(29) Hansel And Gretel

The Mora Campaign (103-1120 to 107-1120)

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

    Vonish Kehnaan, Robert Morris, Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead, and Teri Cralla are all still back on the H.M.S. Third Eye at First City.  Everyone else is at Cormor Home...
    Mich is staying behind to work on engineering projects.  At this moment he's poring over blueprints of the settlement's electrostatic repulsion system.
    So that leaves Helia Sarina, Misha Ravanos, Sagan, Marquis Marcus Crestworthy, and Edward "Shark" Teeth to go to the northern forest with their guide Lap'da.

    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?"
    "Some.  Maybe."
    "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 Cormor Home.
    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."
    "Still there?"
    "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.

129 / 800 local (104-1120) : Digitis / Vilis / Spinward Marches

    In the forest, it's clearly impossible to tell what time of day it is.  The light doesn't vary with night or day, so there must be some sort of phosphorescence in the canopy.
    Overnight there have been no readings on the Marquis' computer from his special "football" sensors.
    Helia expresses a desire for a bath.  Lap'da asks if she doesn't feel fresh -- which she does -- and she says she just likes it from habit.  He offers to pour some gourd juice over her, but she declines.  He says he can find her somewhere to take a bath sometime if she really wants.
    Shark gets Misha to help him with a picture of him standing at the spot of the large creature, so he can compare heights.  He shows the Marquis.  The creature walked on four legs, and is about as tall at the shoulder as Misha is to the top of his head.  Misha is tall himself.  The creature clearly had teeth designed to cut meat.
    They resume walking.

    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?"
    "Oh, yes."
    "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?"
    "Not now."
    "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.
    "Before now."
    "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."
    "Silly fandor!"
    "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."
    "Just pretend."
    "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, talk."
    "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 you?"
    "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."
    "They do."
    "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?"
    "Are they?"
    "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.

130 / 800 local (104-1120 - 105-1120) : Digitis / Vilis / Spinward Marches

    Back at Cormor Home, Mich and Jane are still working on the tools.  Miss Southcombe (as the Sheriff respectfully calls her) clearly knows what she's doing.

    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.

131 / 800 local (105-1120 - 106-1120) : Digitis / Vilis / Spinward Marches

    Mich and Jane have finished their work on tools, and start work on the unit proper.  Jane herself wants to build the matter phase inverter component, and Mich is happy to let her do this.  Work progresses rapidly on the drive through the day.  It will probably be complete by the end of the day.
    Mich does watch Jane as she builds the unit.  She follows Mich's directions pretty much exactly, but makes a couple of minor changes.  Mich has recorded the difference -- here where local technology is important for building things, the equipment is all built to record everything.
     By the end of the day the unit is complete, as is the lab bench testing equipment.  They will be able to perform the first tests tomorrow.

    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."
    "Which one?"
    "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."