Choreographer Sean Dorsey on dance’s gender problem and 3 ...
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Complicated identity hoping this post will help me feel better...and maybe figure out some general labels
Advice Requested. I feel really complicated as far as how I would be labeled. (I hate the idea of labels too because I know it's all a spectrum...but anyway!) I grew up as a female tombyish ace, and it was weird not being able to understand sexual desire. In my childhood and in most of my teen years, I was a sex-adverse / sex-repulsed ace. Over time starting around age 20ish, I shifted more to gray ace / demisexual territory with a very few rare but intense and inconvenient splashes of high sex drive (going from zero to nympho). As a sex-repulsed tween/teen, I had my very first very strong romantic infatuation with a rather feminine hetero cis female classmate. To this day, I never told her. At that time, I was having strong feelings of not fitting in as a female - hating the expression of female gender, resenting being biologically female, and wishing I had been born male instead. My secret infatuation with my contentedly cis female classmate felt very much like it was fed by my own internal feelings of having a male soul. As a teen, I fantasized about one day having top surgery to remove my breasts because they were too big to go flat enough to pass if I were to try a binder. I also learned I felt really at home with playing male roles in theatrical extracurricular activities and loved how I looked in male costuming and with fake facial hair. I did occasionally also like dressing up in dresses with makeup and doing my nails, but if I were to try wearing dresses and makeup every day, my soul would feel like it was dying. As another interesting aside, when my mom first told me what lesbians were (I was maybe 10 at the time), I thought that it was really cool that there were more options out there besides being with a man and I, as an ace pre-teen, felt excited by the idea of maybe being an asexual lesbian (being sex-replulsed / sex-averse for me in my childhood took the form of being turned off specifically by hetero sex, and I had no idea until years later that women even could have sex with each other- LOL). It's funny that being ace for much of my life kept me pretty naïve and uninterested in learning about sex throughout my teen years. Even today I sometimes run into moments where I don't know about something that everyone else seems to know. My second ever romantic infatuation was not until I was 18, and it was with a hetero cis male. I also first recognized sexual attraction with that same person, and it was super weird to have that first ah-ha moment of figuring out what sexual attraction even felt like after thinking I was immune to it. However, sexual feelings were still accompanied by very strong emotional romantic feelings, and the sexual feelings immediately went away when he revealed that he would definitely want to have sex with me but did not have any of the emotional feelings for me that I had for him. In my early 20's, I was emotionally manipulated into a marriage with a cis hetero male that I had no sexual feelings for or romantic "in love" feelings for or deep attraction to on really any level - and I honestly just wanted to stay celibate as an ace. The relationship was incredibly damaging mentally and emotionally, and I thought I'd never be happy or myself again. Once mercifully divorced, I still considered myself hetero because, while I thought women looked sexy, I still never had the desire to do anything physically sexual with a woman. I bounced through several short-lived dating relationships with men and a lot of time being single and feeling romantically unsatisfied. I somehow began to feel comfortable in my female body and no longer have the desire to have top surgery, but inside, my soul still feels at least half male. I like female pronouns. I still love dressing up as a man. I still wouldn't be able to stand being in dresses and makeup all the time. I do like the attention when I feel like wearing dresses and makeup though. I think my success at striking this happy harmony between outer female and internal male was because of getting to develop hobbies and interests to feed the male part of me so that basically I found a life that allowed me to be as masculine or as feminine as I wanted. I feel lucky this way. My genes let me muscle bulk easily if I want and my face structure looks male or female depending on how I try to look. Fast forward to now. I've been in a lukewarm relationship with a cis hetero male for a year and a half now, but I'm not feeling happy anymore because the chemistry is not strong enough and my feelings aren't either. I plan to end it as soon as I can, but it's complicated by the fact that the quarantine affected both of our jobs enough to make us move in together just to afford to live. Over the past several months, I've been starting to question whether I'm bisexual, but that's a bit complicated as an ace. I'm accepting that I think I'm at least biromantic. I've been feeling an increasingly strong desire to try dating women. I don't know how to start (with dating or coming out) but the idea of dating another woman has become a daily thought. Is it time for awkward bisexual finger guns yet? Labels are really confusing so I don't know if I would be considered genderfluid, genderqueer, non-binary, transgender enough to be transgender, ace enough anymore to be ace, bisexual or just biromantic... or anything else. You get the idea. This has been a lot of words, so thanks for reading if you are still here. I've been in therapy for low-grade-depression caused by to feeling stuck in my current relationship, though I haven't yet brought up my thoughts of maybe being bi yet to my therapist. I've been feeling repressed and closeted to the point that I even started to have dreams about being with women. I also find my thoughts wandering back to past experiences, like when a bi friend told me she had a crush on me or when a cute lesbian asked me if I was gay on a dance floor at my college reunion a few years ago. I wish I had the feelings back then that I have now (maybe it is still just romantic, but I now would love to at least kiss a woman). On the inside, I feel like I'm silently screaming every day and like I really want to shave my head into a spiky fauxhawk and dye my hair something crazy like electric purple. I've had a really hard time keeping up with my job, household chores, etc because of feeling so emotionally weighed down and thought-distracted by not being able to get all my feelings out in one place... until now. Anyway, thanks so much for listening. I think I am already starting to feel a bit better.
How old are you? What's your gender? Give us a general description of yourself. I am 15 and male even though I'm not exactly sure about that as I get older I've kinda started to question the gender binary. I often describe myself as a walking contradiction in that I can have a lot of energy and generally make good impressions on strangers but also have crippling social anxiety because of overthinking and am really awkward in interactions with people that I won't never see again, and even though I love being seen as an individual and the concept of individuality i also have a fear of rejection and a desire to fit in in some ways to give only a few examples. • Is there a medical diagnosis that may impact your mental stability somehow? I have moderate ADHD, but that's all I've been diagnosed with. • Describe your upbringing. Did it have any kind of religious or structured influence? How did you respond to it? My upbringing has been pretty free. I have had free reign of the internet since I can remember for better or for worse, and my parents are I'd say slightly less strict than average. I've been lucky enough to generally not have any religion forced on me, and would call myself an atheist, though I would probably join the satanic temple if that counts. I was a "gifted child" in elementary school and my parents very much nurtured this, and my teachers also did, which made my earlier years pretty positive, as it gave me kind of a feeling of being special. Currently I get into the occasional lowkey philosophical conversation with my dad, and am monitored pretty minimally unless I have a ton of missing work. I very much like not having had a super structured environment and have been thankful for it. • What do you do as a job or as a career (if you have one)? Do you like it? Why or why not? I want to be a psychology major, because I think it would be very interesting to learn more about how people work and understand them better, and also to be able to diagnose myself accurately. But primarily I don't want a big office job, and the human mind seems so interesting and hearing others' experiences to expand my perspective and to help people sounds nice so it seems like a pretty perfect job for me, or also going into psychological research is also very appealing to me. • If you had to spend an entire weekend by yourself, how would you feel? Would you feel lonely or refreshed? I would probably feel really relaxed and liberated. I love the silence of late night and having that all day would be great. I love being home alone. I'd spend some time just thinking about whats going on in my life and what I can do in the future, maybe blast some music and sing along to it, and talk to myself really loudly. Overall yes please sign me up. • What kinds of activities do you prefer? Do you like, and are you good at sports? Do you enjoy any other outdoor or indoor activities? I like acting because it's interesting to try to figure out what a character would say and be thinking in a scene and i don't really get stage fright despite my terrible social anxiety surprisingly probably because I started acting at a young age before the overthinking got too bad. I feel guilty whenever it makes me feel like a show off though. I also really enjoy going on long hikes, and again listening to music or just thinking. I guess depends, I like outdoor activities if they're pretty lowkey, but absolutely hate all sports. My sport of choice is track/cross country because it doesnt require hand eye coordination and I'm actually decently good at it. Indoor activities are nice too though, i enjoy relaxing inside for sure. Additionally, at night I often will write big paragraphs about whatever idea pops into my head and post them to my "spam" instagram account with 13 followers. • How curious are you? Do you have more ideas then you can execute? What are your curiosities about? What are your ideas about - is it environmental or conceptual, and can you please elaborate? I'd say I'm very curious, but I'm bad at pursuing my curiosity. I am always thinking of new things that may be interesting to research, but only end up looking up a quarter of them. I have kind of phases in interests. My most recent one has been myers briggs, hence this post because of my obsession with correctly typing myself over the past few months. I also enjoy looking up philosophical questions, like reading articles on philosophy, and I really like this one guy billbeteet on tiktok and thinking about them. So I'd say conceptual even though a lot of my ideas are also more grounded like how bread companies should sell the end pieces separately at a lower cost. • Would you enjoy taking on a leadership position? Do you think you would be good at it? What would your leadership style be? I would want to take a leadership position more preventatively than to get a feeling of power. I would be pretty lax, but I also want my ideas to be heard because often times my brain gets into this mode of wanting things to go my way. So again, preventatively so I could make sure my ideas got heard, and so that things would go "right." I am very open to other ideas, and if someone else's idea is better I am not afraid to admit it and go with that. • Are you coordinated? Why do you feel as if you are or are not? Do you enjoy working with your hands in some form? Describe your activity? I am not coordinated at all, I mean I have decent handwriting because in 4th grade one day I was like "hey I should have good handwriting" I can't catch a ball to save my life though, and have slow reaction times, so I suck at sports as I already said. I often bump into things as well. • Are you artistic? If yes, describe your art? If you are not particular artistic but can appreciate art please likewise describe what forums of art you enjoy. Please explain your answer. I am casually artistic I guess, I used to be more so in middle and elementary school. I was obsessed with all things anime in 6th grade, so that gave me a decent base, and now when I do draw I'd say I'm above average though not by a lot. I'm not the most creative artistically however, and when I do have ideas my brain sometimes will come up with reasons why its not a good idea or it's too much of a cliche or something like that, so I guess that's part of why I don't draw too much because I don't have enough good ideas. I am decent in performing arts as I said earlier, but again, I'd say just slightly above average for my age. I generally tend to lose interest in a form of art when it becomes more work and less of just a creative fun outlet if I am not extremely interested in it. I dropped out of band because I did not want to bother with the more complicated musical theory because I did not want to pursue a career in music, so I didn't want it to be so serious. I like indie and r&b music generally. • What's your opinion about the past, present, and future? How do you deal with them? I am sometimes embarrassed by how much time I spend dwelling on stupid socially awkward shit I have done in the past. On one hand I want to say it's in the past, but sometimes it is kind of interesting to me to consider what I could have done to change a situation or a comeback to save myself from embarrassment (and they're really good too, just a few days/weeks/moths/years late) In the present I spend most of my time observing others, and occasionally coming up with scenarios for strangers' lives, or just observing people at school in general. I'm not at all a thrill seeker, even though when I can work up the courage for a roller coaster I like them. I also spend a lot of time thinking about self improvement, even though i rarely implement them lol. But I also plan for the future to an extent, even though I never like to narrow down my options in planning. I have had no idea what I wanted my future to look like until this year. • How do you act when others request your help to do something (anything)? If you would decide to help them, why would you do so? It really depends. Of course if it benefits me, then yeah. Or if its inconsequential enough for me yeah I'll do it. But I don't usually go out of my way for others. If they have good reasoning just in general or need the help enough I'll also do it. • Do you need logical consistency in your life? Absolutely. I can't stand arguments that contradict themselves, and I beat myself up for my own hypocrisy very often. I need reasons behind actions, even though sometimes I have trouble putting my own into words. I try to avoid acting on impulse but also often overthink actions so much that the only way to get myself to make a decision is to just impulsively go for it. Rejection therapy haha. • How important is efficiency and productivity to you? haha funny question, I need efficiency in everything. I hate extra steps or having to do more than is needed a lot unless I am interested in a topic in which case I will learn everything I can. But generally I do stuff as quickly as decently possible. However, I am terrible at getting myself to do any sort of schoolwork that I am not interested in because of this, so I am not productive unless I like the assignment. So yeah I love efficient and to the point stuff, but am not very productive in most cases, so I can't really judge others for not being productive if not. • Do you control others, even if indirectly? How and why do you do that? I wouldn't call myself manipulative and if I do feel controlling I feel incredibly guilty most of the time. However, sometimes I get into a weird state of wanting someone else to do one thing in place of another and pressuring them to do that if I think its better especially if I care about them, but I wouldn't say I'm controlling. • What are your hobbies? Why do you like them? I doodle casually occasionally, I like writing long paragraphs about stuff in my notes app when inspiration hits, I also like going on walks and thinking about stuff. Again acting is cool sometimes even though I'm bad at the social aspect of it. I also sing pretty casually, in my school jazz band last year, and chorus this year. I love thinking about stuff because I guess it kind of connects me to my elementary school years, and kinda gives me self validation that I am smart because getting so much in elementary school and now so little validation of that topic has caused me to doubt myself a lot but also thinking about stuff just is cool to see new perspectives on stuff and sometimes come up with bizarre stuff just for fun. I also have been just kinda naturally talented in performing arts in that I have a "naturally good" singing voice so i'm not too embarrassed about that so its more fun, and i get some compliments occasionally about it which is cool. Kinda same with acting in that I understood that you have to really get into a character's head from a young age, and I often will have specific ways that I see specific scenes and lines playing out just by looking at a script so thats kind of fun to play out, and pretty no stress as well. • What is your learning style? What kind of learning environments do you struggle with most? Why do you like/struggle with these learning styles? Do you prefer classes involving memorization, logic, creativity, or your physical senses? My favorite classes are english and history because I love analyzing texts and possible motives and connections behind stuff and my english teacher says that I make a lot of conceptual connections very quickly. So logic and creativity are my favorite things to use in learning. I like when I have somehting that I can think about thoroughly that is open for interpretation, where subjects like math and science where there is generally going to be only one answer are less interesting to me, and I don't have the motive to build up the base in those topics to get to the actual interesting stuff. I hate rigid learning environments that won't let me do things my own way, especially because I typically think my way is better. I also suck at turning stuff in on time, I am much more "quality over quantity." • How good are you at strategizing? Do you easily break up projects into manageable tasks? Or do you have a tendency to wing projects and improvise as you go? I always wing it. Making a plan takes so much time and I typically don't even follow plans anyway, so I don't see much reason to do one for me. I can make pretty good decisions if presented with a new problem in a project, but I don't strategize too much in the long term because life is too unpredictable for that and I often end up not liking a project initially and changing it. • What are your aspirations in life, professionally and personally? I don't want to really accomplish too much. I don't want to be rich or own a company or anything, or have kids. I want a quiet life in a small remotely located house in europe where I live with a significant other and spend most of my time researching stuff and talking to my s/o and going on walks and stuff. I want to work in psychology, and live fairly comfortably, but have also been fortunate enough to have been told i will be set for life money wise so I am not very ambitious career wise. Just a steady casual job in psychology that interests me and I can learn from is good for me. I guess some would be pretty furious at my ideal life and lack of real motivation to contribute to society, but I don't really see myself getting to be a ceo by working, nor do I have the drive to do so most likely, so might as well spend my time on something that interests me, and live a relaxed life. • What are your fears? What makes you uncomfortable? What do you hate? Why? I am deathly afraid of heights, I can't even go near any large fall. I am extremely cautious in general. I am made uncomfortable in situations where I can't think of anything to say or things are completely out of my control. I am also made uncomfortable by people who make stupid remarks to try to get to you that are too dumb to reason with because in their heads they would have "won" and thought they got to me, and if I try to reason with them they just take that as me being "triggered" oddly specific but those people I hate so much. I hate when people just won't listen to logic at all in that neighborhood too, or when they can't give me a good reason why I should do something. I also hate some parts of social interactions that I just suck at like I can't make eye contact because I assume that the other person assumes it means something, and I don't know where the fuck to look when someone is talking to me or let alone passing me on the street like i dont want to look at them but just looking straight ahead is so weird and suspicious. I just generally assume people notice my small motions more than they do in social interactions which makes me hyperaware of everything I am doing and just makes it really unpleasant especially if I don't know someone. There is also nothing I hate more than someone who dances around stuff to try to preserve my feelings and I wish people were brutally honest with one another all the time because I think it would make so many interactions feel so much more genuine. • What do the "highs" in your life look like? The highs of my life all relate to a complete lack of stress, or having some sort of mental breakthrough for myself that gives me a new perspective on something, which often relieves stress, so yeah, stress. I love casual situations where I can just talk about whatever with my few close friends, or when I am just sitting peacefully on a hill listening to music and thinking without anything bugging me saying I have to get out of there to work on something. Just being able to think without worrying about anything is amazing. • What do the "lows" in your life look like? Contrasting the highs, stressful, when I've dug myself into a difficult hole to get out of, when I have to take life more seriously than I usually do. When I didn't do homework for a month and had a pile of 30+ missing assignments, when I did something shitty and had to face reality and own up to it when I am so unused to taking anything so seriously and also was embarrassed about it. I hate when things get too serious or real. • How attached are you to reality? Do you daydream often, or do you pay attention to what's around you? If you do daydream, are you aware of your surroundings while you do so? Not very, I am often observing my surroundings when out in public walking or something, but I often will daydream to an extent as well while walking. In school I often can zone out thinking about something and miss a lot about a class. I also get distracted very easily when trying to focus on stuff and my mind drifts to something more interesting always when I find something to be boring. However, sometimes in new social situations i get really nervous and almost paranoid in which case I am very aware and awkward about what I do and as I said before, hyperaware of my movements. • Imagine you are alone in a blank, empty room. There is nothing for you to do and no one to talk to. What do you think about? I would probably first think through the events that led me to that. And I guess then the future, or if I would want to get out or not. Eventually I'd probably get to existential stuff and maybe start thinking about things that could have changed the earth's track completely, and maybe then start wondering about aliens, or just what else could be in the universe. • How long do you take to make an important decision? And do you change your mind once you've made it? I take forever to make pretty much any decision, I am incredibly indecisive. I will take minutes to order at a restaurant, and constantly am creating every possible situation that could come out of something, and have to think through all of that before confidently making a decision. As I said earlier, I'm at the point where I kind of just decide to do stuff because thinking it through takes too long. And yes if I get new information I will go through the whole process of weighing the pros and cons again. • How long do you take to process your emotions? How important are emotions in your life? I don't think about my emotions much. I'd say I'm pretty progressive politically, and I generally either assume the best or worst in people, no in between, but my moral compass is open to new information I guess, and I don't really think of emotions first in too many situations, even though I do like the feeling of helping others. • Do you ever catch yourself agreeing with others just to appease them and keep the conversation going? How often? Why? Only if I need someone to like me for some reason, otherwise I state my mind and absolutely DESPISE sugar coating. I do occasionally feel pressure to fit in however, for example I started wearing more trendy clothes this year because I needed new clothes so I just decided to buy trendy stuff because it would improve my image i guess and i needed new stuff anyways. I have a constant battle in my head with loving being an individual and wanting to know what it feels like to fit in perfectly. • Do you break rules often? Do you think authority should be challenged, or that they know better? If you do break rules, why? I break rules that I don't think should exist, and think that abusive authority should be challenged, or even just overly assertive authority should be. I do have a certain respect for authority that genuinely respects those that they are above, and recognise them as human beings as well. I think that anything that is wrong or hurts the innocent or just overuses power for no reason should be challenged. When I break rules I do it less as a statement, but more just because I consider the rule to be stupid and unnecessary, or overcontrolling. Ok so I just spent like an hour on this lol hopefully I can get some responses from this.
[PI] The last surviving logs of the crew of the I.S.S. Conan, a space cruiser that was sent to investigate a particular celestial anomaly near the Conflictus Solar System.
Had great fun writing this. I'm still flexing my muscles on writing as well as on English grammar (I'm non native English). Would love to see what you think of it. Original prompt: https://www.reddit.com/WritingPrompts/comments/hp76pb/wp_the_last_surviving_logs_of_the_crew_of_the_iss/ ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ 8 days 4 hrs to event “You’re sure this is genuine?” Abel looked Myogi straight into her light brown eyes, searching for any trace of doubt she had concerning the message. His voice being the only notable sound apart from the soft hum of the ship’s life support system. They were on the bridge of the I.S.S. Conan. A place designed for function not aesthetic, able to hold six of the small cruiser’s crew of eight. Currently, only four people were present. She returned his stare unwavering. The front of the oval shaped bridge held the navigation consoles and the main screen for displaying whatever it was that was important. This was Ahmed’s station, the I.S.S. Conan’s first helmsman, though at the moment Gerald, his junior, was operating it. Tactical was to the right manned by Karl the ship's chief engineer. Communication was to the left, until recently manned by the ship’s XO commander Myogi Shizu. Command was where Abel and Myogi were standing now, at the center of the bridge. Only twenty-eight? Way too young! Abel remembered his first impression when he and Myogi first met, just over two years ago. But she showed him his doubts were unfounded by taking command of the ship and its crew. Oh, he tested her, of course. But she passed all his challenges with flying colours. And with every success, Abel's respect for this young woman had grown. “It’s genuine, sir!” Her strong voice showed not even a hint of uncertainty. “The quantum encryption seal has been verified and the origin of the message has been established as coming from sector HQ at Jewel-4.” Abel read the flash message again.
To: Cmdr. H.P.F. Abel, I.S.S. Conan From: I.S.S. Sector HQ, Tantalus Sector, Jewel-4 Priority: High You are to set course immediately to the Conflictus System, Heagon Sector. Investigate anomaly at coordinates 298-8876-98. Report on 8 hour intervals upon arrival. Yours sincerely, Commodore Aginov Tantalus Sector Admiral
She wouldn’t screw up such a simple thing as this. After all their time together, Abel was certain commander Myogi Sizu was among the best of XO’s he ever served with. He feared the moment she would leave his ship to take on her own command. "Besides,” she added, “who could possibly be interested in creating a fake ISS message? I mean, it’s not that there are any aliens out there trying to trick us." Abel smiled. Two centuries of interstellar space flight, but mankind had yet to come across other intelligent life. Let alone lifeforms that deliberately tried to divert a small cruiser to an unknown location. Abel activated the navigation computer and entered their new destination. A holographic representation of the Heagon sector appeared. It was a small sector, with few stars and zero colonies or outposts. Barely interesting. He added the I.S.S. Conan’s current location and suddenly whistled with surprise. “That will take us a week to get there.” “Should I plot the course, sir?” Myogi asked. Abel nodded. “Yes. And inform the crew about our new orders. I’m going to request confirmation on this.” *** 1 day 9 hrs to event Confirmation came within twenty-four hours. Now, with less than eight hours travel time left to their destination, Abel noticed how much the tension on board his ship had increased. Of course, any new mission brings a given amount of stress. But patrolling between colonies and occasionally inspecting civilian transports for contraband was hardly a dangerous task. This time it felt different. “You should eat, sir,” Myogi said. Abel looked at his still untouched plate containing his evening dinner. A small piece of fried chicken, some flavored potatoes and carrots. “I’m not hungry.” They were dining alone. The rest of the crew was either being on station or resting. Myogi had already finished her meal and had used most of their time together to bring him up to date with the crew status. Most of her time was spent on regular issues, like Dylan who was angry at Karl for having been scowled at during the latest drill or Gerald complaining that Sorland, as acting chief security, inspected his cabin without him knowing. Of more pressing concern were the details of the sour relation between Karl and Ahmed. Each of their disputes seemed to be about something rather trivial. As a result Myogi now concluded that the ship's medical officer, young Irene Caldwell, was at the heart of their enmity. “Only two weeks fresh on board and she is already driving our most senior crewmen crazy. I really should talk to her about this.” She concluded. Abel wasn’t listening. And halfway through her report Myogi must have realised she was having a monologue. “You’re not listening, are you sir?” He nodded. “The ship is in excellent condition, sir. Nothing can go wrong. We'll go in, scan whatever it is we find there, and get out. In a week's time we'll be drinking cocktails on the beach of Lake Pelmac in the Feynman colony, enjoying our shore leave.” She tried hard to let her voice sound relaxed, like there was nothing wrong. But with two years of close collaboration Abel immediately noticed the tiny aberrations in her usually clear voice. So you feel it too? Again he started reflecting how much, as a senior officer, Myogi had grown over the last two years. She would be leaving soon, he now was sure of it. “My grandfather was captain of the Xerxes during the pacification of the Tantalus sector, when they were fighting the pirates,” Abel started. “That was a real war! He once told me that when you are in command for a long enough period, you start to develop a sort of sixth sense for when danger lurks. I always thought he said it to boast his stories a bit.” Abel looked his XO directly in her eyes. “Now I’m not so sure anymore. Ever since I got that damn confirmation back from HQ I feel terrified.” “Trust your team, captain.” Myogi’s slender fingers touched his hand briefly, reassuring him. Then she gathered her plate and cutlery and got up. Just before leaving she added: “Now finish your plate, sir!” “Yes, ma'am,” Abel laughed. *** 26 hrs to event They should have added more room to the bridge. The thought popped up as he watched his entire crew of seven in the confined space. They were fully operational now, with Ahmed and Gerard at the helm as well as Karl and Dylan at the tactical stations. Sorland was making himself useful by manning communications. That left Myogi and Irene who were just standing idle to his right side. Abel could understand everyone wanted to see firsthand why they were sent to this remote location in space, though he suspected that Irene’s motivation was less about curiosity and more about ascertaining her own safety. Give her a break, she just left the academy. "Visual on screen," Ahmed announced. His loud voice broke the silence on board the I.S.S. Conan’s bridge. The main screen went black, then it suddenly showed the outside environment. Abel watched the image on the screen, a deep black space. But the countless stars usually visible were missing. Instead the black of the image was broken by wide lanes of partially translucent brown. Dust! At the center a large yellow star was visible, shedding a bright corona, and to the right a smaller yet surprisingly bright purple companion could be seen. For a moment it appeared the astro charts had missed classifying Conflictus as a binary star system, then Abel realised the purple companion was the anomaly. An unsettling knot formed in his stomach. Ahmed adjusted the I.S.S. Conan’s heading. The purple companion now centered on the screen. As the ship covered more of the remaining distance, it slowly enlarged into a pulsating blob of gas roughly measuring a thousand kilometers in diameter. A fascinating view, Abel found. And one like he never had seen before. “Wow. That looks weird,” Myogi said, her voice filled with wonder. Abel nodded in agreement. As they approached the image of the anomaly was filled with more details. The gas cloud was packed with dancing streaks of purple running like lightning criss cross. The sight was beautiful yet disturbing. Abel felt the knot in his stomach grow a little tighter. “Sorland, report to HQ that we have arrived as planned at our destination. And—” At that moment the ship’s main computer activated the alarm, preventing Abel from finishing his second order. The direct image of the anomaly on the main screen was replaced with a simplified tactical view. Moments later Dylan’s voice boomed in the confined space of the bridge. “Contact..contact..contact..!! Bearing zero-three-nine. Range two-point-eight.” Practiced drills kicked in. Abel and Myogi immediately sat down in their seats and buckled up. Karl activated the ship's weapon systems, linking it with whatever it was Dylan's sensors had located, while Gerald powered up the ship's emergency thrusters. Irene remained standing. Frozen. Her face pale white displaying fear. Abel fired his commands. “Full stop! Karl, identification on the contact!” The reply came almost immediately. “Contact is orbiting the anomaly at three thousand klicks, sir. No identification, but it’s big.” So that’s why the computer went berserk! “Sorland, send that message!” Abel commanded. “Include we have an unidentified contact!” Then he noticed Irene. “And please escort Irene to her cabin.” Sorland acknowledged. Abel never heard it. His attention had already returned to the main screen. “Any sign on the EM-band?” he asked. “Negative, sir!” Karl answered. “Whatever it is, it’s quiet as a rock.” Why are we here? Abel started to question his orders as he contemplated the situation. What had Aginov exactly meant by ‘investigate anomaly’? Was HQ aware of the unknown object around of... something else unknown? And what exactly was it he was now meant to investigate? Again, Abel felt the unsettling knot in his stomach. He looked to the right, at Myogi. Unlike him, the young woman seemed to be at ease, her attention focused on the main screen, radiating self-confidence. Perhaps I should let her take command! Feeling his stare, she turned to look at him. “You’re okay, sir?” she asked. “Yeah” he lied. Abel added to it a silent curse. What was wrong with him? He was her captain, not some pitiful old man. He should be the one being self-confident. So why the hell was he still questioning this mission? Abel gestured his XO to come near. As she leaned over to him, he made sure he kept his voice down. “Commander, I want your assessment on the continuation of this mission.” Myogi gave him a puzzled look. “You want to abort the mission, sir?” Like Abel, Myogi too kept her voice down, realising her captain wanted a private confer. He gave her a short nod in reply. “I don’t like it. We came to investigate a stellar anomaly. Now we have an unknown contact, possibly hostile.” “We don’t know if it is hostile, sir.” she said. “Up until now we only know the computer identified something out there and labeled it artificial.” Abel contemplated her words. She was right of course. The computer had found something out there that simply didn’t match it’s programmed parameters, so it sounded the alarm. Had it been wartime, or had their mission been of a more aggressive posture, any unidentified contact would likely pose a threat. But this mission was neither. “I still don’t like it,” he said. “You think the computer is wrong?” “No, sir. We just don’t know what it is. And that’s exactly why we need to investigate it. If we leave, it will take more than a week for another ship to reach this location. By then it might be gone and we will never know.” A simple and solid rational analysis. Something he had come to expect from her, Abel thought. She was going to be a great captain. “Sir...,” Myogi hesitated, “you should also take into consideration that admiral Aginov is just waiting for another event to question your ability to command. He did not seem to be happy how you'd dealt with the issue concerning the freighter Leonov.” The Leonov... Abel had almost forgotten the incident. He was sure Aginov would cherish the fact if he ignored his orders. And he wouldn't hesitate to court marshal him over it. “Captain, what are our orders?” Karl’s loud voice interrupted Abel and Myogi’s deliberation. He needed to make a decision. Fast. Abel looked his XO in the eyes. Perhaps it was her time. “So you want to investigate it, Myogi?” Abel whispered, thinking aloud. He still had his doubts but Myogi was right: ending this mission right here right now would effectively end his career as a flag officer. Besides, toying the idea of putting Myogi in command, if she pulled this off it would flag her as exceptionally talented. He then had a bonus for her file, before forwarding his already written request for promoting her to captain. A soft smile lined his face. “Very well, commander. You convinced me, for now.” Abel addressed his crew, still waiting for his orders. “We are going to continue our present course.” Then, following his idea, he added. “Commander Shizu has the conn.” Whether or not Myogi was surprised by him handing over command of the ship to her, she didn’t show it. With a trained efficiency she directed the crew of the I.S.S. Conan towards the unknown object, ascertaining the ship had always a direct escape route out of danger. Abel watched her with a sense of pride. *** Abel’s heart missed a beat. It had taken the I.S.S. Conan ten minutes to cover the distance between the ship and the unknown contact, enabling visual inspection. Abel was standing at the far end of the bridge, accompanied by Sorland. The latter one, having escorted Irene to her cabin, had joined him in witnessing Myogi’s command of the ship. It had made Abel smile. He long since suspected his chief security having an interest in the ship’s XO surpassing only professional. Now everyone on the bridge froze. “Fuck!” Karl muttered. Even Myogi lost her cool. “Oh my god” Abel remained silent and stared at the main screen. Stunned. On it, something was visible that couldn’t be. The undeniable proof of alien intelligent life, for all on the bridge to see! He studied the image shown on the screen. A construction, trapezoid in shape, containing three large spheres connected with tubes. A pair of very large solar foils were stretched out on either side. Both shape and style were unlike any spaceship or space station Abel ever had come across. “Captain?” Myogi looked at him, her eyes searching for any hint he wanted to retake command of the ship. Abel just stared back. She understood, firing a new set of commands that returned activity to the bridge. “Ahmed, take us in, one hundred klicks. Karl, keep offensive weapons locked on that thing. And keep scanning the EM-band. If they even switch on a single dashboard light I want to know." You’re doing great, Myogi. ***
To: Cmdr. H.P.F. Abel, I.S.S. Conan From: I.S.S. Sector HQ, Tantalus Sector, Jewel-4 Priority: High +++ this mission is now classified top secret +++ Your preliminary report on the object has been examined. I agree on your initial assessment the object discovered is no longer operational. As to its origin, it is still a mystery. Permission is hereby granted to extent the investigation on the object. The I.S.S. Dealus and I.S.S Galileo have been dispatched to your location and will join you in five days. Yours sincerely, Commodore Aginov Tantalus Sector Admiral
*** 20 hrs to event They had assembled in the ship’s mess. Like the bridge this room too hadn’t been designed for a full gathering of the crew. With only two tables there was just enough room for half of them to sit down. Abel preferred standing. It had only been six hours since they had made their discovery. They had spent the time scanning the object for any electrical activity, finding none. Also, a more detailed visual survey had revealed extensive damage on the forward two spheres, whereas the solar foils showed a severe lack of maintenance. It was dead. Both Karl and Dylan had agreed on this and, being the ship’s engineers, they were the closest thing Abel had to an expert on ship design. Following their conclusion, Abel and Myogi both agreed the unknown object posed no threat to the I.S.S. Conan and its crew. Then why am I still worried? Abel still felt like he was missing something, that something was eluding him. Apart from its origin, if the unknown object was dead, the most important question was: what happened to its crew? And would the answer to that question lead to a reassessment of the object’s threat status? Again he felt uncomfortable. “Captain? Our new orders?” Myogi interrupted Abel’s pondering, bringing him back to his current task: informing the crew. He let his eyes wander over the men and women serving on board the I.S.S. Conan. Their faces were displaying a mixture of excitement, worry and, in case of Irene, anxiety. Abel noticed Irene had taken her seat next to Karl, who had put his arm protectively over her shoulder. He also noticed the malicious look Ahmed was giving both of them. Trouble is brewing.. Whatever it was that was going on between them, it had to stop. Abel made a mental note to schedule a private chat with both of his senior crew members, then started addressing his crew. “I don’t think I have to explain how much of historical significance our mission has become.” Abel's voice immediately commanded the attention of everyone in the room. “Already the discovery of this unknown object is changing how we view our galaxy.” And with a grin. “And I’m really glad that the object found is dead as a rock.” He received a single approving nod from Myogi and a small chuckle from Karl, who recognized his own words being used. The rest of his team remained silent, yet Abel’s small joke did ease the tension. “An hour ago we received new orders. The I.S.S. Daelus and I.S.S. Galileo are currently enroute to our location. They’ll join us in approximately five days. We are to wait here until they arrive.” The news caused a visible ripple of relief among his small audience. Abel took a pause. They needed this, he realised. “In the meantime we have been given permission to extend our survey.” “What do you suggest, sir?” Karl asked. “We don’t have any survey droids on board.” Abel nodded. “I know that, Karl. Commander Shizu and I already discussed this. She suggested we should try to board the object.” *** 14 hrs to event “Approaching… distance… one hundred meters… eighty...” Abel listened to Myogi’s voice coming in over the speaker. In front of him, on the bridge’s main screen, three tiny figures in space suits were visible, manoeuvring towards the rear sphere of the unknown object. She was one of them, though Abel no longer could be sure which of the figures was her. Why is it different? The question suddenly popped up as Abel’s mind involuntarily registered the anomaly, partially visible in the background. The purple streaks no longer seemed to dance randomly through the gas cloud. Instead it appeared as if they were coming from a focal point, it’s exact location blocked from view by the unknown object, as if it had reacted to their presence. Abel felt a sudden chill. Then, shaking his head, he immediately dismissed his absurd thoughts. You’re seeing ghosts, old man. Myogi’s voice interrupted his thinking. “There’s damage also visible on this sphere.” That was new. Already they had ascertained the unknown object had sustained damage on the forward two spheres but due to the position of the I.S.S. Conan and the unknown object, they hadn’t been able to perform a more thorough visual inspection of the most remote sphere. “Bloody hell...” Karl suddenly interrupted. “Commander, looks like the damage here came from an explosion on the inside.” Abel signalled Dylan. “Can you switch to Karl’s suit camera?” The assistant engineer nodded and a single moment later the main screen switched to the chief engineer’s camera. A close up view of the hull of the rear sphere became visible. Abel inspected the footage and immediately agreed on Karl’s assessment. A gaping rupture was visible, the inner support structure bending outward. Whatever the cause, it had come from the inside. Myogi’s voice continued “...there’s some kind of entrance here. It’s spherical, roughly three meters wide. We move in to inspect it.” “Captain?” A sudden soft voice behind Abel disturbed his observation on the boarding operation. Annoyed Abel turned, Irene was standing there. Her eyes confused, the trembling of her body betraying great suffering. Then Abel noticed the blood. “Irene…” he carefully asked “what happened?” She looked in his eyes. “I’m… so… sorry… captain,” she said. Her voice filled with grief. Then tears started to roll down her cheeks as she collapsed on the floor. Sobbing. Abel turned, finding Gerald and Dylan looking at Irene, horror stricken. “Where’s Ahmed?” he asked. Both men stayed silent. The shock on their face acknowledging what he already suspected. Abel turned back to Irene. Seeing her huddled on the floor, hands over her face, crying, he realised the young woman was in no condition to give him any more information. He quickly ordered Gerald to take care of her, then was off into the corridor. A rising urgency manifesting as he searched the crew cabins for his first helmsman. They were all empty. Abel pressed on to the mess, then to sickbay. He found Ahmed lying on the floor, motionless. A light red pool already visible around a large wound across his throat. Too late! Abel swore aloud as he looked at the body of his senior officer. Already blaming himself for not having held that chat he had promised himself hours ago. He surveyed the I.S.S. Conan’s sickbay. There were signs of a struggle. The examination table was thrown to a side and a medical pad was lying on the floor, broken. To the left of Ahmed’s corpse a blood covered scalpel was visible. No doubt the weapon used. As he bent over to pick it up, Dylan’s panicking voice screamed over the intercom. “CAPTAIN TO THE BRIDGE” It took Abel only twenty seconds to return. As he rushed in on the bridge, he heard Myomi’s alarming voice over the speaker. “Faster… we’re losing him…” His blood ran cold. Gerald elucidated. “Suit malfunction. They’re trying to reach the airlock before he runs out of air.” Then with a grave voice he added “I don’t think they’re going to make it.” “Who?” Abel asked. “Karl!” The moment he mentioned Karl, Irene issued a long wailing cry that filled the entire bridge, shattering the last remaining doubts Abel had that both incidents were unrelated. “NOOO…” *** 12 hrs to event They made it in time. Barely. But Karl had suffered from massive asphyxiation, rendering him in a deep coma. And with sickbay now being a crime scene Abel had no other option than to move his chief engineer to his cabin. That was where they now had assembled, Sorland now administering whatever first aid he could think of. “So, she killed him?” Myogi asked. “Yes.” Abel nodded. “That bitch.” Myogi fumed, then she was off. Abel watched her go. Moments later Sorland followed her. Abel was about to stop him, then decided against it. With Myogi being so agitated, Sorland was probably the only one capable of restraining her. He looked back at Karl, still lying motionless on his bed. His breathing being heavy but regular. Abel felt tired. There was just too much that had happened. And it didn’t make any sense. Aginov would grill him on this mess. His career was now finished. *** 10 hrs to event “No, we are not going to try to board it again!” Abel ignored Myogi standing in front of him. His eyes were looking straight past her, absorbing the image on the main screen. There were more purple streaks visible now in the anomaly, casting a purple haze over the unknown object in front of it. Loneliness… Abel suddenly wondered why he was thinking about him feeling alone when Myogi was standing in front of him, yelling at him. He felt agitated. “The answers we need are found over there!” Myogi’s voice was loud and angry, her right hand pointing to the main screen. “We wait until the arrival of the I.S.S. Daelus and I.S.S. Galileo.” Abel now clearly voiced his irritation. He and Myogi had been working together for two years now and they didn’t always agree. Yet he couldn’t remember her ever being so angry. Nor could he remember her being this disrespectful. She paused, still fuming, her lips twitching. “Admiral Aginov is right.” Her words struck home. Abel gave his XO an angry look. “What? What did you say?” “You’re weak,” she spat, her voice ringing with contempt. “Always trying to hide for danger. If it wasn’t for me you would have headed for the hills.” Abel no longer hid his anger. “Watch it commander. You’re not captain yet and if you continue like this you will never become one.” A sudden high pitched scornful laugh from her filled the bridge. “Captain? You’re not a captain,” she mocked. “You’re a caretaker. Just like my parents. Always finding excuses to hide, to not take risks, to stay a nobody forever.” “Well, I’m not going to be a nobody.” Myogi walked past him and left the bridge. “Myogi?” Suddenly his anger was gone. Abel realised his XO was about to do something that, without doubt, would have severe consequences for her. Then he looked at Sorland who, like everyone else on the bridge, had followed their open disagreement with horror. “Get her back here, Sorland!” Abel commanded. “ Before she does something stupid.” As Sorland left the bridge, he returned staring at the main screen. The purple haze had grown stronger. It gave him an eerie feeling. *** Myogi never returned to the bridge. And neither did Sorland. About fifteen minutes after they both left the bridge Dylan reported. “The inner entrance to the airlock has been opened, captain.” “Fuck!” Abel sped away, reaching the entrance to the airlock in less than twenty seconds. Myogi and Sorland had already donned their EVA-suit and had already closed the inner airlock door. Abel punched the intercom and yelled. “Commander! Stop!” His fists pounding on the small window in the steel enforced door. Myogi just smiled at him as she put on her helmet. “Sorland! Stop her!” Abel roared. As he heard his name, the chief security looked at him. His face saddened. “I’m sorry Hieronymus," he apologised. "I cannot let her go alone.” Then he too put on his helmet. After they made their final security checks, Sorland depressurised the chamber. One minute later the outside door of the airlock opened and the full force of the anomaly now entered Abel's view taking him by surprise. Pain… Watching through the window he saw Myogi turn towards him, smiling, waving, as they both drifted outside in the direction of the unknown object. He watched them go until they were no longer visible. Then he turned away, sank to the floor and started crying. *** Anger... He didn't know how long it had been. But while he sat there, his back against the cold steel door protecting him from the relentless vacuum outside, his grief slowly turned into anger. A deep primeval type of anger. Hate... "Stupid insolent bitch!" Abel slowly made his way back to the bridge. As he passed Irene's cabin he noticed the door no longer was locked. Her laughter emanating from the inside, as well as other sounds that left little imagination as to what was going on. Whoever was with her had ignored his order to keep her locked up until she could be trialed. Revenge… For a moment Abel considered to intervene, then he continued his way. He would soon trial them all. As he entered the bridge, Gerald rose from his seat, unsure what to do. "Dylan went to see..." he started. Abel held up his hand. "Irene! I know." Then he eyes locked with the main screen. The unknown object in full view, the anomaly, the fury it now displayed. Yes! It was reacting to their presence. Abel closed his eyes. He could almost hear it calling... Kill… *** 3 days 11 hours after event "We're entering the system now, admiral." Aginov watched the main screen of the I.S.S. Daelus come alive, uncovering the dust streaked space surrounding Conflictus. At its center a yellow star radiated brightly. "Any word from commander Abel?" he asked. "Negative," the young lieutenant, manning the communications station, replied. “Keep trying” he commanded, his eyes still focused on the main screen in front of him. "Picking up a single contact." Tactical reported. "Identifying… it's the I.S.S. Conan, sir." Aginov exhaled, relieved. "Any other contacts?" he asked. The reply came instantly. "Negative, sir." Followed by "Nothing on the EM-band, sir. She's dead!" Aginov's blood ran cold. ***
Continuing We had three groups of demo wire: mine adit, ANFO on the mine floor, and just because, some black powder placed into the old, but unused, drill holes in the mine face. The party room was going to be detonated remotely. We decided to blow the face first, then the ANFO, then the adit. After the applause died down, I’d trigger the party room. Then, the final drinking light for this mine site would be lit. Tomorrow, we pack up and travel south. But first! “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen! Welcome to your first abandoned mine demolition. This hole in the ground has become a menace, alas, through no fault of its own. But steps must be taken to remove it as a threat to society; to protect society from itself. I’ll let you cogitate over the irony of that statement at your leisure. Please, folks. This once was the provider of many a family’s daily bread, butter, and beer. A moment of silence. A moment of reverence. A moment of reflection. This is the place where you cut your subsurface teeth, where you lost your mining virginity, and now…we’re really gonna pop yer cherry!” They laughed! They actually laughed loud and long. I was amazed. This was just my B-list material. Dr. D and I alternated countdowns, Lucas was manning the detonators. Everybody, even the cooks, dish machine operators, and custodians joined in on the Safety Protocol song. First went the face/black powder. A loud, rolling BOOM followed by the mine blowing a huge white smoke ring skyward. Not bad for a first shot. Then the ANFO. Lucas needed to use the recently acquired replacement for Ol’ Reliable, my personal plunger-actuated blasting machine, as we needed the voltage and amperage. The ANFO shook everyone in camp, even set those in suspended hammocks rocking. “We’re over a half-mile from the mine and you can actually here see the effects of low-explosives.”, I said, regarding the swinging hammocks. “Did the Earth move for you, too?” Even that got a laugh. Next came the mine adit itself. The sharp cracks of the dynamite were so distinctly different than the rolling thrump of the ANFO. People were getting a good physical demonstration of the differences in different types of explosives. Everyone was about to clap, hoot, or holler, and head for the bar or leave when I shouted them down. “What are you doing? Where are you going? We’re not done here yet, folks. We have a little bonus. Relax, sit back, and enjoy the death of the cess-pit. The end of the fetid party room. The cessation of the sewer some people around here went to have fun. Want fun? What could possibly be more fun than over 100 pounds of Torpex, PETN, RDX, Dynamite and Kinestik binary high explosives…and a remote detonator?” All eyes one me grew three sizes that day. “And I’m prepared to offer the honor of pressing the big, shiny red button to…the highest bidder!” Consternation and grumbling. “Actually, I kid. Before this, I had given a slip of paper to Dr. D. On that paper is a number, between 1 and 100. Here are some official guessing paper and pencils. The paper was recently outsourced from the DOI, so no fair trying to use any other. Now, write your guess down, a single number, between 1 and 100, one guess per participant. The closest gets the remote detonator and the honor of destroying the den of filth. In the case of prizes, duplicate ties will be awarded. You have 2 minutes before my number will be revealed. GO!” Five minutes later, Dr. D announces the winner. There were no duplicates and my number was 86. Dr. I from Berkeley was the winner. She was a petite little hydrogeologist with a mean streak a mile wide. She grinned like a maniac when I handed her the remote detonator. She wanted to go immediately, but I restrained her for a 5 count. “5...4…3…2…1…HIT IT!” Whoa. Even though the mine was strictly closed, when that Torpex torpedo went off, the whole state probably felt it. It was very much like an earthquake. A very noisy, even that far underground in a closed-off mine, shatteringly brilliant earthquake. Dr. I was ecstatic. “I did that?” “Yes, you did. You’ll be receiving the bill in the mail.” I joshed. It didn’t matter. Nothing could dampen the mood at that point. Before lighting the drinking lamp, I recited a bit of doggerel for the crowd to close and commemorate our first victorious mine closing. “The Earth shakes, the ground cracks, And out steps fmax. Pleased as punch, fresh as a daisy, He watches while the world goes crazy. Strata shakes, structures tumble, Seismographs jump, formations crumble. When he’s finished, spent with sin, He returns as fmin.” (fmax refers to the high-frequency band-limitation of the radiated field of earthquakes.) It’s a geology thing… They seemed to appreciate the effort. They loved that immediately afterward I lit the evening drinking lamp. Dr. D, Lucas, and my own self had our cigars, drink, and maps. We were looking for our next contestant. Given the reaction of the crowd, I figured they’d be ready for something a little more ‘aggressive’. We had 11 days left, so it couldn’t be too far afield, as I didn’t want to waste time in transit, but here in Nevada, that wasn’t going to present a problem. Lucas pointed out the Gobbler’s Knob mining area. It was studded with mines marked with the red ‘X’ of the Bureau indicating these mines had been vetted for critter populations and were slated for demolition, and there was quite the assortment. Sure, it was a good three and a half hours distant as a direct shot, or a full day for this crowd. However, we could just camp there for the last part of the trip; it would make a fine base camp. There were more than enough mines, in close proximity, of all types. So, it was decided and announced. We’d all rendezvous at the titular Gobbler’s Knob gold mine area. I’d scout the area with Lucas and Dr. D, who would follow in his field car. We’d find a place to set up base camp. Sure, it was a diversion from the planned itinerary of the project, but that was at my discretion anyways. Given the shakedown at the Sharp Curve mine, we figure the less over-the-road travel for this crowd, the better. I chatted with the concessionaires and explained our new plans. They were relieved, as once settled, they wouldn’t have to tear down and set up again every few days. We would be relatively closer to some larger cities, so they could assure us to continue the high quality of food and drink. So, we were set. Lucas asked to ride with me and since he didn’t mind my cigars, so long as I shared. So Dr. D, in his rental field vehicle, and Lucas and I in the Hummer, hit the trail first. We’d be there in three or so hours. Real geologists don’t get lost out in the field, they just become slightly temporarily dislocated. Not to waste any time, I had Lucas get on the radio and relate our plans to the Bureau. After this, he called the Nevada State Troopers and let them know what we were up to as well; just in case, as insurance. He called the local police in the town of Goonhaven, NV to warn them that we were on the way. They were most appreciative. They liked geologists and miners. They even gave us the address and phone number of the town’s single liquor store. We had a radiotelephone lash up through the Bureau HF radio, so I had Lucas call the Boozerama and advise them we’ll need a lot of clear ice for the catering guys. Plus they might just want to go ahead and lay in a double, ok, triple supply of beer as there’s a gaggle of thirsty pseudogeologists on the way that are going to hang around for a week or more. I asked them if they had any Russian Imperial Export vodka. They said they had some, but a good variety and supply of other brands. I thanked them and warned them again, that the geologists were coming. I also requested that they source some Bitter Lemon and a few cases of assorted Nehi flavors. They said they would try. Always nice to phone ahead and give ample warning. Elicits discounts. Lucas was a natural as a navigator. “OK, Rock. Stay on the goat path until you hit Big Barn rock. Take a left and head up to Copperhead Canyon. Once past the canyon, go right on past Nellie’s Nipple and follow the arroyo. Once you pass Sniggler’s Gulch, hang a right and another right and we’ll be on the road to Gobbler’s Knob.” I lowered my polychromic safety squints in place and said: “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads”. I dropped the Hummer into low, stomped the gas, and leaped out across the desert; the trailer with nearly a ton of high explosives bouncing jauntily behind us. Lucas started to protest, thought better of it, got us both a cold drink out of the back seat, just sat, white-knuckled it as he watched the desert fly by. We made great time as we averaged some 60 miles per hour over the flat, rocky desert. Well, maybe not average, but we did hit 60 mph until Lucas got too alarmed and worried feverishly over the trailer full of boom that was fast on our tails. We pulled into the ghost town of the main Gobbler’s Knob camp. It was a large, open area up in the mountains. We got out and began our photoreconnaissance. There was a lot of antique mining equipment and paraphernalia up here. Looks like we were either too high up in the middle of nowhere or perhaps the locals didn’t care enough to brave the route up to the camp area. It was as close to pristine as one could get in the region. It really looked like with a little spit and polish, one could fire up the mines once again. The Gobbler’s Knob mining district covers an area of approximately 30 square miles in the Grunion Range in Nevada. Gold was discovered in the Gobbler’s Knob district in 1905, although quartz veins in the vicinity of the ‘Knob’ had been worked as early as 1866. The district immediately became one of the bigger "boom camps" of Nevada. The greatest production was reached in 1931, and since that time mining has declined until it was abandoned in the early 1940s. Placer gold, post-1945, from the deep gravels of the adjacent gulches have added to the total output. Total gold revenues from the area topped $550 million dollars. The geology is extremely complex. The southern part of the district is underlain by closely folded Paleozoic rocks. These formations have been divided into five units, to four of which local names have been given. The oldest of these units, probably of Cambrian age, consists dominantly of siliceous mica-schist but contains beds and lenses of quartzite and dark sandstone and five beds of crystalline limestone. The total thickness exposed is estimated to be about 5,000 feet. Above this, and provisionally assigned to the Ordovician, is about 800 feet of chloritic schist, altered by thermal metamorphism to a "knotted" schist. This unit, in turn, is followed by 800 feet of gray limestone, partly altered to black jasper, which near the top grades into black slates. The lowest fossiliferous stratum is a thin bed of black slate' containing graptolites, which is separated from the underlying limestone by a thin layer of quartzite. The graptolites are of No-Kill-I (Ordovician) age. Above the graptolite bed is limestone similar in character to that below, followed by a great thickness of chloritic schist, with here and there thin beds of cherty slate and crystalline limestone. The total thickness of this group of beds probably exceeds 4,000 feet in the area mapped. The Gobbler’s Knob mining district has produced an additional $350 million worth of copper, lead, silver, and rare earth elements. Productive rocks include the Pogostik Group, Euyankinme Quartzite, and Awfully Good Formation of Ordovician age, Lonesome Goose Dolomite of Silurian age, the Nowheyinhell Formation and Devil’s Dingus Limestone of Devonian age, and unnamed clastic units of Mississippian age, notably Bob’s Lime, the Coonskin Quartzite, and the Frammish metaconglomerates. These rocks were folded into an overturned anticline and then broken by high-angle normal and reverse faults. Paleozoic rocks were intruded by a granitic stock having a rhyolite porphyry core and by rhyolite porphyry dikes. Primary pyrite, chalcopyrite, galena, and sphalerite and tetrahedrite in host rocks of marble and diopside and garnet skarn have been altered by weathering to oxide, carbonate, sulfate and silicate minerals. Some mineralized rock contains remarkably high concentrations of rare earth elements and beryllium. We had carte blanche out here. We were the only bipedal mammals, as far as we could see, for hundreds, if not thousands, of square miles. Lucas tried to raise any local folks on the HF, VHF, ULF, and CB radios. Nothing. We were isolated, but we had our traveling funnel-cake trailers bringing up the rear. It was as nice a field area as one could ask. Lucas and I scouted the area looking for an area to erect Camp Central. I had almost decided in occupying one of the larger old miner’s shacks. That is until Lucas pointed out the local indigenous population of packrats, coyotes, possums, and probably fleas, ticks, mites, no-see-um’s, and snakes. “Good idea, Lucas”, I replied after reflection, “Let’s find us a new spot to camp out.” Dr. D can slaloming into the ‘Knob in a flurry of dust and flying alluvium. “Sorry I’m late, Guys, “he apologized, “But I found an outcrop of jaspalite out in the desert. I just had to stop and take samples.” He showed us the jaspalized lahar, or quartzified ancient volcanic mudflow, samples. They were a riot of colors. Blood red jasper, green jadeite, yellow topaz, bluish-quartz knots, and purplish purpurite, a purply-purple mineral species. It was very purple. Esme would have loved some samples to play with if all her lapidary equipment wasn’t already in storage. Dr. D got out the Gobbler’s Knob topographic map and stood on the roof of his rental, another reason rental car companies hate geologists, peering through his binoculars. Lucas and I were exploring around the old campsite when Dr. D called us over. A short distance away, there was a prominent wavy outcrop of thickly bedded sandstone. It has some nice re-entrants, like little rocky bays in an ancient geological harbor. This was fairly close to the flat highlands of the main camp but would be a prime dwelling for trailers, with some degree of privacy and the off-site storage of nearly a ton of high explosives. In front of the outcrop, was a flat, wind-swept sandy blowout area that would be prime for the catering trailers. If we parked the Porta Johns behind the outcrop, they’d still be close enough to be of facility. But they’d be distant enough that we wouldn’t be gassed in our sleep if the winds shifted during the night. Plenty of parking off-site a piece once the trailers were set. The general area showed no signs of being anything of a hydrological nature, so it didn’t act as a wadi boundary, nor were we camping in a dry wash. We should be protected from the worst of the winds and rain if the inevitable summer high-desert thunderstorm rolled through. “Boom!”, I said, “Gentlemen, we have a camp! First come, first served. Let’s go claim our spots.” We all smiled, piled into our respective vehicles and drove the 350 meters or so over a small rise to our new home for the next week plus. I found a very secure dead-end slot-canyon for the trailer. I backed it in, disconnected it from the Hummer, and secured it to some rock bolts Lucas and I pounded into the very living rock walls of the canyon. Lucas and I chose the next re-entrant to the left. It was one of the larger ones, plenty of space to park the Hummer and for Lucas and my tents. Dr. D selected the one immediately to the right of Trailer Canyon. His rental fit in parallel to the rock face, and he pitched his tent between the rock wall and his vehicle. He had a flat area to pitch his tent, drag out his work table, and sling his hammock between the car and the outcrop. He’d be protected from the wind and rain, and any onslaught other than directly vertical. Clever dude. He even erected a sun-shade he devised from a thick sheet of tarpaulin and some support pipes he scrounged from the surrounding area. We helped him fabricate this bit of brilliance with guy lines attached to rock bolts we pounded into the outcrop and extra tent pegs anchored deep into the desert floor. Very clever. He was secure as houses now. We were set and ready to go. All we needed now was the rest of the retinue to arrive. Lucas went walkabout once we had dragged out my worktable and one of the coolers I carried. I was working away on my field notebooks when Lucas ran up with a 2x2 foot square sheet of what appeared to be weathered white Masonite. “What you got there, Luc?”, Dr. D asked. “There’s tons of this shit lying around”, Lucas explained, “All the same size and thickness. I figure we’re going to be here a while, so we gather some posts, and we have a supply of ready-made signs for the crowd when they arrive.” So, Lucas, Dr. D and I spend the next couple of hours devising road signs for the new arrivals. “Slot 1 =>. Slot 2 =>.” And so one for the basic trailer parking/tenting slots. “Food =>”, which needed to wait until the caterers' arrival. “Shitters =>”, again, had to wait until the Porta-San farm arrived. And so on and so forth. All in bright day-glow orange. Lucas and I did a rattlesnake sweep through the entire camp area and found not even a shed skin. We did find a slot canyon cut clear through the outcrop that would provide great access to the Porta Johns behind the outcrop. It was like this place was designed for us. The food trailers and Porta Sans arrived at virtually the same time. We directed each to the area we thought would be best for each. The Porta San driver agreed this was a good place for the loos, especially since they’d be out of the elements and still close enough to be a convenience. The caterers hemmed and hawed a while, but over a cold beer or two, decided the areas we already designated would prove to be acceptable, with a few minor alterations. A little C-4 remade those minor alterations and relocated some errant boulders. Before you knew it, we were back in business. We figured the day would be a wash as it would take these hydroheads most of the day to find their shoes, much less a distant campsite. So, Lucas and Dr. D went out in his vehicle and posted sings to help direct these hopeless folks to the campsite. I stayed back at camp and pored over the maps, literature, and write-ups regarding the area and the mines it contained. There were literally hundreds of mines out there. Some no more than small prospect drifts that chased a vein of precious metals until it petered out in a few hundred yards. Others were full-fledged scary-ass deep, hard rock mines with vertical transit shafts whose depths were measured in thousands of feet. I discounted those the Bureau hadn’t vetted as to animal worthiness and those that were deemed animal sanctuaries. A quick count left me with 104 mines to choose from. Some I could close “Old School” with a bundle of dynamite and a quick tug on a set-pull-forget and toss fuse. Others were so extensive, it would take me and a trained crew at least a week to explore, devise, set, prime, and charge the thing. OK, I selected 10 easy mines for quick annihilation and set those aside as Class-1, the easiest bundle-of-boom, for later. Sort of a bonus as the project drew to a close. I mean, who wouldn’t want to go all 1880s and pop the fuse on a bundle of stick dynamite then chuck them down a deep hole? I know I would. Then I chose five or six what I considered medium-class, or Class-2, mines. Multi-level, dry, no real obvious nasties like rotten cribbing, loose broke down piles of rock, talc…gad, talc… or noxious gasses. These went into pile number two. Then I chose two that I considered Class-3 mines. Real bastards. Multi-level, flooded, raises, winzes, stopes, shifts, staves, shafts, tunnels, all sorts of fun shit. I decided that Dr. D, Lucas and I would discuss which of these we’d close. It was a point of vanity, I guess. I needed to nuke just one of these tricky fuckers to show the Bureau what they were going to be missing once I left. As well as prove what I can accomplish out in the field, even saddled with a passel of greenhorns. With my field notebooks up to date, all my demolition paperwork in order, and piles of mine candidates to choose from, I declared the day a wash and lit the drinking light. Dr. D looked at our supplies and declared it inadequate. Besides, we didn’t have any Bass Ale, his favorite tipple. He decides that he and Lucas would run into town, only about 75 miles distant, pick up the necessary supplies, and bet me a sawbuck he’d return before the first camper made camp-fall. “You’re on!”, I said as I handed Lucas the cash for the wager. I also slipped him a few extra bucks if he found any good looking cigars, vodka, bourbon or beer we just couldn’t live without. The concessions folks got wind of our plans and asked if one of their tribe could accompany Dr. D and Lucas to town with a couple of coolers for ice. They could make ice on-site, but it’d be hours before they had any in abundance. Dr. D had no problem with that as they could bungee the coolers down to the roof rack of the rental. I asked Dr. D if this extra time to get ice would invalidate our wager. In a flurry of dust and cigar smoke, he yelled out the window as he, Lucas and the food court guy hauled ass town ward: “No way! I’ll still beat them all back!” I was essentially alone out in the wilds of Nevada’s high desert. Nothing much to do, I loafed around, wandered over to the boomtown remains and had a look round, and generally just mooched about waiting. Back at Rock Central, as Dr. D had christened our campsite; as he had created, posted, and signed the signs to prove it, I was called over to one of the cook trailers. They had questions for me. They wanted to know what the gunfire was all about the other day. They’d heard rumors of everything from armed insurgency to just some late-night target practice. I regaled them of the story of the ‘Motorcycle Gang That Couldn’t Think Straight’ and they laughed and laughed. They were pleased to know they were well protected out here in the boonies. After that, with nothing much else to do, I offered them all a beer or whatever else they could find in my depleted larders. They gratefully accepted and we sat around, just shootin’ the shit for a while. Two or three beers in, one of the head chefs excused himself and returned a bit later with an unlabeled bottle of suspicious-looking clearish fluid. “We keep some on hand for emergencies”, he told me, “But since they were working for the Bureau and had to conform to their rules, we were asked to run a dry camp.” “Well,” I said, “As long as it’s kept under control, and as I’m the sole Bureau representative here; I don’t run a dry camp, so if it’s kept low-key, I don’t see a damned thing.” After the whoops and hollers died down, I was presented an iced glass of very suspicious-looking homemade high-octane hooch. The head chef, who assured me he has CIA credentials, i.e., Culinary Institute of America, and knew how to run a still, promised me I’d find his latest creation most enjoyable. Or unusual, I forget which. “Slurp!” Jesus H. Tap Dancing Christ on A Soda Cracker! That stuff was smooth. No, not smooth. What’s the opposite of smooth? Sandpapery? Abrasive? Crenulate? Squamulose? Rock ripping? He smiled broadly as I choked down that slug. I gasped for breath. My eyes glazed over. My ears were on fire. My teeth vibrated. My nose ran off. My tongue was contemplating filing for divorce. It was pure loathsomeness. It was fucking horrendous. I hated the fucking stuff. “Care for another?” he asked. “Oh yes, please,” I replied. A while later I heard a car approaching. Given the speed at which it was traveling, I knew without looking who it was. Yep, five minutes later Dr. D roared into camp, sliding backward to a stop only feet from the lead chow trailer in a cloud of Cretaceous floodplain dust. “Did I win?” he asked, as he looked the camp over. Lucas and the cook assistant fumbled out of the car as best their rubbery legs would allow. “Sure as hell.” I replied, “Lucas, please pay the man.” We helped remove the coolers of the roof of Dr. D’s car. Each was filled with a single crystal-clear block of water ice. Seems this old town still had an ice house and it was simple as squash to take dimensions of the cooler, and chip a chunk of the correct size off the glacier they had in the storerooms. The cook crew were ecstatic. Dr. D found his Bass Ale and bought the town dry. Lucas had purchased a supply of classic field camp beers: Lucky Lager, Henry Weinhard's, Hamms, Blatz, Falstaff, Walter’s Bock, Grain Belt, and Buckhorn. It was frosty, ice-cold nostalgia. Plus, Lucas found a bottle of George Dickel, Rebel Yell, and Hoggs Bourbon for me. As well as liters of Monopolowa, Popov, Bowmans’s, Royal Gate, and Ruskaya Vodka. He also admitted to a bottle of Yukon Jack and Captain Morgan for himself since everyone else was getting what they wanted. Plus three cases of really weird flavored Nehi soda. No Bitter Lemon though…he was disconsolate. But still smiling like a loon. Dr. D had also stopped and filled his trunk with firewood purchased from a farmer on the outskirts of town. We stacked that centrally next to where we’d construct the communal fire pit. The high desert. Out in the middle of absolute nowhere. Camping. Few creature comforts. A serious geology job laid out in front of us, a couple already behind us. Campfires. Good friends. Good food. Good cigars. Cheap booze. It really was like coming home again. Finally, some hours later, just as the sun was getting ready to bounce off the western edge of the desert, the trailers and campers began to arrive. They all caravanned, en masse so they wouldn’t get lost. Their tarmacked travels took them through many tank towns, so they stopped along the way for beer, booze, and other things to make the camp run that much more smoothly. One after another, the tenters and campers pulled in. Dr. D, Lucas and I decided we had done enough for one day, so we sat at Lucas’ and my campsite, stoked a smallish campfire and decided to sample the wares of Dr. D’s sojourn to the big city. The trailers all parked, first come, first served. No arguments, no bitching, no sweat. The tenters consolidated the northern end of the camp area, the trailers, the south. The chow triangle was rung and it was dinner time, all right on schedule. Deep-fried cod and chips, mushy peas, Toad in the Hole, Yorkshire Pudding, and roast joints of beef rounded out the British-themed meal. There was Spotted Dick, Banoffee pie, and Syllabub for pudding. You had to eat your meat or you couldn’t have any pudding. Maybe the chef really was CIA. After tea, and before the drinking light was lit, I called everyone for a quick meeting to explain what I had intended for the next 10 days. I explained how Class -1, -2, and -3 mines were defined. I noted that we would, at minimum, close at least one of each type in our time remaining. Everyone would be in on Class 1 & 2 mines, but I’d only ask for volunteers for the single Class-3 mine, due to its inherent complexity and danger. I also noted that since this would be home for the next near score of days, that I have access to VHF, HF, UHF, ELF, SW, and CB radios, with a lash up for telecommunications with the Bureau HF radio, if there was an emergency. I also have a satellite phone if there were any particularly spectacular emergencies. It was available, but not for idle chit chat. Perhaps, later in the week, I noted, I could allow a 10-minute call home for everyone if there was nothing untoward that happened in the interim. There were general shouts of approval on all points. I asked for questions, and there were none. Either I was that good at covering all the bases of these guys were really thirsty. “Folks”, I said, “The drinking light is lit. Remember, we muster front and center tomorrow 0630. Please bear that in mind. Naz dirovya!” After a catered breakfast of breakfast pizza, breakfast burritos, and breakfast Egg WacMuffins, I had the whole crowd assembled, most all sipping coffee and a few lamenting some real humdinger headaches. “OK, gang”, I began, “Class-2 mines today. Class-1 mines are super easy, barely an inconvenience. I’m retaining them as door prizes for the best mine demolishers nearer the end of the week. I won’t say much about these exit prizes, but suffice to say, think 1880s, and bundled sticks of dynamite.” That got the crowd’s interest. As usual, I broke the crowd up into groups. Dr. D, being near as up as me on mine construction and dangers, so kindly offered to take one group in the morning so I could handle the second group in the afternoon, or vice versa, just for flavor. After that, we’d compare notes, ask for volunteers, go back in and charge the mines. Then, we’d retire to a safe distance and blow the living shit out of them. We’d alternate, and when I wasn’t in the mine, he’d radio back what he thought would be appropriate to nuke these mines out of existence. I’d begin work on building the demolition charges. After which, I’d store them, then I’d take a group on a walkthrough. We’d all get together, have a powwow, get people’s impressions and concerns of the mine and formulate a demolition procedure. That way, in six days we blasted out of existence six Class-2 mines. We were humming along like a well-oiled machine. No bitching, no kvetching, just lots and lots of questions, good food, cheap booze, and cheaper beer with mines closing left and right. Things were actually humming right along. Until the afternoon of day 8. Clouds rolled in, covering the skies with their frothy white, billowy cloudiness. I was looking up to the unfolding aerial montage when Lucas and Dr. D wandered over. “You saw it as well.”, Dr. D noted., “Best get the word out, it’s going to be a real toad-floater.” He and Lucas were old-time field hands out in the desert. They knew what was coming. I agreed, this had all the earmarks of a major-league desert thunderstorm. Heavy rain, wicked winds, thundering thunder, dismal darkness, all split by jagged lightning. I called for an immediate camp meeting. “Folks,” I said loudly, so the cook crew could hear as well, “Look due up. We’re in for a real humdinger of a summer thunderstorm. As soon as we’re finished here, get back to your camp. Secure everything not nailed down. Check guy ropes and make sure they’re doubled-down. If it’s loose, pack it, or nail it down tight. I don’t know how many of you have experienced Mother Nature at her nastiest out in the field, but make no mistake, she’s got stuff that makes my best explosives look like Tinker Toys. Get sorted and hunker down. There will be wind. There will be rain. There will be wind. They may be hail, so tenters, you might want to call in some favors with the folks who have trailers. Questions?” There were none, but Dr. D added, “Rock ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie here, gang. It’s got all the earmarks of being a nasty bugger. Prepare to take cover and hunker down solid.” They saw that when the two most senior field trippers said that this was to be a real event, it’s best to listen and ask questions later. The camp scattered. Lucas and I flattened our tents, no need getting them ripped to shreds. I made certain the explosives trailer was nailed down, locked, and well-grounded. What are the odds of a lightning strike? Don’t care. I made double-damn uber-certain. Dr. D flattened his camp and said he’d ride it out in his rental. I offered him a spot in the Hummer, as it was big enough for us to sack out if the storm lingered. He declined. He said he’d be fine in his rental. The cook trailers were stowed and secured, and if the Port-a-San farm took a hit, there wasn’t much now we could do but hope otherwise. Lucas, Dr. D and I sat out in out camp chairs, with fresh cigars and beers, savoring the ridiculously salubrious pre-storm ozonic fresh air, awaiting the inevitable atmospheric show. The clouds above roiled, rolled, and built to astonishing heights. They grew as dark and foreboding as a volcanic ashfall. Over more beer and cigars, and maybe a tot of bourbon, we watched and waited. And waited. “Was this going to be a false alarm?” I wondered. KA-HOLY SHIT-BOOM! The thunder roared. Nope. Not this time. We all sat outside admiring the coming show. It was going to be fun, lots of lightning and peals of thunder. Torrential rains, for certain, with that exciting hint of hail that might come for a visit. Over beers, we sat, watched, and pointed out some of the amazing structures in a building series of cranky cumulonimbus clouds. “PLOP!” the first drops of rain appeared. The camp chairs went into the back of the Hummer. Dr. D departed to his sanctuary and Lucas and I sat in the truck, fiddling with the radios to see if we could get any info on the storm. KRRAACK! Lightning buzzed with a vengeance. We’re in the high desert out here. Some 9,000’ plus above sea level. Puts us that much closer to the storm. KABOOM! Thunder rumbled. “Odd”, I thought, “Not much rain or wind…” The Hummer rocked like it took a hit from an RPG. The rain and wind I wondered about had arrived. If you had anything not locked down outside, it was well on its way to California by now. Rain pummeled. Winds howled. Lightning cracked. Thunder rumbled. And it got very, very dark. Dr. D did a great job of picking out our camp location. The rain puddled, ponded, then ran off to the west. The winds, for at least a small part, were funneled around the campsite rather than lay waste to it. But that’s where all the good things ended. The hail began. Pea-sized first. Then marble-sized. Then organic, free-range, farm-fresh, egg-sized. Finally, high-velocity ice golf balls. It made a hell of a racket on the reinforced roof of the Hummer. I didn’t even want to think what it was doing to thin-sheet aluminum topped trailers. It grew in intensity. Winds whipped even stronger. Hail bounced merrily of the outcrops, cook trailer’s roofs and the very ground. In short order, it looked as if it had snowed. The entire campsite’s grounds were covered with whole inches of accumulation of hailstones. Then, as quickly as it appeared, it was over. The sun cautiously peeked through the waning clouds and lit the devastated tableaux for all to see. Lucas, Dr. D and I got out of our vehicles to survey the circumstances. We brushed the icy accumulations off our tents and raised them so they’d begin drying. There would have been nothing left if we hadn’t collapsed them first. Slowly, the rest of the campers showed up. They milled around the snow-like accumulation and just goggled. Many had never seen, much less experienced, such climatic fury firsthand. Of course, everyone had to pick up and examine the hailstones. Then it happened, one northern wag decided that since it looked like snow, it must act like snow. One West Coaster was the first casualty. He took a hailstone snowball to the back. That’s all it took, a snowball fight broke out. It was hilarious, even though I was less than amused when I played innocent bystander and took a snowball hit directly to the cocktail in my hand, spilling my drink. “Of course you realize.”, I mused, “This means war.” Many campers learned that day, through hard experience, you never start a snowball fight with Baja Canada and Real Canada residents. The carnage was spectacular. It was a late night before anyone hit the sack. They were having too much fun. I finally picked the last mine of the tour, the Gobbler’s Knob #33 shaft. I gave it several days because it was a motherfucker. Fully 7 levels deep. A central shaft that was 33’ across the diagonal, hence the mine’s name. The deepest record we had for the mine was the last work face in level 7 was at 2,729 feet below surface level, more than a half a mile in depth. The last reports were that level 7 might have flooded. Looks like I’m going to need some severely hardy folks to accompany me on this initial trek. After dinner that night, I called a camp meeting. I explained the need for the initial reconnaissance of this mine, and I was looking for volunteers. This was an entirely optional mine, although I’d like input at the nightly meetings. You don’t have to go, but it’d probably look real good on those final reports I have to write up for everyone. Yeah, no pressure. No pressure at all. Of course, Dr. D and Lucas volunteered immediately. Truth be told, if that’s all that wanted to go, it would have been fine with me. However, Dr. I, the Ms. maniac torpedo detonator from earlier, Dr. F, and Dr. H and his associate made the move forward. “OK,” I declared, “That’s seven. Just in case, do any of you have technical rope-climbing skills? That might come in handy on this recon trip.” Dr. H decided that it might be a bit too strenuous for him, but asked if his associate, Gary the Grad Student could accompany us. This guy was supposedly half-gibbon, he was that good of a technical climber. I almost told him to get bent as I didn’t need anyone showing me up. Of course, I relented. I noted that we’d all meet here, tomorrow, fully kitted out with all our gear, at 0600 for the initial assault. We’d take the Hummer as it had plenty of room. The mine adit itself was less than a mile distant, but we’d get so knackered walking that distance even in the early morning desert heat, that I insisted we drive, even if it took a couple of trips. There was a pretty good Happy Hour that night, but not for six of the more intrepid adventurers. We held off until after our explorations were complete. I had copies of the latest mine schematics and handed one out to everyone. “Carry this with you and mark it as you go”, I said, “Find something not on the map, like an ore chute, drift, stope, raise, or winze, make a note. Also, keep tabs on where you are at all times.” All agreed as this was serious nut cuttin’ time. This mine could be a real killer. I doubt it’s going to cut any of us any slack. After checking and re-checking our gear, at the mine adit, we synchronized our watches and rechecked our coordinates. Our ELF radios would work underground as would the mine GPS we had along. To be continued.
On build systems: attempt at finding right abstractions
So, let me annoy everyone with my rant. If want to get to something more substantial just skip ahead. All this situation with build systems and hype around it can't help but remind me about good old xkcd panel. This situation seems completely paradoxical. We are ready to happily dump hundreds of human hours to discuss and design an obscure standard library feature which is required by 3.5 people and still are not willing to figure out and agree on way we build our software which is required by everyone. And we still claim to be grand C++ programmers who write most performant, efficient and elegant code out there. Bunch of us wrote most complicated systems in the world. And still look at the stuff we use every day. Ugh... There is only one conclusion that comes to my mind: we just SUCK at designing our own tools.
I don't want to come as all-knowing or claim I found a panacea. This post is mostly a brain dump of what was lazily brewing in the back of my mind for some time. It could be completely wrong, it could be far away from real world, I don't care. I just hope it will help us find the right direction. And no, there is not need to remind me. As a fellow C++ programmer I absolutely adore convoluted solutions and overly complex systems.
When we design something, first we need to decide our goals. For build system it would be:
Ease distribution and consumption of libraries.
Reproducible builds. Holy grail of C++.
A lot of people focus on first point and completely forget about the second one, although it is equally as important. Let's not dig too deep and take compilation model from what we have nowadays. It seems to be fairly stable and widely adopted. According to it there is a number of atomic (within reason) operations that need to be performed:
Compile TU into object file
Compile TU into AST dump*
Assemble module interface**
Assemble module body from related TUs**
Link object files and module bodies into binary artifact
Configure build options***
"Install" artifacts (move to reasonably unique and accessible location in filesystem)
Fetch sources/precompiled artifacts
* Probably required for module bodies (templates?). AST is just an example - can be any other format that makes sense (including toolchain-specific) ** Haven't been following module hype train. Are there any details on concrete implementations yet? I assume this is more or less what's supposed to be going on, but some operations here might be unnecessary (like interface assembly). *** I believe I've seen some people (indirectly?) objecting to this step ("we don't need meta-build systems like CMake", although they might have a different objection point to this), but realistically this step is absolutely necessary as it includes stuff like choice between release/debug build, choice between target architecture etc. What's come to mind when looking at the list? I guess
1-5 are just tiring invocations of compiler toolchain tools
7, 8 do basically the same thing: manage files in your system
When we talk about toolchain invocations we actually need to know which compiler we use to correctly issue compilation flags. Like call gcc for TUs but ld for linking exe, pass /Ox when handling msvc, but sometimes its just clang++ for everything, and yeah don't tell linker weird stuff when compiling with asan. I mean... WTF is this mess? Why in all three hells your building systems needs to know all of that? It's actually a complete disaster if you squint your eyes. We leak implementation details all over the place. Who cares if your toolchain has one executable or 10? Who cares if its dashes or slashes? All I want to ask is "do (one of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)", why anything else should concern me? I mean at this point it makes sense to just have one executable which can be told what I want to do, not how to do it. Isn't it how good APIs work? Btw clang team apparently come to similar idea much earlier than me and hid all their stuff behind clang++ executable. Anyways this is where I think we should start counting our tools: Toolchain Abstraction Tool. The second part is resolving dependencies. TUs consume modules, module consume modules, all that. Basically speaking, if modules stuff is represented as files, we can explicitly feed those files in invocations where they are needed. Then ordering invocation is "trivial". Well at the very least in context of state-of-the-art contemporary systems: we already do this with headers. Needs some tweaking at most. What deserves much more attention is optimization techniques. Currently we have 3 (correct me if I'm wrong):
Parallel command execution. Will not go anywhere, although will be a little bit more tricky.
Incremental builds. Always watching over us.
Databases of precompiled files. Newcomer. Problematic to integrate as it stands now.
To manage all this we can have another tool: Script Execution Tool. Next comes configuring our project. Project Configuration Tool. Part of CMake fills similar role, and you can easily witness how screwed up everything is when you are trying to support multiple targets and multiple toolchains. File Management Tool. Tucks your files where they need to be, fetches from internet, didn't give it enough thought, something else? So overall we can round up the zoo to whole... five tools:
Toolchain abstraction tool
Script execution tool
Project configuration tool
File management tool
Virtual environment management tool
Yes, I added a fifth one, but everything in order. Toolchain Abstraction Responsibilities:
Define and provide unified "high"-level toolchain invocation commands (similar to listed above) and transform those into toolchain-specific ones. Yes I also cringe at unified, but let's temporary agree on something at least.
Provide similar support for various widely used compiler switches (optimization nobs, warnings, -fno-rtti, other fun stuff)
Bring toolchain switching down to change in one flag.
Provide query API for various features (like "do you have asan?")
Toolchain verification. I've seen CMake and autotools do something like this, but a tool which is more closely related to the subject will probably do better?
Toolchain versioning. Maintain multiple versions, tool selections (ld vs gold vs...), standard libararies (clang has access to full 3), custom patches and whatnot - without destroying any of your projects.
Produce/consume toolchain description scripts.
Provide helpers, explanations and search over supported options, information about toolchain support/compliance. I feel like compiler options explanations are often as cryptic as flags themselves. And yeah, don't forget, there are new people too, for them modern toolchain is just black magic box as it stands now.
Script execution Responsibilities:
Takes a script which contains a list of tool invocations. Assumptions: 1) no specific order 2) each invocation is tool+config flags, input files, output files 3) as long as tool is the same, config is the same, input is the same = output is also same
There are no conditions or configuration at this step! Adding this makes many features much more difficult to correctly implement. Also it happens right after project configuration. Need something - put it there.
2nd point provides a way to infer dependencies between files and therefore order in which commands must be executed. And no, specifying order doesn't achieve much since if we want to split the work over multiple threads, to do it correctly we need to build dependency graph anyways.
2nd point is also a reason to have modules build as separate invocations (so we can tie module object files, module body/interface and TUs that consume it). Btw its also a reason to have module files to be explicitly specified in invocation instead of letting toolchain to infer it magically. This way we can employ power of dependency guessing and optimization techniques from this tool. Also its a bookkeeping for reproducible builds.
3rd point is required to enable incremental builds. Also means that builds are deterministic.
Note that we are not limited to toolchain executables, anything can be invoked as long as it complies to conditions.
There already exist tools which look in this direction, for ex. Ninja.
Project configuration Responsibilities:
Tool operates with two scripts: project description script and project configuration script.
Project description script, well, it describes your project. Which files to use, what artifacts to create, toolchain flags, dependencies, project-specific flags, other meta-information.
Project configuration script fills the blanks in description script. Most prominent are: toolchain choice, optimization levels, debug information, project-specific flags, custom flags/additions.
Supports, again, two important operations: produce configurations for dependencies and produce build script for further execution.
Note that we don't try and recursively execute on dependencies! We only tell what do we want to get, it's not our job to find and deliver them!
File management Responsibilities:
Fetch stuff from net: library lists, sources, precompiled binaries etc.
Locate and tuck stuff locally. Each artifact so far can be identified with 3 configuration files: project description, project configuration, toolchain description. The first one can maybe be left out but then customly modified variants can be an issue.
Create installations of the project, i. e. assemble all those dependencies from across filesystem into one spot, so it can be sanely distributed.
Probably strongly integrated into virtual environment.
Virtual environment management Responsibilities:
Isolate project from system and other projects.
Primary function: being asked to make a specific project/tool with specific requirements (configuration) available. Environment then decides how to handle it: find something locally, download, build - whatever it takes.
Primary function: Manage PATH and dynamic library locations. Bunch of backstage magic is begging to happen here.
Secondary function: Set up defaults to keep things DRY (like your toolchain).
This may seem unnecessary, but it is essential step towards reproducible builds: now we have (almost) perfect information about what is available to the project. True, that some of it can inferred (direct project dependencies) but some are not (like exact toolchain configuration, or other tools). Also others (for ex. Python) already realized usefulness of such abstraction and are making tools to handle it while we are still doing our woodoo dances around compilers. You may ask now, WTF I want to make my project in one line. And yes, now you can have it, the 6th tool: Project management tool. Let it make your life easy:
Set up new projects, define project structure, conventions whatever else.
Generate project description/configuration files.
Execute all necessary steps to actually build a project.
Integrate into your IDE nicely so you never even have to touch command line.
But seriously I don't care if it's easy to set up project in one line or easily link a famous library when everything is a dumpster fire and any step left or right leads to hours of suffering and guide/manual smoking (yes, CMake, I look at you). I don't know, maybe it's just me, but everyone for some reason jumps directly to last item on the list and handwaves the rest. It's literally the least important one, and obviously most desirable one: a nice facade hiding complex machine. Except such build tools usually find crutches behind itself instead. This is where my mind is now. Maybe some abstraction levels are wrong. Maybe we need to merge/split something, or completely rework the workflow? I don't know. If you know - help everyone to figure it out. Anyways I'm super tired right now, hope this wall-of-text makes at least some sense.
Hello, Animorphs! It's your friendly neighbourhood worldbuilder again, here with a new species that I've spent some time thinking about. I haven't changed much that we know about Andalites from canon, I've just tried to flesh them out and give them a history that's more than vague allusions to not having books and using plenty of soap. Like before, I'd love if anyone reading could talk about their own thoughts regarding the Andalites. Andalites Biology Andalites are a hexapod mammalian analogue with fascinating physiology. Andalites descend from one of the very few lineages discovered in the Galaxy without a mouth at the opposite end of the anus. Instead, they develop multiple "mouths" at the end of their limbs. While many related species retain them on all six limbs, Andalites and their close relatives have lost the receptacles on their front limbs. These are instead used as manipulators for grooming and tool use. Andalites are a grazing herd species. It is theorized that the necessity for communication in a social species without mouths or strong auditory apparatus is what pushed the evolution of thought speech. A fascinating ability that has analogues in other species, but is taken to new heights in Andalites. The large brains are also thought to have evolved to accommodate this evolution. Thought speech is, in essence, a z-space entanglement of the neurons of the transmitting party with the neurons of the receptive party/parties. While most modern Andalites use this ability to broadcast only ideas, images and words, there is ongoing research into myths from their ancient past, as well as experiments with using the ability to sense or manipulate other minds. Andalites can use this ability to communicate with anything that has a similarly sapient mind, rare amongst catalogued galactic species, and have even developed computer interfaces that accept such input. Andalites have several adaptations that make them formidable combatants. Their famous tail blades aside, which lead to the prehistoric extinction of all large terrestrial predators on the Andalite homeworld, they have redundant hearts, efficient bird-like lungs, four eyes that see into a wide spectrum, electroreception which provides them an exceptional perception of time and space, deceptively dense musculature and bone structure and a complex immune system that has few equals in xenobiology. These abundant advantages, particularly for a herbivorous species that are not generally aggressive, have sparked many theories that Andalites are a synthetic species, designed by an unknown creator. Andalite scientists dismiss these theories as nonsense. Andalites have two sexes, and some degree of sexual dimorphism. Males grow larger than females and have larger tail blades. The two sexes tend to have different patterns on their coats, though this is not absolute. The coat patterns are determined by hormone exposure in the uterine environment. Andalites generally live for around 200 human years. Andalites are considered children for the first 20 human years, and considered adolescents for the next 10 human years after that. While capable of reproduction around 25 human years of age, they are considered fully sexually mature at around 30 human years. They remain capable of childbearing for the rest of their first century of life and siring for the next 50 human years after. Gestation takes 2 human years, and the Andalite colt emerges already capable of walking and rudimentary thought speech. After childbirth, Andalite females are generally not able to conceive again for roughly 10-15 human years. Homeworld The Andalite homeworld is roughly twice the size of Earth, it orbits a binary star system and has four moons, two of which have biospheres themselves. Its gravity is slightly higher than Earth's. Land makes up 50% of the surface area, however, because it is split into many smaller interconnected continents punctuated by many rivers and lakes rather than one large supercontinent, there are few deserts. Instead, the dominant biome is lush grasslands and loosely packed forests. The planet has relatively abundant metal, water and hydrocarbon reserves. Biodiversity is somewhat lower than what is found on Earth. This is thought to be the result of the dominance of a single terrestrial biome and the fact that the planet has only had to endure one mass extinction event in its geological history. History As discussed earlier, early Andalites evolving both their tail blades and intelligence led to the extinction of all large terrestrial predators that preyed on their ancestors. This brought about a population boom, and soon after, local ecosystem collapse. Andalite traditions from antiquity emphasize husbandry and maintenance of their surrounding environments, as well as an aversion for large numbers of children. A reverence for life and tree worship is a constant theme across all ancient Andalite cultures, expressed in rituals Andalites carried out through daily life and for special occasions. These ancient rituals have survived with few changes, through the millennia into the modern day. Throughout Andalite history, males have been the ones expected and encouraged to fight. Almost all military heroes throughout history are male, and this affects modern politics, because of the powerful effect the prestige of serving in the military brings to veterans. Andalites may seem, to many outsiders, are quite ableist. Their heritage as a herding prey species shines through in that they are remarkably unconcerned about individuals who are born or become disabled. These individuals are labelled vecol and forced into ritual isolation. The shock and shame of this isolation can be so great that it causes a hormonal response in the shunned Andalite, weakening their normally formidable immune systems and causing them to succumb to lethargy and hopelessness. In most cases, death soon follows this exclusion. Andalites have been a spacefaring species for 3000 human years, and z-space capable for 2000. All mining and other mineral extraction on the homeworld was banned since shortly after spaceflight development. Instead, they mine asteroids and neighbouring lifeless planets for metals and other needed material. Shortly after their society had the technological capability to automate most manual labour, Andalites returned to the sylvan lives of their ancient ancestors. Their only urban settlements on their homeworld and colonies are the spaceports. In their 2000 years of exploring the galaxy, Andalites have only permanently colonized three exoplanets. Each planet was a barren, lifeless world painstakingly chosen for the similarities to the homeworld. All orbit stable binary stars of a similar type. All are of a similar size and gravity and have four moons that resemble those of the homeworld. All have a topology and geological features that would lend themselves to similar small continental layout. One colony candidate had only three moons, and a large planetoid was dragged into orbit to take the place of the fourth moon. These colonies were then terraformed, sculpted and seeded with lifeforms from the homeworld over several hundred years until the planets closely matched the homeworld. During these periods of terraforming, exploration and other activities slowed down to give more focus to the planning and design of the future colony. These colony worlds are considered some of the highest artistic and scientific achievements of Andalite civilization. An untrained observer visiting these planets would be hard-pressed to identify which world was the original and which world was the colony. The most recent colony world was opened for settlement 200 human years ago. Society Andalites have a democratic form of government called the Electorate. They elect representatives for every constituency of ~100 million, and these sit on the Electorate. These individuals are called Elects. These Elects draft policies and laws, but these are only put into effect upon a referendum result of 70% or more. A large majority of these Elects are male, as are the leadership of the Military and Exploration Councils. The prestige of having served in space, which is almost exclusively the domain of male Andalites, is a huge boost to those who later seek leadership roles. Female Andalites thus have enormous structural and cultural barriers to gaining authority in most institutions outside of the sciences and arts. Direct democracy is trivially easy due to z-space transponders, and all adult Andalites are taught that it is their sacred duty to weigh issues carefully before voting. There are Great Factions, that represent a collection of distinct ethos, that many Andalites hold in higher or lower esteem. The four main Great Factions are the Military Faction, the Exploration Faction, the Science Faction and the Traditionalist Faction. Each consist of Elects and their voters that hold their faction ethos as the primary focus. Military - they want to see the Andalites as the premier interstellar power and want to build readiness for any threats to this power. Exploration - they want to explore the galaxy and discover new worlds and new minds. Science - they want to discover more secrets of the universe. Traditionalist - they want Andalites to live their best lives, and try to maintain ancient traditions. There is also a Military Council, an Exploration Council, a Science Council and an Artisan Council. Despite the names, these exist outside of the Electorate and are accountable to it for the carrying out of their purpose and missions. The Military Council currently has primacy over the other councils due to the war with the Yeerks. This is the source of much political and bureaucratic conflict. They have an active news media that reports on all activities across the homeworlds and is an important part of making all Andalites feel united and aware of each other. Their pop culture consists of poetry and rhetoric, dance (including morph dancing), documentaries, drama, political commentary, hirac delests of historical figures and imported extraterrestrial media, generally traded from Skrit Na sources. While Andalites generally live in single-family scoops arranged in loose clusters that mark extended families, they do congregate in large numbers for festivals, recreational and political events. Andalites venerate nature and beauty, and their art and architecture attempts to reflect this in all ways. Andalite buildings are normally integrated into the environment in intricate grass-scapes and forest-weavings. They use the environment as a canvas for art, even clouds are shaped carefully for optimum beauty. As soon as they gained the capability to make eco-domes, the Dome Ship became the flagship of the Andalite military, in the face of criticisms of its combat effectiveness. Andalites also have a love of games. Organized sports such as drift ball matches and tail fighting championships can draw billions of views. Andalites take around 25-30 human years from birth to full maturity. This long juvenile period is on the longer end for most sapients. Andalite society takes advantage of this and schooling is a long and intense road for Andalite children. They are expected to enrol at local schools as around 2 human years of age and partake in their definition of rigorous basic education for the next 18 years. After this, the next stage, as adolescents, is to take specialized training in the careers they choose at more centralized academies. Most adolescent Andalites choose two specializations, although there is no limit and particularly ambitious youths have been known to take three or four. Since the start of the Yeerk War, almost every male Andalite has chosen military training as one of their specializations, and political pressure is growing to allow young females to follow suit. Andalites do no use a market economy. Instead, all material needs are seen to by the government. All Andalites are encouraged to apply themselves to a career or vocation, whether within the government structure or outside it. The complexity, difficulty and danger of this labour and utility and uniqueness of the outputs are factored into a score which then entitles the Andalite in question to tiers of government assistance and luxuries. These benefits can be - scoop maintenance or construction, colony movement for the extended family, leisure facility reservations, etc. Andalites serving on off-world missions (mostly young males) have the option to forward these benefits to their parents or other family members. The Andalite Electorate exerts power in roughly a 1000 light-year radius around their homeworld. From only four homeworlds, the Electorate extends its presence through a network of space stations, orbital dockyards and observation posts. There are enclaves of other z-space capable species within this space, Ongachic and Skrit Na space stations and trade hubs, with a minor polities of less established species such as the Leerans and Nahara. They are happy to accept Andalite law in exchange for the chance of trade, protection from other threats and, in the case of the Skrit Na, other activities that are not well understood. Before the Yeerk war, the Military Council's main purpose was regulation of traffic and enforcement of the Electorate's laws on these smaller polities. There are roughly 10 billion Andalites living across the four Andalite homeworlds. In the ~30 human years since the beginning of the Yeerk War, proscriptions on multiple children have been largely removed and Andalite females encourage to bear young through benefits and incentives. As a result, there has been a baby boom of juvenile Andalites, and regardless of the result of the war, Andalite society will be significantly changed. Recent Events Since the opening of the third colony world 200 human years ago, there has been a search to find a new candidate planet for colonization. The search process happens in two stages. An Exploration Council Mission emerges from z-space and scans and catalogues all solar bodies in a system. The results of this scan determine the second stage. The presence of life means a referral to the Science Council. The presence of unusual minerals, a referral to the Artisan Council. Advanced life means a contact scenario, while primitive yet intelligent life means the system is tagged for observation and placed under a travel ban. In this way, space is mapped out and the galaxy explored. The Yeerk homeworld was one such world on the edge of Andalite space. It was scanned, and no sign of intelligent life was found. A Science Mission was called to better study the planet, lead by Prince Seerow. Seerow was a brilliant scientist, and soon perceived the intelligence of the Gedd Controllers, and that the source of this intelligence was the Yeerks. In an unusual but not illegal deviation from procedure, he taught the Yeerks the Galard language, as well as giving them gifts of education databases and basic tools. He was excited by the high intelligence and rapid aptitude for learning the Yeerks displayed. He requested and received a fleet of transport ships to take some Yeerks to visit an Ongachic trade hub, but was on home leave visiting with his family when they arrived. The Yeerks massacred the Andalite crews, stripped the science outpost of all useful material, commandeered the transports vessels, loaded it full of millions of Yeerks in their natural state and vanished into interstellar space. Seerow was disgraced, his name used for a law that forbade Andalites from giving Andalite technology to other species, and the Exploration Faction that he was a champion of lost significant support in the Electorate. The Escafil device is the most significant Andalite breakthrough of the past century, and its political, scientific and military impact has not been fully explored. Intended as a tool to build empathy between species as well as to heal injuries Andalite medical science previously could not, it is now more famous for use as a covert mission tool and with Visser Three's monstrous battle morphs. In the roughly 30 human years since the Yeerks have burned through several inhabited systems on the edge of Electorate space. They have enslaved the Hork-Bajir, Taxxons, Nahara, Mak, Sstram and many others. Most of these species they found by looking through stolen Andalite exploration data. While their activities are enraging to all Andalites, they are still militarily much weaker than the Andalites and lack the strength to stand up to a full-scale space battle. However, Andalite military resources are stretched thin trying to safeguard species that have not yet been enslaved, as well as slowed by the bureaucratic conflict between Councils. The Yeerks have begun a secret invasion of the human world, and should they succeed, the balance of power could swing sharply. All previous host species they have captured have significant downsides; demographic, behavioural or biological shortcomings that humans don't have. There is also a conspiracy within the Traditionalist Faction that is leaking secrets to the Yeerks. These fanatic conspirators want the Andalites to narrowly lose the war because they believe this will force the Electorate to focus their energies inward and stay away from exploring and interacting with other species.
The attack did not come that day. Nor did it come the next, or the next, or the next. The week of waiting turned first into two, then into three. And yet the tyranids did not come. Constantine began to grow restless. Between sparring sessions, he would pace the wall like a caged tiger, almost eager for the xeno to come. The brilliant lights of the void battle still filled the sky. It seemed unbelievable to him. Reports filtered in through the great vox-spire at the center of the city. The xeno fleet was acting unusually coy, fighting and retreating, dancing around the system and preventing the imperium from either relieving the planet or striking a decisive blow. “The xeno is becoming clever. I do not like it.” He told Ish’van as his training sword flashed towards the giant’s throat. The giant stepped back, swinging his own blade back to deflect the blow and launching a careful counter. The two were far from evenly matched, but it was not a battle Constantine could rely purely on his reflexes to win. The salamander was a giant, even by the standards of the Astartes, and his strength bordered on the supernatural. That combined with his notable reach made every blow one Constantine had to treat with respect and care. He stepped twice to the side, and deflected the blow with his knife. It could not fully stop the momentum, but instead deflected it harmlessly to his paldroons. He stepped forwards, lunging like a fencer of ancient terra. His arm fully extended, pushing every inch of his reach into the attack. The sparring blade struck the salamander’s helm with a thunk. Beneath his helmet, the black templar grinned. The grin faded as Ish’van swung back. Too close to dodge back or away, Constantine took the one option available to him. He pushed on, continuing his lunge as the helm deflected the training blade to the side. He dropped his knife, took his sword in both hands, and hauled in a downwards chop. The metal blade screeched along the ceramite armor, as Constantine put his weight and strength into the blow. Ish’van’s attack swung past his smaller opponent, only his arm connecting with Constantine’s armor. His own massive reach now worked against him, as did his strength. The blow had left him only slightly off balance, but that slight difference, barely shifting his center of gravity a centimeter, was enough. The full weight and strength of his brother crashed down on the vulnerability, and Ish’van’s posture bucked. He fell to a knee, the blade still at his throat. Constantine breathed heavily, panting from the exertion. “Well, do you concur?” He asked. “I concur that you need a better sparing partner.” The salamander said with good humor. “One who can keep a conversation going while trying to deal with all your fancy footwork.” “And one whom I do not risk tearing a muscle any time I clash with.” Constantine replied, removing his blade. The salamander stood, once more looming head and shoulders over his smaller brother. “I had heard tell that your brothers forge their armor each according to his own needs. Why in the emperor’s name did you feel the need to make yours as heavy as a land raider?” Ish’van let out a deep and booming belly laugh. “The tales of my brother’s craftsmanship are somewhat exaggerated if you hear we each make our own power armor. Though the legend of the black templar’s skill with the blade is reaffirmed in my bruises every day.” Atra, sitting to the side, chose to make no comment regarding bruises, and instead nursed the constant, all-encompassing bruise that was her entire body. Well, at least she was starting to become used to the pain now. “You still didn’t answer my question, much as the flattery is effective in distracting me from it.” Constantine pressed. Ish’van did not speak, removing his helmet and mag-locking it to his hip. The frown was particularly worrying on the normally jovial Astartes. “I do concur. The enemy grows canny, and they are a difficult enough foe to deal with when they simply throw themselves at us.” “I do not hear reports from the other hives. Have they also fallen?” Constantine wondered. “Surely we should have seen the fires.” “I do not know brother.” Ish’van said grimly. “But the battle will come, Whether they come by sea and shadow or in their screaming thousands.” “And where also are the titans?” Constantine wondered aloud. “True, we alone may be enough to hold the gate, but even I am not so proud to not wish for the aid of the god-machines.” “Likely trapped in orbit still. There they are the most vulnerable. The xenos must understand this and strive to keep them at bay.” “Clever bugs.” Constantine muttered, almost like a curse. Within the central spire, Morn remained almost as restless, if not more. The actions of the tyranids did not follow what his files told of their behavior. The tyranids were animals, and like animals they would seek food, and this being the second largest hive on the planet, it was the highest concentration of food. Why did they not come? Why did they fight so strangely? The questions continued to pile, leaving the techmarine frustrated with his lack of answers. He needed a new perspective. Wothin’s advice came from years of experience, but his stories were frequently a mix of exaggeration and metaphor. He would obscure the truth to make his point. It was illogical, well suited for advising flesh and emotion, but little for logic, and real solutions. He would go to the manufactorum and seek audience with the magos. Perhaps there he might find insight into this strange behavior. As he passed by, he heard the sound of music coming from Andriel’s mediation chamber. This was abnormal. He walked to the door and pressed the button to open it. Locked. That would not remain so for long. As the door swung open, Morn kept his hands near his bolters. What he found was odd. Andriel sat, cross legged, playing a stringed instrument, somewhat similar to a harp. He opened his eyes and ceased the music as Morn entered. “Cousin.” He said, voice slightly baleful. “Why do you disturb my meditation?” “It was abnormal. Why do you have an instrument?” Morn asked, unconcerned by the response. “As I said, I was in the process of meditating. I was specifically working to focus my mind to contact one of the other hives as you asked of me.” The psyker replied, clearly irritated at the intrusion. “The screaming minds of the xeno make such concentration difficult enough without distraction.” “Then why do you distract yourself with noise?” Morn asked, continuing to focus suspiciously. His internal computers calculated several different options for terminating the psyker if it proved necessary. The dark angel sighed. “Of course, your librarians would have their own methods of focusing their minds. Morn, you are familiar with the process of music are you not?” “I am. Did you not hear the binary cants of the manufactorum as we passed through it?” He asked in reply. “That was meant to be music? I digress. It is a careful progression of small steps, each of which is key to bringing the whole song together. Put a single note out of step or play one flat or sharp, and the entire composition can stumble. You must have it perfectly memorized, perfectly understood, knowing both each individual note and its meaning and how the whole structure falls together. This is the same manner by which a power is safely manifested. A very careful and extremely practiced series of steps that flow together to create a potent ability.” The librarian explained, trying to put it in the simplest terms possible. “So playing the harp is a method to focus psychic powers.” Morn accepted. “This is illogical. Why do you not simply practice the powers themselves?” “Because that requires directly touching the warp, even in passing.” Andriel explained. “And do not think because I wield it that I do not fear it any less than you. If anything, I fear it more, for it is my constant companion.” “Fear is a thing of flesh and mortals.” Morn replied. “We are the Astartes. We shall know no fear.” “Be that as it may, I am magi.” Andriel replied, with a strength and focus that gave even the soulless techmarine pause. “Fear is the first ward against damnation.” “I thought that was contempt.” “That is the second ward, and a universal one. All should armor themselves in contempt, but for a psyker, that alone will breed arrogance, and arrogance is the path to ruin.” Morn nodded, accepting the perspective and integrating it. If this could grant him insight on this topic, perhaps another. “What is the meaning behind the tyranids’s unusual behavior?” Andriel started slightly at the abrupt change of subject, and paused to consider. “The xeno is known to avoid areas of high resistance until it gathers sufficient force to destroy it.” He said, drawing on his own knowledge of the great devourer. “Considering we exterminated their initial probe; the hive mind may consider this area far more dangerous than it actually is. Similarly, it fears the fleet, and knows it cannot engage it without severe risk. Therefore it circles to wait for something to tip the balance.” “This planet.” Morn replied. Andriel nodded. “The biomass of the oceans and hives could bolster the fleet enough to risk an engagement with the fleet.” “But the navy here is able to prevent them from fully exploiting the seas thanks to the STC. So they target our allied hives, before preparing to bring all their force down upon us.” Morn concluded. But something about that conclusion still did not sit right with him. “You don’t think that’s all it is either.” Andriel said, and Morn nodded. “It is not in my nature to trust my instincts, but they tell me there is something more sinister at work, though I cannot place it.” “Likewise. There is something strange in the skein of fate. The emperor’s tarot is muddled and double-speaking. I thought it was merely the effect of the shadow in the warp, but if you sense it too…” “Something more is in motion. Genestealers perhaps?” Morn suggested. “You’d have found them by now, or Wothin would have sniffed them out. I cannot say.” Andriel lied. He knew what he feared, but would not dare to speak the possibility. “Whatever their scheme, it must be near to complete. I shall leave you to your meditation.” He said, the closest thing he would get to an apology. The techmarine left, and Andriel quelled his worries, redoubling his efforts to reach the other hives. As Morn approached the manufactorum, he heard the beautiful binary cant ringing across the hive city. To any not inducted into the secrets of the machine cult, it would certainly sound as nothing more than a buzzing whine, but to those who knew it, it was a glorious and beautiful sound. “"There is no truth in flesh, only betrayal." "There is no strength in flesh, only weakness." "There is no constancy in flesh, only decay." "There is no certainty in flesh but death." “Flesh is weak.” Morn answered the credo omnisiah with that of his own chapter. Weak, yes, but still numerous and swarming. Clever and cunning, enough that even the sacred might of the machine god might be strained to stand against it. Where were the god-machines? As he approached, his vox buzzed with a priority alert from the wall. “Morn, this is Constantine. We have conformation of bioforms approaching from the highway. A full force.” “How long?” Morn asked. “Two days at most, they move with unnatural speed.” “Nothing these xenos do is natural.” Morn replied, almost a grumble. His audience with the magos would have to wait. Regardless of his quest to understand the xeno, they had clearly set their plan in motion. Now all that could be done was to try and survive it.
continuing As I was picking myself up off the shooter’s shack floor, I glanced over to the TV. The ballplayers were all wandering around the field, looking skyward. Evidently, there was this hellacious explosion…even the television sports commentators were speculating as to what happened. Whoops. I looked out into the quarry. The wall that I had charged had receded some 75 feet. There was rather a large amount of shattered, blasted dolomitic limestone now in the quarry. Enough, I found out later, for a full month’s worth of orders. We never did find the blasting mats. I think they sort of evaporated. Luckily, the quarry is essentially an open amphitheater in plan view; basically a big hole in the ground with vertical limestone walls. The shockwave of the blast that didn’t spend itself shattering the limestone into which it was housed, blew out laterally, hit the opposite quarry wall, rebounded, and then dispersed, rather energetically, vertically upward. I set off car alarms for a 20 block radius. There were no broken home windows, as the lion’s share of the shock wave was redirected upward. Good thing there were no low flying zeppelins or dirigibles in the area... I waited the requisite time to allow for any loafers. There were none, so I jumped into the nearest wheel loader and began clearing the quarry floor. Hell, I had to so I could open the front gate. As I was clearing the floor, making pile number eight of the loose rock I had liberated, I heard the characteristic whoop-whoop of emergency vehicles. I parked the wheel loader, opened the front gate, and raised the green flag. That was enough blasting for one day. A few minutes later, three police cars zoom into the site. Two were local city cops, and one was a state trooper. “Hi, guys!” I waved, “Nice day, innit?” “Doctor Rock! We should have known.” One of the local boys groaned. “Hey, I did call you beforehand, as per procedure,” I said. Polack the cop walks up, just knowing I was responsible. “Yeah, but we didn’t figure on you terrorizing the entire city.” “Polack! How goes it?” I asked. The other local cop and the state trooper look to Polack, “You know this maniac?” “Oh, hell yeah. For years. Don’t worry, the good doctor is mostly harmless.” He chuckles. “Damn. OK. I guess everything’s OK. Just no more shooting today, please, Doctor. It’s going to take hours to calm everyone down.” He laments. “Yes, sir. I’m done for the day.” I reply, snickering slightly. The one local and state trooper depart, shaking their heads in amazement. This left Polack to follow me over to the shooter’s shack to mooch a cigar and whatever else he can find. “Jesus Hula-Dancing Christ, Rock. What the hell was that? I was all the way out in Whitewatosa and heard you.” He asks as he sneakily snakes a smoke out of my case. “Just some common chemicals in the proper proportions.” I snicker. “Which were?” he asks. I go in the back of the shed and toss him an empty container of one of the parts of the binaries I used. He catches it, reads the label, and drops it like a live grenade. “Binaries? Fuck! Like what you used at the tower?” he asks. “Yep. I used just a little more.” I reply. “Little more? Damn, as I said, we’ve been briefed on the stuff. This shit’s nasty.” He shakes his head. “Yeah. Fun, too.” I reply. Polack grabs a Sprechler’s Cream Soda out of the fridge as I opt for a cold Cream Ale and shot of potato juice. Hell, I was done for the day, so… We sit around and have a chat, just shooting the shit, as it were. Manly topics, so the conversation eventually steered over to guns. “Hey!” Polack remembers, “That’s right! You fucking owe me. Let me borrow that fucking cannon you carry. I want to show the chief a thing or two.” “Yeah, that’s right”, I agree, “When do you need it?” “This Friday, after shift. It’s the monthly qualifiers for us.” He notes. “Are pyromaniacs allowed in?” I ask. “To observe? Sure. To shoot? Nope. Insurance regulations.” He says. “What time?” I continue. “1800 hours.” He tells me. “I’ll be there. I’ll bring my gun and an assortment of loads. Hey, this could be fun!” I evilly smile. “Doctor. You’re doing that thing again. You’re grinnin’ like a shithouse rat. You know how much that scares me. Stop it.” He pleads. “No worries. Friday at 1800 hours.” I reply, grinning. Polack slurps down his Sprechlers, snitches another stogie, and squeals out of the quarry in a cloud of dense dolomitic dust. I arrive back at our flat, after stopping for two frozen custard Turtle Sundaes, to go. I give one to an appreciative wife and I ask her about her day. “Oh, went shopping with Oma. Got the cutest shoes, and a new purse, and…oh well, never mind. You’ll see.” Between bites of Turtle Sundae, she asks how my day went. “Oh, my dear. I had a real blast.” I replied, not lying in the least. Monday, after my first classes, I’m back in the faculty lounge, savoring a Greenland Coffee. There was the usual instructor chatter when Dean Vermiculari walks in. “Good morning, Dean!” I say. “Care for a sit-down and a coffee?” “Good morning, Doctor Rock. Yes, please to both.” He replies. I fix us both a fresh Greenland Coffee and return to our table. I hand him one and sit down to savor my soupçon. “How was your weekend?” I ask the Dean of the College. “Oh, very nice. Had a fine time catching some perch and crappie out on Lake Genever. I see you had a victorious weekend as well. Twice.” He smiles. “Twice?” I asked. “Well, your handling of the tower demolition made all the papers. Very, very well done, Doctor. I congratulate you.” He smiles. “Thank you, Dean. That means a lot. Just doing what I can with what I’ve got. But twice?” I replied. “It wasn’t front-page news, but I saw there was some, well, let us just say, ‘energetic activity’ out at the Silurian reef limestone quarry yesterday.” He grinned. “Oh, yes. I had a job to do and well, as I always say: ‘Nothing succeeds like excess.” I smile back. “Quite. This beverage you’ve created is really rather extraordinary, Doctor. Again, I thank you.” He tips his mug my direction in the age-old Midwestern salute. “It’s a little recipe I picked up on my last expedition to the northlands. I grew rather fond of the concoction.” I replied. “Ah, I see. Marvelous.” He smiles. “Thank you, Dean. High praise indeed.” I reply. “Which leads me to…ah, Doctor Rock. I have another favor to impose upon you.” He says, all serious. “Yes, Dean? How can I be of service?” I ask. “We, as you no doubt know, have many, many fine extractive mineral company connections. We actually receive quite a large amount of funding and endowments from them. They recruit here extensively for our young geoscientists. Now, since Dr. Pataariki has left for industry himself, I would like to appoint you as the College of Natural Sciences corporate liaison.” He explains. “Indeed?” I replied, too stunned for words for once. “Yes, indeed.” He continues, “It will require travel, mostly domestic, and delivering symposia at various companies on differing extractive geological subjects. You will also serve as host and university coordinator when they are present on recruiting tours. There will, of course, be additional remuneration to accompany the added responsibilities.” I slurped my coffee, thinking furiously. “Could I please first discuss it with my wife before I answer?” I ask. “Oh, Doctor. Of course, of course. Take your time. I will not require a reply until… tomorrow.” He smiles, finishes his coffee, thanks me again, and toddles out. “Yow, Es!” I exclaim, “This is one hell of an opportunity. It’s never before been offered to a junior professor. This will cement my tenure-track. It’s going to be a bitch with time, though. What do you think I should do?” “Well, Rock, honey, I think you should do…” Es begins. “No! None of that ‘do what you think is best’ stuff. I want your own thoughts, just like when I decided to go after my doctorate.” I explained. “OK, then.” Esme looks all serious like she’s going to deliver a bipartisan political speech. “Yes.” She says, firmly “That’s it?” I ask. “Yep. You asked I answered. We’ll make it work. We always do. You can’t let the Dean down. You will accept tomorrow without fear or qualms of your wife’s hesitations, of which I harbor none.” Esme proclaims. “Did I ever tell you of the myriad reasons I love you so?” I ask. The next morning I meet with Dean Vermiculari. He’s pleased that I accept and hands over to me the charter. Then the lists of company representatives, their contact information, and some other secret stuff that I can’t divulge right yet. A raft of oil companies will be coming in the late spring semester, so I need to contact each and every one to solidify dates, times and positions for which they’re recruiting. But that’s for then, I have something more proximal for now. I have a Friday appointment with Polack the cop at the town police shooting range. I arrive spot on time with my Casull .454 Magnum pistol, in its carry bag, along with a small duffel crammed with Pyrodex, Tannerite, and selection of specialty loads I had Herman the German, the inveterate gunsmith, create. Herman the German, his actual sobriquet, was this incredible gunsmith, craftsman, and all-around artillery specialist. Have any sort of problem with a rifle, shotgun, or pistol? See Herman. Gun holding too high? See Herman. Barrel warped? See Herman. Need solid gold projectiles for a certain one-off job? See Herman. Herman the German can sort it out. Just never ask him: “How?” “Ach! I’ve lived so long to learn, and you want it free? I’ll fix it, you pay, but I am only one knowing how!” Herman was a cranky old Kraut, and has lived here for as long as anyone can remember. Even my Grandfather had deferred to Herman when he had some particularly delicate machining operation that need special attention and was unique. As far as anyone knew, Herman had no family, but was never at a loss for friends. He was one of the most popular, and well known, but still oddly really unknown, kind of mysterious, old bastards in the entire community. Herman the German liked me because I could obtain for him certain high-energy things he couldn’t. All were entirely legal, but some were sort of out there in the gray zone. He also liked that I was educated, as he held education in the highest esteem. He also liked that I was of German extraction myself. I often made it a point to drop by with odd and unusual high-octane potables while never expecting anything in return other than a story or a shared cigar. Herman created some special loads for my .454 Magnum, which he prized. “I like your gun, Doctor Rock, it is so big! I can still see well enough to build things for it.” He told me one day over cheroots and Schnapps. Herman was a character to be certain. It must have been the pixie in him to dream up some of the specialty rounds he created for me to share with the local constabulary. He lived out in the county by himself in an old farmhouse. He had a full machine shop in his basement, complete with forge, metal handling equipment, and a firing test range. He handed back my .454, rather solemnly. “Doctor, I am afraid to say I couldn’t test all the special rounds I’ve created for you. I need to patch the hole in the cinder blocks in the downstairs range. Your gun punched right through the back…” he apologized. Now, Herman does all sorts of work on the local’s deer rifles, the police’s ordinance and has even worked some with the Baja Canada National Guard. Some of the little novelties he’s dreamed up for me are the first to escape his homemade basement test range. I felt oddly honored. After proving who I was to the nice range officer, I looked around trying to find Polack. “It’s 1550. Where the hell is Polack? I wondered. “Rock! Over here.” Polack calls to me. He motions me outside to the police department’s tactical outdoor range. I had thought all along he was referring to the indoors police target range. This might pose some problems. The tactical range was a series of clapboard shacks, all setup and designed to represent some downtrodden urban inter-city landscape. There were a couple of junked cars, broken sidewalks, storefronts, houses, bus stops…in short, all things necessary to replicate the seediest sections of a settlement where malefactors live and breed. The cops all run around this range, shooting at bad guy pop-up cut-outs and avoid the not-bad-guy pop-up cut-outs. They’ve got music blaring, firecrackers going off, all trying to re-create a shady deeply urban environment. Points are awarded by the accuracy of fire on the run, time to maneuver the course, and the ability of not gunning down innocent bystanders. It is not the best place to test a .454 Cusall. This hand cannon recoils like a fundamentalist Christian being solicited for donations to Anton LaVey, shoots flames and incandescent gasses like Smaug after a hard night of drinking and a stop at the Taco Bell buffet, is louder than a dime-store Karen demanding to see a Manager, and more powerful than a Ghost Pepper suppository. To quote Joe Piscopo: “It shoots through schools.” Especially faux-schools made of plywood. A .32 or .38 cop special is the correct weapon here; even a 9mm is a little heavy. Enough power to make a serious dent, easy on control, light on the recoil…a good tactical weapon. But, nothing succeeds like excess. Polack’s Chief is running around, capping off his ‘big ol’ .44 Magnum, and making the valley echo. He punches considerable holes in the pop-up cut-outs, but has such a hard time handling the recoil, his score is barely passable. Polack runs his test with his standard 9mm sidearm and qualifies easily. However, he’s nowhere near done with his Chief yet. I suggest to Polack we have a shoot-off. And since a .44 Magnum bullet ‘is so close to a .454 Magnum’, which it isn’t…the .454 Casull generates nearly 85% more recoil energy than the .44 Magnum; that we’d need something other than holes punched in plywood to judge the efficacy of each. We are literally just down the road from Max Yazzer’s farm and market. They’re the place you go for your Halloween jack-o-lantern. However, now, he has a surplus of melons. I think you can see where this is headed… I borrow Polack’s personal conveyance and run down to Max’s farm. I return with a trunk-load of elderly, overripe, cheap as chips, melons. Watermelons, Honeydews, Musks, and Casabas. We place them in strategic areas on the course, five for the Chief to find, and five for Polack. A .44 vs. a .454 melon-wise results in pretty much the same sort of mess: high-velocity fruit spatter. Although, the Chief was very impressed by the report of the .454. So, after running the tactical-melon course, clear demarcation of a winner was elusive. OK, OK, clever dicks. How about this? A standing shoot-off? We’ll set up 3 melons each at 30, 20, and 10 yards. Beginning at 30 yards, your time will be until you take out all three melons. But, they’re not going to be in a straight line, we’re going to make them somewhat camouflaged. You will stand in one small demarcated area, hunt those miscreant melons, and bring them to justice. Fastest time and greatest display wins, as determined by the Police Peanut Gallery. Polack and the Chief agree. The Chief goes first and dispatches the melons, with a fair amount of spatter, in 15.3 seconds. Not bad. Polack is next. He wipes out all the melons and creates some thoroughly impressive displays with Herman’s ‘special’ rounds. Normal ballistics for the .454 are, for a 250 grain (16 g) bullet, a muzzle velocity of over 2,400 feet per second, developing up to 2,800 ft-lb of energy. Herman’s hot loads are double that. Polack wins the day on impressive high-velocity melon distribution, but misses, so close, with a time of 17.0 seconds. Recoil’s a bitch. Then there are Herman’s ‘specialties’. The Chief is duly impressed and even comments that his ears are ringing even with the ear protectors. He asks to inspect the weapon. He is even more than duly impressed. Polack knows what’s up and asks the Chief if he’d like to give a whirl. Of course, the Chief can’t back down. Polack loads the .454 with 5 of Herman’s specialties: hollow-point rounds loaded hot, compressed, and tipped with alkaline earth metals, like metallic sodium and metallic potassium… We set up the nastiest, glorpiest, just barely-holding-together, overripe, laced with Tannerite (an impact-actuated low-explosive) watermelon at the ‘Concealed Carry’ distance of 5 meters. We slowly fade back into the distance to avoid the inevitable ‘Gallagher reaction’. The Chief fires one, and just nicks the top of the melon. Don’t laugh, with the type of recoil and heft of the sidearm, and tensing up in anticipation, it’s easy to be off the mark initially. The second round impacts dead-center. Now, alkaline earth metals and water don’t get along really well. In fact, their relationship is explosive. Especially explosive when delivered at 2,900 feet per second. The Chief catches a huge smattering of vitamin-packed watermelony back blast goo. He’s not entirely happy. He looks positively grisly with all that blown-up melon schmoo on his nice, neat uniform. He returns my gun and bans me from ever showing up at the police range again. Polack is on traffic duty for the next month. He figures it was well worth it. Back at the flat, Esme is shaking her head and wondering if I’ll ever grow up. “I may grow old, but I’ll never grow up.” I reply. I see I have several missed phone calls. Ah, me; no rest for the weary. Back to company-university liaison duties. After I had contacted these companies, I receive no less than 12 requests for symposia, talks, and seminars to be given to various level of industrial scientific employees in their respective companies. I am now slated to give academic conferences on stratigraphy, sedimentology, and seismic structural geology to different companies in Houston, Oklahoma City, Denver, Casper, Corpus Christi, New Orleans, and Tulsa. In the next 12 weeks, I’ll be giving no less than 8 talks in seven cities. I speak with Dean Vermiculari on how best to handle the situation. He understands and appoints two graduate student teaching assistants to handle my classes while I’m on the road. That relieves me of being physically there, but I still have to grade papers, compose lesson plans, and keep things running smoothly until finals. Besides giving the talks, there’s travel to oil fields, production facilitates, manufacturing plants, hotels, restaurants while I’m in town…the pace is excruciating. I’m gone more than I am at university. Plus in my time back home, I’m still the ad hoc master blaster for the limestone quarry. Then, there’s the companies arriving on campus, and the roles are reversed. Now I’m the welcome wagon and have to sort out the logistics of receiving the company representatives. I need to set up the colloquia to introduce the companies to the prospective students, arrange lodging, arrange passes for the university, transportation, “Meet-and-Greet’s, ad infinitum. I knew this was having a bit of effect on me when I came back to the flat after one particularly grueling ordeal of canceled flights, full hotels, missed connections and lukewarm reception by the company workers. “Hello”, I said, as I walked in the flat, “I believe you have a reservation for…” Esme just stood there, wondering if I was having a laugh. No, I wasn’t. I was completely hallucinating from road weariness, lack of sleep, jet lag, and total disorientation. This continued on for the next approximately 18 months. Esme was beginning to have second thoughts about all this. My teaching load was diminished by one whole introductory course. However, I was still flying hither and yon, delivering symposia, meeting with young geoscientists and getting to know the ins-and-outs of the Oil Industry. I found it particularly fascinating. Time marched on and it was once again it was the recruiting season. We had no less than eight oil companies visiting the university in their quest to swell the roster of their junior scientists. I’m still busier than a one-armed paperhanger in a windstorm, but have settled into a groove of sorts. I know the company recruiters and they now know me. I’ve actually struck up friendships with several. Particularly since I take them to the best local restaurants and bars after their recruiting duties are finished. I’ve met with recruiting representatives of Shrill Petrol, Mexxon, Nobil, Nocono Oil, Flug, Geddy, Brutish Petroleum, and Qexaco. The recruiting season is winding down and I find myself with Red (not Adair), of Nocono Oil. “Well, Doctor Rock”, Red states, “Another fine recruiting run. We’ve snagged two of your young geologists and one geophysicist. I’d say it was almost a perfect score.” We’re sitting in the Norton’s Steakhouse. After a couple of prime pink porterhouses, we’re working on the post-dinner double vodka and bitter lemon for me, and Lagavulin for Red. “Almost perfect?” I ask. “Yeah. There’s been this one small nagging concern from our company higher-ups.” Red continues. “What’s that?” I ask. “We need some more senior people. For one thing, we’ve recently opened a new petroleum laboratory down in our Houston office. Going to need some serious talent to run that show.” Red says. “I see”, I reply, “And…?” “We need mentors. Those with varied and far-flung knowledge. They must be well educated, global in experience and stature, with an [ahem] diverse set of skills.” Red notes. “Whew”, I agree, “That’s a tall order. You want my help with names of possible candidates? Is that it?” “Not as such, Doctor.” Red drains his drink, motions for me to do the same, and orders another round. Our drinks arrive and Red downs half his in one gulp. “Well, then”, I continue, “How can I help?” Red chuckles, “For someone so educated, you can really be thick as two short planks at times.” I sit back, and sip my Old Thought Provoker. The mercury-vapors light off. “No!” I say, incredulously. “Oh, yes.” Red smiles. “No?” I ask, slowly taking in the possible effects of what he’s hinting at… “OK, Doctor Rocknocker”, Red gets all serious and corporate, “We’d like to offer you a position at Nocono Oil as Senior Laboratory Manager and Head of Corporate Continuing Education.” You could have knocked me over with a grenade. I was stunned. I fumbled with my drink. “Red, you old con artist” I reply, “Is this a set-up?” Red, serious as a heart attack, looks directly at me and replies, “Doctor Rock, absolutely not, it’s a genuine offer.” He slides over a folder with some papers inside. “Here are the particulars.” Reeling, I accept the folder. I open it and right after the corporate logos and legal bullshit, I see a tall figure with a whole raft of zeros trailing behind it. I read furiously. The job would be both interesting and challenging. It would be in Houston, with travel and teaching at all other company outposts on a regular basis. I reexamine that figure from before and verify that I’m not now hallucinating. The job comes with furnished, corporate-paid housing, incredible benefits, loads of opportunity for advancement, more opportunity to travel, really generous vacation time… “Right. On the level?” I ask again. “Yep.” Red bluntly says. “Well”, I gulp, “you know I have to discuss this with Esme”, whom he’s met several times previous. “Of course, and you probably want to finish out the semester, correct?” red asks. “Oh, yes.” I reply. There would be a monsoon of paperwork and other grunt work I’d need to conclude or hand over if I were to accept this offer. “OK, then”, Red finishes his drink, motions for me to do the same, a real rarity; but I was in another dimension at this point. He orders another round and sits back, waiting on a refill. “You have two weeks to reply” Red states. “I know that’s not a terribly long time, but we need to fill this position ASAP. Can I ask for that? Your answer, yea, or nay, within a fortnight?” Red demands. “Yes”, I reply. “I at least owe you that.” And that was the end of the discussion for the night about me joining the private sector. We stayed a few more hours, chatting, smoking my cigars, and discussing everything but the lumbering elephant in the room. We part outside as I need to head back to our flat. Red wants to go downtown to one of those “Gentleman’s Clubs” he’s heard were so famous at the time. I was flummoxed the whole cab ride home. It was late when I returned, but I simply had to wake Es with the news. “Rock, for pity’s sake, its 2 o’clock in the morning!” Es protests. “Can’t this wait until later?” “Sorry, my dear” I reply, probably as serious as I ever had with Esme. “This is a potential game-changer.” “What is it? Are you OK?” Esme trembles. “Oh, I’m fine. Better than fine.” I reply. She’s relieved. “Then what’s so important?” she asks. “Um…how would you like to move to Houston?” I ask. “You going to teach at Cougar High (University of Houston)?” she inquires. “Nope. Brace yourself. I’ve been offered a job with Nocono Oil.” I finally spill the beans. Esme is slightly stunned and sits down. I go to the wet bar, fix me a bracing potato juice and citrus and Esme a stiff white Zinfandel. I hand her the wine and she is still semi-dazed and digesting the information. I slurp a good portion of my drink, retrieve her Sobranjes and me a cigar from my Turkmenistan humidor. I sit on the couch next to her and hug her soundly. “Esme? Es? Earth to Es? You in there?” I joke. “Oh, Yeah. Rock. Really? Hang on”, she leaves, returning with her housecoat as this might take a little time. “So?” I ask, “Your thoughts. Now! Immediately! Initial reaction!” I try to jar her back into reality. “Well, what do you want?” she asks. “C’mon, my dearest. You know I hate that. No, what do you think? What do you honestly think?” I reply. We both fire up our smokes, and I refresh our drinks. We return to the dinner table where Red’s folder lies. “Es, here. Look at this.” I say, sliding the portfolio over to her. She reads like a hungry man at a Vegas casino buffet. I can tell where she was stopped by something extraordinary. “This is for real?” she asks, “Red’s not pulling a fast one?” “Nope. It’s the genuine article”, I tell her, “He needs my reply within two weeks.” “Rock, Rock…I just don’t know. It’s a lot to process at 0230 in the morning. Let’s go to bed and have a think in the morning. You have the luxury of at least that amount of time.” She notes. “Right again, as usual”, I say, “Stuff it. It can wait.” We toddle off to bed. The next morning, over Cuban omelets and Greenland Coffees, we sort through the particulars. “Rock, it’s an extraordinary offer. But, do you want to leave teaching? I remember how you got all animated by Dean Vermiculari giving you the corporate liaison job and how that would improve your shot at tenure.” She notes. “I just don’t know. I’m still shell-shocked.” I tell her. “Let me go to school and we’ll pick this up tonight. We both have work to do no matter what. Oh, bloody hell. I hadn’t considered your job. Another wrinkle in the mess.” “Don’t you worry about that”, Esme smiles. “One catastrophe at a time.” “I do so love you.” I hug her soundly. “Think I should mention this offer to anyone at school?” “No. Definitely not.” Esme shakes her head. “Let’s figure this out on our own.” “I agree”, I say, kiss her and depart for school once again. The next week was a blur. Recruiting duties were dragging and I was being preoccupied. Even my students noted the lack of in-room explosions lately. I spend the next Saturday at the quarry, doing some small amount of blasting. I quiz the quarry owners about their progress in acquiring a new master for the quarry’s operation. “Oh, Doctor Rock” they gush, “You’re doing such a fine job, we haven’t really looked. Why do you ask?” “No particular reason at this time, I reply, “But perhaps you might want to begin looking” The chinks in my armor were finally starting to show. Sunday was spent out on Sliver Lake, with Esme and me chasing the elusive crappie, perch, and bucketmouth bass. It also gave us a chance to clear our heads from work, school and other such intrusions. We both needed a bit of downtime. Later that night, after a meal of beer-battered fillet of crappie and perch on the barbie, we sit down at the dinner table. The portfolio sits there, taunting us. I get up, makes us both our drinks, sit down and declare that this is it. “Es, darling” I say, “its nut-cuttin’ time. We need to make our decision.” “You’re right.” Es agrees, “Time for risk-reward analysis. Get some paper and some pencils.” We spend the next few hours listing the pros and cons of accepting the Houston position or staying here and pursuing my tenured professorship. After several hours, I stretch, stand, and go to the fridge. I retrieve the bottle of Bollinger Les Vieilles Vignes Francaises I had purchased the other day. I return to the table with the wine and the glasses, pop the cork and pour us both a glass of high-brow bubble water. I hug and kiss Esme like I had just returned from a long, solo expedition. “Esme, my darling. I’d like to propose a toast. First to us. Hа здоровый!” “Cheers!” Esme replies. “Secondly to Red, Dean Vermiculari, the quarry guys, Polack the Cop, and all the others that makes our life weird around here.” “Seconded”, Es echoes. “Finally: to Houston, Texas. Our new home!” I finally add. The next morning, Dean Vermiculari peers over the top of his pince-nez glasses. He’s not looking overly happy with me right now. “Why is it, Doctor, that everyone that receives the job of corporate liaison ends up going with corporate?” he asks. “Perhaps it’s just the exposure to another world that exists beyond academia.” I reply, truthfully. “Doctor Rocknocker,” the Dean gravely states, “I am not at all happy about your decision. We had great hopes for you here and you were riding right up the tenure track. Another five years and it would have been assured.” “Five years is a long time, Dean”, I state the obvious. “Yes, indeed.” The Dean replies frostily. “However, you are young. Perhaps you need to get this private sector nonsense out of your system, then you can return to academia where you belong.” “Perhaps, perhaps”, I reply. “Please, do consider this option down the road. You and your antics will be missed here, by students and faculty alike.” He says. “I will, Dean, I promise.” I reply “However, for now, it’s time for my boot heels to be wanderin’.” “Doctor, I will miss your strange and unique way of looking at life. I reluctantly accept your resignation at the end of the current semester and wish you all the best in your newest endeavors. Please remember us when corporate support for academia is mentioned in your new company.” he says. “I promise you, Dean, I will not forget what I’ve learned here and what you’ve taught. It’s the least I can do,” I reply. “I will never forget my roots.” “All I can ask”, he concludes. He stands to shake my hand. We shake and my audience is over. I resign from the quarry a week later. They haven’t found a new blaster but wish me well on my new journey. I tell them I’m here until the end of the semester, so I won’t leave them high and dry. I tell Polack the Cop about all the goings-on. “Who the hell can I roust for beer and cigars now?” He whines. “Let me know when you get to Texas if they need any cops. I wouldn’t mind trying’ that. Hell, maybe a Texas Ranger!” “A Cheesehead Ranger…?” I assure him I will and pass a box of cigars to him as a parting gift. He gives me a mayoral-signed get-out-of-jail-free card. “Now you can drive that old Harley just as crazy as you want.” He chuckles. “Thanks, Polack.” I say, shaking his hand. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I sold my bike a week earlier. Red was very chuffed with the news. “Snagged me a big one this time!’ He laughed, over the phone. There was enough paperwork, considerations and decisions to be made to last the remaining time Esme and I had in-state until our move. Already, a moving company had arrived, done inventory, and was preparing for our move to Houston. Esme resigned her position and decided she wanted to take some time off. She wanted to be a housewife, a colleague, and not have to work for once at an outside job. My new position allowed for that in spades. Besides with her credentials, anytime when she wants to re-join the workforce, there are myriad opportunities in the Bayou City. We made the choice of housing out west of town, in Katy, Texas. We could have chosen Sugarland, Addicks, Greenspoint, Greenway, or the Memorial area. However, these west Houston company properties were closest to the job and largest in square footage. My students got wind of my resignation and relocation. They threw me an unexpected farewell party at the Gast Haus. It was nickel-beer night and since they were footing the bill, it all worked out just fine. I would miss the old place. The camaraderie, the seasons, the university; hell my home these last many years. I’ve been on many, many expeditions, but I always returned home. Now, home was moving and was awaiting our arrival. Esme and I said our farewells to our families as well. We were the first through college, the first ones to travel international, the first Doctor in the family, and the first to leave the state. That’s a lot of familial firsts. I had to keep reminding everyone it wouldn’t be the last. Hell, we’re just moving to Texas, it’s not like we’re off to Greenland or Mongolia… [Gasp] We saddled up Es’s old Chevy Nova, took one last, lingering look in the rearview mirror, and said fare thee well to our previous lives. “We’ll be back. Someday. I promise” I told the city of our youth and young married adulthood. We decided to drive to Houston because we had the luxury of a bit of time. We needed the stretch to chew over some interpersonal and private things on the way to the next chapter in our lives. Besides, the weather was good, the roads ahead open and clear, and Texas had no ‘Open Container’ law, yet. We pointed the old Nova south and hit the gas. A week later, we’re wandering around our new house in Katy, Texas. Our belongings, scant though they may be, arrived the day after we did. Esme and I spent the next couple of day rearranging the house, buying necessary domestic bits and pieces, and getting to know our new neighborhood. First thing, though, Esme wanted to replace the old Nova. I concurred, but insisted we keep it as a second car and went out to purchase our first new car as a couple. I wanted a Land Rover. We ended up with a glossy black Toyota 4-Runner. Close enough. I was scheduled to show up at my new job the next Monday. I had my own parking spot, complete with “Reserved for Dr. Rock” painted on the bumper block. I was shown my new lab and was introduced to my seven laboratory assistants. I was shown the catalogs I could use to order what I needed and went over the requisition procedures. I was trotted around to meet the company CEO, CFO, CIO, VPs and many, many more company executives and managers. I’ve met with presidents and heads of state, I was impressed but not overly. They seemed like a more or less nice bunch of chaps. Almost exactly five weeks to the day from our arrival in Houston, I come home, yelling “Darling, I’m home!” Esme comes to greet me with a rib-rearranging hug. She tells me to sit at the dinner table, where my long hard day at the office drink, cigar, ashtray, and lighter are already set. “How was work, dear?” she asks, sitting down with her Perrier water. “Oh, it’s going great. The knotheads let me have an open-ended budget until I get the labs sorted just the way I want it. These guys pay their bills on time and I have carte blanche at Wards Scientific, and other supply houses. My crew is great, no interpersonal crapola, and hard workers. I can smoke in my office and no one dares give me shit about my cigars. I’m getting to know the exploration department quite well. They’re really interested in our expeditions and are more interested in my opinions of their new exploration directives.” Esme just smiles and sips her water. “Odd”, I thought. “That’s great, dear.” She says. “I am so glad to hear it.” “Me too”, I say, “How are you holding up after all these weeks alone?” “Oh, I’m getting used to it.” She smiles. And smiles. Beatifically. Glowing. “What?” I ask. “Remember what we talked about in the car on the way down here?” She asks. “We talked about a lot of things…” I say, suddenly my eyes grew very, very wide indeed. “Yes. You’re going to be a father. I’m pregnant, Rock.” Esme smiles.
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