Smoke And Mirrors
[23:43] It was some sort of curious telephone-like device! The dawning came to her as it was lifted to her ear. Whatever amazement she might have felt at this revelation was dashed in a second by the recording that played. Her eyes widened like saucers the longer the message went on. Finally, when her eyes could not widened any further and the message finished, she turned to look at Samanta to the best of her ability given the contamination suit's limited helmet view. Saira had all the appearances of one who has met their great grandmother's ghost unexpectly. Mouth slightly agape, she blinked once, twice and tried to clear the haze of surprise from her mind and features. Knowing that an explanation needed to be forthcoming, she fumbled for words. "It was in English!" she blurted out like this was the only thing that she could say. Processing not only those details but the contents of the message was a difficulty that was steeped in sluggishness. Turning back to the Nayabaru, she gestured a few times mostly nonsensical impatience. "Who is Valcen?" Not that she expected any answer that she could understand.
[00:00] Whether Samanta had heard enough of the syllables to draw the conclusion herself or not, her facial expression, inasmuch as it was visible at the angle Saira was looking at her from, certainly suggested as much, already scrunched up before Saira's explanation, darkening considerably a moment after.
"What's being played here?" she asks, her tone calmer than she otherwise looks, spoken as with authority. Her gaze drifts to Jason as though accusing him of being in on the hypothetical scheme, though it doesn't linger long enough to turn into a serious insult, instead swerving as a frightened glare across to the crouching Nayabaru. "Is this some kind of charade?"
The Nayabaru snapped its head to the side – perhaps ensuring that it had all humans in view of one eye. Some single, low note escapes it, tone impossible to tell; it could be anything from an indignant dismissal to a request for apology that it did not understand.
Back near the door, another of the creatures had lingered since their arrival, now tightening its grip on the spear-like weapon in its hand, evidently perturbed by the sudden tension. Watching.
"What did the message say?" Samanta asked, her voice an obvious patchwork, born of her attempts to keep it from fracturing. She was keeping herself very straight now, resisting the urge to do anything with her arms that might be considered some kind of gesture, or a sign that she was unwell.
[00:16] Samanta had the right idea, though Saira hadn't immediately jumped onto that idea just yet. SHe was trying to process the message that she had just heard. "Can I hear it again?" Though there was no reason to suggest that they could play it again. Still, if it was recorded, maybe there was a chance they could. Glancing back to Samanta, she tried to recall what she had heard, surprise washing away much of the real points. "This person who recorded the message, Valcen, said that we were expected. That they would be coming to this settlement to speak with us. Not human, or Nayabaru, or um... kavkem." So there was no telling what that meant exactly. THe nerves were hitting her strong. Not human, but knew English and was coming to speak with them in person. A shudder ran down her spine and all over as she tried to fathom what exactly hidden fourth option there could be. "That's all there was." She turned her attention back to their hosts, swallowing hard against the lump in her throat. This was all very unsettling.
[00:28] It was Samanta that converted Saira's request into a sudden, curt gesture, raising both hands, touching them to each other with a soft smack, then describing a circle with the motion of her right hand, while staring at the crouching Nayabaru intently, as though it had all the answers and was only withholding them out of spite.
The creature eyed them a little longer, perhaps trying to make sure that it was understanding – or perhaps simply not understanding. She repeated the gesture – that did the trick, although whether through understanding or coincidence was anyone's guess.
Without quite returning to its stereoscopic glance at Saira from before and thus not perfectly well-coordinated with the mechanical tool, the Nayabaru used one hand on the cogs while holding the 'speaker' to Saira, more awkward than before.
[00:29] "Welcome, travellers," the message repeated. "This is a pre-recorded message. Please do not be alarmed." It continued as before, unfaltering, suspended somewhere between appearing unspeakably naive and unintentionally, starkly threatening.
[00:38] Samanta's sign language seemed to get the point across to the Nayabaru. That was an interesting fact to remember that maybe gestures and sign language would bridge the gap to understanding in the future. The message began to replay in moments. Saira began to repeat it as she heard it. "Welcome, travellers..." The foreign words of 'Nayabaru' and 'kavkem' took a bit of tongue wrangling, but she managed in the end. Lifting her hand to the front of her face plate, she drew it away in a measured gesture. "Thank you." Eyes turned back to Samanta and Jason, looking between them with quiet apprehension that she was visibly trying to hide to the best of her abilities.
[00:59] "Fuck that," Samanta said, softly, folding her hands, pressing her fingers against her gloves with exaggerated force as though using the respective other hand as a means for the other to hold on. A grip on reality. Whatever reality meant, given the unfolding events. "Does 'staying put' sound like a good idea to either of you?" she polled, warily.
Then, more tensely: "Saira, this- this thing. This isn't an English proficiency a local could attain in a year of analysing radio spill, is it?" Sternly but with a tiny thread of doubt, she appended her own assessment: "No way."
[21:59] Samanta's first question seemed more rhetorical than requiring an answer said aloud. It did not seem like a good idea that they just 'stay put'. But the real question about that was whether or not they would be allowed to leave. There was no telling if these Nayabaru were given instructions by this Valcen to keep them there. If they were, they were greatly outweighed by the strange creatures. Twinges of nervous energy began to flutter through her at the thought that they might have to force their way out of this village. There was no way they could outrun them, judging from their differences in physiology. It was more not great news to deliver to Samanta as to her second question. Her expression was thoughtfully concerned, but also troubled, as if the entire mission had just veered into less than expected territory by this English message. Saira shook her head in the suit. "No. The accent is strange and the inflections are good, but the actual word choice, the sentence structure, hell, the way verbs are conjugated... This is a mastery that suggests longer exposure, and practice." Which was not the best answer for the team, at least insofar as how long had they been observed.
[22:10] Jason's hand drifted towards his pocket, though his expression remained carefully neutral throughout all these revelations. His glance at the device was cursory, but the examination of the building was rather more thorough. "Pre-recorded. It could have been recorded millenia ago."
[22:13] "I don't need to be a linguist to know that English didn't sound anything like that millennia ago," Samanta disagreed, her tone struggling not to be venomous – it wasn't Jason's fault they were being manipulated right now. They'd walked into this. She turned her attention back to Saira, the motion smooth, rather unlike the underlying emotion. "Is it a third species?" Samanta asked, her eyes still narrowed in suspicion. "You could hear it more clearly," she observed, articulating herself slowly, as though making sure every word she picked was as accurate as possible. "Did it sound like one of these... Mayabaroo? Or was it something else?"
[22:19] Samanta was quick to put Jason's notion to rest, so Saira didn't have to. It was modern English. Which was perhaps even more frightening, the command of the langauge was great. Frowning inside her helmet, she nodded again and then verbalized, in case one or both of them coudln't see the motion. "Yes. Valcen, whomever it is, said that they were neither human, Nayabaru or uh, kavkem." The same concernation on her features twisted them in thought. "So this is an entirely new... personage altogether." She turned bodily towards their hosts, asking, "Nayabaru?" and pointing at them, trying to mimic Valcen's intonations on the recorded message to get the label right.
[22:48] Jason kicked at the floor lightly, then thought better of it. "That really only leaves them seeing us coming in our ship, you know. Direct observation or some form of advanced detection technology. We might be more outclassed than we were thinking at this rate."
[22:54] As Saira addressed the creatures, a curt, almost frightfully loud sound spills from the closest of the alien bipeds, booming, its eyes widening as though lighting up. Its nostrils flare, lips moving almost as though to purse. A confirmation? It raised its muzzle in a gesture that seemed almost proud, then whisked it to the side, toward the one standing in the door, as though to indicate its companion. It settled on its attention evenly split between the other Nayabaru and the humans as a rumbling conversation ensued.
"Yeah?" Samanta remains sceptical. "Some kind of artificial intelligence that has a perfect grasp of grammar because of a couple of examples, plus minus the aforementioned radio spill?" She bristles at the absurdity of it – although even as the gesture completes, she finds herself frowning. What alternative explanations were there? But it left a sour taste in her mouth.
"I don't understand any of this," she hisses. "This entire planet wasn't here a year ago. We still don't know what brought it here," she reminds, only noticing in hindsight that she was elevating her voice and fighting to keep it back down. "I get the impression we need to figure that out, and quickly."
[23:00] The idea that it was advanced technology was positively frightening. Learning the language that quickly, perfecting it really, and then telling them to wait. Malevolence wouldn't have waited, wouldn't have prepared them, but maybe this was more calculating. All speculation at the moment, but like Samanta and Jason, she was uneasy about this entire situation. Schooling the frown from her features while the maybe-Nayabaru? made this display as she labeled it. For all its gestures and vocalizations, it didn't react in a way that seemed negative. Its alien features were difficult to read, but she assumed that if the guess was wrong, that there would have been a different reaction than this one. So for the moment, in her mind, this was a 'Nayabaru', which left the kavkem unknown quantities, but hopefully friendly? No way of knowing what the dichotomy was like on this strange planet. "So what's the plan?" No way of knowing how long this Valcen would take to arrive, if they even wanted to wait there for them at all. Still holding the device in one hand, she offered it back to the Nayabaru now that it seemed that they were through with it, for the time being. Unless one of the others of her party wanted to listen to the message, but they both seemed to accept Saira's paraphrasing.
[23:03] Jason finally came to a decision. "The plan? We wait." He nodded to the creatures. "If they're at a greater technology level than we are, then running won't mean anything but—" He bit off the last two words he originally was to speak, adding a slightly delayed and off-beat, "—annoying them."
[23:09] "I know Greg has details about the trajectory this planet took through the solar system. I mean, we've all seen it, but he worked out the invisible forces that brought it into its current orbit. If he were here and confronted with this evidence..." she trailed off, then shook her head in irritation.
"If this is an artificial intelligence," she said. "Maybe it brought the planet here and maybe it moved it into its current orbit, both, explaining why the planet appeared, explaining the unnatural 'settling' of its orbit, explaining the English recording, being a fully general explanation for anything..." – she grit her teeth, knowing full well 'fully general explanation' was at best sarcastic, at worst a crippling blow to any confidence they might have – "...in which case this is technology way, way past our imagination." She exhaled sharply.
[23:10] "We feeling nice and superior to the tech we've seen so far? That lulling us into security? This a charade?" she asked, half angrily, half helplessly. "We need to figure this out, because if it's a charade, we better find out what it's for, or we're toast."
[23:25] The current hypothesis was a terrifying one, to say the least. That they might have been lured in by the pastoral scenes and the low technology, only to be whammied by suddenly unexplained, potentially extremely advanced tech... Another tiny shudder ran through Saira's body. For all that she tried to put on a brave face, she was still frightened. Of course, there was the job to do, despite whatever terrifying possibilities there were. Mustering the brave face and its accompanying bravado, she tried again with the Nayabaru. "Who, or what, is Valcen?" The words were naturally in English, and the concepts of 'who' or 'what' were advanced beyond what minimal communication they had with these creatures. "How long do we wait?" She tried to gesture, by pointing to the earth (or floor) beneath them, but knew that this too was far beyond their current communication. With an audible sigh heard over their comms, she tried something else altogether. "Saira." And this time, tapped her suit where her heart would be beneath. A sweeping gesture was to indicate, "Samanta." And then one to their companion, "Jason." Names could help. This was really only a stop gap measure to spend time on while they waited, being so far from their base camp.
[23:43] At Saira's more complex attempts to communicate, more low, rumbling, washed out sounds spilled from the Nayabaru closest to Saira. In a cautious seeming gesture, it reached forward with one hand, then stroked its three central digits across the ground.
Was it asking them to simply wait, or did the gesture mean something completely different in their culture? Had it misunderstood the question? Maybe it thought that she was asking about what Valcen was planning and had simply tried to indicate what she already knew? After all, it clearly didn't understand English, so the pre-recorded message likely wasn't— oh.
[23:44] Across Saira's attempts to identify the whole crew, Samanta throws an almost barked interruption: "The message. Saira, the message is not intelligible to the Nayabaru and I am getting the impression they may not know what it says. If that's intentional — why would that be?" Her gaze was locked on the closest Nayabaru, who had settled into a posture much like sitting on its heels, its palms loosely rested on its thighs, its expression almost surely one of curiosity.
[23:57] The Nayabaru's gesture could have been taken to wait, reinforcing what Valcen had said on the message. Or it could have meant something altogether, which was thusfar unintelligible to the trio of humans who had made contact. Still, she was curious if she could establish some sort of communications, or even just the various labels for the immediate people. There was no telling how long they were going to wait, and escape was unlikely, as Jason had suggested. Which left them with few options. Saira hunkered down on her haunches as much as she could due to the restrictions of the contamination suit. "They might not know what it said, but they were clearly instructed, presumably by this Valcen, to bring us here and to play it for us. They went through a lot of effort to bring us out here. You assume it was intentional, but it might have only been coincidence. They might not be able to acquire a totally alien language as quickly as Valcen, though that may not be through lack of trying. There's no way to know. They might be instructed to silence and feigning ignorance." Which was also a puzzle of 'why'? She tried again, though. Tapping her chest, "Saira." And then pointed again to their host.
[00:06] The Nayabaru near the phone device in its squat did not react immediately – perhaps trying to puzzle out whether it had heard these vocalisations earlier. Then, dutifully, it touched the top of its muzzle and repeated: "Ah-kah-na." So it was called 'Akana' or something much like it, then? Or it had made the same error as earlier.
"Can you— do you know how to ask if we can get out of here? I'd like to— I'd like to at least talk outside. Walk around, fresh air..." – ...feel less vulnerable... – "...brainstorm together," Samanta commented, her breath jittering across the phrases. Then, as if already sure the answer would be in the negative, her gaze bore into Akana and she clapped her hands once to get its attention. Her lips trap her tongue for a moment, then she cups her hands, raising them as if scooping something out of midair, before extending her arms sideways and forward, toward the door, then depositing the imagined substance what she hoped was 'outside'. Again, the gesture, this time beginning first with a fist pressed against her chest.
[00:09] Jason watched the interplay with interest, though only for the brief moments Saira was gesturing. His true interest was in their reactions, or lack of same. They certainly did not seem to believe them to be a threat at this point, though he was struggling to paint the visual clues of these aliens into a coherent picture, a threat assessment, like he had done so often in the past. Frustration was mounting, and it needed an escape before the entire team found themselves at each other's throats and not the enemy's.
[00:14] It was with a thrill of progress that she received this label from the Nayabaru. Ahkahna, Akana, wide open Ah sounds strung together in a lovely name, if that's what it was telling her. For all she knew, it was labeling its snout as 'Akana' and she had just learned the word for 'nose'. Samanta's concern was bleeding into her voice over the comms, not that she could be blamed for that. This was a tense, somewhat scary situation that they found themselves in and they had no way of knowing if they'd even see their camp again. Smiling with a closed mouth (as the baring of teeth was a sign of aggression in many Terran species), she nodded. "Ahkahna." Pointing to the Nayabaru again, she acknowledged the name with as much of the same inflection as it had shown her. "I think 'outside' is a big concept at the moment." Rising from her crouched position, she gestured to the door. "May we?" And she took slow steps towards the door with the intent of passing over the threshold to go out, unless she was barred.
[00:34] For a moment, it seemed as though she might be met with resistence, with the other Nayabaru's posture and facial expression tensing and raising the spear-like implement only slightly but unmistakably. Then the tension bled back out of it – perhaps it had been unsure if she had wanted to attack – and it addressed its companion with a few curt words, even as it reluctantly pressed itself to the side of the doorframe to make room for Saira.
One hand reached toward the other Nayabaru and curled a few of the fingers – their native beckoning gesture? But the creature tipped its muzzle down, then twisted itself into a rise. A long moment later, it was reaching toward the trunk-like furniture they had noticed earlier and slipped out a tube with a loop of rope, handing it to the guardian while it let its attention track the humans as they cautiously filed out of the room. The guardian Nayabaru shook the tube, causing a warm light spilled from it; the loop of rope attached to it was slipped over the hook on the its weapon, making the crude lamp dangle from the dangerous looking contraption.
[00:35] Samanta closed her eyes as she passed the guardian, as though blotting out her vision would make the danger of these foreign creatures go away. They haven't harmed you yet, her thoughts insisted. Why would they start now? But the answer was obvious: Because they were trying to leave. She certainly shouldn't be ruling her paranoia out just yet.
[00:43] When it appeared that the Nayabaru were indeed going to block them from exiting the hut, everyone in the room seemed to tense up. Was it going to lead to a fight or the realization that they were indeed prisoners? But it melted away within moments as Ahkahna, as she assumed it was called, said something in its native tongue to its companion. Pausing in the doorway, she turned and bowed slightly to Ahkahna. "Thank you." She even made the gesture in American sign language of thank you, lifting her right hand to her chin area as she spoke. Then whirled around again and headed outside into the falling night (or fallen night). They were accompanied by their chaperone. "I don't think we can make a run for it, if we wanted to." Judging from their physiology, the Nayabaru would run them down faster than their encumbered and puny legs could carry them. "For the moment, probably best if we stay put and complacent." Which meant not trying to hide in their bulky suits somewhere in the surrounding woods.
[01:06] The guardian, no doubt oblivious to Saira's words, nonetheless seemed to react in agreement, picking itself up from its slouch against the doorframe and, using the crooked trident-spear much like a walking stick or third leg, moved gradually and smoothly to follow them outside.
The light dangling from the weapon failed to make a difference in the current environment, so close to the strange light contraption near-central to the small cluster of buildings, but clearly served some purpose. Perhaps these 'Nayabaru' had the opposite superstition of the creatures they had met before – the kavkema? It seemed likely those had been what Valcen had referred to as 'kavkema', although they had no certainty about that (and, given his warning, perhaps no desire to find out) – given how the appearance of the Nayabaru had instantly spooked them, there was clearly strife between the species, or at least a large social divide.
[01:07] Samanta, at least, felt better once she stepped out of the building. The idea of simply being followed was much easier to swallow. Out here, her instincts assured her that she could flee if she really had to. It was enough to calm her racing mind back into a functioning state.
"Looks like we've got a body guard," she offered half-heartedly, her best-case guess for the guardian's intentions. There were darker thoughts there as well, but they simply weren't as overwhelming as her fears while they had been inside.
"Let's... pace around the proverbial block," she suggested, exhaling less tensely now, her tone less on edge than it had been just moments before and in the process of losing the last of its unpleasant sting. "Sort our thoughts."
[17:07] Jason took the moment afforded to examine the light device as they passed. It seemed ill suited to the task, or at least poorly adapted. That there could be this technology dichotomy troubled him, almost as though the low tech was a charade, a deception, a mask to lure the unwary. The implications were vast... and the pistol in his pocket was rapidly being out-classed by the unknown. Sorting thoughts
wasn't helping much. He followed the others just a half step behind, still watching everything as they walked around the proverbial and literal block. "I actually consider this a positive. If there's someone here who speaks English, we might actually get answers to our questions that we can understand." The darker thoughts he didn't share. Everyone would have to slay their own inner demons, for now.
[21:55] That was undoubtably true. As much as she valued Saira's thoughts, needing to have a xenolinguist certainly slowed them down. But it was also true that even if they did meet this 'Valcen' and they did not prove an immediate threat, Samanta would value Saira's contributions to the utmost, to help them determine when they were being misled.
[21:56] But the fact that it was Jason making the upbeat comment, when he was usually one to suggest caution, did much to help soothe Samanta's heart down to a manageable rhythm. "I'm really concerned," she said, sounding significantly more rational. "As to where that English proficiency is from. What options are there?
"One, Valcen's kind, whatever it may be, might have a better intuitive grasp of language, letting them rapidly learn from the radio spill, in which case we have nothing to worry about other than there being a third sapient species with recognisable language on this planet, which is... shall we say, beginning to approach implausibility."
A sharp exhale. "Two, Valcen is an artificial intelligence trained to mimick language, with that singular focus, and meant as an interface with us – in which case giving us information that should purportedly stay hidden from the Nayabaru is a red herring, designed to win our trust.
"Three, Valcen or his kind have had contact with humans before, but for some reason chosen not to reveal their presence than, but are revealing their presence now.
"...or four, Valcen is a human being that came here a year ago on an undisclosed space mission, though I genuinely struggle to see why anyone would have had advance notice of the planet's appearance or a significantly faster start at getting an expedition – even a single person expedition – off the ground.
"Valcen then managed to familiarise themselves with the local languages quickly enough to gain some authority with the Nayabaru, but somehow failed to mention that they are a human being—" She stopped abruptly, turning to Saira, creasing her suit's neck in the process. "Saira, the voice you heard? Could it plausibly be human?"
[22:24] The trio all seemed to relax noticeably after they were out in the open. Whether this was due to the enclosed space and sudden traumatic claustrophobia striking, or simply assuaging the flight response tickling in their lizard brains didn't seem to matter. Tensions eased somewhat, though none of them could truly relax. Saira was quiet while the other two spoke. Their bodyguard and his ill equipped light source trailed along with them, but did not impede them while they made their rounds of the little village. While Samanta spoke, she glanced down at the display on her suit to check for her oxygen supply, ever reminding herself that remaining calm would slow the depletion of their stores. (Wait, they were running some sort of filtration and mixing, rather than straight up walking around with tanks on their back, weren't they? Either way, she hoped that Valcen would appear before they were in the red.) Samanta listed out the various possibilities of the puzzle of Valcen as they strolled. They seemed to grow progressively stranger (and more dangerous) and she hoped that they weren't so far in over their heads that they would drown on this alien world. When the conversation turned to a direct question, she glanced towards their leader, likewise drawing to a stop. Her silence then turned thoughtful as she considered the recording. "There was some distortion, though whether that was from the playback or the recording, I couldn't say. It had a weird effect on the voice, but could have likewise warped a human's voice, if Valcen is indeed human. You ever hear old vinyl records and the staticy sound? A little bit of that, but also a strange quality to the actual words. It didn't sound entirely human, but there's enough margin of error on that that it could have been the methods of recording and playback." She gave Samanta a helpless, somewhat muted shrug due to the bulk of her contamination suit. "Not very helpful, I'm sorry." A frown creased her features at that, and a sigh could be heard over their comms.
[23:23] Jason pondered the four options listed out by Samanta, then listened intently to Saira's analysis. "Militarily, there's advantages in revealing a minimum of your forces or information for as long as possible. However, short of gaining our trust, it makes no sense militarily to have an English recording for us at this point. It reveals a capability that could have been better concealed. To me, it indicates a non-military mind at work, not one that is looking for every tactical advantage at the start. So, score one for the less hazardous options. On the opposite end, anticipating English in particular shows a certain amount of knowledge as to the likely groups to arrive, as opposed to, say, Chinese or French or some other language. Lucky guess, or sheer quantity? I don't know, but it indicates a certain amount of observation in some measure or other. Whatever that measure is." He smiled behind his faceplate. "Of course, we've been blathering English at them since we arrived, so picking the language would have been easy, if done in the few hours since we landed."
[23:46] A weird effect on the voice seemed such a strange thing for them to say, given the dual audio their own voices currently typically came in – one that made it through the filters with a bit of muffling, one crisp version whose intuitive credibility suffered from its misplaced location.
And then there was Jason's attempt at placating their fears – being reasonable, so very reasonable. "And English is still the most globally dispersed language," Samanta muttered in amendment. "More Chinese speakers, but most of those in one compact place." She glanced to Saira for a moment with an expression that briefly flashed helplessness – 'back me up here, please', perhaps – before settling back down. "You say we can't rule out that Valcen is a human. What about the Nayabaru, or the maniraptora we met – these 'kavkem'?" she asked, stubbornly, somehow more afraid of the option that a human being might have beaten them to first contact with this world entirely without ESA's knowledge, than of the other options she'd come up with previously. "Could Valcen be one of those, despite his claims?"
[12:57] No useful answer came to mind for Samanta's question; it was unknown and unknowable in their present circumstances. "This Valcen could be a, a... what's that Star Wars creature? Covered in fur and speaks only in growls?" A pause, then a sheepish, "Never mind, couldn't be that one. Anyway, no telling what this Valcen is at this point. Could be anything."
[22:51] There was a nagging sense of the obvious that they were missing something very obvious about this recording. Again, nervous check of her filters on her suit, though she had done so less than ten minutes ago. "It's possible that... this Valcen has been listening to Earth radio broadcasts for several years before this planet ever came into our orbit," Saira hypothesized. Humans had been broadcasting radio into space for well over a century. Anything out there could have been listening. Though, the exact statistics of just how prolific English was compared to the saturation of other languages was unknown exactly. "We know that at least that both species appear to have a language that can be conveyed in word-sounds, rather than just animal growls or other forms of communication." She glanced at Jason to the restriction of her suit and gave him a faint smile as he mentioned Chewbacca. "So it is possible that Valcen could be either. Possibly Nayabaru, if he's cautioning us to stay away from the others. Some sort of territory dispute or other conflict could be the reason."
[23:11] So the distortion had been sufficient that Saira was unwilling to rule out the deeply intoned vocalisations of the Nayabaru as the cause and similarly unwilling to rule out the more mid-range sounds they had heard from the maniraptora. That seemed like a larger range than was reasonable to attribute to noise – but Samanta had to admit she wasn't the linguist. If anyone knew about vocalisations, it was Saira.
[23:12] "So that's option... five?" Samanta exhaled, trying to keep track of the theories in her head. "The planet was previously in a range that let it pick up radio spill from the past hundred-forty, -fifty odd years." She considered how uncomfortably specific that was for a moment, then caught herself pining for as much as a first guess for where the planet had even appeared from, and wanting to abuse the theory for that purpose. Her mind spun up additional excuses. "I mean, let's think about the energy requirements to move an entire planet for a second," she mused aloud, though her tone betrayed how half-heartedly the train of thought plodded along. "That probably means it didn't come from too far away. What systems do we know that are in a... fifty light year radius?" No answer to that question was going to help them with their 'Valcen' trouble, but maybe it was time to address the bigger questions, given the evidence they had so far.
[23:19] "Only ones I can think of that are in the Goldilocks zone are Proxima Centauri b, Wolf 1061c, and, um, Gliese— Gliese... 667 Cc. But I'm no astrocartographer." Jason shook his head, "But that... would imply engine or transportation tech that would be, uh, um..." Another sheepish look, "uh, out of this world."
[23:30] "Well, that's already given," Samanta mused. "Or do you think the planet was cloaked in a way that masked its gravitational effects? Maybe on an adjacent brane, same kind of solar system? Though if I were at all an alien species with the power to move objects between branes, I feel like it borders on reckless negligence to move it within a few thousand kilometres of another pl—" She stopped. The sudden pause seized not only her speech, but also her walking, nearly causing their quiet body guard to trip over her a moment later.
As she thawed out of the moment, she shook her head. "Sorry, I just—" she began, then stopped herselfto shake her head again. "For a moment I thought maybe the intention had been to smash the planets together, wipe both of our biospheres right out, but everything that's happened since, with the stabilising orbits and no further disruption, makes that fairly implausible... not to mention any creature capable of that cosmic nudge could probably just crack the planets open like a raw egg, anyway." She shrugged, as though she weren't discussing an apocalypse.
[00:00] Whether it was stress that had confused the linguist, or the mystery, or if the distortion on the line had been such to make everything appear tinny, she was almost as useless at the moment as she felt. She remained quiet for several minutes while Samanta continued to hypothesize the various theories about their current situation. None of them were great. When the conversation took a sharp veer into astrological neighbours, she could only listen. Not exactly her field of expertise, though she could follow along with the conversation reasonably well. Samanta's doomsdaying brought out a shiver. "All these unknowns are nerve wracking." Just how long would they have to wait for Valcen, anyhow? "If someone was trying to smash the planets together, that would present another force at play, presumably not one that was on this planet when it made the journey? But if you have the technology to move planets like this, wouldn't it just be easier to Death Star blow them up than to smash them together? The amount of energy it must have taken..."
[00:08] Unless, unless... Samanta racked her brain for patterns in the satellite images as remembered. No use. Her memory wasn't nearly visual enough for her to conjure the photographs up from recollection alone. If there was anything in the face of the planet that gave a clue to how it had moved, the evidence was back in the capsule, with Greg and the others.
"What," Samanta said, interrupting her colleagues' train of thought as well as her own. "Can we do to minimise the danger from this Valcen person? We can radio the capsule and warn them to get ready to abandon ship and-or get the fuel extraction started so we can get back up to the ship. But what about the three of us? What are the threat vectors, what are the ways we can mitigate them? Physical, memetic, psychological?"
[00:19] "To minimize the danger to the mission, we would have a regular check-in with the capsule. If we fail to make a check-in, they take off, report back to the ESA, and allow further measures to be taken. To ourselves, don't allow any of us to be isolated from the others. Be prepared to fight or escape at any moment." He paused in his immediate analysis, then continued a little more slowly. "Before I address anything else, though, I need to address the biggest threat vector of all, the psychological. It's the one we do to ourselves, specifically, we become overwhelmed with possibilities and branching logic trees and theories and do nothing. Freeze due to information overload in the critical moment. Therefore, let's hold off on the big theories until we've managed to gather enough information to peg it down.
[00:24] "Continuing in that vein, the psychological strain of the unknown is going to take a toll, so we need to watch out for our own mental health. The vectors of attack from the outside include isolation, mental torment, and pretty much any traditional mentally breaking trigger, coupled with an absence of the familiar, since we're on an alien world.
[00:28] "Memetic attacks, disinformation campaigns, hiding important information in seemingly mundane, and mundance information in seemingly important communications. Just the fact that they handed us this recording is, itself, a form of memetic attack, even if it isn't intended to be; see how it's thrown off our entire center here? Hear everything, understand everything, but don't trust it until you know for sure. Physical... well, those are obvious, and the unknowns in that part really make no difference. I'd be more concerned about natural biological pathogens at this point than any direct physical attack. We're, for the moment, relatively safe. Let's use that time wisely."