May 8-12, m00039
Over the next few days, the team return to routine work as
Liapchev recovers in hospital. The team check his progress periodically; Florence. who knows something about tradition, considers taking him grapes, but given the cost, ends up taking a bio-engineered Martian product that grows on a cactus and resembles a kiwis fruit. Talking to him confirms that he is (or sees himself as) an adventurer out of his time. He spends some time chatting with Florence about places they've been, as their wanderings around the Solar System have covered some of the same territory.
He mentions, as advanced medicine completes its work, that he would like to go climbing on the upper Marineris-Noctis Labyrinthus cliffs, and both Florence and Charles find this interesting, and declare that they'll join him. Vajra, curious about such activities, decides to come along in a rented spider-shell, and Jianwei decides to come on the trip to keep the team together - although he says that he'll only drive the rover and watch the others. This is technically off-duty activity, but Ambassador Schmidt doesn't mind at all when she hears about it - she thinks that it might serve as the basis for a bit of good public relations work.
May 9, m0039
And so the group take a monorail to the (relatively) old Chinese town of Guxiang, where they rent a rover, and head south to Ge'gyai, a town at the centre of the developing Chinese agricultural system. There, they sample the new local wines briefly before driving on up narrow canyons with greenery. By the end of the day, Florence, Charles, and Liapchev are climbing happily while Vajra discourses on weird organic concepts of "fun". Back at their camp, Jianwei cooks an indifferent meal - but at least he is able to suggest an interesting climb for the next day from his observation of the cliffs.
Over dinner, perhaps now that they are less likely to be under significant surveillance, Liapchev tells a story regarding his commercial slink-logging work. His publishers are a Peruvian enterprise, and it seems that they very subtly but carefully edited his work. Curious, Jianwei asks for sight of "before" and "after" versions of the slog, and confirms this looks like deliberate memetic tinkering - the aim seems to be to promote ideals of Martian cultural diversity, with a little subtle Free Mars attitude thrown in for good measure. He pulls more from the same publisher off the Web to review the next day.
May 10, m0039
The others take up Jianwei's suggestion for cliffs to tackle next. Florence, confident as ever, takes the most difficult route, but manages fine, indeed thanking Jianwei for
finding such a good climb. She and Liapchev both slog this. She then becomes
wildly overconfident on the way back down; she manages the climb, but her
psychiatrists will be having words later. Also, she left her filter mask off, and so despite the peculiar persistent mediocrity of Jianwei's cooking (even on a hasty second attempt), she devours all the food that is put in front of her. Meanwhile, Jianwei has been wading through masses of slogs, but is uncertain of his conclusions.
May 11, m0039
Through careless observation, Jianwei suggests an over-tough climb the next day. Fortunately, Charles demonstrates his keen eye for Martian scenery, and warns them of its problems. The group quickly locates an easier climb across the valley, and even Jianwei is persuaded to join them.
On getting back to the rover with its long-range communications capability, the team (and also Liapchev) receive an invitation from Mahmud as-Sulaymi, relayed to them by the embassy. He is giving a small party off in the wilderness to mark some local event or another - he's vague on the subject. This looks like a good chance to cultivate some contacts. So the team transmit an acceptance and start planning.
With some thought, social skills, and Florence's keen fashion sense, they choose a wardrobe. The humans in the party go for robes, while Vajra extends the hire period on the spider-shell, which should rate as tactfully non-humanoid in Muslim company, paying a small surcharge for it to be given a temporary metallic paint job on the way. Liapchev will join them; the Embassy protocol AIs note flatly that, while Danteng might monitor the event, Woju's presence would not be a good idea.
May 12-14, m0039
Two days of travel return the group to Guxiang, from where they can take an overnight monorail. Florence's video records go to her psychologists over a fast comms link, while the party gets package of clothes from Quentin. A rented hopper is waiting for them at the monorail stop in the morning. They change clothes at the airfield, and head south to the party location.
As they approach, Charles looks down and comments that he can see some really interesting geology - he's unsure about the quality of the soil hereabouts. They should land on the field marked out by as-Sulaymi, and not anywhere else, he says. They do so, spruce up before disembarking, and are politely and slightly effusively greeted by their host. They note that his bioroid camels are tethered off at a distance.
Charles wanders off to chat with Hassan, but the rest of the team get talking to various unfamiliar Saudis. Vajra gets a strong sense of politics once again here - this is obviously an event for that radical/progressive faction in Saudi society. Some of them are visibly unsure about Florence the exotic bioroid, who would have severe problems in terrestrial Caliphate areas, but they are all conspicuously polite.
At sunset, Mahmud claps politely for attention, and clears his throat to speak - and at that point, some of the insolation mirrors visible in the sky above turn to focus full daylight and more on the location. The team quickly realise what is happening; this action will trigger melting of a local aquifer. (Landing on the wrong spot would have left the hopper in a distinctly unhealthy position, especially at this point in time.) The plan - part of the whole great terraforming process - turns out to be to start liquid flows to what will eventually become a river comples downhill to the south. Mahmud doesn't claim full credit for this operation, but it is all part of his domain of interest, and he performed some of the related survey work. Getting his pictures on the Web in association with this will reflect well on him and his political faction - and having European representatives around at the time will also add effect.
Jianwei recognises this, becomes somewhat distracted, and hastily files a short report with embassy - "We've found the hook inside the bait".
Florence, meanwhile, goes off with the women to their private tent, and ends up dancing quite a lot. She does make one error, by mentioning sensory uplinks, which are not a respectable topic among any sort of good Muslims... She also notes that most but not all of the women have Andraste biomods - come to think of it, the same probably goes for the menfolk.
Vajra, taking a detached view of all this socialising, fires off a message to Danteng - a request that the AI sociologist should check the semiotics of this set-up for Peruvian elements.
Also, both Jianwei and Vajra note another encampment across the valley. It seems, when they mention this to their host, that a rival faction may be on the scene, observing events.