[22:58] The urgency of their trek had clearly risen again. They left the only slightly slanted forested plateau they'd been moving along and headed up a rise, finding the simulacrum of a path amongst rocks and leaning trees. It made for awkward advancing – the humans had to duck regularly to avoid getting smacked in the face by the trees.
Eventually, they came to a rock slide, with a small stream winding between and beneath broken boulders.
Evenatra took the opportunity of the lull in their trek to strike up a conversation with the humans. "Thank you for helping the others defend against the Imitorunyema and Baishar. I understand better now, what it was, and I can explain. But first, I wonder — we will climb up from here," she said, gesturing up along the settled rock slide. "Is it okay? Can you do it?"
[23:21] "... Climb up to there? Sure, yeah." We've evolved to climb, didn't we? Well, they had the advantage of height, at least, and had an advantage in reaching up over their head, which couldn't hurt.
Then Samanta hesitated for a second, feeling foolish. "Or do you mean —" Can we listen to what you have to say? From what she could reconstruct of Evenatra's body language, whatever she'd learned from the prisoner must have been disheartening. And considering the ghastly stuff she'd already revealed... Samanta wasn't so sure she wanted to hear it. That's silly. What's true is true, not knowing about it doesn't make it go away. It wouldn't be too pleasant, anyway.
"— Sure. Let's go up."
[23:32] As Samanta began to ask 'or do you mean—?', Evenatra's feathers puffed, perhaps in slight alarm – given her grasp of English was still very basic, perhaps she was concerned she had said something that could be misconstrued. The feathers smoothed back down at 'Sure, let's go up'.
Athechelt and Edaaj were filling up the leather flasks with water from the narrow river, awkwardly perched and braced as they worked at it. Up would definitely wait until they were done, that much was clear.
"Thank you," she said, some hesitance in her voice, as though she wasn't entirely sure if it was the right social response. She didn't dither much longer, though, and instead moved on to the promised information. "This Imitorunyema, the thing I destroyed," she began. "It is some kind of..." She paused, palpably struggling for the right word.
Then her right hand rose to touch at the top of her skull, pressing her palm against its short feathers. "It makes changes to people's heads." Mercifully, from her scattered grasp of English, that could mean so many things. "Baishar made an attack on us because he is changed." ...but, well, that narrowed it down considerably.
[23:57] Samanta quietly sat down on a somewhat flat boulder and clasped her hands. She exchanged a nervous glance with Greg; Evenatra might not have had a full mastery of English rhetorics, but this time she'd been clear enough.
"You mean it can change a person's mind? Their memories? Their behavior? Their— personality? I mean, change what kind of person they are? Can that thing... control the way one behaves?" Enough to push Baishar to attack his own kin in apparent favor of the species that had been brutally keeping them all down, it seemed.
[00:07] "Yes," she confirmed, the mild enthusiasm in her voice clearly reserved entirely for the mutual understanding. "Yes, exactly," she stressed. "Baishar says that Valcen made the Imitorunyema because the Nayabaru compelled him to. That they are... playing along." There was undisguised disdain in her voice – she clearly wasn't diplomatically concerned about the impression she was making.
"But I do not think so. Baishar is changed, he will say anything to make Valcen look good, I think," she mused, flicking her muzzle upwards. "So then Valcen is our enemy now. And it is good that you helped fight the Imitorunyema. Thank you. I do not know what would have happened if you had not helped – then maybe Edaaj or Athechelt would not be our friend now."
[00:27] A shiver ran down Samanta's spine. They already felt like a claustrophobically small group running away from everything, with no holdfasts or reliable shelter in a whole planet, so small that it had been forced to recruit the help of two aliens, a minority of a minority of a minority... The idea of losing a member, or worse having it turn into an enemy, was...
"Any time. Thank you for getting rid of it at the end, anyway." Even the idea of being near such a device was repulsive; though she felt some relief, of which she wasn't all too proud, that the device most probably wasn't meant to work on humans. "Why don't you think the Nayabaru could have forced Valcen to do this? Why... what reason could he have to have built this thing?"
[00:35] For a moment, Evenatra simply stared back at them, as though trying to parse what Samanta had just said.
Then her feathers rose and fell a few times as though in irate bewilderment. "I do not know," she said, although it sounded less like a confession and more like an accusation. "But the Nayabaru do not have ideas like this all alone. It is his idea. I am sure it is.
"Maybe they force him to do something, but this something is his choice. It is a bad choice. It is not a choice someone makes if they are 'playing along'."
[01:01] "... I see. I see..." Samanta had to. Evenatra seemed as convinced as it gets, and in the end she knew the planet, the Nayabaru, and Valcen, and Samanta and Greg did not. Given the sort of power Valcen's kind had, it was plausible enough that the Nayabaru simply wouldn't know what he could make.
"So... what can we do about it? How many other devices like this can he make? Can he make one that works on us?" (Foolish question: Valcen was no more a dinosaur than he was a primate, and if he could act on the brain of the former, there was no question he could act on the brain of the latter, but only whether he'd bother to.) "Is there..." And here was the question whose answer she feared the most: "Is there a way to fix it? To make Baishar and... whoever else... go back to what they were?"
[01:17] Again, contemplative silence, visibly sorting her thoughts – perhaps putting the many questions Samanta had asked into an order.
"I do not think we can undo what an Imitorunyema does," she said, matter-of-factly. "Baishar explained to me how it works. It is... like carving a piece of wood. You cannot un-carve the wood." The bitterness was still there, proving Evenatra was, without a doubt, deeply upset about this technology. No surprise, of course.
"I do not know if Valcen can make a Torunyema for yenaaka — for mammals," Evenatra commented. "You have a very different biology." Not that this was in any way news to Samanta. "It depends on what this Valcen remembers and what he does not. He was a human, sometime. If he remembers how to be a human, maybe he remembers how to make a Torunyema for a human." Perhaps not exactly what Samanta wanted to hear.
A tense in- and exhale. "We can only watch and be careful." Said, she glanced over to Baishar for a moment – then back at the humans. "Baishar at least does not wish us harm now."
[01:32] How discouraging. At least one positive note, though. "Then... It's likely that Valcen doesn't wish us harm, either?" Samanta wondered silently whether this attack was actually part of some multi-layered plan, capturing Evenatra's party so that they could work with Valcen at subverting the Nayabaru structures from within... But it sounded too fantastic a plan. Maybe, if she had goten Valcen's character right from Evenatra's words, this could be a plan he'd be interested in, and also one likely to fail catastrophically.
And once again they did not have, or knew about, any concrete objective. As horrific as the idea of losing one's personality to this sort of tampering (was that better or worse than death? Or exactly the same? For that matter, would kavkema and Nayabaru count it as death?), at least the possibility of getting it back, however slight, would give them something to work toward.
Very well, she thought, with no small amount of frustration, We will watch, and we'll be careful.
[01:41] Evenatra grimaced, although the expression was mostly opaque to the humans. She glanced back at Baishar – absent-mindedly taking note that the kavkema were finishing up with the collection of water as she did so – as though hoping to assess whether he in any way reflected the opinions of his master.
Her instinct was to reject it. There was, she reasoned, no reason his personality was anything but moulded to please Valcen's strategies. If he thought it was wise to make minions that would promise them friendship if only they cooperated, then there was no reason the promise had to relate to reality.
On the other hand, the humans did touch on something with their query – perhaps it would be an easier route if Baishar had instead fought fervently until they had been forced to take his life.
On the other hand, he would then now plainly be dead and no use to his master, and she didn't trust that Valcen was quite so short-sighted as not to realise that.
She reeled her gaze back in. "I do not trust what Baishar says. If Valcen is a friend of the Nayabaru, it is his interest to make us less careful. So Baishar is friendly to us. Baishar is sure he is right, but that does not make him right. I think Baishar's behaviour tells us nothing about Valcen," she reasoned.
[00:06] That was disappointing — very disappointing — yet Samanta wondered whether there was something to be done. After all, she and Greg had come to trust Evenatra despite starting from an even greater position of ignorance. She had shown alarming powers without showing even indirect threat; she had come up with explanations and answers that werenot calculated to maximize the humans' sympathy, and admitted ignorance when she could have lied without consequence. Perhaps they could try the same reasonings on Baishar?
But Samanta had been able to treat Evenatra as a coherent agent, whereas with Baishar they would have had to distinguish his own words, if there were any, from Valcen's.
Perhaps... Nah. But maybe... Even worse. "You know Valcen", she said to Evenatra. "Is there any way to check whether Baishar disagrees with Valcen on any point? Or wants to do something that you know wouldn't help Valcen?" Not the sturdiest plan. But better than nothing.
[00:28] Evenatra was silent for a full minute as she considered the question. It felt like an eternity. One thought she held onto in private – if Baishar were willing to kill the humans, that would certainly not be in Valcen's interest. But even in obvious absence of being able to test such a thing, it was best not to say that out loud; it would prove that it had readily come to her mind.
"We do not know what Valcen wants," she observed. "So a comparison can not work. But we know what the Nayabaru want: They want to have you, they want to find me and they want to destroy my people. If Baishar does the opposite of these things – if he leaves with Athechelt or Edaaj only, for example – then maybe we can trust him."
But even her tone made it clear that she didn't consider it practical. If the mentioned kavkema all left and Baishar managed to overpower them somehow, perhaps simply by having another trick up his sleeve that they had yet to discover, they wouldn't know of the deception — they would have simply deprived themselves of the ability to keep an eye on him.
[00:46] "Could we send the three of them away, and keep check on them at distance? We could... follow them from afar, and intervene if he tries something dangerous. Then, at least, we're sure we can't trust him." No sight-at-distance among your alien goddess powers, Evenatra? Most probably not — she'd have already offered to use them.
"I'm positive we must have some recording device somewhere... Please, God, tell me we didn't leave them on the ship—" God's way back on Earth. You're under new management here. "Wait! Wait, we have the radio communicators on our suits! We could unscrew one of them... They work on short range, but we'd have to stay close anyway..." And then of course either she or Greg would find much harder to speak to the other, but hopefully the suit let some sound through.
"What do you say about this? We give one of our radios to either Eche or Edaaj — it's small, Baishar wouldn't see it — we let them leave for a while, and they can warn us if anything nasty happen. Would that work?"
[00:54] 'Then, at least, we're sure we can't trust him.' It was true, of course, but it really wouldn't conclusively help them make the opposite determination; it might rob them of tools that were useful later, as well as the lives of kavkema that were voluntarily part of this quest.
But this was still too close to the Nayabaru no doubt trailing them for her to want to risk open sabotage.
"Maybe," she said. "Maybe we try it tomorrow, when there is more distance between us and the Nayabaru? I will then feel better about the risk. Can you accept this?"
[01:08] "Of course", Samanta said, without even thinking about it. It would take a while to figure out how to get the radio out of a suit without breaking it. And also to decide who should lose their voice for a few hours in the best case. And that had been a long day, anyway.
"Of course", she said again, "I guess we should wait until we're sure in a safe area", as if that were ever going to happen. "Meanwhile, should we take some... particular precaution about him?"
[01:15] Evenatra glanced back over to Baishar – the three kavkema now stood with their attention on the humans and her, although remaining at a respectful distance. It made her ever so slightly uncomfortable to speak of Baishar while he was staring right at her, but it couldn't be helped, and he didn't understand English.
As far as she knew.
"No," she said, cautiously. "Maybe someone always watches. But while we all are together, I think we will stay safe."
[01:25] Well, that was a relief. Even after that scuffle, Samanta figured she couldn't really stomach the idea of having to tie Baishar down, or worse; but if Evenatra trusted that watching him would be enough, that was enough for her too.
"Good. If you'd like a few more eyes to keep track of him — if you need more rest — you can count on us, too".
[01:28] A few more eyes? She could have approximately as many eyes as she wanted, but it was thankfully nearly immediately clear that that was not what the humans meant. No, they meant existing eyes, on existing people, simply coordinating to the same thing. "Thank you," she said. "When we rest, I will... patrol. We will maybe need more eyes then."