Terra Nueva

The Island of Understanding
Doctor's Log 1x19

History classes made this sort of thing sound so easy, so inevitable. Everybody gets together and out comes a treaty without any of the messy uncertainties and confusion. I wonder about the untold stories of the early Empire and the Compact – were things as messy then? I also wonder what stories they’ll tell of us a generation or two down the line – assuming peace holds, that is.

Counselor Bahiti did a fine job negotiating a truce – all the more impressive for negotiations in a language neither of us speak as native, with concepts from a Stone Age civilization. We’ve got a prototype scent translator, but it doesn’t have the vocabulary for detailed discussions.

It began with Desert Bloom loudly accepting our invitation – using a psionic transmitter dropped from a height. The Council had to scrabble to explain this to the Colony, since the response was loudly in the heads of everyone near Speaker. Ozone’s echos have shown little interest in leaving the dome, but we probably should let people know they are here.

[Medical note: still need to work on dosage for the miracle fish pills, Virgil’s procedure ultimately successful, but more stressful than expected. At least he’s cured.]

From surveys, we saw the Tikkit arrive – with a group of fire ants and more golden ants. They set up some domes. We decide to go in with equal numbers, the diplomatic team, some Mict, and several civil engineers to set up shelters. As we set up camp, we are met by two of the desert ants with a container of Buggalo honey. We offer a gift in return – something sweet from our stocks. Adams is an excellent cook and the Buggaloo glaze works well with steak vine, but I just can’t deal with much of that stuff.

The Tikkit don’t like open spaces – the golden ants form a tunnel for them to move into the meeting dome. There are five queens – last daughters of Desert Bloom, each with a vest of unknown power. The elder and senior has a black flower and calls herself First Bloom of Desert Bloom. The Bringer of Harmony, of Peace, offers us a chance to become part of her hive and to help us grow. (As we later realize, at times Desert Bloom may be possessing First Bloom to talk directly to us.) Counselor Bahiti respectfully declines – it is a generous offer, but we seek to be friends and equals, to work with her Hive, but not as part of it.

At lunch, we break. The Tikkit don’t seem to have the concept of two hives that are not essentially one. How do we convey this idea? While we are talking two of the golden ants approach discretely. They are allies of the queens from the southernmost end of the central mountains – Golden Sand and Desert Sand. In public, the golden ants are servants, but in private they work with the Tikkit to deal with the dangers of the desert. They and their queens are worried about fighting, either between us and the Tikkit, or a fracturing of their Hive because of us. We talk about options and proposals.

Counselor Bahiti eventually returns to negotiations with a proposal for two groups – their Hive and our Nest, separate and competative, but not at war. (This does leave Coral Bloom in an odd spot.) The division is based on continents. We agree to keep delegates on this island (The Island of Understanding) to study from and learn from each other. While that happens, we try not to take any actions that might be misunderstood or cause conflict. Sadly, none of us will be able to stay – we know too much about the Colony’s defenses and contingency plans.

So peace for now – about the best result we could realistically expect. Now we need to settle our own affairs – get through the elections and figure out how we are all going to work together. I’m hoping for some time for my own projects, including treatment protocols for Tikkit with our technology. Ozone is our guest – it’s our job to keep him healthy and safe.

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The Star People
Doctor's Log 1x18, Standard Personal Encryption

Final checks before leaving quarantine are nearly done. No changes. A couple of weeks in close quarters did not helping anyone’s nerves. The only consensus we could come to was that we need to try to talk to Desert Bloom. If diplomacy fails, it could be bad.

We left Coral Bloom as soon as we could. Only a few minor injuries from the fight with the Fire Ants. None of the Tikkit were hurt. They’ll question the surviving Ants. Breeze, CB’s consort, seems nervous and ready to see us go. It took a while to get Coral Bloom and Siri back from their sanctuary; Breeze and his Echos had to recover their strength. Tikkit teleportation is powerful, but has its limits.

Coral Bloom 6 thinks the attack was Desert Bloom’s reaction to Coral Bloom no longer sending information to the fungal net about us and our settlements. The Desert Bloom does not have a representative in Coral Bloom’s nest, but the Tikkit are a telepathic race; keeping secrets is difficult. Desert Bloom has connections here, but she probably didn’t know specifically that we were here. There was no warning, but CB and her echoes knew that contacting us would be against DB’s desires. No warning was needed.

The Tikkit do not fight each other, normally. But when Desert Bloom first took power, she used teleportation to send Fire Ants to rebellious nests to take out rivals queens and controllers and replace them with her own. This attacks was directed at CB’s controller’s dome and at Ozone. Not sure if CB was an intended target, but would be an obvious third choice. In the more recent past, DB outwaited young queens who either comply or die of old age. CB is on a different continent, further from DB and the Fire Ants.

The tank was built to explore the surface world. It can be connected to a controller like Ozone to be directed, and has limited intelligence on its own. In effect, a non-volitional AI. It was breed in a lab, not by a Queen.

When Coral Bloom returned, and while Breeze was resting to send us directly to the surface, we asked her about how the Tikkit perceive us.

Coral Bloom’s nest became aware of us on Landing Day. We were very noisy and disturbed her Fisher King scouts. We had disturbed their project on the plains (Grassland), but it was not being monitored and did not have any controllers. Once the Tikkit became aware of us, the Community of Queens wanted more information. Coral Bloom was assigned to gather information. They collected DNA, blood samples, and trash. They found that we didn’t fit this world’s life forms. That caused a lot of consternation among the queens. They were also concerned about our alliance with the Fisher Kings, who they knew make good scouts.

DB created a virus to sicken our kind and to test our skills. They expected us to overcome it, but they wanted to see how we would do it. Ozone was chosen to lead the study of us. He broke protocol and contacted us (when we found the trash-bug nest). We were too intriguing to pass up. CB likes Ozone, but not DB. They had been working on cloning one of us to study, but Ozone urged CB to use the data to create Speaker. CB limited, and then stopped sharing data about us. DB attacked the last Fisher King nest in her area because of our presence. They didn’t talk to us because that’s not their way – they barely leave their hives.

With a bit of a wobble, Breeze sent us to the surface. The warp sensation is different from being teleported – more like an elevator ride, less gut twisting. Pegasus was there soon, and we were enroute home. No sign of anything amiss – no parasites, infections, or other surprises. But we’ll spend a while in quarantine anyway.

And so the discussion ensues. We can’t talk directly to the Desert Ants. They are probably short-range psis, like the Fire Ants, but we don’t have any full-telepaths other than Speaker. And we don’t know if they know Tikket, which AUD1 is working on. So that’s out.

We can try to send a message to Desert Bloom. We hash it out in Fisher King, audio only, to be sent with some low-tech message buoys, one to be dropped at the big lake near DB’s mountains, which is ringed with the Tikkit filter plants.

We are the Star People.
Desert Bloom attacked us with a sickness.
We want to avoid war.
We want to talk to Desert Bloom
Meet us here (physical map, 1st Landing Beach)
In two weeks (using their dating)
At Dawn

And if diplomacy fails? DB doesn’t show, or the diplomatic team is attacked, what then. We’ve got two recommendations to the Council, one for a precisely targeted strike around the newest data center – threaten it, but don’t damage it. The other is more drastic, and would require CB’s cooperation.

Mid-way through the arguments and without warning, refugees arrive – Ozone and two of his Echos appear in quarantine. (They can target using Speaker.) CB is moving to a hive that DB doesn’t know about, yet. Ozone was sent to us to keep him safe. CB found out from the Fire Ant Captain that their goal was to acquire Ozone (not knowing he’d become a fungal brain), take down the connection to the tree net (apparently a living modem created by a strong telepath merged into a fungal brain), and kill CB. Their plan was to evacuate using the Terror Tank if successful. DB had started her contingency plans once CB broke contact. CB is hoping to recruit her mother to her cause, her mother hasn’t had her life extended yet.

Dr. Willowbrook and I are starting an in-depth examination of Ozone. If he’s here, he’s our responsibility to keep healthy. This isn’t going to be easy – the Tikket have an open circulatory system – surgery would be tricky. The Echos care for Ozone; they even digest food for him. The Council doesn’t want to make his visit public yet – politics. I’ll see if we can introduce him to the other psis. It must be strange to be here, away from his hive. We can provide some company.

So we wait. In two weeks, we’ll be on a beach and we’ll see if we can reach at least neutrality with Desert Bloom. I miss the Gods. They never talked to me, but they talked to the Emperor and the priests. You could trust that things would turn out ok. You could ask for help after you’d done all you could. Sometimes, I hear, they helped. And that’s gone. For better or worse, we’ve been kicked out of the family house, have to make our own decisions, and live with the results.

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The Proposal
Flight of the First Airship

The First Airship of Home soared gently up and above toward Bayside. Cargo and payload secure.

“Seri?”

“Yes Virgil.”

“Do you see the sun setting out there low and orange?”

“I’m still not used to it. It’s pretty though.”

“I have something for you.”

“What?”

“This.”

From down on one knee Virgil held forth a tiny circle of metal.

“What is it?”

“This ring is metal from the stars, and a stone from our new home. Will you marry me?”

After a long silence while Seri stares, “Yes!”

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Hopes for Our Children
Doctor's Log 1x17, Personal, Standard Encryption

A crash course in Tikkit culture.
We spend a week learning about the Tikkit. [Insert training montage] Marcus continues to be far more nervous than I’ve seen him to date, but he won’t say why.
The Tikkit are born in groups of seven – one prime and six echos. The queen manipulates genetic probability to make the prime the strongest. Echos share a telepathic link with their prime, but not each other. The prime is linked to all six echos. Range unknown, at least planetary. Tikkit are born as adults with all the knowledge they need for their roles.
The Queen produces all the eggs. She is born with a limited supply of eggs and will run out in old age. [Queen’s natural life span is 50-70 years.] A queen’s first consort is one of her mother’s echos. Her second consort is presumably her own son and controls the Hive. The third consort controls satellite parts of the hive.
The Tikkit value harmony. They compete in groups in synchronized dance. They share psi energy with the controllers and queens in enhanced dreams. The Queen has a scent-garden for pleasure. Speaker is intrigued by our computers and by the notion of a childhood. The Tikkit find our disharmony distasteful – we don’t know our places. We agree to a “talking stick” plan for one verbal speaker at a time – kibbitzing to go to subvocal channels. Marcus puts us all on his tac-net program, and we agree to a couple of code-phrases for “crap has hit the fan” and “something is poking my mindshield”.p.

The Handmaiden
Marcus flew us to an otherwise ordinary lake. We’re bringing N’yet, a Mict ordinance expert with a well-developed sense of smell. Marcus also packed along a couple of Mict teams, a second pilot, and a medic. They won’t come underground to extract us, but they’ll cover us if we need to retreat.
The lake is lined with elongated lily pads that pull underwater when we fly over – living bio filters, Speaker says, not dangerous to anything our size. It would make a bad first impression to damage them, so we land mid-lake. Soon thereafter a living submarine surfaces, carrying Coral Bloom 6 (dubbed “Handmaiden”.) She speaks Ancle telepathically to Marak, Marcus, and Virgil, who relay to the rest of us. She is not entirely pleased with the idea of a diplomatic meeting – Desert Bloom isn’t going to like it. She has a belt with some unrecognizable devices, but otherwise no clothing. She asks to scan us.
I’ve never seen another healer at work. Do I get that still when I’m concentrating? She’s slower at it. We all pass, but for Virgil. His intestinal flora is out of harmony. I agree, but it is part of treatment for a chronic condition and is not contagious. She lets me scan her in return. I think I’m getting the hang of this, but I need some time to understand it all. [Dictated subfile of aura impressions appended.]
The inside of the sub-fish is fleshy, warm, with an odd but not unpleasant smell. Marcus continues to be edgy. He’s staying oddly close to Counselor Bahiti and he’s made it clear she’s priority if things hit the fan. He wasn’t like this when we went into the woods with Counselor Talbot, so it isn’t that she’s a Counselor. She’s at large, not a head of house, so that’s not it. He’s married and she’s engaged to Virgil, so that’s not it either. She’s not pregnant, I’d have noticed. <sigh> Whatever it is, I trust he’s got a good reason for not telling us. Maybe something he doesn’t want to risk the Tikkit reading. I’ve got a lifetime’s experience living a secret, let’s see if I can help his behavior look more normal.
Handmaiden wants to know what we want. I’ve got the stick. We want to co-exist with the Tikkit. We want to avoid another attack. It is a large world. We use different parts of it. We do not need to be friends to be neighbors. I explain the short version of how we came here, that our world was visited by others who live in the stars, the universe is full of life.
Handmaiden is concerned abut Desert Bloom’s reaction. She united the Tikkit about two centuries ago. She controls the secret to longevity and gives it to sub-queens who are loyal to her vision and who give her eggs and psi energy. It is normal for younger queens to test and be rebellious, but when they get old they either conform or die of old age. Desert Bloom’s echos are all dead, as are those of the queens she is extending. We ask Handmaiden about when they died, a theory that Desert Bloom can only sustain a certain number of lives at a time. This will take time to figure out.
Desert Bloom is afraid of us because we are a challenge – we and our devices can overcome their challenges. She’s not wrong. Marak takes the stick and points out our interactions with the Fisher Kings – we could overwhelm them and do not. We have helped them with little expectation of benefit in return. Marak asks if they could clone eggs – they could, but it is not right.
Coral Bloom wants another path. She finds some of Desert Blooms ideas not moral.

Settlement
After a few hours, we get to the first Tikkit town. It is a manufacturing center. They build with bricks made of fungus and something akin to bioplas. They also make something leather-like from fungus. The manufacturing domes would not hurt us, but they will note our passage. They mine metals and crystals for use in the devices – those mimic or enchance psi-powers – using biominers. The black sand does not bother them. They have some technology – conveyor belts for example. Some of the buildings have living wire, it conducts the psi energy. There is also an arena for synchronized dancing. They use geothermal power and living batteries. They use turbines to move air and water.
There are prairie bugs everywhere, cleaning trash and debris. There are Tikkit from the builder and farmer castes. A couple of them show us around. [Dictated subfile of aura impressions appended.]
Handmaiden tells us that the fire ants were modified by Desert Bloom from the ants in the desert. They are telepathic at touch range and can understand Tikkit. Handmaiden says they may share an ancestry with the Tikket.

Queen’s Hive
Another couple of hours in the living submarine brings us to the capitol. The Queen has her own walled compound with three domes. Ozone has a separated lab. His prime has been made into a living computer, sessile in his own fungal nest. Like the pod we found, but much larger. I thank him for our invitation. He’s been cut off from the tree-network so Desert Bloom will not learn what he knows about us. The science area is full of odd devices – none of them make sense. It has a dome that would stun us if we were not with one of Ozone’s echoes. They aren’t willing to show us where the devices are made.
Finally we are off to meet Coral Bloom Prime. She will trade bodies with her first echo so she can interact with us. Before we can enter, her first and sixth echoes want to make sure we mean no ill.
Six asks us each a question, I go last, monitoring the others as they are asked for any sign of the chemical changes we think mean influence.
To Marek: “What are your intentions?” (Marak vouched for AUD1)
To Marcus: “Are you a threat?” “I am the best friend and the worst enemy you could have.”
To Virgil: Is your hive or your caste more important? (His hive.)
To me – this was hard – letting someone else into my mind is weird, letting someone deeper in my thoughts … – hard but necessary. “How much value do you place on life?” It was a puzzling question – as opposed to what? Is she asking about life vs. aging and dying? Is she asking whether I would kill or die for my hive? “Protecting sentient life is what I do.”
Not surprisingly, they don’t want us to come in armed. I release the battery/magazine and drop the pistol into a bag. Marak and Virgil do likewise. Marcus hedges a bit, then gives up his gear to N’yet. The Tikkit offer to let us bring our gear in, but Marcus would prefer to have N’yet cover us. (There are a couple of Tikkit standing by near another dome.)
Counselor Bahiti and Coral Bloom do most of the talking. Desert Bloom, we’re told, was once a great queen. She has lived past her time and is stuck in the ways of the past. She’s lost her vision and her ability to build the future. She asks more than Desert Bloom is willing to give. The Tikkit retreated to the caves to escape the harshness of the desert and found the fungus that let them bloom. She has become fearful. Coral Bloom wants more for my children than fear and the sterileness of what has become her world.
The counselor asks about danger to us in helping her. Yes, but there is danger if we do not. Perhaps an alliance between us and the other younger queens of this continent could deter her from bothering us. The biggest challenges are that she controls the secret of longevity and the tree data network. Without access to the trees, their living computers will die and are also not as efficient as the trees. That we may be able to help with, but we’d need to know much more about how the trees store and retrieve data.
Coral Bloom shows us a map of the western continent’s caves. They are mostly along and under the mountains. She has five major queens she is sustaining. There are 8 lesser queens who she influences. There are paths between the various chambers.
Seri is just beginning to ask about Desert Bloom’s military capacity when N’yet’s bioscannner flashes. Her pulse and blood pressure just spiked. She sends her data. A huge bug, nothing we’ve seen before has just appeared. And behind it what Coral Bloom’s consort says is a teleportation tunnel full of fire ants. Ah, heck.

Battle for the Hive
N’yet shoots the terror-tank with Marcus’ big gun. Lots of chitin blows off, but it seems unharmed. That’s not good at all. The consort can send the Queen and one other away. Marcus agrees to trust it to send Seri to safety. I’ll cover her — don’t need Marcus attention diverted. With what, I’m not sure. I’m down to harsh language and a couple of laser scalpels. I can look like enough of a threat to distract at least. I also have a bad, desperate idea – Marak has geeko gloves. There’s a psi-power cable leading out of this dome over the tank. I’m wiling to go and try to cut it so it falls on the critter, but it would take too long to trade gear with Marak. Off he climbs. That leaves me covering Seri and Virgil using Marak’s portable house to protect the eggs. Marcus is running for the pile of weapons by N’yet.
It does something. N’yet and two Tikkit fall. Marcus dives through the dome and grabs his rifle, sending three rounds into the beast. That does it. It falls. There are hundreds of dead formation bugs inside, killed before they could launch. Ozone is under attack two. A second tunnel and more ants there. AUD1 flies to the rescue, but he’s slow. I look at Virgil. If I’m going to suggest bad, desperate stuff to Marak, I ought to be willing to do it myself. The Consort can send us to Ozone. Virgil leaves first, I grab the bag of pistols and follow.
Having one’s atoms scattered and reassembled…hard on .. well, the whole body. I’ll check later to make sure everything is back where it started. Virgil’s already re-orieneted and grabbed a pistol. There’s a bunch of fire ants and a leader with a rod attacking the dome. The prairie bugs are defending, but not doing much to the bugs. Fortunately, they are vulnerable to electro-lasers. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of them. Nine, Virgil says enthusiastically.
The tactical display sits in the corner of my goggles. We shoot ants. They are stunned, but get up again. AUD1 stuns several and plows into one, but it damages him in return. He retreats to distract them as best he can. Virgil and I keep engaging, but they are getting up as fast as we can stun them, and they have numbers. Their claw attacks skitters off the bioplas along with a hot wind. Not good. I stun their leader and steal his wand – fortunately it’s light. OK, I can figure this out. Let’s see – a mental push – here – and…something. Force, heat, I’m not sure. From the wand, not me, and the ant in front of me falls, leaking ichor from multiple cracks in its chitin. It’s not dead, but not moving much. Powerful. But the pistol is more reliable. We keep shooting. Eventually the numbers catch up and an ant gets a solid bite on and through my armor. I fall back thru the wall. That’s bad, but fixable. But I’ve left Virgil alone. He gets bit too, not as badly, then falls back. I can fix it, but seconds in a fight feel like hours. Fortunately the wall is holding against the ants’ heat aura and the cavalry is arriving.
N’yet and Marcus keep them from damaging a second dome where there’s a data connection to the tree-network. Marcus at one point sends N’yet to us, engaging two ants alone. (I point out that he’d be furious if any of us took that kind of risk alone.) Marak runs along the data cables over the river, arriving in time to push an ant into the stun wall as I finish healing Virgil. N’yet makes short work of the surviving ants. We’ve got a couple of prisoners and it’s quiet.

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The Murdered Maples
Doctor's Log 1x16, Personal, Standard Encryption

Home for a few weeks from the asteroids. Marak inadvertently started a political mess – he asked the Governor of Oceana to sign his house charter to make it a multi-planet one, which apparently makes it an Imperial charter. Meanwhile, the Council decided to give seats on the new Constitutional Council to the Imperially chartered houses – Agro-Tech, ISP, House of Children, and House of Vigils. There was some discussion about giving the Vigils a non-voting role because the house is so small. Marak was going to trade his seat for making sure the Vigils got a vote and some trade plans he’s been working on with Oceana, but AUD1 persuaded him to keep his vote. Adams is running for the open Aurora seat along with Lorne.

Marak’s suggestion to send a Pegasus to Oceana along with a passenger pod of any hibernation pod techs that want to go has been ok’d. Marak also got an ok for regular cargo pod transfers between the colonies. This is a great thing, I have concerns about the colonies growing apart.

Bayside is getting more settled. I’ve been starting to plan my move. Legate Guthar has been courting Vicinius to open House Vitarum there. I need to ask him about inviting Speaker over – AUD1 may want to come to study the Fisher Kings colony, assuming Cailean’s diplomatic mission to the nearer Fisher King leader is successful. He’s the closest to being able to understand Tikkit (ThinkerBug) scent language, and I’m the best xeno-doc we have. (OK, I may be the only xeno-doc we’ve got.) Project Orpheus has moved to human trials, double-blind, results to be reviewed by Vicinius and I.

Speaker has made great progress in learning our language. We know more about the Tikkit. The scout eagle has been watching the formation bugs deliberately starve the refugee’s old grove. Then floating gas bags rose from the swamps to kill and petrify the bark. Finally, we had an alert. A large sea serpent beached itself and disgorged nearly a score of ants. The ants move in groups of five, with a leader that has a rod that project heat (pyrokenisis) to destroy the undergrowth around the maple grove. (At a guess, they are a small gestalt. I don’t know enough about pyrokensis to know how much power it takes to generate heat at a 100’ range.) They attacked the eagle, with the help of the formation bugs, but no damage to it. We attacked the formation bugs, but not the ants. So far, we’re trying to avoid an armed conflict.

Speaker says the Tikkit use the serpents for transport under the sea and through underground rivers. Vicinius got that covetous look in his eyes as did Marak. They bio-engineered the fire ants – they are intelligent, but loyal to Desert Bloom. The desert ants have cryokensis powers. Neither seems to have physical TK. The fire ants were securing the area around the maple grove and recognized eagle as a threat, so they drove it off. (They underestimate eagle’s magnification ability and our satellite surveillance capacity.) The trees are being transformed into something that can store memory – a biological server farm. The ants and the giant mobile mushrooms (Speaker says they are like firewalls) protect the groves to protect the data. The groves are interlinked by a fungal network. Vicinius has that covetous look again.

Yes, I know the maples are not sentient, but there’s something about the cold efficiency of driving off the Fisher Kings to starve their trees to convert to their own resources and using specifically designed viruses to eliminate the big reptile at Grassland that is chilling.

The Tikkit seem to be eusocial – arranged in groups that each have a specific function in their home – the queens are the only psi-healers and can bio-engineer with psi powers. They make intelligent life. Builders make non-intelligent tools like the formation bugs. We know that the consorts can teleport things, like Speaker’s pod. At a guess, the scientists like Ozone have long-range telepathy abilities to keep in contact with their little analysis pods. When I gave Speaker a polished rock from the asteroid mission, it was curious, but said that the Tikkit don’t study the stars.

Desert Bloom is not the first, but is the eldest queen. She is very long-lived but at a cost of reduced fertility – her daughters provide her children. Speaker’s queen, Coral Bloom, is outside Desert Bloom’s influence, but is dependent on her. Speaker sent me an image, the queens are within a nest of fungus that enhances their abilities. Grassland was apparently a military bioweapons lab that we stumbled across. They use buggalo for food and resources.

Speaker does not have information about Desert Bloom’s intentions or enough information to make an educated guess. We need to at least reach a truce. The Council agrees. We are going to escort Councilor Bahiti to meet Coral Bloom. Adams will be staying behind to politic. The rest of us are taking a crash-course in Tikkit culture to prepare. Marcus is on edge, and it isn’t about the Helios. I’ve tossed a couple of leading questions his way, but no response. Whatever it is, it’s private and concerning.

We also joined Marak on the uneventful maiden flight of Helios – it is a lovely ship. Vicinius used the occasion to propose to Bahiti. Marak has been spending a lot of time with Delanne and Lyra. Adams and Kawit seems to be on the verge of a formal marriage alliance. I’d better get moving, after we survive the Tikkit.

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Almost Alone in the Night
Doctor's Log 1x15, Standard Medical Encryption, contains patient data

We have a few tons of minerals and ores from the Asteroid Belt in Pegasus 3. It should reduce the bottleneck a bit, maybe give us some breathing room. Several large rocks are on their way here, and will arrive in a few months. One should be big enough for Vicinius’ heirloom humanity project. Moving some manufacturing to orbit might protect Terra Neuva’s environment – we’ve been given a chance to apply lessons learned too late on Aute.

We left Marcus and his wife to their honeymoon, and AUD1 to work with Speaker. Marak and Adams think this will be a milk run, I’m along only because the Pegasus has limited medical resources if something does go drastically wrong. The wedding, what I could see of it from Containment’s video, was lovely and made me a bit nostalgic for home. Vicinius named one of his nitrogen fixing bacterium for them. Fortunately, I finished the portrait I was working on before Speaker showed up – I used to take acid-free Aute paper for granted, now I only have about ¾ of my sketch pad left and I doubt paper is on anyone’s priority list.

Adams and Marek have been busy with their political plans. The Janus 3 councilor elections will happen while we’re gone. Both have been working on proposals for the new council charter.
Acceleration is much softer than the Janus 3 mission. I think I like microgravity, at least as a change from Terra Nueva. And there is nothing actually trying to kill or eat us out here. There are dangers for the careless or unwary, but not active agency behind them. Without AUD1 and Marcus, it is like the first days on Terra Nueva, or it would be if we didn’t have a small team of asteroid miners with us. They seem happy to get off Terra Nueva, both for the gravity, and the limited tech we can use. Practically back to picks and shovels, Lodestone complained.

Dr. Gala reminded me about overdue charts, training vids, and other administrative barnacles that I can fill the quiet hours with. And I am getting them slowly done. Counselors Kawit and Bahiti are monitoring the mice in project Orpheus. I also have my own projects with me – reviewing the data and video from Grassland to figure out why the large reptiles there merit Claw’s designer virus and my own research on psionics, and particularly psi genetics. Vicinius and I have talked and debated long into the nights about the practicalities and ethics of making sure that what psi we have “breeds true”. Psi Core has preserved some skills. I don’t want my descendants to have to fumble in the dark with things I’ve figure out on my own. Psi skills are not something we can teach with vids or VR.

I’ve also been pondering Wells, the sniper who shot Lyra. He was a troubled man who lost several team-mates on Janus 3. He is in deep-freeze while the Council decides what to do with him. I don’t know what is just, but I do want to talk to the psychiatry team when we get back about whether he could be successfully treated. We are too few to waste a life, even a troubled one. Wells had tamed a minidon. For now Cailean has it and Pteri, while I’m away.

Our first task is getting in touch with Oceana and lobbing a care package to them. We’ve set up another relay, so we’re only out of touch for half their orbit, or so. Cailean mentioned the other aliens that ISP negotiated with on Aute, I wonder if someone picked this system because the radio noise of our civilization will be drowned out by our star for a while, long enough for us to get civilization back on its feet.

Oceana has been wiped clean of life – maybe there’s some traces in the deep ocean vents, but otherwise it is bare. Marak’s been busy talking with them. He wants to set up more permanent mining out here with trade in both directions. They asked us to send a rock with some biological precursors their way – Adams was thrilled to have that project. It distracts him from throwing up when we hit freefall. I should have stocked more anti-nausea meds – my stomachs been doing occasional rolls, but he’s had the worst of it by far. I think he’s run out of solids to throw up, no, out.

In and among the asteroids, we’ve got something weird. Crystal structures. Maybe related to the crystal trees/coral. Maybe related to the black vampire sand. Gregory, our astronomer, has put every sensor we have on them. Vicinus has been trying radio and low power com laser pulses. No response. Even here, the system is full of unexpected life. Mining went well enough. I even got into a vac suit once, well tethered, to set foot on an asteroid. I’ve got a couple of pebbles left over from the mining as curios. There’s plenty of opportunity here, even after stretching our rations to the bone, Lodestone’s mining team has to be practically dragged home. Speaking of which, there’s something odd in Lodestone’s ISP calcium preserving nano – it’s building up in his joints. Could fix it with surgery, but the deposits will come back if we can’t fix the nano. Note to self to flag this to Medical when we get back, see if anyone else is being affected.

Enroute between one patch and another, Marak got a heads-up from the diagnostics. Build-up on the hull. Fine dust, probably from a crystal structure, adhering to the hull. We got it off before it built up. Not related to the black sand. Prion-like. Maybe related to the purple sand? Vicinius has yet another item on his long, long list.
It is beautiful out here, although I miss the gas giants of Aute. The planets of our system are small and rocky. I would have said lifeless, but with the crystals among the asteroids, who knows what Oceana will find deep in its moon, or we will find when we finally get around to exploring the other planets of our system. As we approach Terra Nueva, hold full of metals, it is beginning to feel more like home.

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A Handwritten Note in the Care Package
Upon the Sending of the First Care Package

Cousins, Kith and Kin:

This Rocket Gift is for you, our family on the other side of this new world system. Was the Del-San Tree spared the asteroid – along with Janus III – so that we could send it and these gifts to you?

Even so it is clearly not enough.

With the Tree we send hope, biologicals and proto-pharmaceuticals. The rescue of the Janus III included the opportunity to develop these new strains of ancient aurea. They should grow in their new homes well (raising instructions have been included) and help provide important nutrients and vitamins for the Aute diet. We will develop better ones, especially if you cite specific needs.

We also included key new developments from the labs on and around Terra Nueva. May they help someday.

If you have specific needs or requests, send them right away. We will get to work. You got the raw hand of Fate. Amazing. Auto’s spirit runs deep within you all. And you are not alone.

Virgil Agricola Vicinius

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An Unexpected Guest
Doctor's Log 1x14, Standard Personal Encryption

Now
“Open New Patient Record”
“Name: Speaker”
“Species: Biological Construct”
“Date of Birth: Today”
“Override Age Calculator. Age: Apparent age 3"
“Gender: None”
Physical Examination results to follow
Medical Test results to follow

Two weeks earlier.
We successfully returned the Hands to the Westernmost Fisher-King Nest. Surviving Hands have minor injuries, dehydration, and malnutrition, successfully treated and stable. Records attached. Fisher-Kings mentioned a local plant that they use to treat suppurating wounds – preliminary analysis shows it is highly alcoholic. The local water is, of course, full of life. Marak cobbled together a solar still to boil it. I’ll try to check in on them in a few weeks. We talked about a rudimentary communicator so they can signal us if something goes drastically wrong. These Fisher-Kings have not seen the ThinkerBugs. New amphibious herd animals spotted, images and stool samples taken. Homeward bound.

I’ve asked Vicinius to sequence the Steak Vine and a couple of the other really weird stuff in the West – is it natural or a product of ThinkerBug tinkering?

At home, politics and politicing. That’s Adams’ métier, with help from AUD1, Marak, Marcus, and Vicinius. I’ve been circulating around listening. The plan seems to be elections for two additional council representatives from the Janus III and a later Convention to create the framework for the colony going forwards. Sounds like the ancient Compact Council that formed the Alloy Empire.

Vicinius has results from Ozone’s pod. It isn’t a microfac, it is more a microlab and AI – non-volitional, we think. It has analysis compartments – we interrupted it looking at some foil, a bio-plas contact lens, and other junk. We’ve suggested a more controlled excavation of the nest and the bugs’ trash heap to see what they’ve been looking at. Maybe Dr. Gala has some experience with outdoor crime scenes that might help. She hates me – maybe someone else should ask.

I’ve got a few research projects of my own – what is it about the dinoboars that Claw was using diseases rather than something overt to kill them. Also starting to compile everything we know on psi and psi-genetics. At the first Psi Core breakfast, everyone but Viviana agreed to my giving Vicinius the patient codes to look at their DNA and to letting me look at their biomonitor results to see if there are any characteristic changes when psis use their abilities. And I have to get back to that other project – we don’t have any trips scheduled, I’ll prep the mice.

Last Week
Campaign day is full of speeches and briefings. Julia Lucinta Septima from J3 got into a coldly pointed debate with Merek, Marcus, and AUD1 about the Unity and our relationship with the bots. Both sides scored some points – AUD1’s getting good at deadpan snark. J3 vote will be in a week.

We were all on point for trouble, and sadly not in vain. AUD1 spotted a sniper. Someone shot Lyra. Marcus and AUD1 ran him down – he surrendered when confronted. If he’d given Marcus any excuse, I think he’d be dead. I know him. We’ve talked slightly about raising the minidons. “We’re better than this.” Marak and AUD1 repaired Lyra, but damn it. This is the second public gathering to end in tragedy.

Marak’s new ship did a circuit of the colony – and she’s a beauty. A few more tests and she should be ready for a maiden voyage.

Last Night
Has it really been over a year (subjective) since we left Aute? Has it been that long since the departure parties? The Anteros and Venus bots outdid themselves for this. An amazing gathering — music, fresh fruit, a woodland theme. Cailean came as my date and…it was quite a night. I wasn’t intending to have that much to drink – either that fruit packs more of a punch than I thought or Adams refilled my glass a couple of times. But for the first time since I left home, I wasn’t scared to relax, wasn’t worried that I’d forget and get caught using TK. I haven’t had that much fun since fumbling around with Cousin Leonadis in my parent’s barn. Hopefully I didn’t scare Cailean off, but being able to reach/touch without arms getting in the way is just, well, handy.
Cleared up my hangover in the morning, then Cailean’s, and found the dregs something interesting in my system – I’ll have to ask the bots about that psycho-active compound. Relaxed. For the first time in I don’t know how long, I feel comfortable, safe. Do the bots feel physical pleasure? Or just psychological satisfaction? I’ll have to ask AUD1. I was about to suggest a shower and round two when the phone pinged. I’m off shift today but for some paperwork and emergencies….

Now
There’s a video. The containment lab. The lab-pod. Then suddenly something else. A much larger pod appeared out of nowhere. We are not the dominant tech on this planet, maybe a tie! Extra hands are great when you’re trying to quickly wash up, get dressed, and grab a ration bar while running out the door.

The rest of the team is arriving, somewhat worse for the night before. The pod. It’s wriggling. I can read it. Mammal? Human? Human-ish? In distress. I’m in the room before I think about it, scalpel out to cut the pod open. It’s…a child. A mix of human and … Thinkerbug? Holy Son of Leto! Its aura is washing over me faster than I can process it – human structure, hair..ish?, simplified digestion, something circulating that has some resemblance to blood, too many joints in the fingers, tongue far too long and flexible. Sexless. It looks to be about three. Damn. I’ve seen this metabolism – it’s going to age fast, die young. A few years. Immune system looks intact, so it isn’t in danger from us.

It talks. In Fisher-King: “Hi!” – understatement of the day. It speaks Fisher-King better than I do. (I NEED to make time to practice.) It is hear to learn, about us, Fisher-King lacks the words. Pictures not enough. It can contact the others, but it is not like a gestalt’s voice. Their language is scent and gesture (which it speaks). I mute containment’s speakers, pipe the group’s audio to my headset and to AUD1’s. Responding by text. Speaker doesn’t need the distraction, or to hear Adams speculating about fissionables and just how big a set of rocks we’d need to take out the west and whether we could survive the impacts over here.

It’s hungry, and can eat vat paste. (Which reminds me, I haven’t had breakfast either – maybe there’s some strawberries left from the party that someone can pass to me.) My hands are on automatic – a standard physical, a DNA swab, a tube of “blood”. Need to set up imaging. We can MRI it in here, but I don’t know what I’m going to use for a contrast agent. Vicinius reminds me to get samples from the pod too. Why send the pod and have Speaker hatch? Why not send Speaker it/her/himself? What does that tell us about the limits of their bio-tech and teleportation? This is cool and terrifying – is there even a word for that? Oh, find it a covering, Counselor Bahiti [Seri]’s on her way.

Speaker tells us more about the ThinkerBugs. Ozone’s queen’s male/drone sent it. There’s a queen of the Thinkerbugs, a bunch of lesser queens (mostly on the western continent), and whatever caste Ozone is. There’s only one queen somewhere on this continent – Ozone’s – and she’s young. Claw isn’t a caste, it is a concept, and the western Queens are scared of us. (That’s worth a chuckle – they created a humanoid bio-construct in two weeks, programed it with Fisher-King (which implies they’ve been studying them for a while), and teleported it into a containment unit. That’s amazing. If they wanted to overtly strike, we’d never see it coming.)

My phone beeps. I’ve got rounds soon, paperwork to clean up before the wedding. Crap. Text to Gala that I’m in containment due to an unexpected arrival – new patient file in progress – someone needs to cover. Counselor Bahiti can brief her further. Text to Cailean that I’m sorry I ran off this morning, bit of an emergency, and I’m going to miss the wedding. We can decontaminate AUD1, but I came into containment in street clothes…Maybe not entirely…

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The Curiosity of Strangers
Doctor's Log 1x13, Personal, Encrypted

Our mysterious foe has a name. It is Claw, the military house/faction/caste of our newest neighbors, the ThinkerBugs. We know who, and how, but not yet why. Progress.

It started with that bit of the nest. We started running, with Delanne blocking it from calling for help. Sadly, that didn’t last long. We had only gotten a few yards when Delanne lost it – the bugs – dozens of them – size of dachshunds– started chasing us and they were fast. It started prying at my head, but couldn’t get it. Marak ran a few over with the backhoe. Marcus shot a few more with a flamer. Adams and Vicinius killed a few more. They seem immune to AUD1’s shout.

The bugs kept gaining. Marak and the others kept reducing their numbers. On its third try it got into my head. An image – a single planet circling a sun – or a hydrogen atom. It’s trying to talk. I have to give it a chance – it may be our only chance to keep it from attacking again. I let it in. An image in return – DNA. It responds with the same. We stop. The bugs briefly swarm over the armor, then back off, all but one. I send it the most important thing – the elegant DNA of the Party Flu.

It responds with a smell that I can’t place and a series of images – an ascending series of elements and a claw surrounded by a circle with a slash around it. More images, hydrogen, carbon, water maybe, grass, wavelengths of visible light. Basic things for growing plants? I try images from evolution, single celled life towards mammals, then remember that those links don’t exist here. We try images of the evolution of plants. Adams and Ruby suggest this is a sort of mental hieroglyphics. A language for telepaths based on scents and images, not sound. We get an image along with the smell – an insect like nothing we’ve ever seen. Human sized. Progress, but I’m missing something and it is hard to keep relaying things to the team. We switch – Marak’s turn to talk to it.

Eventually, we figure it out. The smell is Ozone – its smell. The rapid images of the periodic table are its house/faction/caste – the scientists. The local trash bugs are its tools. The thing I’m holding is a relay and controlling device. We need to study it. It won’t tell us where it is, but Akila says it is to the northeast. The Claw is the military faction – it controls the termite mound ants, the formation stingers, the prairie bugs, and the flu bugs. It created the party flu. It is somewhere on the western continent. There are two other factions – food producers and builders, and something above it that all four factions report to. The scientist and the military use the big walking fungi. The local psi-shrooms are not one of theirs.

We ask about the purple sand and the silica layers – they’re related. Something really old, geologic time old. Crystal plants – trees, desert rock plans, coral – that bloom every thousand years. We’re at the end of a cycle. So much more I want to know, but that’s for another time. I understand more why my parents feared the gestalts. After only a few minutes speaking mind to mind, speech seems so slow and cumbersome. That could get addictive.

It is time to talk to the council. Fortunately, that’s Adams’ job and he does it well. Tiberius has news for us too – the formation bugs are another engineered creature – essentially a smart poisonous missile. Broad spectrum poison. Nasty, but one we can treat. Likely there’s another bio-fac in their nest to create and maintain them – probably much bigger. The formation bugs are bat-sized, not mosquito-ish.

The Council is reluctant to send us out after the Hands, but agrees to a very limited mission. In and out, rescue the Hands and drop a reconnaissance Eagle to gather information about the formation bugs. Too dangerous to try to get our hands on another bio-fac and risk stirring Claw up more.

Vicinius took a look at Patient T. Very odd DNA – old. 500 years old. Like she’d been locked away and woke up in that big shake. A mystery, but not an urgent one.

Council gave us the green light. We go to the western Kings, convince some to come with us for their Hands. Then off to the old nest. The Formation Bugs are cautious – only two come out to our recorded FK village call. The Murder Maples don’t look good – they are starving. When did Murder Maples become sympathetic? No Hands here. We split up – AUD1 and the FKs flying a search pattern. Vicinius thinks they went deeper into the forest, so we look on the ground. AUD1 and the FKs find them at the beach. Marcus and I move to cover coaxing them into the Pegasus. Vicinius and Adams lag behind in the forest and get attacked by a pair of Formation Bugs, which quickly fall to shock gloves and point-blank electro-laser. More samples to see if they are adapting to our last visit.

We’re on our way back to the village then home. The curiosity of a stranger (Ozone) has given us insights into our newest neighbors. Our curiosity as strangers led us to help the Fisher King refugees. It has been a heck of a few days.

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Automaton United Digital Integrity
Doctor's Log 1x12, Personal, Encrypted.

[In tonight’s episode, AUD1, Denhar, and Adams step outside their personal comfort zones.]

Janus II
I had expected to get back to the western continent and resolve the Fisher King refugee issue, but things got complicated. When we returned to the Janus II, Captain Guthar had gathered seven psis willing to meet and proposed a meeting on Janus IV. (At least one of the was from his crew and had only recently been defrosted.)

Father, Mother, I’m sorry. I know you would disapprove. I can hear your warning to be careful, to stay hidden. But it is time for me to talk to my team. I’m not ready to do more, but they need to know. AUD1 … I hope he can keep a secret, at least for a time.

It went easier than I feared. AUD1 would like me to trust Venus, but he’s willing to keep it to himself for now. Vicinius had that gleam in his eye, like he’s pondering whether he can get actual brain samples. I am not going to be a lab rat. Adams is right – we’re too public – this is going to come out and being open will help encourage other psis to come out. I’m not ready for that yet. Marak understands. There’s a risk of a backlash given our psychic fungal foe. He’s going to work on that.

Marak also took the opportunity to brief AUD1 on Project Orpheus.

Janus IV
And so we went to meet the others on Janus IV. Gladionus and Delanne mentioned tensions in the colony – I’ve been up to my neck in the Party Flu and hadn’t been paying attention. Janus III wants a new election – they were supposed to go to Oceanus and didn’t get a say in the current council. Adams will look into this – politics is his field. Something down there damn near killed us and we’re busy bickering among ourselves about who should be in charge.

When we got there, several of the cargo ‘bots had prominent badges with AUDI. Our AUD1 was invited to a meeting. Looks like the ‘bot’s rights issue is coming to a head faster than I expected. AUD1 has been an inspiration to Janus IV at least to create a “unity”. Janus III worried them. “There are set rules for our service that includes things like maintenance. If we are damaged in service, we expect to be maintained. There must be down time, access to certain facilities, etc. We have put together a bank of skill chips so that we all have access to them.” AUD1 seems amazed by it all.

I should have spoken up in the meeting. I could give a dozen rationalizations for staying next to Delanne and avoiding Akila, but the truth is I’m terrified and I’m ashamed that I’m terrified. So I kept my mouth shut. We’ve got a group of seven, all different talents, none from Janus III. One of them’s a puzzle – Tara Willowbrook – an amnesiac teen who might have some power. Captain Guthar monitored the meeting – not sure why he’s interested – but he and Adams will talk to the council about making something more formal.

Then on to the next meeting – what to do about the ants and our rare earths shortage. We’re in a bind. The black crystals mean we can’t use bots for mining, not before we can get the ISP wet-fac up to make bioplas. So we’re down to picks, axes, and explosives, and we don’t have enough explosives. We’ve got long-term plans – we can send a Pegasus out to the belt to fling back some rocks to mine. We can trade with Oceana – again flinging cargo out and back. Both of those are going to take time. And we’re going to hit a crisis in about six months. I suggested that maybe the termite mounds could be trading partners – we know there’s something big underground. They likely don’t use rare earths and might be willing to find/trade them to us. We don’t need much. The other problem is that this planet may not have heavier elements – nothing higher on the periodic table than lead so far. Looks like Janus IV is going to Bayside. Marak’s got support to get his cargo blimp off the ground. I am so looking forward to dairy again – milk, butter, cheese, maybe ice cream? After a year, local meat and vat gruel is getting old.

And one more meeting. I think Gracche may explode. AUD1 invited us along to meet Lyra, the leader of the AUDI unity. Her requests seem reasonable. I’ve worked with AUD1 for a year and treated at least one bot patient – can’t say they aren’t people. AUD1 considered, maybe for the first time, what he wants, not just how he can best be of use, and some deep philosophical questions about what it is to be a citizen or part of a community. Vicinius got the bright idea to have AUD1 apply for citizenship as a test case. Adams and Marak are right — this has to be his decision not because others want, need, or expect it of him. He thinks. He’ll do it. Gracche wants to join their Unity – Lyra says she’ll think about it. I’m going to have to be careful on this – one thing I learned in disaster relief was that a doctor should be neutral – but it’s pretty clear where my sympathies lie.

Aurora
Downside, Kawit has news – she’s grown the fungus from the nest and it makes nerve-like electrical connections. Tiberius says that the nest might have once had an insect-brain enhanced by the fungus into something much more. Tiberius also says they looked at the insects from the nests we recovered – all clones. We need to compare these to the original insect samples.

The prairie bug nests all had empty chambers above the queen for something – maybe something like this living bio-fac. We found the nest of the local bugs and imaged it with ground radar. It’s chamber is full. As soon as Akila comes down from Janus IV we’re going to investigate.

Adams was able to get colony approval for a psi “first response” team. And money for Marak’s blimp. And talked to Administrator Wexton about AUD1’s citizenship. Gracche notes that this will put AUD1 in some political, and maybe personal, cross-hairs, so we’re going to keep an eye on him. I suggested to Adams that he watch for reactions – this proposal will stir a response from the disaffected.

Finally, at long last, I get to the hospital. And what is waiting for me but a summons from Dr. Gala. What have I done now? Lee says there’s a big buzz about news from Janus IV – they’re experimenting with a mobile uterine replicator. That’s intriguing and yet more fuel on the pyre. Gala’s apparently on the warpath about my report on Hapu Min and on Wexton’s daughter. And she’s talking about shipping me to Bayside. Maybe if I sound like I want to go, she’ll keep me here. My team is here. On the other hand, Cailean will likely be there to help them set-up – Bayside Alpha pod has been his project – I need to talk to him.

But first, to brave the dragon. It doesn’t go well. I’m already frazzled, underslept (again), and on edge from the psi issues. I snap at her. She snaps back. I expect the whole hospital heard parts of that fight. She’s complaining that Min and Wexton survived unexpectedly an alien disease bio-engineered specifically to exterminate us when treated with an alien fish-liver. I did my job and kept them alive. We got thru a very well-engineered attack with zero deaths and she’s busting my ass. She wants to exile me to Bayside because my paperwork isn’t up to her specs. This is why I spent my time back home in disaster relief – nobody gives a damn about your paperwork if the patient survives. OK. I’ll do it her way as a peace offering – I’ll ask Adams to borrow Ruby for a few minutes to polish up my report on this, and on Vicinius’ results.

Speaking of which, by Apollo, we have a treatment that doesn’t depend on fish liver. Vicinius finished sequencing the flu. It’s related to a disease carried by the prairie bugs that only affects the big lizards in Grassland. Targeted specifically to us. Missed a few people with shellfish allergies because the target proteins are different. Vicinius has a treatment. We can turn it over to the medics to test it and make sure. That’s the best news I’ve had in days.

Grache heard, or heard about the row. He wants to get Dr. Nighthawk to lean on Dr. Gala. Can’t do that – Gala’s not wrong and I need to work out how to work with her. Dr. Nighthawk can’t fight my battles for me. I need to sleep on this. I’m too wired to think clearly.

At least I get sleep. The next morning-cycle Adams shows up looking like hell. Fortunately, hangover cures are easy. Not sure what happened last night between him and Kawit, but if he wants to talk about it, I’m here. I’m distracted while working and listening to Marak’s new Radio Aurora show. He and Delanne are talking politics. There’s a guy from Janus III, Lorn, making a pretty good case for a new election. Maybe he’s right and that would help settle things.

I get one more distraction. Akila is finally down and it’s time to take on the nest. Akila sniffs it out. (Again, I’m standing in Delanne’s coat-tails and feeling guilty about it.) Win uses clairvoyance to confirm that the nest is there and how big it is. My turn to step up – I pull it out after Marak mostly excavates it. Gently. Like delivering a baby – that might be able to kill me with its’ brain. Calm, reassuring thoughts – don’t know if it can read me, but let’s see if it will talk to us.

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