May 14, m0039, continued
When the party breaks up for the night, the team find that a tent has been provided for them. They also find that Charles has sampling an odd brainbug of some kind while hanging out with the other younger guests; it's certified safe, but he will be inactive for a while.
As the humans and bioroid settle down to sleep, Vajra links to the high-bandwidth long-range comms systems on the team's hopper, and talks to Danteng; together, they run a preliminary analysis of the memetics of this situation. Danteng assesses the context, while Vajra burrows into the memetic loading. Their preliminary conclusion is that there is no blatant TSA involvement here, but the situation may favour whatever "Quipu" is trying to do.
This analysis takes a little while, and shortly after the two AIs have finished compiling their conclusions, Samadhi picks up a digital distress screech from the now-muddy area where the aquifer is welling up. Unfortunately, there are no camera views of the point of origin available, from either the hopper or available orbital systems. So Vajra alerts his organic colleagues. Florence wakes up and, deciding that things don't appear overly urgent, starts dressing in shirt, trousers, and boots. But then, Aunty gets contact with the NAI which transmitted the alert, and that mentions that its owner has lost air mask integrity. So Jianwei calls panic, then loads a survival skill set to Aunty for advice. It says not to panic.
The team board their hopper and take off, reckoning that a rescue from the air is likely to be the best option. (They are still well ahead of any of their hosts, who know about the distress call but who are evidently unaccustomed to providing fast emergency response.) They then find their target quickly enough, although it - he - isn't emitting quite as much IR as they might have expected; a human being largely submerged in the new quicksand, and struggling to stay safely afloat.
They quickly form a plan, which involves Florence remaining at the controls of the hopper, while the others use the winch with which it is fortunately fitted to lower Vajra's rented spider shell to extract the victim from the silty mud. As it turns out, Florence flies fairly well, but Vajra bounces about rather too much. At Jianwei's prompting, Aunty loads up a basic Physics skill set and runs a quick frequency analysis on the cable, enabling the team to improve their timing. Jianwei coordinates the approach, lowering Vajra into the mud as they go; the idea is now that Vajra will "swim", with the cable providing effective bouyancy.
In fact, Florence's piloting continues smooth but Vajra continues to have trouble, Eventually, though, he gets a grip on the victim, who is panicking, but ineffectually. The team start lifting; once Florence has enough control of the situation, she uses the hopper's thrust to complete the job, as Jianwei calms the man over his radio.
They get him aboard, and Jianwei tries but initially fails to provide effective first aid; the victim his inhaled some very dangerous Martian silt. However, Aunty talks him through immediate remedial treatment while the team are flying back to the camp. There, Mahmud provides access to a useful emergency life support machine which helps a great deal. Once the patient is more stable and not in immediate danger, the team get him back onto their hopper for a trip to the hospital in As Sulaymi. Vajra's flying surveillance swarm is left sniffing round the desert for more information.
Vajra also uses a crawler swarm to search the man's clothes, quietly, during the flight, while by a lucky exercise in computer intrusion, Dougal gets into some logs on his (very) low-end personal AI. Together, they reconstruct more of what he was doing. His name is Khalid ibn-Muqla, and to judge by his camouflage-appropriate clothing, the surveillance gear he was carrying, and the risky but secretive path he was attempting to take this evening, he was definitely seeking to spy on the progressive Saudi group.
The team decide not to say too much about any of this, to avoid giving any signs of taking sides. Once Khalid is in hospital, Jianwei checks into a local hotel so he can catch up on sleep, while Florence stays on the hopper to guard it and ensure herself plenty of sleep time.
May 15, m0039
The next morning, the team check in on the patient, who is now coming along okay. They send a message to his friends to say as much, then fly back to Mahmud's encampment for breakfast. Mahmud seems to be taking it as read that the man was spying, but he is formally polite when visitors from the other camp show up after breakfast. Still, he doesn't argue when Florence wants to meet them. They are barely formal to her.
Vajra subsequently sweeps the camp, but finds no signs of bugs.
The team stay around for a few more hours to watch a bit more of the aquifer seething up, then head home, dropping off first the hopper, then the rented spider on the way.
On the way back, Vajra gets badly lost in memetic research. However, Danteng is watching the news streams, and picks up releases regarding the rescue; the team set to work determining the nature of any editing and memetic loading that's been applied to these - and it looks like there's been some. While they are busy on this, in fact, a call comes in for Florence from someone who identifies herself as "Darling Dobermann", and who wants to say thanks for a leak of information on this story that she assumes came from the team.
So they analyse what she's received, and recognise some distinct if subtle slanting. They warn "Darling Dobermann" of this, and her response is a virulent "bastardsbastardsbastards..." She declares that she'll stay out of this business; she resents being manipulated, and can't tackle the story further without that becoming a dictinct risk.
The team also assess the public response. It looks like the Saudi progressive/conservative divide is being noted. In general, public sympathy inclines, predictably, towards the progressives, though there is lots of noise among all the opinions.
Once they are settled back in town, Florence has an appointment for psychomedical assessment in the embassy. The others chat with Ambassador Schmidt, going over events. Eventually, they spot the signs of what they've come to think of as "Peruvian" memetics in all this - and as they burrow into the data, Vajra starts getting what he describes as "null pointer" errors in his memory. Unfortunately, there also seems to be a distinct and probably deliberate attempt to draw the EU into the memetic/political conflict here, pushing them into an unwanted position as active allies of the Saudi progressives. The team decide to attempt a counter-campaign to preserve their neutral standing as best they can.
May 16-23, m0039
This is a full-scale, though modest, counter-memetic operation. They take some days just to analyse the problem in detail, then as many again to execute their counter-attack, using embassy press statements, carefully edited releases of imagery from the rescue operation, and so on. By the end, Jianwei and Danteng estimate that they have achieved 9% population penetration with the "Neutral EU" meme - enough to sow doubt about European complicity. Meanwhile, Florence is back to chauffeur work, and Charles finds himself doing a mandatory course on dangers of brainbugs.