§ 2023-01-02 23:32:52


[23:45] It wasn't easy to decide what of the past days was a dream and what had actually happened. A dull headache had laced through everything. He hadn't been able to feel his leg for a while, although there were dim recollections of others of his crew claiming minimal necrosis. Maybe one of them had been Samanta.

Only he was pretty sure Samanta hadn't been with him at the time.

The world was still swimming, but he was starting to make sense of it. The deep tiredness that had been keeping him crippled had slipped off his chest, letting him breathe. The breathing was probably not new. His awareness of it was.

The room he was in was full of light, and everything was disporportionately large, if only slightly so. The whites and glint of metal felt like home for a moment, as though someone had managed to bring him back to Earth and patch him up there, but that was, of course, ludicrous. And something was feeling rather strange—

Oh. There was a tube pressing against the corner of his lips and sticking uncomfortably to the side of his esophagus. That would do it. His stomach rumbled with some degree of upset. A burp disturbed his throat.

Nothing was tying him down, at least. He could take the tube out and sit up if he liked, inspect himself, and maybe slowly return to the land of the living. Maybe he could even try to piece together what had happened in the past days and where exactly fate had placed him – and the rest of his crew, for that matter.


[00:30] Very old and very strong instincts were screaming at him to remove the foreign object from his throat, but then the ability to ignore very old and very strong instincts was what space training was for. Whatever the purpose of the tube, it probably was best not to remove it, at least not until he found out exactly what it did and where it went, until the consequences of keeping it there became dire enough..

As his eyesight slowly stabilized, he tried looking down at himself — bad idea, your neck isn't very flexible at the moment — he tried raising his hands. They were somewhat battered, but still usable. They were not hurting much, either, and they moved easily enough that heavy anesthesia was not probably involved. The rest of him was still blurry. The room was unpleasantly bright, and strangely sterile compared to the buildings he'd seen on Nekenalos up to then. The size of the room suggested Nayabaru work; the bed he was lying on seemed tall enough that if Greg sat on the edge he probably wouldn't reach the floor.

This he thought rather dispassionately at first, but his throat constricted around the tube as the facts sunk in. He was in a Nayabaru facility, and almost completely defenseless. Squinting in the ruthless light, and pulling the tube enough to let him turn his head sideways, he took a long look at the room's furnishings.


[00:48] For the moment, he was by all appearances alone. A thin blanket had been draped over him at some point in the past, but the 'bed' he was lying on was a simple aluminium table.

Judging by the collection of tinctures and tools in the cupboards nearby, as well as some furnishings that looked rather strongly as though they were intended to restrain kavkema, he was probably in a veterinarian facility.

It would certainly explain why he was stark naked, why his leg had been neatly bandaged up, and why there was a tube in his throat, by all appearances set up to periodically put a bit of water into him. Judging by his groin area, he hadn't yet been here long enough that the urge to piss had been overwhelming, but his bladder was certainly noting interest in some relief now.

There were a few tiny puncture marks on his left arm and left leg that had previously not been there – likely someone had taken some samples of his blood and possibly given him a solid dose of some antibiotic.

Evidently no one considered him a threat, given that no one was hovering nearby. Someone must have done a decent job at convincing the Nayabaru that he would behave himself if he awoke.

On the other hand, it wasn't altogether clear if he could just... leave the room if he so pleased. It was easy to see out – for some god-forsaken reason this place had no privacy whatsoever, every one of its walls transparent – but the doors were made for Nayabaru.

All things considered, he felt better than he had in— how long had it been, exactly? It felt like he'd hurt himself only yesterday, maybe the day before, but if he tried to track the number of nights in his head, there were enough that he wasn't sure of the right number. That suggested something closer to a week. No wonder his brain was slush.


[01:44] In his state, it was probably better not to move around too much, let alone try to flee. Having made sure that the tube was not connected to anything especially delicate — inside or outside — he slowly slid it out. It was a very unpleasant activity, and it made him very grateful that his stomach was almost certainly empty, but eventually it succeeded. He tied it into a knot to make sure the water wouldn't spill out, though there seemed to be a mechanism to make sure it only left at certain times.

He sat up on the bed and wrapped the blanket around himself as a makeshift coat. There wasn't much point in modesty when nobody likely to be present was even a mammal, but the table was uncomfortably cold where it hadn't absorbed his own body heat, and the room was too vast to have warmed up much.

He carefully slid down the bed. In the shape of the furniture he could almost see the hulking form of a Nayabaru bent over him like a veterinarian studying a sick dog; in a way, being lower down on the floor would be a relief. (Smooth fired tiles, easy to wash, with embedded drains.) It wasn't too tall to climb, and should he be too weak he could stack some boxes to come back. As soon as he was vertical again, gravity reasserted itself in his bladder. Just being the patient of a veterinarian was no reason to behave like a beast: an empty metal bin in a corner, probably meant for medical waste, served the purpose just fine.

All the most pressing necessities out of the way, he studied the hallways outside. Nobody he could see or even hear, unless this was some sort of devilish one-way glass that only showed the appearance of empty halls. Well, someone clearly cared enough to keep him alive, if nothing else; he knocked on the transparent wall, and called out.


[02:08] Unsurprisingly, nothing happened at first – if the sound carried, it reached someone who was far enough away that they couldn't immediately appear. If the sound hadn't carried, he would just have to wait until someone thought to check on him.

There was no window anywhere nearby, offering no indication what time of day it was. The Nayabaru, if he recalled correctly, were commonly diurnal, so it might easily be night for them right now. Alternatively, he remembered travelling with the kavkema, and it was quite possible the Nayabaru thought he shared their biorhythm.

Before he could think too much about what the likely state of affairs was, there was a motion outside. One of the Nayabaru – he couldn't tell them apart, even having gathered by now that there was a lot of individualisation in their tattoos – had emerged from a corridor and was looking toward him.

And then it disappeared again.

Bummer. But the more awake he was, the more it became clear that he was quite fine indeed, a bit of grogginess from the lack of exercise notwithstanding. His stomach seemed to want some nourishment, too – when was the last time he'd had solid food? Someone must have kept him fed at least partially; he'd lost a bit of weight by first impression, but wasn't feeling fundamentally famished.

A few minutes into his exploration, the same – or perhaps another – Nayabaru appeared once more outside of the infirmary, with a kavkem in tow.

A kavkem, in a Nayabaru facility. To his sluggishly coalescing memories, it made both no sense, and was completely expected. Someone had said something about this. What was it?

The giant opened the door for his unlikely feathered companion. "Greg!" the kavkem piped, for a brief moment making him wonder if he should recognise this particular creature – differentiating between kavkema was also not his strength, but he was pretty sure he hadn't travelled with this one. Then it continued: "You look much better than when they brought you in."

Oh. Valcen. He had technically travelled with him before. They'd even spoken. He looked much smaller than he'd last appeared to Greg, but it was definitely the same person. It was, however, interesting that the English-speaking kavkem hadn't be a crazy fever-dream.


[03:14] Greg tightened the blanket around himself — somehow being in front of an English-speaker made him feel a lot more self-aware — and slightly bowed, partly as greeting but mostly to get closer to Valcen's height. A surprising turn of affairs, in that cavernous place.

More surprising still is that Valcen had entered with... Greg couldn't call it authority, as the Nayabaru didn't really resemble a bodyguard let alone a servant of some kind, but at least with more confidence than he'd expect to see in a captive from a species perpetually on the run.

He was likely to be Greg's only link to the larger universe, and a more effective one than he'd hoped just a few minutes before. Greg briefly tried to articulate his questions well, to come up with something so courteous and clever that it would immediately throw light on everything. Instead, between excitement and fatigue, he started rather ineptly. "... Valcen, is that it?" he asked, "What has happened? What is this place? Where are the other humans?"


[03:25] "Sleeping," Valcen answered the last question first. "Unsurprisingly, your circadian rhythm is completely messed up. This place's perpetual simulated daylight probably won't help." He gestured to the strips of light in the infirmary's ceiling as a stand-in for the larger facility as a whole.

"We brought you to Katal, since it was the safest way to ensure you'd get patched up. Do you remember the conversation we had about it? About four days ago."

Here Valcen briefly paused, gesturing for Greg to be patient, and – by appearances – translated for the Nayabaru that had accompanied him.

§ 2023-02-05 00:37:28


[01:03] Very dimly, if at all. The events just before Greg's unconsciousness were half-hidden by a murky soup of confusion. Hopefully, little by little, lucidity would return in full. "Katal. Katal..." he rolled the name on his tongue a few times, both silently and out loud.

The Nayabaru would like to move you to Katal—

I did instruct the Katal Yeresoa – the veterenarians of this world, if you so will—

Katal is a large city about two days industrialised travel away from here. The kavkema are terrified of it because it's by far the most unforgiving place for them.

Until you're healthy enough to leave.

Brief visions of nightmare, burned into his poor aching head. He'd been in pain, feverish, barely able to speak. Jason and Saira — "Katal, yes, the... the hospital. So they're here? Close? Are they injured?" he asked. For that matter, "What injuries do I have? I don't feel in great pain anymore. Uh, thanks about that".


[01:19] "They're in the same building," Valcen confirmed. "But it is a fairly large one." He searched his memories for an analogy, then offered: "Smaller than a metropolitan university, larger than a suburban apartment block, I'd estimate."

That was, of course, the part of least concern, and so he continued: "They're not injured. As for you, just the cut in your leg, and the consequent infection. Sort of like tetanus, except with a different set of symptoms, and without that you'd been vaccinated against it. Fortunately, the Nayabaru are good at patching biological organisms back up."

He was nodding a little, a very human gesture, no doubt deliberate. "You should improve on your own from this point forward, but the Nayabaru would know best – they patched you up, I just kept my fingers crossed for you. I've no skills in this department, really. Or in finger-crossing, technically," he let his muzzle sway from side to side a little as he brought up a hand and scissored two digits awkwardly.


[02:07] Very obviously an alien idiom for him. Valcen seemed to be doing his best to be reassuring in his casual matter-of-factness, when a warmer soothing would have come off as insincere. Although there had been a strange edge to his comment about the Nayabaru patching up organisms. The news, at least, were good after all (remember, Valcen does not lie if he doesn't need to, and he generally doesn't need it), and if Greg's illness had indeed been like tetanus his doctors had truly done an excellent job.

If Jason and Saira were not hurt, there wasn't much point in waking them up (in what presumably was the dead of night) just for his peace of mind. Still, they couldn't stay separate forever. Valcen had not offered to reunite them all, which suggested he did not intend that to happen in the foreseeable future, and "smaller than a metropolitan university" still left plenty of space to cross, and plenty of obstacles to go through.

He said: "I see. Might I take a breath of fresh air, for now? I don't feel so weak anymore." It was worth trying to see whether they'd let him out of the room, at least, even under supervision. Perhaps start to learn the layout of this place.


[02:15] Valcen visibly bristled. It wasn't subtle, but also not so intense as to seem like Greg had just made some kind of unsalvageable blunder. "I'm afraid that's... really not my prerogative," he said, a little haltingly. "You should have more or less free access to the entire building, but we should definitely coordinate with the Nayabaru before you go outside."

It seemed like a weird thing for him to say, seeing as there was a Nayabaru right beside him – and while he did speak to his saurian companion an instant later, it was probably only to translate. But maybe Greg could request more.


[02:49] Free access to the entire building? That was far, far better than he'd hoped for. The answer he'd been expecting was along the lines of 'for your own safety, you should stay in this room until further notice'. Instead, not only it was foreseen for him to leave the room, but it was at least *possible* to negotiate leaving the building altogether. Ask for gold to "settle" for silver, indeed.

"Very well, then", he responded, as nonchalantly as he could. "Maybe later. A walk down the hallway would do me plenty of good already, really. Just to be sure, the Nayabaru don't speak English, do they? If we were to talk, would you kindly help me translate?"


[02:56] "Of course," Valcen confirmed. "That's the most useful I can make myself, after all." A curt nod, stepping back to give Greg a little more room.

Then the kavkem's attention flit along Greg's body, blanket and all. "Do you need any assistance?" Valcen asked. "The last time I saw you, you were very pale." He wasn't offering Greg clothes – although the reason might be as simple as that he had no idea where to find any, other than on the bodies of the other members of the ESA crew.

And again, a short translation for the Nayabaru beside them followed. The large creature grunted once, but it clearly wasn't even a word.


[03:37] "Thank you, then", Greg replied. "Since you mention it, I don't suppose there is solid food that humans may consume in our surroundings? Apart from that, I do believe I'm fine".

The Nayabaru had been remarkably uninterested in the alien patient; they certainly had no message for Valcen to translate, nor did they seem particularly captivated by the ones translated for their benefit. It was as if they were in the room simply as muscle, to prevent him and Valcen from doing anything foolish. Or for observation? But the Nayabaru had radios, so it was plausible they had cameras as well, or at least microphones.

§ 2023-02-19 00:52:41


[00:57] Valcen's mouth opened, only to close again without emitting a sound. It took another two seconds before he thawed out of it. "I don't think there's any properly solid food anywhere in Katal, even the better stuff I get is just... textured paste with different flavours, really.

"I'd feel better if the Yeresoa arranged your food, though – I have a decent understanding of the sort of things that might kill you, but I don't know what's in which... paste. It's designed to be consumed by saurians, after all," he said in the tone of apology – although as far as Greg knew and could tell so far, Valcen had no bearing on the food choices in Katal.

Valcen's Nayabaru companion had stepped to the door by now and was mutely holding it open. Free access to the building was apparently indeed in the books. Maybe the Nayabaru really weren't holding them prisoner – maybe when Valcen had mentioned wanting to speak to them about letting Greg outside, it was the communication that was important, the courtesy of not leaving them out of the loop.

Or maybe they were, but with all the affordances of high-ranking political prisoners, at least to whatever degree such could be arranged.


[01:35] "That's alright, then; whatever you think is safe", Greg answered, trying not to stare at the door to fixedly. He would really have preferred to advance his recovery with some nice, hearty meat, but as he recalled the Nayabaru were strictly herbivorous and would probably not appreciate that. Paste would still be an improvement over intravenous, and as far as he knew humans were fairly un-picky consumers.

He moved a couple cautious steps toward the door — or rather, toward the Nayabaru, looking up to them as if they were the main object of his interest, while focusing his actual attention of what lay behind them, in the hallway.


[01:46] While it wasn't the first time Greg was seeing a Nayabaru, having seen them both around their landing site and hovering over him in various forms later, this creature had a somewhat intimidating stature. Despite having no horns or natural armour, it looked every bit as trustworthy as a hippo as it looked down at Greg, tracking him with a narrow band of stereoscopic vision.

Whether it was trying to look intimidating or it just came with the job, or their particular set of genes, on the other hand, was hard to guess.

There was plenty of space for a human and kavkem to slip past, though, and the Nayabaru made no efforts to block Greg's path.

Walking was remarkably easy. His leg, bandaged up, stung a very slight bit, but whatever topical anaesthetic they'd slapped on it dulled any ache down to a manageable sense of fatigue. He'd lost some muscle mass to the Nayabaru fixing his leg up, making some motions much harder than others, but simple walking was at most barely affected.

Nothing toxic, it seemed, had crept up to his thigh.

"Well, I can try," Valcen mused aloud. "But if you start vomiting up toxins, it's back to the Yeresoa for you, and I probably won't be able to decide if I want to say 'I told you so' or apologise profusely." There was a bit of humour in his voice – he seemed to be loosening up a bit.


[02:34] Greg turned to look at Valcen and made a point to smile. Was there a point to that? That incomprehensible being seemed to understand human body language well enough, in addition to regular language. "I'll consider myself warned!", he said.

The shadow of the Nayabaru fell over Greg in full. From there, the being didn't even look hostile as much as terribly indifferent, like a mountain with loose flanks, or a frozen like whose crust could crumble at any moment. Only the slightest rumble came from their form, but it did not sound intentional; just the inevitable maintainance noise of such a large body, especially a herbivorous one.

With some effort of both mind and body, Greg stepped out of the massive shadow through its other side.


[02:44] Mercifully, it didn't take long for Valcen – and in some way, his now-trailing Nayabaru companion – to lead Greg to a room with some regular seating opportunities. They were a slight size too large for Greg, but less by height and more by sprawl, more meant to cradle the hips of Nayabaru than to hold human buttocks.

On the way there, Valcen had made something approaching small talk, mentioning that Edaaj, the kavkem who had watched over him together with Baishar way back when his symptoms had first started, was here as well now, pretending to be a minion.

While some translating for the Nayabaru's benefit happened in parallel, it was easy enough to assume that the 'pretending' part was being papered over.

Right now, Valcen was coordinating with the Nayabaru with some gestures. A part of a wall slid open, revealing several semi-transparent globes. Valcen studied them as though they were strikingly different – the contents all looked about the same, although at further inspection, fine lines of bizarre geometric shapes suggested they might be labelled.


[03:13] Valcen had made no comment about — whatever those things were, but he had made no effort to hide them either. Perhaps they were some of his technological marvels that a mere human would have had no hope of understanding without his explanation? No danger (probably) in asking. "Sorry, what are those?"

As for the rest, it was good to have around some of the other kavkema they'd met as well, though he had to wonder whether having Edaaj as an agent on their side was the truth. The fellow hadn't seemed likely at all to work for the Nayabaru of his own will, but this was probably not a place where a kavkem's will counted much. He sighed. How unjust. Samanta wouldn't be so cynical. But this was supposed to be a terrifying place, and yet everything since his awakening had gone quite well, so he was expecting a betrayal or a cruelty at any moment. Poor Edaaj had done nothing to earn mistrust — perhaps he should at least try and talk to him.

§ 2023-03-25 23:05:35


[23:05] Valcen paused in his motions, leaning his head to the side a little, looking nowhere in particular and considering the question. Settling on an answer, he said: "Snacks." His gaze slipped back down to one he'd only just been handling, giving it another muster, before nodding to himself in human gesture, and padding over to Greg with it. He held it out with both forepaws. "You can just pop the top off. Consider it finger food."


[23:55] "Finger food? For kavkema and Nayabaru, I guess? I must say it looks very different from human food". Well. It would have been suspicious not to try it, at this point. After all, he was indeed starving, and Valcen knew that well. And then, well, he was starving. If it had anything other than edible food, what was the use of pretending? The top did pop off quite easily. He looked inside, trying to see if he could recognize any ingredient.


[00:03] Judging by its consistency, it looked a little bit like mashed potatoes, although the colour was off, more like avocado. Also in the glass container were speckles of something harder and hazelnut-coloured – possibly indeed something like nuts, or maybe finely chopped root vegetables. Something elongated grains, vaguely rice-like, were clustered to one side, but picking up the bowl showed that there were more of them under the paste, possibly making up about a fourth of the overall volume.

"The Nayabaru eat it with..." Valcen trailed off. "Uh, hm. It's something like hard celery, anyway. They use it as cutlery of a sort, until they've finished the last of it. But I think the 'celery' might be too tough for your innards to digest, so I think it's best if you just eat it without that."


[00:53] Ah. He guessed Nayabaru were somewhat like ruminants, then? Made sense, if they were herbivores of that size. Ask Samanta later. The smell wasn't bad; and although he'd have liked something meatier and bloodier, at least he was not biologically dependant from it like kavkema were. With a spoon, perhaps, it would make a decent meal. The main volume looked starchy, and if the seeds and specks were too indigest he could always push them aside. He wondered if this dish contained all substances needed to keep a human alive — the engineers at ESA and other space agencies had worked quite hard to make human-complete diets as compact as possible.

"Thanks, Valcen. This will do. Do you mind if I eat as we walk?"


[01:06] "Not at all, but if you like, we can also just sit for a—" Valcen began, then cut himself off, gesturing for a conversational pause with one hand. "I'm sorry," he said. "You've been still for a very long, I imagine you'd rather walk. Let's walk. Would you like to see my office space?"


[03:03] Valcen's kindness kept filling Greg with unease. His expectations for Katal had been so terrible that every positive discovery felt like the blade of an axe lifting in wait to fall back down with greater force. Had the kavkem voices about the place just poisoned the well for him? How much had they actually known about the place? But of course, if nobody left Katal to spread knowledge of it, that was a very bad sign by itself. Were there different tiers of harshness, for different positions on the guest-to-prisoner spectrum?

"Yes, I would, thank you". He looked around and scooped out a bit of paste from the bowl with one finger. "I take you do very important work here?" He tasted nonchalantly the paste. It was actually quite good: oily and tangy, definitely packed with energy. That he could use.


[03:16] A single peal of laughter left Valcen somewhat explosively at Greg's innocent question. "I suppose you could say that. I make horrific weapons for the Nayabaru, after all, all for a little bit of freedom," he said, bluntly, even as he started leading Greg back out of the Nayabaru cafeteria and through the building, presumably in the direction of his office space... which his guest

was perhaps a little less eager to see now. "No, you don't have to worry about them using the same logic for you and your crew. You get to be special." There was no resentment in the sentence, although from context it sounded as though maybe it was still best imagined that way.