We haven't checked in with Simon's point of view in a while...
"Doctor Sandrisson!" Relgof Nov'ne Knarph strode from one of the shining metal and glass doors opening from the immense silver-and-marble appearing lobby of the Embassy of the Analytic and embraced Simon, to the human scientist's momentary surprise. He returned the hug, however. Either they have similar gestures, or he has carefully studied ours and knows that to adopt them will make him seem closer to us.
Not that he really needs to do that, Simon thought, stepping back and smiling. "Researcher Relgof, it is a pleasure," he said. The Analytic was one of two factions that supported us throughout our first trip – and the only one that did so without any argument or prompting.
"As always, as always," rejoined the tall, humanoid creature with its beard-like filter and crest of pure white feathery stuff that always looked to Simon like a sweep of white hair that seemed ready to fall over one great eye in dramatic fashion. "But no more of the formalities, my friend Simon. I am glad to see you have returned, and that in hours only after the return you have chosen to come here."
"Thank you, Relgof," said Simon. "Although I cannot pretend it is merely a social visit."
"Of course – and in truth, I would be disappointed if it were! You have so much to learn, as do we, and to waste that time merely on formalities? So tell me, what brings you to the Analytic so swiftly?"
"The Sky Gates."
Relgof inclined his head like a bird studying a nearby object. "Oh, naturally. You have a Sphere, you have your Inner and Outer Gateways, you can now use the Straits, yet where shall you then go? Immense possibility lies beyond the unknown Gates in the Sky; of course you must find them immediately."
Simon nodded. "And it seems obvious to me that the Analytic must know the best ways to locate such Sky Gates."
"There have been many methods developed indeed, and we know them all – or, at least, so we believe. It is always possible that someone has, or shall have, devised a new method." Relgof's filter-beard flip-flopped in a pensive fashion. "Yet – as I am sure you understand, Simon – this is valuable knowledge, and while I hope you recognize our prior generosity towards your faction, this is not something which may be simply given away. Even gaining access to the records of the Analytic is something usually reserved for full members of this Faction."
He suddenly stiffened, a wading-bird spotting a possible meal. "Now, if you have come to join the Analytic --!"
Simon laughed and shook his head. "No, no, I cannot leave my friends like that – certainly not for some long time yet, anyway."
"A shame, my friend. But then might I expect you have been given some authority and resources to negotiate, or were you hoping to impose upon my goodwill for this information?"
"The latter would certainly be preferable," Simon said dryly, "but I think we've relied upon your goodwill – and that of the Analytic – quite sufficiently for now. Yes, I'm authorized to negotiate, and we've brought a few things I think may be worth negotiating for." He looked sideways at Relgof. "If, of course, you are empowered to negotiate with me?"
The laugh from Relgof was a hearty one, with a faint whistling, chirping undertone that probably came from the actual sound of the Wagamia's laugh. "The Convocation elected me Head Researcher for this period, so indeed I am so empowered, Simon." He gestured for Simon to follow. "Let us go inside, then, for other guests," he indicated the far doors to the outside, which had just opened to admit a pair of three-horned creatures, "have no need or right to observe what we bargain with, or for."
The small meeting room Relgof led him to was … interesting. Until now, we'd only seen him in public areas – even when I visited before, I was only shown to obviously "general public" regions, with information which was available to any inhabitant of the Arena. Relgof's chair had a bowl-shaped depression in the table before it, with a stream of water running through it from a channel that was cut into the table for a short distance before going somewhere inside. The water obviously drained down through one of the table supports; the room itself smelled of an ocean, with strange spicy notes to the scent that hinted of alien seas. There were other peculiar arrangements in front of other chairs, while still other chairs – such as the one Simon selected – faced flat, smooth sections of table.
"Would you like something to eat or drink, Simon?" Relgof asked.
"Yes, please – I presume you've seen to the safety of such things. I see you have your own already to hand… or mouth, as the case may be."
"There are advantages to being a Researcher of standing, yes." Relgof gestured and the wall near him opened, revealing a surprising array of bottles, vials, and packages of various sizes and colors. "Hmm… ah, here, I believe this should be satisfactory."
Simon could see markings on the bottle, one of them a stylized human figure with lettering underneath. "Water with human-compatible flavorings. Your Laila Canning said this was quite pleasant."
Simon took a cautious sip. Definitely flavored… something vaguely like lemon. Not my favorite taste, but certainly quite drinkable. "Thank you."
"My pleasure." They took their seats, Simon finding that it was becoming easier, with practice, to do that despite the sword on his hip. DuQuesne insists we be armed, and I can't entirely blame him.
"Now," Relgof said, "I already know what you want from the Analytic. What might you be willing to offer us that we do not already have?"
"That was something of an interesting question," Simon admitted. "Of course what you want – besides one of us as a member of the Analytic – is information on Humanity. At the same time, the more people we give that to, the less valuable it becomes, so we must be cautious."
Simon thought back over his many prior interactions with the Analytic scientist and decided to play a hunch. "But it also occurred to me, Rel, that in our conversations you have always seemed… well, enthusiastic in your interest in the specifics of people and things. That is, that an individual thing is itself of interest to you, even if you know much about that general type of thing. So I wondered… might you also be a collector? One of those who likes to gather true, authentic collectibles?"
Relgof was in the midst of filtering some delicacy from the water, but his beard went momentarily slack and the plankton dissipated into the water before he recovered and took what remained. "Hmph. Simon, you surely are one of us no matter your allegiance. I am a collector of various things, yes."
"And as you are a great scientist, one of the best Researchers of the Analytic, I thought those things would be scientific things." Simon reached into the bag at his side. "Something, perhaps, like this."
On the table he placed an old, old book – one that Gabrielle had found for him once he realized what she was up to. "Let me offer you this, Relgof. Both a unique, unduplicated, original artifact of Earth… and one that reveals something that I think you will find both personally and professionally interesting."
Relgof wiped his filter clean and leaned forward, reaching out a hand to reverently touch the book's cover gently. "A… collection of records?"
"A book from our past – from before the era of electronic reading."
Relgof squinted at the symbols. "Hmm. Translation for your writings has not truly begun, yet. We do not understand you enough for that, I suppose. What is this book about?"
"Do you remember our first conversation, as we traveled to Orphan's Embassy?"
Relgof laughed. "It would be hard to forget it! My first meeting with a First Emergent – and one of them the inventor of the Sandrisson Drive." As always, the words "Sandrisson Drive" were overlaid with dozens of other phrases and names.
Simon still felt slightly embarrassed by that being made such a big deal, but he went on. "Yes, exactly. You were very much interested in the specific research paths that took us to the invention of the drive." He touched the book and ran his finger along the title. "So… How Science Grew is a book for adolescent children, that covers the development of scientific knowledge on our world from its pre-history all the way through roughly the early twentieth century – a few hundred years ago. It lacks much context for you; it won't explain events or references that assume you are a human, that you are a part of a particular culture; and it gives you no idea of how our technology has advanced since that time."
"And yet," Relgof said, with an unmistakable longing in his pose as he touched the book again, "vastly more about your people – how they thought, how they found their way through the confusion and distractions of the real world to find the truths behind them – than anyone else has or could possibly have at this time." He bowed. "A very strong offering – except that I cannot read it. And – as you may have discovered – mere recordings of speech made by another species are not comprehensible unless you have some knowledge of their language to begin with."
Simon grinned. "But what if I, or another human, were to read it to you?"
"You understand the Arena's tricks already, I see. Yes, in that case our recording devices would record what we hear, because it is being read by a conscious mind whose meaning provides the translation; we understand what we are hearing, and thus the translation will be recorded." Relgof leaned back. "A… very good offer, Simon. I confess to being entirely impressed by your understanding of my personality as well as the Analytic's interests. You strike to my own heart as well as that of the Analytic." He laughed. "A true Researcher indeed! You observed, you deduced, you hypothesized, and here you have put your hypothesis to the test and it has proven well-founded."
"Is this sufficient, then?"
"Hmm. It is certainly enough to move some distance forward on. I must consult with at least a reasonable number of the Conclave… but I believe that, at the least, we shall be able to give you access to some portion of that Analytic's records – a relevant portion, of course, to your inquiries."
"Thank you, Rel! When do you think –"
"This very evening I shall call for responses; I would expect… a day or two."
"That will be fine," Simon said, and rose. "I suppose I should let you –"
"Oh, don't start running off now, Simon!" Relgof said. "Come, we may not be able to discuss more of your science or our secrets, but there's plenty of gossip to catch up on since you've been gone – some of it might even interest you." The glance he gave Simon sent a jolt through the white-haired scientist. It looked… mischevious?
"Really?" He sat down slowly.
"Oh, indeed. Various things about the Shadeweavers, the Vengeance, several of the other factions – oh, you have sent great turbulence through the waves, I assure you, and things are not settling out any time soon; one hears the most amazing things at times. Why," and the gaze was now definitely on the devilish side, "I have even heard a rumor about a new human in the Arena…"
Simon let himself settle deeply into the chair. I have a feeling… I may be here a while.