December 27, 2013: 3:17 am: Pilot X, writing

His flight was timeless. The Verity was equipped with all manner of features to pass the time, entertain, research, educate and more but he made use of none of them.

Mostly he wept. Not so much for what he’d done but for the need of the doing of it. And for the fact of his survival. He could have thrown himself out of protection and disappeared like the rest of it. Often he wished he had.

But he hadn’t. It was his punishment and his reward. He must live with the guilt of surviving. And also, he must live. That was his reward. The purpose of living to tell the tale, to help the others, to see it was not all in vain.

Hence his flight to the Fringe Cascade, the most advanced civilization left. If anyone knew best how to continue afterwards it would them. Even if they didn’t know why, which they wouldn’t, to them, existence would always have been like that, but even so, they would be clever enough to know something had happened, and how to deal with it.

A light when on at the console. A very important light. A light that usually demanded immediate attention. Pilot X looked at the light and laughed. He had been detected. The Fringe Cascade were still expecting him. They had scanned him and a
Proved his approach, even though by all rights they should have no idea who he was anymore.

He reached to acknowledge the signal, and the Verity lurched and threw him away from the console. Another series of lights went on. These did not make hi laugh. These were bad. The Verity had been captured and was being pulled in. So he was expected but at the same time no longer welcome. Either they knew almost nothing or somehow they knew everything. Either way they weren’t pleased. He’d find out why soon enough.

December 17, 2013: 7:36 am: Pilot X, writing

An echo rumbled through the tower as The Verity settled into place outside the command center. Its arrival added to the clamor and noise of the ongoing battle.

“What is that?! A ship? How did it get in here?!”
“Is that Ambassador X?”
“He’s not Ambassador anymore. He’s gone rogue didn’t you hear?”
“Citizen X, please cease your activities and vacate at once!”
“Citizen? No need to insult the man if you want him to comply.”
“What’s he doing?”
“Dear stars in alignment, is that the Harmony Device? How did he get it?”
“He’s not going. To use it is he?!”
“Ambassador X, stop this minute ,”
Foomp
Or maybe mor like a shoomp sound.

Whichever it was it was a small sound as he pushed down the plunger activating the device. The Verity protected him in a chrono-neutral envelope as the wave spread out from the device freezing everything. The people in the tower’s command center stopped. The battle outside paused. He cried. The wave was unstoppable now, rippling through space and time to the fringes of the universe, destroying almost all of them, rewriting history in the rest.

But he was stopping them. His people. And their enemies. A war that had unleashed a million maniacs on unsuspecting worlds. A war that would kill all the innocents, leaving him no choice but to take this action, at this moment, irrevocably.

The tower was dark now. He saw the wave returning. He couldn’t really see it, but he could catch hints of its progress as the stars went out. He knew he’d have to leave before it converged back here at the center. Even the chrono-neutral field would be wiped out then. He hadn’t stopped crying. He almost decided to stay and pay for his crime. But he knew he had one last responsibility to those left in this universe he had just remade.

He dragged himself into the Verity and told it to set course.

“Where?” It asked reasonably. Always reasonable, his ship.

He looked out at the spreading darkness and saw a twinkle of light. Stars still existed. A few. Not caught in the wave. Space travel would take ages now. People living among those stars would think it had always been that way. Because of him they would never remember the teeming life of the galaxies as they were. But they would survive. The madmen would not rule them.

“There” He pointed at the distant twinkles. “We’ll start there, I think.”

“Course set for the Fringe Cascade.”

Pilot X fled from the dark tower as it faded and disappeared into never having been.

December 5, 2013: 11:01 am: history, humour

The origins of the medicine ball are shrouded in the mists of the history of the tribes of North America. Some have speculated that it refers to shamanistic practices, others to some sort of traditional healing ceremony. The story is rather more prosaic. In the 1500s explorer Vasco De Gama reported tribesmen using a “weighty spheroid in ceremonial activity” which may lend to the confusion about shamanism.

While no more detail exists from De Gama, a later journal of the explorer Franklin Seagraves describes a conversation with a chieftain about the unusual healthiness of its members. Seagraves writes, “The chieftain then explained that his people use a ceremonial ball with divers markings on it and totems in an activity called by some untranslatable word. He showed me this ball and while its appearance was normal, it was strange heavy. He then caused his sons to demonstrate all manner of passings and liftings and other odd comportations with the thing such like I have never seen fore or since. It was made a gift to me with the recommendation that its proper use was ‘great medicine’ and I should add years to my time in its application.”

References are scattered after this but sometime in the late 1600s some medical men are found to refer to “Seagraves Lifting Ball” and “Seagraves Great Medicine”. These intermittent usages finally settle into the usage “medicine ball” by the mid 1700s and the rest, as they say, is history.

October 4, 2013: 1:15 am: Pavaria, writing

Bev’s Bora was famous but she just felt old. She wished Marnly were here. Her husband lay in intensive care. He had told her at great length that she should forget all about him and go have fun. But here she was breaking her promise and thinking about him while she should be thinking about the big event.

“Ok Bev, we’ll need you in place now. Only three minutes,” the young aide said guiding her gently to the podium set up in the meadow.

50 years ago she had stood in this very spot and sent a message to the Zima. At the request of the Primavera’s Commander, she asked what happened to the Zima, why it had changed course towards them, and invited their descendants to board the Primavera should they eventually catch up.

Just shy of 25 years after that, someone, hopefully, on the Zima would have received the message. Survivors existed. Even though they could on,y see the one transmission from Zima’s meadow they had seen people come and go through it as early as yesterday.

In less than a minute, any return message from the Zima could arrive. Of course they might not respond immediately. Bev had prepared remarks in that expected case. But hopefully they would respond soon. She didn’t have that many remarks.

The time arrived, the aide pointed at Bev, and the lights dimmed and a spotlight highlighted her. She watched the screens of the meadow on The Zima, showing a 25-year-old picture.

“50 years ago, I was an inertial specialist with a hobby.” They laughed respectfully. “Today I’m known as Bev Bora, the world finder. Well,” she never finished the thought as a lady in a red dress walked slowly into the meadow. She was as old as Bev, but looked much more worn. Was it really her? And only 25 years after being so vibrant?

She turned and spoke. The Zima could not send audio, but new technology had been developed to read lips and simulate a voice.

An old and withered voice addressed them. “Bev Bora this is Hypotenuse Tensate Proctoress of the Longship Zima. When you sent your message I was young and our ship had forgotten itself. The meadow camera was a plaything. You were entertainment. Your message set us straight, caused us to grow up. To remember ourselves. To be again, a longship of the great exploration.

“Our ship was hit by flying rocks some 70 years before. Most of our communication equipment was taken out as well as most of ship operations. Our animals are gone. Our plants survive. Our people get by. In a last maneuver of the dying engines, our commander changed course at the expense of his life to chase after you, the Primavera. His hope was that we would contact you and be able to transfer or possibly even make repairs.

“We forgot that, but you helped us remember. I will be long dead by the time y receive this message. Perhaps you will be too. But our descendants shall meet in friendship one day. Please send us anything you can think of to help, until we can meet more directly. Our lives our yours.”

The woman bowed and stepped back as if to await a reply. Bowed her head and left the meadow empty. A dat stream then commenced with ships logs and other status updates from the Zima.

Of course Bev had guessed their need for information and assistance, and even without knowing the main condition of the Zima, had convinced command to send schematics and other helpful information already. For 50 years. Now Bev began her actual response. The real meat of her being here. She gripped the podium tightly and her eyes shined.

“To the Zima. I am Bev Bora. This will be my last message–”

An explosion knocked Bev to her feet. Followed by another and another. Shouts and confusion erupted around her. She smelled smoke. The aide rushed over to her side then fell screaming.

A tiger had her in its jaws. It looked at Bev. She froze halfway raising herself from the ground. Another explosion shook the ship and the tiger broke eye contact and leaped away leaving the dead aide on the ground.

Bev turned to run and confronted a jaguar
“Bora! Someone shouted. The entire zoo has escaped. I don’t know what’s going on.”

Bev wasn’t sure why the person felt the need to yell this lashed worked it out for herself. And from studying the Zima she had a very good guess what was happening. Meteors had crashed through the ship taking out essential systems, like the containment field on zoo animals. She had to get out of the park, not only to avoid wild animals but to get to the Bridge and warn them not to make the same mistakes she suspected the Zima made.

Although she didn’t think Zima’s zoo had run wild over the land like Primavera’s. She turned to see if she could get to a train. She never saw the lynx.

September 10, 2013: 12:00 am: Pavaria, writing

Bev Bora was not popular with the audio engineers at first, she was an amateur. They didn’t quite see why command had saddled them with a moonlighting lieutenant best left to her real skills, whatever those were.

That typical professional resentment lasted about 20 minutes not their first meeting.

“So I’m fairly certain with a proper model the Doppler shift combined with the known longship acceleration can give us a fairly precise limit on the light-year distance of the Zima. I just don’t,t have the math.”

All five audio engineers sat quietly starting at her then at each other.

“We’ll I do,” one coughed, ” excuse me, do. I do. I can calculate it.”

Bev smiled with relief. “Great! Uh, how long do you need?”

“Lady, you’re impressive. You already did all the hard work,” another engineer interjected. “It’s all the data points that are tedious. Given what you collected, I think anyone of us would be embarrassed if it took us an our.”

Be looked surprised, then smiled. “Fantastic! Well. Let me know we you have something. I’ll be at ,y post.”

Without dropping. Her smile, she turned and left, rather fled, the meeting.

In 35 minutes working with Bev’s data set, the engineers not nay had the location of the Zima, they also pinpointed its heading and found that it must have been deflected from its original trajectory. It was headed at an angle back towards the path of the Primavera. Eventually the Zima would pass behind the Primavera within 5 less than a light year.

Bev developed a 25 year program to send detailed communications to the Zima, or whoever would be left 50 years after the lady in red.

June 22, 2013: 11:52 am: Pavaria, writing

Bev Bora had become a mini-celebrity in Bridge town, the common name for the occupants of the Bridge area of the Longship Primavera. Her notoriety came first as a result of her obsession with watching the broadcasts from the other three longships, two of which were out of range and one of which had suffered a catastrophic disaster, presumedly wiping out all occupants and leaving the transmission focused on a surviving meadow somewhere inside the longship Zima and nothing more.

All that changed when a woman appeared in the meadow wearing a red dress, who walked up and shut off the camera. That led the Zima’s internal system to switch to another camera, the first indication that anything inside the ship was working.

Now Bev Bora was no longer the crazy obsessive watching a dead ship, but the foremost expert in determining what might be happening on the Zima. The four longships were headed in different directions, but the Primavera was very interested in what happened on the Zima in order to avoid it themselves.

Bev laid out several schematics of the Primavera and the Zima alongside several photos of meadows. The command team on disaster prevention gathered around along with Marnly who had been with her when the lady in red had appeared.

Bev pointed at the photos. “These top two images are stills of the Zima’s previous camera and the current camera. These bottom two are of the meadow we think is the equivalent here on the Primavera.”

The top two were empty meadows. The bottom two had several command staff walking through them.

“Is that the same person in both?” asked Marnly.

“Not just the same person, but at the same time,” Bev answered.

“It’s the same meadow?” asked Specialist Lombardozzi.

Bev nodded. “The schematics show how we identified it. We eliminated the vegetation from both Zima images to get an estimate of the contour of the terrain,” as she spoke the vegetation disappeared from the top images, replaced by line-drawings of the ground. “The lady in red helped us make a much more accurate estimate of the first image since we saw her walk up, but it’s still pretty accurate for the second.

“As you probably know, terrain and camera placement in all four longships was standard. Ground level varies because of soil placement, vegetation and erosion but we factored those conditions out. That led us to 5 places on Primavera that could correspond to what we know of thirst image and 12 that could be the second.”

“So how did you narrow it down to these two?” asked Specialist Hahn.

“You mean one,” said Marnly.

“Exactly,” agreed Bev. “One location showed in both lists. This one,” she tapped the Primavera images and they merged into a 3D representation showing the command staff member from all sides.”

Bev turned to the Distance Monitors behind them. Only two were active. One of them showed a series of images from cameras within the Primavera. The other showed the current still from Zima. Bev manipulated some controls and the Primavera screen stayed on one meadow.

At first glance it looked similar but not identical to the Zima’s image. Trees were in different places and the ground cover looked slightly different.

“If you look past the trees and grass, you can see this is the same spot. Were 99 percent certain this is the equivalent location. What we don’t know is–”

Bev stopped. Nobody was listening to her anymore anyway.

The lady in red was walking into the meadow again on the Zima’s screen, heading straight for the camera. She smirked a little as she got close.

“No!” Bev yelled, “Don’t do it again.”

This time instead of just disabling the camera though the woman looked into it and mouthed some words, then shut the camera off. Just like last time the screen went blank. If things proceeded as last time it would be awhile before the Zima found another camera to show, if there was one.

“What was she saying?” asked Marnly.

Bev scanned back to show the woman again. She called up a speech emulator and a computerish voice said “Are you listening? Because I’m watching.” then the video showed the woman disabling the camera again.

“What is she watching?” asked Marnly.

“The meadow,” said Bev.

June 12, 2013: 10:47 pm: Pavaria, writing

Bev Bora sat at the Distance Monitor Consoles as she did every day. Two monitors showed nothing but static. The third, labeled ‘Zima’ showed a dark area of vegetation. She watched as she did every day for a sign of non-plant life.

It wasn’t her job. Her job was to calculate and program inertial distributors for the Primavera, who’s bridge she sat on. She was incredibly good at this job. So good in fact that she could usually get her day’s worth of programming down in two or three hours. She chose to spend most of the rest of her time at the Distance Monitor Consoles.

This was volunteer duty, so she didn’t risk a reprimand for goofing off during work hours. And nobody else really wanted the gig. Only Marnly showed any interest. Beve was pretty sure he was just being friendly.

“Any apes?” Marnly said from behind.
She turned and grinned. “Whole pack. I just missed them though because I turned around to say hi to you. They’ll be gone but he time we both look.” She turned to find the same empty area of trees and grass. It was their usual joke.

Tell me Bev, what do you expect to see. The ship is dead. It’s a fluke that the distance transmitters are stills ending this one camera. And since the ship is dead, that camera will operate forever. All you’ll see is the trees die slowly.”

Bev didn’t believe that. She’d seen things. Shadows. She’d reviewed the records to make sure she wasn’t imagining it and they were there. She’d reported them with great excitement but the Command team determined it wasn’t enough to take any action and just ordered monitoring to continue.

The Zima, was a Generation ship like the Primavera. Along with the Qiu and Majira, the four ships and set off in different directions to explore and possibly colonize. The ships were great works of engineering meant to last for inestimable periods of time.

It hadn’t worked out that way.

The Qiu and Majira had stopped transmitting years ago. Officially they were designated out of range but Bev had reviewed the stored last transmissions. Both ships had been in trouble.

The Zima had never stopped broadcasting After a containment breach and a freak disease outbreak, the Captain had declared ship wide emergency and ordered all survivors to the Bridge. The last transmission from the Bridge had been the Captain’s inspiring survival speech interrupted by an explosion and data indicating all hands were dead.

Then the transmission flipped to this scene of trees and grass from inside the ships Park. The Primavera had a park just like it and a camera observing a similar scene. All four ships and been laid out the same.

Everyone had expected the scene to show death by fire or vacuum breach or just to stop transmitting. But none of that happened. Apparently environmental controls were working well enough to keep the vegetation thriving. Basic power for life support was provided by passive stellar collectors, so the camera operation meant power was still on and as Marnly speculated, would probably last forever.

The mystery of what had happened on Zima consumed the attention of whole command teams for months. The containment breach must have been fixed. According to the Captain’s reports killed 44% of all life on Zima? So the Park’s continued existence meant it had been outside that number and the breach never affected it. The disease that finished off so many of the rest of the crew wouldn’t have affected the plant life. And the bridge explosion? What caused that? why would the system switch to a park view rather than Medical or Engine Room?

Eventually no answers and no new data came along, and only Bev was left obsessed with the transmissions.

Marnly finally convinced her to get dinner and they left. He failed, again, to convince her to take the train on from the Barracks to Galley for a fresh dinner instead of commissary food. She pleaded, as usual, that she mated to head back to the bridge after they eat and she only had two train credits left for the day.

“Don’t you want to transfer to another department eventually? I mean you say you don’t want a command job. What about Observation? They have the best views in Primavera and they’re close to the park. OUR park.”

She laughed. “Yes I know. But I really feel connected to the Zima. And I don’t believe everyone there is gone. So I think we can discover what happened. maybe even make contact again.”

He gave up and they switched to talking about sports. Bev’s only other interest besides the Distance Consoles was the Handball League. She oddly supported Tactical’s team, even though she lived in Barracks and worked in Bridge both of which had a team.

After dinner, Marnly accompanied Bev back to the Bridge from the Barracks even though it meant spending a valuable train credit.

They were laughing about the chances of Galley’s Handball team ever scoring against anyone when both stopped short.

On the Distance Transmission Screen for Zima in the middle of the trees, stood a woman in a red dress. She was beautiful. As Bev sat down and began priority log and forward of the scene, she shook and began to cry.

“I’m not imagining it?”

Marnly sat down slowly. “no,” he whispered.

The woman in the dress began to come towards the camera. She climbed up a tree and stared into the camera. The transmission did have audio but the woman did not speak. She reached forward towards the camera and the transmission went blank. Not static, just blank. The transmission was still chive but the woman must have disconnected the camera.

“No!” yelled Bev.

April 20, 2013: 2:42 pm: Pavaria, writing

“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming,” said the woman in the grey flannel suit. “I’m Cynthia Wong, Chief Administrator of the Non-Aligned Space Administration. We know a lot of you have heard rumors and leaks about plans for a colony ship or ships. We’re here to let you know which of those rumors to believe,”

The room of 50 or so reported laughed appreciatively.

“To make our official announcement, I’d like to welcome the head of the project, Captain Damiao Corallo.”

Polite applause greeted the young man in the nation-neutral uniform of NASA’s vestigial military arm. The uniform was a barely modernized copy of the US Air Force uniform from which NASA had once grown. The current US Air Force wore nothing like it.

Captain Corallo looked much too young to lead an important project like this. But he met the skeptical reporter’s gaze with a steady intelligent look.

“Thank you administrator. Thank you members of the press. No, a wayward teenager from Sao Tome did not accidentally steal the Captain’s uniform, I am Captain Corallo.” The press laughed and what little tension there may have been, broke. He was certainly a charming man.

“They needed a young man because this project will take decades. In short, we plan to build and launch 6 colony ships on long-term, one way trips, delivering a total of 100,000 humans to identified habitable planets.”

The room erupted in applause. All the rumors had pointed to this ambitious plan.

“This is NASA’s answer to the World Contingency Challenge, put forth by the United Nations in response to the ongoing crisis. We believe the crisis is solvable. But we also specialize in space travel. And we have received partial funding already and are confident we can achieve full funding for this project.

“We are making this announcement at the start. So many decisions have yet to be made. But the goal is clear. Build vessels to take large numbers of humans safely to live on other worlds.”

The Captain paused to let that sink in. The room was silent.

“Thousands of years ago, Scandinavians moves through the oceans in longships. They made incredible voyages, reaching distant shores against incredible odds. These will be our modern longships. They will voyage much farther than any human endeavor but they will carry the same spirit. To survive and to explore.

“We honestly have spent most of our time up until now securing basic financial backing. Insuring the continuation of our nickname the “No Amount Sent Away” agency,” snickers. Nobody really called it that anymore. It wasn’t that clever to begin with.

“And i’ve stated our goal. But I will take questions. And most of the answers will be ‘we don’t know yet’ so be prepared.”

Reporters asked the usual questions and Captain Corallo delivered the promised answers. A few details such as dates for future announcements were given but not much.

Finally an aging reporter that had kept silent raised his hand, catching the Captain’s eye.

“Ekachai Ratanaruang, from The Guardian. What will the names of the ships be?”

The Captain got an odd look on his face. “They will not be named until they are ready to launch. That will be my final press conference, should I live that long.”

The Administrator appeared at the Captain’s side at that point thanking him and shaking his hand.

“That’s all the time we have for questions right now. Luncheon is set in the outer conference hall. And I’ll be leading a tour of our Kenyatta headquarters for those who haven’t been here before. Thank you again for coming.”

: 12:26 am: Pavaria, writing

The old man was winding to a halt and the reporters began to fidget and jockey to get the first question.

“… Which is why the four longships that will serve as colony arks will be named,” and here he beamed as he saw the reporters caught out mid-fidget. They had not been told they would get the actual names of the arks. “The Qiu, Majira, Zima, and Primavera.”

“Now, I can take a few questions.”

Most of the reporters were caught trying to make sure they had capped the name announcement. A bright young reporter in a fashionable tan moodsuit caught the old man’s eye.

“What can you say about the government on the arks. Will it be a military dictatorship as many have described it?”

Not so bright after all, sighed the old man to himself.

“The longships are in fact ships. They need a crew and that crew needs to be qualified. And it will need to train the next crew. And in cases of ship wide emergency it needs to be able to command operations for the preservation of the ship. So the highest officer on board will be the Captain.

“However, when the Captain is not ruling on a ship matter, he will be restrained by the council of settlements. A small council with one elected representative from each settlement area. They will elect a council head who will act as executive in non-ship matters.

“That council will also appoint judges tasked with reviewing the decisions of the council and the captain and resolving grievances. Too much democracy in an environment this constrained could lead to inadvertent disaster by the untrained. Too much dictatorship and the society will revolt and collapse. We believe we’ve struck a balance.”

“It’s a typical three-part check and balance system with a weak executive then?” Said the reporter without looking up from note-taking. Maybe some brightness in there after all.

“Exactly,” the old man snapped. “Except,” and this made the reporter look up. “Once the ship launches, we can’t control it any more. They can decide to switch their government the moment they’re out of orbit.

“So the real answer about what kind of government they’ll have, genre actions down the line when the arks finally reach their destinations, is, we don’t know!” The old man smiled. He wished he was going with them.

April 17, 2013: 4:29 pm: Pavaria, writing

“So are you going to Observation Night, Munji?” she asked.

“Ugh,” was all the tall dark-haired scientist could manage. He had both hands in a tub of viscous fluid. Tracy couldn’t tell if he was reacting to her or the fluid.

“Is that no?” she wrinkled her nose.

He pulled out his hands, thankfully revealing gloves and began to rinse them off. “I don’t know,” he sighed. “It just seems like a cruise ship sort of thing to do. I wouldn’t have done something like that back on Earth. Why change?”

Tracy shrugged. “I think it’s nice. Our first chance to all get together and see the star we’re headed to.”

“Our descendants. Our long distant descendants are headed to. We’ll be recycled a million times over by then,” he corrected, taking off his gloves and starting to put away his tools.

Tracy took a seat up on one of the counters across from him and watched him work. She giggled, “Yeah OK. But you make my point. We’ll be part fo them sort of. It’s the whole reason we’re here.”

Munji paused. “It’s true. I wouldn’t have signed up for this one way trip to the grave in space if I didn’t believe in it. But I can go look at the stars anytime. The trains run several times a day you know. And then I can stop at the park along the way. Take it at my own pace instead of on somebody else’s schedule.”

“I don’t like the park. There’s a bear there. Why’d they put a bear in the park? Anyway you wouldn’t be looking at the stars alone this time. That’s the point! Imagine if all 10,000 people on the Primavera show up! It might be the only time we all stand together as one. Certainly the first time. We’re the founders of a new society Munji. Don’t you want to feel a part of that?”

Munji finished putting away the last of his things. “I feel a part of that every day. Besides, won’t it throw the ship out of balance if we all stand in one place?”

She knew he was kidding. “Oh please. Even if we all crowd together and jump up and down at the same time, it might register as a seismic event ont he Bridge but it wouldn’t do anything to this ships course and trajectory. You know how much non-human matter there is in this behemoth. What about that?” she pointed at the tub of fluid.

Munji made an ‘oh right’ face and picked up the tub to put it in a storage compartment. “Thanks. That would have spoiled and I’d have lost a day of work.”

“So thank me by taking me to Observation night,” she grinned.

Munji shrugged. “Fine. For one night I’ll surrender myself to the plans of the most gigantic cruise ship int he known universe. It will be fun to see it along with everyone who’s fathering this future race. Who knows if they’ll ven be humans still by the time they get there.”

Tracy slipped her hand in Munji’s as they left the Lab.

Some time later

Trella sat on the edge of the metal road on the boarded of the north Wildlands. Everyone told her she was nuts to venture out there alone. All manner of wild animals and mutants roamed the wildlands from North to South. Many people had been injured or killed there. But she couldn’t help herself. Those people had ventured into the wildlands. She just sat on the edge. She loved climbing the metal road where it rose in the air like a bridge over nothing. And nothing could get up there to get her without her seeing ti coming far away.

And the real treat was getting to see the skyline of Fisher Heights. The abandoned city stood on top of the highest point in the wildlands, separating north from south. She longed to visit there, but she wasn’t headstrong enough to go there alone. That would truly be dangerous. But someday. Somehow, she’d find someone as intrigued as her and they’d venture in to find the secrets. Some folks talked that the abandoned tunnels under her hometown of Vash somehow connected to Fisher Heights. Agains, not something you wanted to investigate on your own and without proper defenses.

“Excuse me,” a voice said shocking her so much she almost fell off the bridge. “Is this the way to Vash? I’m headed for the Hope Night festivities.”

Trella was on her feet almost screaming. “How in god’s glass did you sneak up on me like that!”

The man looked suddenly very embarrassed. “I’m so sorry. You were so lost in thought, I should have realized. My apologies Lady.” The man gave a bow of formality. Trella finally noticed he wore a white coat and the braids of a Captain’s Man.

“You’re a priest! Are you from Thelb?” her eyes widened. Vash had priests but they were all from Vash, ordained in the far away priest’s city of Thelb, and returned home to serve. A visit from a real priest of Thelb was a rarity. And this one had braids which meant he was in the Captain’s service! A high-ranking priest indeed.

“From Bridgeton actually,” he stammered. “I was ordained in Thelab though, of course. I’ve been there many times. The train still runs there.”

She noticed he pronounced Thelb funny with an extra syllable at the end. She tried to rememebr that so she could say it right and impress people in the future. Who it would impress, she hadn’t thought through.

“Pardon my manners,” she returned his bow of formality and held her head down waiting for him to say the words to release her.

“It’s OK. I’m not very good at being a priest. They warned me about that when I got them to let me travel here. Told me I was foolish and likely get killed. Um, so you can look at me again.”

Trella slowly looked up. He was an odd priest. She risked a question since he didn’t seem to follow the usual priestly rules. “Did you say you actually saw a train? A real train? Did it really run underground?”

He laughed a little. “Not only saw it but got inside and rode in it. A few times actually. But it’s all overland on that route. No tunnels for me. I wasn’t ill.”

She didn’t know what to make of this last bit but didn’t want to appear ignorant, so laughed at what she hoped was some kind of jest.

“I’m sorry. I really didn’t mean to startle you. But I hope to get to Vash before dimming. It is Hope Night, yes?”

She nodded. “Yes, you’re just in time. Dimmings not for a few rotations yet, and we’re less than a half rotation from Vash. I live there. I should probably be getting back anyway. I can show you the way if you like?”

“I’d like that very much,” the priest smiled. “I was hoping not to have to view Hope Night alone,” he ventured.

She looked at him again. Was he asking her? “well nobody ever views Hope Night alone. That’s the whole point. We gather to give the hope point our energy so that it grows bigger. But I’d be happy to accompany you there too,” she got nervous and almost whispered, “if you wish.”

The priest just nodded as they began the walk to Vash.

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