Trail

§ 2020-12-30 00:04:37

Dread:

[00:23] It was hard to leave Greg behind with two kavkema, like a grave mistake being made. Athechelt was no happier, but of course communication with the kavkem was largely restricted to body language.

It would be dawn soon. Athechelt, while he was no longer a staunch adherent of the cosmology that had kept him and his people from avoiding sunlight, still preferred to be careful, that much had been communicated to her once before.

And so, having travelled about as far as her legs could take her and as long as Athechelt was willing to stay up, they began to settle down in a shadowed niche between lush trees for the night.

It gave her time to think, which was the last thing she likely needed right now. What could she do to improve the situation? Maybe it was time to try and return to the lander, signal ESA reliably, check on what ESA had sent them in the interim. Objectively, it'd been less than a week of elapsed time since they'd left the lander.

She was in the middle of pondering how to relay this idea when a kavkem came flitting through the trees.

It was hard to keep their markings apart, especially when they were in the middle of motion, but this one seemed unfamiliar. Regardless, they were beelining for Athechelt and her.

Concavenator:

[01:04] There was some peace in knowing that the decision had been made, that, whatever was happening on the other side, it was likely beyond her power to act. Some peace and much fear, but she could register only so much fear before it became background noise. (How she longed for the time when research grants were keeping her up in the night.) And yet, here she found a new occurrence could break through that noise with an altogether new jolt of fear.

She jumped to her feet, briefly grasping at the air as if she expected to find a weapon there. Not that there was likely any need. A messenger from the other group? An escapee from Nayabaru captivity? Evenatra, under a new form? (Unlikely, unfortunately... though for the first time in what felt like a long while Samanta had come to dread Evenatra's presence.)

She stepped in front of Athechelt, hoping that her upright stance, and with the suit augmenting her frame, would make her somewhat intimidating to a lone kavkem with ill intentions. "Who... who are you?" she muttered.

Dread:

[01:19] The kavkem did seem to be shooting her cautious glances even as it was approaching and as she stepped infront of Athechelt stopped and took a step back, still about three metres away from them, its outlines muted by the morning haze.

It was Athechelt that answered, although he hadn't understood Samanta's question, placing a paw loosely on her leg to gently get her attention. What he said sounded like "Serah de Mar".

The other kavkem took the opportunity to speak from a distance, marginally louder than was strictly customary for kavkema. Its head bobbed up and down a little as it did so, conveying some form of agitation or confusion. Athechelt responded with a tone more soothing than he likely felt.

Was this someone from Athechelt's group, then? If so, they were coming from an odd angle, although perhaps Samanta shouldn't be one to judge, given they were still mostly meandering into the opposite direction that they'd been travelling the past days.

Concavenator:

[01:50] Was that a name, or a statement, or a request to her? Whatever the case, Athechelt's reaction suggested he did know this one new kavkem, which was certainly comforting. Samanta kept discovering how frustrating her inability to talk to anyone was. She crouched back on the grass, ready to spring up once again should it be necessary, and waited for their conversation to end.

It came to her that, if this Serah-de-Mar was willing to be so quick and loud, then either they all were in desperate danger already, or the newcomer had reason to think there weren't Nayabaru around for a good distance. Hopefully the latter, and Athechelt's peaceful tone hinted that he thought so. She focused on Serah-de-Mar's face as they talked, hoping to glean some hint of their reaction to seeing her.

Dread:

[02:14] Eventually it became vaguely certain that the conversation included names she'd been introduced to: Rakashei, Kalina, Yanaru. It took some digging to remember more context – but they'd been three kavkema that had come to the group back when she was already travelling with them.

So this kavkem had been with them, sent them, perhaps, and was now asking where they had disappeared to, or whether they had ever arrived and been able to help. ...it had to be disconcerting to see Athechelt but not the rest of the group. No wonder the kavkema were so busy exchanging chatter.

At least this stranger had now crept closer, less intimidated by Samanta's presence. This kavkem had never seen a human before – that couldn't possibly be helping to calm it down.

Concavenator:

[02:41] Contrarily to her first tactic, she tried making herself small. She dipped her head and conspicuously stopped looking straight at their face — it must have been terribly rude of her. She considered attempting a grooming in the kavkem manner, but that would probably been far too forward for a second-hand friend, whose name she hadn't even fully grasped.

She took the opportunity to quietly check her backpack. She and Greg had quickly exchanged some supplies so that neither remained without anything essential, and Samanta had got the most of it since he would need less in a Nayabaru facility, but even so she was greatly impoverished. It still seemed to be much more than what Serah-de-Mar could be carrying.

... This kavkem might have never seen a human with their own eyes, but asking was worth a shot. When the conversation between them and Athechelt started petering out, Samanta casually looke at them and asked: "Jason. Saira. Humans. How are they?"

§ 2021-01-04 23:06:29

Dread:

[23:06] The stranger looked up at Samanta, feathers puffing out in some mild mixture of fear and confusion. Clearly it hadn't expected one of the aliens to try talking to it. In a cautious tone, it asked something of Athechelt, who responded with a curt apology, then paused for a moment before repeating Jason and Saira's name in some opaque context, before glancing up at Samanta with some curiosity of his own.

Wrong context, then?

Both of the kavkema were looking at her now as though hoping for some guidance, or at least further utterances they could try to interpret.

Concavenator:

[23:36] Get a hold of yourself. Calm down. Samanta considered herself a rational person, once. After a mysterious planet had appeared from scratch in Earth's skies, she thought she had steeled herself enough for anything. She had liked to think she could have absorbed any epistemic shock, with some preparation... some time to cushion the blow. She had liked to think that she was taking her new situation relatively coolly, all considered, as had Greg and the rest of them. Better than most people on Earth would, at least, until the Thing had come into play.

And now... she felt on the edge of breaking down at the slightest surprise. She was starting to realize how much of her relative cool-headedness depended on having fellow human beings to talk to and to bounce ideas against. She had been the only of her species in sight for less than half a day, and she could barely think at all. She had read a book, once, suggesting humans are only really conscious in company.

The kavkema were still company, though, were they not? Except for the language barrier, they weren't that far from humans, cognitively speaking. If only she had had Saira's genius for translation, or Jason's for body language. She dealt with species and ecosystems, not with individuals; she could make a thousand guesses about how their environment could have manipulated these beings' neurons and brain lobes, but now that two of them were standing looking at her and expecting words from her —

Samanta sighed silently. Then she drew two deep breaths (Calm. Quiet. Space. Silence.) If she was dealing with kavkema, better to learn from them. She knelt on the ground, swept away the leaves, and scratched in the dirt two human figures, with what she hoped would come across as bulky suits, and a thick-tailed Nayabaru hovering above them, in a rather threatening way. She drew walls around them, a tight claustrophobic box. Then she drew them again, nearby but outside. And then she put her hand above the inner couple, and then the outer one, slowly moving back and forth. Let's start by establishing where they are, right now.

Dread:

[23:47] In a gentle gesture, Athechelt moved his forepaw over the image, covering most of it without disturbing it too much, looking intently at her. He swerved his muzzle in a gesture that Samanta had since learnt meant 'yes', but it was a statement difficult to interpret in this context.

Then he gestured silently both to the newcomer and himself and flicked his muzzle upward. That was 'no'. What could that possibly mean?

Concavenator:

[00:22] There's an answer she didn't expect. Yes to both in and out? Had they taken the couples to represent all four humans, two of them in with the Nayabaru, two of them still away? Athechelt knew that Greg was going there, though, and he knew who "Jason" and "Saira" referred to.

So... 'they are both in, and out'? 'They are here, and we are not'? 'We are not with them?' Too obvious to mention, unless it was a way to communicate either 'We know nothing about them' or 'We won't talk about them'.The former seemed more likely. Damn. Although... of course Athechelt couldn't know their whereabouts, yet he'd been the one responding, not the newcomer. So had he prevented Serah-de-Mar from answering? Whyever would he?

What other information could she get? She stood upright on her knees, leaning forward. "Evenatra?" she asked. Then she fell back down, looking quite forlorn; and again she repeated "Evenatra?", this time in a much lower, tired tone.

Dread:

[00:28] This time, Athechelt pointed into the approximate direction Evenatra had left the group into – a path almost opposite the one they'd recently been walking. Again, nothing from the newcomer. The two kavkema did exchange some commentary amongst each other, soft-spoken, curious.

If Samanta had been right, then the newcomer did not know anything about Evenatra, either. But this newcomer had mentioned 'Rakashei', 'Kalina' and 'Yanaru', so those were known – and those three had to have come from somewhere when they joined the group. If there were still kavkema wherever this 'somewhere' was, they would know none of the mentioned names.

Concavenator:

[01:15] Again, Samanta couldn't help but find strange how promptly Athechelt had answered instead of the other kavkem. There was nothing urgent in the way he spoke to them, though. So perhaps he wasn't trying to hide information (again, why on Earth would he?), just pointing out that the neewcomer couldn't possibly answer the question themself. Should she try asking about the three kavkema? Would that be anymore useful?

She did repeat their names — Rakashei, Kalina, Yanaru — but only at half a voice, not really expecting to hear anything in return. Unfortunately, that was the closest thing to communication she could achieve. She drew somewhat closer to the two of them and dipped her head, staring at the empty ground. She would just listen to them talking and perhaps catch something of her own, maybe recognize some words. Goddammit, Saira makes it look so easy.

§ 2021-01-13 22:10:38

Dread:

[22:11] At the mention of the three kavkema, Athechelt's attention snapped over to the newcomer, although without saying anything for the first few seconds.

Finally, the newcomer volunteered some words toward Athechelt, then glanced up to Samanta with a body language that seemed unambiguously curious. Athechelt reacted with some commentary of his own, then glanced at the human and twisted his muzzle from side to side in a way that the human had learnt conveyed affirmation.

But what did that mean? Yes, this one knows them? Yes, we're listening? Yes, the newcomer is looking for those three kavkema? Yes, you understood what we were trying to convey earlier? ...whatever that might have been.

Whatever it was, it wasn't meant to be the start of a conversation. Instead, Athechelt used the opportunity to gesture in the direction Serah de Mar had come from and said "Akuned," as though that meant something. Perhaps realising that she had no means of realising what it meant, he added: "Kavkem."

Did that mean there was another kavkem in the direction of where Serah de Mar had come from? Perhaps a captive of the Nayabaru that this newcomer wanted to rescue? On the other hand, Samanta knew by now that the kavkema were not that eager to rescue people; when Asraaban and Nadani had disappeared, there was no discussion to get them back. So perhaps just someone a bit further back...?

Concavenator:

[22:29] If there was someone back there, Samanta would have certainly been glad to wait for them; perhaps even trek a bit in their direction. That wasn't a good situation to leave anyone, much less a kavkem, stranded and alone. But if there wasn't, every moment wasted was a moment in which the Nayabaru's grasp (probably) tightened around them. Assuming Greg didn't already reach them and captured their — hopefully benevolent — attention. And now, how was she supposed to convey this by gestures?

She made a few broad steps forward, in the direction she and Athechelt had been moving, looking at the other two, and said "Akuned, here...?", gesturing in that same direction whilie moving, as if to say will they come this way too?

Dread:

[22:39] She certainly had the attention of the two kavkema, whose gaze followed her gestures – but whether they understood what she was trying to convey was more difficult to guess. The newcomer decided to try his own hand at it: "Akuned," he said, and fingerwalked for a moment, then gestured with both hands in a beckonning motion.

If Samanta was lucky, he was saying exactly what she'd hoped for – that Akuned would come here, that her pace was simply lagging a bit behind, perhaps for strategic reasons.

Concavenator:

[22:54] Finally. Now that was encouraging. As long as the trees didn't come crashing down around them or this world's equivalent of hounds burst baying out of the bushes, Samanta was up for waiting for another companion — or even better, for walking forth slowly until they had caught up. The latter seemed much harder to communicate, though.

She started pacing back and forth, careful not to tread on anything too loudly (a habit she'd been trying to cultivate in the recent days, useful or not). She might have been up for waiting, but her legs were not. Maybe that would work: I'll wait here, but please, let's not tarry too long.

Hopefully poor Greg was having a chance to rest, at least, heavens knew he needed one. And the brave kavkema who had went with him to save his alien skin — alien gods, let them be alright.

Dread:

[23:09] The two kavkema watched Samanta for a reaction for a moment after the communication, perhaps to see whether she would try to ask a question.

When nothing but her pacing came from her, Athechelt and the newcomer resumed a whispered conversation. It was almost always hard to read these creatures, but by the sound of it, some agitation entered the dialogue.

And then, a few minutes later, there was a motion at the edge of Samanta's vision and indeed edge of the part of the forest that was visible to them, poorly discernible in the twilight, perhaps even beyond the human's perception.