[22:01] As Valcen moved over to where Nadani and the Nayabaru were, easing himself into the scene as a cautious authority, trying to prise the Nayabaru away from its unmoving victim, instating himself as the one who would take care of the captive once it awoke, Jason and Saira were left beside one of their own indifferent ceratopsian steeds.
What might these herbivores say about everything they'd just heard, if only they were intelligent and educated enough to understand it? But maybe it wouldn't interest them at all – it didn't have anything to do with their own plight. Empathy for other species was, in the grand scheme of things, a rare mutation, usually maladaptive and selected against.
At least Jason imagined Samanta might say such a thing, if she were with them now.
With a long, drawn-out exhale, Jason allowed himself to sink down into a sit. He could feel an urge to shake sit in his bones, but fortunately his body was too lazy to let it manifest. Blessed with merely looking pensive and annoyed, he brought up one knee, then settled an elbow against the thigh and gloved fingers against his visor.
Quietly, on private comms – not that they were well and truly 'private' in the first place, as their suits were hardly designed to be sound proof, but it sufficed for some privacy in a pinch – he said: "What a mess."
[22:20] With a sign of resignation, Saira eased herself to the ground near Jason. The suit was a lot more flexible than she had given it credit, and she wasn't even uncomfortable. A pregnant silence filled the air between the two humans. Jason's remark seemed to hit home, because all she could do was sigh again and nod. "Mission control definitely wasn't expecting something like this," she said after fiddling to switch her comms off the outward speaker. The tension of the hunt for the humans and their kavkema guides had only increased since these revelations. She was worried anew for the rest of the crew. "I hope they don't choose to fight the Nayabaru." It was almost likely, due to the Nayabaru aggression against the kavkema. Samanta and Greg did not have the knowledge that she and Jason had been 'blessed' with. Her gloved fist closed around some grass which she yanked ruthlessly from the ground. She needed something to focus on, even if it was throwing rocks and abusing plantlife.
[22:44] It didn't need saying that neither of them wanted to be here right now. Perhaps it hadn't quite peaked into regret yet, the mission as a whole was entirely worthwhile, after all, and some psychological sacrifices were expected of anyone, but they would certainly rather have missed this exact situation.
It would be a lot easier to politely withdraw if Valcen wasn't so deceptively easy to talk to, both in a linguistic sense and in the sense that he was clearly a rational agent.
How did someone rationalise their way into... this, though?
"They're not even armed," Jason pointed out, still sounding deceptive calm. "And we have our instructions to avoid aggression at all costs. They'll know just as well as we do to make doubly sure whether or not they're being attacked before they attempt to defend themselves," he reassured her, though indifferent to whether it was, in fact, reassuring or not.
He stared across at the small gaggle of sophonts off to his left.
"You'd think this would be clear-cut," he mused to Saira. "Wash our hands of it, leave. But it's not easy, is it? He's not rude. I get the impression he's genuinely terrified of this... Karesajat? Fear makes people do some strange things. Where do we draw the line? Is a... metaphorical hacked-off limb too much in... a war? Is it a war? It feels like one. Maybe one that's almost over."
[23:00] By now, Saira had a nice little pile of torn up grass and the area within her immediately reach was denuded. She continued to play with her poor plant matter while Jason spoke. His guess was as good as hers, but she was glad that he was at least thinking through the possibility of the others getting hurt in this hunt of the Nayabaru. Frowning, she picked up the blades of grass and then let them float to the ground again. "I don't know. Anything we do or don't do has vast implications for everyone else on Earth. We were a survery team, not a god damned diplomatic corps." She spoke with a little resentment of the situation, even though there was no way of knowing there would be intelligent life on Nekenalos. Mission control had prepared them for every scenario they could think of. It wasn't their fault that sentient dinosaur people were not on the list of contigencies. "I don't think we're gonna be given a chance to go back to the lander to contact control."
[23:13] "Never a good idea to pick the losing side of a war," Jason pointed out, gently, although despite his suit hiding the subtleties of his body language and his tone remaining as measured as ever, it seemed obvious that it was tempting to him to pick it. Reckless. Foolhardy. Unprofessional. But tempting.
"Reckon it's any different somewhere else on this planet?" he asked, softly, still staring across at the place where Valcen was now fussing slightly over the limp captive's feathers and the Nayabaru was finally leaving them alone.
What was going to happen? Was he going to unpack another one of those 'Imitorunyemas' and mutilate the sedated kavkem's mind as well? It would certainly be easy for him to do.
It was eerie watching how friendly and submissive Nadani clearly was around him – almost like a lost little child quietly hoping for guidance. They didn't need language to understand that.
[20:09] "I -want- it to be different elsewhere, but I get the feeling that it's not," she replied quietly after a couple of moments of thought. Valcen had said that the kavkema were nearly extinct. And the Nayabaru seemed intent on helping them along, rather than trying to steward them to a better life. At least if the aftermath of the deployment of the 'Imitorunyemas' were to be considered. She frowned to herself, still trying to puzzle everything out. "It seems rather one sided. And that we have no choice but to side with them, however temporarily. Everything Valcen's said could just be a trap."
[21:19] Jason smiled wrily. That ought to be his line – the paranoid interpretation. The problem he'd been running into had been that he couldn't figure out what the trap would be for, unless this local snapshot was a grand theatre meant to convince them that siding with the kavkema was suicidal, when in reality the whole conflict was more balanced.
After all, if it was more mundane than that, if it was simply about putting them into a cage, or harming them, then they'd had plenty of opportunity to do so already. And there was only so much the crew could tell the Nayabaru about Earth that would somehow tip the scales between the cultures in such a fashion that the Nayabaru could invade, like in a bad science-fiction flick.
"Problem is, I can't seem to figure out what kind of trap that might be. What've you got in mind?" he asked, softly, encouragingly. He felt much calmer now that his audience was only Saira, now that he didn't need to keep more than the thinnest facade of professionalism.
[21:29] Frustrated with everything, she just threw a handful of ripped up grass ahead of her. It was nothing more than an empty gesture that was meant to purge some of this feeling of running in place. "I don't know," she admitted. It wasn't much, but her mind had been trying to work out the whole situation since they encountered the message Valcen had left for them. "If what Valcen has said is true," she began, knowing that it went unsaid that they couldn't fully trust Valcen. "Then this might just be a whole coincidence, besides this supposedly moving of this planet into Earth's orbit. We might be nothing than interlopers who would best stay out of it. I guess we won't know until we meet this Karesajat, who is apparently 'designed' to be terrifying. What a lovely prospect," Saira finished with a bit of sarcasm to ease her tension.
[21:40] Jason turned to squint at Saira through his visor – a strange, ambiguous expression. Then: "She's supposed to be a weapon, right?" he mused, rhetorically. "So... she's the equivalent of a decorative dagger, which can certainly cut and stab you, but is, at the end of the day, not optimised for cutting and stabbing – it's optimised to look impressive."
He paused as though contemplating how to summarise the whole thing, but did not take his eyes off Saira. Then a motion like half a nod tipped him back into speech: "I choose to tentatively find the promise of an intimidating appearance a good sign. Mind you, I'm sure my gut will disagree – but the theory helps."
[22:46] "I guess." Despite her willingness to cling to his theory, she did not sound convinced by it. Something that mobilized what was supposedly a less intelligent race into dominating the original apex of the world seemed more than decorative. That same something that was supposedly dominating Valcen's actions. Orchestrating everything except perhaps the movement of the planet. Or was that giving this 'her' too much credit? This was far more than the crew had bargained for, and now they were having to sort out potentially world-shattering decisions while practically being strong armed into without any input from mission control. It was a daunting prospect. "Hey, let's hope we just don't fuck everything up," she quipped with a somewhat forced laugh that quickly turned into a groan. "It's like playing chess when you can only see the corner of the board because everything else is somehow obscurred."
[23:05] "I feel reassured about our chances already," Jason retorted in black humour. Again one hand went up to press against the back of his neck and he leant into it a little, tilting his head back to glance up at the canopy of the trees.
A Nayabaru was shuffling over to them. They looked vaguely intimidating by merit of being taller and weighing more than a human, the same way a buffalo might look indimidating. The strange tattoo-like markings on their bodies didn't help. But nonetheless, they had fairly narrow, fragile-looking heads – a bit like a misshapen equine. It was hard to think of them as the threat.
On the other hand, if Valcen's implications were to be believed, it wasn't the Nayabaru who were the threat, not on their own.
Still, this one was coming toward them. Its demeanour was casual, but that in itself seemed vaguely threatening in the context Valcen had given them. These creatures had nothing to fear – not even of those they felt fear of.
It stopped at an arm's length distance to Jason and Saira, then gestured to the ceratopsian in their immediate vicinity, opened its mouth, and rumbled something that was, regrettably, still effectively unintelligible to Saira except by provided context. They were probably being asked to get up onto their respective steeds and move.
That made sense. The hunters were probably a while further ahead by now and needed catching up to. There was no use increasing the distance between the hunters and the rest of the party, after all. That basic strategy made sense even on Nekenalos, providing a flimsy common narrative for them to embrace.
[19:14] Her reply was half snort, half chuckle, because she felt that gallows' humour quite well herself. It seemed the only reasonable response to this entire situation. Greg and Samanta might feel differently if they could find them. She did not say anything more, her mind falling into the oubliette of trying to make sense of everything. It was a maze to navigate, and none of them were prepared for this eventuality. The Nayabaru that neared them had gained a new malicious caul about them, their motives and actions colouring her opinion of them more thoroughly than previously. Now that they were aware of the brutality of this world, it was hard to ignore. But she did as it gestured, abandoning her ripped up grass and got to her feet with a lurching groan. With a toggle on her wrist panel, she reopened the outside comms. "Guess we saddle up now," she said to Jason.
[22:25] Unaware of the conversation they'd been having, the Nayabaru leant forward and down, offering its arms and hands as a stairway for her to ascend the ceratopsian. Accommodating. Kind, perhaps – but why wouldn't they be, if they wanted their alien visitors' help? Who wouldn't be friendly to newcomers, within the framework of their own societal structures?
Jason sighed, softly enough that it was easily missed, then said: "Guess so." A pause. "Continue talking while we move? Should have privacy if we hang back a bit." In theory. But if they hung back a bit, they should be able to switch back to private comms without that anyone took particular notice of it.
And then he was off to the next-nearest of the beasts of burden, cleaning off debris from his suit from the time he'd been sitting, only belatedly realising that there really was no real way to wipe his gloves. He shrugged at an invisible audience, rolled his eyes, and accepted that he'd at least spread it around a little.
[22:41] Despite her feelings about the Nayabaru, now coloured by witnessing the trauma inflicted on the poor kavkema, she managed a smile and an audible 'thank you' to the one who was gonna boost her up onto the beast of burden. She was careful about not putting too much of a burden on the Nayabaru as it heaved her into the saddle. Once situated, she took stock of the situation at hand. A quick toggle of their comms back to internal, they should be able to speak in relative privacy. "Samanta might have a guess at how good their hearing might be," she said wistfully in response to the idea of them hanging back and talking through everything. "At any rate, I guess we're like leaves in a stream, following the current until we get stuck on a stick or rock or something." It wasn't the greatest analogy but illustrated their helplessness in the current moment. "Think if we tried to run we'd get very far?" The prospect was not one she would be looking forward to.
[22:52] Once she was seated, the Nayabaru nodded at her, ran its hand along the beast's neck in a brief gesture, then moved to help Jason up into his saddle, cutting his somewhat awkward wiggling short without comment or complaint.
It took until Jason was seated and the Nayabaru collecting the other steeds (as well as reluctantly picking up Valcen and plopping him onto the same creature that was presently holding the sedated kavkem) for Jason to actually answer. "I think that would hurt us more than it would help," he said, not yet bothering to switch to private comms.
He watched the Nayabaru begin to lead the ceratopsians that had originally been nibbling at the bushes a bit further ahead forward. The ones that Saira and Jason sat on followed without being chained to the others, following some unspoken beckon. For that matter, how would they 'hang back a bit'? How did one steer these things enough to slow them down for a short while?