(28) Into The Woods

The Mora Campaign (101-1120 to 104-1120)

126 / 800 local (101-1120 - 102-1120) : Digitis / Vilis / Spinward Marches

    It'll be about a day before Mich Saginaw arrives at Cormor Forest.  That leaves time to explore.  Misha Ravanos and Helia Sarina want to investigate, but the down elevator doesn't work for Misha.  He calls the operator, who tells him that the Sheriff will have to give permission for them to take a walk.  The Steward will be up shortly... he might be able to give them permission.

    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."
    "Excuse me?"
    "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."
    "Laughing gas?"
    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.

127 / 800 local (102-1120 - 103-1120) : Digitis / Vilis / Spinward Marches

    The train arrives from Center.  Mich steps off the train with his light duffel bag, while attendants unload the rest of his substantial baggage.  Misha is there to meet him on the platform, and leads him to the glass bubble that forms the guest quarters.  Mich taps on it with his heel and identifies it as glassteel.  On the way over, Misha has told him not to go outside without a mask, because of the magic gas that makes you laugh.

    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 commercial center.
    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 arranged everything?"
    "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?"
    "With wings."
    "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.

128 / 800 local (103-1120 - 104-1120) : Digitis / Vilis / Spinward Marches

    First thing is a trip to the store to pick up the gear.  Everything is ready as promised.
    The gear is all assembled.  The Marquis has four of his football-sized sensors, distributed among Shark's and Misha's packs.

    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...