§ 2022-08-01 22:35:21
[22:35] Two days came and went with three humans alone in a cart guided by the Nayabaru. Their initial anxieties had dulled by now; no one was hurting them, or even demanding anything from them.
Saira and Edaaj had spent most of their idle minutes learning to communicate with Valcen's help. They could still not have a conversation with each other without it, but at least basic words were beginning to commit to memory. Interestingly enough, Edaaj seemed much quicker in the uptake of English than Saira was of Kendaneivash, despite the kavkem's lack of linguistic education.
And then Valcen was clambering into the cart from what had seemed to be a passing conversation with a Nayabaru and exhaling in another borrowed human gesture. "We're due for Katal in under an hour," he announced. And then, as though it explained anything, he gestured through the trees.
At first glance, there seemed to only be the sky in the gaps between the branches. But as high winds imbued the clouds with a fake parallax, a different structure became apparent at the edge of what the straight road could offer of the firmament, some kind of gossamer peak, like a thin fabric held aloft by a curve of metal that glinted in the afternoon light.
[22:43] In the passing days, Saira was content to help along not only her understanding of Kendaneivash, but also Edaaj's understanding of English, which she was doing quite well. After one put aside the strangeness of talking to these strange bestial people, it became much easier to just hold a conversation. She was actually becoming quite accustomed to Edaaj, though she still regarded Valcen with some wariness. It was more difficult to warm up to him, given his precarious position of both harming and claiming to want to save the kavkema. Edaaj seemed more pure, despite her circumstances. With the aid of the tablet that had all the pictures of the different flora and fauna they had found so far, they combed through the vocabulary. She even showed Edaaj how to take pictures with it, and soon in the manner of small human children, there might have been dozens of out of focused or uncentered pictures now saved to its SD card. At the announcement that they were due to reach the Nayabaru capital soon, Saira froze, a little uncomfortable with the idea of being there. She could put it off over the last few days by willfully ignoring it, but now there was no where to hide. "Can we see it yet?" she asked, already scooting to the edge of the cart so she could get out and look at it properly.
[23:50] Jason leant to the side, trying to get a look of the road ahead unimpeded by the horns of the beasts of burden pulling them there, or the folded tarp that offered them shelter when it rained. It took him a moment to spot the fabric-like texture and once he did, he squinted at it, not quite sure what he was seeing and whether he was seeing anything at all.
Silently, he pulled a face.
"Vaguely," Valcen was saying, tone tinged with an unhappy undercurrent. "In this light and through the trees, I suppose it only looks a bit like a static cloud, or an ivory thorn." A pause. "Down the road. Last stretch of sky," he clarified his pointing.
[01:21] She didn't like that note of upset in Valcen's voice. The small indication that he was displeased or unhappy with their nearness to Katal. Not that she could blame him all that much. It felt as though she was walking into the mouth of a great beast. Getting out of Katal would hopefully be an uncomplicated, easy affair. After Greg's illness had been cured, or at least treated, they could go.
That's what she was hoping. Slipping out from beneath the tarp, she began to walk behind the cart, occasionally pausing to stand on her tip toes to see the city, but there wasn't much with all the foliage in the way. "Are you alright?" she asked Valcen. There was little use putting the question to Jason, he was most definitely not alright with what they seemed to be stuck doing. It was as if circumstances had strong armed them into agreeing to this visit, as if Greg wasn't ill. Saira just hoped she made the right decisions.
[01:38] Valcen stared back at Saira and, for a moment that was too long not to register as awkward, remained silent. In the privacy of his own thoughts, he thought: I hope they stay true to their word.
He didn't mean the humans.
"Mixed feelings," he said openly. "For all intents and purposes, Katal is a prison for me, as strange as that may sound, given they don't need shackles to bind me. But it feels like a prison."
§ 2022-08-02 21:56:15
[21:56] If that's how Valcen felt about Katal... It bode ill for the human party, the possibility that they too would be held prisoner, with no means of a way out. As chilling as that was, she had to be positive. Hopefully, they could help Greg, and the humans could go on their way back to the craft. Frowning, she glanced at the kavkem and then shook her head, largely unseen inside her bulky suit's confines. "I hope it proves to be something more than that for us. I'm sorry you're having to return to somewhere you clearly don't want to be." A little bit of sympathy offered to Valcen, though he seemed as complicit as the Nayabaru in their circumstances. A sigh could be heard as she plodded on behind the car. "Do you have any idea of what might have befallen Greg?" she asked, and probably not for the first time.
§ 2022-08-07 00:40:23
[00:48] Valcen twisted slightly to look over to Greg, who had remained mercifully stable. His companions had been able to feed and hydrate him during brief periods of lucidity, but largely he had been sleeping, sweating into his blanket.
"Probably some kind of infection," Valcen said first, making no interesting statement at all. But then he continued: "A hardy bacterium producing some kind of toxin our local mammals are better-adapted to resist."
Jason wasn't listening, still leant across the side of the cart to stare toward Katal. "What is it?" he asked, almost crossly.
Valcen's attention swerved. "Pardon?"
"I don't recognise that as a city skyline," Jason said, gesturing toward Valcen's 'ivory thorn' that grew slowly as they approached. "What is it?"
"Oh," Valcen said, gathering his thoughts. "It's... I suppose the best way to describe it is as something between, ah, perimeter fencing and decoration or monument."
[01:02] Edaaj peered out at the sight as they slowly approached. Inside, deep inside, there was panic, but resignation lay on it like a weighted blanket to keep it from surfacing. The only outward sign of it, aside from her expression – doubtless opaque to the humans – was the faint movement of her feathers as she vibrated with the tension.
[01:06] It surprised even her that she should be as still as she was. But then, what good would it do to jump up, to panic, to run? Within sight of Katal? Where could she possibly go? How would she hide? She would learn nothing from being captured, except, perhaps, the sheer depth and meaning of the mistakes she'd made to get her to that point.
[01:12] And it had occurred to her, too, that Valcen was taking on a form of risk in having cooperated in maintaining her ruse. Should it become obvious to the Nayabaru that the supposedly compliant kavkem was no such thing... Valcen would not be able to help. He might have enough trouble for himself, and, indeed, his self-preservation would likely depend on a claim of having been fooled by an unusually good actor.
[01:14] No, the panic could wait – would have to wait – for a private moment, provided she ever had one again.
[01:16] Aloud, but very faintly, she murmured a single word as she stared at Katal's outline in the distance: "Tkanala." Even now, she did not know if the prize she sought would be worth it.
§ 2022-08-24 23:52:18
[23:53] At Edaaj's remark, Valcen's attention jerked to her, lingering in silence for a moment, as though still parsing the word. It was unambiguous, though – hell.
Valcen licked at his teeth. Then: "<I would argue it isn't, but I suppose it is, objectively, the worst place for a kavkem to be. But you don't need to fear it; they won't lock you away.>" A pause, then: "<Well, not in the same way, at least. They won't hurt you.>" There seemed to be an unpleasant undercurrent of I think hidden in his tone.
§ 2022-11-10 01:11:07
[01:11] Surely to all people, home was a beautiful thing. But there was nothing about what she could see of Katal right now that really lent itself to that description. Still, she gained nothing from disparaging it, and perhaps Valcen already knew that it wasn't what a human might find attractive. No surprise there. "About how far off are we now?" The suit wasn't exactly designed to stand up on tip toes, but she still gave it a go. The conversation in the native tongue was too fast for her, and used too much unknown vocabulary, to track, but just listening to the language was enough to help her understand the pronounciations better. "Is she okay?" she asked of Edaaj, glancing to the kavkem whose body language screamed tension! even to the human who had little experience with the race.
[01:30] Valcen's attention automatically shifted to Saira as she asked about Edaaj's well-being, trying to read her expression despite the suit. "The kavkema are a little superstitious about Katal," Valcen attempted to explain. "It's the largest Nayabaru settlement and the best-equipped to hurt them, so, to them, there's a natural association with malice."
"I expect we'll be there in another twenty minutes," he mused. "I expect the trees will soon make way for— ah, there it is."
Another path joined with theirs, even as the landscape began to alternate dusty, orange rocks and thick shrubbery, the trees that had been flanking the road only occasionally reaching out of the landscape. The 'white thorn' had been joined by two others, revealing it was more of a tent and, as Valcen had already said, a kind of tall, delicate-looking perimeter fencing.
It looked like a spider's web that had been draped across bushes – except that these weren't bushes, they were towers and buildings that they could only barely guess at from their present position.
Not too far ahead, a broad, sturdy bridge rose up from the path, leading toward the white fence. If you wanted to approach the city, you did it along these long, straight paths, forcing visitors to either announce their intent to come in well before they reached the doors, or climb up the fence.
No doubt it was less delicate than it looked.
[01:41] It was not lovely, and as Jason had said, less of a city than led to believe. Unfamiliar with the etiquette between friends, she squashed down the urge to give Edaaj a hug, or at least a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. It might have been received as a more aggressive gesture than a supportive one, and that was the last thing she wanted for her poor companion. Saira thought about asking Valcen about it, but she held her tongue. "It sure is something," she said after a few moments of observed silence, a lame comment because she could say nothing else positive about the settlement. Even in her own head, she couldn't really call it a 'city'.
[02:16] Saira had swung back up onto the cart by now, which the Nayabaru took as a signal to speed the pace back up to a steady ceratopsian trot. The wheels clattered grumpily across uneven spots on the road, but the cart itself simply jostled about gently at a fairly constant level, as though oblivious to the bigger disruptions.
Then the path transitioned from rock, dense mud and gravel to the wooden planks of the bridge.
"It's like an air moat," Jason observed, sounding disconcerted. "Are they expecting a siege?"
Valcen chuckled, the sound a bit hollow. "Close enough. The Nayabaru certainly make more sense once you understand that they think they're still at some kind of war with the kavkema – conditional on the fact they believe in kavkem existence at all, at least."
"And that doesn't strike anyone as a contradiction in terms?" Jason arched a brow.
"That there are Nayabaru who don't believe in kavkem existence and others that think they're still fighting a war with them?" Valcen asked.
Jason responded with a light nod and shrug in the same motion, presuming that perhaps the answer lay in that phrasing already – they were simply different Nayabaru, just as it wasn't a contradiction that some humans valued individualism over community and others the inverse.
But Valcen added to the explanation: "Nayabaru are nearly oblivious to each others' work outside of associated results. The Hesha keep the Nayabaru safe; that's their job description. Whether that involves kavkema or not isn't important to the rest of the community. So it's entirely possible that a community will largely disbelieve kavkema still exist, while their Hesha still try to hunt them and defend against them.
"To be clear, Katal isn't like that. I expect everyone in Katal knows kavkema exist. I expect everyone in Katal probably knows about me, for example. I have no way of verifying the theory, but I can't imagine it's escaped even Nayabaru notice that something unusual—"
One of the Nayabaru barked something at Valcen.
"Yes, I suppose," Valcen muttered, more to himself than anyone else, then responded to the Nayabaru trotting beside them at length with a prattle of words that were a somewhat poor fit for his vocal apparatus.
Then, to the humans, he said: "Enough small talk, apparently. I said the magic words a little too often, embedded in a language they don't understand; makes them nervous."
And that said, the cart rumbled the rest of the way along the strange bridge, leading them toward the gossamer perimeter of Katal. It was definitely city-sized, that much became apparent even before the cart paused at the gate, but the buildings were certainly of a different make than the humans were used to. Even then, the tallest were at the edge of the city, not clustered in the centre.
Then Nayabaru exchanged some kind of greetings with each other and the gates opened for their small trek.
A shorter, steeper counterpart to the bridge outside brought them down into the city proper. There was certainly activity in the streets, but less talking than the visitors might have expected from the number of people visible. It certainly looked like everyone was quite busy – not so much in hurriedly moving from place to place as in a metropolis back home, but mostly in place, more like a fleet of house-keepers.
A little more eeriely, the humans attracted remarkably little curiosity.
[02:31] Their conversation was ended abruptly. There were always a million more questions to ask, but it seemed like that would have to wait. Saira was hoping they could avoid any meetings with the Karesejat, but it would be inevitable. Not looking forward to that, the thoughts flooded through her in the silence, unbidden. Once she had soaked in enough of the sight, she turned her attention instead to the primer as a means to occupy herself. When they reached the city proper, the first thing she noticed in the settlement was its quietness. In human metropoli, there was so much white sound that it was impossible to get somewhere quiet within the boundaries. But Katal did not have that problem, in the least. It was eerie. With an uncomfortable expression colouring her features, she looked to Jason, wanting to say something, but having trouble finding the words. Finally, she just went with the obvious. "It's *so* quiet." Given her expression and the uncertain way that she said even this brief sentence, it was clear that she was bothered by this very fact.
[02:44] They could certainly make out the occasional conversation, but there was certainly no persistent noise, no feeling of them having entered anything but a very large village with more buildings than they could count.
As the road turned to glass beneath them, revealing corridors running parallel to the streets, the sunlight spilling down into them, with more activity there, Valcen commented: "Culturally, you certainly have more in common with Edaaj here.
"Our hosts, though, are extremely community-focussed and very diligent workers. Everything else fades away." A pause. "To be clear, they like it that way, with great sincerity. The Threadwielder that first created this culture thought it was a good idea to tamper with their neurological structures, so this is deeply ingrained, if very artificial."
He pushed his torso out of the side of the cart to look into the streets. "And since you humans aren't relevant to their jobs, they mostly don't care. They can see the Hesha are accompanying us, so they don't need to worry," he appended.
Then the cart stopped next to a cube-like building set in a plaza of some sort, the glass they'd seen disappeared in favour of what looked like finely polished sandstone. Atop the cube-like building was an eerie sculpture of a tree, a detailed, grotesquely proportioned bronze kavkem caught in an ivory web stretched out between its branches.
...at least they had art?
Valcen dropped out of the cart, giving himself a brief shake as though to rid himself of stiffness. He turned his attention to the humans and gestured with one hand for Jason and Saira to come down. "We're here. These are the Katal Pens," he said, and gestured straight down at the smooth stone.
[03:07] For one moment, she wondered how, or if, Threadwielders had been involved in human evolution. In the evolution of life on Earth. It would certainly be a question for theologians, if that made them gods. It was a bit disturbing, and perhaps a far away concern given their surroundings. "I guess that's good for us?" Saira didn't seem all that sure if that was the case or not. Unable to decide, she began to slide out of the back of the car to stretch her legs again. It seemed the appropriate time to get out. "Is this the uh... hospital?" Getting Greg treated as soon as possible was of paramount importance. Still, there was a lot to take in. Their surroundings didn't feel hostile, but maybe sterile? "Pens? Pens for what?" Or *who*? She knew the gross answers to that question, and her lips pressed into a thin line of disapproval. Still, she kept her mouth shut on any commentary to that effect. It would not be helpful right now. Maybe they were 'dropping off' Edaaj. Poor thing.
[03:21] "This is where the people work who can help Greg, yes," Valcen confirmed. "More of a veterinary clinic than a hospital, and that's not it's primary purpose. It's a prison complex, or a... what's the word?" He searched his memory for a moment, one hand raised to ask for patience. "Pound," he said, finally, and seemed pleased with the word he'd happened upon, nodding a little. "A pound, sort of."
Jason had dropped out of the carriage as well. It was good that the Nayabaru couldn't understand his body language with any certainty, much less his facial expressions, since he was clearly brooding over who to kill.
One of the Nayabaru accompanying their little trek had swung off their steed and bellowed a curt command across the plaza, a sharp echo giving it an additional edge.
Valcen dipped his muzzle deferentially, then addressed the humans as the other Nayabaru accompanying them started to move toward the cart. "The Nayabaru will carefully bring Greg to the Yeresoa. One of the Katal Hesha will be waiting for me in the... lobby? of the building, he goes by Tanak. In Tanak's presence, I may show you around. I very much presume you first want to see where Greg is going."
"Damn straight," Jason said, without a moment's hesitation, the words practically smouldering.
Valcen eyed Jason for a few eternal seconds. "Try not to break things," he advised. "You're guests, but this is a prison facility. Let me make this very clear to you: If you do anything to convince the Nayabaru that it's a poor idea to let you leave, you will not leave, not ever again. Try to behave. It's not rocket science."
§ 2022-11-10 22:53:00
[22:53] Nothing that Valcen had said was very reassuring. Not at all. A veterniary clinic, a pound... these were the places one took animals. It tracked, in a way, that the Nayabaru would consider the humans nothing more than sapient animals, she supposed. But that didn't make her feel any better. Saira wondered to herself if the Nayabaru themselves ever got ill and required the services of a doctor, or at the very least, some sort of healer. When Valcen continued, the words grew icier still. She gave him a disapproving bland look through the viewpane of her helmet. "It feels like we've been led into a trap," she said, her unhappiness coloured throughout her tone of voice. Her displeasure and apprehension were written all over her features. She glanced to Jason, the somewhat hotheaded security, who was no doubt feeling no better about this situation than she was. "We're not gonna get out of here and back to the craft without their help. And Greg needs them. Try to keep that in mind, friend." This was said to the other human, whom she could only hope would be on his best behaviour.
[23:08] "It very much isn't," Valcen said, maintaining a matter-of-fact tone. "But your hosts are not humans. If you break basic etiquette, 'sorry' won't rescue you from the consequences. I told you before that I won't lie to you, certainly not for the sake of pleasantries. I can see you're winding yourselves up and I can only recommend you don't, in the strongest possible terms. Understood?"
Behind them, the Nayabaru were tending to Greg, with Edaaj uneasily trying to stay close to the injured human, right up until one of the Nayabaru shooed her away aggressively, forcing her to instead join the others for the time being if she didn't want to be left alone in Katal.
Jason was clenching his right hand into a fist, but otherwise maintaining a controlled exterior. No doubt if he were going to do something, it would be with intent. Still, he refrained from acknowledging the question, narrowing his eyes ever so slightly. "Let's go," he prompted their tour guide.
And so Valcen led them forward, toward the bland, cube-shaped walls, the foundation for that sculpted tree.
A Nayabaru was already standing by the door, holding it open. As Valcen approached, it started to talk to him, seeming rather more casual and conversational than the others they'd seen so far, as though the two might be a little closer than Valcen was to anyone else. But Valcen only responded in some noncommittal greeting.
"This is Tanak," he introduced. "He's my body guard and, I suppose, yours as well, for lack of a better term. He will fade into the background while we take our tour." Then he tossed a few words at that Nayabaru – it seemed like a loose translation.
§ 2022-11-11 02:49:56
[02:49] For all her life, Edaaj had had an intense natural curiosity. There had been limits, of course, imposed by the facts of life for a kavkem on Nekenalos. Being too incautiously curious had consequences, and if one was lucky, they only got one killed. If one was unlucky, they led to the clutches of the Nayabaru.
[02:53] As they had approached and entered Katal, she had felt keenly both the curiosity – it was nothing like she had ever seen – and the fear induced by caution, only to have it collapse back into the realization that, if there was anything that counted as being incautiously curious and falling into the clutches of the Nayabaru, it was what she'd already done. Her mere presence in Katal was proof of it.
[03:01] She had hoped to remain near Greg – aside from wishing to be reassured that he was all right, he was probably the most comforting personage in the vicinity – but as it was made abundantly clear that it would not be allowed, she hurried meekly after the others and followed Valcen as closely as she dared, trying her best to look harmless.
[03:03] She wished that her understanding of English was less spotty. Particular words and phrases now made some sense to her, but not nearly enough to follow Valcen's conversations with the humans sufficiently to not feel isolated.
[03:21] Valcen cast a glance across his shoulder at the crinkled kavkem that was slinking in their wake. In Naya as not to offend his 'body guard', he said: "[This is Hesh Tanak. You don't need to fear him, he is here to protect us.]"
The trouble with that sentence, naturally, was that it implied they needed protection. It was obviously and viscerally true; after all, no kavkem went into the Katal Pens and ever escaped. Maybe if she was extremely lucky and Tanak indeed proved to be a guardian, she wouldn't find out what precisely happened to her kind in these halls.
"[Are you holding up all right, or is this new environment a bit overwhelming?]" Valcen asked Edaaj, carefully choosing his words. 'Are you scared?' was maybe not the best question to ask someone who was supposedly his thrall. He could always argue it away – even minions were allowed to be terrified of their masters – but it was certainly best if the argument never arose.
[03:34] Edaaj struggled to frame a coherent answer; what she could safely say and what she wanted to express differed enough that they interfered with the flow of words to her mouth. But after a moment, she found refuge in repetition. "[Overwhelming – yes. It's all very... very...]" She tried very hard not to think about the disturbing tree-sculpture above while ending the sentence. "[...unfamiliar. And big.]"
[03:37] She glanced at her new 'protector'. It was just as well that she had no need to fake an appearance of submission.
[03:50] "[And what's your new recruit's name?]" Tanak asked, obvious amusement in his voice. There was a joy in his eyes that suggested he fully bought into the story that she was the product of an Imitorunyema and that he was crudely sadistic about it.
"[This is Edaaj,]" Valcen revealed to Tanak. "[She's a suitable science assistant to me.]"
"[A science assistant,]" Tanak echoed, darkly. "[Last I counted you've used up your allotment of assistants, Lekchel.]"
Valcen grimaced at the obstruction. "[You made me erase one of them, I'm pretty sure that resets the count,]" he argued, firmly. To emphasise, he appended: "[I strongly believe the Karesejat would agree with me, so if you want her judgement call, we can wait for her to decide.]"
"[You're willing to wait?]" Tanak asked, leering lightly at Edaaj, looking altogether too interested in what could be done to her during such a wait.
Valcen valiantly resisted the urge to bristle and give away that he was at least partially bluffing – he didn't want to wait. He was, however, perfectly sure that Terenyira would agree with his assessment. "[I have projects that make it an inconvenience, especially seeing as I am sure of the outcome – but if you were to insist, yes, I would.]"
Tanak considered the conversation in silence, splitting his attention between the four characters, albeit bestowing a disproportionate amount on Edaaj.
[04:25] As the term 'erased' passed through her head, the urge to scream, to run, to hide, began mounting with a terrible urgency. Valcen had mentioned the procedure happening before, she was sure, but to hear it spoken of so casually and knowing that this bodyguard had apparently made it happen lent a new sharpness to the knowledge.
[04:31] In desperation, she tried taking refuge in dissociation. She looked down as if to examine the polished sandstone surface, as indeed she was: Look, a slightly frantic inner monologue went, there's an interesting band of color there, almost purplish... that's much more interesting than contemplating torment or mental dispersal, isn't it...
§ 2022-11-11 19:17:59
[19:18] Once again, Valcen's reassurances about his veracity came. Poor guy was constantly having to remind the naturally wary and cautious humans that he wouldn't lie to them, and as far as anyone could tell so far, he hadn't. But there was really no basis for that assessment other than no one catching him in a lie. Saira wasn't entirely happy about what was happening, but this was needed for Greg, and that meant not only being on their best behaviour (warning heard, Valcen!) but not misstepping. "I hope Samanta is okay," she said in a low voice to Jason, having toggled on their internal suits' comms, though anyone with decent hearing could probably overhear them if they were straining. The others appeared to be in a native conversation, and while she should be listening to that to learn the language, she was concerned about their shipmates. "You think they can help Greg?" The question was posed to Jason, of course, as Valcen was already assured that their crewmate could be helped here in Katal. Frowning to herself, she began to look around as they walked, her gaze occasionally falling to Edaaj, whom she felt only massive waves of sympathy for. Naturally, she didn't understand the conversation the kavkem was having with Valcen and their escort, but the tense lines in Edaaj's body language spoke volumes. Once again, she was stabbed with the desire to reach out a sympathetic hand to the kavkem, but her reception was too uncertain to risk startling the poor woman.
[19:35] "I think they think they can," Jason muttered, making it clear that he was less sure about the actual execution, perhaps even suspicious whether they wouldn't simply make it worse.
Valcen's lead brought them into a circular room that was a simple ring around a spiral stairway leading down. His conversation with the Nayabaru had paused, though a tension between him and his 'body guard' seemed to remain. Still, they pressed on, and Valcen lead them down the stairs.
The stairs were fairly broad – as one might expect for creatures larger than humans – but not correspondingly tall, so the descent felt more akin to walking down a ramp. The next level radiated corridors outward through a white, brightly lit interior, walls a clean and pleasant shade of white. The corridors held the occasional door, labelled with alien glyphs, but otherwise without decoration. Ventilation slits ran along the top of the walls.
Valcen seemed to be able to tell the corridors apart in some way – they all looked identical to the humans – and led them down one of them, past three pairs of doors, and to an outer ring. Gone was any semblance of cubic shape; it looked like the Pens consisted of subterranean circles.
A few steps further brought them to another stairway, at which point Valcen finally broke the silence. "I apologise for the silence, I was waiting for Tanak to say something, but it appears he's still thinking about it, so I might as well tell you a bit about this place.
"This is the first level of the Pens and holds what I would call Nayabaru offices. We'll be skipping past the next three levels and just continue walking down the stairs, since those contain actual holding cells – not that you can likely tell from the outside, anyway.
"On the next level, in turn, I can show you the infirmary in particular, as the first stop, and we can wait for Greg there. Sound good?"
[22:18] The silence was eerie, each step making it more tense than the last. Saira fell quiet after her brief discussion with Jason. Valcen's voice cut through finally, and she glanced towards him to regard the strange, raptorial face that had yet to lend itself to familiarity. "What are on the next three levels?" she wanted to know, though already had that sinking feeling that told her maybe she didn't actually want to know. Hiding the grimace on her face, she looked ahead, trying not to be obvious in the way that she was trying to take in all the sights.
[22:43] "Are you asking for details?" Valcen asked, hesitantly, with mild confusion.
"A clarification," Jason offered his own interpretation, his tone chilled.
"As mentioned, this is, first and foremost, a prison complex, or a pound, whichever term you prefer. The Nayabaru keep kavkema here, if they manage to capture them. I am reasonably sure the Nayabaru don't want me to tour-guide the cells, they already get touchy if I go there on my own," Valcen said, a little nervously.
At this point, Tanak spoke something in the deep rumble of Nayabaru speech; Valcen turned his attention to him and responded something at greater length. Then, to the humans: "Sorry, summarising for the guard."
[23:30] She hoped no one could read her frown as she turned again. "Right. Sorry. Don't really think of sentient creatures being in a *poud*," she said with some bitterness, but even as she spoke, she knew she was taking something out on Valcen, simply because he was the translator. Saira didn't want to see poor kavkema in whatever served as cells for the poor creatures. "Let's just keep going. Convey our apologies for the clarification." At least they could stay on the good side of their hosts. That seemed of paramount importance.
[23:33] There was no more sandstone. Edaaj was reduced to examining the walls, which were not nearly so interesting and much harder to concentrate on instead of the explanation Valcen was giving Tanak in Naya of what he'd told the humans. Instead of the thought of the cells.
[23:38] What about the lights? She hadn't had much opportunity to study those, though looking at them still gave her an unshakable, residual feeling of being Tarnished against her will... never mind that they were too bright...
[23:42] To the extent that she had managed to appear calm so far, it had been through sheer, desperate conscious clamping down on her own muscles. But aside from the slow buildup of aches and cramps, she realized that she wasn't going to be able to keep doing it much longer.
[23:58] Valcen grimaced a little, but supposed he had basically asked the humans to err on the side of politeness. Still, maybe he should have stressed that Nayabaru weren't really into apologies. "[The humans apologise for the unnecessary banter,]" he relayed.
"[Humans,]" Tanak echoed thoughtfully. "[A strange name for a people. Do they call themselves that?]"
"[Yes,]" Valcen confirmed, even as they were starting to head down the second subterranean flight of stairs.
"[To get back to what you were saying earlier,]" Tanak continued, as though it were part of the same conversation. "[If you let me assess your new minion, I'll let you keep her and won't make you wait.]"
Inwardly, Valcen flinched. None of it was visible to the outside. He considered for a moment to insist on the wait instead, but the either-or nature of what Tanak had spoken was no doubt illusory. He pressed his teeth together in silence for a few long seconds. "[You're supposed to keep an eye on all of us right now,]" he said, finally, by way of deflection.
"[And I will,]" Tanak confirmed. "[But given your track record with assistants, you're not getting this one until after I've had a chat with her.]"
Valcen cursed silently. Fine. Be that way. He shot a glance to Edaaj, hoping she could handle the attention. To the humans, steeped in a different tension, he said: "The Nayabaru consider the kavkema something between terrorists and wild, dangerous animals. I understand it offends you, but you're going to have to accept it for now."
[00:48] Tanak's words poured into her ears and etched themselves onto her brain like acid. This isn't going to work, she despaired. He's going to find out and he's going to have me put in a cell and-
[00:49] The trembling could not be suppressed any longer; though slight, it was visible, like a faint breeze stirring her plumage.
[01:12] Valcen watched the feathers quiver, letting his gaze linger on Edaaj and the familiarity of the environment guide his steps in automation for a few seconds. That wouldn't end well. He wanted to say 'I'm sorry,' but it was a bad idea in earshot of a Nayabaru.
He fully remembered what he'd told her in Estedat. If you slip up, if the Nayabaru catch on that you're only pretending to be one of my minions, I will, at next opportunity, ensure that you stop pretending and am unabashedly going to insist that you had me fooled, too, because that's much, much less dangerous than admitting that I knowingly let you travel with us uninhibited.
He could definitely play up his shock if he had to. Whether Tanak would believe him was a different matter entirely, but as long as he kept his lie consistent, the Hesh would eventually relent and grudgingly accept the charade.
It didn't feel like an if at this point. It felt like a when.
As they passed the next level, they could spot a Nayabaru in one of the Corridors, walking along it – as in the city proper, barely paying attention to the visitors, other than to briefly glance over and ensure that they were expected visitors.
Finally, though, the endless seeming sequence of slightly curved stairs brought them to their destination. At least it seemed to be their destination, given Valcen lead them into a corridor rather than further down; it wasn't immediately visually apparent that they were anywhere else.
Their route took them to an inner circle, to the glass walls of a generously spaced circular room that further seemed to stretch up through the ceiling. It looked about as sterile as everything else they'd come across in here. At least the Nayabaru kept everything clean.
Two Nayabaru were sitting inside the room, lightly bent across an aluminium table, visibly talking to each other over the contents of some kind of book, with a scattered selection of flasks beside them. Their voices weren't audible yet – the transparent walls were surprisingly insulating.
"This is the infirmary. It doesn't look like much, but if anyone can make magic happen and fix Greg up, it's these characters," Valcen gestured to the infirmary, then repeated the same thing for Tanak's benefit in Naya.
Edaaj, meanwhile, just saw two Yeresoa in a frightening room. More Nayabaru. Far more Nayabaru than she had ever had to deal with in her life, even in that one fateful night when they'd lost Gehki.
[03:33] The clean, clinical surroundings. The Nayabaru. The glass walls that made things seem to go on forever, leaving her exposed in the middle of it all...
[03:35] With a long, somewhat squeaky groan, Edaaj sank to the floor. She shut her eyes, trying to banish the reality of whatever would come next; but her hearing and, much to her regret, her consciousness seemed determined to continue operating.
§ 2022-11-12 19:29:33
[19:29] Valcen was right. Thinking of the kavkema as animals was offensive. She hadn't the same experience with them that Greg might have, but Edaaj had been curious and inquisitive about the tech the humans had brought with them. She was a thinking, feeling being and the idea of just penning her up like a dog was repulsive. Still, Saira knew that they were in a dangerous, and precarious position, and she did not want to tip off anyone that Edaaj was faking. Nor did she want to offend their hosts. They *needed* to make Greg better, or what was the point of confronting the terrifying Karesejat, or anything else. "In comparison to human technology, where are the Nayabaru in comparison?" she asked him at last, breaking her silence as they reached the infirmary. "Will they be able to do blood samples?" Suddenly, she wished that their medical officer was with them, to at least help identify the 'normal' things that could be observed in samples from Greg. The worry and concern laced through each of her words, but there was little else that she could.
[21:13] If not for Edaaj's reaction, Valcen might have reflexively laughed at Saira's enquiry. His feathers puffed slightly, attention snapped across to the bundle of feathers. In two strides he was beside Edaaj, reaching down and slipping one hand under her jaw and the other behind her neck, peeling her muzzle off the floor. "[Pay attention,]" he said, as though her failing were in lethargy and disinterest, staring at her with some intensity. Inwardly, he appended: You better give me something better to work with.
Tanak chuckled softly, the rumble unambiguous even to the humans, but seemed otherwise unbothered. He peered at the two kavkema, clearly waiting for them to unstick themselves from the spot they'd come to rest.
Without looking at Saira or Jason, Valcen said, curtly and matter-of-factly: "The Nayabaru are better at biology than you'll likely be in the next three centuries." His attention was definitely dedicated to Edaaj, trying to stay ahead of the damage she was doing to her own cause.
Somewhere at the edge of Saira's vision, at the end of the corridor they had come from, two Nayabaru were bringing Greg, one holding him, the other accompanying the first. They were holding him remarkably gently, a little like a parent might a sleeping child, cradled against one shoulder – and the proportions about fit to the mental image, what with the Nayabaru being taller.
[22:53] That wasn't as reassuring as he might have intended it to be. One did not become all knowing about another race's biology without samples to compare things to. But if they were as advanced as he said, then she certainly wouldn't armchair coach. Falling quiet, she watched them bring Greg in. It was almost a tender sight, but it failed to kindle any hopefulness within her breast.
[23:54] "Hgnnnh," Edaaj managed. It was only a pale imitation of the words in her head: I'm trapped, here in this cold bright place, surrounded by enemies. Tanak's going to find out about me, they all are, you must know that. Forget about me and look after yourself!
[00:05] She forced her eyes open, and met his gaze. Her desperation and mounting despair were clear to Valcen, but she could tell that she was trying to give her an opening and he required some effort on her part. She wasn't sure she saw the point – she was going to be caught either way, surely? – but if anyone would know how to handle the situation, surely it would be him...
[00:07] "[I am sorry,]" she murmured thickly, trying unsteadily to rise. "[I think... I think, perhaps, my head is a little fuzzy...]"
[00:08] She had some regrets about the choice of words almost as soon as she said them, in the event that it prompted some kind of medical attention from the Nayabaru. But at least it was a semi-coherent explanation for her behavior.
[00:28] Valcen instantly seized the chance to deflect. "[Probably the brightness,]" he muttered, even as he let go of her. "[You'll get used to it.]" To Tanak, he said, by way of casual explanation: "[She's from a group who were even more wary of sunlight than the average kavkem; they're just not used to it.]"
Tanak maintained his air of amusement, but chose not to comment. Instead, he simply gestured for them to move on, with Valcen taking the lead to walk the final metres to the door of the glass room.
It was Tanak who opened it, revealing that the Nayabaru inside were indeed having a conversation, not simply miming it. It was odd, listening to Nayabaru talking to each other, the rumbles almost intertwining. It was the first time they really witnessed more than a short exchange between these iguanodonts.
Rather than break off the conversation, the two of them evidently chose to end it before glancing toward the people in the door, speaking several short additional sentences, mostly made of jargon that Edaaj barely had access to. One of them stared at her for an uncomfortable moment, as though perhaps doing some mental calculus against the expected composition of visitors, then turned to clear the table of clutter.
The other approached the strange collection of characters with curiosity. Without any apparent regard for a polite distance, the Nayabaru brought its face close to Saira, peering through her face plate. Just as the Nayabaru raised her hands to touch Saira, perhaps explore what was under the suit, the two Nayabaru who were bringing Greg arrived at the scene, redirecting the Yereso's attention.
"[Put it down over there,]" the Yereso gestured to the table that her colleague had just cleared, nodding acknowledgement.
While all this was happening, Valcen was holding Edaaj by an arm, helping her stay upright as unconspicuously as possible, his own air far more casual than he felt about it.
[00:41] It was a tense situation, if only because their comrade was ill with some mysterious alien bug, and they were amongst a people who could easily overpower the two humans if they so chose. When the curious Nayabaru approached her, she remained still, trying to dredge up within her fear soaked mind the greeting that Edaaj had taught her. What was it? The syllables were mumbled at first, tumbling from her lips haphazardly. After a moment, she repeated it, more confident this time. The probing hands she endured, not making any sudden movements. She probably mangled the greeting, her silly human tongue no match for alien syllables. Of her suit, there was a little give between the material and the solid, toned form beneath it. Would a smile translate? Should she keep her teeth hidden, lest it be taken as a sign of aggression like Terran animals. She couldn't remember what she had been told.
[00:54] It was just as well that she had some support and, indeed, any nonhostile physical contact at all; had that not been the case, the Yereso's stare might have caused her to revert to a floor-heap state once again. As it was, her gentle trembling remained ongoing.
[00:59] She made some show of squinting in the bright light, though in truth it helped her feel a little bit better; Valcen's explanation, though certainly not the root of her behavior, might have been less of a mere convenient excuse than he had expected.
[01:02] Edaaj tried to keep her gaze off the Yeresoa, and off Greg, feeling that watching him being manhandled would prove an additional source of upset that she did not need right now, and instead ran it over the flasks and other equipment in the room.
[01:33] As the Nayabaru withdrew from inspecting Saira, Jason was right beside her, resting his hands on her shoulders, giving them a gentle squeeze through her suit. From this angle, Saira couldn't see his facial expression, but it was easy to imagine that he was glaring toward the Yeresoa.
The Hesh that had been cradling Greg to one shoulder leant over the table to set him down. He was vaguely awake, but looked miserable, sick and confused – the triad everyone was expecting at this point. The nearest Yereso pulled some kind of face, before saying: "[Why is he wearing these dirty rags?]" and gesturing agitatedly at those clothes of his that hadn't been stripped back in Estedat.
The comment caught Valcen's attention and he snapped his muzzle up to say: "[Leave them on.]" The Yereso promptly glanced across at him, knotting his gut with a look he knew to interpret as 'Are you telling me how to do my job?'. Grimacing, Valcen continued: "[His culture requires garments. It's a spiritual thing.]" The Nayabaru had no good concepts of either modesty or religion – maybe if he made it sound like a superstition, they might choose to, in light that they were supposed to be allies, respect—
"[That's stupid,]" the Yereso snorted.
Nope. Okay then. Valcen gestured mute aggravation, then said to the humans: "Okay, don't freak out, the Nayabaru don't understand clothes, and they want to get your friend clean and inspected properly, so they are going to— yeah." He gestured to them peeling Greg out of his clothes. "I tried to explain that this isn't very respectful, but Nayabaru respect works a bit differently, and they're more concerned about not doing their job to the best of their ability; they'd consider that a lot more offensive."
Then he turned back to Edaaj, noticing that he was having to manage his inner stress levels, that it wasn't quite coming naturally.
The equipment in the infirmary that was visible from Edaaj's current position was mostly various shelves with cryptic flasks, rolls of gauze, a few squeeze tubes that a human might have presumed to contain some kind of glue, and a collection of equipment predominantly consisting of rolls of coils. Aside from the table Greg was on, there was one other of the same bland make, and near the back of the room some kind of kavkem seat garnished with obvious restraints. ...maybe it was best not to look in that direction.
§ 2022-11-13 18:39:03
[18:39] Truly now in the thicket of aliens. Jason's gesture of solidarity was comforting, as it was intended to be, but she still said nothing. It was not entirely a surprise to her that the medical personel would prefer to strip Greg down, but it felt like they were peeling back the layers of armour that had intended to protect him, but also had failed in this strange world they found themselves in. Greg wouldn't care, so long as he survived, and that was really all that mattered. That priority screamed in her ears, let them do their work, let them *save* Greg. Let Samanta be alright. Let Jason and herself get through this. Let Edaaj's ruse continue to persist unprodded at. The tension was so thick it suffocated all about her. Suddenly, the building felt confining. There was no use in asking how long they might need to study Greg, but she was hoping that this could all be done and tied neatly up with a bow in a matter of hours. But that was wishful thinking. "I wish there was something we could be doing," she said softly, mostly for herself, but to whomever cared to listen.
[00:19] Edaaj's gaze swung away from the chair. It was too easy to imagine herself being dragged over to it, being strapped in- no, think about something else-
[00:21] Under the circumstances, maybe watching what was happening to Greg was better.
[00:27] Watching the human being shucked out of his garments, she experienced the unusual sensation of agreeing, if only generally, with a Nayabaru – though she understood the idea of wearing protective garments, the idea of weaing something out of an urge just to not be unclothed was baffling at best. Seeing a fully uncovered human for the first time, and noting that Greg had much, much less fur than any mammal she'd ever come across, she had to wonder how vulnerable humans were to extremes of temperature and sun.
[00:28] Maybe that explained it. Had Edaaj found herself deprived of her thick coat of feathers, she too might have a driving urge to put something else between herself and her environment.
[00:54] "I know it doesn't look like that, but he's in good hands," Valcen assured. "My honest recommendation is that we leave Greg to the Yeresoa's capable hands, and I show you the rest of this place, take your mind off... this," he gestured briefly toward the infirmary with one hand, where one of the Nayabaru was taking a blood sample, the other doing something hard to interpret with certainty, but seemed to at least approximate taking Greg's temperature.
As Valcen translated for Tanak, he let part of his attention wander back to Edaaj. As far as he could tell, she seemed to have caught herself. She was hardly happy, absent anything that could reliably take her mind off the fine detail that she was in the heart of Katal, but she did not seem to be at immediate risk of another collapse.
"Maybe we can find you two a place to stay for the night," Valcen offered the humans. With only slight hesitance, he asked: "And how does a shower sound?" It meant Saira and Jason would have to take their suits off, obviously, but if the Yeresoa were really on top of their visitors' health – and Valcen at least seemed very sure of it – then the small risk of something going wrong was perhaps accounted for. What had happened to Greg had happened directly to his blood stream; the suits were a different level of paranoia.
Of course, paranoia was Jason's middle name. He set his jaw, still watching the Nayabaru in the infirmary. "Tomorrow," he offered, curtly – a mild statement of distrust in Nayabaru healthcare and capitulation regarding everything else. They were already quite corralled; if the Nayabaru didn't want them to leave, they didn't have to orchestrate a health reason.
"Saira?" Valcen prompted gently, wondering if the offer at all appealed to her. Of course, appeal was not really the problem – a shower sounded like paradise after the past days, especially if some laundry could be arranged. But everyone had their own risk trade-off to make.
§ 2022-11-14 22:27:03
[22:27] Modestly averting her eyes when they shucked Greg out of his clothing, she looked instead to Valcen, her concern writ all over her features. The idea of a shower sounded *amazing* but if Jason wasn't into the idea, then perhaps she shouldn't be either. She could probably smell herself in her suit at the moment, if she took a moment to get some fresh air, it would definitely hit her. "Uh... Maybe tomorrow," she said, shifting her eyes with disappointment elsewhere. Leaving Greg there alone sounded like a bad idea, but they had no other choice but to trust their hosts that he'd be alright. That they could solve whatever was bothering his biology at the moment. "Let's continue the tour for now, I guess." She was somewhat curious about what accommodations they might have arranged for the humans, or what would be hastily assembled for their comfort. Did the Nayabaru have beds? What were the kavkema's sleeping arrangements like? "That seems like the best course of action for now." Her reluctance to leave Greg was evident, but there was absolutely nothing that the two humans and their entourage could do at the moment.
[23:07] Jason seemed to have a certain reluctance about leaving Greg, judging by his body language, but chose not to raise it. Instead, he shrugged one shoulder. "All right," he confirmed, although it took him a little longer to actually turn away from the infirmary.
If anyone of the crew ought to stay with Greg, of course, it was him, but even he couldn't think of a rational reason to do so. He couldn't fight the Nayabaru off if they chose to hurt Greg, and wasn't really the 'at least I tried' type. He would try, but if it happened in his absence, he wasn't about to delude himself that he could have changed it.
The acknowledgement from both humans shifted Valcen's attention to Tanak. "[Where will the humans sleep?]" he asked. "[Did anyone refurbish any rooms to accommodate them, or do you still need help?]"
Tanak chuckled. "[You already helped,]" he commented.
Right. Valcen-za. That would be another interesting introduction for the humans. Valcen took a deep breath, then nudged at Edaaj, just in case she needed thawing out of some state of mind, and started to follow Tanak's lead, trailing after him with his healthy human guests in tow.
"You'll have bespoke accommodations," Valcen revealed. "My predecessor has been involved in arranging them, I'm told, so you should be able to expect something workable."
§ 2022-11-15 21:11:24
[02:54] Edaaj glanced back once or twice in the direction of the infirmary as they left, but finally turned away from it. She was concerned for Greg, still; but remaining with him, even were it allowed, would do no particular good. In terms of probabilities, his outlook was better than hers was.
[03:12] By this point, she had attained a kind of false calm, sustained not by confidence but by resignation. There would be no escape from Tanak's promised chat, nor any likelihood of navigating it successfully; she was not that good an actor, not in the face of a Hesh's scrutiny. Her future led either to a world of pain or a reprogramming – even an erasure – through the offices of the Torunyema. Even the attempt to tear her own throat out would likely not save her – not here, not with the Yeresoa a mere stone's throw away. They would make her live, and make her regret it.
[03:15] The inevitability of it all increasingly weighed down her urge to panic. No doubt it would reemerge, when the opportunity came, but for now, it was enough to think: What is the point? What would it do except make things worse faster?
[03:22] It occurred to her to wonder, in passing, about Tanak's statement, before remembering some of the things she had been told about the qidravema. Yes; Valcen had another... incarnation, who was already here. She wondered what it was like, to be able to talk with someone who was oneself – or very nearly so; oneself up to a point.
[22:12] It was just as well that the conversation between Valcen and Tanak was not one that Saira could translate. The confusions about the duality of Valcen's existence were bound to be immense once they were revealed. For the moment, it appeared that ignorance was bliss. Of course their accommodations had to be custom made. While Valcen might have prepared the Nayabaru for the arrival of the humans with what knowledge he had, this was still their first direct contact with humanity, or so Saira believed. It was queer to think that the human party would be in what Valcen described as a 'pound'. A zoo, maybe. What was a zoo but a fancy animal prison? Saira's thoughts were not the most hopeful. Still cautious about their surroundings, she was not ready to shuck out of the illusion of safety in her suit. But a shower did sound nice. "What else is there to see in this facility?" she asked, trying to keep the conversation moving at least a little. It was fine that Jason was stoic at the moment. "And you said that there would be a language primer?" That would at least make her useful, if she could continue to learn the native tongue.
[01:30] "Oh, yes!" Valcen commented with some sudden delight, evidently oblivious to Edaaj's current mood. "The dictionary. Yes, that's down in my quarters. That's the last stop of the tour, although I suppose I'll likely accompany you to your own rooms after you've tired of mine." He nodded vigorously to himself.
"Other things worth looking into are the, uh, cafeteria," he fumbled with the word a little, making it clear that it was the best approximation he could think of for what was in his mind's eye. "And the... research and development department, for lack of a better term? But the cafeteria is important, we ought to feed you at some point, even if you are equipped with some rations."
§ 2022-11-16 23:47:22
[23:47] Getting her hands on the primer would be a great distraction. No doubt, she'd babble to whomever would listen as she fumbled her way through the language of this planet. Things would've been much slower and more precarious were it not for their current translator. Glancing towards Jason, his stoic mien something of a comfort, she turned back to Valcen. "Might as well continue with the tour."
[00:51] Jason sighed a little. "I'll be honest, eating something other than high-yield nutrient paste sounds amazing, but I'm not sure how much I trust the food without Samanta giving it a glance over and asking about the sources. Next thing you know the plants in our food have some toxin in them that are perfectly benign to our saurian friends but regrettably deadly to us, and then that's the last mistake we'll have made," he commented, casually, shrugging mildly.
Their impromptu Nayabaru guide had led them down another flight of stairs by now and stopped beside a door that, to Jason and Saira, looked like any of the others they'd seen so far. No doubt the glyphs on the door meant something that distinguished this room from the others.
It was the first time either of them realised that most of them seemed to be equipped with something that looked and behaved a lot like a card reader. Tanak had some kind of fob with which to open the door, the thing strapped to his belt. The door opened without any particular feedback sound audible to the humans.
Inside was a space of maybe twenty square metres, although the room was about twice as deep as it was wide. Two couches with strange proportions had been arranged against the wall on the right, their seats or mattresses consisting of several blankets stacked over each other, mildly suggesting mattresses had not been invented on Nekenalos.
The lighting was the same in the room as it was everywhere else in Katal – an ambient spill from strips along the ceiling. There was no obvious way of controlling the light in the room; it was quite possible it was only ever 'on'.
Two square boxs stood in the far corner of the room, having been opened into the room to be repurposed as a kind of table and storage space, both.
In the other far corner of the room was an open pipe with water at a right angle about at human waist height, and something that looked like a hole in the ground near it. Some rags and papers were stacked next to this space.
Valcen, who had just wanted to gear up to comment on Jason's observation, no doubt to again praise Nayabaru biological prowess, paused to look at the room. "A bit minimalist," he commented, taking the details in. "I grant you're astronauts and used to minimalism, but, ah, do let me know what else you need. There might be some pillows in one of the boxes, but do I see you can probably use a room divider. I know we have some, so that should be a quick arrange."
[04:08] Edaaj peered into the room, her feelings about her own situation momentarily overcome by curiosity regarding what a human living space was like. She wasn't sure what she'd expected; although she could reason out the purposes of most of the items, and presumably the... other Valcen had been working with what was available, it all looked a bit underwhelming somehow.
[04:09] She hesitated, then, having not been able to follow his words to the humans, asked Valcen, "[Is this anything like humans usually live?]"
[04:40] "[It's a bit minimalist,]" he shared with Edaaj, appreciating that she'd initiated the conversation in Naya for Tanak's benefit. "[But they can make do with a place to sleep and a place to clean themselves. On their world, they have buildings specifically for traveling humans to sleep in, which the traveling humans will give currency for, and they rate them based on how satisfied they were with their stay. This is a very bad one, the sort you get for free, and the sort you give the lowest possible rating. But it's functional, and Saira and Jason are humans that have spent a few months in a tin can, hurtling through space, with really not much more than this for their quarters.]" A pause. "[Well, theirs was probably more personalised, with books and pictures, but that's not something we can fix without dialogue.]"
[05:03] Edaaj was... not baffled, no, because if one thought through it dispassionately one could see roughly how it was supposed to work. But she was, once again, struck by how different the humans' world apparently was, starting from the mere fact of having buildings that weren't themselves signs of likely danger and working up from there.
[05:04] Still, some parts of it...
[05:06] "[They travel much? ...so much that sleeping space is a commodity?]"
[05:18] "[They travel less than kavkema, but much more than Nayabaru,]" Valcen explained. "[They overwhelmingly have places they call their own, but they like to sometimes see other places.
"[Sometimes they will travel to the other side of the planet to see those other places – maybe because the other place has a very unique building they want to see up close and not just in pictures, or because the weather there has made the landscape look very different to what they are used to and the difference appeals to them, or because some members of their family are in the other place and they want to visit them.
"[But very often it is because they are talking to people someone in their social circle really wants to trade with, but is too busy to travel and talk to the person themselves.]"
Here Valcen paused, realising that maybe the concept of a company needed describing. "[I guess that sounds strange; kavkema don't really come together in large groups that are just working on one thing, where there is a hierarchy to maintain some order, after all, but the humans do it all the time.
"[It's like... if you imagined the diverse jobs of an entire Nayabaru settlement, but instead of being all these independent hierarchies, it's just one. There's usually one person at the top of that hierarchy, making some decisions, and a lot of other humans that are enacting those decisions, like for example 'go trade with this person on the other side of the planet'.]"
Tanak at this point snorted derisively. "[What's the point of this exercise? Your minion doesn't need to know any of that.]"
Valcen crinkled mildly. "['Need', no, but she's curious, and it doesn't hurt. She finds the humans interesting. I'll let you know that from a kavkem perspective, it's strange that you don't.]"
§ 2022-11-18 03:30:22
[03:30] She privately agreed with Valcen – it was intensely strange – but she chose not to confirm this out loud. 'Strange', for her, covered much of the behavior and apparent thought processes of the Nayabaru; it was as well to confirm that water was wet. On top of which, she had no desire to find out what happened when one made personal comments to a Nayabaru's face.
[03:34] Doubly so when that particular individual would be asking her questions later.
[03:40] On the topic of which Valcen was speaking, she had to marvel at the idea of traveling somewhere far away just to look at it, though that kind of willingness certainly seemed characteristic of the humans, who, after all, had seen fit to cross the void just to study Nekenalos. But it spoke of both curiosity and a suggestion of what could be done when the struggles of survival were kept far at bay.
[03:49] The idea of the hierarchies, however, was a bit harder to grasp. "[How does the decision-maker know which decisions to make about so many different things? It sounds like a role that requires much information. And much trust and forbearance from subordinates.]"
[04:24] "[It's complicated,]" Valcen acknowledged. "[There are social layers, proportionate to the size of—]"
"[Stop,]" Tanak said, sharply, reminding both of them that the Nayabaru were rather not obliged to entertain either of them.
Valcen cringed mildly. "[My apologies,]" he said. "[Answering questions is a bit of a reflex.]" He resisted the urge to glance across at Edaaj by way of a separate apology; best if he didn't rub Tanak's nose in that he was likely to continue the 'irrelevant' conversation at a later date.
Perhaps owed to their respective body language, Jason saw an opening to speak up about the room, mercifully deflecting the situation from any further Nayabaru scorn: "A room divider would be nice. And if... there isn't a way to turn the light off, some kind of blind folds? We can just use the—" He glanced toward the rags. "—towels in a pinch, but maybe there's something more evenly opaque."
"There should be a way to—" Valcen started, poking his muzzle into the room to inspect it for some kind of light switch. "Should," he emphasised, without actually finishing the sentence. Then, to Tanak: "[Is there a light switch in the room?]"
"[No,]" Tanak answered, but instead patted at the side of the card reader, where an on/off switch sat, implying that the whole room could be turned on and off to conserve power.
"[Does that interfere with ventilation?]" Valcen asked.
"[Mildly,]" Tanak responded. "[They won't suffocate. But, more importantly, they also won't be able to open the door from the inside once it closes.]"
Valcen grimaced. "[Can we do something to change that?]"
"[Ask the Otana,]" Tanak deflected, quite automatically.
Valcen exhaled. He would have to have a discreet word with himself; this seemed like the sort of oversight in room choice that wouldn't have happened if there weren't something distracting him from the choice. Perhaps the few days he had been gone had been enough for interesting new developments...
"Okay, there is no light switch. I am going to try to organise you a room that does have one, because they do exist; I know that because I've seen them from the inside," Valcen passed on to Jason.
Jason seemed to be hovering on the edge of a sarcastic question like 'The Nayabaru don't like darkness, do they?', but bit it down and instead simply nodded.
"In the interim, since I don't know how long a new room will take, I'll try to get you something to cover your eyes," Valcen added, before translating the exchange for Tanak and Edaaj.
[04:48] Edaaj had flinched back at Tanak's interjection; from this point, she listened to those things that she could understand, but otherwise remained silent. Clearly, even bare verbal satisfaction of curiosity was not safe. Her mood began to sink again.
[05:18] After a little more negotiation, Jason and Saira dropped their rucksacks in their temporary quarters, one into a box, the other on top of the same, propped into a corner. Despite the minimalism, it felt a bit like coming home to Jason, and the urge to take a shower intensified. He brushed it aside, stubbornly intent on waiting to see if the Yeresoa really did manage to patch Greg back up.
Then it was Valcen's turn to lead them through the facility again, with Tanak trailing behind them. Valcen showed them the 'cafeteria' – a room with some benches and tables and a kitchen in the corner rather than separated out, along with a pantry along one wall. The pantry consisted of a row of fresh produce growing under ultraviolet lamps atop of sacks of grains.
There was no one in the cafeteria when they went there, other than someone in the process of tending to the plants.
Most of the room's smell was filtered out by the humans' suits, but there was some earthiness to it, and something that smelled a lot like the room had been home to so many mashed potatoes that it had forgotten how to smell any other way.
Then Valcen took them to what he had called 'R&D department'. It was a fairly tight space, occupied by four Darhala, a rack of books, something that looked suspiciously like two computer terminals, a blackboard, a tinkerer's desk, and some machines of very strange shapes. Edaaj was not allowed inside, but glimpsed enough from the door to regret the rule.
Finally, Valcen was leading them down a final set of stairs. "The whole basement layer belongs to me," he was saying. "For approximate definitions of 'belongs to', anyway, it's not like I'm allowed to keep the Nayabaru out. But my assistants live there, as well as my predecessor."
Said, they reached the bottom of the stairs, spilt into a circular corridor running around a wall that had an angled inset lobby of sorts with three doors near their point of entry. "Let me see if anyone's awake," Valcen said, heading to the one on the right.
[05:39] The cafeteria proved mildly interesting to Edaaj in an impersonal sort of way, though the neither the sights nor the smell were remotely as appetizing to her as they might have been to the Nayabaru. She wondered, idly, where and how the meat substitute was made that Valcen had introduced her to.
[05:45] She would have dearly loved to get a closer look at the 'R&D department'; she peered through the door with something like unsatisfied hunger, her fingers twitching with the desire to explore the contents of the room. Her only consolation was that, provided she didn't get locked in a cell for the rest of her days instead, she might possibly get some of the same experience around Valcen.
[05:50] Indeed, as they entered the basement that was Valcen's domain, Edaaj became terribly alert, on the off chance that she might see something that she could examine – and a touch nervous as well; introductions to new people were not her area of expertise.
§ 2022-11-18 18:16:52
[18:16] The room that had been arranged for the humans' use would be adequate. A dividing screen might be night, but the lack of a properly working light switched seemed like a rather large oversight, all things considered. Saira's head was on a swivel, turning this way and that to take in everything that they were being shown at the moment. She shared Jason's wariness over the produce possibly causing them some problems. Like what if it caused her to indiscriminately sprout body hair from everywhere? She'd never get a date back on earth again. Assuming she would get back to Earth. At the moment, she wasn't so sure, as this felt distinctly like incarceration. When they reached the R&D department, she wasn't sure what to make of it, though it was both human and alien at the same time, a rather queer juxtaposition. "It's eerie how familiar and strange everything is. Like someone heard about human accommodations in a game of Telephone and these are the end results." Altered just enough to not feel as human as they could. She did not believe for a second that humanity had had any bearing on the Nayabaru's development. Great minds, or some such.
[20:05] While his guests waited, Valcen-sha entered the Den and gently turned up the light levels from the night-time dark to a soothing dusk, expecting to see what was left of Ryrha curled up somewhere, or possibly playing with some obscenely primitive toys to keep her very simple mind occupied. Maybe Valcen-za would be with her.
Instead, he saw Ryrha with a young adolescent companion, disrupting his mental calculus. He blinked, hesitating. For a long moment, he wondered if Valcen-za had somehow recruited another assistant in 'sha's absence.
Then he realised the easier solution by far would have been to simply duplicate Baishar.
He would definitely need to have a discreet word with himself.
It was overall unsurprising that Valcen-za was not in the Den. No doubt he was wearing himself out again, poring over some problem in his office; no one knew that behaviour better than Valcen-sha, after all.
'sha was about to leave the Den, halfway through the process of turning the light back down, when the smaller bundle of feathers stirred. There was no verbal reaction, just curious eye contact. Valcen-sha lingered for a moment, letting Baishar-sha wake up enough to process the situation.
And Baishar-sha was indeed processing it, remembering what Valcen-za had told him a scant four days ago: We have some alien visitors Valcen-sha and Baishar-za have gone to meet, but as they're not quite back yet, there may be complications.
...seeing as Baishar-za was not next to Valcen-sha, maybe there were deeper complications, indeed. The notion that something might have happened to Baishar-za was oddly anxiety-inducing, like being told to your face that you had, in fact, been murdered, an impossible disconnect between reality and perception.
If Valcen-sha was here, what about the aliens? Baishar-sha didn't quite muster the courage to ask if they'd been stuck into a cell by the Nayabaru; it felt like the obvious answer, even though from all Baishar understood, that had never been a threat.
He rose from the pillows and padded over to Valcen-sha with an anxious curiosity, whispering a deliberately open-ended question: "<What happened?>"
"<We have visitors,>" Valcen-sha said, mildly, stripping some of the anxiety from Baishar-sha. "<But I could be asking the same thing, seeing as I wasn't expecting to see you here. Fair warning, you may need to brace yourself when the Karesejat arrives, you and her had a bit of a... disagreement.>"
Baishar-sha widened his eyes. What could he possibly have done to upset the Karesejat Terenyira? He couldn't imagine himself being anywhere near reckless enough to oppose her on anything, that felt like a fundamental house rule. He opened his mouth, then closed it again.
"<More details once I can talk to 'za,>" Valcen-sha promised. "<For now, let's do a short round of introductions.>"
When Baishar didn't complain, he turned the light in the Den back down to none and led him out.
Just outside the set of three doors were two lanky figures, each wearing some kind of suit. Their proportions were vaguely Nayabaru-like, although they had no tail and they were smaller, looking as though they might have about the same weight as an adult kavkem.
With them was a kavkem Baishar-sha was unfamiliar with, and Tanak hovering over the triad.
"[Baishar-sha, this is Edaaj,]" Valcen-sha introduced the kavkem. "[Edaaj is a new assistant.]"
"[Pending assistant,]" Tanak reminded him of their deal.
"[Pending assistant,]" Valcen-sha echoed. "[She shares your enthusiasm for science, so I think you'll get along.]" Mirroring the introduction to Edaaj, he said: "[This is Baishar-sha, a copy of the Baishar you knew. You've met him, but he hasn't met you, which I expect will be a little odd. Don't be too confused by the discrepancy.]"
Then he looked up to the humans to fill them in. "I expect my predecessor in his office, but this here is Baishar-sha, a recent copy of the Baishar you met. Needless to say, he has no knowledge of you, but you can freely assume that he will act about the same way the Baishar you met did.
"Ryrha, my female assistant, is still sleeping, but might surface later in the day. I will leave introductions until then."
[02:46] Of course. Baishar had said some things, hadn't he, about his own prospects for being copied into immortality? But there was a difference about knowing about it intellectually and becoming involved with the results.
[02:49] It didn't help that she hadn't seen Baishar in a while, not since he'd gotten himself into trouble. She felt, obscurely, that having him present for this would have made things easier, and she spared a moment to wonder what kind of state he was in now...
[02:52] "[Um,]" Edaaj managed meekly. "[Hello.]" Right now, what else was there to say?
[03:45] Baishar-sha was of several minds about the situation. A part of him was ecstatic that Valcen-sha had returned — while Valcen-za was still Valcen, it simply wasn't the same as having 'sha around. He looked forward to sharing everything that had happened in 'sha's absence, once they had a private moment.
Another part dreaded what had happened to his former self. A disagreement with the Karesejat. He could hardly imagine himself being reckless enough to go against her. What had he done? And what would the consequences of his former self's actions be for him? He hadn't been looking forward to the awkwardness of meeting himself, but this really wasn't better.
And then there was the shock of seeing strange, masked aliens towering above them; and of seeing another kavkem, apparently free, who was evidently going to be a new assistant? ... And who apparently knew him, or knew the previous version of him.
"[The two creatures wearing plastic sacks are called Jason,]" Valcen-sha indicated the taller of the two, then to the other to say: "[And Saira.]"
It was all... quite a lot to take in at once. For long moments, his gaze seemed to bounce between the three newcomers, briefly bewildered by Valcen's gibbering in what he figured must have been the aliens' language. After a long moment, he lowered his muzzle in a gesture he hoped the aliens would consider respectful. "Dorash... Djeisun. Dorash... Sairah. [Greetings, guests of Valcen. And to you as well, new... 'pending' assistant Edaaj.]" A brief glance up to Tanak. There were so many questions he wanted to ask, but now was definitely not the time.
[04:03] For an awkward moment, it seemed as though Valcen-sha might wait for them to all grow accustomed to each other before moving on, pausing in all of his antics as though waiting for conversation to erupt. But as it didn't in the first handful of seconds, with Jason waving the tiniest hello with his left hand, Valcen-sha swerved his muzzle to the side and followed up with a very human gesture of beckoning with his right hand.
Two seconds later, he was opening the Nayabaru-sized door to the office.
To the humans' perception, another random kavkem was sitting on the ground, albeit with a sparser mane than they'd gotten used to seeing, and visibly older than Valcen-sha or Baishar-sha, much more comparable to the Baishar they had first seen, or to Edaaj. The motion at the door made the kavkem look up from its work, some kind of electronic device on the ground between its paws,
each hand holding a tool. It paused almost comically in its motions, almost as if frozen.
"[Well, I am definitely surprised that you are already here,]" the kavkem said, first in Naya, before saying in quite perfect English: "I see you've met my copy, Valcen-sha. I rather prefer not to bore you, should I be introducing myself properly as the first point on the agenda?" Slowly, he gathered both tools in one hand, then scooped up the device he'd been tinkering with in his left, setting down both things on the table.
§ 2022-11-19 18:08:21
[18:08] There was quite a bit to take in. 'But this here is Baishar-sha, a recent copy of the Baishar you met.' The fuck? This culture had perfected cloning? Or... It was enough to make Saira's head spin. She forgot her manners. She forgot that she actually knew what 'Dorash' meant because she had practiced it with Edaaj earlier. She forgot that she was a guest. And as if that wasn't weird enough, they just doubled down on the weird clones. 'I see you've met my copy, Valcen-sha.' The fuck, the actual fuck. It was clear that processing this information was hitching in her brain, perhaps even perilously close to breaking her brain, even. Saira looked to Jason, then back to each of the copies in turn. And then back to the Valcen they had met. "Uh... ah... a warning would've been nice," she said, the admonishment toothless as she couldn't have wrapped her head around this reality even if he had prepared her. 'Predecessor', for sure, that was *one* way of putting it, but perhaps not the way that she would've put it. "You say 'copies'?" she began, swallowing against the bile in her throat. "Am I to understand this is like cloning? Or..." These copies were remarkably knowledgeable, so perhaps not how she understood cloning in the human fashion. Muttering something in Japanese, she shook her head. "This is so much to take in." How? How? Did it even matter? It probably didn't. "Is there any easy way to tell you apart? Or does it even matter?" But then she remembered the large gash on their Valcen's shoulder, the love tap from the Karesejat earlier. That would work for a while. Maybe she could convince them that name tags, in English, were the way to go. "You could've warned us." But it probably wouldn't have mattered.
[18:42] "I see I should be introducing myself properly," the copy of Valcen commented. "I go by Valcen-za, which I suppose vaguely translates as 'Valcen the First'. I'll just let you guess what Valcen-sha means." A grin, briefly. "But to clarify, we're not clones. Our DNA is very, very different, in fact.
"The DNA of Valcen-sha's body is quite incapable of creating a sapient mind, which is rather intentional. In the simplest possible turns: He's running on a computer, and the computer interfaces with the body he's in. His mind was a copy, in the most literal possible sense."
He gestured to Valcen-sha. "He's much younger than me, which I hope is obvious even to you, who aren't used to telling kavkema apart. I would rather expect you to have bigger problems telling Baishar-sha and Valcen-sha apart than me and either of them, seeing as they do share a genetic stock."
There was a trace amusement in his voice that he made no effort to hide.
"Excuse me for a moment, though, before I explore what else you ought to learn about, Tanak and Edaaj will want to know what I'm saying." Said, he loosely translated what he had revealed to the humans into Naya, prompting a soft, amused snort from Tanak.
Then he took a few steps back, making more space in the room, and said: "But do come in. Do feel free to sit on the table, I regrettably don't have chairs I could offer. Make yourself at home. This is my office, but nothing here should be breakable by sitting on it, even the electronics. And if the table breaks, well, I suppose I'll complain to the Nayabaru," he chuckled softly.
"I'll let you know I am a little surprised in general that you've actually come here, to Katal. From all I know about human instincts, I would have expected you to not want anything to do with this place, even given that one of your team mates could use the expert help of the Nayabaru."
At this, Valcen-sha chimed in: "They'd indeed rather not be."
"But they're here," Valcen-za observed.
"But they're here," Valcen-sha echoed.
"Well, I'm glad you managed to overcome your concerns, talking to someone that's vaguely sane in Katal is a rare pleasure — no offence to Baishar-sha intended," Valcen-za continued. "Still, I should be asking—"
At this, Tanak interrupted briefly, first prompting for another translation, which Valcen-sha provided on his predecessor's behalf.
[18:43] Valcen-za flexed his fingers as he waited for 'sha to conclude the translation, then picked up conversationally where he left off: "What do you know about this place and my machinations? I'd like to fill you in. Does the name Imitorunyema tell you anything, for example?"
"They've seen it in action," Valcen-sha commented.
Valcen-za visibly grimaced. "Ouch," he said, part hurt, part apology. "That can't have been pleasant." He looked over to Edaaj with reserved curiosity, clearly wondering if she'd been the victim.
"Relations have been a bit chilled since then," Valcen-sha summarised. "But I think I've managed to convey that they're not at risk and that you and I aren't very fond of this job."
Valcen-za gave a curt but forceful laugh. Either he thought it was a phenomenal understatement, or wildly inaccurate, it was hard to tell. He looked at his human guests, though, clearly hoping to find out what other gaps they might have in their knowledge, while Valcen-sha gave another Naya translation.
§ 2022-11-21 19:16:57
[19:00] Saira just stood there a little dumbfounded. What did you say to the fact that you just learned that the person you'd been interacting with this whole time was a copy? Not even a clone, but a computer? It was enough to make her head spin. She wanted to sit down, but somehow managed to keep her feet. "I uh..." The false start didn't go anywhere as she considered what the hell she should actually say in this moment. Glancing to Jason, she wondered how he was taking it, but he appeared to be just as stunned about this news as she was. When the conversation between the two Valcens moved on to mention the Imitorunyema, she frowned. Saira hadn't liked seeing that thing in action, and everything about it felt like an ethical crime against sentient, sapient beings. Frowning again, she did not remark on it. Still fumbling for words, she struggled to come up withs omething more eloquent to say than 'I uh'. "Sorry, just a little surprised," she said in the understatement of this entire venture. Probably not for the first time, really. Her fingers itched to just get a hold of the primer, so she could stick her head down and focus on something useful rather than trying to navigate all these weird revelations. "We're here because Greg is ill," she said, unsure if the Valcens had conveyed that to one another yet.
[23:29] Somewhere behind them, Tanak crouched down to tap on Edaaj's shoulder. Valcen-sha, witnessing the gesture, bristled ever so slightly, but said nothing. Valcen-za, not understanding the significance or knowing how much to worry about, simply continued to focus on his guests.
"Yes," Valcen-za acknowledged, nodding his head in a very human way. "I just would have expected your other concerns to outweigh that, if not with certainty. It's good that you're here."
Jason had taken Valcen-za up on his offer to sit, awkwardly angling his butt against the edge of the table to his left, legs angled into the room. The table was a bit higher than a chair might be, but lower than a desk in a human office. He clasped his hands against the edge of the table, glancing to Valcen-za, then Valcen-sha, then briefly to Tanak and Edaaj as they were leaving, letting his attention linger for a quizzical moment, before swerving to Baishar-sha and back to Valcen-za.
"Look," he said, finally, with a certain degree of emotional exhaustion. "We've been run around for a while and I'm a bit tired of it." Despite the words, he didn't sound accusatory. "Can we cut the crap for a few minutes and just get some answers?"
"Any," Valcen-za encouraged, a tinge of surprise in his tone that Jason thought it was a contentuous enquiry.
"Perfect," Jason acknowledged with a kind of grimness to his tone, for a moment gathering his thoughts, before saying: "Let's see if I can do this one question at a time. Question one: Why, in god's name, is there a giant fucking spider on this planet?"
Valcen-sha had explained some of it to Saira, of course, but in the follow-up summary to Jason, a lot of those details had gotten lost. He deferred to his predecessor.
Valcen-za nodded again, as though it was an expected question. "The conflict between the Nayabaru and the kavkema has been going on for a few thousand years in the one or other form.
"Both species have a kind of... patron Threadwielder, if you so want, a factual creator, although neither were made from scratch. You recognise them, of course – the kavkema from the deinonychosaurs, the Nayabaru from the iguanodonts. The whole conflict has been a tragic squabble, really, that I can't justify.
"Neither can the patron Threadwielders. Only one is still alive, the one assisting the kavkema. She might be able to explain what happened, but it would be necessarily one-sided.
[23:30] "Generally speaking, the Nayabaru were more numerous, but less cunning, and they were geared up to losing as time went on and the kavkema advanced technologically more quickly. Ysikary, the Threadwielder who had engineered Nayabaru culture, wanted to protect them in some way, and — rightly, really — assumed a crucial step would be to scare the other Threadwielder away.
"So she created Terenyira, designed to hunt Threadwielders." A pause. "We knew since her creation that she hunts Threadwielders because Ysikary was her first victim. I used to think that was not very clever, but it's certainly proven, without a doubt, that Terenyira can kill Threadwielders, so maybe it was intentional suicide." He shrugged in another human gesture.
"So that's why Terenyira exists. The spider appearance is probably because it scares the kavkema, but not the Nayabaru, due to their neuro-evolutionary tampering. A good way to viscerally signal allegiance," Valcen-za explained, oblivious to that the topic of appearance had already been explained in similar terms to both of them.
§ 2022-11-25 20:39:36
[19:10] As the only member of the human party who had met Terenyira (a thing which would likely change sooner, rather than later), she understood the primordial terror of the Karesejat. Frowning, she allowed Jason to take the lead for the moment, feeling as exhausted as he had claimed. "She understands and speaks fluid English, Jason." A reminder. Saira turned back to Valcen-za, her expression subdued.
"Are there other Earth languages she might know? That -you- might have taught her?" If the humans shared a secondary tongue, they might be able to converse privately, but as the polygot of crew, that might be more wishful thinking than anything else. "So where does everything stand now? As we've already shared with your comrade here," she said, making a gesture to the Valcen they had met, "The treatment of the kavkema is what we'd call a human rights violation. And it doesn't sit well with me. I understand we're fully in no position to challenge the status quo here, but is there a way to not participate in this... genocide?" Was that even the right word? "Is Edaaj going to be alright with him?" she asked then, having noticed that both Tanak and Edaaj had left the room. There was obvious concern and worry in her voice with this question. Edaaj had been both curious and informative, and Saira had taken a liking to the kavkem.
[23:40] Valcen-za let her finish talking, before shifting his attention to Valcen-sha as the person with the most context on Edaaj. Valcen-sha glanced at Saira, then shook his head in a human gesture. "No, she won't be," he said, matter-of-factly, with neither regret nor scorn in his voice.
Jason was instantly livid. "And you're just going to stand here?"
"We are all just going to stand here," Valcen-sha said in a tone of firm authority, glaring up at Jason. The other question Saira had asked had slipped off the edge of relevance, with neither Valcen-sha, Valcen-za, nor the copy of Baishar – if he even understood the conversation – daring to commit any less than their full attention to the situation.
It was good that none of them were stupid. A Jason that was even slightly less educated might have declared himself a one-man army and stormed off to intervene on Edaaj's behalf, but he was fully aware of the strategic error that would entail.