Sunday Serialisation – Back Paige. Chapter five, part two.

On the planet surface, the team again positioned itself downwind of the visible part of the settlement and activated the cameras and sound recorders. After only a few minutes, Jinnis Keet announced, “This group is not communicating other than vocally. I have detected some mental activity that seems to be a form of communication but not within this group. It has the characteristics of a background task.”

As leader of the group, it was left to Farid Levrentiev to give voice to the question on everyone’s mind. “I think we all understand the concept of a background task, but can you elaborate on how you mean it here?”

“Surely. But first, can you describe to me what happens when you seek information from your computer?”

“Of course. We ask the question at a terminal—“

“A human interface device?” Jinnis asked.

“Yes. The terminal converts the question to a query in its native language which is passed to the database for resolution. The resulting dataset is then passed back to the terminal which converts it to and expresses it in human language.”


“What do you mean, that?”

“I believe… no, it isn’t that strong. I think that the individuals are communicating with a central intelligence.”

“They have a hive mind?”

“I don’t believe so. My impression is that they are all fully autonomous individuals but that they somehow have access to more. It’s too early to say beyond that. Much more study is needed.”

“Where do we start?”

“Have you seen anything in any form of writing? Any notices, graffiti, anything?”

“We haven’t noticed any.”

“And they don’t carry any electronic devices that might contain legible information?”

“Again. We haven’t noticed any.”

“I don’t think we can learn very much more here. Perhaps we should return to your ship.”

“With respect, Jinnis,” Farid said, “I think we should remain for a while longer. I, for one, would like to obtain more recordings of their speech. The more we can provide to the translator array, the better chance they will have to decipher it.”

“Very well,” Jinnis said, “I shall return to the ship and expect you later.”

“Give us another hour, and we’ll be there.”

Jinnis disappeared.

“I say, chaps – and Shannon,” Tarquin blurted excitedly, “I’ve had an idea.”

“Don’t single me out, please,” Shannon Crawford objected, “Do you have any idea how offensive that is? Oh, silly me. I forgot for a second who I was talking to. Of course you don’t.”

Henri DuBois was confused. “Where is the harm in that?” he asked, “If he had said ladies and gentlemen, that would have been okay, no? But there is only one member of the weaker, or should I say fair sex here and instead of lady and gentlemen he did you the courtesy of using your name. That is fine, no?”

“No, Henri, that is not fine. That smacks of misogyny, which I thought had been driven out of the regiment long ago.”

“Can we deal with this later, please?” Farid asked, “Captain Stuart-Lane, what is your idea?”

“Well. I was thinking that if we spread out a bit—“

“Staying downwind of the subjects.”

“Of course. But we may be able to pick up more speech and more video from different angles than if we’re all in the same place, what?”

Everyone agreed that, notwithstanding its source, the idea was not without merit. And so they split up. They all remained out of sight and downwind of the study group, where they remained for the better part of an hour. At the end of the hour, Farid signalled to them all to regroup at the arrival point ready to transit back to C-pill.

Shortly afterwards, Farid, Tarquin, Shannon and Jack Turner were at the rendezvous point ready for transport.

“Where’s Henri?” Farid asked.

“Don’t you mean où est Henri ?” Tarquin quipped and laughed like the upper-class twit he was.

“Don’t be flippant,” Dr Turner admonished, “one of our own is unaccounted for on a strange and possibly hostile planet. Do you seriously think that’s something to joke about?”

“I wasn’t joking about that,” Tarquin protested, “it’s just that, well, he being French and all… I was just trying to lighten the mood.” He made a zipping movement with his hand across his lips, shrugged his shoulders and pouted.

“Do we know where he went?” Shannon asked.

“I walked with him for about three minutes,” the doctor replied, “then he carried on. I propose we start looking for him.”

Tarquin raised a hand. “Yes, Tarquin?”

“Sorry, Farid, but can’t the ship scan for his life-signs or something?”

“Good thought, Captain. Let me make the call.” Farid walked a few metres away and spoke into his communicator. He looked worried when he returned. “His transponder is showing up clearly, but his heat signature is so weak it’s almost invisible,” he said, “However, that may just be the forest canopy masking it. We know exactly where he is, though. Let’s go.”

Shannon approached Farid and said, “I’ll stay here and keep watch in case he comes back by a different route whilst you’re all away.”

“Good idea, Shannon. Are you happy to be alone, or would you rather I leave Tarquin to keep you company?”

“I think I’d rather face the wrath of the forest demons than spend time alone with that pathetic excuse for an officer,” she whispered to Farid.

“Fair enough. Tarquin and Dr Turner, you’re with me.”

Farid tuned his hand-scanner to the frequency of Henri DuBois’ transponder and with Tarquin and Jack, followed where it led. After about ten minutes, they came across a clearing, where they found a small group of about half-a-dozen natives standing in a circle. Henri’s transponder signal was coming from the middle of the circle.

“With any luck, he dropped it trying to get away from something,” Farid said.

The three officers carried on until they were close enough to the group to see Henri laying, inert, between them.

“How are we supposed to deal with this?” Jack Turner asked.

“No idea, Doctor. I’ll call up for instructions.”

A minute or so later, he came back and said, “They want as much video and sound evidence as we can get. The MTS pods are keyed to our transponders, so he can transit up with us from here. They’ll bring us up in five minutes. We mustn’t let the natives see us, so let’s hide behind those trees.”

“Ooh, very Star Trek,” Tarquin said, “Four to beam up, Scotty, what? But what about Shannon?”

“I’ll call her to tell her to expect transit.”

Five minutes later, the five were transited back to C-pill. Whatever the natives were doing, Henri simply disappeared in front of their eyes. Farid, Tarquin and Jack having left, they didn’t hear the shrill cries that emanated from the group that had been surrounding their colleague’s body.

Andrea, Ishmael and Jinnis Keet were waiting for the team when they arrived aboard the ship. Jack Turner examined Henri. “I’m sorry, Admiral. He’s dead.”

“What do you mean, dead?” Tarquin asked, “He can’t be. I was only speaking to him half an hour ago.”

“Don’t cry, Captain,” the doctor said, “it won’t bring him back.”

“Any sign of cause of death?” Andrea asked.

“Not immediately, Admiral. I’ll need to get him to the ship’s hospital and carry out a full examination before I can tell you that.”

“Okay, Doctor. That’s your priority.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

6 thoughts on “Sunday Serialisation – Back Paige. Chapter five, part two.

    1. The transponder is a worn device, John (like the Star Trek comm badge). As to the MTS “undo” all I know about MTS is that it works. Only the Jinthae understand the science behind it. What caused Henri’s demise? That’s something that has to be determined by folk with brains much larger than mine.

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