[21:34] Fate had undermined much of Saira's work within a handful of seconds. She had just come to comprehend the maniraptora linguistically, prise apart their basic vocabulary from all those sounds – and now fate had whisked them away.
There were apparently two civilisations on this planet. That seemed obvious now, in hindsight – they had seen cities from orbit and nothing about the mannerism of their first visitors suggested that they were city-dwellers. Apparently they were wary of the city-dwellers instead; whether whatever had inspired their concern implied a danger to the human visitors remained to be seen.
The two tall dinosaurians were more difficult to understand from their pitch alone, but she wasn't going to let that deter her. It was late afternoon by the time, Jason, Samanta and Saira had agreed to follow their new visitors to their settlement, each equipped with a rucksack containing tools and perishables that were Definitely Safe For Human Consumption.
Given that their dinosaurian visitors had brought no additional mount and three exceeded the number of spots they could offer the humans without getting all too personal with them, the path to said settlement took them into dusk, revealing that they were armed not only with weapons but also with flashlights.
[21:35] Saira had hitched a ride on one of the 'gazellosaurs'. The quarantine suit felt more and more surreal as time passed and the desert gave way to shrublands and increasingly familiar landscapes. The individual plants were all different, surely, but that was for Samanta to notice – to Saira, they were all plants, with the exception of the one or other particular unusual evolutionary design.
The rider was not strictly uncooperative with her attempts to talk to him (her? How could she tell?), but his rumbles were curt, deep, and fiendishly difficult to untangle into anything resembling syllables. For a while, she was unsure if they had a notion of syllables at all (likely, given the other sapient culture they had encountered palpably did), but after some exploration, that question had resolved.
One of the few things she had discerned by now, that her gesturing had yielded, was that these creatures likely called themselves Nayabaru. But getting the rider to call her "human" rather than a deep, reverberating "oo'man" was like pulling teeth. At least she was getting him to call her something at all, and to keep trying.
[21:52] Their linguist, one Saira Hoshino, had made some strides in establishing communication with the Nayabaru, though they felt more like baby steps than proper strides at all. Still, progress was progress, and that's all that mattered. She and her companions, other team members, had mounted up on the gazellosaur (a nickname that was still hotly contested on the team, the proper name was a mouthful to turn over on the tongue) and were being lead into the settlement that couldn't be too far away. In between attempts to encourage discourse, her head swiveled about on its neck as she tried to twist the hazard suit's inadequate facial window around to look at this alien world. The great accomplishments, if they could be so called, of being one of the first handful of people on this strange world had already dimmed. Pioneers making First Contact, it was exciting and the subsequent accompanyment of jangled and invigorated nerves could not be settled, no matter what attempts she made. She plied a number of questions on her companion that she did not expect to be answered, but instead allowed the language to flow. Her mother always said that she was good at babbling. "What do you call what we're riding on? What do you call this path? Is this a road? Rooooaaadd..." But how to gesture to it. Undeterred, she continued: "Do you have units of time or measurement? Oh, how would you convey that... Hmm. A space, this wide?" And here Saira tried to make the distance of about a a foot between her hands, though she very nearly lost her balance and immediately put her hands on her companion's sides to steady herself. "Excuse me, sorry about that." A vivacious, bubbly sort of personality, she had been chosen entirely for her linguisitic skills and the fact she could get along with just about anyone (and anything, including their hosts now!).
[22:00] "It's almost like they don't want to talk much," Samanta observes, unwittingly reminding Saira that her antics were fairly easy to see even in the twilight and that she wasn't travelling alone. If she was going to gesture any more vigorously next time, no doubt she could practise trying to faceplant with dignity. "Do you think it might a rank issue? Maybe the whole reason they wanted to take us back to their settlement in the first place is because it's their leaders we're supposed to talk to?" She didn't sound very convinced of her own theory, but it beat just quietly sitting on the mount that she shared with Jason.
[22:05] "They are pretty reticent, aren't they?" Saira stared at the back of the head of her Nayabaru companion, wondering at the thoughts that went through its head, and how those would sound put down in vocalizations. What they knew of their hosts was vastly outweighed by what they didn't. Turning her head to look at Samanta a few paces away, she cracked a grin which could be seen beneath the plastic window of her helmet. "If that's the case, then we're lucky they're so willing to bring us there. It means this isn't a parlay, if they aren't coming to us." Though, it begged the question of -why- they didn't come to the human base camp. Maybe danger? That was an unpleasant thought, but she hastily stowed it so not to darken her enthusiasm for this venture. "This could be a great honour that they're extending, bringing us to this meeting place. Maybe it's not even their settlement, just a neutral location?" She sounded unsure of this.
[22:23] "Ooman," the Nayabaru on the mount behind Saira commented lowly, then touched the neck of the mount in a way that brought it to pause. He slipped off his mount, keeping one arm near Saira, although not quite touching her in the progress, perhaps to more easily catch her if she were to fall off the creature. Its shoulder was higher than her own head were she to stand beside it – an unpleasant potential fall.
[22:24] The other 'gazellosaur' was led a little further while Saira's rider dismounted, and with the flashlight-like contraptions sweeping ahead of them, at second glance a wooden structure that appeared more artificial than not finally became apparent, a simple horizontal pole raised a little off the ground – a place to leash the beasts of burden, perhaps, with the larger and even simpler structure behind it perhaps filled with water? They were still too far for her to see into it, or even discern if it had an 'into' to inspect.
A light subtly distinct from the twilight oozed out of the landscape ahead of them, past spindly trees and what appeared to be simple wooden huts of some sort. No grand city, that much seemed clear. The first notable difference to simple human dwellings were the windows; they looked like lopsided diamonds, shorter on the bottom than the top, rather than the rectangles from home. From this distance and angle, it was impossible to see if there was glass in those frames.
Either way, all of the windows immediately visible to them were dark.
"...not too lively a town," Samanta commented, although her voice barely carried enough for Saira to make it out.
[22:32] Just like riding a horse! she told herself as her companion Nayabaru dismounted elegantly to one side after halting their beasty. THe settlement, if one could call it such a grandiose label, seemed empty. Perhaps they hadn't reckoned on the number of Nayabaru in this particular community? She looked around as well as she could with crappy human eyes in the twilit dusk that blanketed the area. Another glance towards Samanta, she nodded, though it was hardly seen inside her contamination suit. "Maybe the welcome wagon is snoozing on the job?" she put forth, though she seemed unsure of that as she looked around. Turning to her Nayabaru guide, she made a gesture as if to say she was intending to also dismount. "May I get down?" she asked it, though there was no way that it had the concept of 'down'. She made the exaggerated motions of drawing her opposite leg over the back of the beast so she could jump down. She didn't exactly follow through with the motion, though, remaining perched on the back of the animal in whatever saddle (if indeed there was tack of that sort) the animal might be wearing.
[22:44] It was a bit difficult to tell where the fabric they had been sitting on ended and where the fleshy padding of the creature they rode on began – it hadn't seemed quite soft enough for a saddle, but not quite hard enough for her to be sitting straight on the creature's spine. To what degree they were bred to be padded on their backside was guesswork. There was a chance Samanta had figured that out, but if so, she had yet to ramble about it.
The Nayabaru beside her leant down, turning its palm up as though to present her with a step. Given the Nayabaru's relative size, it was unlikely she would unbalance the creature if she took him up on the implicit offer. He was offering, right? It seemed a fairly unmistakable gesture, but this was an alien culture, no matter how much of it might seem familiar to her. Assuming from a few pointers that these creatures were like humans was outright dangerous, that much ESA's hypothetical xenobehaviour lectures had taught them to be wary of.
Meanwhile, the gazellosaur with Samanta and Jason paused closer to its potential anchor and the Nayabaru that had guided it across the desert looked as if about to offer the other two humans a similar way down.
It all seemed very friendly – but what of implicit consent in this culture? Had they given their unspoken permission to something dire? How did one gesture 'others?' to denote the source of the confusion in this situation? For that matter, how did one gesture confusion without causing accidental offence?
[22:54] Seeing the offered paw, she considered what exactly it was trying to do. It was large horse sized, she could control sliiiiide down without a problem, if a little jarring to her feet, but it would be rude not to accept. And rude to assume. Saira thought about it for a good couple of beats before accepting. Slipping her gloved hand into its mitt, she let it help her down, a big ol' grin cracking wide across her face beneath the helmet. "Thank you. Thaaaaank youuu." The words were repeated slowly, though there was no way to communicate that this was a gesture of gratitude. Still, she turned that smiling face to the Nayabaru, careful enough not to display her teeth in case it was a threat display to this culture. "They're very cordial, aren't they?" she said to the rest of the team.
[23:10] Samanta slipped off the back of her mount after Jason had been helped down. "They're herbivores," she imparted. This was news, at least said with that clarity – they had speculated about it earlier, finding them comparable in design to iguanodonts of the Cretaceous, but that had been speculation. Perhaps Samanta had seen their teeth by now. "And that concerns me," she continued. "It might be nothing – but they seem awfully calm for herbivores confronted with a completely unknown species."
"Perhaps they're overestimating the efficiency of their weapons," Jason added, his voice subdued, his attention on the Nayabaru closest to them.
"This still feels very... rehearsed to me," Samanta added, haltingly. "I feel like it would be wise if we didn't forget the awkwardly executed beckonning gesture from earlier."
[23:11] "Ooman'a," the Nayabaru that had helped Saira down boomrumbled, raising its strange hook-like weapon and letting the spear component point toward the huts. More muttered syllables, hard to peg. "Geshe," "Gashee," or "Keshae," or something along those lines.
Well, at least the Nayabaru weren't trying to talk whole novels at them, like their maniraptoran visitors from the morning hours had.
[23:23] Samanta's words were taken to heart. Rehearsed might be the best descriptor, but it didn't feel menancing. "Maybe this is a visitor's ritual that we're partaking in? There's no way for us to know yet if different communities practice different languages, or if there's a common tongue that they all share." At least not yet. These particular dinosaurians were some of their first insights into the strange world that existed here. She strained to hear the words, trying to put them together in any order that might make sense. "Maybe it means to follow?" The creature was gesturing towards the huts, into the settlement. "Combined with the pointing, I would hazard a guess that we're meant to go." And taking cautious first steps in that direction, Saira would lead the way.
[23:36] Even through the quarantine suit, Samanta's posture visible tensed at the suggesting this was some kind of native ritual they were participating in – but while it evidently had struck a nerve, it did not strike it to such a degree that Samanta felt the need to comment. Too human is what she had argued about the beckonning gesture from earlier. Out of place. Perhaps she was still convinced of that now.
Then the gazellosaurs were left to their own devices and the two Nayabaru led them toward the cluster of huts. The light was draining out of the sky, making it increasingly apparent that the light between the huts was artificial. There was no flicker to it, however – it could not be a fire. Did the Nayabaru choose to keep their light purely outside, then? That seemed like a strange practise.
[23:37] Gradually, as the group of them approached the cluster of huts, the source of the light became apparent: A shape like the folded bulb of a flower, like a large paper lantern, uniformly giving off a diffuse light in all directions. The tip of it was almost sharp, but frayed outward before it could be, although the glow of the object stopped short of the branching. Instead, the upward protrusions appeared to be wires that reached up and ranked into the trees, vanishing into the branches. Solar powered, battery-driven? That was certainly a few leagues up from wooden huts.
As they approached the light, it became clear one of the huts did have light inside – at least someone was still plainly awake in a way recognisable by human visitors.
[23:43] The technology that they were being exposed to belied the construction of the huts. The city dwellers' technology perhaps? But then one had to wonder how different the city dwellers were from the Nayabaru that they had yet encountered. Ideas turned over in Saira's mind as they approached. Though curious, she was not the technophile that others on their team were. She kept her attention ahead as they approached the huts. "This all seems a mishmash of signals," she said quietly, almost to herself. So far, she had seen nothing that indicated there was a written language, though that didn't seem entirely impossible compared to the light devices that they had. She peered around but with the dwindling atmospheric light, she was having to rely on their flower-bulbs. Turning to her Nayabaru companion, she asked, "Are we supposed to go in?" and made a gesture of pointing to herself and then waving her hand towards teh entryway. The hair rose on the back of her neck, a little thrill response. The chance to speak to their leader? Fascinating. The associated danger of being in strange lands, with strange peoples? Ignored.
[00:08] A ring finger – if it could be called such – touched down gently upon her shoulder to give her a nudge even as she was gesturing toward the light. Again, something was rumbled – "Hu," "ru," or "ro," whichever it might be. Apparently that was precisely where they were going! Jason, Samanta and the other Nayabaru were certainly heading that way. How wary was Jason about all this? Their suits hid much of the subtleties of body language, but no doubt he was tense. He was the one with a thorough military background, making him an asset to a crew one did not want to need, but could not afford to leave behind.
A door opened – sliding to the side rather than swerving on a hinge – and a third Nayabaru stood framed by the light inside the hut, its posture straight as a rod, glancing out of the hut with its left eye. A sequence of rumbles were exchanged; deep, fluid, from a human perspective pitched as if tinged with a threatening guttural undercurrent.
[00:09] Notably, this Nayabaru had different markings on his (or her) skin. They seemed to be almost entirely restricted to his face, around his eyes in particular, and down the centre of his throat. Perhaps these were artificial markings, then – tattoos? Or they were looking at sexual dimorphism. Without language to help them out, or Samanta to have a biological epiphany, they would have to keep guessing.
"I hope you're ready to bust us out of here if this goes pear-shaped," Samanta told Jason. How did the trope go? 'It's quiet – too quiet'? Although arguably if there was a threat to their lives lurking, things should have gone pear-shaped a long time ago.
[00:19] A quick look to Jason incidated that Saira was in the same boat as Samanta on this. Suddenly, relying on just a single man's military expertise seemed like fallacy. Too late now and our hapless trio was ushered into the presence of this other Nayabaru with its pretty markings that were too far distant to discern if paint, tattoo or natural colouring. Another glance to their companions, their escorts and what appeared to be their host. She lifted a hand to shoulder height. "Hello." She kept her distance, not wanting to intrude upon personal space, or at what distance it became personal space? For all she knew, they wanted to claim the three feet radius around them. "I wonder what it knows of us..." Though it was too late to know. Shuffling inside, she waited for the others and turned back to their host. "Heeellooo." A smile painted upon her lips, closed and nervous.
[00:46] More curt rumblings, this time from the new fellow – "Ator," "Ado," or "Edor." At least this one was looking directly at her, rather than just with one eye. Samanta had tried to explain the habit earlier, back when they had decided whether to go along with the Nayabaru or not. She'd mentioned that the position of their eyes meant they only had a narrow stereoscopic band of vision and were by evolutionary terms more interested in seeing as much of their environment as possible than they were at focussing on an exact thing within said environment. Herbivores, she had explained, did not need to establish distance that much, and thus did not rely on stereoscopic vision very much – if one saw a carnivore, one simply legged it in the other direction. It was carnivores that had to know a precise distance as to be able to pounce their prey.
The inside of the hut was well-illuminated. There were no rooms separated by doors except one – perhaps a bathroom. In one corner was something that registered as a bed, if oddly proportioned and a bit low on the ground. An open channel of water ran along a raised ridge just barely low enough for Saira to see it – nearly at height of her eyes – along two of the building's four walls. A piece of carved furniture came out looking like a trunk of a tree that had been fitted with as many hollows as was feasible, each of which had been filled with something, predominantly with various edible vegetables (at least it seemed like an obvious pantry), including some things that looked suspiciously like lettuce. A set of things that each looked like a bound stack of probably-paper (each with a pronounced hole near one edge of its sheets) lay on a table not far away, nearly promising written language.
[00:47] And amongst other curiosities was a metal contraption with more wires leading from it, about the size of a large tome, although its shape was altogether different. Something L-shaped nestled against something that looked almost as though it were simply a set of gears arranged in parallel, with a small box attached, in turn sporting a gear of its own. It was this device that the Nayabaru in the hut eased off the table (which was rather high compared to human standards) and brought down to the ground.
[00:59] It was hard not to be a lookie-loo inside the hut. There was so much to see! The accoutrements of life here were fascinating on an athropological level, which touched places in her soul a little. Saira tried to focus on the particular Nayabaru, this host(ess?) of sorts that was trying to speak with them. Its deep voice made it difficult ot discern the actual syllables being used, but she would have to muddle through it. Detaching the digital recorder she had carried with her, she checked on its battery, how much life it had left in it and how much space it could still hold. Looked like she was alright. It was replaced on her belt or pocket, its sensitivity dialed into their voices and hopefully she could study this at another time. She pointed to herself. "Saira. Saaaaaiiiiiiiraaah." Two syallables. SIGH-ra. She pointed to Samanta, and repeated the process. "Samanta." Then to Jason. "Jason." This was only to distinguish that they were separate labels, one for each of them. She was not suggesting that she was human, or person, not a group in this indication, the labels were clear. Whatever Saira was, she was not Samanta or Jason. She pointed to their host and waited for a response.
[01:09] The response was nowhere near immediate. Instead, the bewildered Nayabaru, by now knelt to be at roughly equal height to the humans, glanced with one eye up toward the riders that had brought the humans here, his head swerving slightly, as if he were asking for guidance. Then he snorted without having spoken to his brethren, first glancing down with one eye only, before adjusting its gaze to the stereoscopic focus of before. "Ah-kah-na." The pitch was higher for these syllables, as though the Nayabaru were making an effort to make the syllables more apparent to their high-pitched guests. Then back to the regularly scheduled rumblings: "Ayshel," "Hishell," or "Eishei." He (she?) pushed the contraption across the ground a few generous inches, toward the human guests. 'Please'? ...evidently no one had told this creature that humans had no idea how to handle this contraption.
[01:32] The confusion was vaguely apparent upon alien faces that should not be. Whatever it was trying to do here, it was not a meet and greet with the weird visitors. Looking down at the device, she had no idea what she was supposed to do with it. Hunkering down, she picked it up if it wasn't rooted to the ground and turned it over in her hands, trying to look at it. Whatever it was, she couldn't fathom of it. Looking for any sort of buttons or impressions, slidey designs or anything, she examined it as best as she could, and then looked back to Ahkahna. Equally puzzled here, she glanced to their companions and then back to their host. "Is this a gift?"
[01:39] The underside of the device is smooth and featureless. The L-shaped element had to be held in place to keep it from clattering to the floor, despite it being attached to the rest of the device by a wire. The L-shaped piece was about as long in sum as a Nayabaru muzzle – which made it longer than a human head was high, but not by very much.
[01:40] Their host seemed perturbed by her actions – enough, at least, to fidget, reaching hands toward her, then hesitating. The hesitance does not last long, however; a moment later, he's gently easing forward and trying to take the object from Saira to set it back down, all the while slowly mumbling something in that low, rumbling pitch.
[02:00] Apparently, she had committed some sort of faux pas here, one that it appeared that their host was unsure of correcting, but did so anyways. Expression turned somewhat sheepish as she allowed the device to be taken from her. Not a gift then. That idea that it was a phone seemed so out of place, but it certainly had that vague design what with the cords and all, like the old devices back on Earth. "Show?" she attempted, as if to give her an example of how to work the device, perhaps?
[02:49] The Nayabaru was already beginning to go through some motions as Saira made her request, pausing them to look at her with what parsed as an earnest expression, searching, then exhaling markedly through his (or her) nostrils, perhaps denoting a change of attention – then the opposable, outermost finger of his right hand is on the small box's gear, while his other hand gingerly picks up the L-shaped item, cautiously aligning one end with the air half an inch from her ear and holding it there.
A few soft, mechanical clicks later, sound spills from that end of the device, delivering a message distorted partially by whatever high-pass filter passed as normal in these parts of the world, partially by being vocalisations made in a language the vocal chords and mouth doing the speaking were clearly not designed for (although the pitch was flawless), its content shockingly and disorientingly crisp:
[02:50] "Welcome, travellers. This is a pre-recorded message. Please do not be alarmed – I have been expecting your arrival for some time now and prepared accordingly. Any inconsistent or out-of-place behaviour from your hosts can likely be attributed to my instruction; they mean you no harm, though they may struggle to adequately express it. I implore you stay with the Nayabaru for the days it will take me to reach the settlement that found you, as that we may speak in person.
"For now, I leave you with the sincere advice to avoid all contact or implication of contact with the kavkema. I have much to tell you and much to explain. In brief, know that I am neither human, Nayabaru, nor kavkem. My name is Valcen, and I need you to stay put."