Pierre and his team reported the lake to be enormous, but not as shallow as predicted. It would be tricky to set down the ship without loosing it. Lynn suggested shipping down everything by shuttle, simply leaving the ship in orbit. We all knew it was the captain’s decision, so discussion stopped there. Faro reported observing some locals. Nobody doubted our story. It made me think. At first, I’d been sure I was the only one affected by what we were going to do. Now I started to suspect there were others. We spent the night in the shuttle, my sleep was fitful at best.
Next morning, Lynn took the shuttle back to the ship, accompanied by Pierre and Dany. I was supposed to go as well, to wake up the sleepers on board instead of risking more accidents. But Faro insisted he needed me, and I was glad for the excuse not to be charged with getting rid of nineteen bodies. Our job was to set up operations base and, if possible, catch one of the locals. Henrik frowned when we got the order and I observed Faro nudging him. We kept quiet while we put together some military issue lightweight storm shelters. Gérard felt finally better and was able to help. We forwent the helmets in mutual consent.
Afterwards, we visited the village, leaving two guards and Gérard at the shelter. Kijal was waiting for us. We spent another interesting day with her people. In the evening, walking back, we discussed options. It turned out none of us was prepared to follow through with the project. Why were humans supposed to be more deserving of life than hisaj? But tomorrow, Lynn would arrive with a first batch of revived sleepers, eager to take over new bodies. We needed a plan, urgently.
As it turned out, nobody was eager to take over a body. Lynn brought down equipment and seven groggy scientists. They were not much better off than Gérard in the beginning. We settled them down as good as possible. Lynn reported that damage to the hibernation pods turned out to be worse than expected. A lot of the sleepers were fine, body wise, but suffered major brain damage. She returned to the ship where they were trying to save as much of them as possible. I dutifully volunteered to go back, but she said they had enough hibernation specialists and medical personnel awake up there now. I was glad.
While we were still busy with new arrivals, Kijal and some villagers paid us a visit. I feared the worst at first, but their easygoing manner won them a cordial welcome quickly. Knowing already some English words helped a lot. Henrik, Faro and I witnessed something we hadn’t thought possible: In only a few days, friendships were forged.
Lynn didn’t come back for a while. We sent reports every evening, talking about progress, building up base and studying the planet. Nobody got suspicious. Faro, Gérard, Henrik and I became unofficial leaders of the planetary group. The newcomers quickly adapted, most of them behaving as if on a long awaited holiday. Everybody knew we were supposed to start experimenting on hisaj brains, but no one wanted to be the first. Instead, we enjoyed planet life.
Kijal had taken it in her capable hands to show me around. I learned a lot on our trips, which plants were edible, which poisonous and how to use a blowpipe. There were animals no one in their right mind would mess with. One day coming back from a walk in the gjkali-forest, an impressive swampland, we heard cries and commotion. Not far from base some humans were viciously beating something. Kijal broke into a run and I followed as fast as possible. One man lay dead on the ground, marked by angry red bite marks. It turned out he tried to pick one of the dark blue flowers called niosj. We learned the hard way they are poisonous, carnivorous, intelligent and strictly territorial.