It's time to head for the forest. The shore party
from the Nightshade
is Edward "Shark" Teeth (with football and robodog), Kalida, Helia "Belladonna"
Sarina, Misha, Robert (with backpack communicator), and Mich Saginaw.
Vonish Kehnaan shuttles them to the shore on the air/raft , and he'll remain
here in First City to work with the yacht club chef. Robert sets the
ship to searching for any occurrences of what he calls the indigenous language.
So it's air/raft to the yacht club, taxi into town, train to Center, and from the Mall they catch the train to Cormor Forest. The train is the same as their previous visit: four or five engines pull two passenger cars followed by a lot of goods cars. They are the only passengers. The compartment-style cars provide a reasonably comfortable environment for the trip, with a lounge with snacks and drinks, seating compartments, and sleeping compartments. The trip should take about a day, at around 100 kph.
They move out of Center fairly quickly and start to pass over uninhabited rough ground and scrub. This then gives way to the Great Gap, about 700 m below the train. Across the far side of it, they see the first sign of the Cormor Forest -- the wall of fused tree trunks, and the canopy of green leaves extending as far as they can see. From there it's just a view of the canopy, from the rails about ten meters over the top of the forest, until they reach Cormor Home tomorrow. They watch the red sun set over the forest. Helia has brought a multi-game board, and she and Kalida spend a lot of the trip playing games.
Shark leads them through a corridor to a door at the
end. He opens it to reveal the perfectly transparent guest quarters.
He walks in, apparently on air, at the same level as the furniture.
He explains that the guest rooms are upstairs -- luxurious suites with an
enormous jacuzzi in each one -- and can be accessed through the elevators
in the central tube. They can look out over the forest canopy, where
the light rain still falls.
They settle in, take a shower and change, and wait for the Sheriff to arrive. Helia curls up in the corner of a huge comfy couch. Shark does a search of the whole area for surveillance cameras or audio bugs, but finds nothing.
After about an hour, Sheriff Erwin Hedaker arrives.
He welcomes them warmly, and introduces himself to Kalida. He asks what
brings them to visit.
Shark replies, "Well, we came to visit because of you, and Miss Jane Southcombe."
"No," replies the Sheriff, "There's no-one here by that name."
"I see. Well, we worked with her -- Mich in particular -- for a couple of weeks, last time we were here."
"Well... yeah... She's... not part of our regular staff."
"Do you know how we could get hold of her?"
"I probably could if you really wanted. Is it a complaint about those devices?"
Mich answers, "There was an anomaly with those devices that we had in operation that we should discuss."
Shark explains that it's more an issue of scientific curiosity.
Erwin continues, "Well, I'm glad you obviously didn't run into serious trouble with it. I am relieved. I would ask that you're sure you want to meet her before I send out the message. It would of course take some time..."
"Would it be inconvenient for her for us to go to her?"
"It wouldn't be inconvenient for her... no."
"Are we up for another hike? I quite enjoy being out of the ship in a much larger space for a while."
"Well, you are welcome to be out in the forest as much as you like."
"Thank you. Actually that fellow that went out with us last time, he was quite interesting."
"Yes. Is he still about?"
"Oh yes. I could probably... he would probably come by if you'd like to see him. It would probably take about a day or so."
"So how long would it take us to get to Miss Southcombe?"
"Depending on where she is, it could take several jumps."
"Oh! She's left system , then."
"Oh yes. She left shortly after you did."
"So where do you think she is right now?"
"I wouldn't venture to guess. I could certainly make sure a message was delivered, but how long it would take and what the response would be, I don't know."
"Where would you be taking a message, because it might be along the way we're going."
"I doubt it. There is a certain procedure that has to be followed."
Shark changes the subject. He says again that they'd like to see Lap'da, and be interested in a few days hike. He goes on, "The Marquis has retired from active travelling, and Misha is now our captain, and I'm first officer."
The Sheriff congratulates them.
Mich asks, "How are your zuchai crystals?"
"Very well indeed. Everything's in perfect shape, we have our equipment to check them out. Thank you, that was very useful work."
Shark asks, "Anything you'd like to know from us? Any news we could pass on?"
"No. Just that you're alive and well is very good news."
Mich shows the Sheriff a picture of the Nightshade . "We recovered it in a salvage operation," he says.
The Sheriff looks impressed, but doesn't recognize it. He adds, "I hope you haven't installed those things you were working on. No? Good. It would be terrible to have more accidents with it."
Mich says his research is going in a different direction -- working on vortex generators for the jump drive.
The Sheriff says that's not his field, but wishes Mich good luck with it. He adds that Guy, his chief engineer, is busy with a project that requires a lot of attention. He closes by saying again that they are welcome to wander around the Forest wherever they want, and they are welcome to take anything they want from the stores. He wishes them a good stay, and then leaves.
Later that day, Shark leads everyone down to the forest
to acclimatize to the atmosphere. They take the elevator to the ground
level, wave at the lady at the lobby desk on their way through, and step
out into the forest.
This is the first visit to the forest by Mich, Kalida, and Robert. The air is certainly different from the rest of the planet. It is pleasantly moist, thick, easy to breath. There is grass underfoot, and tree trunks reach up to support the canopy. The trunks vary in diameter, and are anything from five to twenty meters apart. They are all the same height, and have leaves only at the canopy level. It's quite dark, but the grass is green and lush over the rolling ground.
Everyone feels light-headed, but Robert and Misha exceptionally so. Misha, giggling to himself, closes the faceplate on his zack. He starts to feel better immediately. Seeing him do that, Helia does likewise with her zack. Shark explains to Kalida that there's a high oxygen content, and it makes you light-headed until you're used to it. She opts to use the respirator for a while, and adjust to it carefully by using it alternately with breathing the forest air.
Robert finds that all these people standing around, just concentrating on breathing, is absolutely hilarious. Helia tries to put a cat's cradle on his hands, but he is holding his arms crossed; she puts it on anyway. That doesn't work well, so she hands him a small pinwheel. He thinks this is great, and runs off through the forest to make it spin.
Misha says to Helia, "You gave him that thing. Make sure he comes back."
Helia runs off after him. She catches up, and starts to lead him back.
Shark hands him a respirator; he uses it to make the pinwheel spin. Robert stares at the colors spinning. They're not as fun as when he was running, so off he goes again.
Robert is starting to get away. Shark lets him go for a moment, but soon sees that he'll be getting out of sight of the pulsating red lights on the guest quarters. He sprints after the escaping Robert, and tackles him to the ground. Robert passes out. Shark carries him back in the light gravity, and sits him up against the building.
Suddenly Shark remembers the "sunglasses" he brought, and hands them out to everyone who didn't remember them (or who wasn't here last time). Shark and Helia have to open the face of their zack to use the glasses, but they are careful about acclimatizing, and it doesn't present a problem.
Robert is out of it. Shark fits the respirator over his face. He comes around occasionally and just looks around strangely, then passes out again. Shark determines that he isn't going to recover quickly, and carries him back to the guest quarters to recover.
Kalida has been working quickly on acclimatizing, and is soon adjusted. Misha keeps his faceplate down, considering how much trouble has been going on.
Most of them return to the guest wing. This has been plenty long enough for one excursion. Kalida and Mich stay out a little longer to make sure they're fully used to the air, then join the rest of the group in the lounge.
The clouds stay all day. Shark is disappointed
not to be able to see stars through an atmosphere.
That night, Helia instigates a jacuzzi party. She puts on her two dots and a dash. This is the first time Kalida has seen the larian without her "backpack."
"She's a social butterfly," laughs Shark.
"Well that explains a lot!" says Kalida. She continues, "Those are very pretty," as Helia flutters her wings with a broad grin.
The whole crew settle down to drinks in Helia's jacuzzi.
"I've no idea what was going on with this engineer lady you're searching for," says Kalida, "But I thought from what you'd said initially that the Sheriff had brought her to you to work with you? I thought it very odd that when you asked about her, he didn't say she wasn't available, or she wasn't here, he said, 'There's no-one here by that name,' until you pushed it."
Shark nods. "The whole situation here was -- and is -- very weird. Let's see..." He pauses. "As far as we know, by the way, we aren't being listened to. Our guide was asked to keep us away for a while -- and he succeeded."
"But you never could figure out why?"
"Not precisely. Now I have a much better idea." He turns to Mich, "And I believe that you may no longer be in danger. But how they knew to get her here is most interesting. I think they might have gotten what they wanted." Suddenly something occurs to Shark. He takes a look at the phones, and thinks back to all the technology they've seen here, particularly that in Cormor Home. The easy answer he was hoping for isn't there, however -- it's not Zhodani style. It's all consistent with Imperial-like tech. Nevertheless, he takes the phone apart, looking for more clues. Everything looks perfectly normal -- no bugs or excess circuitry.
The jacuzzi party continues until the small hours, when all retire to their own suites.
Lap'da is waiting for them, sitting cross-legged on
the grass. As they walk out of the lobby into the forest, he smiles
Shark says, "Hello, Lap'da, good to see you again."
Robert signs "Hello" to him in script.
Lap'da says something that is apparently untranslatable. "Jambly-ree" says the translator. "Purdy wurlyburly wallee gayne."
Robert does not understand him at all.
"Your friend, who is he?" Lap'da asks Shark. "He cannot speak."
Shark replies, "Robert. Robert can speak, he's... trying... other languages."
"He tries very well."
"Thank you. Where did you learn that language?"
"How long ago?"
"A long time."
"When you were very young?"
"Do you know this symbol?" asks Shark. He finds a spot in the path to scrape out a maltese cross in the dirt.
"We have one, on the side of our current ship."
"Why do you put that symbol on your ship?"
"Why does the ship put it on the side of the ship?"
"That is a good question. Have you asked it?"
Lap'da pauses. "So you have come here again."
"To see you, and other people, actually."
"I am here. You have seen me."
"We enjoy your company."
"And I yours."
"We must be entertaining. A diversion."
"Everything is a diversion."
"Were we expected?"
"I don't know. Were you?"
"Not particularly. Where has Jane Southcombe gone?"
"Who is that?"
"The person who spent time with Mich. Ah! Do you know Mich? Mich is our maker of things."
"He is the reason why you had to be out of the way."
"Yes. She was with him."
"So she is the other reason why you had to be out of the way?"
"Yes. Now we want to know where she is."
"Has she gone?"
"Yes. We want to know where. She left the planet."
Mich says, "The Sheriff claimed that she left the planet."
Kalida adds, "But he also didn't say where she is."
Shark continues, "He wouldn't say where she is. He did say he could make an effort to get a message to her."
Lap'da says, "Well, you have seen me. Is there more you want to do?"
"We would like to go for another walk with you."
"Well, this way is good." Lap'da leads them off in an apparently arbitrary direction, to the northwest.
As they walk, Lap'da asks, "So, have you been well?
Good. You have... different people."
"Yes," says Shark, "The Marquis has decided to return to his home, and leave it to us to travel. We have found a new companion. Lap'da, this is Kalida Siena."
Lap'da nods pleasantly and smiles. After a while, he addresses the group, "Are you looking for something?"
"If you are looking for enlightenment, you shouldn't be looking outside." Lap'da spreads his arms, indicating the forest, or the world, or something.
"Who should we be looking with?"
"All limitations are self imposed."
Robert says, "You'd like klatrin."
"What is... klatrin?"
Shark asks Robert, "Did you bring any?"
"Yes," laughs Robert. "The doctor's on the ship, so we can all take klatrin."
"When we camp."
Lap'da turns to Helia and strikes up a light conversation. She gives him some candy that she's been saving for him, which he enjoys.
The jann then asks, "And you, Robert. Why do you... sign?"
"I've picked up another language," Robert explains, "It's easier to convey expressions, and I was curious if a man of your experience had ever come across this similar language."
"Yes. Um. Maybe. It is not the form the settlers speak." It's hard to tell whether Lap'da was making a statement or asking a question."
"But it's related?"
Then Lap'da addresses Kalida. "Why are you here?" he asks.
"I've joined their crew. I've never been to this planet, and when they said they were coming to visit the forest, it seemed like an interesting place."
"And is it an interesting place?"
"It is a very interesting place."
As Lap'da walks along, he grabs a bright red fruit from
a bush, and keeps walking. Helia does so too, explaining that this
is how they eat and drink in the forest.
Shark adds, "When we do what he does, we go amazing places."
Helia nods to him, and asks Lap'da where they're going. He doesn't seem to have any place in particular in mind, almost as if he's going for an aimless walk in the forest.
Shark asks who asked the jann to get them out of the way last time.
"The Sheriff," he replies. "But it was not his thought."
"Do you know whose thought it was?"
"When you say it was not his thought, do you mean he was asked to do it, or the thought was placed there?"
"Is there a difference?"
"Yes. One he considered the thought and decided to act upon it, the other one he did not consider it."
"He considered the thought, surely. The manner was carefully thought out."
"What did he ask of you this time?"
"He has asked me nothing this time. I have not spoken to him."
"Frederick asked you to come, or...?"
"No. There was a message."
Misha changes the subject. "You said some time ago that the settlers' story and the janns' story are the same story, but the background is different. What did you mean by that?"
"The background is different. A story only has meaning in the context of a background."
Shark says to Robert, "A symbol only has meaning in the current time and place that you see the symbol. Echoes within echoes."
Lap'da continues, "My ancestors came on a ship. They were tired of travelling."
Shark asks, "Do you know where they travelled from?"
"Yes." But the jann will not be drawn into revealing where that was.
Shark steps aside, and asks Robert to check with Vonish -- he wants a list of all ships arriving and departing since their last visit. He thinks there were probably very few ships, and that none left with a passenger. Vonish can probably manage to get this information for him.
Lap'da asks Shark what he's learned.
Shark says, slowly, "The connections between the places we have travelled have more levels that we can currently conceive."
Lap'da is pleased. "That's good. Very good. You are starting to curlyu."
"Hopefully. So have your people been back to Goose recently?"
"They recognize the ship."
Robert says, "That would be the settlers..."
"Goose has only been populated much more recently than the janns have been here."
Misha says, slightly puzzled, "The settlers came from the Sword Worlds ."
"Yes," adds Lap'da.
The crew get into a discussion rehashing the language
and script issue. Eventually Misha asks, "So the settlers speak a child's
language. Who speaks the adult language?"
"We do. Their language, they call Jannish, is from us. Their writing is from us. It is very... difficult for them, but it is... easy... for us."
Kalida asks, "They speak a simplified version of your language?"
"It is not a version of our language, it is... a step."
Shark has been talking about food package labeling with Robert. He turns back to Lap'da and says, "Oh yes, maybe we'll see grey mist tonight."
"If you are very still, maybe you will. Do you want to?"
"I will try."
They continue to walk, eating on the way, until they're
ready to camp. Lap'da leads them to an area with four bushes of various
types. One of them is a gourd-like plant -- with bright blue fruit --
that is one of the ones they can drink from. The liquid inside tastes
like fresh, clean, water.
Once they're settled in, Misha suggests that Shark show Lap'da a picture of the Nightshade.
"This is your ship?" asks Lap'da.
"Our current ship, yes," replies Shark.
"Tell me about it."
"Actually, we were hoping you could tell us about it."
There is a long pause. Then Lap'da says, "Terrily beegie des spoloigie? I will try again." He thinks for a while and then says, very carefully, "I have now told you about your ship."
The crew look at each other. Shark says he's recorded the original vocalizations and can try again to translate them later.
Lap'da seems confused. He says, "No, I have told you in words you understand."
"Did we miss something?" laughs Kalida.
Misha laughs, "We obviously just missed it!"
Robert says, "The ship that we salvaged had controls with symbols like these." He draws a symbol in the ground.
Lap'da says, "Yes."
"And I have learned to read these symbols."
Helia asks, "Do you know what that symbol means?"
"Kerridy saily," smiles Lap'da.
Robert says, "I can read the writing, but I cannot speak the language."
"Reading, speaking, calada. It is good."
"More fish oil," smiles Helia.
"What is this... klatrin?"
"Mind expanding," says Helia.
Shark says, "It is a drink we found on the planet Goose . They recognized the ship and were surprised that we had it."
"They wouldn't tell us anything about it," grumbles Helia.
Lap'da says, "Why would they be surprised?"
Shark explains, "They were expecting someone else. Someone wiser and older than us, I suspect."
Helia says, "They just were. They wouldn't tell us why."
Shark says, "They thought there should be someone else in the ship."
Lap'da asks, "You... salvaged... the ship?"
"It was found and we re-found it, yes."
"Where was it?"
"Stored by a government."
"Ah. So they found it."
"Yes. No records of where they found it."
Misha asks, "What did you mean when you said 'I have told you about your ship?'"
Lap'da says, very slowly, "Until I told you that I had told you about the ship, you could not know that I had told you about your ship. So when I said I had told you about the ship... that is what you needed to know. To ask a question, you must already understand the answer."
Shark smiles at Kalida. He says, "I've decided not to be bothered by this sort of thing. I'm trying really hard."
Meanwhile, Robert has poured a full shot of klatrin. He hands it to Lap'da, saying, "It is a drink that helps expand your mind. Helps you on an inner journey."
Lap'da drinks it. He says, "That was very... interesting."
Robert offers around the fish oil. Shark declines for now. Helia doesn't really want to sleep that long -- but then again, maybe in this oxygen-rich atmosphere she wouldn't be out for three days. Helia takes a shot (sized for a larian, of course).
Helia asks, "Does that make you feel anything?"
"Everything makes you feel something," says the jann.
"What does this make you feel?"
"It does not make me feel. It feels... interesting. This should be interesting."
Meanwhile, Robert has decided to join them. He pours himself a shot.
Lap'da says, "This is interesting. What is this supposed to do?"
Shark says, "For us -- for Robert in particular -- it has expanded his awareness of the connection of everything and allowed him to read and understand the language of the ship, to understand and be able to sign. The journey I undertook, I saw the entire universe and its interconnections. I could not quite grasp it yet."
"Did you have a guide?"
"Many journeys are better with a guide."
"Mine would have been."
Robert asks, "Would you be our guide?"
"I don't know."
Shark asks, "Would you try?"
"It is not for me to try."
"Would you be our guide?"
"I don't know."
"Let us find out." Shark reaches for a shot of klatrin, which Robert gladly pours for him.
Three of the six people on the trip have now drunk the fish oil. Still, the forest seems like as safe a place as any for it.
Lap'da says, "Have a good journey. Look for me on the way."
The group settle down to sleep. The light has
not changed at all -- it's always the same, night or day, rain or shine, and
the precipitation hasn't made it through the canopy. Lap'da assures
them there is no need to keep watch. Kalida looks to Misha, but he seems
as comfortable with the idea as everyone else. This is the first time
three have taken klatrin together. Only the morning will show what
has happened to them.