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The Mora Campaign (290-1119 to 293-1119)

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290-1119 : Gorram / Lunion / Spinward Marches

    Akim Gavrolovitch's death has shaken everyone.  Still, the mission goes on.  What now?

    Marquis Marcus Crestworthy wants to make First Contact with the second village.  He asks Misha Ravanos what he would suggest, and if he'd be willing to try it.  Misha would be glad to try again, going down and presenting them with an offering of some sort.
    Marquis Marc examines the videos of the village.  Unlike the other one, this one apparently has tool users.  Some are carrying sticks, and there's signs of them using stone tools to strip meat off bone, and so on.  He doesn't think they should give them any technology, but Robert suggests they give the natives an item that's the "next step" -- bows and arrows, or a sling?  But from the videos it seems they have slings, in the form of throwing sticks for projecting rocks.  There are no spears, though.
    "What would be impressive but no too far out of their understanding?" asks Misha.
    The anthropologist suggests a knife, something they can use to cut meat.  Vonish Kehnaan won't give up his cooking knives, of course, and suggests a sharpened hunk of metal.  The anthropologist was thinking more along the lines of a hunting knife.  Misha is satisfied with that.

    So the away team is assembled.  David Markland will drive the gcarrier.  Misha will perform the first contact himself.  The senior anthropologist of course wants to be along, and Sagan will again accompany the team.  Misha's jehrig goes along on his shoulder.

    David slips the gcarrier out of the vehicle bay, and takes them down to the village.  Again, they come in skimming across the sea and move inland to the village.
    He brings the gravcraft into a landing about 100m from the village.  Several natives were in the center of the village area, and they scatter into the huts as the vehicle comes in.

    Misha, not wearing a respirator but carrying his sword (and the gift knife), goes to step out of the gcarrier.
    "Perhaps I should accompany you," says Sagan quickly, "To help prevent one of those headaches from the cold and reduced air pressure?  ...Brain swelling?  Perhaps I could carry you back if you were incapacitated."
    "Come along," Misha says, and steps out onto the planet surface.  The hiver walks out beside him.  The door remains open behind them.

    Nothing moves in the village.  The pair move to about 20m away from the village and stop.  They wait.

    After about 45 minutes, something emerges from the doorway of one of the huts on the other side of the village.  It looks about man-sized, clearly one of the natives, maintaining the S-shaped posture that they'd seen here before.  It's carrying a stick in a couple of hands, and some sort of bag in another one.  It approaches them slowly.  The head of another native watches from a different far doorway.
    The human and hiver wait patiently.  The native get about 20m away from them and stops.  It stays absolutely still; except for a disconcerting rippling effect along the skin of its body.
    Slowly, carefully, Misha takes the knife in two hands and offers it to the creature.  The creature does not move.  Misha places the knife on the ground, and makes what he thinks is a "this is for you" motion.  He then steps back, and keeps moving until he's about 20m away.
    When Misha stops, the creature moves forward.  Its motion looks very odd to Misha, the legs and body of the creature move in ways that are very strange to him.  But Misha feels fine, so he's not too worried.
    The creature reaches the knife.
    Sagan says, in hiver, "Take the knife."  It doesn't react.

    Finally, after a pause, it reaches out with four hands and picks up the knife by the handle.  It examines it, then puts it down.  It's looking at Misha, with occasional glances towards Sagan.
    "Any ideas?" Misha asks Sagan.
    Sagan thinks the alien is expecting a gift from hir.  Sie thinks what there could be that sie could give it -- but sie's carrying nothing except hir translator and autopistol.

    The creature whistles.  It's a high-pitched sound, shifting up beyond the hearing range and back.  Shortly thereafter, another creature emerges from a doorway, where it's been watching, and moves towards them.  It too is carrying something.  It gets alongside its fellow native, and stops.  It looks mostly at Sagan, with occasional glances at the human.
    The new one approaches Sagan.  The other watches Misha carefully, and has a couple of hands in its bag.
    The second creature is carrying what looks like a hunk of meat.  Sagan extends a hand.  The creature puts the meat in hir hand, and bobs its head at hir.
    "It would appear to be meat," says Sagan.  The meat also seems to be a few days old.  "It has an interesting odor to it," sie continues.
    The creature whistles, very high-pitched.  The other one whistles too, and moves up alongside its partner.
    Sagan extends hir rear hand, and shakes hands with one of them.  Sie says, from the vocalizer, "Hello,"  and gestures at them.
    The creatures startle a bit, and back off to about three meters back.
    Sagan sits down.  Sie studies the natives.  "They don't know how to deal with this first contact situation any better than we do," sie says.  They're doing much the same as the contact team: exchanging gifts, making contact.
    Since Sagan spoke, the natives have been paying almost exclusive attention to hir.  Sie starts making marks in the dirt -- one stroke, two strokes; point at one stroke, point at one stroke, points at two.  No reaction.  Sie then tries counting, "one, two, three, four, five, six" with the vocalizer, while making that number of strokes in the dirt.  The natives do not react.
    They now notice that the creatures have four digits.
    MIsha and Sagan both draw various pictures of prey animals and so on.
    Sagan holds out the meat, and waves a hand over the pictures.  Which did this meat come from?
    One of the creatures reaches for the meat, takes it, lifts it to his mouth, and then passes it back to Sagan.
    Figuring that the Doctor can fix any problems caused by the meat, Sagan puts the meat under him, squats over it, and ingests it.
    The second creature backs off about a meter, turns, and moves off under a nearby doorway.  It moves deceptively quickly.

    Misha asks the anthropologist in the gcarrier what to do.  In reply, he says Misha's doing fine, just great, this is fascinating!

    The second one returns, carrying something.  He hands it to Misha.  Misha takes it -- it looks and smells rather like old fish.  MIsha tastes it.  It tastes like old fish.  It tastes bad, like it's been sitting out too long.  He smiles and nods appreciatively.
    The creatures whistle at each other, then back up, turn around, and quickly vanish into the huts.

    Misha and Sagan go back to the gcarrier.  As soon as they are inside, Sagan squats, deposits the meat on the floor, and suggests the anthropologist might want it.  For his part, he suggests Misha bag it, and the fish too, and then flush the air in the gcarrier -- quickly.
    Both Misha and Sagan feel somewhat ill.  Misha alerts the doctor, while Marquis Marc directs Helia to bring the HMS Third Eye over the gcarrier's location.  They don't want to be too far away this time.  Misha suggests David might like to hurry back to the ship.  He does.

    David parks the gcarrier in the vehicle bay.  By this time Misha is feeling most unwell.
    "Is your brain swelling?" asks Sagan with concern.
    Misha goes quickly to Sick Bay.  Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead quickly directs Misha into an isolation booth, and vents Sick Bay.  He starts taking samples and in general makes Misha most uncomfortable while he runs the tests.
    After about half an hour, Misha is released.  The Baron tells him he'll be fine in about six hours or so, and gives him something to help him throw up when he gets back to his room.  Misha takes it immediately, and immediately and violently throws up in Sick Bay.
    The Baron goes apoplectic.  He calls for security, and then calls the Captain and complains loudly and in no uncertain terms about Misha and his lack of discipline.  The Marquis brings David, to escort Misha back to his stateroom, but by now Misha is feeling rather better.

    Vonish prepares a good soup to take Misha's mind off the bad taste he's experienced.  The soup is divine.

    The anthropologists are now hard at work.  For a long time, they'd been hanging out around the coffee pot, but now they're nowhere to be seen except for occasionally emerging to take back a pot of coffee, or to grab a snack.

    The remainder of the day is spent digesting the away team's activities.  Sagan enquires as to whether Misha's brain swelling has gone down.

    Brandon Asu approaches Misha and asks him if he knows anything about Akim's death.  Misha tells him everything he knows, which of course isn't much -- no-one actually saw him die.

291-1119 : Gorram / Lunion / Spinward Marches

    Mich has been bored again.  He starts running his jump simulations again, although given the computer and data on this ship, he has to start all over again.  Robert, of course, picks up on that activity immediately -- but soon after, Mich asks him for help anyway.
Personal Document prepared by Marquis Marcus Crestworthy
(Referee and Mike Greene only) (TO BE ADDED)

    Time for another trip down.  This time Marquis Marc himself wants to go down to the planet.  Helia and Misha will both stay on board at Marc's orders; Mich says he won't go down to the surface under any circumstances.

    David will drive the rest of the team: Marc; the senior anthropologist (who is keeping the zoologists out of this team, it's his area); Robert.

    David swings them down along the same approach route.  There are no problems on the flight, and they come into land at the same place.
    As the gcarrier comes in, all the natives scatter except about five of them, who approach the gcarrier.  There are color variations in the natives, and some carry the stick/sling and a bag.
    Marc leaves the gcarrier, with a curtain over the opening but the door open.  Sagan leads him down the walkway, with Marc's latest gift to the natives, a mirror.
    After a little while, another native comes out from one of the huts and hands something to Sagan.  It's a carefully chipped stone scraper, possibly for scraping hides or something.
    Sagan hands over the mirror.  One of the other reaches for it, moves it around, examines it, and uses it to reflect the sun on to the ground.  He reflects it into the eyes of one of the others too.  They all bow.

    Marc shakes the hand of one of the natives, while trying something of his own research.  It gets no reaction.  He tries detecting the natives in a special way, but there's nothing there.  No-one but the landing party.  He bows, and backs into the gcarrier.

    "Are you all right?" asks Sagan, "Is the brain swelling starting?"
    "No, I'm all right," replies the Marquis, "I just need regular air."
    "Should we be returning?"
    "To the ship, yes."
    "Does that mean we're leaving?"
    "When you want to."

    The anthropologist asks Marc why he backed off so quickly.
    "The skin gave me the willies," he says, "Shaking his hand."
    Sagan bows to the aliens, then walks back into the ship.  They bow in return, then do the back up then run away movement that they've seen before.
    On the gcarrier, Sagan hands the stone tool to the anthropologist.  He's delighted, which overwhelms his disgust at the Marquis' unscientific reaction to touching the native.
    "Thanks for your help," says the anthropologist to Sagan.  "We really appreciate it.  They seem to relate so well to you.  Perhaps it's because you're such a squattie too."
    The Marquis chips in, "Maybe if you crawled out on your hends and knees next time, you could get them to talk to you."  The anthropologist pointedly ignores him.

    On return to the Third Eye, the Marquis makes notes to himself about his area of study.  A scan as they left the village revealed no creatures around the village except the natives -- nothing from cat-sized up within 500m -- which backed up part of his own personal survey.  Of course, his personal sensors didn't pick up the natives....

292-1119 : Gorram / Lunion / Spinward Marches

    Next time, Marquis Marc suggests, they should try drawing pictures of a squat thing (them) and a stretched tall thing (human), and try to establish communication that way.

    After getting so much data from this second village, the anthropologist really wants to try visiting the first village again.  It was rather dangerous last time, but this is in the interests of science, after all.  He wants to repeat the experiment -- knife, mirror.

    The Marquis authorizes the mission, but sets up extra safeguards.  The gcarrier will be already set up so the controls can be taken over by Helia on the Third Eye.

    First, though, a trip back to the "nice" village to try the picture experiment.
    "We'll call them Casper," says Vonish jokingly, "Because they're the friendly village."
    The name sticks.  What's more, the scientists are now referring to the race as "caspers."

    Once again David flies them down perfectly.  This time Misha notices something out over the sea -- something floating.  He pulls out binoculars and examines it.  It looks like a raft that's being paddled by some of the creatures.  The anthropologist screams in delight and films it as it is paddled away from the shore.
    "Engineer," says the Marquis, "Prepare a probe to track that raft!"
    Mich points out that it will take time to get a sensor pack loaded and to get the probe on station -- too long.

    So the gcarrier lands.  They step out bearing gifts.  This time a whole crowd, maybe 20 or 30, come up to the gcarrier and gather around.
    One of the caspers eagerly accepts the gift of a flashlight, and after trying it out, rushes off with it.
    Sagan makes the drawings on the ground.  None of the caspers react.
    But the one that had left comes scampering back, carrying a spear -- with a stone head lashed to it.  It's the first spear they've seen.
    Sagan continues the drawing experiment, but still can't get any reaction.  The caspers stand still.
    Misha hands over the other flashlight.  One of the natives muscles its way to the front, grabs the flashlight, and rushes off with it.
    Sagan reports to the Third Eye, "The drawing is not working.  They don't seem to understand it at all."  He draws a crude spear beside their picture and the flashlight beside his, and then switches them.  They don't react.
    One of them comes dashing back, and hands over a scraper lashed to a stick, looking remarkably like an axe.  It starts to hand it over to Misha, takes it away, does a chopping motion, then passes it to him.  Misha bows, and all the caspers bow in return.
    The Marquis says, "We have trade!"

    Drawing clearly hasn't worked.  What's next, videos or figurines, perhaps?

    With nothing more to try, the away team leaves.  The caspers bow and scoot off.

    David flies them back to the ship.  They hand over the tools to the anthropologists, who note that they haven't seen anything like these before.  Both the senior anthropologist and the Marquis agree that they look like they have just recently been put together.
    The Marquis asks Misha how, on his world, he would attach a stone head to a stick.  Misha points out that he's a little beyond stone axes, and Marc opens the question up to everyone.  The consensus of the crew (and computer studies) is that the ones the caspers made are consistent with the normal primitive way of doing it.  The Marquis is satisfied that there is no evidence that the methods have been picked from the away team's brains.
    The binding material seems to be vegetable, quite possible strong root fibers spun into a cord.

    They construct some aluminium figurines for the next mission.

293-1119 : Gorram / Lunion / Spinward Marches

    Now it's time to go back to the first village.  Helia repositions the Third Eye over the correct location on the planet at 20km altitude, and the team prepares to leave with the knife gift.

    David flies the gcarrier again, but it's a minimal team.  Misha, Sagan, and the senior anthropologist will make up the crew.  Robert sets up a link so they can pre-empt control of the gcarrier if necessary.

    The trip down is uneventful.  David places the gcarrier in the planned landing spot, 100m from the village.  Misha's jehrig is uncomfortable and stays in the gcarrier -- quite unlike its reaction at Casper.
    Misha and Sagan step out.  It's a lot warmer than it was last time they were here.
    The pair walk over to 20m out from the village.  There is no sign of the natives.  Although a hunting party left earlier, there is in general less above-ground activity here than in the casper village.

    There's a noise behind Misha.  Something popped up just behind him, one of the natives.  Another two appear in the village.  They are watching the human and hiver.
    Misha tries the offering motion.
    The two come towards him, staying low to the ground.  He steps away from the knife on the ground, and avoids the one that's just three meters behind him.  Sagan moves with him, out of the way of both groups of natives.  They move back further so that they're no longer cut off from the ship -- about 10m behind the rearmost one.
    One of the creatures goes over to the knife, straightens up a little, reaches out, and picks it up by the handle.  It reaches down and scrapes the ground with it.
    They all look at Misha and Sagan, who look back.
    They stare at each other for a while.
    "I think that's enough for today, gentlemen," says the Marquis from the Third Eye.
    Misha and Sagan back away a bit, then turn around to walk to the gcarrier.  One of the creatures pops out of the ground right in front of them.

    Suddenly the creatures all look at the gcarrier.

    Back on the Third Eye, the Marquis hears a noise over the intercom, a sort of pop he's heard once before, a long time ago.  "Leave now!  Leave now!  Leave now!" he commands.

    The anthropologist screams.
    Misha and Sagan break into a run for the gcarrier.

    "Take us to the gcarrier," Marc tells Helia.  "Vonish, get up here, put on this helmet, and take the copilot console."
    "How fast?" asks Helia.
    "As fast as you can," says Marc.
    Helia flips the Third Eye into a power dive.
    The Marquis says to Mich, "Get back to Engineering and get what you can out of the drives."  To the crew he announces, "Emergency maneuvers, strap in now!"
    "WOO-HOOO!!!" yells Helia, as she jams the controls to full power.  At a screaming 4g, the Third Eye hammers into the atmosphere.  "Four gees?  Cool!"

    Misha and Sagan rush into the gcarrier.  The interior is covered in blood.  The anthropologist is cowered in a corner, screaming.  David, their pilot, has a bloody stump for a neck.
    Misha punches the door closed, while Sagan studies the controls.
    "Get us out of here," shouts Misha over the radio.
    The Marquis barks out orders.  "Vonish, take over the gcarrier.  Get it up quickly and smoothly."
    As the gravcraft sits there, Misha and Sagan watch as another ten creatures pop out of the ground.  They're all watching the gcarrier.
    Sagan starts to get a bit of a "headache."  It's a very odd feeling.
    Vonish, meanwhile, has some problem getting the remote link started.  Marc grabs control from him and stabs the console.  The gcarrier starts flying up rapidly.
    Marc's control is rather erratic.  The gcarrier is spiralling upwards, making it hard to match.  He pulls it to a stop.
    Helia matches with it, and expertly backs the ship over the gravcraft, parking it into the vehicle bay.

    Marquis Marc calls the Baron.  "Doctor, how is your psychology?  We have had a crew member witness a horrifying sight."
    "Well, I can sedate him."
    "Good idea."

    Security and medical teams meet the gcarrier in the vehicle bay.
    They're now at about 5km altitude.  "Take us up," says the Marquis.
    Helia hasn't had this much aerolift to play with for quite a while.  She revels in the 4g the engines are churning out.  "Now this is my kind of engineer," she hoots.
    "Well, he's now our engineer," observes the Marquis.
    "Mich, do you like Beethoven?" asks Helia.
    "Wagner," he says.
    Helia blasts "Ride of the Valkyries" through the intercom.

    The Third Eye reaches orbit.  The engines are cooled down.
    "Give me some time and I can get you 6g," remarks Mich.

    The gcarrier is an unholy mess.
    The anthropologist is freaked but recovering.  He welcomes being sedated.  Marc says to him, "It must have been a missile weapon through the doorway."  That thought stays with the scientist as he passes out.