back off his shoulders. "[I have one more Imitorunyema, do you want to take it?]"


[02:05] Edaaj closed her eyes and held her breath, as if hoping the physical effort would hold in any more overt reaction. It won't help, she shouted at herself. You can't stop it. You'd have at least Nadani and both Nayabaru against you, and Valcen doesn't seem to be about to resist...

[02:08] She could offer to be the one to go with Baishar instead of Nadani, but knowing what they knew about her, Valcen would have to be an idiot to allow it, and Baishar equally an idiot to trust her not to try to sabotage him. She was inclined to like him, but she did not dare try to tell herself that she could convince him not to do what he'd been told to do.

[02:11] She opened her eyes again. "[Please try to be careful,]" she managed, hoping that the sick expression her face would be construed as concern for her present companions rather than more distant ones.


[02:35] Baishar hesitated. On the one hand, there was only one more Imitorunyema – Evenatra had disintegrated the other one, if he encountered her again, she might disintegrate this one, as well, and Valcen might be displeased at having no more of the tools at his disposal. But Valcen also knew what he was doing and was offering the device to Baishar now – clearly he thought it was a worthwhile risk, as long as Baishar himself thought the device was useful to take along.

It would serve as a good threat, especially if he came across Athechelt and Samanta on their own. He wouldn't even have to use it – he could simply threaten Athechelt with it to be able to take Samanta with him on his own... assuming Samanta accepted being taken along.

He glanced at Edaaj, catching her gaze. She was clearly terrified of the device and it was good that Nayabaru were not experts in the subtleties of kavkem body language, lest her cover would have been blown then and there.

For a moment, it seemed like Edaaj's pitiful, pleading face might tip the odds in favour of leaving the Imitorunyema with Valcen. But the idea of being able to resolve a conflict situation without having to do anyone actual harm was too enticing, and so he said, "[That might be wise.]" A brief apology leapt across to Edaaj in silence.

And so Valcen brought out the Imitorunyema and Edaaj could see it again, up close and passive, an artificial sleek, black, multi-segmented creature, like something dreamt up by gods of some distant ocean. "[Try not to wreck this one]," Valcen joked.

What had they been telling the Nayabaru about the other one, for that matter? Had they been open about that Evenatra had disintegrated it? That seemed unlikely – the Hesha could not possibly be this blasé about Evenatra being nearby. But if they'd told the Hesha that it had been destroyed by kavkema, did that not call Valcen's engineering ability into some question?

Or maybe it didn't, because there had never been such a thing in Nayabaru history before. There was simply nothing to compare it to.


[02:50] Edaaj could see the apology in Baishar's eyes, but somehow the look stung all the worse for it. Her gaze swept away from his, back down to the Imitorunyema, drawn to it despite her terror of it. Her previous encounter with one, and what had been done to it afterward, had not afforded her much opportunity to examine it. It was strange and wondrous, given the things she herself had built and seen built, to think that an artificial thing could look so... alive.

[02:52] Or, as she now recalled, move like it was alive. Another chill swept through her.

[03:00] She tore her gaze away from it. Until she was able to regard it more dispassionately, it would only increase her risk of exposure if she continued to dwell on it. Or on Baishar's new mission, though the chances of her becoming truly dispassionate about that were almost nil. She needed... something else to think about, for now. Possibly she could ask Valcen more questions.

Quietly, she moved to his side.


[03:36] "[Go]," Valcen instructed, his tone amicable, as though he weren't sending horrendous apparitions into the field to maul the minds of people and bring back an alien prize. As Baishar affirmed and darted away with Nadani in tow, Valcen shouldered the mostly empty rucksack again at a leisurely pace. What else was in it? Maybe just food – processed meats that the Nayabaru could stomach watching Valcen eat.

And then they were alone – Edaaj with Valcen, her fleeting emotional connection to this eerie, dangerous world gone, leaving her raw and exposed with a stranger whose only saving grace was that he looked young, like he couldn't possibly have any fighting experience.

It wasn't very soothing.


[03:47] Edaaj, walking beside Valcen, was quiet for a time, her thoughts scattered. Her various curiosities and concerns were, for the moment, dampened in their importance, and she found it hard to try to ask this stranger about them. Though she had never been quite as gregarious as the others in her group, she had never been quite this isolated – the only time even remotely comparable had been when she'd joined the group to begin with, leaving her parents behind, at an age not all that far in advance of the one Valcen appeared to be at.

Then, at least, she'd had a normality to expect to return to. There would be no such guarantee here.

[03:56] "[I had learned that there were other worlds,]" she murmured, "[but I did not think I would find one so close.]" She seemed to pull herself together. "[I am remembering more Naya than I thought I did, but I suppose I will need more... repetition?... Practice. ...both, really.]"


[04:06] "[If there's something you don't understand]," Valcen encouraged her. "[I am sure the Nayabaru will not mind if I translate for you.]"

The snort by the Hesh suggested that perhaps they did mind, but not nearly enough to complain about it – as long as it didn't become a constant habit.

The third human had left Greg's side by now and was climbing onto a vacant ceratopsian. It took some effort and the help of the landscape – these creatures were compatible with Nayabaru first and foremost, not with the shorter human physique. But apparently this circumstance wasn't an insurmountable obstacle.


[04:25] "[I hope so,]" trying not to be nervous about the Hesh's reaction. She kept her gaze on the human's attempts to climb onto the mount, hoping that not hovering over Greg was a good sign. "[There will likely be things I would like to ask you for which I have no words. Though I will restrain myself for now – to bury you in idle questions all at once would not be good of me. And I would run out of air. ...Breath.]"

[04:30] The last sentence sounded like a rather understated joke, but if it was, it was accompanied by a deadpan expression. It wasn't hard, somehow, to imagine that Edaaj might have been serious.

[04:36] Her gaze turned to the steed carrying Greg. Yet another source of worry, though in this case she at least had the solace that she might have done something to aid the situation. "[Do you know what is afflicting him?]"


[04:47] "[In abstract, yes; in any detail, the Yeresoa of Katal may need to help us with a diagnosis. Understand, our alien friends are wearing suits because this world is very dangerous to them – it is a lot like their own, but full of diseases that their bodies cannot deal with so well. It's likely something we could consider a harmless infection that has gotten out of control in the alien's body]," Valcen explained.

"[I hope that fixing it will be as simple as using some generic medicine. The skill is in finding one that will not also poison the alien. That, too, the Yeresoa of Katal should be able to help us with.]"


[05:13] "[I hope so,]" Edaaj replied, trying to shake off the thought of Greg being taken into Katal – Katal, of all places! "[I like him. I think he might be a... a builder. Like me. He seemed to know how things work, though I could not ask him anything.]" A thought occurred to her. "[If they could suffer so much from a disease of this world, would the same be true if someone of this world went... without a suit on theirs?]"

[05:17] The idea of someday being able to visit the humans' world had seemed more of a fancy than a realistic proposition anyway, but it seemed to be the nature of the day that even that should be taken from her.


[05:21] Valcen made a so-so motion. "[You'd be similarly susceptible to strange diseases]," he mused. "[But considerably less likely to be in the middle of nowhere, absent all medical supervision.]"


[05:51] Edaaj struggled a little with 'medical supervision', but thought she understood. The rest of the statement, however, caught her attention. "[You, er, know something of their world, then?]" She asked hopefully. "[It is... er, very settled, then?]"

[05:57] A hint of something had crept into the fluffy kavkem's voice – not exactly excitement, but perhaps, yes, perhaps anticipation. The conversation had come around to something about which she wondered, and there were answers that might be in reach.


[06:01] Valcen chuckled. "[I lived there for three recent decades]," he revealed. "[It is indeed very settled]," he echoed with some amusement. "[There are still plenty of stretches of land that are devoid of what our visitors consider civilisation, but these are either barely habitable in the first place – deserts or icy wastelands – or deliberately set aside to preserve the original biosphere.]"

"[Differently worded: If you throw a rock on land, chances are you'll hit a settlement.]"

§ 2020-12-27 22:32:50


[22:32] Edaaj tried to visualize this, in the same way she'd tried to visualize the explosive vehicle, but she found it much harder. The only settlements she'd ever seen were Nayabaru ones, and those had been from a great distance except in one or two very nerve-wracking cases-

[22:37] You'll get a better idea soon, said a more practical part of her. You're on your way to one right now. You may well be going to Katal later, from the sound of it, it added conversationally. Edaaj very much wished it would shut up. Throwing up out of sheer terror was not at all a wise thing to be doing at this particular time.

[22:44] "[It must be amazing to see,]" she managed. "[Though I cannot think there would ever be a chance to.]"


[01:20] Meanwhile, the steed with one of the humans had fallen back a little, bringing it closer to Valcen and Edaaj, now angling quite deliberately to fall in beside them. Before it fully did so, the human spoke to Valcen in the tongue still mostly opaque to Edaaj: "Would you rather a world where this joyous new acquaintance hadn't joined us, too?"

Valcen shot the human an undisguised glare. "Her name is Edaaj and I am still thinking about what to tell you about her," he commented.

"Not the truth, I guess," the human observed, flatly.

"Please use your imagination," Valcen prompted. "There aren't many scenarios in which I might debate whether or not I want to reveal that I have a new brainwashed minion and how I acquired her, given what you know about Nadani. You may freely infer what this means and be a little less sarcastic."

The human fell silent, looking down at Edaaj from the ceratopsian.

To Edaaj, Valcen said, by way of explanation: "[This is Jason. He's worried about your recent change of mind.]" Inwardly, he gagged a bit at having less privacy while talking to a kavkem then while talking to the humans.


[01:49] Edaaj, pinned in Jason's stare, glanced at the human uncomfortably. "[Um. Yes. Yes, I think I can see that.]" Though she had understood hardly any of what was said, the mention of her own name and that of Nadani sort of suggested that a comparison was being made. She reflected that, if Jason were to be made aware of the truth, it probably wouldn't worry him any less, either.

[01:55] She bobbed her head at Jason in an awkward, non-verbal acknowledgement. She considered adding 'Hai', which her observations had suggested to be part of some kind of ritual greeting, but decided against it; she wasn't sure how to use it properly, and in any case the Nayabaru would probably be grumpy about a kavkem trying to use yet another language they didn't know.

§ 2020-12-29 01:03:02


[01:03] Jason continued to stare at her for a while, as though to assess something she could only guess at, then seemed to relax a little. "What does that mean for us?" he asked, softly.

"Nothing," Valcen told him. "Ignore her. She's part of the landscape."

Jason frowned lightly, his gaze anchored to Edaaj again for a drawn out moment of silence. "You're not going to...?" he trailed off, his tone one of curiosity rather than fear or accusation.

"No," Valcen said.

Jason nodded quietly to himself, glancing at Valcen with some bewilderment, as though he'd expected him to act differently – out of malice, out of paranoia, out of convenience, or any other reason. "I'll leave you to it, then," he said, without that either body language or tone pretended that he had any authority for otherwise.

Valcen turned his attention to Edaaj again. "[He was expressing surprise at that I'm treating you cordially]," he said, hoping to convey enough of what was exchanged without tipping any Nayabaru that might be actively listening in on them off to what Jason had inferred with some nudging.


[01:18] Edaaj wondered about this. So far, she herself had gotten by well enough in conversation, but mainly through innocent talk and quick thinking; utilizing double meanings, or detecting their use, were not things that came to her easily.

[01:25] Nonetheless, something about the way he said it suggested that something deeper had been discussed, and that Jason now had an idea of her actual state of mind. She was rather surprised that Valcen would have found it necessary to tell him; though the Nayabaru evidently were not in a position to find out what passed between them in the aliens' own language, what would it achieve for someone else to be aware of a non-converted kavkem?

[01:31] She tried to assemble a suitable response. "[I hope he understands that I am content to be here.]"


[01:55] "[Probably not]," Valcen said. In context, he meant: I doubt the humans know why you're even here, given that it's a bit nebulous even to me. "[But they've accepted that things are a bit different here, so it shouldn't matter.]"

Jason was guiding his ceratopsian to join back with the others. There was some awkwardness in his steering – the trees were making it difficult to rejoin the others without veering further off course, the creature a bit reluctant to take the path suggested to it, but he ultimately managed.

There were a lot of things Valcen would have liked to say, to either of them, but it might have to wait for whenever they were granted true privacy. In the meantime, he was going to play the obfuscation game for as long as necessary – and by his estimate, it would be necessary for at least another two hours, as long as it took them to reach Estedat.