§ 2021-06-26 21:14:24
[21:26] Between the sleeping rhythms of her kavkem friends and the perpetual trek, Samanta's body had lost all intuitive grasp of time. The times it was light didn't coincide with anything meaningful to her own biorhythm, more like the colours chosen for a simulation or a painting than anything of importance. There was a physiological sense of inconvenience in trying to sleep through daylight, but no more.
As such, when her in-suit communicator chimed to life, all she knew was that she'd been sleeping and it was unacceptable to be woken at such an hour. For a moment, the light was confusing – her mind struggled to slot it into either dawn or dusk, before remembering enough that it was, in fact, dusk.
The chime had not been an alarm. It was the equivalent of a ringing phone, although with no need to lift the receiver. A pleasant voice warbled into her ear: "Incoming message from ESA," followed by a less smoothly rendered playback: "Thank you for the telemetry and your reports, and your explorative spirit. We've discussed your situation and would presently strongly recommend you keep at least one crew member with the lander at all times. There will be another message reaching you at approximately fifteen hundred local hours."
She had access to a clock, of course – they were set to mission time, which they'd kept synchronised with Earth. They'd toyed with the idea of incorporating the offset – so that a message sent at a given time from Earth would arrive at the 'same' time on Nekenalos – but it didn't save them from having to convert in the other direction, and so they simply remained synced.
The time, too, didn't coincide with the local light at all. It was now eleven hundred hours and seventeen minutes.
The bigger question was what day this had been sent. No doubt the orbiter had immediately forwarded it to the lander, but when the lander didn't acknowledge, it would have tried instead to reach the ground crew. Evidently Samanta's suit was the first the orbiter had briefly managed to contact since it had given up on the lander; the first it managed to established a brief two-way connection with.
It would wait at least a few minutes between this message and the next, that much was clear. She could, if she was so inclined, find an open space and increase the chance that she'd hear the next one.
[21:58] The mere fact of receiving news from Earth — not even from her human companions on Nekenalos, but from old planet Earth — registered as an impossible fantasy, and intrusion of dream into the waking world, which was full of perfectly sensible everyday things like talking dinosaurs, brain-wiping robots, and god-killing spiders. Over the days, Samanta had felt herself regressing past the chattering diurnal world of primates into an older one, the creeping nocturnal world of proto-mammals scurrying at the feet of titan reptiles.
[21:59] (What a grossly stereotypical picture; Mesozoic mammals occupied a diversity of niches with a wide range of sizes and shapes, and some could actually prey on— Nevermind.)
She had almost felt herself balance her body with a stiff tail and scratch dirt off grimy feathers; now that message had jerked her back through the eons into her human body. Her omnivorous stomach constricted as a wave of regret for all she'd left behind on her home planet washed over her, her family and friends and home and city and studies, and that shaded corner of an old concrete building where she liked to sit in hot days, and of the pineapple pie they made in a certain bakery, and of a particular pond where she'd liked to watch tadpoles go their way; but, mercifully, a whole planet was simply too vast to be an object of regret.
She wiped tears from her nose before realizing they were there, and turned onto her back, fully aware that she would not go back to sleep. Would she manage to send back a reply? Probably not. Her suit's transmitter was not remotely as powerful as the orbiter's, and by now the orbiter was probably under the horizon already anyway. Still, she found herself very, very curious to hear the followup.
She rose, careful not to crush or step on the tangle of feathered legs and tails all around her. The sleep of the eternal runaways was not heavy, and some already stirred; maybe they had even heard the ring from inside her suit. "I shoul... go out", she said half-whispering.
[22:20] 'Out' was a tricky concept. They were somewhere in a forest and she could barely claim to have a sense of direction other than the one the slope of the mountain haphazardously provided. Finding the nearest reliable clearing, one that wasn't just a trick of the angle she was looking at the canopy from now, likely wasn't the easiest of tasks – nor lumbering toward it.
It was Athechelt who rose first, still with a slight limp, glancing at her with what was likely concern and confusion, in as much as that near-avian face told her anything. At least there was some minimal expressiveness to the lips; an actual beak wouldn't have been able to provide any.
Was it important to him to accompany her, or did he think it was time for all of them to move on? It was getting dark – but even her kavkem companion's sleep cycles were shot to hell by now, so that hardly meant as much as it used to. But as Athechelt made no effort to rouse the others, it seemed clear that he simply wished to accompany her, wherever she chose to go.
Assuming she had to wait for another revolution of the orbiter, how much time did that give her to find open ground? Approximately ninety minutes? Although if she missed that window, she could most likely simply try again, her travel companion's patience allowing. They might easily get skittish having to wait three hours, but maybe, just maybe, this was more important.
[23:13] Samanta knelt and, once again, drew a picture in the dirt. A faintly curved line for the ground, sketched trees at the sides, and an empty patch in the middle, at the summit. She patted the gap in the trees, and with the other hand she made the gesture of something domed, empty, and open.
Would Athechelt even realize what she was trying to do? They had to be few, the kavkema who had a grasp on telecommunication; and this was not a concept she could reliably explain with numbers and elementary words. She could certainly try, but there a miscommunication might be worse than no communication at all. Hopefully he would just trust her for the time needed.
Samanta was trembling on her feet, every trace of sleep washed away from her system. She was about to hear from ESA again, but only if she timed her movements exactly right... and in the meantime, she had to wait for the orbiter to turn completely around the whole planet. Never before had she felt she had simultaneously so little time and so long to wait.
[23:28] Communication with the kavkema was as frustrating as always – Athechelt looked at her drawing, then up at her face, at her body for clues of body language he couldn't even comprehend, then back at the drawing, in the universal gesture for 'what do you mean?'. Maybe it had been a mistake not to insist on going with the friendly translator, however crude the translation might have been.
Of course, there was at least one other translator out there, but even if they crossed paths again, there was no trusting those translations.
[00:00] Oh. Now what? Was it worth trying to go over the concept in another way, or should she just head out, and look for a clearing herself? She was strongly considering that, but something in the back of her mind kept reminding her of what a terrible, terrible idea that was.
Samanta gestured up, pointing broadly at the canopy of leaves all around. "The sky", she said, as if it would help, "I need to see the sky", and she did as if to part the foliage with her hands and peek through.
[00:20] Athechelt followed her gesture for a moment, looking up at the trees in what for a moment looked as though it were another manifestation of failed communication – then his eyes widened a little and, after glancing at the coarse drawing on the ground, perhaps to verify if he'd understood, he swerved his gaze through the landscape with purpose.
A whispered word roused the other two kavkema properly. Akuned yawned, revealing just how far her jaw could open if she willed it to, as though possessed by the spirit of a cat, then peeled herself off the ground and into a leisurely stand. Serademar was quicker on his feet, perhaps taking a beckon by a ryrhakenem more seriously.
Then Athechelt flicked his muzzle to the side in a generous arc, letting his shoulders follow the gesture, and took a step into the same direction, trying to prompt his human friend to follow.
[00:34] Samanta followed Athechelt between the trunks with immense relief, throwing only the slightest glance at the other kavkema who, still drowsy, followed. Her heart was hammering in her throat and her belly and behind her eyes; she had never been a particularly loud or expansive sort, but she'd have been surprised at how quiet and direct she could be despite her excitement.
A trill from Akuned warned Samanta that, of course, she'd left her backpack on the ground, when she had expected to rise alone. With a single liquid movement Samanta turned back on her steps, pulled up the backpack, swung it on her shoulders, and leapt again after Athechelt. Hopefully now he'd know exactly where to go.
[01:03] It was hard to be sure if Athechelt had understood and was leading her in the right direction. The more time went on, the more there was a nagging doubt suggesting that perhaps her feathered friends had not understood. There was no obvious clearing in sight in any direction, so how was she to gauge whether they were heading toward one?
It took them nearly half an hour of slow progression through the undergrowth to resolve the ambiguity – the trees abruptly opened up into a section of rocks, pebbles, shallow bushes and moss, half of the broad stretch soaked with trickling water.
With all the twists and turns their adventure had taken, was it perhaps possible this was a place further down the slope from the river that they'd crossed some time ago? On the one hand, it seemed unlikely – she couldn't remember crossing over it in the other direction – but further up this very slope was a thick of trees, which obscured how the landscape might look further upslope.
Regardless where the path had taken them, this was a clearing, just as she had asked.