We were more than a little cautious with Jaideep. He seemed friendly, but his suit was packing some pretty serious firepower: he just shredded a decade old Basilisk, probably 500 kg, within seconds. Unnecessarily, I might add. For those of us here on Jefferson, that was a real booboo in earning our trust.
He really didn't see the problem though. Which was interesting. Maybe other countries treat their worlds differently. It's not something I'd ever thought about, really. I had America and Jefferson to think of and, frankly, honestly, Shadwell was really my world. Even with all the news flowing in like a river from Earth and America's interstellar colonies, even with the neural links and perfect Immies, Shadwell and its environs were the limit of what we worried about. And, yes, that included its environment and nature and animals. The killing of the Basilisk really did rub us the wrong way.
While Jaideep seemed friendly enough, his companion did not at all. He or she refused to remove his/her helmet. And refused to talk with us at all. Whoever he or she was, just wasn't buying we were worth talking to, never mind, saving. As if we really needed saving.
And, no, you couldn't make out whether the person inside that battle armor was a man or woman or even a robot. They don't come with labels and they don't have pink bows on the helmets for girls.
We probably knew these woods better than they did by a LOT. Their dead friend was a testament to that fact. Jefferson was a beautiful and wonderful place that might just kill you if you were not careful. As they now knew.
Even so, I had to wonder, why would Jaideep even consider "saving" us? We were kids. He was on some sort of mission. He was here at risk of his life. Why even bother with us when it would blow his cover? Something didn't make sense.
I thought I wanted to try to make it make sense. Veena and Rosa were right there with me it seemed. Tom and Jackie were probably as well, but Tom was watching Jaideep's companion a lot and Jackie kept watching to see if there was a way out for us. They were being useful and so, the other three of us thought we might better be, too.
We introduced ourselves and offered to share our food. Jaideep seemed thrilled, way more so than he ought. He might have been on field rations for however long he'd been on-world. Rosa had some beef jerky, which he politely turned down, and Veena had some protein bars and some crisped vegetables. Jaideep scarfed and his companion snarked something in Hindi.
Veena was a very smart girl. She even spoke some Hindi. She also knew better than to let Sergeant Helmet know she knew. I could almost hear her taking notes. The funny part was, I could speak Hindi...or at least have it translated for me by my booster. Alas, my booster was disconnected because of that freakin cockatrice and then my other, clean booster I hadn't connected. And now Jaideep had his helmet off, we were recording and understanding. Even so, even with the best machines, people seemed to still trust their own understandings better when another language was concerned and Veena knew Hindi. At least enough. And she'd be able to pull apart some of the nuances.
Helmet still refused to remove. Even with the offers of food. Very annoying.
We were all sitting down and talking. Jaideep was from Earth. Helmet wouldn't say. Yes, his friend , the corpse we found, had his helmet damaged when they were approaching Shadwell and had to leave it. Yes, the critters got him. They had been forced to abandon Fernando at the Church complex. Jaideep and Helmet were headed over to retrieve the body when they saw us about to be eaten - no, we weren't! - and Jaideep intervened. Helmet was still sore over that.
Actually, according to Jaideep, they were going to Shadwell to turn themselves in. They were on a ship that jumped in system at one of the shadow jump points. They were fleeing an enemy and wanted to seek asylum on Jefferson when their ship was damaged by the very meteor storm we watched on Constitution Rock. Their ship tore apart during the reentry and only the three of them had survived.
Interesting, I thought, but something seemed off.
Rosa asked why they didn't just proceed on to Shadwell when their friend's helmet had been compromised? After all, she said, it would have been safer. Jaideep said it was complicated and they were surprised by the situation. They might have made a mistake, but it was a cautious one.
I then flatly asked: "Why was his helmet damaged?"
Jaideep looked taken aback and was about to say something when Helmet - I ought to have picked a better moniker for that person! - growled. Jaideep demurred and stated it was an unfortunate incident and didn't elaborate.
That's when I absolutely knew, not just suspected, there was more here than what he was telling. I also knew I didn't exactly trust these two. Leaving out crucial details tends to do that.
Veena pointedly asked why Helmet refused to take it off. Helmet retorted that someone had to keep a watch while they were fraternizing with local kids and, more importantly, Helmet didn't WANT to take it off. Helmet had seen what the Jefflife could do to someone and thank you very much and have a nice day, no freakin thanks.
We talked for some time and would have continued. It was mostly small talk. What about this animal? Were we all born here? Jaideep was from Mumbai. Helmet remained mum. etc.
Part way along, Tom nodded at Helmet's boot and I realized the problem immediately: their boots on their battle armor in no way matched what we saw in Rosa's video. My eyes widened, a bit too blatantly, but there was no helping it. Jaideep noticed and was about to comment through a grimacing frown that had appeared on his face when Helmet's head whipped around and said a word that didn't need translation for us to get it.
And its implications were even MORE worrisome.