The foggy veil lifted and it was possible to see something now. The Vlaxians drifted outwards from the middle of the vessel floor to the circle of windows, cackling with excitement as they did, anxious for a first glimpse of the weird, exotic landscape they’d paid to see.
The Master Guide Kaylon prodded his junior Prigg, saying, “Now.”
Prigg stood on cue, climbed to the guide’s platform and considered for a moment the nearly two hundred tourists gazing out at the contorted humps and gashes of mud amid a horizon of smashed vegetation. Giant holes were scooped into the mud, and everywhere they looked were the remains of hundreds of dead creatures – a small portion of the planet’s native inhabitants.
“Excuse me ... excuse me all,” called Prigg, his voice a little strained, a little cracked. He had no experience calling to order a crowd this large. The crowd came to attention anyway. The silence grew and fleshed out, though a few of the experienced travellers went on talking to their neighbours.
“While we reconstitute, this is a good time to talk about what you’ll be seeing and doing today,” he said. “You’ve all been given your tools,” he added, and a few of the Vlaxians lifted the metal sticks in their hands in answer. “I want to warn you, they’re not as precise as you might be expecting ... they can get frustrating at times, but don’t worry, that’s something everyone gets used to. The important thing is to have fun.
Prigg looked at his senior, hoping for some sign of approval. He got a quick glance and a hand wave, telling him to get on with it.
“Next thing,” said Prigg. “The native creatures won’t be able to tell you apart from themselves. The suits you have on will warn the creatures to avoid you or even try to hurt you, but as long as you don’t take off your breast-Coins, you’ll be all right.” Prigg held up a Coin for everyone to see – it was a wide brown disk, an inch thick and four inches across. “We’ll try about ten rotations today –”
He was interrupted by Kaylon, who gurgled testily. “Tell them to turn on the Coins.”
“Oh, right,” hissed Prigg. “Sorry, I meant to tell everyone that you need to turn on your Coins now. Hold them tight for about ten seconds, and when they glow orange they’ll be on. If anyone’s doesn’t come on, talk to a neighbour or someone else who might be able to help, and if there’s still a problem come up here in after and we’ll make sure it’s on before we disembark.”
The room was full of people chattering, now, eliciting sounds of happiness when their Coins came on as expected; some did have trouble, but it was almost always because they did not grip them tight enough, or long enough. A few salts in the room moved about and helped some of the greener vacationers.
“As I was saying,” continued Prigg. “We’ll be out for nine rotations today ...”
“Ten,” prompted Kaylon.
“Yes, ten rotations,” corrected Prigg. “Some of you are going to find that a long time. Remember that when you are resting, you’ll want to hide behind something. Remember always that the less you are seen by the native creatures, the better off you will be. They will try to hurt you, and though your Coin will keep you safe, it’s a fair warning that the native attempts to hurt you can sting quite a bit. Keep low, use the terrain and try to learn from your mistakes. You might try to watch some of the others who seem to be more confident, and you’ll probably find them ready to give some advice. Take it. It’s pretty hazardous out there, and we’d hate to find you’re not having a good time.”
He took a gasp, thinking he was doing pretty well. The eyes in the room were all watching him, waiting for his next words, and that felt good.
And then he realized he didn’t know what those next words were supposed to be. He looked at Kaylon, who put his hands together in the ‘killing’ gesture. “Right, right,” answered Prigg. “Some of you ... a lot of you, probably ... have never killed anything before, and so for you, today will be a new experience and probably a pretty strange one. There might be a tendency towards sympathy, and as some of you are noticing now that we’re almost completely reconstituted, the creatures themselves make quite a mess when they come apart.”
It was possible for those nearest the windows to see that the dead native creatures were often missing parts of their bodies, and that a brownish red liquid seemed to clot over their surfaces. It looked very messy.
“I first want to tell you, no one today needs to kill. You don’t need to feel any need to prove yourselves. If you just want to experience the environment, go ahead and do that without feeling any pressure to interact at all. Try to remember that for some of the people here, this is not their first adventure, and if they seem quite comfortable with the experience, it is probably because they have gone through what you’re feeling right now before. Take your time, take in the sights and move forward at your own speed.”
Prigg’s visage filled with a calming bubbles, and he emitted as much pheromone as he could to pacify some of the greeners. “Let me reassure you ... these creatures have been bent upon killing each other since this planet was stumbled upon several spans ago. When you land, you will appear to them as they will appear to you. They won’t hesitate to do you harm. Remembering this might help your consciences along. According to our sociologists, there are natives on the planet who do not partake in these activities, and you may rest assured you won’t see any of those today. You’ll only see those representatives of the species who are themselves killers.”
He paused. “Let me see ...”
“Sounds,” said Kaylon.
“I was getting to it,” answered Prigg, who regretted it at once. He looked away from Kaylon and continued, his voice cracking. “One last thing before we open the doors. It can get pretty loud out there. If any of you start to get uncomfortable with it, or you just want to come back and rest, tap your Coin four times and we’ll answer and pick you up. Hold it to your cavity like this.” Prigg held it near his head. “You’ll be able to hear us.”
He bit his proboscis, a bit angry at himself for snapping at Kaylon. “Okay. Best of luck to you. You also might take a few moments to read your guides before heading off, if you haven’t already. The ground is called a ‘battlefield,’ and its surrounded on both sides by networks of creviced earth called ‘trenches.’ Most of the noise will be made by things called ‘artillery,’ but you won’t see those today ... they are quite a long way off, farther than you’ll probably be able to travel. Those tools in your hands are called ‘rifles.’ It’s all a funny mix of words you’ve never heard before and probably won’t ever use again, but knowing what you’re seeing is half the fun. Now the doors are going to open in a few minutes ... if there are any of you still unable to get your Coins on, come on up and we’ll fix you.”
A few began to move forward, and the room shifted, the Vlaxians sorting themselves out between those looking over the things attached to their bodies, those reading their guides and those going straight for the yet-unopened doors.
Prigg looked at Kaylon and asked, “How was that?”
“Practice,” said Kaylon. “With a little more practice you’ll hit that mark.”