Ennet sighed and looked to Grescin. Janny looked back and forth between the two of them and waited for someone to say something.
“I must heat up the ship,” Ennet said. He put his fingertips to his forehead, causing slight indentations in the skin. “Can you… operate with this?”
“Indeed,” Grescin said, rolling her eyes. “Come with, Janny. Let’s go for some food.”
The door, which was the same one Janny had come through from the Endoleon ship’s cockpit, slid slowly down. Ennet’s finger kept tapping on the screen, but the rhythm was so regular that Janny figured he was particularly impatient for the door to open rather than actually doing anything with the touch controls. Finally, they were able to step out onto the wooden platform.
They were level with the opening they’d flown through, and only a few metres away along the wall. That opening was now sealed, with some wooden shutters having unfolded from above, which were now hanging down across the cave mouth like a curtain.
“The craft doesn’t enjoy accelerating upwards,” Grescin explained, leading him towards a slightly rickety wooden staircase. “So we built this platform we could land on.”
“Fair enough,” Janny said, focusing on making sure his hands were firmly gripping the railing.
Grescin seemed happy enough on the steps, craning around to make eye contact with him. “So, the SRA means Scentian Alliance.” Except, there was a word in between ‘Scentian’ and ‘Alliance’ that Janny didn’t recognise.
“What was that?” he asked.
Grescin repeated the word, but he still wasn’t getting it. The closest he could think was the word ‘Fihol’, which was a kind of fish in northern Fladaer.
“In any instance, the reply to your other query is indeed, we will be returning you home,” Grescin said as they reached the cave floor. It was surprisingly even, and as Janny looked down he realised that the stone was slightly glossier than he’d have expected, as if it had been covered in varnish of flattening.
“That’s nice of you,” Janny said, looking back up at Grescin.
Grescin shrugged, leading him towards the middle of the cave, where a knee-high stove had a black pot balanced carefully on it. She said, “I might not call it understanding to Ennet. He could believe you are calling him soft.”
“Oh, okay,” Janny said, noticing a few tins arranged around the base of the stove.
Grescin chuckled. “I’m only joking. It’s only that the centre motivation is likely to preserve these.” She picked up the nearest tin and showed him the little picture of a bean with some googly eyes on the front.
“Ah! Fair enough,” Janny said again.
His gaze drifted as Grescin emptied the beans into the pot. The gentle hiss of the gas and the flame were rather soothing, he thought, and his heart rate started to slow. That was actually the first he realised it had been thumping away a good bit faster than usual. He took a deep breath and looked around. There were a few stalactites on the ceiling, but only the roots. The actual dangling stone seemed to have been sheared off, which made sense if you were going to be flying around up there.
“You are speaking aloud repeat,” Grescin said. That sentence didn’t even make grammatical sense, Janny realised.
“Um, I’m getting a bit tired. Would it be okay if I went and cleared up some of that mess?” Janny pointed towards the pile of clutter he’d been alerted to before. The light there was dim, as the wall beside it sloped outwards in a slight overhang, casting a shadow over the mess. Most of the cavern was lit by warm yellow, although slightly greenish, electric lighting. After so long on the Endoleon ship it was getting on his nerves.
“You wish to clean?” Grescin raised her eyebrows.
“Well, tidy,” Janny said, then realised he was so tired that may have been the same word in Scentian.
“... Fair enough,” Grescin said in Fladaerian. “I will shout you when the food is prepared.”
Janny smiled and breathed out. “Thank you.”
He trotted off towards the pile of stuff and let himself sink into his daydreams as he sorted the items into categorised piles. By five minutes in he had piles arranged by size, by purpose, even a few rows by likelihood of use. Although, each pile had roughly two items in it so far, so he had a ways to go. He got to work, thinking about Fri, Cri and Upumsel. Hopefully they’d be working hard, and to the schedule.
After a few more minutes, he reached his hand out over what appeared to be a perfectly normal, if slightly dusty, pink pillow, and grabbed a big black ring. It was about the size of his head, and perfectly smooth.
He knew what that was. He could almost put his finger on it. In case that would actually help jog his memory, he ran one index finger all the way around the circumference. As his finger reached the point where it had started, there was a bing-bong noise.
“Request state tongue,” the ring said. Janny blinked hard and stared at it. Yes, he was not quite that deliriously tired. The ring had in fact spoken.
“Um… Fladaerian?” he asked.
“Translating from: Fladaerian,” the ring replied. A little LED on the outside face of the ring blinked red. “Please state target language.”
“No, no!” Janny cried, “Fladaerian is my language!”
“Janny!” called Grescin, “Are you out of distress?”
Janny looked around and realised there was a stack of books in front of him. He scooted to the side and held up the ring, waving it at Grescin. “I think I found a translator ring!”
“I believe I have retrieved a tongue circle,” said the ring, in what Janny thought was Scentian The whole thing blinked red twice then went back to black.
Janny took a deep breath. “Target language: Fladaerian.”
“Translating to: Fladaerian. From: Fladaerian.”
Janny slapped his hand against his forehead. “Translating from: Scentian. Please.”
“Translating from: Scentian,” the ring agreed.
Janny whooped with delight and punched the air with the hand holding the ring. Grescin jogged over and took the ring from him, placing it on his head. With his tongue sticking out the side of his mouth, Janny carefully folded some skin over the edges to keep it secure. If he’d been feeling extra ambitious he’d have tried to put it under his skin, but the tidying in the dark hadn’t re-energised him quite that much.
“Lunch is ready, by the way,” Grescin said. Janny was glad to realise that the ring didn’t have to go through the repeating of words once it knew what it was doing.
“Fantastic,” Janny said, stretching his arms and getting to his feet.
“So, the SRA,” Grescin said, pouring some beans into a bowl. Ennet was approaching from the wooden stairs, but he served himself when he arrived.
“The word I was missing was the middle one,” Janny said, settling down on a foldaway chair, as did the others. He added, “Unless you’re a fishermen’s union.”
Ennet frowned for a moment, then opened his mouth and pointed at Janny’s head. “Ah! I forgot Roli said he might bring by a translator ring. Carry on, Grescin.”
“Alright, SRA stands for Scentian Resurgence Army. Have you heard of it?” She took a big gulp of her beans.
“Not really,” Janny said, blowing on his own beans, “I don’t pay much attention to politics.”
“Okay… Well… You know how us, the Scentians, used to control your country?” Grescin asked, her voice getting slightly high pitched.
“I know that,” Janny said, “But then the Endoleons came and freed us.”
“Right…” Grescin said, frowning ever deeper. “I mean yes, that is what happened. But it’s not like profit didn’t play into it. They built factories in Fladaer making stuff that Scentians were producing - many of the medicines, in particular - and our economy collapsed. We’re trying to level that playing field.”
Janny wasn’t sure if that made sense, but Ennet was nodding as he shovelled in mouthfuls of beans.
“Okay,” he said, lingering a little on the second syllable until he was sure he was saying the right thing.
“Our intention was to take that Endoleon ship to the next rock over,” Ennet said, setting his empty bowl down beside his chair. “And keep it there until the date for the delivery had passed. But then TIPO came by…”
“Ah!” Janny stuck an index finger up in the air. “Them I’ve heard of. They’re the Endoleons who send us a lot of our orders.”
“Exactly.” Grescin nodded and took a second, smaller serving of beans from the pot. “And they don’t take kindly to their trade getting disrupted, being a Trade Integrity Protections Organisation. So they’re constantly on our tail. We just have to lie low here for a while though. We have a frequency manipulator that hides this empty cavity from radar. Once the ship charges we’ll probably be okay to take you to the Hub.”
“That’s actually where we were going anyway,” Janny said.
Grescin nodded. “Yeah, your pilot introduced herself as part of the crew of the Trade Ship Daer-Hub. Daer-Ta to the Hub, right?”
“Yeah,” Janny agreed, scraping up the last of his beans. “So I’ll meet the others there? Hah! I bet Upumsel will think he can get away with slacking. I can’t wait to see his face when he realises I’m there for inspection after all.”
“We’ll try and get there a bit before actually,” Ennet interjected. “We have to get the wipe.”
Janny had heard him say “wipe” before but actually thought he’d mistranslated. “What’s the wipe?”
“Well, we can’t let you walk around cleaning your toilets, remembering where we hide all our stuff,” he explained.
Grescin’s shoulders hunched up a bit. “So we have to… er…”
Ennet put his hand on one side of his forehead and drew it along to the other side with a quick whistle. “We need to get you a mindwipe pill.”
“Oh,” Janny said, looking around himself for a reason he couldn’t quite put his finger on. He looked back at Ennet. “But then you’ll let me go home?”
“Absolutely,” Ennet said, leaning forward. “We really don’t have anything against you Fladaerians. It’s the Endoleons coming in and interfering with the matters of our planet. Revolutions of the people are one thing, but that’s entirely another. If you want to go back and work for them, that’s up to you.”
Janny looked from him to Grescin, who was smiling with pursed lips and nodding. He shrugged. “Okay, sure.”