At the Marquis' direction, Helia takes the Third
Eye into orbit around the mainworld. It's four and a half hours
since they entered the system. They run the sensors to get a basic
scan of the world's terrain. They note that there are five major population
or industrial centers in the southern hemisphere, and one in the equatorial
land bridge. There are none in the northern hemisphere. Three
of them are on the coast, two inland. Tech level should be 5, according
to the information they have, and the government is by civil service bureaucracy.
The directions here tell them to follow the landing beacon to the starport . Helia drops the ship into the atmosphere, and glides down towards the designated landing area. It will be late afternoon local time when they arrive. The Marquis takes the eye graphic off the ship, and switches to shiny metal color for the exterior.
As they approach the landing site, they pause at around 10 km altitude to survey the area. It seems to be a fairly large city on the coast, built in a natural harbor. There's evidence of local air pollution. The automated instructions direct them to land in the harbor.
When they get closer, they are hailed by the port.
"Hello, spaceship! Who are you?"
The Marquis answers, "The H.M.S. Third Eye, from Mora ."
"You'll be assigned a docking berth. If you come in and moor up by the customs pier, we'll deal with immigration."
"OK." Marc waits. "Are you going to tell us where the customs pier is?"
"It's the one signified by the customs flag."
"Ah, most clarified."
The port official is clearly fed up with them. "The customs building is a big red and white building. A pier is something that sticks out into the sea. Land in the sea by the big red and white building beside the thing that sticks out into the sea. Tie up with rope."
Marquis Marc turns to Helia, "Bring it down, and maintain us a meter off the pier."
Helia brings the Third Eye
into a courteous approach, and settles down into the water -- not floating
as such, but maintained rock solid on the plates and thrusters.
Someone walks out along the pier towards them. The figure is carrying a clipboard.
Marc and Misha Ravanos (leaving his sword behind) emerge from the top hatch and walk out along the wing towards the pier.
The man addresses them, reading from notes on his board. "All right, where are you from?"
" Mora ," Marc answers slowly.
"Where did you just come from?"
" Mirriam ."
"OK. Why did you come here?"
"Um. What cargo are you carrying?"
That seems to confuse the man. He pauses, then says, "All right. How many on your ship? Thank you. Imperial ship? Are you carrying any weapons?"
"Any illegal goods?"
"No goods. We're not here to trade."
"Are you carrying any illegal goods?"
"OK. Who's in charge?"
"I am. Marquis Marcus Crestworthy."
"Good. You'll have to come down to the office."
"For what purpose?"
"Fill in paperwork."
"Is that the paperwork there?"
"No. You'll need to be there in, um, half an hour."
"Someone from my crew will come by to pick up the paperwork and..."
"No," interrupts the guy, "You'll need to come down and fill it in yourself at the office."
The Marquis is already walking back to the upper hatch. The man turns and walks back along the pier towards the shore.
The air here is quite thin.
That means that Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead, their paperwork expert,
won't be able to do much exercise here. A walk down the pier is likely
to beyond him.
They look around at the port. No other ships are at this pier. There are a bunch of piers elsewhere, a tank farm with large wet ships tied up loading or unloading through pipelines, a number of other smaller wet boats around. People are dressed in light clothes, and true to the Imperials' information, no-one seems to be carrying weapons..
A standard far trader, in distinctive yellow and green livery, floats in the bay, tied up to a buoy.
Robert Morris calls up the trader, starts exchanging news, then pokes into who they are, their manifest, and so on. It's are running a route between Denotam and here. It's an independent ship, operated by the owner. They're taking on local spices, and dropping off various higher-tech consumer goods, luxury and entertainment items mostly, some pharmaceuticals. They have no news of interest. The ship is old, and has been owned by the current person for a long time. It's a typical frontier far trader -- running a regular route, regular cargo, some passengers on demand.
It's now time to tackle the bureaucracy...
Helia swings the Third Eye around so that the Marquis can leave from
the rear door, dropping the ramp onto the pier.
Marquis Marc and Misha walk slowly over to the customs building. The air is thin, but warm. It's about 30 degrees right now. Gravity is light but comfortable, 0.39.
Inside, Marc talks to the receptionist.
"Well, Mr. Crestworthy," says the man, "If you'll go into that room, you'll find someone who can help you."
The man in the next room presents the Marquis with a set of forms. They are not in Galanglic -- not even the script is comprehensible. Nevertheless, Marc goes ahead and fills it in, guessing which field is which. He passes it back saying, "By the way, which language is this in?"
The man says something incomprehensible, and hands him another set of forms.
These are less obvious. Marc guesses anyway, fills them out, and hands them back. The man says something, and steps into another room. A strident conversation is heard.
A different man returns with the forms. "I'm sorry, this won't do at all."
"I filled out your forms."
"You're carrying a cargo of two weeks...? I'm going to be tolerant. Try these." He hands Marc a version in Galanglic. "I praise you, by the way, for your command of our language. Obviously it needs some work, though."
"Well, I've only been trying it for the last half hour." Marc applies himself to filling out the forms. This set includes some odd and unrelated questions, such as "what plants are grown on this ship?", which is what threw him off last time. He completes the forms quickly and hands them back.
"Thank you. Would you like me to make an appointment with your liaison officer tomorrow?"
"For what purpose?"
"For where you're going here."
"Fine. We'll need a berth for this evening, and if you will just come to the berth at a reasonable hour in the morning, that will be acceptable."
"No, you'll need to come ashore."
"Yes, I will send in my liaison officer."
"No, you'll need to come ashore."
"You said you'd need an appointment with my liaison officer?"
"No. The liaison officer that will be assigned to you."
"I see. And he can meet with the liaison officer I'm assigning to you."
"No, he will meet with you."
The Marquis sighs and agrees.
"Thank you. Someone will be along shortly to give you your berth assignment."
Marquis Marc and Misha stand up, and leave the building to return to the ship.
About ten minutes later, the
berth assignment is delivered to the ship. A collection of papers is
handed over for the navigator, and they are informed that the captain's appointment
is at 8 am tomorrow. It is currently 6:30 pm.
The papers turn out to be a chart of the harbor, with their berth marked near the other starship. It's about the middle of one of the sides of the horseshoe shaped bay.
"Move us there gently," says the Marquis to Helia.
Helia sets the autopilot to move the Third Eye there, but to take twelve hours doing it. The movement is barely perceptible.
They try listening to local radio,
but it's all in the local language. The Marquis asks Robert if the other
ship has any translators; he runs a quick check and finds that while there
are none in the cargo, they do have several chips in their ship's locker.
Robert hails them, "This is the H.M.S. Third Eye, under the command of Marquis Marcus Crestworthy..."
"Oh my gawd!" comes the reply. "OK. Uh. Hi!"
"We've come here on an investigative mission, and we don't have as much information as we thought we did on some of the local customs here. We are without translation equipment for the local language, and some of the forms we have to fill out are a little difficult."
"They've got them in Galanglic as well. Most people speak it, except the ones who refuse to. Some of them are a bit stuck up about it. But you can usually find someone who can. Not everybody."
"Do you have any translation equipment that we can purchase?"
"Sure! We can sell you some translator chips! 300 apiece. So how many do you want?"
"One will be enough."
"We'll be right over!"
Robert and Misha are assigned
to talk to the visitors, while Vonish Kehnaan is to prepare dinner for them.
They are supposed to pump them for local information about customs, bars,
the name of the city, and so on.
The air/raft from the far trader arrives and lands on the top of the hull beside the top hatch, where Misha is waiting. The two people aboard (in well-worn shipboard clothes) secure the air/raft and join Misha in the ship. He takes them down to the module lounge, where Robert and Helia are waiting. They exchange the chip for Imperial cash. Misha tells them they're invited to dinner -- there's an excellent cook aboard, he says.
They are delighted. "So I guess this Marquis guy can afford the best, eh?"
"Yes, I think he can. Can I interest you in some pre-dinner libations?"
Drinks are served. They all sit around drinking whisky.
"So what brings you guys here?" one of them asks.
"The Marquis is a curious man.," says Misha with a smile.
That doesn't satisfy them, but as they're happy to be aboard such luxury, and are clearly enjoying themselves, they don't question it.
Misha starts a conversation about the local area. There are some illegal bars near the dock area, but they're advised not to go there -- they are very rough and subject to police raid, when the police aren't too scared to go there, that is. The trader crew just don't go ashore. They'll be here for about a week, and will unload their cargo in a few days -- they're still looking for a good deal to sell it. Here isn't much fun for them, but every year the captain takes them to Frenzie for an all-expenses-paid vacation while the annual maintenance is performed. This city here is called Down Port. They don't know where First City is -- they visit only here, dealing with brokers and so on.
Ed "Shark" Teeth walks in, and introduces himself as Eddie Teeth. He mentions the gravity -- good for walking. The traders reply that they don't walk much here -- the docks are very dangerous. Even though the law level is high, that just means that the laws are restrictive, not that they're successfully enforced. Going through the process of getting visas to go ashore outside the dock area just isn't worth it. They just treat this place as a necessary stop to make money from speculative trade, and accept that it's a boring trip.
The goods they pick up here are some spices that they produce here -- it has a pretty good market over on Denotam . They have no idea whether it tastes good or not -- to them it's just cargo.
Ed brings up the subject of piracy. They're not worried about it because they run an obscure route, it's just not worth it for a pirate to prowl there. As for Robin Sherwood, they've read the news reports but have no other information. Opinions, though, they do have -- they actually own their cargo, so they have something to lose, but if they were on a sub or something they'd probably just hand it over. What have they got to lose, after all? The cargo's probably insured anyway.
Ed ponders the concept of Robin Sherwood as being part of an insurance scam...
Dinner is produced -- they are really impressed, it's very good indeed -- and they leave well fed and happy.
Robert takes the chip and programs translators and their communications system.
Marc tells Helia that they need to be back at that dock, ready to lower the ramp, at 7:45 am tomorrow morning.
Overnight, Mich refuels the ship from the sea.
Marc and Misha step out onto
the pier. There is still a vast cloud of spray settling over the harbor
from their approach.
In the building, the same receptionist directs them to the liaison officer, in another room.
"Mr. Crestworthy?" says the liaison officer, pleasantly. "Can I help you? What's your purpose here? Where do you want to go? What do you want to see?"
"I would like to go to First City and speak with some people who have reported to some associates of mine the activities of the local fauna."
"OK, so you have someone to contact there? Excellent, no problem."
"Is there a local library that I could visit?"
"Read up on what you have researched and the extent of your knowledge of the local fauna."
"I think you'll probably find that at First City. If you'll just fill this out..." He hands Marc a form to file his travel plans. "Pull in at the port there, talk to the port officer."
Marc then comments on the manner of the communications person they talked to on the way in. He also points out that this planet doesn't use a standard flag for customs. The liaison officer says that's his problem.
"You'll need some charts, right? 200 Cr." He reaches down, pulls out a tube of paper, and hands it to Marc.
Marc examines it. It's a set of sea charts, covering the route to First City. "Thank you. You have a transfer module?"
"A transfer module. To transfer credits."
"We'll take cash."
"I'll send my man back with cash to pick up the charts."
"They'll be at the front desk. Oh, and you must fly only over the sea."
They walk back to the ship. Misha then goes back to the office and returns with the charts. Marquis Marc asks Robert to read them into the computer and add them to their scan of the planet.
They are to leave immediately.
The trip is about 1500 km, and it's a routine trip of 3 hours. Helia
keeps it over the water as the liaison officer had requested.
Below them there's a fairly obvious sea lane of cargo ships running between Down Port and First City.
On the way, Marc tells Vonish about the spices they apparently grow and sell here. Obviously they don't know whether the spices are anything he'd want to use.
At Marc's request, Helia makes a gentle polite approach to the harbor, coming to a halt in front of the customs building. It's 2:00 pm local time. First City is a much smaller place. There's not nearly as much industry here.
Marquis Marc disembarks on the
dock, and walks over to the customs building. The receptionist greets
him politely. Everything seems to be in order. She directs him
to the liaison officer.
"I'm Marquis Marcus Crestworthy, and I wonder if you could tell me where I can find a map of the city that might show me where libraries and other buildings of interest are?"
"Sure," smiles the Liaison Officer, "I can give you a packet with that."
"I'd like to look up a local inhabitant I was told was listed in the directory."
"Sure. I'd suggest take the train into Center, and you should find everything you need there." He hands Marc a small folding map of the city, with points of interest marked on it.
"Interesting technology," says Marc, fumbling awkwardly with the paper. He thanks him and turns to go.
"You're welcome. Have a nice day!" Something else occurs to him. "You'll be wanting somewhere to berth?" He reaches over to the intercom. "Set him a berth, will you?" He turns back to Mark and tells him that the receptionist will tell him where to berth. "Oh, and here's my card, call me if you need anything or have any questions."
The berth assignment is fairly
near the shore. Helia cruises the Third Eye into position.
It's an area that is populated mostly by large pleasure craft. There
are no other spaceships here.
On the way, Marc sets the rules for this visit. Two crew members are to remain on board at all times. Anyone else may go ashore -- apparently there was no requirement for extra paperwork or anything.
Baron Bridgehead, no doubt remembering the thin air in the valley of Pimane , announces that he has no desire to leave the ship.
Marquis Marc goes on to tell them that the local party spots are rather rough and generally raided by the police.
"Does that mean we have to wear spikes on our leather?" asks Helia.
"It means we should be very, very careful."
"Well, I could go in the ultra-feminine stuff, that would work," she says.
The Marquis turns to Mich. "I expect to be here for a week and a half or so. If you have system maintenance that's going to take less than a week..." Mich nods. Marc continues, "I don't believe that Mich needs any particular protection on this planet." Marc then asks Robert how communications work here.
Robert replies, "It seems to be mostly hardwired with some radio."
Marc hands Robert the liaison officer's card, "This card is in some way a way of contacting this person. I'm not sure how it works. If I need to I will ask you." Robert smiles; he knows what it is.
Marquis Marc announces that he's
going to go into town to look up Erwin Hedaker. "It's suggested that
we go into town to ride the train. We'll need some local currency for
sure. All who wish to go ashore...?"
It looks like it'll be a fairly full gcarrier . The customary dress of the locals seems to be light tunics, loose fairly baggy trousers, sandals. Misha doesn't have much clothing for warm places, and of course will have to leave his sword behind. So it'll be Marc, Ed, Misha, Robert, Vonish, Sagan, and Helia. Mich will stay on board. Everyone will carry a compact respirator, including Sagan, who is perhaps the least comfortable with the environment on this planet.
Vonish takes the controls of
the gcarrier and parks it at the customs office. Marc asks the liaison
officer about changing currencies. He says the bank will do that; he
suggests that they park over at the yacht club and pick up a taxi there.
Vonish takes them over to the yacht club -- an obviously grand building on the shore. There are several boats pulled up on shore, and docked at the piers. Vonish parks ashore, and they walk into the sea-side entrance to the yacht club.
The Marquis tells the doorman he needs a cab; he is told to pass through the club, up the stairs, and pick up a taxi out front.
It takes two taxis to carry everyone. The Marquis instructs the doorman, and the doorman instructs the taxi, to take them to a bank. The doorman, happy with his 5Cr tip, says something to the drivers, and the taxis drive off.
It's soon clear that the taxis have an onboard compressor -- the air inside the internal combustion groundcar is distinctly less thin than it is outside, and a little cooler too.
The taxis roll up outside a very
large building, about the size of a city block. Looking up, there are
rails -- as of a ground-based railway -- coming out of the building about
two stories up. The Marquis tips the drivers handsomely, and they all
go inside where they have been told there is a bank.
Inside the building, it's pressurized and cooler. It looks like a mall in here. Fortunately the bank is obvious, and changing currency is no trouble at all.
The next stop is at a small cafe. Part of Marc's idea was to find out how much a credit was really worth here, and it seems that for a credit's worth of local currency, they can get about two credits' worth of goods. He gives everyone 100 Cr worth of local currency -- that's about 200Cr of buying power here.
They order drinks. It's now clear they really not in the Imperium any more. This is the first place most of the crew has seen that does not carry Zurta.
Helia Sarina is very interested in the concept of an
evil mind-sucking Joe, and what it might be. She asks the server behind
the cafeteria counter, and he says she could find them in comic books.
So she rushes off to a newsstand to find some, taking Sagan with her -- sie
also wants to know what evil creature sie was mistaken for.
At the newsstand, she asks the man where she'd find comics that have evil mind-sucking Joe's in them. He points to the comic rack, and when she asks he recommends several that are popular. She buys them and she and Sagan return to the cafe.
Seated at the table again, they go over the comics. There's nothing that looks like a hiver in them. Lizards, yes, other aliens, and humans , but no hiver. There's some pictures of an odd green being with an enormous head and shrunken body, floating on a tiny grav apparatus of some sort. It's apparently commanding some creatures which look somewhat like it but have normal human proportions. There's lots of shooting and spaceships and so on, but they're still at a loss as to what an evil mind-sucking Joe might be.
Mind-sucking, now that sounds like psionics . Helia knows how much Mich Saginaw abhors psionics, so calls him to warn him. He replies that there aren't enough psi helmets on the ship for everyone, but he'll be wearing one himself. He finally tells her that "Joe" is derogatory slang for " Zhodani ", and "evil mind-sucking Joe" is just an extension of that.
Helia, though, is still concerned. Perhaps there are evil Zhodani here even now, working to influence their minds...
Meanwhile, the rest of the group has left the cafe
to try to contact Erwin Hedaker. A short trip upstairs two floors leads
them to public telephones -- which Robert Morris alone can identify as such
-- and a puzzle in the form of a directory in the local language.
Marquis Marcus Crestworthy tries asking a local for help, but is rudely rebuffed. He then approaches a child, and after a short period of amused confusion over the phrase "look up someone" he points out the entry for Erwin Hedaker.
The telephone routing system seems to consist of 30 two-position switches, all in the up position. Each one is identified by a symbol. Robert, as the communications expert, picks up the handset and pushes down the switches corresponding to the symbols in the directory. To everyone's dismay, nothing happens. Eventually Robert notices a hand crank on the side of the box, and cranks it. Success at last!
But that's as far as success goes. The call is answered by what seems to be a recorded message saying that Mr. Hedaker is not taking calls at present, and anyone wishing to communicate with him should visit in person.
That's a setback. Time to find out about Erwin Hedaker, and how to reach him. It'd also be sensible to find out a bit more about this planet before trekking too far from here. According to the liaison officer at the port, that should all be available in the library at Center.
They are still pondering the situation when Sagan and
Helia arrive from downstairs. Since they want to go shopping too, the
whole group decides to make a trip to Center.
The whole group, that is, except Vonish. He is more concerned with finding out about the local cuisine than shopping, and so leaves on his own to pursue his interests.
The Marquis leads them to what appears to be a ticket booth, and purchases tickets for them all for the railway trip to Center.
After about ten minutes, a loud noise starts getting
closer. It's a train, apparently powered by internal combustion, rumbling
and whistling into the station. It comes to a halt, and the doors open
and they board.
The train is quite full, but the presence of Sagan gives the crew half a car to themselves, as the locals give them plenty of space. Sagan can't fit between the seats easily, so sie spends the trip in the aisle near the doors.
The train is fairly comfortable. The trip takes about 30 minutes, all on elevated rails. They estimate the speed of the train at around 50kph. The view initially is of First City, with commercial and office buildings giving way to some residential areas. Then there's a band of scrub, rough ground with bushes and similar vegetation, before approaching what is presumably Center. Staying two stories above the ground, the railway passes over a residential area before entering what seems to be the commercial district.
Center is a much greener town than First City. The buildings are farther apart, with more greenways between them. There's no sign of an industrial area, and the air seems to be free of visible pollution.
The train slows and rolls into the third floor of a large building. It's much like the mall in First City, but very much larger, encompassing several city blocks. A sign on the platform in Galanglic indicates that they are indeed at Center.
The doors of the train car open, and they step out. It's clear from the flow of people where to go. They follow the crowd into the building. Marquis Marc is a bit surprised that no-one seems to be checking tickets.
The building turns out to be
one vast three-storey mall. There are shops for almost anything conceivable,
and various public service buildings as well.
The crew immediately split up into two groups. Helia and Sagan want to shop -- or watch people shopping, in the case of the hiver -- while the Marquis wants to start at the library. Ed "Shark" Teeth accompanies the shopping group to act as their bodyguard. Misha Ravanos performs that role for the Marquis and Robert.
Shopping is most successful. Visits to clothing stores yield some exciting outfits for Helia, but the most interesting place of all to her is the toy store. Here she buys the largest erector set she can find for Mich -- the case is about a meter by two meters, and 25cm deep. It's heavy, but not so heavy in this gravity. Still, its sheer size is awkward enough for Helia to handle, so she asks Ed to carry it for her. He's delighted to do so, for some reason known only to him. As for herself, Helia buys a small erector set and a number of the wonderful metal mechanical toys (some clockwork, some not). Happy with her purchases, she leads them on to the bookstore.
The Marquis leads his group to
the library at the other end of the mall. Looking around fruitlessly
for a console to access the catalog, he resorts to talking to the librarian
on duty. He tells her what he's looking for, and she is glad to point
him to the right areas, and reassures him that many books are available
in Galanglic. He soon realises that the library is vast, and searching
through all these paper books here is going to be very tedious. What
he really wants is to have all the information in the ship's computer...
But it's a simple matter for him to pick out a few books, and ask the librarian
where he could buy copies, and for recommendations of other to add to the
So, list in hand, they proceed back up the mall towards Rimes, the bookstore.
At the bookstore the two groups
once again meet up and start shopping. By now Marquis Marc has worked
out how to handle a world of no computers -- simply ask others to do things
Helia, who's already mastered the art of shopping in the real world, heads off to the folklore section. She picks up several books -- some children's, some college-level texts -- on the legends and lore of Digitis . Then she decides to bring another present for her friend Mich, and seeks out the engineering books. Here she picks out a large detailed book on the design and construction of internal combustion engines. Then to the cookbooks, and with some recommendations from the staff she selects two of the best books for Vonish -- one large format, fairly thin, the other a thick detailed book.
Meanwhile Marc has already picked out several maps of the planet, especially of the forests in the northern hemisphere. Unfortunately there's very little detail on them -- they show the rail lines from Center to Cormor Forest, but no real detail of the forest itself. He adds several books on the planet to his purchases, with particular attention to books which talk about the forest areas. He also selects a few books about the fauna of the forest ecosystems. On a whim he grabs a copy of Who's Who, so he can look up Erwin Hedaker and anyone else they come across.
Suddenly a thought occurs to Marc -- they're not in the Imperium. A quick question to the store clerk, and he's eagerly perusing the section of psionics books! Some of the books are quite old editions, but there's several new texts as well. A lot of the books are by Zhodani authors, but there are some local ones too, some of which aren't available in Galanglic versions. He collects a large but carefully chosen number of them, along with a Galanglic-local language translation book so he can read the local ones.
Robert has wandered over to the communcations section, and picks out a book which describes the inner workings of the telephone system. He is very surprised to find such information freely available under such a restrictive law level, but certainly intends to take full advantage of it.
Marquis Marc's books are far too numerous to carry back to the ship, so he asks the store staff about shipping. This turns out to be no problem (money being no object), and Helia adds some of her books, which she's already bought, to the shipment. They should arrive the day after tomorrow.
Time to head back to the ship...
but before doing so, Helia wants to spend the rest of her money. She
does so by loading up on candy. First of all she buys a large quantity
of cheap candy, which she hands to Ed to carry. Ed is delighted -- with
a very heavy case in one hand, and in the other a large quantity of small
round objects that would scatter if dropped, he's ready to deal with any
Helia then heads for a whole different style of candy -- exotic delicacies that delight the senses. The specialty of this planet seems to be a confection that's somewhere between the consistency of fudge and caramel, somewhat grainy to the tongue. The visual pinnacle, though, is candy in the form of a transparent globe or egg, containing another detailed and delicate object fashioned out of various forms of candy. She completes her spending here, and carries them in her backpack for safety.
All board the train for the return journey to First City. The trip follows the second half of the circular line connecting just those two stations, and the journey back is much the same as the journey out.
Meanwhile Vonish has spent the day with a local master chef. A taxi ride back to the yacht club reveals that the restaurant there is in fact the finest in the area. He talks his way back into the kitchens and introduces himself to the chef. The chef is taken by him, and they spend the day in enthusiastic conversation, accompanied (to Vonish's surprise) by several most excellent bottles of local wine. They exchange information, discuss the subleties of flavorings and techniques, and reveal recipes to each other. Both benefit greatly from the sharing of information -- presentation is particularly inspired here, and Vonish soaks up all he can.
So when the Marquis calls Vonish
to suggest dinner at the best restaurant in town, the vilani knows exactly
what to recommend. He will select the menu and wine selection himself,
and assist the chef at the Yacht Club with the preparation.
Of course the dinner is excellent... Helia gives Vonish the thinner of the two cookbooks, and tells him about the thicker one she has for him in the coming package. The latter book in fact turns out to be the one recommended to Vonish by the chef here -- an excellent choice on Helia's part. He's also pleased with her gift of exotic confections -- although by now he's seen what it takes to make them.
Fine dinner, fine wine, and a
pleasant evening spent by all... but who is in a state to fly the gcarrier
back to the ship? Robert insists he's fine, and promptly drives the
gravcraft directly into the sea. Submerged near the shore, he takes
a deep breath and corrects his error. Lifting up out of the water,
he then proceeds to fly them to where the Third Eye is waiting at
her berth. Once there, though, he is rather disoriented by the way
the ship seems to be swaying -- perhaps he is more drunk than he thought?
- and wisely passes over the controls to Helia.
Helia confirms the ship is swaying, but nevertheless parks the gcarrier safely in the hangar.
The motion of the ship -- with no inertial compensation -- is a little disturbing to some of the crew, and they are grateful when Mich announces that he's turning everything back on having finished his check of the ship's systems.
Helia delivers her presents to Mich -- the internal combustion book, and the erector set. Mich sets to building a page-turning apparatus with the latter, so that when the rest of the books arrive he'll be able to help Robert scan them into the computer.
Robert Morris then discusses communications options for the trip. It isn't really possible to set up a geosynchronous relay probe from here -- they'd have to get into orbit to do it. He will however provide them with a radio unit that is a suitable frequency to bounce off the ionosphere. It will not be very reliable, and the signal may come and go depending on the weather and where the antenna is, but it at least gives them some sort of contact. He's already set up the ability to make and receive telephone calls from the Third Eye .
The Marquis issues instructions for those remaining behind. They are to remain on board ship at all times. If he isn't back in two weeks, they are to inquire about him, and if he is unavailable they are to return the ship to Mora , and contact his heirs.
That being said, all ashore who are going ashore.
Marc wants to keep it to a fairly small group: himself, Misha Ravanos (with
his jherig), Helia, Sagan, and Ed "Shark" Teeth. Vonish Kehnaan can
pilot the Third Eye if Helia is absent. Grand Admiral Baron
Bridgehead and Teri Cralla will also stay behind, as will Robert Morris and
They'll be taking a week's clothing, and equipment for simple camping. They'll also take some PRIS binoculars and some adjustable spectrum sunglasses in case there is low light under the forest canopy.
The Marquis also, of course, brings one of his miniaturized special activity sensors.
Vonish ferries them and their equipment to the yacht
club in the gcarrier . From there they take a taxi to the station
in First City, and the railway into Center. At Center they pick up
tickets to Cormor Forest, and after a couple of hours their train arrives.
This train is quite different from the First City to Center train. The train is long, with two passenger cars in a large train, at least four or five engines and a lot of freight cars. It has just one scheduled stop -- the rail line goes to Cormor and nowhere else.
The passenger cars are quite luxurious. They are compartment style, with a corridor running down the near side of the carriages. There are sleeping compartments, since the trip is a full day -- little more than bunks. Each car has a lounge area, with a bar that has snacks and drinks and so on.
The Third Eye's groups are the only passengers on this train, so they take the opportunity to stretch out and relax.
Helia asks the bartender for chocolate milk, and is surprised to find that they have no milk products -- because they have no cows. They can, however, fill her request for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and the chocolate soda, along with biscotti, satisfies her.
Marquis Marc is the first to strike up a conversation
with the barkeep. "Sorry to disturb your quiet trip. I don't
suppose you have many passengers, do you?"
"Not many. It depends."
"Do you always ride on board?"
"Not always this train."
"But are there always cars on every train?"
"Oh yes. You never know who's going to want to leave from the other end?"
"Is it an actual city at the other end? A small town?"
"It's not a city."
"I was wondering about accommodations at the other end. There was no information I could find."
"You'll have to sort that out when you get there. The Sheriff will handle all that."
Helia says, "So it's like a family ranch?"
"Yes, it is."
The Marquis continues, "So I guess there's an elevated station. And then to go down in the forest city we go down in an elevator, or...?"
"You get off at the station, that's up here."
Helia asks, "What's the light like?"
The Marquis answers, "The rail goes over the forest."
"Oh," says Helia, "So you don't go into the forest."
"No," says the barkeep. "I've never been in a forest. I really don't know anything about them, only what I've been told."
Helia says, "I would have thought everyone would want to go see it. Your planet's so interesting."
"Yes, but I'm happy doing this."
"Oh, that's right!" Helia exclaims. "Was your father a train attendant?"
"Yes he was, actually."
"Oh! How many generations back was your family train attendants?"
"Four. Before that, I've never been quite sure what they did."
"So somebody qualified up?"
"Yes, my great-grandfather."
"But this is what you want to do? You're not looking for anything else to qualify for?"
"No, not really. I like this. You get to meet different people."
"Well the scenery is great, it changes some."
"It changes some. Certainly the Gap is spectacular, but as soon as we get over that it's pretty much the same."
"Is the Gap really that spectacular?"
"Well, we should be coming up to it fairly soon. Take a look."
Helia asks, "Does that mean the train driver's family has been train driving for a long time?"
"I don't know. I don't know who's driving this train."
"What does your wife do?"
"I'm not married."
"How about your sisters?"
"I don't have sisters; my brother is in the other car."
"What if you had a third brother, though?"
"OK. What happens in families that have a lot of kids and they can't all do the same thing their parents did?"
"They take another job."
"Is it easy to change jobs?"
"Yes. All you've got to do is qualify. You have to work at it, and know something about it, but you can study for it."
Helia pauses. "Can I ask you a question? You don't have to answer it if doesn't sound like, OK."
The barkeeps shrugs. "Sure."
"We read about your history, and the Janns, the wild people. They came from the civilized people that landed here."
"No, well the civilized people stayed on and built everything. They just ran off."
"But I mean everybody was civilized when they got here, they just ran off. So they were civilized to start with."
"Yes, but... you know, if they had really been civilized, they would have hung around with everybody else."
"Why does the stuff say they're not human? They're still human."
"Well, they're not really. Because... because... they don't have... they aren't civilized. They don't have any of the principles of civilization."
"They don't act like people?"
"Oh no, not at all."
"But genetically, aren't they the same?"
"I don't know. I guess they've sort of devolved a bit, from the way they live."
The Marquis breaks in. "Excuse me, I've got one
of my crew members who's interested in the local foods. He asked me
if I'd ask people what's their favorite food."
"My favorite food would be boogie fruit. I love boogie fruit."
Helia asks, "What's boogie fruit?"
"It's farmed down in the south, over by Sirrily. I've got some here. Here you go, try this."
Helia tries it. It's very nice, a bit like papaya, or mango, or cantaloupe. "Do you have any of this dried? It seems like it would dry very nicely."
The barkeep shakes his head. "You can probably get some dried back in Center."
Suddenly the Great Gap opens out under them.
It's water, it's rocks, it's a canyon. The sides are cliffs of rock,
falling down to a canyon with some stretches of deep smooth water, but a
lot of places where there are rapids, where the water is breaking its way
through rocks, roiling, tumbling, and foaming.
The Marquis turns from the window and addresses the barkeep. "So this connects the two oceans."
"Yes, that's right."
"Is there a moon in this system ? The tides cause the waters to flow in?"
"Yes, there's a couple of moons, but I gather the water flow is due to the prevailing winds. They push the water up against the western side of the isthmus, and so it's higher than on the eastern side."
"Could you fly a glider through here?" asks Helia.
"Probably not," says the Marquis, "Remember the atmospheric pressure is low."
Helia asks the barkeep, "So you have trains that go places but no planes?"
"Right. We have trains and we have ships."
"And there is no way to get a plane that would fly even around it?"
"We don't have any planes."
"But I mean, like, does anything flying over the forests kill it?"
"We don't fly anything over the forests."
"That was the problem though, wasn't it? That the settlers did and they were killing them? Do they know why flying over the forests killed it?"
"I don't know. They must do."
"I'm just really curious about the forests and flying and stuff."
The Marquis says, "I think we'll be getting to the right location to ask. I think the Sheriff of Cormor will be an expert in that, or at least have someone who is."
"He needs to be an expert himself," says the barkeep.
"He needs to be an expert on what you shouldn't do, but he doesn't actually have to know everything in detail about the forest."
"He has to know a great deal about the forest. That's part of what makes the job so difficult."
Helia thinks about her books of folklore that she bought
at Center. There was nothing about flying over the forest, but there
was about something dropping out of the sky into a forest -- a magic ball
that had a frozen princess with an apple in her mouth.
The Marquis settles back into reading some of the anglic books, working his way through an advanced Zhodani psionic text. It contains the proceedings of a conference at Querion with annotations. None of his texts mention this planet.
They reach the other side of the Great Gap. At
the top of the cliff is a wooden wall, as if tree trunks had grown together,
with a green canopy at the top and overlapping the wall somewhat.
They can see the shadow of the train on the forest, but can't see any detail
of the canopy. The train is moving pretty fast.
They also can't see how the railway is supported over the forest. The rail line is travelling straight, and so they can't see under the carriages. Misha asks the barkeep about it.
"As I understand it, the scaffolding goes down into the forest. I don't know how it works, but it seems that you can put a pole through if you're careful. Each forest has a full-time staff that works on maintenance of the railroad."
Marquis Marc looks outside for signs of maintenance platforms or anything beside the rails. He watches for quite a long time, but sees nothing of that sort. "Maybe we can get a book on the rail systems of the world," he muses.
The trip continues. They read, eat, drink, talk to the barkeep. Marquis Marc monitors the conversations, and breaks in if his crew seems to be taking it in a political or religious direction, like he did with Helia earlier.
Back on the Third Eye , it's been quiet and peaceful. The closest to exciting that's happened was when Mich asked Vonish to look out for beans when he does his next shopping trip. A quiet day indeed.
On a whim, Helia calls up Vonish on the train's telephone.
"Hey, Vonish, they don't have milk or cows here."
Vonish confirms that.
"OK. Can you get a lot of dried boogie fruit? I think we'll like it, and it'll be good for munchies."
Vonish agrees to look out for it.
Helia hangs up. She's accustomed to having instant communication, and she sees no difference between making a short phone call and chatting briefly on the commdots.
Time passes. They eat, drink, and sleep. While most of them return to their bunks, Helia just requests a blanket and sleeps right there in the lounge.
Finally the train pulls into a station. It's
a simple, fairly short, passenger platform. They step out onto the
platform. In front of them are two glass walls, a door in each, forming
a sort of airlock. Beyond that is a lounge. Windows are everywhere
-- the walls and ceiling are completely transparent.
Now they can see how the rails are supported. There is metal scaffolding rising on poles from the forest to a height of about 10m over the top of the canopy. Below them, the forest canopy seems to be solid. The poles just stick up through the leaves; at the interface, the leaves just fold themselves around the pole, and build up a little.
This area they are in seems to be some sort of bridge between buildings.
The freight cars are still behind the station. Looking the other way, the rails continue on to some sort of other building.
No-one else is on the platform. The train staff
unload their luggage for them, and put them on a baggage cart. The
group pass on through into the lounge. The air here is more dense than
on the pressurized train, and is very comfortable. There are phones
here, but of more interest right now is the information desk.
Marquis Marc walks over to the desk. "Hello," he says, "Good day, sir. I'm Marq... Marcus Crestworthy, captain of the Third Eye, a ship that we came in. I'm here to see if I can speak with the Sheriff, Erwin Hedaker."
"Is he expecting you?"
"When I called, it said to come in person, so he's expecting anyone who wishes to come, I assume."
"I wondered if he was expecting you explicitly. OK."
"And since it's a day trip, what do we do about lodgings."
"Oh. That won't be a problem, I don't think. May I ask why you're here?"
"I'm a scientist, I study animals from very many different worlds, and I've heard of an interesting..."
"You're from offworld?" The desk clerk beams a big smile at him.
"Yes, and I'm here to study the native life. I've heard a report that this forest is of particular interest."
"If you'd like to take a seat, I'll call the Steward, he'll be right up." He speaks into a handset in his language.
They all sit down to wait. The Marquis says that
this local language should be studied, perhaps the University of Mora could
send a team out.
Marquis Marc walks over to a phone and calls back to the Third Eye. "Robert, would you ask Mich to activate a couple of those sensors he built during the last mission. Just keep them running and recording. Thank you. I forgot to do it before I left."
Marc then goes back to the information desk. "Excuse me, sir, having never actually been in the forest, what is... is the canopy opaque or is it translucent? I was wondering how light... what the light sources were under the canopy?"
"Fairly dark. Your eyes get adjusted after a while."
"I see. How long have you and your family been here?"
"We moved here about a year ago."
"So you're not from the forest yourself?"
"No. Oh no."
Marc thanks him, and returns to his seat. He is interested in finding people whose family have been here for a long time, to see if their eyes are getting any bigger. He theorizes that the thin atmosphere would promote higher rates of mutation.
After about another 15 minutes, someone comes in.
The Marquis introduces himself, and he says he's Frederick Houlihan, the
Sheriff's steward. Marc explains that he's a university professor,
from the University of Mora, here to study the local fauna; he has a report
of some particular species in the northern parts of the forest, and would
like to arrange a trip there to see such a beast.
The Steward says he'll arrange it right away. He goes to all the group and introduces himself to them, including Sagan and the jherig ("He doesn't speak," explains Misha). "If you'd all like to come in," he adds, "I'll show you to the guest wing. Someone will bring your luggage. We are most honored by your presence."
Frederick leads them from the lounge to a single large
circular room, with several doors coming off it. Some of the doors clearly
go to elevators. The wall and ceiling here are transparent too.
There are a few other people here. Frederick leads them over to one
of the doors. He's olive skinned, clearly quite athletic, fairly young,
and rather handsome.
Marc asks him, "May I ask if you and your family have been at the forest city for very long?"
"Yes, we've been here a while."
"You are one of the...?"
"I'm the assistant to the Sheriff. We've been here for many generations. Actually we've been Stewards to the Sheriff since the Hedakers took over."
"If I remember my history, that was several hundred years ago."
"A long time ago, yes."
Marc looks at Frederick's eyes -- they seem no bigger than normal.
The Steward places his hand on a metal panel.
The door opens, and they step on through into an opaque corridor, which
turns around a curve and ends in another door. They are still above
the forest. Frederick palms the panel by this door, revealing the lounge
of the guest wing. "After you," he says with a smile.
There is apparently no wall, no ceiling, no floor -- but there is furniture "suspended" at their level. The Marquis leads them onto the completely transparent floor.
This area is mostly lounge. There's an opaque central area, with doors that seem to be labeled as elevators, and above that is an upper domed level that is also opaque. Looking down they can see a large tree trunk shaped stalk, also opaque, going down into the canopy. It's as if this guest wing were a mushroom.
Marc says, "Can I ask how many people are at this city?"
"It's hard to say," replies Frederick. "Approximately, a couple of thousand. It varies depending on whether we're at harvest time or not, for the various crops."
"What do you farm here?"
"We farm all sorts of things here."
"I wasn't able to get much information. Do you have a computer link, perhaps I can get some general information?"
"No, I'm afraid we don't have that, not generally available, although we do have our own computer system. We do have a printed library, but it's not very extensive."
"I was thinking something describing the city and its produce, things like that."
"Not really. The produce varies according to what we're harvesting at the time. A lot of our products are naturally grown, and picked as they occur in the forest."
"Do you export much wood?"
"No. We export no wood at all."
Marquis Marc recalls that there was very little wood back in First City. A lot of stone, glass, some plastics, but not much wood.
Misha waves his arm to encompass this building, and asks, "What's this made of?"
"Glassteel. Everything you see here is locally made."
Misha continues, "By locally you mean the planet?"
"Yes, absolutely. Of course a great deal of it had to be hand-made, because there are no factories producing a lot of this stuff. All the components for our fusion reactor, for example, are completely hand-made."
Marc takes over, "So what is our next step?"
"This is the guest wing. This is the lounge. If you need anything, servants will assist you. Over there you will see a phone -- just pick it up, someone will answer and get you what you need. The doors around there are elevators, each one goes up to a private suite in the disk above, where you'll find sleeping quarters, personal areas, and so on. I'll certainly inform the Sheriff that you're here, and if you want anything -- have any questions, or anything else -- just ask for me and, assuming I'm not out in the field somewhere, I'll be very glad to come and answer your questions."
"When do you think we'll be able to arrange a field expedition?"
"A Field expedition? Let's talk it over with the Sheriff first, make sure everything's going to be in order, check on what area you want to see, and so on, and we'll arrange guides and all that. I imagine he'll get back to you today. I know he's booked up this morning, but he'll probably be glad to see you this afternoon. We're certainly honored by your presence here. If there's any special needs you have" -- addressing Helia, Sagan, and the jherig -- "be sure to let me know, please." Frederick walks to the center, palms a panel beside the down elevator. He turns back to them. "Make yourself at home, make yourself comfortable, someone will be arriving with your luggage shortly. Have a pleasant stay." He leaves.
Marc asks Helia to check out one of the guest suites. There are eight of them, labeled A through H; she picks one at random. The elevator opens into an entrance area, with a door (open) and windows into a luxury hotel suite. There are two bedrooms per quite, each with one large bed. The windows look out over the canopy. None of the windows open. She wanders around the suite for a while.
Edward looks around for the camera sensors in the opaque
area, that he is sure are there. Sure as he is, though, he finds none.
There are several phones around the lounge, however, and he is sure that there
is either something mechanical or a human listening ot every one. If
they have a fusion reactor and glassteel, surely they have computers to monitor
Someone arrives with the luggage, and delivers it to the appropriate suites. Marc takes suite A.
They settle down to relax. Marquis Marc reads his books, and tries to figure out what they are loading or unloading at the cargo terminal -- he can't, because it seems to be happening inside a closed area.
Meanwhile back on the ship, Robert has studied the
telecommunications books. The information on traffic indicates that
there are indeed areas of activity disproportionate to the population --
the forests talk with Center a lot.
He then progresses through the radio link to the shore phones, and phreaks his way into wiretapping some of those. Most of it is voice in the local language, with inventory and production numbers, and environmental data. A notable exception is a line coming from the Cormor Forest, which is data traffic via acoustic coupler. This means there's a computer at both ends -- most unusual. It's going to take quite some time to interpret the data, since he hasn't dealt with anything this crude in a while. It's digital data at about 30 cps, with a lot of redundancy and error correction so the actual data rate is much lower than that. He just can't be sure what it is at this point, as it doesn't seem to be any representation scheme he's seen before. He'll need to do a lot more analysis on it -- there's just something about it that doesn't seem quite right. It's a very odd and interesting puzzle...
Later on, one of the phones rings. Edward answers
it, and it's someone asking if it's convenient for the Sheriff to visit
them. It is, of course, and they request refreshments too.
Shortly after, the Sheriff arrives.
Marc greets him. "Hello, I'm Marcus Crestworthy."
"Ah! Nice to meet you. Erwin. Erwin Hedaker."
"I've heard about you."
"Probably," the Sheriff laughs.
"Locally, and actually abroad."
"Really? And how so?"
"An acquaintance of mine I had the interest of meeting some years ago told me about your world, and mentioned you by name. You're the only person from this planet that he mentioned."
"Well, I suppose I should be flattered."
"What really brought me here was some of the stories he tells of some of the animal life from the north Cormor Forest. Specifically the magical hunting beast, the one that hunts the other predators, and only other predators. What is the name of that... what do you call it locally?"
"It has a lot of names, depending who you talk to. It's so rarely seen by citizens that it doesn't really have a name. It's quite... retiring."
"Sounds like it's going to be a difficult hunt. I don't want to capture one, I just want to record it, as much of its behavior as I can."
"May I ask who put you onto this?"
"Yes. The name was Cappy Starfugger."
"Oh yes, I know him! He ran some stuff for me a few times from here. Interesting."
"Yes, he says he was doing some... travels."
"He has an interesting way of doing business. It was rather difficult to convince him to stay put at First City and load up there, rather than try and fly up here. I have a few missile turrets that convinced him otherwise."
"That's one way to keep a forest safe," observes Marquis Marc
"That's my job. To protect and serve."
"I study abnormal, uh, activities such as animals that hunt using extra-normal abilities, and Cappy's story about your unnamed creature fit that profile, and I thought it worth coming here and investigating."
"What exactly do you mean by that?" asks Erwin, curiously.
"The ability to lift an object with your mind, or to sense..."
"Oh, psionics! Ah! That's an interesting idea. It hadn't occurred to me that it would do it by psionics."
"It fit the profile I've come to apply to such creatures."
"Interesting. Well, I'd be glad to set up an expedition for you, but what do you have to offer?"
"We have our research ship and all its resources while we're on planet. We have an excellent medical doctor. I brought these as something you might find useful." Marc hands over the sunglasses. "If I understand it correctly the interior of the forest is rather dim, and you can adjust the light application."
"Nice job, very nice. I tell you what I really need, though. You're here with a ship, right? Good. Do you have somebody or portable equipment you can use to check out zuchai crystals?"
"If we don't have the equipment, our engineer can probably build it."
"I have some lightning dispersal equipment that uses zuchai crystals to store the energy -- very much like a jump drive really..."
Marc breaks in, "You're beyond me, but precisely up the path of my engineer. My communications officer has arranged a local phone number for my ship." He shows Erwin the symbols for the connection. "You're welcome, and I'll ask him, you can talk to him or ask him to come here, either way."
"That would be wonderful. Although we can build everything here, having the experience to check things over is something we're short of."
"Mich is a twenty year jump drive engineer retired from the navy. If he doesn't have the experience you need, then I don't think it exists."
Erwin laughs. "I'd be delighted to set up an expedition for you!"
"Do you have an engineer tech that can explain to him what you need, so he can prepare and bring whatever he needs on the train."
"Certainly! I'd be glad to. Actually I can explain it myself very well. I need to know most of what's going on round here, for my job."
"I'm beginning to understand that."
"If you'd like to call him, you can maybe put me on, if it's convenient for you...?"
"Absolutely." The Marquis pauses. "Excuse me, Sheriff, I don't know how to read the symbols. All I know is how to punch them in, and with this phone I have to tell someone the symbols, so I'll have to ask you to do this for me."
The Sheriff does so, telling the operator that this is how to connect to the Third Eye, should anyone request a call there. He hands the phone over to the Marquis.
On the ship, Robert Morris answers.
"Robert, yes," says Marc, "May I speak to Mich, please?"
Robert connects him.
Marc says, "Mich, we have someone here who's requesting someone with experience with zuchai crystals and jump drives. You know something about this, correct?"
"Oh yes," replies Mich, "Zuchai crystals are the storage for..."
The Marquis interrupts him. "That's far beyond what I need to know. This is Sheriff Erwin Hedaker, he has a request for some analysis and whatever, he has some requirements and I wish you would help him out."
The Sheriff takes the handset when Marc offers it to him. "This is Erwin Hedaker."
"Pleased to make your acquaintance. I gather you're an engineer. We use an array of zuchai crystals here for an electrostatic lightning repulsor. When we see signs of a storm approaching, we use our fusion reactor to charge up the zuchai crystals, feeding it through a circuit to compress the power pulse, and use it to build an electrostatic field to repulse the lightning. The lightning normally around here bleeds naturally into the upper canopy -- there's no real buildup of charge -- but where our buildings extend above the surface, lightning tends to concentrate. So that we don't get a charge firing down through the buildings and damaging the forest, we throw up an electrostatic field which tends to bleed off and divert the lightning, and we use the zuchai crystals to get a strong pulse in response to the buildup of charge. Everything seems to be working fine, but it's been about five years since the crystals were checked, and while we build everything locally here we don't have a lot of experience in maintenance. We were wondering if you have some equipment, some expertise that can check our array and see if any of the crystals might need replacing. We'd be very grateful for that."
"Yeah, that's pretty easy a job to do."
"Is there some special equipment we could buy off you, or maybe you could train our engineer as well...?"
"Yeah, I think so."
"We'd be most grateful. Plans only, we'd build our own, but you can bring your own equipment to check this time."
"Bring some prototype samples, I guess, that you'd be able to disassemble..."
"Great. You understand that part of our principle here is is that we ourselves only use locally built equipment."
"Do you manufacture your own zuchai crystals?"
"We have a source on the planet, yes."
"And you might consider absorbing the lightning hit into the zuchai crystals, instead of repulsing them, and using the zuchai crystals as an energy source."
"That's an interesting idea, indeed. So I'd be most grateful if you could come out here and talk to us about it, that would be wonderful!"
"Sure. I'll have to see how the system you have is set up."
"We'd be glad to give you a tour of everything we have here, you're welcome to browse all our blueprints, everything we have on our computer about it will be open to you."
"So we just have to arrange some transportation, then?"
"Of course the only transportation is the train, but I can arrange to have someone escort you, bring any equipment you need and all that. The next train out would be tomorrow morning."
"That would give me time to put together the equipment that I'm going to need."
"That would be excellent. We very much appreciate it. Thank you! Some of my people down in First City will contact you about the travelling arrangements. Thank you!"
The Sheriff and the Marquis wish Mich a pleasant trip. He should arrive the day after tomorrow.
The Marquis hangs up the phone and turns to the Sheriff.
"I'm glad we could be of assistance."
"That will be wonderful assistance, yes."
"Trading of information is always a welcome thing with a university."
"Indeed. I must admit we don't get very many university people here."
"Well, you know, as a field research professor, I follow almost any reasonable lead. That's why they allow me to use the Third Eye."
Refreshments arrive. Marquis Marc invites Erwin to join them, but he says he has some loadings to supervise over in the cargo area. They will meet again tomorrow after breakfast; the Sheriff will check on the availability of guides and so on. Erwin Hedaker leaves.
Helia comes back down from the suites. She is
told she missed the Sheriff, and that Mich is coming. She expresses
surprise that they have a jump drive here. Marc tells her that Mich
will fix their jump drive, and tomorrow morning they'll be discussing the
"Does Mich think it's safe here?" asks Helia.
"Yes," Marquis Marc assures her, "Mich thinks it's safe here."
"If Mich shows up with a helmet we should worry."
That reminds the Marquis of something. He calls
Mich again and asks him how many of those small sensors he has.
"About half a dozen. You have one, and I have one turned on here."
"Bring three more, with battery systems."
"It's going to be a big pile of luggage!"
The Marquis asks if anyone else wants to talk to Mich.
Helia takes the phone. "Hey Mich, are you going to wear your helmet?"
"Do you need to wear your helmet?"
"Well, it's better safe than sorry."
"Are there Joes?"
"I hope not."
"So you haven't found a reason, you're just thinking about it. OK."
"How do you know what I'm thinking?" says Mich suspiciously.
"Because when you said better safe than sorry that means you're worried that there might be so."
"OK? I don't read minds. I'm just a woman."
No-one else wants to talk to Mich now, so she hangs up. Ed thinks to himself that it's not the Joes that Mich has to worry about, it's the Josephines...
About two hours later, someone from the Sheriff's office calls Mich to arrange travel. The limo, and a cargo van, will arrive tomorrow morning and pick him up from the yacht club. Mich says he'll need about two steamer trunks full of equipment. That'll include the three football-sized sensor packages. He'll also be carrying one of the shoebox communicator units, and something to attach to the side of whatever computer terminal they give him to use.
Back in the guest quarters, they relax and enjoy the view. Sunset is quite a sight, with the big red sun setting, reflecting from the forest canopy.
The Steward arrives. Misha asks him if they can go for a walk. The Steward tells them that's fine, but they shouldn't go far because it's very easy to get lost. He says something to the operator in Jannish, and tells them to take the down elevator, and then they'll see the door to the forest ahead of them. He leaves.
Misha and Helia take the elevator -- it works for them
now -- and go down. Out of the door it opens out into a short corridor.
There's a desk to their left, and ahead of them are two glass doors (like
the railway station "airlock"), and the forest is beyond that. It's
quite dark out there -- not pitch dark, just very dim.
They walk towards the doors. The woman at the desk smiles at them as they go by.
Misha and Helia walk out into the forest. The air is dense, warm, and moist -- very refreshing. They breath deeply. Helia puts on her enhancing sunglasses, but Misha didn't bring any. Helia offers hers to him to try -- they make a big difference! He hands them back.
Behind them the mushroom stalk of the guest quarters rises up through the forest canopy. Flashing red lights are arrayed around the building.
All around them is the forest. There are tree trunks, and clearly well-used paths, but no roads. There are no dead leaves on the ground.
Helia takes off her vest and stretches her wings.
The air feels exhilarating, and she slowly takes off. Misha thinks
this is absolutely hilarious and giggles uncontrollably.
Helia gently exercises, flying a little way out, and then a little way back, keeping a decent height and within sight of the red lights. She weaves her way elegantly back and forth, enjoying the sensation of being in the air again.
She flies higher, up towards the canopy 20m above the ground. Misha is still laughing, and sits down suddenly on the grass.
Helia flies up higher, looks down and sees Misha lying on his back, laughing at her. She thinks this is so funny, she rushes down to dive-bomb him. She bounces off his stomach and rolls to a stop in the grass.
Helia sits up, pulls something from her pouch, and tells Misha to put one finger into the end of this tube, and a finger from the other hand in the other. She tells him it's a chinese puzzle, and tells him to tug at it. She offers him some candy from her bag -- he giggles consent, and she stuffs a jawbreaker in his mouth.
Misha calls his captain, Marquis Marcus Crestworthy, on the commdot. He tries to tell him that Helia is torturing him, but it comes out mostly as a stream of laughter. Marquis Marc turns his commdot off, just as Helia turns hers on and her laughter joins Misha's.
Marc picks up the phone and talks to the operator. "Two of my crew members seem... unstable. They're laughing. Uncontrollably."
"They went downstairs to go outside, and now they're laughing uncontrollably. I don't know where they are."
"They're right outside the door. You might want to come and get them."
Marc and Edward "Shark" Teeth go to get them.
Helia tries to fly up to the top of the canopy but
she's laughing too hard. She gets up about a meter, then floats back
down again. This is even funnier... Misha is just rolling on
the ground, fingers stuck in the puzzle, trying to laugh through the jawbreaker.
Shark thinks about it, and decides it's laughing gas in the atmosphere from decaying vegetation in the sealed dome. He puts on his respirator in the elevator, and tells Marc to do that too. They step out into the forest.
Helia starts to feels a bit better. "Oh dear," she says to herself, "I think there's something wrong with this air." She's still feeling very light-headed, but stops laughing and, leaving Misha on the ground, flies up to look at the canopy.
Marquis Marc calls after her, "Come back, please!"
She answers. "As long as I'm up here, I'd just as well finish what I'm doing."
Shark tries to grab Misha and tries to drag him back into the building.
As he is pulled to his feet, Misha starts to get his head together. He has his fingers stuck together, a big jawbreaker in his mouth, and a few moments ago he thought this was absolutely hilarious. He spits out the candy and removes his fingers from the chinese puzzle. That was weird, he thinks, not altogether unpleasant but definitely weird. He walks back into the lobby of the building, as the Marquis explains about the air and the need for a respirator.
Meanwhile, Helia has reached the canopy. It looks thick, as if it's fairly solid leaves of some sort, with vine-like stems. There is no way through, not even at the building -- the leaves press up against the construction. She touches the leaves, and to her surprise they feel rather spongy. She flies back down, folds up her wings, and puts her vest back on.
Back on the forest floor, Ed takes his mask off while
Marc monitors his condition from inside. He feels a little light-headed,
but it doesn't affect him adversely.
Everyone returns to the building. They discuss the experience.
"I wasn't aware of the magic in the air," says Misha.
"It's laughing gas," explains Shark.
"Well, yeah!" laughs Helia. "Duh!"
"Nitrous oxide, the real laughing gas. Like dentists use. They put you in a chair, feed you laughing gas until you're unconscious, and fix your teeth. You babble all sorts of fun stuff when you're taking laughing gas."
"I didn't have time to babble, I was just laughing!"
Shark looks pointedly at her. "When did you develop that particular talent? The one for lifting off the ground with your, uh, wings?"
"About the time that I had wings...?"
"Ah. I see. Could come in handy."
They all return to the guest suite. The Marquis resolves to ensure that they don't get into trouble again. Misha recalls that his jherig dealt fine with the conditions -- it just sat there while he laughed himself silly. Helia goes up to her suite and takes a luxuriant bath in her jacuzzi, looking out over the forest canopy through the large window; she then relaxes with some fruit and watches her portable vidwatcher -- the soap opera updates she hasn't seen since uploading them. Shark has already determined that at least his suite is clear of monitoring devices.
About half an hour later, the elevator door opens to
reveal the Sheriff. He greets them, and settles down in the lounge.
"I'm pleased to say I'll have everything set up," he tells them, "As soon
as your engineer can help us with a few things. Do you have translators?"
The Marquis says that they do, hooked into their personal commdot systems.
"Good, because the guy who knows the northern forest best doesn't speak Galanglic."
"Should be interesting," observes the Marquis.
"We don't go out that way very often," explains the Sheriff. "We tend to farm the area around here. The northern forest, like the forest in general, looks after itself pretty well. There's only so much you can visit."
"Do you hunt for meat, out of the forest?" asks the Marquis.
"Yes, although we don't export meat. Most of what we get here are vegetables, fruits..."
"I've got an economic question for you. What is the economic value of offworld wood? To make furniture and other luxury items?"
"I don't think it would be worth shipping it in, I think. The idea of making furniture -- except for something decorative -- out of something offworld just doesn't work. Unless you could do it here."
Misha breaks in, "Would it be possible for me to meet with the guy before the trip, to discuss logistics and so on?"
"Yes, certainly," replies Sheriff Erwin. "He won't be in until tomorrow, though. And any equipment you want you're welcome to take from our stores."
"Good," says Marquis Marc, "We've brought an overnight's worth of kit. How long would this expedition be?"
"How far do you want to go?"
"Is this the guy who took Cappy Starfugger?"
"I don't think he's ever been in the forest."
"Then how did he hear about it?"
"Oh, I must have mentioned it to him. He stayed up here, I didn't want to let him get too close to stuff out there."
"Yes," laughs Marc, "His odor could probably kill a tree."
At this point Helia, refreshed from her break, enters.
The Sheriff looks at her with appreciative surprise, and stands to shake
her hand. "Nice to meet you. Erwin, Erwin Hedaker."
"Helia Sarina. Pleased to meet you, sir."
The Marquis explains, "Helia's our senior flight crew, our pilot."
Helia says, "Flying is a favorite activity of mine."
Erwin says, "We don't do much flying on this planet."
"It's a wonderful planet and atmosphere for it. That laughing gas is pretty interesting too."
Shark explains, "The nitrous oxide? It comes from the decaying plant material, and it causes you to feel giddy."
"Oh!" the Sheriff smiles, "Oh no, that's not nitrous oxide, that's oxygen. You're just not used to the level of it."
Helia says, "So no fires, in other words."
"Fires are frowned upon, and they don't tend to burn very well."
"Well," continues Helia. "It's beautiful. Your trees are really quite incredible. I love the structure of them up underneath. And it's really all one plant?"
"In this particular forest, yes."
"How does it grow?"
"It expands slowly, crawls... roots and aerial runners."
"Can you transplant it? Like to another planet?"
"We have not been able to transplant it successfully, not even from one location to another here."
"Well it was a pleasure," concludes Helia, "I'll let you continue talking to the boss."
The Marquis asks, "What is the guide's name?"
"His name is Lap'da," says Erwin.
"Lap'da. OK. And Lap'da will be here tomorrow, you say? Excellent. Should we wait on his expertise in picking out the gear, or should we go ahead?"
"Misha suggested he wanted to talk to him first, so that's probably the best. You might want to take Misha's advice on that."
"If we want to take a walk, are there any particular areas we shouldn't go?"
"It's easy to get lost if you get out of sight of the buildings, so take a compass with you -- it's good practice -- or stay within sight of the lights."
"OK. I think we can arrange that."
"If you do get lost, you can ask anybody. People who are out of sight of the buildings generally know where they are."
"I was informed that Mich left this morning, on time?"
"Yes, I understand that."
"Good, so he should be here tomorrow."
"Yes. He'll probably be here before Lap'da comes in."
"Great. Would you mind showing me around the facility? I'd just like to..."
"Certainly! There's not much to see, I'm afraid, but I'd be glad to lead anyone who wants a tour!"
The Marquis is trying to figure out if everyone here is living at TL-11, or are they just dealing with TL-11 items while living at TL-5? How versed in technology are they, or do they just use high-tech magic in their job?
The Sheriff takes the group for their tour. Everyone
carries a mask and goggles.
As the elevator descends, Erwin says, "You've pretty much seen the guest wing, and you've seen the railway station. We have to go through the forest to get anywhere else." He seems delighted to take them around.
The Marquis says, "Your bookstore in Center seems to be well stocked in scientific and technological books."
"It's pretty well stocked in many things," Erwin confirms, "Rimes is a good bookstore."
"Your educational system. Do you have an organized university, or...? What sort of curricula do they teach, medicine, and so on?"
"They cover most things."
"No. We don't actually study that because we have no occurrence of psionics here. We're really close enough to the Zhodani that we can use their textbooks and research here, so while we have a psionics department -- I think at Sirrily -- in terms of widespread study, it's not something we've researched that much."
"You say you have no occurrence here?"
"None, I believe."
The tour proper begins as they step out into the forest.
They are told that if they don't use a mask, they'll adapt more quickly.
Most of them choose to leave the mask off, but are ready to put it on if they
start to feel light-headed. Those who went out earlier are already adapted.
Marquis Marc keeps his mask in place.
The building they just left is the guest quarters. The stalk contains the mechanical gear, but there's not much to see in there. The building is of stone construction, although it's hard to tell that in this light. The red lights are unique to this building, just to help keep guests from getting lost outside.
They start to follow a path around to the left, to the Sheriff's house. Most of the staff live in the woods -- not wild in the woods like the Janns, but in small houses built between the tree trunks and so on. The temperature in the woods is pretty constant; it varies a little from summer to winter, about 5-10 degrees, but there won't be another winter for about 100 years or so. The long year is why they adopted the standard year and divided it into the natural day cycles; it's 415 local days, with a leap day every 6th year. Since it was settled in 320 T.I. , the actual local year number is 320 less than the Imperial one.
The Sheriff points out the support pillars for the railway, which runs basically north-south. It passes through the station here, then ends at the cargo terminal a couple of kilometers on. So if they were to travel south, all they'd need to do would be to go east or west (whichever applied) until they reached the railway supports, and follow those. Determining direction isn't really possible by the sun, so a compass is essential.
The supports were raised carefully through the canopy from below. Their ancestors had time to work on this.
The original sheriff dug his way through the forest wall. The wall itself is basically a solid tree trunk. His team painstakingly worked their way through, moving all people and tailings through the airlock. The wall is about five meters thick.
The Marquis notices that there are no fallen leaves. It's not strictly true that the leaves don't fall -- in the case of damage to the forest they'll stay attached, but fall and collapse and form a seal that way. The original pioneers at First City never gave it a chance to form a seal, but if there's a railway accident for example it'll heal itself. Railway accidents are very rare, there's only been one -- you can see the scar from that if you look in the right place on the trip. The train travels at about 100 kph, so it's hard to catch sight of it.
Marquis Marc then asks Erwin about the Janns.
"Where do they live?"
"In the forest. That's their environment."
"How did they get into the forest?"
"That's an interesting question. A very interesting question indeed. I've learned... part of my job requirements -- the part that many people find the most difficult -- is keeping an open mind about the Janns."
"Well, you said that the original sheriff used technology, but your history states that the Janns left the ship taking little or no technology with them."
"Right. The history states that the Janns left the ship and went into the forest. The forest that died. And somehow got across the Gap and across the seas to every forest in the northern hemisphere."
Helia asks, "Do you mean there's humans everywhere?"
"There are Janns in all the forests."
"You think they've become symbiotes?"
"I keep an open mind. I don't think so. I think they're very comfortable in their environment. But yes, the official story is that they... you've read the official story. The official story doesn't mention how they got into the other forests, so I'm afraid I really don't have an answer to that."
Marc asks, "So there's no unofficial story?"
"No. I just said I keep an open mind. That's the sensible thing to do."
"So how much of the forest do you actually occupy on a regular basis?"
"Very little. The forest is so big."
"Do you patrol it? How do you understand when there's something wrong in a remote area?"
"Generally there isn't anything wrong. The only things that go wrong are things we would cause ourselves. Sometimes the Janns will tell us when they think something needs our attention; usually they're right, but it's a little difficult sometimes to understand what they're saying."
"Do you have any idea what the population of the Janns are?"
"No. And there's no official number. We have no idea."
"So do you live in close proximity with them, or do they live in close proximity with you?"
"Not really, they generally prefer to stay away. They let us get on with our business, and they get on with theirs."
Now they've reached the Sheriff's residence.
It looks like a column. There's a classical column-adorned entrance,
and then the usual airlock of glass doors leading into a lobby. This
building goes both ways, up and down. It also has some of the Sheriff's
offices, and has other various functions. The Steward, Frederick Houlihan,
lives here too, as do the servants.
This building is connected to the guest column -- if they were to have exited the train on the other side, they would have walked into this house. The station obscures it from the view of the guest quarters.
The Sheriff suggests a trip to the commercial end of
Cormor Home. It's a couple of kilometers, but they can take a car.
In fact there's one just around the corner...
The car is more like an extended golf cart. It's about two and a half seats wide, ten rows long, with twelve wheels arranged in three axles each end. There's a sub-floor area that dips down between the wheels.
The group boards the car. The Marquis joins the Sheriff a few rows back from the chauffeur, and everyone else climbs in further back.
The car is clearly electric. It travels quite silently along a path towards the commercial section.
The industrial section is a serious of big buildings,
large silos and so on. They enter a building near the center of the
cluster, and go up past a control room to an observation area, where they
can look down at everything. They are high up above the canopy here
-- aside from the railway access, everything comes in and out at the forest
floor level. There are plenty of elevator stalks, and also some large
square buildings (with rounded edges) that protrude through the canopy.
The holes for the buildings were made slowly.
As for the tree trunks, Erwin isn't sure. They were built before he was born, and they just don't do construction like that any more. Everything they've built recently has been within the forest between the trunks.
The single rail line comes in from the south. The train just reverses to return to Center, so presumably there's a double track area somewhere along the way. The group didn't see one on the trip out, but there'd have to be one around half-way. They guess they would have passed the other train in the evening, around supper-time.
What they're mostly exporting from here are fruits, nuts, mushrooms, and vegetables. They're all specialty products, as most of the agricultural needs are satisfied by the southern continent farms around Sirrily.
The Marquis chooses to walk back, just for the exercise,
so the Sheriff points out the path to them and leaves in the car.
After a short distance, the Marquis removes his mask. He didn't want to embarrass himself in front of the Sheriff. He feels rather light-headed, and starts giggling at the thought. Misha tries to put the mask on, but Marc thinks it's a game and runs away from him.
Misha runs after him, as does Helia, with her chinese puzzle at the ready. Marc is not cooperating, and is flailing his arms around until Misha knocks him over. Marc's face is shoved into the dirt -- how amusing! But soon he calms down, and stands back up. He puts the mask on and wipes his face. He gives himself a couple of minutes on the mask, then tries again. This time he's acclimatized well enough, and continues with the mask off.
The road is not that obvious. It's only a trampled area in the forest floor, really, and they have to pause a few times to figure it out. They do, however, make their way easily enough back to the guest quarters.
They see a few animals on the way, most notably a small flock of birdlike creatures that fly rapidly past them. Even with the glasses, it's hard to see them.
Back in their quarters, the Marquis requests local cuisine for their dinner. It consists of salad, fruit, mushrooms, vegetables. There's no cheese, but there is something with a cheese-like texture. It's all very good.
Well fed and well exercised, they all sleep well too.
The Marquis welcomes him, then continues, "We are about
to prepare for our expedition. They won't let us leave until some demonstration
of your ability has warranted their expense. Please take time and do
a good job. I'm sure he knows you're here, and I wouldn't be surprised
if the elevator were starting right now."
The elevator hasn't started, so the Marquis picks up the phone and asks for the Steward. "Mich has arrived, and I'm sure he's quite interested in seeing the systems that he's supposed to maintain."
"Already? Would he like a while to settle in first?"
"I don't think so. He's used to military timings. We can meet you downstairs in the lobby...?"
"That would be wonderful!"
They don't have to wait long in the lobby before the
Sheriff himself walks in from outside.
"I didn't mean to bother you!" says Marquis Marc with surprise.
"Oh no, not at all, my pleasure!" He turns to the stranger among them. "You must be Mich."
"Yes, Mich Saginaw."
"Pleased to meet you. I'm Erwin Hedaker, the Sheriff here. We talked on the phone.."
"You have some zuchai crystals you need checked out?"
"We certainly do! I gather you're eager to get going right away."
"Yes, my equipment I left at the train station...?"
"That's being taken over right now. If you'd like to follow me, we'll go outside and pick up a car."
The Marquis excuses himself and returns to the guest lounge.
Mich says, "They said I'm supposed to wear this mask. Laughing gas or something?"
"It's just a high concentration of oxygen. It can make you feel drunk if you're not used to it."
Mich resolves to use his mask occasionally, to acclimatize himself slowly to the air.
They walk out to the car. It's electric, charged
from the fusion reactor. They want to minimize pollution under the
canopy -- although the Sheriff is sure the forest would adapt, he doesn't
want to risk it. Erwin explains that the systems are all over at the
Mich asks, "So how long has your fusion reactor been going?"
"Oh, it's been running a good while, a couple of hundred years. Now the zuchai crystals, that's a recent innovation. It's been running about five years or so."
"Mining your own crystals and manufacturing?"
"That's a fairly impressive plant right there."
"It's amazing what some concerned craftsmen can do. It's by no means at industrial production level. This is the only place on the planet that uses them, so the craftsmen who do it are all employed by me."
"That could be something to export."
"It could be, but you know, I think the universe has enough zuchai crystals. I don't feel like depleting our supply that much. I certainly don't want some foreign group, one of the megacorporations , coming in and trying to operate here. I'm just not sure that they'd be willing to put up with our output. We don't use that much."
"Well, your demand is not that high."
"Exactly, exactly. The demand is so low, well, if we need replacements we'll need more, but until then there's no real demand for it. If we need more we can produce them."
"You could at least let the starport know that there's some available for incoming ships. You could charge a hefty surcharge just for the availability."
"To be quite honest, money is not much of an issue here. The world as a whole isn't built on export trade. I must say that I have some exports that are reasonably lucrative, but we aren't really in the business of fixing starships or anything."
"What sort of exports are lucrative?"
"Well, we have some horticultural stuff, agricultural stuff really. There's a world out there -- Denotam ? -- that appreciates one of the particular products we produce here. They feed some money back very nicely. The money comes in very useful, but we're more interested in acquiring technology and techniques than actual products. If we can't actually build it here, maintain it here, and build the tools to build and maintain it here, then it's not much use to us. Our original factories were built to make tools to build the factories that would make those tools, so that everything from then on was made from materials that were mined here, with tools that were built here, so everything was self-sufficient. That's the whole principle everything was built on."
"So all the parts from the original ships were removed and smelted and effectively everything destroyed."
"Oh yes. We sold a few parts to traders that came through. I guess we melted it all down, and probably discarded some in the ocean too."
"The supports you have for the rail system are fairly impressive."
"Yes, well it took a long time ot put it all together, it was very much a long term project. Obviously it was before my time, and my father's time for that matter. We have a bunch of full-time crews who work on it."
The car stops. "Well, here we are," Erwin announces.
"It's this building over here, if you'll come this way."
They enter one of the silos. There's a large door, and the whole floor inside is empty. They take a service elevator downwards for several minutes -- Mich can't get any impression of speed or how far they're going. There's nothing to indicate that they're passing any other floors or anything.
The doors open at a lobby, and they step through a door into an Engineering shop.
There are racks of zuchai crystals, ready to be measured.
The Sheriff explains, "We've taken the crystals out so you can measure them.
We're not anticipating a weather system coming through, so we figure we can
shut down safely for a while. We thought it would make it easier if
we did the disassembly work for you. This is Guy," he says, introducing
a man in overalls. "He's my Chief Engineer, and will work with you if
you don't mind. If you can show him what to do, and what the equipment
does, and all that... Mind if I watch a few?"
Mich doesn't mind at all. He starts work with the PRIS viewer, describing how it works, what it shows, and what it would show in the event of a defect. Mich and Guy get on very well, and communicate easily and enthusiastically.
This first crystal is flawless. Mich compliments them on it.
Erwin smiles and thanks him. "We do produce good quality here. Our fusion reactor consists of a great many hand built parts."
Mich has that in mind. He has brought some diagrams with him of something he intends to ask if they can build...
They spend the morning looking at crystals -- all seem to be in good shape -- then in the afternoon they tear apart the instruments and show how they work. After the first day, Guy has picked up quickly about the test procedure, and about the equipment. They should be able to do all the inspections themselves now, Guy assures Mich.
Meanwhile, Lap'da arrives at the guest quarters.
"Hello," says the Marquis, forgetting that their visitor speaks Jannish, not Galanglic. He switches on the translator unit.
"Hello, I'm Lap'da." He sits on the floor, smiling, while Marc introduces himself and his crew.
"You are to be our guide to the northern parts of the forest?"
"Yes. Yes, I am the guide."
"I am here to find the animal that hunts other hunters. It has been described as attracting those hunters in mysterious ways."
"Let us see what we can find."
"I would like to leave the details of planning the expedition to Misha and Edward, if that meets with your...? Excellent. Gentlemen." He walks over to a nearby chair and pulls out his book again. It's very dense reading, and the annotations are often drier than the proceedings themselves. The Marquis has never seen psionics described at the molecular level before.
Misha turns to Lap'da. "How many days travel
to the location where we might obtain the animal we hunt?"
Lap'da pauses. "It will take some time."
"Days? Weeks? Months?"
Ed asks, "Is there a name for what we hunt?"
Lap'da pauses again. "Yes, there is a name."
"What name would you give it?"
"I will be glad to give it whatever name you wish."
"I want to know what you call it."
They are already becoming accustomed to Lap'da's habitual pause before speaking. This time he says, "I don't know."
Ed looks over their guide carefully. Lap'da is dressed in light natural fibers. Tunic, leggings, light woven sandals. He's not dressed like the people they've seen around here -- these clothes are hand-made. Ed wonders if that's enough to assess whether he's Jann or not.
Misha asks, "Is there particular equipment we have to have?"
A pause. "That depends." Another pause. "What you want to do." Again Lap'da pauses. "This is all I'm taking."
That settles it for Ed. He knows who he's dealing with -- native wildlife! Their guide seems to be carrying nothing other than the clothes he is wearing. The closest to a weapon would be the lacing in his sandals.
Misha asks, "How many creatures are dangerous to men in the forest?"
Lap'da says, "None are more dangerous than men."
"How much does the temperature change?"
Ed answers him, "We have no weather to deal with, so we can sleep on the ground."
"Is the Captain OK with that?"
"He told us to set it up," Ed laughs. "How much food, or how difficult is it to live off the land? How much time would we be able to travel if we lived off the land? Given that those two would be no help in living off the land..."
Lap'da replies "What they lack, the land will make up for."
"Is water much of a problem?"
"No." A long pause. "Who do you all answer to?"
Ed waves at the Marquis, then says that Misha is second. "Are we going to be gone ten days or less, or ten days or more?"
Misha adds, "That's up to the Captain."
Ed says, "A couple of changes of clothes, some sleeping gear, emergency rations, and some water, in case we find it too difficult in living off the land. Whatever comfort items that we can acquire. OK, the Captain doesn't usually like to capture animals, just observe them, so we don't care much about that. I guess that's about it. How rough is the terrain? Is it different from around here, does it get more or less steep, is it marshy?"
Lap'da thinks for a moment. "It gets none of those things," he says.
Ed smiles to himself, "I begin to understand."
Misha asks Marquis Marc how soon he wants to leave.
Tomorrow morning seems to be the best idea; Mich will stay here, not accompany
them, so it doesn't matter that the engineer's work is not yet complete.
The Marquis is comfortable with leaving Mich here. He laughs, "At worst they'll put him in a cell and make him build things."
Misha adds his concern, "It is true we are a long way from the Imperium, but we are not completely..."
"It wasn't well advertised that this is where we were coming. I think it's worth the risk."
So they will leave tomorrow morning.
Lap'da asks, "Will you need to kill anything?"
Misha says, "Only if it poses a threat to our safety." His jherig can eat fruit, being an omnivore.
Helia says, helpfully, "We have plenty of candy." She turns to Lap'da, "Want some? Here, try this, don't chew it."
He looks at her curiously, and the words that come over the translator are, "I thank the liking for doodle, pnoo cuthlollily. Rumbly rumbly."
They all look at each other, wondering if it translated for any of them. They realize that those were not the words he said, that was what it translated into.
"OK," says Ed, "We will meet you tomorrow at the entrance downstairs, after sunrise?"
"Yes." Lap'da bows to Helia, "Leepolyohvayga." He leaves.
The Marquis looks up from his book. "You guys
"We have started arranging," replies Misha. "How long do you want to be gone? It could take weeks. It could take a month."
"I won't give up before two months. How are we going to carry enough supplies for two months?"
"We intend to live off the land. Are you capable of eating fruit for weeks -- months -- at a time?"
"Depends how much toilet paper..."
"Are you capable of going to the bathroom in the woods?"
"Yes," laughs Marquis Marc, "I have been camping before."
"Are you capable of sleeping on the ground?"
"Bare ground, or are we going to use a sleeping bag?"
"I'm asking what sleeping arrangements do you require?"
"The best available, but a simple self-inflating sleeping bag is fine."
Misha asks Helia the same thing. She replies that a hammock would be best, but sleeping on the ground would work.
Misha then calls the Steward to sort out equipment.
He in turn will have someone from the stores call him back.
While the Steward is still on the phone, Shark asks him a question: "What do you take with you on an extended trip into the forest?"
The Steward replies, "A knife, a gun -- I've never used the gun -- compass, notebooks, not much else."
"You live off the land, then? And I assume that Lap'da can help us with that?"
"Yes, absolutely. Although you can't go wrong, none of the fruit is poisonous or anything."
"Excellent. And the fruit gives us enough liquid we don't have to worry about water?"
"You'll find water as well."
"Excellent. Is there any particular animal we should avoid. I understand there must be hunters if we are after the hunter who hunts hunters."
"If it looks like it might eat you, avoid it."
"How many of those have you seen?"
"A good few. I've generally avoided them -- successfully, obviously."
"Yes, I see. We won't be able to travel quietly with our entourage, therefore most animals will avoid us. If they don't, we should just assume that we should defend ourselves?"
"Yes, or back off."
"It's dark. Do most of the animals have extremely large eyes or do they operate like cats?"
"They seem pretty well adjusted to the light. I think the ones at night will hunt by hearing, scent..."
Helia gets Shark's attention. He asks her question: "Our small one, as a pilot, is interested in things that fly. Are there flying predators?"
"Yes. There are some. They are all small, nothing you should concern yourselves with."
Shark passes the phone over to Helia. She says, "Do the small ones swarm?"
"No. They hunt smaller things."
"Like predatorial birds, that eat other birds?"
"Yes, and some ground animals, but they eat only small creatures."
"OK. How do they fly?"
"Regular wings? Flapping?"
"Yes. How else would they fly?"
"Well, a bumblebee is not meant to fly yet it does." Everyone looks confused, so she explains, "It's a theoretical statement, lost in the history of time." She passes the phone back to Shark.
Shark asks, "So it will be reasonable if I carry a firearm, and Misha carries a large knife?"
"Yes, certainly," replies the Steward. "Don't use it unless you need to, and try not to damage anything around you."
"Right. We will attempt never to use either of them. Getting our boss in danger will not get us a bonus."
"Good. Don't shoot upwards where you expect to camp. It might make a hole, and if it's big enough it will start falling down to heal itself, and you wouldn't want to be under that. On occasion it will fall all the way to the ground."
"If you can think of any other basic rules of the forest, please don't hesitate to call."
"Not really, just treat it with respect. That's all you need to do, really."
"Thank you. I'm sure that Lap'da will keep us in line."
"Oh, I don't think so, but he's a valuable resource so take his advice well."
"Only when we can understand the translator."
"Yes. Well. Stick to simple things and it'll be fine."
Shark thanks the Steward, and hangs up.
The supply store clerk calls soon after, and suggests
that Misha comes down in person and select their equipment. Of course
the crew already has some basic high-tech camping equipment, and small packs
and so on. They also brought a small amount of supplies, compasses
built into the sensor equipment, and simple medical gear. That means
that pretty much the only things they need are weapons -- a bow, some knifes,
a rifle or shotgun.
Shark asks Helia if she's camped out before. She looks at him strangely, then says, "I've spent the night outdoors before, but not on this planet." That's good enough for him. The other issue might be hiking shoes -- Helia decides she needs new ones, as long as someone else will carry her gear if she doesn't need them, like if she decides to travel other than walking. Shark offers to carry her gear, and suggests she should come along with them.
Misha, Shark, and Helia go down to the store.
There's a good selection of items, all of which are handmade.
Shark decides that since he probably won't be engaging any targets over 100m, and more likely 50m, the best weapon would be a pistol. There's a large selection, anything from small caliber to large. Some of the animals are larger than he is, and although the store clerk suggests a 30mm pistol, Shark prefers a less imposing 10mm. The weapon carries five shots. Shark decides to take one extra clip and twenty more rounds. They could be gone for up to two months, but he thinks that's enough.
Misha selects a wooden longbow, with a quiver and arrows. He looks at the selection of swords, and finds some really nice ones, in many styles. Some of them are very good indeed, well balanced and built for the job. While they are not allowed to be used by law, they show a knowledge of their use. Some of them are years old, while others are new; all of course are locally made -- here, in the forest, in fact. Misha is told that he'd have to talk to the Sheriff to meet the person who made them. Meanwhile, Misha picks an excellent sword, a long straight blade, perfectly balanced.
Shark says to Helia, "You like gadgets. How about a switchblade or folding knife?"
Helia immediately searches for an evil looking hunting knife, either stiletto or full hunting / skinning / cleaning knife. The latter is rather chunky, so she picks the stiletto -- it has excellent balance, and feels a very good fit in her hand. She also is provided with a sheath, with a retaining clip so it doesn't fall out.
Next, lightweight boots for Helia. The clerk measures her feet, and promises to have something ready tomorrow morning; socks as well. The boots will need some breaking in, but not too much. He says she won't need waterproof clothing.
All is now ready for the trip.
Mich returns to the guest quarters that evening, and reports that everything is going well.
Before they leave, however, Misha calls the Steward
for a private conversation.
Misha explains, "Our engineer Mich is a special person. His services are in great demand amongst certain member of the population. We feel safe leaving him here, but we would ask you to pay special attention to any offworlders who might come along here while we're gone."
"Yes," says the Steward, "I will personally guarantee his safety while he is our guest."
Misha thanks him, shakes his hand, and returns to the group.
They are ready to leave.
While the others prepare for the trip, Mich gets on
to more interesting activities. At the engineering shop, he wants to
go over how the whole repulsion system is integrated. Guy produces
a pile of paper blueprints, and shows him the layout. It looks very
much like a jump drive -- there's a feed from the fusion reactor into the
zuchai crystals, which then dump into the output unit. Mich observes
that the setup looks a little like a black globe, or more accurately of course
electrostatic field armor.
At this point the Sheriff, who's been present on the discussion of the integrated system, breaks in. "Mich, what we'd really like to come up with is some way of reducing our dependence on zuchai crystals. If we had some way of coming up with energy that would augment, or bypass, or feed through..."
Mich says, "I've done something like that before on a jump drive, that reduced my zuchai crystals by about half."
"That would be wonderful. As you probably noticed, we have quite a few, and that's not all of them." That's an understatement. The ones in the racks would have been enough to jump the whole commercial area.
"I have some designs of some energy generators I was using. The components have been very difficult to manufacture, very few places in the Imperium are able to make them because of the high level of craftsmanship necessary."
"Really?" The Sheriff looks intrigued.
"I am quite impressed with the quality of your zuchai crystals and your facility. I did bring the plans with me, and we can see if you can put one together so we can lab bench it and see how well it works. This has been a project I've been working on for a couple of years, trying to refine it."
"I tell you what," muses Erwin, "I'll have you talk to a specialist. I have a specialist who I think would be very interested in helping you with this."
"Basically we do some phase shift of the matter and then annihilate it with a net release of energy."
"Hmm. Let me get the specialist to come and talk to you. I'll be right back." He walks off briskly.
The hiking party descends from the guest quarters,
and finds Lap'da sitting cross-legged on the grass in front of the door.
They step outside into the rich forest air.
Helia asks Lap'da which shoes he suggests -- her regular light ones, or the new boots. He suggests the new boots at first, although he tells her to try them both and see what she likes -- she may prefer to go without either.
Time to start walking...
Lap'da strides out at a fairly relaxed pace.
He's heading directly north from the guest quarters.
Misha is concerned that Helia's new boots might rub or be uncomfortable, so he asks her to stop every half an hour or so to check them. They are very comfortable, in fact.
Their route passes around the outside of the commercial section, and from there they strike north along a path. They're seeing some people walking by, some carrying objects, and the occasional electric cargo cart loaded with boxes, the contents of which are not visible.
Misha asks Lap'da what they're carrying. He tells him that he will see...
After half an hour or so they come across an area of
cultivation. There is an area where grows a small conical fungus, about
30 cm high, a fairly narrow cone. The exterior is a slightly brownish
color, while the inside is much lighter. They are planted in rows, but
some of the plants are shorter than others. People move among the plants,
harvesting them and taking them back to be packed into boxes.
Helia asks, "Are those cooking mushrooms?"
Lap'da replies, with the aid of the offworlders' translators, "Don't eat those."
"Are they good for anything?"
"Can you tell me what?"
"OK. Is it a local thing?"
"They send them offworld."
"OK. They have a drug effect?"
Lap'da answers slowly, even for him. "Not... maybe."
"And I wouldn't like it?"
"Like sure barleynuh. Tzuki." Again odd words come out of the translator.
"OK. Thank you." Helia turns to the rest of the team. "I've no idea what it's for, but he said we'd better not eat it. What do you think it is, if they send them offworld?"
Misha speculates, "At first I thought it was drugs, like you did, but his comment about barley-nut something or other made me think of alcohol."
"Oh, it's probably a component for making something. I bet Vonish would know. He'd be able to figure it out. Oh well."
They move on. The area of cultivation is all
to their left, and continues on for some distance. After about twenty
minutes of walking, they leave the cultivated area behind.
As they move further from the mushroom fields, Ed and Misha notice that there seems to be more wildlife around. There are more birds up near the canopy, and over there is something that looks like a squirrel. There are no paths here -- it's pretty clear that they have left people behind them.
Helia's boots have broken in well and are extremely comfortable.
The vegetation underfoot feels like soft turf. It seems to be grass. There are clumps of bushes around, some of which are fairly large, but none require substantial detours. Lap'da just leads them around the clumps, maintaining a general direction to the north. He grabs a small purple fruit from one of the bushes as he passes, and eats it as he walks.
Ed decides someone needs to be the guinea pig, and figures it should be him. He also grabs one of those fruits. It's about the size, shape, and texture of a ripe plum. It tastes good with a fairly firm texture. It has no stone or pit, as far as he can tell, and the whole thing seems edible.
Now everyone is seeing more wildlife. Away to the west they even see a small herd of grazers, about the size of a deer but with a more solid shape, more like a hippo; they are browsing gently on the grass and ignore the people completely.
They keep walking. Ed looks for another plant
like the one bearing the purple fruit, but sees none exactly like it.
He does find one similar, though.
He asks the guide, "Lap'da, is this one the same that we ate a few minutes ago."
"Nothing is ever the same."
"Close enough, huh?"
"Nothing will harm you."
Ed sniffs at it. It smells different. He breaks off a little and eats it. It tastes good, but different, and with a more grainy texture. He holds out a piece to Misha's jherig -- the lizard eats it, apparently satisfied with it.
Lap'da doesn't seem to be stopping for a rest or anything,
just keeps walking. The team finds it easy going, though. The
terrain is basically flat, there is soft springy turf underfoot, the gravity
is light but not too light, and it's very easy on them.
After several hours, Marquis Marc suggests a short break. Lap'da looks around, says "This way," and takes off in another direction.
After about five minutes he's apparently reached what he was heading for. There's a patch of plants with yellow gourd-like fruit. He gestures for the team to settle here, and walks over to the plant. He picks one of the fruit, breaks off the end, and drinks from it. Having emptied it, he then uses his hand to scoop out the contents, which he eats. The offworlders follow suit.
Lap'da looks at Sagan, picks a gourd and takes it over to hir. The hiver hunkers down over the fruit and eats it.
Marquis Marc is curious. He asks, "So Lap'da, how did you know how he eats?"
"We all eat the same way."
"But his mouth is in a completely different position."
"But he eats the same way."
Sagan is intensely curious, but for the time just watches. Sie hopes the gourd does hir no harm. The fruit smells fresh, a touch salty, a little sweet. Sie plucks a little grass and smells it too -- it seems identical to the grass sie's smelt at many other human settlements on many planets.
Helia takes off her shoes again, and waves her toes in the air. Everything feels fine. She comments on how nice the shoes are, and suggests that others might like to get a pair.
Marc notices that the vine-bushes show signs of having been picked before. He asks Lap'da, "So Janns live around here?"
"They're the ones that ate from the other gourds?"
After a while, the Marquis decides it's time to move
on. The team heads north again. Every now and then Lap'da grabs
something from a bush as he goes by, and snacks as he walks. Sagan
samples (and smells) everything their guide does, although of course sie
has stop and eat.
The fruits are all quite different, but in some ways are all the same. All are juicy, with a skin that retains the moisture. Colors vary -- yellow, red, green, purple, blue. They vary in size between the size of a softball and the size of a golf ball.
After another three hours, Lap'da comes to a stop at
a place about 50m from three clumps of bushes. He says, "Camp here."
The team could still walk further -- it's only mid-afternoon -- but follow his suggestion. Their concept of time is highly distorted, as the light quality doesn't seem to change at all her in the forest.
Marc asks Lap'da, "How many more days of travel like this to where what we seek lives?"
"No more days like this."
"How many more days travel?"
"OK. Sure. Let's camp."
Marquis Marc pulls out a couple of his "football" sensors,
and sets up his personal computer to beep him if anything is recorded.
He notes that they've pretty much travelled in a straight line north from
The three patches of bushes have different sorts of fruit. One is an orange gourd-like fruit, the others round fruits. Lap'da goes from one clump to another, gathering himself some of each, and settles down to eat. All follow suit. The jherig eats some of the fruit as well.
None of the ship's crew have had this much exercise in a while. Now that they've sat down, they're feeling a little tired. They pull out their personal sleeping equipment; some sleep right away, others stay up chatting for a while until they're tired. Lap'da circles around a few times before settling down on a patch of turf, much like a dog turns around before lying down.
Sagan wanders around for a little while, looking at hir surroundings, before settling down to sleep.
Misha and Ed agree to stand two hour watches through the night. Misha takes the first watch, and Ed is to wake him -- if there's no-one else then available to stand watch, that is.
During his watch, Misha notices a pack of about four or five creatures, about the size of a large cat, approach from the east, circle the encampment once, and head off to the east again. It's hard to tell whether they're predators or not, but they move silently and sleekly, and are probably capable of much faster movement if they want. They have what look like large ears. Other than those, he sees some birds, some herbivores munching on the grass -- none of them come particularly near.
Misha wakes Shark and hands over the watch. The
light quality has still not changed. He tells him about the creatures
that circled the camp.
On Shark's watch, he sees one creature do the same as the cat-sized pack. This creature is the size of a large bear. It slowly ambles around the perimeter and goes back the way it came. Shark keeps his pistol to hand, but the creature does not seem threatening. He takes a picture of it, and tries to memorize that spot.
Other than that, there's nothing exceptional. He does hear off in the distance a rhythmic noise like might be made by insects or frogs or something.
The two hours passes. Lap'da is now awake and
sitting up, watching Shark and smiling. After about 15 minutes of
that, Shark goes to wake Misha.
Lap'da interrupts, "No need to wake him. There's no need to watch. But I will be awake."
Shark drops into as light a sleep as he can, and sets his watch to wake him after two hours.
It's only about an hour and a half later that Shark
wakes up. He tries to remain still while looking around. A dense
grey mist surrounds the camp, and drifts over the ground in the camp.
He sits up and looks around, and the mist instantly vanishes.
Lap'da is sitting, looking at Shark.
Shark asks him, "Who was our visitor?"
"We had no visitor."
"The grey mist?"
"If you are very still for some time, the mist forms. If anyone moves, the air it moves too, and no more mist. Go back to sleep. Since nothing moves within the mist, everyone knows that where there's mist there is no-one, so we're safe. Maybe one day you will be able to stay as still as I am, and you too can see the mist."
Shark thanks him and lies back down. He tries to stay awake while remaining still, but the fresh air and exercise has tired him out. He falls right to sleep... only to be woken half an hour later by his alarm. The grey mist is back. He remains as still as he can, and drifts back to sleep with the mist still surrounding the camp.
Back at Cormor Home, Mich spends a very productive
day. The Sheriff has stepped out to fetch his specialist.
About ten minutes later, the Sheriff returns with a woman.
Mich asks, "You know much about the zuchai crystals? You want to get rid of about half of them, or reduce the number?"
"Yes," she says. "By the way, I'm Jane. Jane Southcombe. Nice to meet you. The Sheriff said you had some outlandish idea."
Sheriff Erwin Hedaker blushes but says nothing.
Mich says, "Well in a jump drive you need a high pulse of energy to initiate the field. To do that normally you store it in zuchai crystals, slowly charge them up and give it one quick pulse. I did a system for a jump drive where we decreased the amount of storage we needed for the zuchai crystals by feeding them into a, say, a matter phase inverter. Converted it to antimatter which then annihilated immediately with a net release of energy."
"Hm," says Jane, "You designed and built this yourself?"
"The designs started with Professor Farol, a Darrian. I've refined it, done additional work on that. We made about 40 or 50 jumps with it. We were working on other jump drive improvements when we had a misjump which caused the loss of the ship."
"Oh. So what happened to hte ship?"
"The ship crashed on planet and was basically not salvageable at that point."
"But you could rebuild the drive without having to base it on what you had?"
"Yes. The problem we ran across is that the Imperial expertise isn't around to handle such finely crafted pieces of the antimatter generators that we need. I've got the basic design, but the craftmanship just wasn't available in those locations."
"I thought the Imperium was supposed to be the high-tech center of everything?"
"Well yes, but we were in unfamiliar territory and the service people that are available aren't familiar with this, and aren't willing to spend tte time. It's not cost-effective yet. But I can pull up most of the design specs here and see if it's something your craftsmen can do."
"I'd like to see it, certainly. Can you project it on this wall over here?"
Mich does that. Jane asks him to show him through it. He tries to explain the individual parts of the design.
To his surprise, Jane seems to understand perfectly: "OK, so this section here is where you're shifting the phase, and getting the energy back from the annihilation right there, and I see you've got the matter injection and the matter injection through the phase inverter. Interesting. So this part here is what does the phase inversion. OK. I see all the parts here, and see everything... How exactly does that work?"
"Well, that's part of the analysis that we don't have a firm handle on yet. I've tried to do simulations..." There's a component where he sees what it does, but how is still a mystery to him.
Jane presses him further. "So you know what this does here," she says, as if explaining it to Mich herself. "That's the part that does the phase inversion. So how exactly do you think that works? Could you use the energy for something other than phase inversion? It seems fairly integrated here. Could you take out the components?"
Mich stutters, "Well we put the energy in to do the phase inversion, and we need the annihilation to actually run..."
"But if you put the energy in and then the energy over here that's use to shift the phase of the matter, what if you didn't use that to shift the phase of the matter? I mean, obviously in this unit you have to, that's how it's set up. But what if you didn't, could you build that would do that?" As Mich stalls, Jane continues, "I mean it's very much integral to this part, you'd have to design something new to do it... Could you do that?"
"Well, we can start work on it. It's not a direction I'd been thinking about."
"Yeah, but this little bit here, that seems... strange... it's all very much integrated in the phase inversion. I can see how the energy transfers and there's a feedback from there, some of that energy is used to power the inverter again while the rest of it gets shunted out. That's pretty simple. But..."
"If you took out the phase inversion entirely, then we don't have any extra energy..."
"So what you're saying is you don't know how this bit works."
"That one little bit."
"Right," echoes Mich.
"OK," continues Jane, "But you could build one of these boxes, but you don't know how that bit works. So you couldn't actually do this without the phase inversion."
"No, I can't."
"OK," says Jane brightly. "OK"
"If we take out the phase inversion, we end up with..."
"Well, obviously with this design if you took out the phase inversion you wouldn't be getting the gain from this..."
"You wouldn't be getting the gain."
"That's right. Yes, that's right. You'd have to keep the phase inversion in there. Hm. But it feeds it fast enough you can do away with some of the zuchai crystals?"
"Yes, we've got a 50% reduction in our zuchai..."
"And that's the energy transfer," interrupts Jane, "Very good. Very nice."
"Now the zuchai crystals that you see are just enough to start the reaction, and then that goes through... What I built was to shrink it down. We originally had a much larger unit that we got a little higher efficiency, but keeping it aligned and operating, there were some problems with that. It was more likely to fail. So what I did was shrink it to this size you see here, and used a ring of six of them, and had them all tied in a rotating fashion so that if any of them failed, the others would take up the slack."
"Why stop at six?"
"The physical amount of room that I had. We could try the larger versions, for what you need, make them slightly larger and increase the number as you pointed out, and get the higher efficiency..."
Jane looks aside for a moment. "Excuse me, my beeper's going off. I'll be right back. Just wait, don't go away, I'll be right back, this is great!"
Jane walks out.
The Sheriff has been sitting quietly in the corner. He says to Mich, "So it sounds like you've got something pretty good here. Miss Southcombe certainly seems impressed."
"Yes," replies Mich. "I've been working on this jump drive design for several years now, trying to improve our jump technology. We has just decreased our average jump time by a significant amount, so instead of getting a seven day average, we were getting a six day average from our jump technology. We had gotten a couple of five day jumps. We ended up baqsically falling through jump space too fast. The simplest explanation is that the friction from jumpspace eroded the jump bubble around the ship, and we were forced violently out of jumpspace."
"That sounds very unpleasant. That's what caused you to lose your ship? How did you survive?"
"We had a very good medical doctor. We managed to come out near a gravity well, another planet, and through luck and skill were able to crash-land on the planet itself. We lost a lot of our personnel and the ship was... damaged beyond repair."
"So where is it now? You just left it the wreck there?"
"The wreck was on Pimane ."
"As far as I know."
The Sheriff then makes his excuses -- he has some things to attend to -- and leaves, assuring Mich that Miss Southcombe will be right back.
About an hour later, Jane Southcombe comes back in.
Mich has spent the time staring at the diagrams and thinking over what she said before. He sees what she meant. He also realises that she's the first person he's explained this to that actually "got it."
Mich says, "I see what you've been meaning about this. If we take the energy off this phase, store it temporarily, and feed it back with a couple of microseconds phase shift, it wouldn't add efficiency, but it would be positive energy."
"That's not quite what I was thinking of," Jane says, "But why don't we go ahead and build one of these? I'll get some folks together, and you can supervise it. I mean, some of this stuff we're going to have to put together molecule by molecule, but I think we can put together the equipment for it... perhaps if you can help with some of the equipment design we can work on that, and see if we can put one of these units together. Should be simple enough to test it once it comes together. Let's do it!"
Jane suggests that he rest for a couple of hours while she puts together a lab, and then they can start work. Mich is to meet her back there in a couple of hours.
When he returns, she has set up the lab with some technicians, and some sophisticated (if mechanical) drawing equipment that they can use to design the tools they'll need. It's a good, if primitive, setup -- as soon as the blueprints are done, the technicians are waiting to take it and start building immediately. Mich thinks it's nice to be working with someone who understands what he's talking about. These guys are very skilled at building something exactly as he specifies it -- they can build by hand tolerances which would be astonishing for computerized manufacture, and their eye for judging flatness, for example, is incredibly accurate.
Onward they walk... Nothing changes. The bushes
and vines differ, but it's still the same grass underfoot and the same pattern
of the clumps of vegetation.
For a while the group is paralleled by a pack of six or seven of the cat-sized creatures, which then leave. Lap'da just keeps on walking, showing no signs of having noticed them.
They keep going, snacking on fruits as they walk.
Helia asks, "So Lap'da, what do you do when you're
not taking tourists around? When you're not leading people... strangers?"
"I do all sorts of things."
"Do you know the forest very well?"
"I don't know the forest at all."
"We're in the forest."
"Are we lost?"
"Do you want to be? What is lost?"
"Lost is you want to know where you are, but can't figure it out."
"Where are you?"
"On this planet, following you."
"Then you know where you are. You aren't lost."
"Yes, but if you were lost, that would be bad."
"Why would I be lost?"
"Because you wouldn't know enough where you are that we could stay safe."
"I know where I am."
"And we're going to be safe?"
"So what's with the thing with the big teeth? The big critter with the teeth?"
Ed says, "The one that looks like this," pulling out his computer.
"Oh. One that looks like that?" says Lap'da. "There are others."
Helia says, "They won't eat us?"
"Why not?" asks Ed.
Lap'da says, "How could they eat you now?"
Helia says, "They could just run in and grab somebody and eat us."
Sagan says, "Could they have eaten us before?"
"Before what?" says Lap'da.
"They didn't. If they didn't, then they could not have done."
Helia asks, "OK, but would one perhaps maybe try it in the future?"
"One would maybe perhaps rombily. But it's too arghy to tell."
"Is there any way to ensure one does not try to eat us?"
"No. One may try."
"Is there anything one can do to reduce the chance of one of those eating us?"
"What is chance?"
"That's where there's the odds of something happening, and the odds of something not happening."
"And if it happens, it does not happen? Or can it happen and not happen?"
"Yeah, I mean something could happen six million times but not happen once."
"So it could happen and not happen."
"So what you do is you figure out how many times in general that is doesn't happen in relation to how many times in general it does. Then you take a loarge count of each of those occurances and compare them."
"But that's mathematics!"
"Math-e-mat-ics." Lap'da pauses. "You just stroll the cossie."
"I'm sorry? OK, so say that you're out and you're like 60 parsecs away from something, and you need to get there in like two days. And you're looking at your computer and you need to give it the right coordinates. Do you have to think about it or would you just do it?"
"I would not be at a com-pu-ter giving it the right coordinates."
"OK, say that you're harvesting all those mushroom caps..."
"I don't harvest those mushroom caps."
"No. I would not harvest those mushroom caps."
"All right. Do you know the person in charge of harvesting mushroom caps?"
"OK, perhaps some other..."
Sagan interrupts Helia, and asks her, "How many people does he guide?"
She replies, "But he doesn't guide. He acts like this isn't even guiding he's doing now." She turns back to Lap'da. "Say you were going to count the leaves on the trees, and you had to figure out how many leaves were on each tree, and therefore figure out how many trees were in the forest and from there figure out how many leaves were in the forest."
"There is one tree in the forest."
"OK. How many leaves does it have?"
"Right now. This moment."
"I don't know."
"But there might be a way to figure it out."
"Many things are possible."
"That's mathematics and statistics and algebra, all kinds of things like that. It's all math."
"Very little is math."
"Very much is math! There's numbers all around us and it's cool."
"But if you gordie the phlockers..."
"I'm sorry, if you what?"
"If you floffie the gorders."
"That doesn't translate..."
"You can corrol the minny."
"We don't have enough of a common language for me to understand. I have a feeling that whenever you talk, what you're talking about, is like how I figure out how to get from one star to another. It's just that the answer is the answer. Sometimes there's just one right answer."
Lap'da answers slowly. "There is no right answer."
"No. Sometimes there is. With some things there is. Now with many things it all depends on how you look at it. True?"
"Maybe. How do you look at it?"
"Well when I'm flying, I have to get from here to there, and my ship has this ability, and so when I look at it, there's always a best number, and I program the ship according to it. There's always a best number for programming the ship."
Lap'da turns to Sagan. "Is there always a best number?" he asks the hiver.
"Yes, very often," sie replies.
"What is that best number?"
"That is the trick, to figure out that best number."
"There is no trick. There is no best number."
Helia says, "Sometimes there is. Doesn't that really depend on the question?"
"Only if, sometimes there is no question."
Helia turns to Sagan. "What do you think of this?"
"Humans are stranger than I have been lead to believe."
"This is philosophy ranging on religion, practically."
"Unfortunately I have never indulged in the study of philosophy. My interests have lead me elsewhere. That is why I became an explorer."
Helia turns back to Lap'da. "Hm. We will have to discuss this further some other time."
"We have time," he replies. "Let's walk."
The lunch break is as the day before. Lap'da
picks a spot with the right sort of plants nearby, gathers some fruit, and
sits down for a rest. So does everyone else.
Helia strikes up a conversation with Lap'da again. "Do your people play chess?" she asks.
"What is chess?"
"It's a game. How about checkers? Tic-tac-toe? Rock-scissors-paper? That's an easy one, this is the way it works. You know what a rock is, it's a hard lump of earth, looks kind of this shape." She makes a fist. "You know what paper is? OK. Paper would be flat, like this. You know what scissors are, they cut paper?"
Misha breaks in, "You know what a game is?"
"What is a game?"
Most are astonished by this question. Sagan in particular is clearly thinking to hirself, although sie says nothing.
Helia says, "These questions are a game." She pauses. "OK, so basically it works like this. Scissors can cut a piece of paper, is that right?"
"Sometimes," replies Lap'da.
"In general. We'll say generally. Scissors are made for cutting things like paper. So there are some rules for this game. We willl take that as an assumption for the game. And then you can take a piece of paper, and ideally wrap it around the rock. OK? Ideally, for the game. Paper can beat the rock because you can wrap it around the rock. It's imperfect, but we'll say yes for the game. Then the other ideal is that you can take a rock, and it could break the scissors, if you bang it on the scissors."
"But why would you bang it on the scissors?"
"It's a theory. It's just so that we can establish a hierarchy. So scissors are better than paper because they can cut the paper..."
"Nothing is better..."
"...for the game. The paper is better than the rock because it can wrap around the rock, and the rock is better than the scissors because it can break the scissors. It's circular logic."
"Exactly. Everything is better and everything is worse. Nothing is the same."
"Now, take your hand and put it behind your back. Now, your choice, make it a paper shape, a rock shape, or a scissors shape. You got it making one of those shapes? OK. I'm going to say one two three, and after I say three, bring your hand out with that shape. Ready? One. Two. Three."
Lap'da brings his hands out, holds them in front of him pressed together and the fingers pointing up, then unfurls his fingers from each other to for a V-shape.
"Is that scissors?"
"This is a flower."
"But that's not part of the game."
"But a flower grew from the rock that was behind me."
Helia speaks over the laughter of the rest of the team, "Yes, but that's not part of the game, you're restricted only to... well then the scissors win because they can cut the flower."
"But then the flower drops a seed, and it grows again. And from another place. And there are more flowers than the scissors can cut."
Sagan has joined the laughter of the humans, as Helia explains to Lap'da that he's not playing the game.
(Sagan mentions the Gaia hypothesis. Marc says to hir, "Nothing is poisonous to us. No animal has ever attacked the steward. He's never used his firearm...")
Helia says, "You can only play the game if you follow the rules. That's how games work. You follow the rules, and the rules determine who wins. Sometimes you get stuff when you win."
Lap'da says, "All limitations are self-imposed."
"Exactly! Do the people in the compound play games? Do the people that live here play games? Does the Sheriff play games?"
"Yes. He plays one right now."
"What's he playing?"
"I have wondered."
"Who's playing with him? Are we part of this game?"
"You are part of it. I am part of it."
"Will we be harmed?"
"Do you wish to be harmed? Then why would you be?"
"Because sometimes people wish harm on other people, whether that person wishes to be harmed or not. You can assume that none of us ever wish to be harmed. Really, I don't think we wish to harm anyone else unless they attempt to harm us first."
"Then no-one will attempt to harm you. Why would they?"
"Because humans are like that. They may not be like that here, but humans are like that out there."
"Yes, they were."
"They still are out there. Not all humans are, but there are plenty of humans willing to go harm other people in order to get what they want, or... I take it people aren't like that here?"
"Are people not like that in the woods?"
"What about on the planet?"
"Are you in communication with anyone else right now? Aside from us right here?"
"Comm-un-i-cate," he says in Galanglic.
"Like, think? Does the forest understand you?"
"See that?" Lap'da says, pointing at a flock of birds.
"I see a bunch of birds flying."
"Yes. You walk, you make bnoise, you disturb the air, you cast your aura on the air, all things notice something. You communicate with everything."
"Even when I sit still and meditate?"
"Yes. You cannot not communicate. It is all you cannot not do."
"So how does the forest communicate with us."
"It doesn't need to."
"What do you mean by forest?"
"All that's around us, it's part of the forest."
"Then you are. I communicate with you, do I communicate with the forest?"
"I don't know. Are you a being separate from the forest?"
"Are we not all beings? Are those birds separate from the forest?"
"They appear to be, but not everything is as it appears. For all I know, those birds are something the forest dreamt up in order to..."
"You learn very gorrily" Lap'da says. His expression is unreadable.
"That's another word I did not understand."
"Which one? Lappie?"
"It sounded like gorrily."
"No, reelah. How do you hear my words?"
"Translator. Some of the words you say it doesn't have words in my language."
Marc turns off his translator and asks him to say it again.
Lap'da says, "You learn very chickeda."
Marc hears different words, not what came out of the translator. It was another language.
Helia says, "OK, I think we need simpler. Were you saying a compliment, a good thing to me?"
"Do you wish it to be a good thing?"
"I wish to understand what you're saying that does not translate."
"Then it is a good thing."
"Does it have anything to do with speed?"
"What is speed? We walk through the forest. But what is speed? How far we travel? How much we travel?"
"It's how far you travel within a period of time."
"What time? What period?"
"Well, normally in the time that we humans use. That's why I have a watch, so I can break up the time and understand it as something more than subjectively flowing by me in a stream."
"Because there are some things in my life that have to be judged in the segments of time. To make it relative to other things."
"But it is relative already."
"Yes, but concretely relative. Again, we go back to things like mathematics."
"Exactly. So tell me, what's your favorite fruit in the forest?"
"I don't know."
"There's one thing you like better than others?"
"I don't know."
"I like these one gourd things, they taste very good."
"The other things are also good, but these somehow are more to my taste. What do you like best?"
"They are all good. But you never can taste them all, therefore you never know which is best."
"No, but the ones like this are very good, I like them. Everything's good."
"Like those? Well, let's go this way then. Take some with you."
Marc asks, "How big is the forest?"
Lap'da replies, "It's as big as you choose it to be. It ends at the edge."
"Do you like this forest better than the other forests?"
"I don't know."
"You've never been to the other forests? No? Have your friends been to the other forests?"
"Which animals go to the other forests?"
Misha points to a tree trunk. "The tree, that's part of the forest."
"Yes," Lap'da says.
"The bushes -- are they part of the forest?"
"That's what I'm asking. When you say the forest do you mean to include the bushes?"
"The Sheriff includes everything within and part of and above this plant."
"The Sheriff doesn't include himself, does he?"
"Yes. He's in the forest."
"The Sheriff's in the forest, but he isn't part of the forest? So does the Sheriff consider himself to be part of the forest or simply within it?"
"I think he asks that question himself."
"Do you ask that question of yourself?"
"No. I don't ask that question."
"Are you part of the forest?"
"Do you see me as part of the forest?"
"More and more every minute," laughs Misha.
Lap'da says, "Then I will never be part of the forest, because if I can be more and more every minute, then there is always somewhere else to go."
"I'm sorry, what I meant by that was..."
Helia interrupts, "But there is always somewhere else to go!"
Lap'da smiles at her and says, "Fostidee. But we have talked long. Let us rest again. There are some of the blue ones that you like, Sagan."
They eat. After dinner they walk some more...
Every time they rest, and every time they stop, Marquis Marc makes a note of the time. He wants to know how long they've been walking, how long they stopped. There are no changes in the light intensity to give them any clues as to the passage of time. When they snack along the way they don't feel hungry or thirsty, so those cues are not there either.
Later, Misha asks Lap'da if he's a Jann.
"They call me that," he says.
The Marquis asks, "What do you call yourself?"
Helia asks, "Do you have a mother and father? Were they born here?"
"Yes. They were born here in this forest."
Marc asks, "Under this one plant?"
"I do want to differentiate between forest and this one plant. When you say forest do you mean all the plants like this one, or just one plant?"
"Each sheriff tends a forest. A forest is one plant. There are eight forests. There are eight plants."
Sagan asks, "So eight is the right number?"
"Maybe. They tell me nine will be a number."
"Who tells you?"
"Some who will see it."
"Do you have any idea when those who will see it will see it, relative to now?"
"No. But look, it is time to sleep."
It's been about another two hours since the stop for
dinner. Lap'da assures them that there is no need to watch -- he can
watch. He says he can sleep too -- he does in fact need sleep.
They sleep. After two hours, Ed is woken up. On his computer monitor he has displayed a view of the area around the camp. He has set up to record when the mist starts and ends.
Lap'da and Helia meditate for a while. The mist forms around the camp. It's very peaceful, very mystic. Helia stretches her wings as she meditates. Eventually she lies down to sleep, and the mist vanishes.
Helia asks Lap'da quietly, "Is the mist part of the forest?"
"It forms at night when we are very still."
"Is it part of the consciousness of the forest?"
"The forest has no consciousness."
"It's not aware?"
Helia goes to sleep.
Two hours later, Ed wakes up. It's indeed displayed on his monitor.
On the Third Eye, Robert Morris does some more
experiments in long-distance communications, using a combination of spectra
to bounce off the ionosphere combined with ULF. The individual spectra
don't work themselves, but by combining them imaginatively he succeeds.
The receiver will weigh about 30kg, and will be about the size of a large
backpack. He plans to build one on board and ship it to Mich.
It takes him a little while of trying to deal with the authorities before he thinks to ask Vonish to help. Vonish has no problem arranging the shipment, and pays for it in local cash. It's shipped early enough to get there tomorrow.
The team in the forest wakes up, and continues to walk...
The Marquis' equipment estimates that they're acheiving around 20km the first day, by inertial reckoning, and that they're heading pretty much due north. This day they achieve 30km. The pace is relaxed, not brisk, and they all find it quite easy. It's around 1000 km from Cormor Home to the forest edge, so how far north do they want to go?
This time at dinner there is a bush with nuts on it. The shells are about the size of a baseball, and with a quick twist with the hands it splits into two halves, revealing the nuts inside.
They walk a little more before camp. Lap'da again suggests that no-one needs to keep watch, and that he will cover it for them.
Ed hooks his camera up to his computer. If the
picture suddenly changes, the computer will wake him up quietly. He
then goes to sleep.
Sagan practices being very still, in the hope that sie will see the mist too.
After about half an hour, a mist forms around the camp. It takes about five seconds to form, and doesn't seem to be coming from anywhere, just forms out of the air. It forms all around the camp, and drifts across the ground.
Sagan moves one of his tentacles very slowly, to lift up one of hir eyes. Sie continues with more eyestalks until the whole hand is set up to give hir a 360 degree view.
The mist at the ground level is wispy; around the camp it's pretty solid, but shifting and swirling. It's about 20m from the center of the camp, and shows no sign of getting either closer or further away. It encloses them like a hemisphere. Sagan then moves hir hand to look at the mist on the ground. It's a thin layer on the ground is perhaps a 2 - 5 cm thick drifitng along the ground.
The hiver felt nothing from hir body hairs, and smelt nothing strange. Sie finally settles down to sleep.
A package arrives for Mich -- it's the transceiver
unit. Mich immediately hooks up to be able to run his simulations on
the ship's computer.
It's now very clear that to achieve everything they've been doing here in the forest Home, there's some high tech computer equipment -- some of it would have to have been running on at least TL-14 gear. Robert had figured that out already, but he now has solid confirmation of it.
Robert has also found something odd about the data traffic running between Cormor Home and Center. The low data rate, high redundancy, error correcting, transmission that he picked up before is just a carrier wave. There's a very high rate, strongly encrypted data stream passing through there. The transmission approaches theoretical material limitations, and the encryption system makes the Imperial Navy look like idiots. Robert starts work on the encryption, but he's having a lot of trouble just synching with the data, let alone decrypting it. He hasn't seen security like this since he tried to break into the Baba Yaga. Somebody is going to a lot of trouble and is very good at it. This is even tougher than the hiver systems. He figures it will at least take a couple of days.
Back at the camp, it's about mid-day in their travels
when they stop for lunch. Lap'da tells them this is the northern forest
-- another kilometer ahead is the forest wall.
The Marquis sets up camp here. The range on his sensors is around 2 km -- he sends his crew out 2 km in various directions to set up the sensors, relaying the information back to the communications unit attached to his central computer.
The Marquis asks Helia to stay. "No-one will take our equipment here, will they?"
"Do you want them to?" she answers with a grin, and starts giggling.
The Marquis then asks Lap'da, "Will any of the animals bother these things?"
Before Lap'da can reply, Sagan does: "Do you want them to?"
Misha is not sure he wants to test out this theory of Desire and Effect...
The sensor is in position, and the camp is set up. Marquis Marc pulls his heavy book out of Shark's pack -- and gets a dirty look for it -- then swings into his hammock and starts reading.
Lap'da asks Marc, "Are you where you want to be?"
"I think so," the Marquis replies. "I want to be near one of those animals."
"The hunter who hunts hunters."
Lap'da thinks for a while and says, "That would be you. You hunt hunters."
"I don't call them to me."
"Don't you? How do you find them?"
"I don't find hunters."
"So this... game? Is this part of the game."
"It's part of my game."
"It is. Is your game the same as their game? Would you think that a kilometer from the edge of the forest is the northern forest? About as far as you can go in the forest?"
"The Sheriff would like me to leave you here."
"Leave?" says Helia. "Leave, as in... leave? Like you're going to go away?"
Marc asks, "When are you going to return?"
Lap'da says, "I believe I am not supposed to return."
Helia asks, "How are we to find our way back?"
"I don't know."
"I am not liking this."
Marc is not so worried. "I think we can take care of ourselves."
Misha says, "Do you care?"
"Maybe," says Lap'da. "I am curious."
"Ah," says Sagan, "I understand curious. I understand curious very well."
"Would you like to stay?" asks Marc.
Lap'da agrees, "I would like to stay."
"Please. Satisfy the Sheriff. Leave us and return. He did not tell you how long to leave."
"I don't need to do that."
"Will the Sheriff be OK is you stayed?" says Helia.
"I don't know. I don't believe I am harming him."
Marc breaks in again, "Could you tell us exactly what he told you to do?"
"He said to take you to the northern edge of the forest and leave you there. He said he wants you out of the way for a while."
Helia asks, "Do you know why he wants us out of the way?"
Sagan says, "I've got a pretty good idea."
Lap'da says, "I think somebody asked him." He pauses. "It is not his thought."
Helia says, "Does anyone mean us harm."
"No. I don't think anyone means you harm."
"Do you think someone will come and take us back?"
"How will we get back?"
"I don't know."
Misha turns to Marc quietly, "How many people did you
talk to about this?"
"Actually I told him, I... I was told by one of my normal sources that the Sheriff would know. But, they want us out of the way for a while."
"Who?" asks Misha.
"The Sheriff, and whoever told the Sheriff to get us out of the way." He decides on a course of action. "You and Ed run home. Ed seems to be able to navigate, but that means we are left here to work on our own. You would get lost on your own, and then we'd lose you. You and Ed make choice. One of you go. Quickly."
It is decided that Ed will go.
"Let me put it this way," continues Helia to their
guide. "You belong in the forest. If you were out of the forest
for too long it would be a bad thing, right, for you?"
"If you left the forest it would be OK?"
"Would you be happy?"
"Our ancestors chose to stay here."
"You would be happier to stay in the forest."
"Yes. Maybe. I don't know."
"I am happiest on my ship. I would be a bad thing to stay in the forest for a long time."
"OK. I will take you back to your ship when you wish."
Back on the ship, Robert Morris also has an interesting challenge to play with -- interpreting the high security high data rate data stream that's running from Cormor Home to Center.
Out at the northern Cormor Forest wall, Marquis Marcus
Crestworthy and his team are relaxing at camp. The football sensors
have been deployed, and Marc relaxes in his hammock reading his psionicology
Ed "Shark" Teeth has left for Cormor Home, running back to see what's going on there. The news that they were supposed to be left here in the forest to keep them out of the way while Mich was being... -- goodness knows what was happening to Mich -- is disturbing. One of the "security" team needed to go, and of Shark and Misha Ravanos the former is the better at navigation. Shark expects to take a couple of days to get there.
While the others wander around the camp, doing their
own thing, Misha Ravanos sits down with Lap'da, their guide.
(Referee and Misha's player only)
(30a) Addendum to ( 30 )
The Mora Campaign (105-1120 to 106-1120)
Private Conversation with Misha Ravanos and Lap'da
Misha asks him if he knows the history of the Jann, and whether he'd be willing to tell it to him. Lap'da characteristically asks plenty of questions before he can give a straight answer, but eventually agrees to tell the story as he would tell to a new sheriff -- but it would differ in style and detail, and most importantly background, from one he would tell a son of his, and of course there are things he would not tell the Sheriff at all. Lap'da does warn Misha that the background is necessary to understand the story in the correct context, but he is unwilling to tell Misha all the background.
Lap'da first tries to find out why the Marquis is here, why he came so far, and what is so special about this creature. He tells Misha that there is indeed a creature that hunts only animals which eat meat, but Misha is unable to satisfy Lap'da's curiosity about the Imperial noble.
Lap'da begins his story. "Our ancestors came from the sky, wielding a mighty sword. They had been travelling a very long time, away from hardship and towards... something. There were those of my ancestors who thought that the travelling should stop, that we should find peace, and arrange somewhere to stay, somewhere we could free ourselves from the machines that brought us here. That was us. We settled here in the woods. We are home."
Lap'da adds, "That is what I would tell the Sheriff.
This Sheriff is interesting. He thinks that there is maybe more behind
the images and symbols than just the legends of a primitive race.
He tries hard to learn our language; it is hard to understand each other
without communicating. The translators do not know all of our language,
just the version that the city people took. As they say, they wanted
a language that was of this planet -- but they took a child's form.
There are many concepts which they cannot represent or understand."
He pauses, and returns to the matter at hand. "Their history of us
is close in spirit. Go back to the records of those landing here.
See how many landed, see how many ran off into the forest. You will
find that of the names that arrived, all of them were in the settlements."
Lap'da changes the subject. "What does he
plan to do now, look for this creature? How does he plan to find it?"
At this point, Helia walks over and joins them...
After a while, Helia Sarina goes over and joins them.
(Referee and Misha's and Helia's players only)
(30b) Addendum to ( 30 )
The Mora Campaign (105-1120 to 106-1120)
Private Conversation with Misha Ravanos, Helia Sarina, and Lap'da
Misha says, "We are discussing."
"Whatever you like."
"I guess we can't discuss the weather here. It doesn't change, and it's only good to discuss the changes. But the air is quite fine. I remember my first exposure to it."
Lap'da asks Helia, "Do you know how he expects to find this creature?"
"I think he was hoping you'd lead us to the creature and then it would show itself. Is this where it lives? OK, is this location within 10 km of the site near where it lives?"
"I don't know."
"So why did you bring us here to find it?"
"You were to come to the northern forest."
"Oh, you just brought us here, and if we're lucky we'll see it."
"Why did he come so far to look for it?"
"He likes to go places and look at things, and this was something he'd heard about and this happened to be a good place to come and see if he'd see it. He happens to be interested in many things. He's interested in things that people do that they shouldn't be able to do."
"Who says they shouldn't be able to do it?"
"In most human worlds, there's a kind of rule that people can do this things and can't do these things, like people aren't supposed to be able to fly."
"Humans aren't built for flight?"
"Can you fly?" Lap'da asks Misha.
"Not the way Helia flies," replies Misha.
"How do you fly?"
Helia replies, "Wings. The easiest way to fly."
Lap'da turns to Misha again, "Do you have wings?"
"No." says Misha.
"Then you can't fly in the way she does."
Helia says, "Humans generally build machines to fly. They don't fly under their own propulsion. Some people they say can fly with a thought. I don't even have to think, I just do it. Kind of like a bird, I think if you asked a bird how to fly it wouldn't understand, well, if it could understand the question. Can you fly?"
Lap'da says, "I cannot fly."
"Can you do things that the non-Janns people cannot do?"
"I do not know."
"Do you know what humans are supposed to be able to do? Have you heard?"
"Who says what they are supposed to do?"
"There's lots and lots of... well that's the point of getting educated is to kind of learn what is and is not possible supposedly."
"But how does what is and is not possible supposedly, affect what people should be able to do?"
"I think that's one of the reasons that the boss is interested. There's rules of what people should be able to do, and then people can do so much more and so many different things. And I think it interests him to see if people can go beyond the supposed limitations of human... human-ness."
"So why seek this creature?"
"Because he feels that way about animals too. He looks for animals that break the rules. You know, every planet is different. Your forest is quite extraordinary. I don't know if it's singularly unique, but it's extraordinary. I don't myself know of any other planets that have forests that are single organisms. Now I would not be surprised if your forests could communicate with one another, and I was curious as to whether you could communicate with it. To him that's ultimately fascinating because it's different, it breaks the rules. At least bends them a little. So a creature of which there is legend will always interest the boss."
"So do you know what these devices do? The ones that were taken out and planted?"
"I think these devices are some of the ones he has that can measure extraordinary things."
"Everything is extraordinary. Nothing is the same."
"Yeah, wouldn't it be boring if it was? That's one of the things about Misha, Misha's different than you or I. There's an old saying that variety is the spice of life. Wouldn't it would be boring if we were all the same?"
"Yes," agrees Misha.
Lap'da says, "We could not be all the same."
Misha asks, "Why is it extraordinary that we are all different?"
Helia says, "It's not extraordinary as much as it's extraordinarily interesting and cool. The fact is that god, the godhead, the creator, whatever you want to call it has seen fit that we are able to be all different one from another, and learn from each other. I think people, the human race, the hivers , all of us that consider ourselves to be human in that we're thinking species, I think we're all extremely lucky that we are all different and can learn from one another. Even hivers who look like as a race they should be all identical and all the same, they have unique personalities and talents. What would be the point of a race where everybody's the same and nobody thinks on their own? I think studying what makes each of us extraordinary, or our race extraordinary one from another, maybe that's the key to becoming something more that we are. I mean, you're a human being, but I'm a half size human being that can fly. And just that difference makes us so incredibly different from one another." She turns to Lap'da, and says, "You grew up in this place, and it's seems to have given you a very different perspective on the world than the other humans. There are things that one would consider a normal human experience that you don't seem to even have a mental capability of understanding."
Lap'da replies, "There are things that are normal human experience that you don't have the words to understand."
"You don't need words to understand."
"You don't have the concepts."
"You mean, your normal human experience, or do you mean every...?"
"What is normal?"
"That's the problem. I think the human race throughout history has tried to explain what is normal. I mean, just by having wings on my back and being short, you'd think I was a hiver sometimes, or worse, or something to be stolen and kept and not a human being. Humans love normal, but we need different."
"Well, my ancestors were not normal."
"No, they chose to go into the forest when nobody knew what the heck it was. Did they chose to go in or did the forest call to them?"
"Just for the hell of it?"
Lap'da asks Misha, "What do you think?"
Misha says, "I don't think they did it for the hell of it. I don't see what hell has to do with it at all. I believe they were choosing to leave."
Helia says, "But, I mean, they chose to go on this mission, and they were part of this mission, and they chose to abandon the mission that they'd chosen themselves for, to go into the forest. That's pretty extraordinary."
"That is correct," Lap'da says. He turns to Misha, "You see what I mean about the background makes the story different. She is right. Her statement is correct."
Misha says, "OK, but still people rarely choose hell."
Helia says, "Oh, 'for the hell of it' is an expression."
"What do you mean?"
"It actually has nothing to do with hell, come to think of it. 'For the hell of it' means you just do something because it's there to do, not for any, like, logical calm reason reason. It's just that there's this choice, and that choice, and there's an old poem about two roads diverged in a yellow wood and I took the one less travelled by. That's kind of a human nature thing. Not everybody does that, that's an extraordinary thing."
"So if they do things for the hell of it, that means they're doing it for no reason."
"Except maybe that there's something inside them that either makes them more inclined to chose something different from most people, or they're more reckless. Isn't it reckless to pick something that would not be normal, safe, and expected? Most humans would think it was, but then we travel through space and that's not exactly normal, safe and expected either."
"I'm afraid I don't follow your logic. But that's OK."
"It's OK. That's kind of a hell of it thing itself," Helia laughed.
Misha says, "Well I don't believe his ancestors chose their current lifestyle for the hell of it."
"No, I don't think so. I think that they got out of what they wanted to get out of, and they found themselves in a situation that they still didn't like, and so they went to find something better and they found something different, and it seems to have worked out for the best. Would you say that's true, Lap'da?"
"Mostly," replies the Jann.
'Has it worked out for the best?"
"For us, yes."
"What happens if someone is born among your people but wishes to be like the other people on the planet?"
"Why would they?"
"The same reason that your ancestors were born on a planet and chose to leave it, and when they got here they chose to leave even though their ancestors would not have?"
"Maybe their ancestors would have but they did not have the opportunity."
"Are you saying they were driven out as opposed to voluntarily left?"
"Is that what you think?"
"I don't know. I got the impression that they abandoned the people with whom they travelled to this world, and that the people in the cities consider that to be an aberrant behavior and they think less of you for it."
"Does that matter?"
"If I was of your people I would be concerned because they seem to think that you're not just other than human but less than human, because they consider you to be uncivilized and more like a beast than a human."
"Does the Sheriff think that?"
"Then why does it matter what the city people think?"
Helia sighs. "Sometimes throughout human history when something's are going wrong, it's easy to blame a small group of people, particularly if they're defenseless, and sects and races and groups of people have been destroyed because of mass hysteria. Because how can you as a group reach your potential when there's another group in direct competition with you for resources that are going to continually try to make sure that you never can do that because they're afraid of what you could be?"
"No-one is in competition with us."
"I don't know that the people in the city would say that."
Misha asks Lap'da, "Have you reached your potential?"
Lap'da states firmly, "Yes."
Helia asks, "Completely?"
"I have the potential to reach it."
"And the ability?"
"Do we? Could we reach our potential, ever?"
"I don't know."
"From what you see. I could potentially fly up as close as I could to your sun, but eventually I would fly too high to breathe and I would fall down and die."
"If I was in control of my faculties, no, but it's a potential."
Misha still doesn't follow her logic. "Just to back up a little, Helia, you were worried that the city folks are in competition with the Janns."
"I do think they consider theirselves in competition with them," Helia replies.
"The Janns don't, I think because they feel they've already reached their potential. They've already won. What I think I've learned from talking to Lap'da is the Jann don't care. They've already reached their potential. It doesn't matter if someone stronger comes along and wipes them out."
"That would be sad, though. It would not be good to be wiped out, you and your ancestors and the children. Wouldn't you not like that?"
Lap'da asks, "How would we be wiped out?"
"Normal human beings live to 100 years, say. It was 800 years ago when the settlers landed on this planet. Are there any Janns here alive physically from that point in time?"
Lap'da ponders the question.
Helia adds, "Physically like you or me, in body, not in spirit."
"The cordie duhoodie didit. Dah. Carp."
"Doesn't translate. Yes or no. Physical bodies from then. Alive."
Misha asks Helia, "What's the point of this question?"
Helia replies by speaking to Lap'da, "You can communicate with these people, can't you?"
Lap'da asks, "Which people?"
"The ones that landed here. If you cannot have a conversation with them, can you access their memories?"
"I have learned some of their teaching."
"Was it teaching like books and stories passed down from father to son, or...?"
"There is some of that teaching."
"Can you relive a memory that one of them had, like it was one of your memories, like you would remember what I said a sentence ago?"
"Yes, or no?"
"It does not translate. Yes, or no?"
"You have not asked a yes or no question."
"Yes I have. In general the way knowledge passes from one human to another in the form of speech, recording of that kind of communication."
"We live, we die, we pass on our knowledge through speech and through writings and through teachings."
"Do you share your teachings without speaking?"
Lap'da grins and shrugs.
Helia continues, "Tell me something. How many of your people are within 10 km of us right now. Exactly."
"I don't know."
"Where is the nearest person? Besides you."
"I don't know."
"Can you get them if you need to? How would you call one of your people?"
"I would have to search for them."
"How? Just randomly walk around, or do you have a different method?"
"I would use what I know. I would use the movements of the birds, the movements of the creatures, the pattern of picking of the plants, growth of the grass."
"Can you send a message that way?"
"Do you have mind to mind communication with your fellow beings?"
"What do you mean by mind to mind?"
"If I was a Jann, and I thought something at you, would you understand that thought without my saying words or using physical expressions?"
"I don't know. Have you ever felt you knew what someone was to say? Have you spoken the same words at the same time as another person?"
"How can you tell the difference?"
"The boss thinks that there's a thing called psionics that you can measure, almost like an energy wave."
"Psionics?" Lap'da uses the Galanglic word. "What is psionics?"
Helia asks Misha to help her out here, but he can't add anything. She continues, "That one's easier if you ask the boss. Psionics is the ability to communicate or move things or make people do things to your will. It's all non-verbal non-physical, mind to mind, or mind to matter if you're moving things. That's what the boss is interested in."
"So that's what he's looking for."
"It's not all he's looking for. It's something that he particularly finds interesting."
"Can you show me this psionics?"
"I don't have any. Psionics are illegal where we come from."
Lap'da laughs out loud. "I will have to ask your boss. Did he come here for psionics?"
"No, not specifically. I think he found it an interesting planet and an interesting place to stop. Certainly the forests are interesting, I don't think he knew about Janns until we got here, and I don't remember whether he figured out about the beast from his books, or whether he figured out beforehand. He just... he likes different things and interesting things. I think he would like to explain human experience, the whole breadth of it, in a scientific way. You don't think so, Misha? I don't know, I think he'd like to explain things. I don't think he understands that some things are not to be explained, or at least I think he hopes that he can explain the things that people think aren't. He certainly likes looking at them and thinking about them. Isn't that his main interest? Looking at and thinking about things that would not easily be explained?"
They look over at the Marquis. He's still in his hammock, reading his book.
Helia continues, "The boss is an extraordinary man."
Lap'da asks, "And you are not?"
"Well, an extraordinary woman. I think people who go into space have to be extraordinary."
"There are no challenges here?"
"There are challenges everywhere, but if you're a person who doesn't like challenges you would not go into space normally. Unless you were like, a marine."
Misha asks her, "Didn't you say earlier that everyone was extraordinary?"
"Pretty much everybody is, but some people don't want to be. Some people want to be normal and ordinary."
"Well then, aren't the people who go into space extraordinary because they want to be extraordinary?"
"I think they're more extraordinary..."
"There's less and more extraordinariness?"
"Some people are more extraordinary, yeah."
"How do you measure extraordinariness?"
"You can't. You can't just add it up like a scientist. The boss thinks he can measure all kinds of psionic things, and understand it somehow by measuring it."
"But if you can't measure it, how do you know when something is more extraordinary than something else?"
"By what they do."
"But isn't that the point of measurement?"
"Yeah, I guess it is. But you can't like give them a test and say you're more extraordinary."
"Then how do you know they're more extraordinary?"
"I don't know, because you know what? Some things I think would be more extraordinary you would think would not be. It's a subjective measurement, that's the problem. I think the boss would like to make it a more objective measurement."
"Why do you think that?"
"Because I think he likes the idea of being able to do it."
"I asked why you thought it."
"Well, he goes out and tries to measure them. I mean, there are things that just are, you know? Why do I fly? Well, I was born with wings."
"He measures their extraordinariness?"
"Isn't that what all the psionic research is?"
"I don't know the answer. I can't tell you what it is. Is that what it is?"
"Psionics is a way of being extraordinary. A way. Maybe by measuring that way of being extraordinary... I don't know, measurements always seem to be for their own sake, not for the sake of something else altogether. In measuring how psionic somebody is, other than maybe warning somebody, because you remember we lost a guy on a planet because of psionic creatures, and maybe by saying there are psionic creatures of a certain power on this planet, and maybe nobody should go near them, would keep people away, but that's not human nature, but that's another story, altogether and I don't want to talk about... well we could talk about human nature."
"Isn't that what we are talking about?"
"Yeah, an aspect of it. It's just everybody's different, that makes everybody..."
"The same? We're all different, we all have something alike."
"You... and normally humans are a lot more alike than we are with the Janns. The Janns are somehow extra-human, or not quite human. Would you say that the Janns have evolved beyond the people that landed on this planet and live in the cities."
Lap'da smiles and says, "What do you think, Misha?"
Misha says, "Do I think that the Janns have evolved beyond the settlers? In some ways."
Helia asks Lap'da, "Could I ever become like you?" She thinks for a moment, trying to rephrase it in more Jannish terms. "Could I ever become more a human of your kind than a human of my kind?"
"I don't know," replies Lap'da.
"If you and I had a child, would it not be very different from you or I?"
"Everybody is different."
"Yes," says Helia slowly, "But while you are genetically a human being, it seems that your mind and your thinking are different from the human beings I've certainly experienced, and the other human peoples I've experienced. I haven't experienced as many as the boss, but the boss seems to think that too. And so I wonder is if you and I had a child, would that child be more like me, who is much closer to the normal of the human experience, and normal human thinking, or would the child be more like you in how it thinks, and what it can do?"
"I don't know."
"How can you be so certain that the people in the city wouldn't try to destroy your people, or destroy the forests?"
"Why would they do that?"
"Because somebody goes out and cries 'witch,' and they decide the best way to get rid of the witch is to burn them out."
"And what of the Sheriff?"
"Do you consider the Sheriff to be more like you, or more like somebody from the city?"
"He's different from everyone."
"He's like both."
"Everyone is different."
"Then if I understand you, you have some -- let's call them extra-sensory powers, or abilities -- that boss isn't going to measure, but that makes you and your people -- your people as a group different from normal human beings. Misha is very close to normal human being. He looks like a normal human being, and he generally acts like a normal human being, in terms of standards. I would be considered extraordinary because I have a physical attribute."
"Because you do not see everything as a weapon?"
"Do normal human beings see everything as a weapon?"
Lap'da looks pointedly at Misha.
Helia says to Misha, "Do you see everything as a weapon? Everything? How would I be a weapon?"
Misha says, "If someone tried to take your wings away, what would you do?"
"I don't think I'd let them."
"So if I convinced somebody to take your wings away, you'd be a weapon."
"Wow, that's pretty twisted. That's actually kind of normal human thinking, actually." Helia laughs. She then turns to Lap'da. "It's you not understanding rock-paper-scissors. Why don't you understand that? Misha was amazed because he says he's never known of humans that didn't understand it."
Lap'da then says, "How do you make fire?" He tries to ask her about the details of how to make fire out by rubbing sticks. The conversation seems pointless, as he continues to ask her basic questions about fire, heat, and soft vs. hard wood.
As Helia says, "It's not a skill that I've learned."
Lap'da says, "Why? How can you not understand it?"
"I understand the theory, you rub the sticks together and you get heat, and the heat could start things burning."
"But how could you not know...?"
"Can you make fire from the sticks?"
"I am asking you how to."
"I could read a book and tell you."
"Explain to me."
"But I have not learned that."
"Why have you not learned that? Everybody should learn that."
"Do you know how to jump between stars? Do you know how to calculate the speed and the trajectory and exactly where to leave when you come back?"
"How will that help me make fire?"
"Well, your being able to make fire from sticks is as important to me as my being able to do that is important to you."
"And how is that?"
"Exactly," says Helia.
Lap'da tries once again to make his point. "But I ask you how to make fire, and you can't give me a straight answer that I can do."
"But I don't know, I've never learned. Can you teach me?"
"But everybody knows."
"No, they don't."
"Why, is it not a fundamental thing? Is it not everything a normal human would do?"
"How did you make fire before this thing you waved?" says Lap'da, referring to the lighter Helia had produced earlier.
"Ah. I never had to."
"We did not need fire where I grew up."
'Why? Everything needs fire."
"How do you cook?"
"You don't always have to cook. We have not been cooking much. We walked through the forest and you showed us things to eat, and they're good, and we eat them. This is the first I've known that you know how to cook."
"But you saw fire, right? Your people had fire?"
"No. The other people brought fire."
"All civilized people have fire."
"Not all civilized people need fires, not all civilized people have them."
"But how can you manage without knowing how to make it?"
"It's not needed."
"We had everything we needed without it."
Lap'da thinks he's made his point. "Exactly," he says.
Apparently he hasn't. Helia asks, "Exactly what?"
Lap'da says with emphasis. "Rock, paper, scissors," as Misha and Helia talk between themselves.
Misha asks Helia, "Why do you tell him you don't need fire?"
Helia says, "I never needed fire."
Misha asks, "What do you mean you don't need fire?"
"I could go home and never build a fire and be perfectly fine and happy and have a life."
Lap'da asks calmly, "Do you get the point, Misha?"
Misha replies, "The point? Your point?"
"No. I must say I don't."
Helia says, "But your ancestors knew how to how to do it, why did they forget? That's not what one would expect from humans, that's very different. Just like being able to fly is very different."
Lap'da says again, quietly, "Rock. Paper. Scissors."
Misha says, "No fire. No rock-paper-scissors."
Helia says, "At one point your ancestors knew how to play rock-paper-scissors."
"Yes," says Lap'da.
"They chose not to teach it."
Lap'da says, "I ask you how to make fire from these sticks. These are the rules, you must make it from these sticks. You produce a lighter. You ask me to play rock-paper-scissors. I produce a flower."
Misha laughs, and says, "So your point is that neither of you know how to play a game?"
Helia says, "But I could go find out. So could you. But your people at one point knew how to play it. It's unusual in human cultures for that to go out of the culture. Like Misha said, everything's a weapon."
Misha laughs, "What's that got to do with rock-paper-scissors?"
"With rock-paper-scissors something always wins, because it's like a weapon. Paper wraps around rock, the rock bashes the scissors, the scissors cut the paper."
Lap'da says, "Exactly. We were tired of fighting."
Helia asks, "So what would you do if the people in the city decided that the Janns were bad and had to be gotten rid of?"
"What would they do?"
"They could come and burn down the forests. They could go through the forests and try to hunt you down and kill you. They could take your little ones away and try to teach them to be like them."
Lap'da says, slowly, "That is... not going to happen."
"They will not."
"How do you know?"
"You will not allow it, you mean."
"I am not sure. It will not happen."
There is a break in the conversation. Then
Lap'da says. "A question is easy to answer if you only know as much
as the one who asks it."
The conversation lightens. Helia asks Lap'da if they have anything like ice cream, and predictably he doesn't.
Lap'da asks Misha, "So, do you understand that
the background changes the story? It does not just change small things,
it changes the entire story. See how she sees the story, how you see
the story, and how I see the story?"
Lap'da brings the subject back to practical matters.
He asks Helia, "So who do you think is influencing the Sheriff?"
Before they can get up, Lap'da says, "Meaning
depends on background. How out of the way are you, really? Why
did the Sheriff chose me to bring you to the edge of the forest?"
Misha gets up to tell the Marquis what they've
discovered. He ponders that the Marquis might have a lesson to learn...
Misha gets up to tell the Marquis what they've discovered.
He ponders that the Marquis himself might have a lesson to learn...
The Marquis then looks over to Lap'da. "This
altering of distance, can you teach my navigator how to do it with our ship?"
"Distance doesn't alter," replies Lap'da.
Sagan asks, "Perception of distance?"
"We came a different... route."
Marc continues, "And are these alternate routes fixed in this forest, or can they happen anytime you want them to?"
Helia adds, "Can I do that with my ship? Taking a different route that would be shorter than the route that's normal?"
"Yes," says Lap'da.
"So instead of six days to get from one planet to another, I could do it in say three?"
"No. But you take six days to do a route that would take years."
"You mean now?"
"But can it be shorter?"
"I don't know."
The Marquis' plan is to wait until Ed returns, and
then to get Lap'da to take them back by the shortest route possible.
Meanwhile, Lap'da has some questions of his own...
Lap'da says, "What sort of information are you looking for?"
Marc replies, "I'm looking for the animal that attracts... the animal that only hunts hunters."
"I'm told that he does it using powers of the mind."
"What powers of the mind? Is this psionics ? " Lap'da uses the Galanglic word.
"Yes," says the Marquis.
"Can you show me this psionics?"
"Yes." The Marquis looks carefully at Lap'da.
Lap'da bursts into loud laughter. When he recovers enough to speak, he says, "No, it does not use that."
The Marquis is puzzled at the Jann's behavior. "And how are you certain of this?"
"There is only one -- aside from yourselves -- one resident on this planet who uses that. That is a Zlodtlan spy in the mining town, Sloriay. The creature you talk about uses scent. By eating these fruits, you carry the scent of their products in your system. That is what makes you feel -- not food. You seem not-food, like I am not-food. It senses that there is nothing of that in the creatures it hunts. By its scent, it is sensed like it is meat-to-be-eaten."
"Did you know Cappy Starfugger?"
"Has Cappy Starfugger ever been on this planet?"
"I don't know."
"When can we leave to go home?"
At this point Helia breaks in, "Lap'da said he can
take us directly to the ship."
Misha says, "But we have to get Mich."
"I would be curious to know if he could take us directly to our homes," says Sagan.
"No, I cannot do that," says Lap'da. "Maybe." He sees Sagan's six eyes intently staring at him, and asks, "Do you need to breathe?"
"Yes," replies the hiver .
"Then no, I cannot do that."
"If a means of dealing with the breathing could be resolved, then you could do it?"
"Maybe. It would take some time."
"How much time?"
"More than a week?"
"I don't know."
Misha asks, "How do you know only one resident of the
planet uses psionics?"
"Because none of the others do."
"How do you know this?"
"When you say there's only one resident of this planet that uses psionics, do you mean there are no animals and no people other that use psionics?"
"No creatures. No plants. No people. Just you."
Helia asks, "Are any of us psionic?"
Lap'da replies, pointing to Marc, "He demonstrated it for me."
"What did he do?"
Marc says, "I told him I don't like the color blue you usually wear on your vest. Which was a lie, but it was a good thought to put in his head."
"What?" Helia asks. "Lap'da, what does he mean?"
Lap'da says, "You have to ask him what he means. How can we ever be sure we know what anybody else means?"
Helia asks the Marquis, "You study psionics because you are one?"
Marc says, "Sometimes. I can send thoughts over very short distances."
"Will people know it's your thought?"
"Usually. I'm not very good at this."
"It could be useful, especially if you're in trouble."
"But don't tell Mich, it'll make him very nervous."
"I will not tell Mich," Helia smiles.
Marquis Marc then addresses his team, "Before we leave,
we have to decide. Are we going to go get Mich, are we going to let
him get himself out? If he can't get out, are we going to go in with
the ship, but they say they have missiles, so that probably won't be a good
idea? Are we going to try to get Mich out, get Lap'da to take us back,
take Mich out on the train, be nice little people and say it's a failed mission?
Are we going to go back to the ship directly and get Mich to come home?
Or...?" He runs out of words, finally.
Misha says, "I propose we go back to the Sheriff's home, if only to ask him why he sent us here."
Lap'da asks quietly, "Why did he send me to lead you here?"
"That's what I want to ask."
Marc says, "He has other guides. Are they all Janns?"
"I am the only Jann," replies Lap'da.
"What were you doing before you came to guide us? Did you have a specific assignment at that time that he took you away from?"
"No, not from him, but then I do not get many assignments from him."
Helia adds, "You said that he asked you specifically."
"Yes," Lap'da says.
Marc says, "Does he know how you can take other paths?"
"He knows that I can, yes."
Helia says, "Boss, I think the Sheriff knows exactly what the Jann can and can't do, to the extent of what the Jann are willing to show him."
Helia continues, "And he may be able to do some of those things that regular humans cannot do and Janns can. He can more than someone in the city but not as much as regular Jann?"
Again, Lap'da nods. "He has... an open mind."
Marc asks, "Is he part Jann? Does he have recent ancestors who would have been called...?"
"What is... recent?"
Helia says, "After the settlement."
Marc clarifies, "After the landing on this planet."
Lap'da says, "No."
Helia asks, "Do they share ancestors within a hundred years before the settlement, with the Jann? Were there any common ancestors three generations before the ships landed here."
Lap'da says, "I think I know what you ask, but it is not what you ask."
"I just want to know how close his blood is to yours."
"A long time."
That seems to satisfy Helia.
Marc says, "How many generations has your family been on this planet?"
Lap'da says, "Two."
Misha looks up, very surprised. "What?" he exclaims.
Helia says, "So your grandparents came here, on the ship?"
"Are any of them still alive?"
Marc asks, "The ships that brought the Sheriff's ancestors, did they bring your grandparents?"
Lap'da looks at Misha. Misha stares at Lap'da. Eventually the Jann says, "No."
"How did your grandparents get here?"
"They came on a ship."
"Do you happen to know the name of the ship?"
"Yes. It was the Red Cross."
Helia asks, slowly, "And the Sheriff's family came on one of the other ships from the same settlement. The same group of settlers but different ships."
"In a way."
"At the same period in time?"
"OK," says Helia, "I was given to believe that your ancestors came 800 years ago..."
"No, we came 1200 years ago."
"They never told us that the Jann..."
Marquis Marc mutters something and pulls out his pocket computer. He starts converting local solar years into Imperial years.
Helia continues, "And how long have the people in the city been here?"
Lap'da says, "A little over three years."
Helia asks, "Why did the people in the city think that your ancestors came when their ancestors came?"
"They chose to believe that."
"So what happened to the people who ran into the forest?"
Misha and Marc have been deep in animated conversation. Misha asks, "When you say years, you mean years on this planet?"
"Yes," replies Lap'da.
Misha looks incredulously at him. He lets out something short in his own language.
The rest of the team look at each other.
Helia asks, "Lap'da, when they came here, some of the
people came into the forest."
Lap'da says, "Maybe."
"No, they did."
"Well, Misha understands about that."
Helia says, "Lap'da, how long has the forest been here?"
"Since we were here."
"But not before. So you and the forest are one civilization."
"Can you live without the forest?"
"Can it the forest live without you?"
"It wouldn't be as good though, would it?"
"It is not sentient, it would not mind."
"Before the human settlers came to this planet, did your people look different?"
"You looked the same? Human?"
"We all change."
While they're talking, Marc has been saying to no-one
in particular, "He claims that his people have been here for 1200 planetary
years. One planetary year is about 242 standard years. Years
-- not days -- years. He claims that he is the second generation born
on this planet of his people. And that his family came on a ship to
It may have been to no-one in particular, but he certainly has Sagan's undivided attention. The hiver explorer has an interest in Imperial history, and this was a most unexpected and interesting development.
The Marquis turns back to Lap'da. "How many years old are you?"
Lap'da says, "Me? I am... about a hundred years old."
"Planetary years old?"
"Interesting," muses the Marquis.
Sagan says, "The man claims to be..."
"24,000 years old."
"And you find that merely... interesting," says the hiver.
"It's not my own line of study."
Helia asks, "Lap'da, have you ever met the grandfather?"
"The people's grandfather."
"The people's grandfather? I do not understand the question."
"Sometimes there is a being that is called god, and sometimes he is called grandfather, and sometimes he has many other guises. He may be the person that determined why my people look like them but we have wings. Have you ever met someone like that, with those kind of powers?"
"Maybe. I have met many people."
"Grandfather would be... unique. He'd be so extraordinary he would be incredibly unique. He would probably not be quite as human as you or I."
Marc continues, "So, the city dwellers, the Sheriff
among them, claim that people who travelled with them to this planet left
the ships and came into the forest to become the Janns."
Lap'da says, "Misha understands. Go and look up the records of who arrived and who was in the settlements. See how many cannot be accounted for."
Helia asks, "Do your people have the blood of the settlers running in them?"
Marc attempts to clarify, "Are you related to the settlers?"
Lap'da says, "Slowbidah cah... coralla."
Helia says, "That does not translate. Have the settlers bred with the Janns?"
"But they do have some shared blood?"
Sagan says, "Technically yes. It just goes back further than the characteristics that make the Jann the Jann."
"You are correct," Lap'da says to the hiver.
Helia asks, "Does that mean my people are related to your people?"
Lap'da looks to Sagan questioningly. Sagan looks back, the expression on hir hand unreadable.
Misha and Helia discuss the idea that the settlers
made up the story about some of their people running off into the woods to
explain the people that were already there.
Helia says, "Boy, I think Lap'da really is right about not having to worry about the people from the cities ever rising up against them."
Marc points out that if he were the leader of some settlers on a planet, and some ran off into the woods, he'd strike their records. Now if they could go back to independent embarkation records, that might be more reliable.
Helia then asks Lap'da whether, if the settlers ever would find the Janns if they came looking for them, and eventually gets the answer she expected -- only if they chose to be found. She asks him if he could teach her how not to be found, or to teach her people. He says he does not know.
(Referee and Helia's player only)
(31a) Addendum to ( 31 )
The Mora Campaign (105-1120 to 106-1120)
Private Conversation with Helia Sarina and Lap'da
She decides that she will use whatever means she
can to send a complete report and recommendation to send a good-sized emissary
group (as quietly as possible) to visit the Jann.
Marc asks Lap'da for a favor -- he wants him to stay
with them when they return to the Sheriff's compound, so he can help them
if they need to leave. He agrees to do so.
Marc asks, "If I lived here as you did, and ate what you ate, would I live as long?"
Lap'da says, "I don't know."
"Someday I may ask to come back here, and live out the remainder of my life."
"You would be welcome. You would have to learn our language."
Helia asks Marquis for a sabbatical... he is not at all keen on the idea, and it would also not be a good time for her to quit. He would release her from her contract once a suitable pilot and navigator could be found. She says to Lap'da, "Perhaps I'll come back later."
Ed arrives back in camp, tired and very much in need of rest. He lies down for a nap, and then will want Misha to update him on what's happened in his absence. Helia recommends he should meditate instead of sleeping. She tries to teach him, but he falls asleep quickly. Apparently it works...
It's still relatively early in the evening when Shark
wakes up again. They all get ready to leave. The football sensors
are brought in, having registered only the one recent data point while they've
been deployed. The Marquis uses that to calibrate them and refine the
triangulation techniques. All the camp equipment is stowed in the backpacks.
Sagan and Helia have completed more solar antenna observations, and have determined that their latitude is consistent with them being 1000 km north of Cormor Home.
Helia says, "Lap'da, you can send messages to your people, right? You can leave messages your people can get. Can you pass on information? We're afraid our friend Mich might be in danger and not know it. Could you try to warn him? No? Then the only thing we can do is get there as fast as we can. Lap'da, we really need to get there, it could mean his life."
Lap'da leads them south, at his usual relaxed pace. The offworlders know the drill by now, and eat on the way from the bushes they pass.
On the way, Misha fills Shark in. As to how they are 1000 km from where they thought they were, Misha says, "He knows another way."
Shark asks, "Anything else that he said that would be useful?"
"He's approximately 24,000 years old."
"OK. What else did you get about time out of this guy."
"In talking to him I got the impression that it is very different from your time and mine."
"If I was 24,000 years old I'd have a different impression." He pauses, then says, "What did Helia mean about 'any of the others of us'?"
"Lap'da and the boss had a conversation about psionics. Apparently there is only one resident psionic on this planet. Some guy who works in a mine somewhere."
"Any of the other of us. So that implies one of us is."
"Why is it important to you?"
"I like to know who I'm travelling with...?"
"Some number of us are psionic. Until I get a better understanding of your view on psionics, I'll keep who they are to myself."
"On this planet, there is no advantage to knowing one way or another, aside from just knowing. In the Imperium you can use that knowledge as power because you can threaten to turn them in. So having the knowledge can in some ways be empowering."
"Yes. It could be limiting, too."
"Did he give a name to this guy?"
"The miner? Someone's spy."
After a while, Lap'da suggests they stop for the night.
They settle down and make camp. The Jann tells them they should all
rest, as they believe they have a long day tomorrow.
Shark asks Lap'da about the spy.
"I do not know his name," says Lap'da, "He is a Zlodtlan spy."
Shark recognizes Zhodani elements in that word. So there is an Evil Mind Sucking Joe on this planet after all...
Sagan has been musing on the implications of what Lap'da has said. His grandparents arrived here around 300,000 years ago. Lap'da himself has been around for the entire span of recorded history -- his grandparents would perhaps just have missed out on the Ancients' Final War when they arrived here. His people's presence on this world is older than the Zhodani.
Before sleeping, Ed pushes a stick into the turf beside his bed to see if he's moving overnight. Helia ponders that she can't explain it to Ed, but she is sure the stick will be there because Ed wants it there, or if Ed doesn't want it to be there it won't be, whether they move or not, so the experiment is worthless...
In the meantime, Mich Saginaw has been constructing
antimatter generators. Today he's testing the prototype he's built
with Jane Southcombe. It runs perfectly on the test bed. They
add tests with fluctuating loads, fuel impurities, and other abnormal modes,
and everything still continues to work perfectly. The unit is completely
self-calibrating and runs without a flaw.
Since the experiments work so well, tomorrow they'll start a manufacturing run. Since Cormor Home can now build as many as they want, Jane suggests that they work on units for Mich's ship. He thinks that the entire zuchai crystal array on the H.M.S. Third Eye could probably be replaced with just six of these units; aloud, he says that he'd like eight. Jane will do the tricky part of each one, while the technicians will do the rest of the work.
Robert is still trying to work out the encryption from the advanced signal between Cormor Home to Center. It is an astoundingly difficult task. He is thoroughly frustrated at his lack of progress.
They've only been walking for about half an hour when
they reach the mushroom fields. They're only an hour or two's walk from
the Sheriff's home.
Misha suggests that he or Ed should go on alone, and if there's no trouble, call the rest of them in. In fact, it's Misha himself who runs on ahead, with his commdot set to transmit constantly.
Misha finds that there is nothing out of the ordinary.
Everything and everyone he sees indicates that the situation is perfectly
He walks up to the front desk at the guest wing, and greets the person at the desk. He then asks, "Is Mich here?"
"Not right now, I believe he's working."
"Where's he working?"
"I'm not sure. You'd have to ask the Sheriff. I can find out for you!" She suggests asking the Steward to come and help, and makes a call in the local language.
At that point Ed has an idea. "Mich, if you're
alone, come back!" he says.
"Hello?" replies Mich.
"How are you doing?"
"Oh, just fine!"
"We've decided it's almost time for us to leave, do you have any problem with that?"
"Well, it'll take a couple of days and the work here will be done, then we can go."
"Work here? What work are you doing?"
"We're making antimatter generators."
"With a Zhodani spy on the planet?"
"There's a Zhodani spy on the planet?"
"We should talk. We'll see you later!"
Ed then tells Misha that Mich has been building antimatter
generators for these people. If you are working for people whose attitude
to the Imperium is doubtful, that could be a bad thing. Ed confirms
for Misha that Mich does seem to be working of his own free will.
That isn't enough for Misha. He calls, "Robert, connect me to Mich."
"Ah, so you're all back!" replies Robert. "Almost? OK, I'll connect you to Mich. Hold on."
Mich comes on the line, "Misha's back at the ship already? I though they would stop by here!"
Misha says, "Mich, can you tell me where you are?"
"I'm down in the lab."
"So where is the lab in relation to, say, the guest house."
"You go to the commercial section, down about five stories, hang a left, and go about 300 yards."
"Well I will attempt to follow your instructions and meet you there in a few minutes."
The Steward steps in, and offers to take Misha to see
Mich. They take a car to the commercial section, to one of the silos,
and down an elevator. There's no real sense of motion that would help
him determine how deep they're going. The Steward takes him to the lab.
In addition to Mich, there's a bunch of other people working on something.
"Hi Misha," says Mich, "Did you come down to see what we're doing? I'll explain to you how the antimatter generator works. At this station right here, we have to start building the outer casing. We're laying that down molecule by molecule..." He takes Misha around station by station, showing him the assembly line and explaining each stage. He says that by creating these antimatter generators they'll be able to replace their zuchai crystal array and get greater efficiency for the jump engine pulses. In the meantime, the people here can replace their zuchai crystal arrays for their lightning deflectors that they use to protect the city. The forest itself is naturally protected, but it's only the man-made structures here that are in any sort of danger.
Misha asks, "Is the Marquis aware that it was your intention to build these wonderful machines?"
"We discussed their concern with power systems, and he said whatever I could do to help them would be greatly appreciated. What we've gotten out of it is some subtle changes to the original design that will improve this process, plus all the design specifications for the necessary equipment to build more."
"OK. Well. The Marquis and company are almost here, we'll meet you for lunch."
The team marches into town. Shark also notices
that nothing seems to be out of the ordinary in Cormor Home. Nothing
seems to have changed since they left. They immediate proceed to the
guest quarters and go to clean up. Lap'da is still with them; he does
not seem impressed with the glass room -- he says he has seen the top of the
Helia invites everyone to take a bath in her hot tub. Ed joins her, and Sagan goes too. Helia arranges for plates of fruit, and drink. She slips into a tiny bikini (two dots and a dash) in case anyone would be offended, and suggests that anyone who might be embarrassed can change behind that screen over there. Sagan dangles hir feet in the water from the edge. They all kick back and relax.
Misha, meanwhile, goes to his own room, then contacts Robert. He asks him if he could bring the ship here if need be -- Robert and Vonish could. So if the away team's communication channel breaks down, they are to bring the ship here to fetch them.
At the same time as Misha arrives back down in the
lounge, Mich and the Marquis also arrive. Marc comments that his trip
was somewhat bent -- space, that is, Lap'da was bending space (Lap'da,
however, claims he was not). Marc tells him that they went 1000 km
in a few days, and came back the same distance in one day, walking.
Their inertial locator says that they are currently about 40 km north of
here. Mich says that's what jump space does, but Marc points out that
no matter how far you travel in jump, it always takes 6-8 days. (Marc
keeps his sensor recordings going; they have still detected nothing more.)
Mich asks Lap'da how they travelled so rapidly, how he covers so much distance in such a short time.
Lap'da says he does not cover an unusual amount of distance.
Mich says, "So that is normal for you. Covering the distance in a short period of time."
"We did not cover large distances."
Misha suggests they skipped large distances, but Lap'da says they did not do that either.
The Marquis asks Mich about his work, and he replies that the locals are happy with what he's done, and agreed to build antimatter generators that they could take with them.
Marc says, "I thought these guys weren't very high tech?"
(The rest of the crew arrive from Helia's suite.)
"Well, in some areas they're not. They do seem to have a level of craftsmanship with meticulous detail. The technology I've seen them use is second to none in their implementation, however the level of technology is on par with the bulk of the Imperium. There is use of computers in this area where there wasn't in the city. This area seems to be much higher tech."
"I noticed the glassteel floors."
"Robert's been mumbling something about computer data transmissions, but I don't know what he's talking about there. We have a link to the ship. Robert sent a relay here, and we have full computer data access. I've loaded all the plans and manufacturing notes."
"So this technology that you're building with them is generically known within the Imperium, right?"
"There's been a series of papers written on the subject."
"The reason I bring it up is I wonder what the legal implications are of bringing a higher technology than our sovereign government."
"Well, this world doesn't trade with the Imperium. They don't export, and don't import much. It's highly doubtful that they would sell the information. I asked them about selling their zuchai crystals, which are much more valuable, and they said they wouldn't think of it. They keep that to themselves and don't want it known that they even have it available. So I think this is something they'd keep for their own direct purposes." He further explains that zuchai crystals are not common, and that these are of exceptional quality. "Oh, and you didn't run into any mind sucking Joes, did you?"
"There's one in the mine, but that's a long way away from here." That seems to relieve Mich.
Misha thinks it would be a good idea to talk to the Sheriff. The Marquis expects that he will call them tonight, so they let it go until then.
Food is brought for lunch. The Marquis goes back
to reading, after asking Mich how long he wants to be here. Mich wants
to wait a day and a half so they can take back some generators -- the Marquis
is a little concerned about him installing stuff in his ship, but Mich seems
to be willing to wait until they get back to Mora .
Marquis Marc is surprised -- pleasantly surprised -- to find that there is very little in the Zhodani literature about psionics in animals. Many academic publishing opportunities occur to him...
Back at the lab after lunch, Jane asks Mich about his
friend that vistied him earlier. He tells her that the team are indeed
back already, and walked 1000 km to the north wall and back; they said they
had a Jann guiding them. They don't know how they walked that far, and
their inertial locators said that they had gone about 90 km out and about
50 km back, yet they were here -- the system diagnostics checked out, so goodness
knows what happened. Jane suggests that perhaps they reset the equipment
accidentally -- that's the most reasonable explanation.
Jane has almost finished her part of the work. Soon she'll be done, and move on to other tasks. She's not going to start work on generators for the Sheriff just yet, because of bureaucratic requirements, so she'll just be doing some routine stuff. She suggests that Mich just relax with his friends a bit, but he will supervise the work himself -- he's like that.
Mich is confident that he has a direct technology transfer going on, especially with the special stuff that Jane does. Neither side is holding back.
Misha calls the Steward, and asks that the Sheriff speak with him tomorrow. Frederick Houlihan explains that the Sheriff might not be available tomorrow, but that he'll be sure to leave a message to contact them as soon as he is.
Misha then has a short private conversation with his
captain. He is concerned that they might not let them leave when they
want to, and so if there's anything the Marquis can do to help ensure they
can, without upsetting their hosts, they should. The noble sets in motion
preparations to leave suddenly.
Ed makes sure that everyone is packed to leave at the shortest notice. The cars are electric, with no keys. The nearest forest wall is the one to the north. The trains run on time, one per day, arriving in the morning and leaving in the evening. The trains have a bunch of cargo cars, with two passenger cars and several engines. It looks like it would be relatively easy to sneak on board the cargo cars at the loading dock; people only enter or leave the engines at the commercial area too. The passenger cars are connected by a door, but the doors at the other ends are closed, as there are cargo units there. If they wanted to get to the engine, they'd have to climb around cargo or fuel cars. No windows open, and opening a door would be noticed immediately.
On the other hand, being on the train might improve their chances of being picked up by their ship. This forest, though, is supposedly protected by missiles -- they've seen nothing to indicate their location.
On the final hand, Lap'da has said he can take them back to their ship -- if they trust him enough to rely on that, which they don't, quite...
Robert Morris, back on the H.M.S. Third Eye,
has been working hard on the encrypted high bandwidth transmissions.
He has now managed to synch up with the data, and worked out the continually
shifting protocols. If he hadn't hacked those hiver computers, he
wouldn't have stood a chance -- as it is, his experience with the alien systems
has provided the break he needed to get a handle on this stuff. It's
very strange, very odd -- definitely not something to have come out of some
hot-shot Imperial programmer (or hot-shot hiver, for that matter).
He also picked up a slight unexpected glitch of interference in the transmission to the relay unit. He investigates, and it turns out to be interference from another signal. Someone was sending a high power tight beam short transmission from the city of Center, upwards. A little bounce back interfered with the multiple frequencies Robert is using for reliable communications with the away team in Cormor Forest. This is definitely not a natural occurrence -- it's a transmission deliberately aimed at space. Unfortunately the transmission was very short, and he can't get anything more about it or locate it any closer than somewhere in Center. There is no way to tell where the transmission was aimed, other than it was clearly somewhere in the system , not on this planet. He continues to work on all these interesting enigmas.
Back in the forest home, Marquis Marcus Crestworthy
calls Mich Saginaw around mid-morning. He confirms that Mich will
be finished with building the generator units today. He then suggests
to Misha that they should depart tomorrow evening -- or even tonight, if
possible. He requests his First Officer to make sure that everything
can be ready to leave.
The Marquis then turns to their Jann guide. "Lap'da, do you have any interest in travel off planet?"
"Travel to Center?"
Helia Sarina asks, "Learn how to fly a ship?"
Sagan comments, "Why should he want to learn to leave the planet on a ship when he can do so on his own?"
The day continues. Marc continues reading his
psionic texts, and monitoring the football sensor (which still detects
nothing). Misha continues to feel uneasy, like they're missing something,
but he can't figure out what. Ed "Shark" Teeth goes back over the living
quarters again looking for bugs, and is certain that the area is still clean.
Lunchtime arrives and there is still no contact from the Sheriff. Some of the group are getting a little itchy to leave -- this waiting in such an uncertain situation is starting to get on their nerves.
Sagan asks Lap'da how many Janns are on this world, but like others before hir, sie can't get a useful answer. Sie does find out that there are some on this world that are over 1 year old, but Lap'da says he doesn't know how many. Misha and Helia do manage to pry out of Lap'da that there are children among the Janns.
Helia observes, "So we could have children..."
Misha tries to find out about the lifespan of the Janns, but again can't get much of an answer. "Do you have regular meetings with other Jann?"
"No," replies Lap'da.
"Your father, how long did he live? How old was he when he died?"
"I'm not sure, he hasn't told me."
"Is your father still alive?"
"So he hasn't told you his age? Or he hasn't told you how old he'll be when he dies?"
"He has not told me how old he will be when he dies."
"Do you know his current age?"
"What... age?" asks Lap'da, slowly.
"The difference between the year he was born and the year we currently stand in."
"Oh," says Lap'da brightly. "Yes! About a thousand years. He was born about two hundred years after my grandparents got here."
After a while, Marquis Marc asks, "Did your people
bring the forest with them?"
"No," replies Lap'da.
"Until the most recent stuff here, were there always nine forests?"
"Do any of the Jann leave the planet? Have any of the Jann left the planet in the past few hundred years?"
"Do you know what planet you originally came from? Is that in your histories?"
"What can you tell me about that?" Marquis Marc triggers his recorder.
"It was probably much like yours."
"Is there a name?"
"There is a name but I don't think it would mean anything to you."
"You'd be amazed at what is passed down through legend and survives. Could you say it please?"
"No, I think not."
Now human written history certainly goes back through the Vilani empire, and there are hints about the Ancients , but the Jann claim to go back to the days of the Final War which destroyed the Ancients' civilization, or shortly thereafter. What is more, according to Lap'da none of the Jann have left this planet since well before the rise of homo sapiens.
Mich has been working on the new power units.
They are all complete before dinner, but unfortunately not soon enough to
catch the train back to Center today. He has eight units; all have been
checked out, not just in normal operation but under varying circumstances
such as load conditions, various levels of fuel impurities, and so on.
Sagan points out that they don't actually have to wait for the train -- Lap'da could take them. On the other hand, while they could leave, Mich has enough equipment that they would have to abandon some very desirable stuff. The most critical items, though, are the data files -- which have already been uploaded to the Third Eye's computers.
Misha would prefer not to leave yet anyway -- he wants to talk with the Sheriff and try to figure out some of the motivations and loose ends.
Still, everything can be packed up ready to go. Mich was planning to talk to Jane Southcombe to see if there was anything he could help with, or anything more he could find out perhaps. Jane, however, is not available -- she did say she was just doing some routine tasks.
Misha puts the question to the Marquis. It's
up to him to balance the risk factors. Should they walk back to the
ship with Lap'da tonight, or take the train tomorrow?
Marquis Marc asks Lap'da how many days walk it is back to the ship -- and of course he says "Some."
Helia tries to pin Lap'da down further. She asks, "OK, if we walk very focussed, do you think we can make it to the ship by dawn?"
"No," replies Lap'da firmly.
"OK, Do you think we can make the ship by noon?"
"If we started now, what do you think would be the fastest we could get to the ship?"
"I don't know."
"Could we make it by tomorrow dinnertime?"
"I don't know."
Helia turns to Marc. "That's the best answer we're going to get," she says.
Sagan says, "This again assumes that the ship does not move."
Helia doesn't really want Vonish Kehnaan to have to handle the atmospheric flight from First City. She again turns to their guide, "Lap'da, can the Jann bring the ship to us here without damaging the forest?"
Marc thinks it would be too visible a proposition. He discusses the matter briefly with Misha, and comes to the conclusion that they should probably just wait until tomorrow and take the train. They all settle down to spend the night.
Helia says, "We've been missing something all along.
We missed it again."
Misha says, "About being sent out of the way: the point of that was that while he did send us out of the way in the sense that we were a thousand kilometers from where Mich was, we were not a thousand kilometers in days from where he was. He implied that he did that on purpose."
"Yeah, we still missed something."
"There's clearly something going on that we don't understand. He doesn't really want to share it with us in an obvious way. Very Lap'da-ish!" Misha laughs.
Marquis Marc looks at Lap'da. "You have taught him well," he says.
Lap'da says, "I have taught him some things. I did not teach him what he is doing now."
Helia asks, "What is he doing now?"
"What do you think he is doing now?"
"What do you think he's hiding?"
"I don't know, but I don't like it. Do you know what he's hiding?"
Marc says, "Hiding what he gained from us."
Lap'da answers Helia's question, "I don't know."
Marc adds, "Obviously he didn't gain the obvious."
Misha says, "He's playing some kind of game with someone else on planet, and we're just some kind of pawns in the game."
Helia says, "That's what it feels like."
Marc says, "I'm hoping it's only on planet."
Misha says, "Why does it matter whether it's on planet or not?"
Helia answers, "Because we have to go off planet, and if there's somebody that he's in contact with off planet, it might be bad for us."
"Well, you know Lap'da vouches for the Sheriff, at least in terms of his honesty. The Sheriff wouldn't do something to harm us, that's what Lap'da says. I'm inclined to believe that."
"But the Sheriff might not do something that would prevent harm. He may not step in the way of someone who meant us harm."
Misha says to Lap'da, "I sense from you that you're not entirely happy with the Sheriff's current game, whatever that game happens to be."
Lap'da asks, "His game?"
"His game, his current activities, obviously he's not being -- completely forthright. He's -- his current actions..."
"I believe he's doing what he thinks is best."
"OK. I'm willing to accept that. Lap'da, this is a decision we must make as a group. We must decide whether to leave planet and go on to bigger and better things, or stay here and investigate."
"The Sheriff does not intend to bring you harm."
Marquis Marc asks him, "Do you know of anyone on planet who does?"
"I don't know."
"Do you know of anyone off planet who does?"
"I don't know."
Misha says, "Well, I wondered if you have any advice on this question?"
"I don't think you will come to harm on planet."
"That's not the question. The question is whether it would be a good thing to stay and investigate this little mystery, or just to move on and let the Sheriff continue his game in peace."
"Do you think you can finally get what game it is?"
"I have no idea. But we'll never know if we never try."
Lap'da says quietly, "Perhaps you're stuck with rock - paper - scissors, and he has a flower."
"Do not play the game if you do not think you can play it."
Marc adds, "Don't play the game if there's more to lose than there is to win."
"But have you already won?"
Misha says, "We're ahead on the game, that's why I'm willing to continue playing."
Marc says, "I'm playing a conservative game. At this time, with the information at hand, I don't think there's much to be gained by staying. Now as we travel, as more information becomes available, once we return to the ship me may decide to change our minds."
Lap'da says, "Most people who ask a question already know the answer."
Helia says, "That's a very human thing. We like to have our thoughts affirmed."
There seems nothing more to be gained. They arrange for their baggage to be on the train, while everyone will take their own personal luggage. The Marquis calls the Steward and asks when the train will leave tonight. He plans that they will be there an hour ahead of time.
Misha wants to go for one last walk in the woods. Mich joins him -- he's not had much of a chance to wander in the forest. Helia also goes along, to stretch her wings and fly for a while before getting back on the ship. The two humans take a gentle walk, half an hour to the east -- away from the commercial section -- and return safely. The lirian flies up towards the canopy of the forest, and enjoys herself relaxing and flying around in the fresh air; she keeps the lights from the guest tower in sight, and of course that makes it certain she does not get lost.
After the walk, everyone moves over to the station. They embark-- they are the only passengers on the train this time -- and their luggage is loaded into the baggage section. The bartender is the same person they had on the way out here, although he's done other runs in the meantime and hasn't just been doing this one train.
The trip back from Cormor Forest is uneventful.
Marquis Marc continues to read, while the others talk and occupy themselves
as they can. They try without success to spot the location of the
old train wreck, but it's night as they go by and they don't see anything.
They do, however, get a good view of the Great Gap as they pass over it
to the southern continent in the afternoon.
The train arrives back in Center right on time, in the evening. There are a couple of limousines and a van waiting for them, and they are driven direct from the station to the yacht club at First City. From there, they are chauffeured by boat back to the Third Eye. The Marquis tips well, in Imperial credits. All are relieved and pleased to be back on board their ship.
Mich and Shark go through the baggage carefully -- Mich makes sure everything they packed is actually there, while Shark makes sure there's nothing there that they didn't pack. All checks out fine.
Robert reports to the Marquis and Misha. He tells
them that there's technology in use on this planet that is much higher than
it appears, and that there's extremely high data rate communication lines
between Center and Cormor Forest. He's been wading through the content,
but isn't sure exactly what's going on with it. There was some highly
encrypted content that stopped about the time they left the forest.
At one point -- about the time that they would have arrived back at the settlement
-- there was a high energy transmission from Center off-world. There
have been no transmissions picked up from the rest of the system. Robert
didn't want to tell them about this until they were in a secure location.
The Marquis says to Misha, "This is some of that additional information we might be gathering. Does this change what you want to do?"
Misha replies, "It intrigues me, but..."
Robert adds, "We have some of the encrypted conversations recorded and we're working on deciphering them."
Marquis Marc says, "How long do you think it will take?"
"Maybe about two days. It depends."
Marc asks if there's anyone who can help Robert with it. Helia is good at maths, Ed is good at... who knows what Ed is good at?
"I have the encryption broken, it's more the ideograms than..."
"So it's language skills?"
"Yes. I'll take anyone's help."
Marc asks, "When you say high technology, is it beyond Imperium technology, or...? Because these guys are TL5 with some TL7 computer stuff, and some missile launchers they claim."
"It's beyond that," Robert laughs. "It's edges of the fringe of Imperium. What I'm seeing I could believe is in some Imperial lab somewhere and could see the light of day in maybe five years. But this is out of place for this location. It's a different direction from Imperial technology but it is achievable in the near future."
"Would the technology necessary to implement this be the sort of technology a person would carry around with them concealed? Could you build that technology into a concealed device, with what you have now on the ship?"
"OK, so it is either a large installation, or it's advanced technology."
Robert supports the large installation theory -- it's main line communication between two points. He has a lot of individual conversation data, but there were many before he started recording. He just happened upon it because he noticed that there was some low bandwidth data transmission that looked rather odd, and he noticed it was a carrier for extremely high bandwidth communications. He promises to let Marc know if it resumes.
The Marquis calls Mich to find out how quickly they could leave if they wanted -- Mich tells him about two hours to get everything checked out and warmed up.
Misha's opinion is that besides satisfying curiosity, it doesn't seem that there's much benefit to spending more time on this. He asks Robert if he could trace this end of the communications.
Robert notes that the recipient of the high bandwidth transmissions could be tapping into it the same way they are, in which case they can't locate them, but that they can trace the destination of the continuing low bandwidth stuff.
The Marquis observes that there is definitely a ship in space -- another player off planet -- and at least one more ship on planet.
Misha wonders if the transmission off-planet could have contained the plans to the energy amplifier device. Robert says that it was far too short for that. It could not have been the plans that were transmitted. Also, the interference from that one transmission can't be located any more accurately than to say it originated in Center.
Marc says that the problem with looking for someone who doesn't necessarily want to be found, is that if you find them, they might shoot -- and his ship is not really equipped to shoot back. So while they can look to see if they can find anyone on their way out, chasing after another ship is not really an option.
Misha asks about tracing the transmissions -- he says he can get physical access to the location once Robert tells him where it is.
Robert says that he thinks his time would be best spent deciphering the content of the transmission first, to see whether it's anything that might be worth investigating. It might be something totally innocent.
The Marquis decides that they will stay here another
two days to see if they can determine anything else. That would mean
leaving on 138 / 800 local date, 112-1120 Imperial.
Vonish, who has some language skill, will help Robert; Sagan also offers the possibility of adapting the hiver translator algorithms for use in understanding the ideograms.
At the bookstore, the clerk does not recognize the pictograms. Nevertheless, the Marquis does find about ten books that might be useful, so he buys them all. They return to his ship.
Back on board, the Marquis studies one book while the others are read into the computer. He actually beats the computer in an approximate match, and passes that book on to be read next. To help him with his reading, he gets Mich to knock together a stand for books so he doesn't have to hold the book. He still turns the pages manually -- he finds it relaxing.
At dinner that night, the Marquis asks if they have
translated it yet. The answer is no. They've compared the match
that Marc pointed out, and according to them it's not in fact a match.
Back in his room that night, Marc tries it himself -- the translation makes
no sense. No more sense than Lap'da makes anyway. He sends a
message to Robert saying, "Here's a translation. It's in Lap'da-ese.
Good luck in understanding it, but it says nothing really, and a bunch of
untranslatable words in the middle of it."
The language he's been thinking matches is a Zhodani archeological text. The book shows symbols carved on stones from an old -- but post- Ancient -- site in Zhodani Consulate space.
There seems to be insufficient reason to stay any longer.
There doesn't appear to be anything more they can gather, so they would probably
be better off heading back to Mora and looking things up there. The
Marquis suspects that if that old language is the right one, they won't
find much about it there, but you never know. He would have guessed
the language was Jannish, but the written script that they use here on Digitis
is not pictogram in form.
Marc asks his navigator where the nearest sector capital to Zhodani space is, to carry on research there. Actually he has a report to file with his patron -- he has found a planet on which there are no psionics, except for one visitor. The absence of any even latent psionics on a human planet is quite remarkable in itself. Unfortunately most of the border capitals don't have much of a University. The best on in archeology is probably Regina ; it's not that close to the border, but in Imperial terms of course the whole of the Spinward Marches is close to the border.
Helia plans a route for them. She takes careful consideration of Amber Zones (like Tionale ) and so on. The intent is just to make the trip as quickly as possible.