§ 2022-03-19 22:19:27


[22:50] A night had come and gone after their decision to leave Estedat for Katal. It was hard not to feel increasingly alienated and alone — Edaaj had perhaps not been the most social of her group, but all her previous contacts were gone. Even Nadani's husk wasn't here to feign commiseration with. She could barely speak freely to Valcen, and indeed they had spoken only aggravatingly little on the journey so far.

Would it ever be better? Would they have privacy? Would they ever be able to speak in Kendaneivash, rather than awkwardly and with great effort dragging their interests through Naya? He hadn't even tried to introduce her to these alien visitors yet.

There was an anxiousness in the air. Valcen had given her a flashlight to tinker with, to disassemble as best as her claws allowed and reassemble, to test what all was needed to make the light go on, rather than the bland summary 'a battery', if she wished. It had kept her occupied for a while.

The Nayabaru were not particularly fond of her tinkering, that much was clear from the way they looked at her when they were awake to observe it, but they were evidently still not interested in interfering.

In the middle of that night, the cart had stopped to let its drawing beasts rest. Eventually, dawn had come, and Edaaj had let the time of day lull her to sleep.

When she woke up again, the carriage was moving, the tarp stretched over it warding off the late morning sun, and Valcen and Saira were gone. Jason was awake, if only barely, and Greg was still drifting from fitful sleep to fitful sleep.

She'd only just ruled out that either of the two absent characters had done something miraculous like shrink themselves and hidden under the seats when Valcen's muzzle poked first in under the tarp, then the rest of him weaseled in and crawled back up into a sit beside her.

Saira clambered in the side a while later, her awkwardly flexible limbs making her climb look eerie.

There was a visible, fairly fresh scratch down Valcen's side.

"[Would you like to help Saira learn your native language?]" Valcen asked, conversationally and boldly, as though nothing had happened or were in any way amiss. "[She's a language specialist.]"

§ 2022-03-25 23:32:30


[23:32] Once, the flashlight might have been an object of utter fascination – at least it would have if she'd dared to operate it. Even now, it had at least been a decent distraction; her fingers were nimble enough for a kavkem and she had gotten a deep satisfaction from learning how it all fit together.

[23:38] But she had run into the problem, or rather one of the problems, that was affecting her, which was that she didn't understand the principles of it. The battery held energy, but how? The emitter turned that energy into light, but how? Some things she'd figured out – the reflector around the bulb helped focus the light in the correct direction; the metal pieces conducted the energy, like metal conducted heat, but still...

[23:46] Eventually she'd reassembled it and put it where it wouldn't roll away, in the hopes of not antagonizing the Nayabaru further. That was another factor, of course; though a kavkem's life rarely ever felt safe, there was a difference in safety between situations. Being far away from Nayabaru was Fine. Being hidden was Less Fine, and being chased was Not Fine. Being surrounded by Nayabaru, riding in one of their vehicles and in an environment mostly under their control, that was such a lack of Fine that she could barely articulate it, for all that Valcen's presence mitigated it slightly.

[23:49] On the bright side, it was that fear that had prevented her from trying, in desperation for some kind of mental stimulation, from trying to strike up a conversation with the Nayabaru. She was genuinely curious about them, in many ways, but not quite that curious, or that desperate.

[23:52] And so, without much in the way of conversation to go on, she had just lately taken to wondering, after putting the Mystery of the Disappearing Companions off to one side, taken to trying to devise in her head, based on what little she'd discovered from the flashlight, some kind of self-propelled vehicle more comfortable than a cart with a tarp over it, until Valcen and Saira had put in their reappearance.

[00:01] Her immersion in fruitlessly evolving puzzle in her head collided violently with being spoken to, and indeed in the sudden change being presented to her, and she emitted a startled creak and puffed out her feathers in alarm. "I.. urk!" She tried again. "[What? That's being allowed?]" She noted Valcen's scratch, and added, "[What happened?]"


[03:48] "[We are to make our alien visitors feel comfortable,]" Valcen mused, making no effort to hide that he was making up the argument on the spot. "[And Saira is a specialist in language. It would be a shame not to teach her all the languages of this world.]" He gestured firm insistance.

If the Nayabaru were actively listening, they weren't objecting. It was more likely they weren't paying much attention right now, but Valcen was evidently confident enough that his little game would pay off.

Whatever game it was that he was playing, precisely.

"[Saira and I are familiar with the Karesejat now,]" Valcen added, gesturing very mildly to the scratch, putting it into some perspective. "[Baishar is misbehaving; the Karesejat is not happy about it,]" he explained, his tone bland. "[It is nothing to worry about,]" he added, dismissing the topic somewhat aggressively.

There was definitely more to the situation. Something had escalated and he was pretending it was no big deal for someone's benefit – but for Edaaj's benefit or that of the Nayabaru? With the complete lack of subtlety, likely for the latter. After all, good little servant would not turn a minor quarrel with the Karesejat into a big deal.

And a mere scratch, however visible, was surely 'minor' by their measure.

The subtext did not make the situation any more Fine.

The talking had woken Jason, who shifted in a posture of mild suspicion, not quite willing to reveal the full extent of his curiosity. It bled into his facial expression regardless, plainly obvious to Valcen and Saira even through the face plate of his suit, if certainly entirely opaque to Edaaj.

"What's with the ruckus?" he asked, although without much inflection.

"Edaaj is an enthusiastic student of technology," Valcen said. "I would like to give her the opportunity to learn about your technology to some degree, while she in turn helps you – helps Saira, rather – learn Kendaneivash, the language of the kavkema. I believe this is in everyone's interest."

Jason made a noncommital sound, waiting to see what precisely would end up being discussed. He certainly didn't expect it to be an exchange purely on flashlights and alien languages.

"[Our friends are asking what we will be talking about,]" Valcen translated – evidently still into Naya for now, though it seemed increasingly clear he would eventually stop bothering with the intermediate language and hope to get away with it. "[They now know you are interested in their technology, so we can talk about that. I can translate.]"


[03:56] Though the voice of caution shouted at Edaaj to be heard, she heeded it only briefly. She had no idea what the motivation for this sudden turn could be, and she wasn't sure she could find out without getting into worse trouble than would happen if she failed to do so. In any case, the idea of learning about devices was far more appealing.

The problem was deciding which particular piece of technology to ask about.

[03:59] It seemed to her that the vessel that had carried them from their world, though she was very interested in it, might be too complex a topic to start with. Maybe... yes... "[Maybe the device Ghregg had been carrying? The one with the screen?]"

§ 2022-03-26 23:56:59


[00:04] Valcen grimaced lightly, although with some affection. To Saira, he said: "Our eager little student is interested in your... smartphone equivalents."

"Starting small, I see," Jason quipped sarcastically.

Valcen addressed Edaaj: "[While small, it's a very complex device. But we can try this. How about you describe the component parts you can observe on it one by one in Kendaneivash, and I will translate them for Saira, and then we can ask about how the pieces work?]"

While speaking to Edaaj, he gestured toward Saira and Jason with both forepaws, trying to get either of them to reveal the device for analysis, rightly assuming they'd both also have one.

Jason at least, however, didn't budge, too absorbed into observing the situation like a hawk.

§ 2022-03-27 18:56:20


[18:56] Saira had been primarily zoning out after her return to the cart. The encounter with the Keresejat was unpleasant, to say the very least. She had briefly conversed over the goings on with him, and could not elaborate beyond, 'big giant spider metal thing that knew English.' It had been an unsettling encounter and she still needed to process her own feelings about everything. Valcen's kavkem voice speaking in the same tongue cut through all of her swirling thoughts. She was a little surprised, and the tiniest bit confused, but finding no harm in the matter, went to retrieve one of the small tablets with the least sensitive material on it. While she might have found an uneasy truce with Valcen for the moment, it felt more than a little forced. "We've been doing recording and measuring samples with this one," she said as she passed over the tablet. The data it contained was primarily what they had learned or observed since coming to Nekenalos. Saira activated it with a button and handed it over to Edaaj. A slow breakdown of how best to fiddle with it followed, allowing pauses for either questions or for Valcen to translate.

§ 2022-03-29 03:21:09


[03:21] It did not take Edaaj long to realize that Valcen had been correct; the tablet was probably the wrong thing to start with. It didn't help that almost every aspect of it was divorced from the reality of what had been, up till now, a largely neolithic experience. She didn't know if there were kavkema in other parts that had any idea what to call the display, but it made her feel a bit rustic to settle for marom dakem.

[03:36] That said, at least the explanations reduced the vast expanse of her ignorance by a fraction. She was not entirely certain- well, in fact, she was still very uncertain about the nature of electricity, since the idea of lightning shrunk down that small was difficult to hold in her mind, to say nothing about electronics, but the essential idea that the various buttons could stop or redirect its flow in varying patterns to cause the device's operation was grasped.

[03:38] The explanation of the screen and its LEDs helped a little with the ongoing demystification of Tarn- of light. The idea of light as a thing that could be controlled, even precisely tuned into colors and patterns, made it all the less threatening.

[03:44] When asking questions about the device's various parts, she tried – when she was not too distracted by her interest in them – to make a certain amount of effort to speak in whole sentences, at a reasonable pace, so that Saira could hear what she was saying, and, with any luck, have it broken down by Valcen if need be. She also tried, with rather less success, to try to follow what Valcen and Saira said.

§ 2022-04-01 16:05:05


[01:49] The kavkem language was a complicated one. Saira wasn't even sure if her human lips and tongue would be able to conform to the complicated phonemes necessary. Talking through a translator was tedious, but unavoidable at this juncture. She occasionally tried to repeat the sounds she heard, asking for specific words as they conversed. Her notes began in earnest, typing into her wrist panel in a sort of shorthand that would be easy to expand upon later when she had some time. When she had time... That seemed impossible and a far flung possibility at the moment. There were so many things to distract her from the task at hand, but she was doing her best to explain how the tablet worked. She made a point of showing Edaaj how to access the pictures of plants they had taken, explaining the temporary names they had given them, and then asking in return for their actual names. Her body language was hard to read in her bulky suit, but she hoped she was coming across as both interested, and friendly.

§ 2022-04-03 01:08:43


[01:09] "You can bastardise the pronounciation all you like," Valcen encouraged Saira. "The language doesn't have a canonical representation. You could encode it in light frequencies instead of sound or glyphs, although you'd be expected to count first – to establish your alphabet, if you will.

"Pay attention to how I say the words to Edaaj, too," he raised a paw to lift an index finger in yet another eeriely human gesture. "You might notice it's a bit crisper, easier for a human to speak. Most of the deviation in Edaaj's intonation is a local dialect or accent."

To Edaaj, he said: "<I was just telling Saira...>" – it sounded a bit like he said 'friend', but Edaaj already knew it was simply the human's name, pleasantly quaint as it was that she would be named that way by coincidence – "<...that the words she's trying to pronounce are easier to speak than she thinks. She's been trying for exact mimicry and her biology isn't laid out for that.>"

He'd said it in Kendaneivash, not Naya.

...if the Nayabaru were listening, they were presently not caring.

Valcen let the comment sit for a bit, then said: "<Edaaj, I don't want to cut your exploration short, but I think we've just been blessed with a few moments of undisturbed conversation. I'd like to explain your situation to our visitors.>" A pause, then, clearly prompting Edaaj to share her story: "<Now, how might I do that?>"


[02:36] Despite the gentle introduction, Edaaj felt unnerved by the sudden change in topic, particularly since they'd been reaching the point when she felt she could start asking more detailed questions about the tablet. Her 'situation'... well, there was a lot that had gone into that, wasn't there?

[02:43] She could engage in technical discussions at length, and had done so in the past with determination and even enthusiasm, but explanations of what people had done – and why – were things she had never had a talent for producing, even when the person was herself. Especially then. Usually, she'd never found it necessary. Water flowed downhill, clouds were blown by the wind, and she did what she did. This entire journey had been the first thing that she could remember that had made it impossible to do so.

[02:46] Valcen and Saira watched Edaaj sit in a tense silence for a moment, and then, with evident difficulty – as if trying to drag the words out of herself – she said:

[02:56] "<When Ghregg became ill, there was discussion. We had been asked not to allow him to be taken by the Nayabaru. But he could not be moved, and Baishar made a persuasive argument that only the Nayabaru could prevent his condition from getting worse. I managed, with some difficulty, to convey this choice to Ghregg and Sa-man-ta.

[03:02] "<Athechelt was not happy. But it was decided that he would depart, to keep his stories safe, and that Sa-man-ta would go with him, so that one human, at least, would not be taken by the Nayabaru. And Baishar went to find you and the Nayabaru, to direct you to myself and Ghregg; and I stayed with him to ensure his safety.>"

[03:03] Even with its difficult delivery, it was a bald, mechanical explanation of events.


[03:22] Valcen sighed, looking at her with some reprimand in his body language. But he opened his mouth and translated the matter for Saira: "I've asked Edaaj to explain why she's here to you. She's explaining the... mechanics of it, roughly as follows: When Greg fell ill, Baishar advocated that he be brought to the Nayabaru – sensibly, if I may editorialise.

"She says that they encouraged Samanta to leave, as not to become a captive of the Nayabaru, while Baishar would bring the Nayabaru to Greg, who was effectively immobile – true, as you know. She says she stayed with him to ensure his safety."

He glanced at Saira, raising one brow as best as his face allowed – it was only barely perceptible. "Hold you follow-up questions for a moment, I'm going to pry a little more. There's something I'd like you and Jason to learn, if possible." Again a forepaw rose to gesture pause in a very human manner.

Then his attention shifted back to Edaaj. "Edaaj," he addressed her, his patience only slightly chafed, still the dominant mood in his tone. "<You're here of your own volition, despite the dangers. You'd help me if you explained to our visitors what you explained to me. That you wanted to learn. Do explain it to them, in a way you think they will understand – obviously, I will translate.>"


[03:29] Edaaj looked even more intensely uncomfortable. She'd been rather hoping that she could avoid explaining her motivations, especially since she was not entirely comfortable with them herself. To deliberately leave behind her group and, in fact, her species, out of a selfish desire? What would they think of her for it?

[03:34] She thought, briefly, about declining to answer, and it was clear from her body language that she was doing so – but only briefly. Annoying Valcen, of all people, would be... counterproductive. When she spoke again, it was even slower and more hesitant than before.

[03:39] "<I... I have always been... when the human vessel came, and Nad->" she paused, trying not to think of what had befallen her former packmate. She tried again. "<I have always had... ideas. About things I could make and build. About... futures. But they were always dreams, things that I could not do, things that could not happen. I did not have the tools or the knowledge, and the presence of the Nayabaru would never allow it in any case.

[03:42] "<When I came to realize what the human vessel was and that it had come from another world, suddenly there was a new path opened up. It is... it is one thing to imagine a world that could not be, and another to find out there really is a world where those things are. No Nayabaru. Beings who don't hate and hunt us on sight. Amazing machines and devices. You-

[03:45] "<You->" She seemed to be directly addressing Saira now. "<You flew across the sky. Across the sky. Just to visit this world and see what was here! And if you had done it, then we could have done it – if we had not been, been trapped by all this->" She waved her paw around her with some animation.

[03:48] "<In another place – another situation – I could have made my ideas real. I could have flown across the sky...>" Edaaj trailed off. Her voice had never become loud, not after a lifetime's habit of quiet, but she had been reapeatedly fluffing out her feathers and she felt the need to pant for a moment.

[03:54] "<And then I... I learned something of what happened here, to make it like this. Old mistakes and old hatreds and the things that kept them going. And I learned that what is being done to make it change is... is not working... not enough. So if I stayed where I was, I would be trapped... I would know my own ignorance and futility and be stuck with them until I died. And then... then Baishar told me about Valcen...>"

[04:00] She glanced sideways at Valcen, awkwardly, and muttered quietly. "<I had thought, once, about trying to ask if I could... go back to the human world with you... but it seemed so unlikely. And then, here, on Nekenalos, I was told there was someone who knew so much, and who might be able to make the changes that were not being made here. So I came. I came because of Ghregg. I like Ghregg. He is kind to me. But also because I would not have a life anymore if I had stayed behind, though I do not know if I will have one here.>"

[04:02] Edaaj fell silent. The emotion had come and propelled her words, and now, used up, it was gone. She gave the humans a weary stare, and felt hollow inside.


[04:31] As Edaaj spoke, Valcen tried to keep up with translations, passing them on live: "She says she's always been what passes for an engineer in her culture – a builder, if you will. But her aspirations rather outsized her ability, since she had neither tools nor knowledge to make the things she dreamed about, and the existence of the Nayabaru would have made it difficult, besides.

"When she first understood what your spaceship was, it seemed like a new opportunity: A world where her dreams actually exist. Where the Nayabaru don't exist and harrass her kind. Machines of a marvel beyond imagination.

"It impresses her that you crossed the gulf of space just to see what was going on here, that this was in your capabilities. And she thinks it could have been in their capability as well, if they weren't hampered by the situation here.

"You've inspired her to think she could have done the same, if she hadn't been... stranded here, in her situation, by accident of birth, if you so will. She's recently learnt things about the history of this world and that the attempts to fix its horrid problems aren't working out, that, if she hadn't met you, she would have been doomed to never make a difference.

"Then Baishar told her about me." Here he paused, letting Edaaj continue while he looked squarely at Saira. There wasn't enough give in the muscles of his face to subtly convey a stern insistence, an implication that she had come here by choice, but context made it weigh heavy and obviously, regardless.

"She wanted to ask you whether you might take her back with you," he continued, finally. "But she didn't think that was realistic; so she came to me, as someone else who was by her measure clearly... capable. Who might fix things, or teach her how to fix things. Who— actually, you know what, I don't like complimenting myself indirectly, even as a translation, it just really sounds fucking weird, so I'm going to just... not." He gestured an end to it with both forepaws, then realigned with Edaaj's commentary to say: "Anyway. She also really came because of Greg, whom she's grown fond of." He gestured to the sleeping human. "But she also thinks she would not have had any life worth living if she'd stayed out there, not knowing what she does now. It feels too constraining."

Again, he let it linger for a moment, letting his gaze drift to Jason, whose face was clearly carefully chisled into a neutral expression, refusing to yield to Valcen's scrutiny.

"She's not under my control," he said, plainly. "But it's important the Nayabaru think she is, so we've been playing charades and will continue to do so. Make no mistake, I think she's miscalculated, this situation is very dangerous. But she is here of her own volition. Do you believe that?"

§ 2022-04-08 22:45:04


[22:45] Edaaj's careful explanation of not only why she was there, but what had befell the other members of the human team here was both illuminating and troubling. *Did* Saira believe that Edaaj had exercised her free will to join the Nayabaru on this journey to Katal? Looking between them, it was clear that she *wanted* to believe Valcen was translating Edaaj's words properly. In her mind, it was time to make a firm decision. She either trusted Valcen, or she did not, and playing this halfway game was growing exhausting.

[22:46] Frowning mostly to herself, she made her decision. Looking to Edaaj, she smiled, though she knew well enough that the body language would be mostly foreign to the kavkem. Maybe Edaaj had learned about smiles from Greg. "Thank you for sharing that with me," she said evenly, keeping her gaze off Valcen.

[22:47] Edaaj's history was a sad one, and only made Saira feel more squarely in the righteous position of defense against the Nayabaru. The Nayabaru might be their gracious hosts, and with luck, they would be able to cure Greg of whatever befell them. But they were *wrong.* If human rights were to extend to the kavkem as intelligent, sentient inhabitants of this world, than they simply could not leave them to be exterminated by the Nayabaru.

[22:49] "I'm guessing that wasn't easy for you, but I appreciate you taking the time to share," she added, trying to convey the gratitude she felt towards the kavkem. To Valcen, looking to him, she frowned again, knowing full well he could read the expression. "They need to believe she's under your control. Is there something *we* need to be doing?" Saira asked, making a gesture to the human party in the back of the cart. If they were to come under Terenyira's scrutiny, the humans needed to have a firm, agreed upon solidarity.

[22:52] Daring to look at Jason, she wondered what his thoughts were on the subjects at hand. She knew where she stood, but it wouldn't do for the humans to be scattered in their desires. Working against each other wouldn't get them home. "You know we can't let this situation continue," she began for his benefit. "She speaks of genocide, Jason." Very pointedly she named it such.

§ 2022-04-11 19:33:19


[04:49] Edaaj did, at least, understand the smile as a generally positive thing by this point, and indeed the word than-kyu likewise, but what kind of positivity was being expressed was somewhat less obvious. Approval? That seemed unlikely. Maybe Saira had meant merely to express reassurance, though Edaaj was not certain how she felt even about this.

[04:50] The thought that Valcen might not have conveyed her words faithfully – or mostly so – did not stay long in her attention. She was not accustomed to suspecting others of lying; and in any case, had Valcen wished to give the humans a false account of her own reasons for being there, he could have done so without asking her to recount them, with her being none the wiser.

But maybe Saira had not understood properly (Edaaj did not know, from looking at him, what Jason thought). She was well aware that her actions had probably been neither wise nor rational, even by alien standards; and she imagined that one of her own people, knowing what she had done and why, might even have considered her insane at best or a traitor at worst. What kind of positive could one find in that?

[04:51] In a dull, somewhat lifeless voice, she muttered to Valcen, "Was this, then, a way of having them understand that I am not some pawn of yours?"

§ 2022-04-15 20:55:13


[20:55] It took all of Jason's restraint not to reach up and massage his faceplate as he might his forehead in a gesture of complication. The neutral expression morphed into something stony, tense, his stare anchored on Valcen in a quiet, perpetual judgement.

He let an awkward silence drag on for a little while, cloaking himself in it.

Then he spoke in deceptively soft words: "We have the equipment to protect our crew, not wage a war of liberation." He was still staring at Valcen. "I'm sure our friend here is quite aware of that, given if it were at all any different, realistically he would be the first casualty."

It was the closest he'd come to verbally attacking Valcen since his reprimand about passive-aggressive language. Mercifully, Valcen seemed to tolerate it without so much as a flinch – perhaps because it was frank and honest and the parameters for defection well out of reach.

The reminder lanced into Saira's recent decision. It wasn't easy to begin to side with someone who was complicit to the 'genocide', even if it was allegedly against his will.

"Weapons wouldn't fix this," Valcen said. "Time will help. The kavkema effectively have the continent of Tabraan. Once it's theirs, there's little incentive for the Nayabaru to take it from them."

"So everything that happens is okay because the kavkema can just go run off somewhere if they can't take the heat?" Jason asked, bitterly.

Valcen hissed, posture suddenly reminding Jason and Saira that they were in a cart with what was, by nature's standards, an apex predator, teeth and claws and all. "Stop. Right now. You're being juvenile about this. If you have practical suggestions, I am all ears. If you don't, accept mine."

"Yeah, well, practical suggestion: Stop what you're doing," Jason said.

Again Valcen hissed, but with a tone of reluctant distaste, not aggression. "You don't understand half of the ramifications—"

"I understand half of the ramifications, all right, they're sitting here," Jason gestured to Edaaj. "I trust you're translating it right, but all that means is pointing out that she's a lucky exception."

Valcen bristled, opening his maw slightly as though to respond, then snorted and instead attempted to summarise for Edaaj: "<Yes.>" The response to her question was terse, but he fought to smooth it back out. "<You've started a political debate. Our visitors are wondering if they should get involved.

"<Jason understands it would be a bad idea, at least, but he's unhappy about it.>" A pause. "<Unhappy about me, mostly. I'm the component he could try doing something about right this second, after all, it's not a surprise that that's his laser focus.>" He snorted.

Then, before the humans could feel very excluded from the conversation, he spoke coolly: "I think before we continue this conversation, Saira should tell you a few things about the Karesejat."

§ 2022-04-16 20:50:38


[20:50] An uneasiness laced through Saira's spine as Jason's aggressive commentary began. She understood his sentiments, she felt much the same way, but she was playing things very cautiously. Antagonizing their host seemed quite unwise, even if their host was commiting crimes against humanity. A frown dawned on her lips as she looked between her crewmate, and Valcen. It should be no surprise that she was prompted to recount her experience with the Karesejat. She hesitated for a few beats and then nodded.

[20:53] Beginning with a long sigh, she fixed her attention to Jason, as if to underscore the severity of their situation. "Valcen and I had an encounter with the Karesejat," she said as a preamble. "To begin with, she is huge, Jason. Massive. Able to cloak herself, and fluent in English. She spoke the way a native would. When she appeared, she had uncloaked herself, and I swear to you, Jason, I swear, I wouldn't have known she was there unless she wanted me to. It was unnerving, more especially for the arachnoid shape that she chose to wear. Like a giant mechanical spider, but somehow organic. I don't understand it."

[20:55] Saira paused for a moment, realizing she had been babbling far too much. "She could've crushed us both, had she wanted to," she said, gesturing to herself and Valcen. "She chose not to, but that was no love tap she left Valcen. She interrogated me, about what Valcen had told us about her. I... I do not doubt that she might have chosen to kill Valcen on the spot. It was unnerving. Did she choose that appearance intentionally?" she asked, turning the question to Valcen. "Does it have some meaning to the kavkema or Nayabaru?" This was an aside, and perhaps not what Valcen wanted her to convey to her crewmate, but the thought did not stop her. Her brow knitted with concern.

[20:58] "Look. I'm having a little bit of difficulty collecting all of my feelings, Jason. She was terrifying. When she was done, she simply disappeared back into the forest. I don't look forward to seeing her again, but I suppose that's going to happen once we're all rounded up." Just thinking on this was enough to remind her of the predicament of the crew. Greg was ill. Jason was antagonistic. Samanta was simply missing. And Saira was caught between wanting to help the poor kavkema, but also not wanting to start a diplomatic mess.


[22:58] Valcen waited for Saira to finish speaking to Jason before he answered her question: "Not her choice, she was created that way. It strikes fear into the kavkema about as much as it strikes fear into you. The Nayabaru on the other hand aren't bothered." He shrugged, still grumpy. "Obvious design choice."

Jason had been listening to them both, clearly still deeply unhappy about the situation. The instinct was to ask how Terenyira's nature mattered, but Valcen had insinuated once before that he wanted to do something about her. If he brought it up, it would have been purely to be contrary.

It made for another awkward silence.

Finally, reluctantly: "Fine. What do you even want?"

Valcen heaved a sigh. "I already told you that. I want you to do the reasonable thing of forming an alliance with the Nayabaru. You can make it entirely superficial for all I care, your heart doesn't need to be in it. But give them the impression that you're on their side."

Jason snorted, but didn't comment.

"If you go run off on a quest to rescue the kavkema, they will make me responsible for it. Then you get all of the bad things of my influence — the technology you've already seen — and absolutely none of the good ones, which I'm still working on."

Jason let his gaze slide across to the dozing Greg. Even absent Valcen's fervent wishes, Greg was the best reason for them to do as he said, at least for the time being. They needed to get him proper medical attention.

It was just that it increasingly felt like a trap; that if they reached this 'Katal', they would never leave it again, despite Valcen's assurances.

"Saira," he addressed his colleague, only to pointedly side-step the conversation with Valcen as though it hadn't happened: "Pretend for a moment that it were your decision: What would you do about the genocide, given our resources?"


[01:30] The question was direct and to the point, cutting through all of the complications that were tied to that question. Saira frowned again, knowing that the answer was not one that he was going to like, even if it was prudent.

[01:33] "What *can* we do about it, Jason? It's just us," she said, referring to the Terran crew that was on Nekanalos. "And if we were to do anything, what ramifications does that have back home? We can't just go off half cocked. We need to be strategic. And we need to think of Greg. The genocide... I don't think we can do anything without support from home, and if the Karesejat thought that we were going to go back to Earth, to come back to force the Nayabaru to behalf... I don't think we would get off the planet."

She glanced to Valcen again. "Is that not a correct assumption?"

[01:34] "I don't think we have the means to do anything but dig ourselves into a hole, Jason. Not without support back home, and we can't get that yet. We have to wait. Wait for a better moment to strike. And if that happens to line up with Valcen's plans, then we better fall in line sooner before the whole jig is up."

[01:36] There was another drawn out sigh, as she was no happier about this line of reasoning than she was about the genocide itself. She couldn't bring herself to look at Edaaj, knowing full well that she might be dooming the kavkem.

"It's shit, Jason. No matter how you cut it, we are stuck making the best of it."


[01:50] Valcen had simply nodded as Saira had asked about whether they would be permitted to leave. Mercifully, he remained silent after she was done, doing nothing to incense Jason, whose emotions had been raw ever since Greg had been peeled out of his suit, any further.

"You're the one who wanted to do something," Jason said, but though the words themselves were combative, his tone was not. "Bleh," he voiced. "I don't like being held hostage." It was more of a metaphor than a direct description of their situation – their well-being was assured as long as they played ball.

Valcen took the opportunity to summarise the situation to Edaaj: "<We've been talking a little more about how their hands are regrettably tied. They're a very emotional culture; they're both having a hard time reconciling their wish to help with the facts.

"<Saira has seen the Karesejat, at least, and knows how dangerous she is even when viewed merely as a creature of her design, absent her intelligence. And they know my interest is in her, in some way. That I want to do something. That I think I can in fact do something.>"