Lost in thought, Suuk'o slowly rubbed the vesa prescribed synth-heal gel over her wound. Already the lighter patch of skin was regaining colour, the scar virtually gone. Finished with the application, Suuk'o cleaned her hand and adjusted the aquaskin back over her upper torso. Regarding the face reflected by the mirror wall, she was witness to her own resolve hardening. The event had to be brought up before the Fio'El, she saw something and it had attacked her. Putting the gel tub back in the hygiene cubicle locker, Suuk'o trotted down from the bunk level into the living space; gathering her utility jacket to head out. The vesa on seeing her leaving, flitted toward her, aiming for the utility belt about her waist as she passed,
"Not this time, my attempt is causing enough queries without inviting questions about you just yet"
The slim ellipse, tipped upward slightly,
"Understandable, though can I offer you what I've been working on?"
A skim card slid out from a recess it used for such peripherals. The fio'la took it, flicking it over in her hand,
"The crawler and the figure in the surf?"
"Yes, with some ideas on what it may have been, based on the hub core zoological files"
"You don't believe me either?" her gaze sceptical.
"I didn't imply that, but as I told you, the living coral in the shallows creates such bio density I can't track anything there with certainty beyond the shore break"
She gave a slight chuff, resigning herself that even her most capable aide was stymied.
"Well, thanks I'll present this to her" she flared the card like a ha'kachi player,
"Good luck" the vesa mimicked Suuk'o on the night of the capture attempt.
Pouting, she gave the small disc a dirty glare, then left.
Only a few paces beyond the village domes, she looked out toward the pier from under the morning shade of a nearby frond. Tethered to the far side of the landing pad, well beyond the reef barrier, floated a large white survey Runabout. It was a dynamically shaped water craft with a thin prow, thick side wall flanks and an open deck, only the rounded dorsal command cabin rose higher than the side walls, the latter bluntly swept with a sensor dome nestled atop. The part of her mind, thrilled by the Wave Runners, piqued slightly at the thought of how fast it could go. She watched a lone fio'ui busily directing service vesa from the edge of the landing pad, conductor to a swarm of insects, completing various maintenance tasks about the vessel since it's arrival a dec before.
"Ah you're up, great" the ever trunk wearing Yu'Siln greeted her while she stood observing the distant choreography, "the Fio'el is expecting you. With all the general debriefing since she got back, you're adventure has captured her interest most"
"That's a good thing I hope" Suuk'o said under her breath.
"Don't worry you'll be fine. I broke an aquablade clean off a Wave Runner first few rotaa I was here"
She smiled, turning her gaze on him,
"You coming along?"
"No actually, I already gave my progress report on a project she wanted me to cover in her absence. I might grab a pack of wafers and visit my coral collections along the beach with morning tide out"
"Exciting" she teased.
He raised his brow in mock enthusiasm, gave a wave and headed toward Baku's prep area.
Turning about, Suuk'o realised she had no idea where the Fio'El would be, Yu'Siln was already to far to ask. A quick query with Baku on the commbead discovered the answer; he was with her right now, presenting his case inside the communication suite.---
"Fio'El'Kasuan" she greeted with deference and a soft bow.
The project leader was a wiry faced Dal'yth native, her aquaskin coloured appropriately. Overall she was leaner and more aged than Suuk'o. Effecting a suitably assessing regard, El'Kasaun finally acknowledged the entrance of the fio'la into the communication suite.
"The Shas'vre has been informing me of your first few rotaa on Li'Por. You made quite a splashdown it appears"
The young tau shuffled slightly, this Fio'El's more officious attitude was quite at odds with everyone she had met so far.
"And now, you claim an attack occurred?"
The real topic was opened up. Looking to Baku, Suuk'o saw him encourage her to speak,
"That would be my claim, despite the current belief that I was struck by a spine on the crawler, I believe something in the shallows fired upon me to prevent it's capture."
"Indeed, I've seen this.. dart" her voice somewhat disregarding Baku's evidence, "there are a few molluscs about Al'shi which fire internally created calcium darts biomechanically in defense, I was one of the first to be injured before we received sturdier modfins"
Suuk'o pinched her face slightly at the growing dismissal,
"Fio'El, I was up on the beach, not in the water"
The older tau paused at the interruption, continuing when Suuk'o went quiet,
"Which makes this event certainly all the more curious," then surprisingly given the tone she had set, the older fio relented, "Look la'Suuk'o, I can't have our team members chasing an unidentified creature in the vast ocean about us, we have dozens of projects in progress and a timetable to keep, with further requests that arrived with you in addition. If you could provide me better evidence without sacrificing your own work, I am willing to review any findings. Right now I see a fresh faced young fio'la, a few rotaa on a foreign world and barely any experience with the local wildlife. Most of us have been here more than a few tau'cyr and nothing like this has happened before"
"But Fio'El, with respect, no one has come as close as I have to capturing one of the large crawlers, I even have imagery showing I was prev-"
Baku touched her uninjured shoulder with a light grip, causing her to keep the skim card in her belt. Moving deftly for his size, he came between the two fio,
"El'Kasuan, I may have jumped to conclusions with my findings, but the spine? Well it is as odd as the event itself. Allow me watch over la'Suuk'o, assess what she finds. Since two of my shas'la have returned with you, they can take up my general duties. It may even speed up her familiarity with local fauna and prevent," he paused to look at Suuk'o, "further incidents during her excursions"
El'Kasuan eyed the broad Sha'vre,
"Baku, I know you well enough. If it's not unsolicited spear fishing, tree felling or sanctioning further redundancy modifications on base equipment without asking me, you always end up with another curious project of your own making"
He seemed to shrug in acknowledgement at the arrayed accusations without offering a rebuttal. The project leader began to walk toward the projection wall, observing the work of an operator nearby, the only other tau in the suite,
"I will admit, each time you have been right. We use less stores, the between rotaa meal has bonded a team drawn from several Septs, and I will never forget Ui'Esau's face when you suggested such pragmatic range extender to his beloved Wave Runners"
She turned about to regard the odd pair before her,
"You watch over this one, your instinct has served you and I well enough" her audience buoyed slightly, "but I still want reports on the work you were sent here to do fio'la, in that there are no exceptions, so I suggest you be about it"
The directive barely scratched Suuk'o's rebounding enthusiasm. Bowing politely, she left the suite to wait for Baku outside.
"Well, not what I had hoped, but we didn't get shut down either" she commiserated with the big tau as they walked through the factory floor, "Any ideas?"
The Shas'vre was slow coming in reply.
They stopped, then he turned to her,
"I apologise for halting you presenting that skim card, sometimes you must realise that committing more resources to a lost fight rarely brings it back in your favour. I have known El'Kasuan a long time and her answer would have remained the same, we need to learn from this and gather a better position to convince her next time"
"But it showed me standing over the crawler, well away from any of it's appendages when I was attacked"
"Maybe so, though I would like to see it for myself, your al'vesa has been remarkably reticent in sharing. Your 'research' was 'authorised access' only"
She smirked at the common vesa vocalisation; the little companion was ever protecting her interests,
"I'll show you personally, I don't like others revising my initial work"
He nodded, each to their own,
"Okay, though first I must reorganise the roster with my shas'la, I will comm you when I finish"
Agreed, they proceeded out and parted ways with a renewed purpose.---
Seperated from a stack of toughened field entry readers and Suuk'o's own view; a solitary colour tagged skim card, filled with the bare minimum required for a progress report now lay ignored. It was an overview of her first excursion, reasoning and intent to focus on the region about Al'Shi first. A primer for further ventures later, beyond Wave Runner range. The prose had been smart, professional and word tagged possibly to excess. Either way the al'vesa seemed proud of it's work.
"You going to submit this?"
Suuk'o looked away from her predecessor's notes on screen,
"Mmm?" then realised what the vesa meant, "oh, no.. not yet. Have to make it look like I spent at least a rotaa on that"
The vesa tilted,
Despite the various habitats having their data cores tied to each other, and ultimately the communication suite hub. Submitting a copy of reports on solid state format, despite centuries of electronic means, had been standard among fio researchers. The practice preventing a singular wipe of all data. Each card was wafer thin and almost weightless despite being remarkably robust, allowing thousands to be sealed in a protective case and delivered via Messenger boat to centres of learning on a variety of Sept worlds. Once they reached their destination, it was easier to disseminate the skim cards to departments and specialities without using a core, maintaining a measure of passive security if the data was sensitive.
The vesa hovered forward slightly,
"How goes your research?"
"Well, it's clear Vre'Hiaun built a massive library of the regional species," Suuk'o considered the screen projection before her, then stretched for the ceiling atop her stool, "though nothing you selected causes me pause, even when I see the silhouettes you modified"
"An artist does at times rely on his tools"
She gave the hovering disc a wiry glance, then gathered up the arrayed skim cards she had reviewed. Shuffling them into a stack, the fio'la put them into an organiser case. Vre'Hiaun had been overly protective of his collection, barely half his findings were on the hub core, so by default not on the habitat's core either. The extensive collection accessible by skims only.
"Did he cover any of these in his progress reports?" she pondered aloud.
"From what I scanned through, he wasn't forthcoming"
It was strange, but then, the fio'vre was likely compiling an ecosystem's worth of linked fauna to present a complete working model at some point; which never came, she considered darkly.
"Could you pass the other case near that old screen emitter?"
The vesa stayed in place.
"Sure," grunted Baku as he entered, "surprised you heard me"
The warrior gathered up the small container on passing the other lab bench, offering it to her when he got closer.
"Hi, thought you would comm me?" she smiled, clearly surprised as she rotated around on her stool to take it.
Suuk'o switched the containers and held the other in front of her vesa while the warrior rolled a stool underneath himself at the other end of the lab bench,
"Ended up nearby when I was done, figured I'd just come over" he made a small gesture, a sign of fate.
The soft hum of a simple manipulator field interrupted them, taking up the object in the fio's hand, the vesa hovering away to where her lightpen designated.
"Haven't tagged everything here yet?" Baku chuckled.
"I've been horizontal for four rotaa, out cold for three, in case you forgot. I'll spend some time assigning items for the vesa soon enough"
He smiled, picking up one of Vre'Hiaun's readers, not really taking in the content on screen,
"I liked him. Quiet, but dedicated. A lot of fio are talkative, mostly about the wrong things."
"You two got along?"
Nodding, he put the reader down, diminished somehow.
"Aun's grace.. first and only assigned team member I've lost under my care" he said with a guarded admission of regret.
"That dedication you mentioned, made him forget his surroundings Baku," she reminded him, "even as a new member to this mission even I can see that"
He nodded, sliding a hand forward over his scalp, as if closing an ancient helm,
"True, it happened and he was careless. Best you and I can do is honour him and possibly add an unknown species to his work"
Suuk'o saw the Shas'vre's emphatic comment seal over a half glimpsed sense of failure. Meanwhile she kindly nodded at his words politely, drawing attention to the screen projected in front of her when he finished,
"I've been looking at his research actually, even in silhouette, so far nothing stood out as a suspect"
"Not even a larger version of the crawler you tried to capture?"
"No, I tried an exaggerated model, it was similar but lacked the mass I saw"
Perplexed, Baku rolled himself closer,
"Can I see the recording?"
A few touches on the screen, she placed a skim card against the display and it populated with a still from the imager.
"My imager is probably not the grade your Shas are used to for night work"
"Clearly" he squinted as if to gain more detail, "there is still an appreciable night mode selector on your equipment though" he took pleasure in stating the obvious.
"Give me credit, I was excited"
He grunted at her sideways glance, concentrating when the footage settled down and auto focussed on the pair of the large crawlers working their way up the beach. Everything happened as he remembered, albeit from a different angle, but this time he definitely saw that Suuk'o was distracted, just before she flinched, dropping the container. Feeling her tension at seeing the incident again, the warrior gripped her arm lightly then let go as he leaned back,
"Mmm, certainly appears like you were shot. That crawler was intent on escape and a good tor'lek from you. The way the spine was orientated in your shoulder when the medi vesa removed it, certainly wasn't released from such a low angle"
"Quite, it was embedded almost upright. The real problem we have now is this. Let's say it was one of these molluscs or something of a similar ability, then it would have had to fire at you at range, toward a poorly illuminated target whilst suffering the effects of wave motion. It would require an evolutionary familiarity with a whole new kind of ballistics. Gas based atmospheres are quite different to fluid resistance underwater with regard the affect on a projectile's path when fired or released."
"As in a trajectory? Like this?"
Baku showed some professional surprise at what he saw appear from another file she selected among those drawn from the skim card.
"Mmm, if this was fired from beyond the breakers like you indicated here, it needs to be.. yes, pass through the azimuth referenced.." he looked at her, "Really, your workings are flawless, it would take me at least a rotaa to map the site with a few vesa to get this modelled. I was actually going to suggest that as an exercise next rotaa, before it got dark"
"Thanks, I've been busy" she smiled.
Baku looked at her, then the al'vesa hovering quietly above the container it had placed.
"Did that vesa record real time?" he tilted his head in the device's direction.
"Ah, yes. I just had to.."
"Impressive," he cut her off, "I have seen diligent fio vesa's before, but it was here in the lab the whole time you were unconscious you know? Working away of it's own volition" he began to consider the disc in a new light only he seemed to see.
"Are they issuing a new generation of support vesa for you fio'la lately?" he asked, getting up and wandering toward it.
"No, well yes. It was a project I inherited from a mentor"
The warrior eyed the small disc, it had a slight but elegant ellipse with deeply hued alloys.
"Reminds me, I'll have to list this one on the central hub for crises duty and general materiel manifest"
"Surely it would be too small?" she questioned his intent.
"I saw it hold down a creature twenty times it's mass, with just a manipulator field" he turned from his inspection, "speaking of which, it knew what to grab, yet you had no idea where the Crawler would come from. You didn't even mark it with a lightpen"
Suuk'o looked at the screen quickly,
"Simply uploaded an image and.."
"Really, a utility vesa? Just like that, despite being under the sand?" he suddenly tried to swot the floating device, it flicked aside just enough to avoid the blow.
Baku rounded on the vesa,
"Stay in position" he ordered.
He aimed another blow; it backed away just when tau expected to feel contact.
"Baku! Stop this! It's not designed-"
"Seems agile enough fio'la, this thing is full of surprises"
The Shas'vre collected up a field reader for another attempt just as Suuk'o lunged for his arm. He felt her grip, twisted out of it instinctively; the move resulted in her falling across the other bench and striking the floor with a startled yelp.
"Suuk'O!" realising his error he reached for her, but a pressure thumped his chest.
He staggered back from the phantom, only to see the vesa dart forward, squaring off between Suuk'o and him with precision. Before he considered the unnerving manoeuvre he was shunted backward, over the habitat's low table, crashing against the door frame.
"Please. Do not get up."
The voice, the tonality, even the menacing angle at which the edge of the vesa's disc glinted in his direction caused the warrior pause. Baku raised a hand in surrender.
"Sorral!" propping herself against the bench, Suuk'o appeared to command it by name.
The vesa relented, assuming a level attitude,
"Are you okay?" it enquired.
"Yes, just leave Baku alone"
The vesa hovered closer to the crumpled Shas'vre,
"My apologies, she is and always will be my priority"
The warrior felt a tug about his wrist, then pulled against the invisible resistance to haul himself up. Regarding the vesa cautiously, Baku looked at the fio'la nursing her side, but ultimately she couldn't hold his gaze,
"Don't lie to me again Suuk'o" he stated calmly.
She nodded solemnly, resuming her place at the screen. The Shas'vre moved slowly across the living space to the curved lab wall, pushing the table back into position as he passed, keeping an eye on the vesa while it rotated in relation to him.
They sat quietly for several raik'an. The Shas'vre watching the young fio'la pick at the edge of a skim card, head bowed, clearly embarrassed and upset over the sudden events, which made an honest disclosure, required listening for Baku.
"I'm good at games of patience you know" he finally broke the silence, a genuine smile reappearing.
She looked up toward the vesa hovering nearby,
"It really is my only secret here Baku"
The big tau leaned on the end of the bench,
"Quite a secret to inherit" he admitted honestly about her possession of such a vesa. The warrior was still uneasy over how capable it proved to be.
Suuk'o flicked another look at Sorral, then regarded Baku for a drawn out moment before finally speaking,
"A gifted Fio, my mentor, was given the honour of progenitor. Myself and several others were the result"
"You all have one of these?" Baku interjected, glancing at Sorral warily, incidentally assuring himself of the vesa's position.
"No, just me. The others are" she bit her lower lip and nearly snapped the skim card by curving it too far.
Baku made to console her but thought better of it with the vesa apparently on edge,
"It's okay, we're level over this. I just want to-"
"We were an experiment of his peers," she confessed abruptly, the admission causing the big shas'vre to pause "aimed at increasing our intuition and other aptitudes, nothing amazing, they only wanted to bring about a less sequential state of mind to a cutting edge future sciences team. What they got was, sub par"
Her eyes and nasal folds went taut,
"All my creche brothers and sisters went mad early in their lives and by the fourth tau'cyr I was the only one progressing in any measurable way. Even then, I find it hard to focus my attention before I leap onto a new distraction within a few decs. Sorral compiles my notes for me, keeps everything in order. In essence keeps me focussed, now and throughout my studies"
Leaning back, his face stoic, Baku quietly tried to accept what he was being told by this small, young fio.
"I'm pretty switched on to what's sloshing around up there when I do though" she forced a smile, unsure how he was taking her revelations.
"I have to say," Baku finally spoke, "I'm not sure if their idea fulfilled the ethos of the Greater Good, or our people Suuk'o"
She smiled at his nature, a warrior's perception of the what was honourable and right coming through,
"Nor did they in the end," she agreed with his insight.
Shifting slightly, she continued,
"My progen father died at his screen prematurely, little over a tau'cyr ago, having just completed his master work," she looked at the vesa like regarding a pict of times past, "Recently I have come to believe gifting me this vesa was an attempt to assuage his guilt for my condition and the fate of my siblings. Sorral has helped me get this far after my progen father could not, my little caretaker. Though I'm not surprised in the end I got sent somewhere, out of the way. The tutors and leading fio scientists who watched my progress through the research academy are a powerful group on Sa'cea, they don't like their failures to be known."
Baku's voice darkened slightly, in an effort not to be misunderstood,
"You are not in one of their biodomes any more. Their opinions and disagreeable ways stopped at the end of the pier when you arrived, remember that" he looked at the al'vesa hovering quietly nearby, "as for your vesa? I think 'caretaker' is the wrong description for, Sorral" he stumbled on the notion of naming a vesa.
She smiled slightly, her demeanour relaxing.
"Mmm," he grunted, observing her for a moment then rose up, "Let's go hunting"
"No but, hand in your report, I've a feeling it's exceptional" he looked at the disc, beginning to accept and understand it's role with her.
"I think it's passable" Sorral confessed.
"Settled then, I think some of those bite size crawlers I collected along the reef of that fourth island a few rotaa back would be good"
She saw that conniving gleam he had once spoken of,
"I should bring my survey kit shouldn't I?"
"Ahh, there's my sa'cea" he smiled lightly, "Meet me at Esau's work site in half a dec, we both need some fresh air. Well over half a rotaa left still"
Suuk'o nodded, and Baku made his way out with a wave. Rubbing her face, she calmed herself then grabbed the wet proof satchel and began gathering her gear.
"I think he's wary of me" Sorral commented.
"You tossed him across the habitat and into a doorframe, what do you expect?"
Ducking under the vesa she picked up a reader on the other bench while it rotated to follow her,
"True, I was actually aiming for outside, he's surprisingly big"
"At some point you're going to have to make it up too him" she warned.
Abruptly Suuk'o stopped fussing; survival vest on, filled satchel braced across herself with modfins in hand.
"Ready?" she questioned the vesa.
Drifting down, Sorral embedded into the belt clasp; rotating to lock in. Suuk'o forced herself to relax, to just move forward after the last few raik'an. She breathed in slowly, then stepped outside.---
Fob in hand after thanking Ui'Esau and Lais for their concern and relief at seeing her up and about, Suuk'o waded out toward Baku. The sun was rising higher now, the solar warmth and salt water refreshing her spirits with every raik'an, just as strongly as the acknowledgement by fellow team members returning from their early morning rounds. Each glad she appeared well on seeing her up and about, greeting Suuk'o while she had headed toward the quadrangle. Nearing the Wave Runners, Suuk'o watched the Shas'vre grunt in frustration while solving a packing puzzle with several awkwardly shaped cases.
"You actually going after bigger fish instead?" she ventured, enjoying the feeling of a smile after her demeanour earlier.
"Hrm?" he looked up, then at the objects bundled along the kickboard and within the bench seat storage, "Oh these? Just some fun tools a Shas gets to use while you Fio pick at rocks with yours"
Baku followed that with a grin, his gaze clearly happy she seemed better since their conversation.
"Or throw them at a smug Shas" she countered, whilst tossing her survey satchel into the second Runner's storage.
He was in fact quite relieved, her admission was obviously something the fio'la sought to keep private as much as those who intended to keep Suuk'o unknown. Seeing her get stuck in after such a tough conversation rose the fio'la up a level in his eyes. Suddenly he realised he might just have a breakthrough with his packing. Within a few moments Baku nestled everything away except an elongated sling case. This he placed over his back, tightening the strap about his torso.
Seeing Suuk'o patiently waiting atop her Wave Runner, Baku quickly mounted up and signalled to deactivate her commbead,
"Sa'cea, not a word about what's in here, otherwise I’ll tell everyone about your ves- I mean Sorral"
The mock threat, with an added wink, eased her concern. Even though she was sure his discretion was as engrained as his sense of honour.
"Agreed." she replied with a slight smile.
He nodded; double tapped his bead to active, then throttled forward. Picking up speed in the deeper water beyond the reef, their wake veered toward fourth island Suuk'o had explored a few rotaa before.---
"You sure this is the beach?" Baku queried a good dec later, rocking atop his idle Runner at the mercy of passing waves.
A water proof maglense held across her face, Suuk'o reviewed the sandy strip from beyond the reef line of the uninhabited island, an internal whirr emitting from the optics within enhancing whatever her eyes desired. The fio'la soon spied a formation of rocks which corroborated the accuracy of her memory.
"Yes, though we departed left of those rocks last time"
Baku squinted, then nodded. His Wave Runner already thrusting over the shallow reef head. They soon waded ashore after anchoring their Runners, the Shas'vre somehow hauling the entirety of his lovingly packed gear. Continuing to walk up the beach, Baku headed into the interior of the island. Before Suuk'o could follow, he indicated for her to stay. A few raik'an later he re-emerged to find her kneeling down, scribing on a field reader,
"Everything ok?" he questioned as he came closer.
"Oh yes, just noting the colour of the coral here. It's quite different to Al'shi."
"Best speak to Yu'Siln about that stuff, he's fawning over these sea twigs all the time"
Smiling at him, Suuk'o noticed he had returned with nothing but the long case across his back and a smaller rectangular hold all,
He motioned for her not to worry, all the while twisting the elongated case off his back and unpacking it on the beach, revealing a tripod system. Taking a boxy recorder from the other, he put it atop the legs. Suuk'o then realised he had brought along an imaging sentinel. Boring three holes in the upper part of the beach, Baku worked the splayed tripod into the deeper sand and adjusted the sensor face to look down the beach.
"If this works, they shouldn't be upset seeing one of these. We used them before all over these islands"
"First study of the big crawlers?"
He nodded, then produced a small packet from one of his wetbelt pockets. After opening it, Baku sat down next to her, offering Suuk'o a pick at the wafers within.
"Sweet" she gave a pleased appraisal after finishing one.
"Very, this particular fruit comes from an equatorial island, they all seem to have evolved differing nuances in isolation, based on latitude and regional climate, but yet they all remain under the same genus"
She recoiled from him slightly,
"You sound like me"
He laughed dismissively.
"Just a cook who likes to know why his ingredients taste the way they do. Like a hunter knowing where his prey will graze"
"Okay, it was something Vre'Hiaun pointed out to me. One of the agriculturalists, I think Vre'Faai'lun had mentioned it early on and it grabbed Hiaun's interest. I used to accompany him when his studies took him here and there, collecting the fruit. I enjoyed those trips, you two share similar qualities actually"
He smiled while regarding her, a bit flattered at the admission she turned away. The warrior looked back out over the breakers, quietly finishing another fruit wafer. A little later, he offered her the open end of the packet but she declined another.
"Oops" Baku flashed a comically horrified look, tipping the contents in theatrical mishap, "let's see if they like my wafers here" he explained himself.
Getting up he led her into the denser fronds and bushes of the island, until they found a non-descript site he had obviously cleared during his absence. Two soft ground covers and a small gathering of field screens sat either side of a dome shaped emitter.
"Lie down on that one, close your eyes when I say so" he warned her.
They lay down on their stomachs, facing the screens set up to one end.
"Okay, now" Baku announced.
A slight static buzz, then every movement and sound about them had a slight echo to it,
"My favourite" he smiled as she opened her eyes to look upon a coalescing energy dome about them.
"We have these Baku" the fio'la muttered clearly unimpressed. Mobile hide emitters were common place.
"Mmm, but we could stage a war in here and no one would know," he activated the screen before him, "or activate your gear, not mention knock you back if you ran into it"
Suuk'o paused, not quite sure how to belittle those enhancements, a common variant only disguised optical and thermal wavelengths.
"Okay, it is pretty clever"
The Shas'vre nodded as if hearing the correct answer, though his eyes were on the activated screen floating before him. Suuk'o activated hers and discovered military grade spectral and thermal ranges fluctuating across the beach and amidst the breakers. That was more than just an imager atop the tripod on the beach.
"Not a word" the big tau reminded Suuk'o.
After a dec of inactivity, the patient pair quickly became bored, resorting to taking turns pushing leaves and shell fragments through the field. Observing how far they could be ejected by the energies closing behind the offending object. It took some practice to get right, allow too much mass outside and the event horizon snatched the piece away unceremoniously. Just enough and one could control the point at which you let the energy field take a hold and catapult the offending object away. Suuk'o got some good distance with a mollusc shell, much to Baku's frustration as he attempted to best it from then on. After awhile they ran out of munitions within the field. The rotaa dragged on further without so much as an insect bothering the sun baked wafers. With only a dec and a half to go before Li'Por's first rotaa ended, Baku grunted, signalling they had to go. Suuk'o had fallen asleep in that time, so he nudged her while reaching around to deactivate the hide.
"We have to head back Sa'cea" he admitted, his disappointment matching her expression.
"Are you going to leave this here?" she asked while stretching out.
Baku nodded, rising to one knee and looking about.
"Okay, lets go" he said, reactivating the field with a remote, "I've left the set up on record, we can come back the rotaa after next"
She nodded quietly and moved on ahead.
They moved out onto the beach cautiously at first, half expecting their quarry to be frozen still. Eye stalks looking back at them in surprise, with mandibles and claws stuffed with fruity wafers. It was not to be. However, wading out to the Wave Runners in the cool water cheered their overall frustrated disappointment. The tide had risen slightly, but nothing that required their modfins to activate. Once outside the reef head, Baku went about kitting up like before, grinned then dove backward off the Runner's nose. He left Suuk'o alone, maglense affixed to her face watching the beach behind them.
"Did you see anything?" she asked Sorral, who had been quiet as usual.
"No, as I have said-"
"the bio-density, okay okay" she answered herself somewhat annoyed.
A small bleat and the disc rotated.
"Though your friend Baku is discovering there's not much to find below us"
Suuk'o paused, lowering the maglense.
"Is he okay?"
"Mmm, though his heart rate suggests he's annoyed"
"Hungry you mean"
"That too I imagine" Sorral rotated in it's clasp, "he's swimming further south around the shelf"
Suuk'o nodded, manoeuvring her craft closer to Baku's, she tethered it with a tow cord and piloted both in pursuit of the Shas'vre below.
Kicking hard Baku rounded a big coral head, the carefully crafted lens plates of his mask offering him an undistorted view ahead without the usual refraction effects. The soft cyan glow of his blood oxygen monitor, misted to the lower left of his vision, was gaining a deeper hue. He knew through experience he had another fifteen or so raik'an of recycled air with the simple rebreather filter that was nestled along his nasal fold, splitting the full face mask down the middle to also cover his mouth. He grunted in his throat on spying the small splayed out crawlers he had stunned a few rotaa back. They were some way down the lower part of this shelf, a bit deeper than he preferred to go, grazing on outgrowths of sea moss. Not one to let down the team, he strove onward. A couple of raik'an later he flared up the sand that had built up on the lower ledge with his modfins, one side deep ocean the other an upward thrusting mass of reef. Looking up along it, he could just make out the silhouettes of two Wave Runner hulls, striations of light flickering about them from the first rotaa's mid cycle sun above.
He almost snorted the mask off when he looked back toward the roaming mass of crawlers. They were now fleeing through an open section of coral, deep into a reef cave. But that wasn't what surprised the tau warrior. Chasing them were a group of the large upwardly elongated crawlers, even bigger than the one he had seen Suuk'o try to trap. They had ample chance to snatch up and devour the lesser crustaceans, but actively sought to out flank and guide the mass of creatures down the cave mouth. They were herding them. Baku blinked in his amazement, floating off the shelf while he observed the behaviour. Suddenly one of the group turned about waving it's fore legs in an agitated fashion out toward the deep water, the rest paused, then suddenly ushered the herded mass onwards with urgency. Baku even heard strong clicks above the usual underwater din as they increased their efforts. Only when he saw what the crawler had gotten excited about, did he understand.
Suuk'o kept her vigil on the beach, but without the maglense, having stowed them a while ago. Baku was still under, longer than before, however Sorral kept her appraised.
"He's coming up now Suuk'o, ..awfully fast though"
The fio'la got a start at the sudden update.
"Baku, he's.. Oh."
"Rule four" Sorral quoted.
Baku's Wave Runner thrummed into life just as the Shas'vre burst into sight ahead of them, a frothing circle of water bubbled about his surfacing. A sure sign he had activated the modfin compressed air thrusters, an emergency single charge speciality. The unmanned Wave Runner surged toward him, without hesitation the warrior grasped the passing kickboard edge and hauled himself aboard the self possessed craft. When he sat up, it was clear he was surprised no one was at the controls. Finally he realised the fio'la was opposite on her own, already shouting at him to grab the handles. The burly tau took control and vaulted the craft onto it's aquablade fins, accelerating away in a wide turn out to the open ocean alongside Suuk'o. Just short of the point at which they had accelerated away, the sun gleamed off a sleek skinned mass arcing through their Wave Runner wake, two dorsal fins slicing back into the water, the first larger than the last. The massive predator returned into the depths, denied.
A few hundred tor'lek later, suitably calmed down, the tau explorers eased back on the controls and the Wave Runners settled into the water up to their kickboards.
"You okay?" Suuk'o questioned, stammering slightly from her natural rush of flight.
The warrior nodded, taking his mask off. He pressed a hand over his nasal fold, swallowing a couple of times, then rolled his jaw slightly to ease a slight reverse pressure in his ears from the rapid ascent. Afterward Baku looked at her with watery eyes, then laughed.
The fio'la wanted to throw something at him, but his relieved laugh was infectious.
"Remind him we're square now"
Suuk'o patted the vesa on her hip and smiled at Baku as they floated closer.
"Whats for the between rotaa meal now?"
"Well not me any more, thank Aun" Baku grinned, putting the mask back under the benchseat, "I'll have to get something about Al'Shi, lost my stun prod and mesh net back there" he didn't explain further, that conversation he would have in private with the fio'la later.
She nodded, orientating the Runner in the direction shown on the Navscreen. Still somewhat giddy from the sudden danger filled excitement, she wondered how Baku had seemingly shrugged it off already.
A quick nod at each other, they headed for Al'Shi.---