January 5, 2019
By Barbra Badger
Simon was the only object in sight for miles that wasn’t totally snow white. Every tree, parcel of land, or even the rabbit that crossed his path ahead was sparkling, stark white. He looked up at the sky with a few innocent fluffy clouds and smiled to himself as he swooshed along. Feeling self-satisfied that he had remembered to wear his snow glasses to keep snow blindness at bay, he kept moving cross-country in a rhythmic pace. Swoosh, swoosh, swoosh, swoosh, he could let his mind wander. Then he began to notice a slight angle to the ground, just barely causing him to strain. His ankles bent slightly, and he had to push harder, then harder. His breath came with more difficulty. He stopped to look around. The trail he made was perfectly straight. Shook his head and went on. The subtlety of increase of effort hooked his competitive spirit, and he took the challenge. Soon he was grunting and groaning to put one ski ahead of the other and leaning forward so far he could only see his feet. When the ground leveled out, and his efforts eased, he stood straight up, and before his eyes lay an ocean of cloud. From his feet to the horizon clouds danced gently across the expanse. Thinking he had reached heaven, he stood in reverence, filled with overwhelming gratitude.
This story and other works by Barbra Badger can be found on her Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/writingbybarb/
January 6, 2019
The Last Picture I Will Take
By: Kelli J Gavin
I stand here looking out over the blinding white snow, the white clouds, the white peaks. Some say it is beautiful. I think the stark landscape and the silence is deafening.
I never wanted to be a landscape photographer. I had lofty dreams of becoming a criminal prosecution lawyer. I lasted two years into college and realized I couldn’t do it. Too much paperwork, not enough courtroom exposure. Not what I thought it would be. Who am I kidding? I was horrible at it. I hated the work, I hated being told what to do and that I was always doing it wrong. I was told I had an attitude problem and that I would never amount to anything. I no longer desired to be a criminal prosecution lawyer, but I never really told anyone what happened. I never admitted to a personal failure. I told my family and close friends that it wasn’t what I thought it would be and it didn’t work out. A few skeptical eyes lingered on me for longer than necessary. Everyone kept telling me that I would figure it out. That I would find something to do with my life.
If I was honest with myself, I didn’t really want to do anything else. I didn’t possess talent of any kind. I didn’t want to work when I really reflect back on that time. I enjoyed taking pictures, but only as a hobby. One of my pictures caught the eye of an author friend of mine who asked for permission to use it on the cover of her book. I said yes of course, for a small fee and for a photo credit on the inside book jacket cover. Apparently, my friend is an amazing author. Her book sold over 500,000 copies in the first three months. I said yes that she could use the picture because it was an easy $500. The offers came rolling in. Some for portraits, some for landscapes. I guess I had a bit of talent. I loved lighting, natural sunlight and discovered the natural beauty that is all around us. The commission contracts were fantastic and I was able to quit my part-time job within the first three months.
A wilderness and adventure magazine contacted me after they saw my pictures of Central Park. I enjoyed taking pictures of nature in settings you wouldn’t suspect. The film turned out great. It appeared as if I was deep in the forest, when I was dealing with angry joggers and bikers who were competing for space at my heels on the walkway. I signed a two-year contract with the magazine. Not only did it enable me to travel and to research and request some of my own destinations, everything was paid for. I traveled about three weeks out of every month. And occasionally came home so that my friends knew that I was still in the land of the living.
I have now been taking pictures for 12 years and turn down additional business daily. I am 34 years old, have more money than I will ever need and have traveled the entire globe. I am lonely, wish for someone to keep me company and have always wanted children. How did a job that most dream of turn into a distraction from real life? Apparently, women don’t enjoy dating men who travel constantly. I dated casually each time I headed home to New York, but my lack of communication while traveling never encouraged women to stay around for very long. I find myself contemplating what bachelorhood for life would look like. It doesn’t look very exhilarating to me. It looks like more lonely nights and an eternal empty bed.
This is my last assignment. Quite possibly the last picture I will take. I am not filled with regret or even any emotion over this fact. I was never meant to be a photographer in the first place. You do what brings you a little happiness and hopefully make some money along the way. So long white snow. So long white clouds. Goodbye silence. New York is calling my name. Home is calling to me. The desire for a life well lived is shouting at me now.
This story and other works by Kelli J. Gavin can be found on her blog at https://kellijgavin.blogspot.com/2019/01/the-last-picture-i-will-take.html/
January 7, 2019
Eyes of Love
by Lynn Miclea
Jared stood at the peak, mesmerized by the majestic scene before him. His body trembled as he took in the layer of clouds that expanded out. Standing on the top of the mountain, his stomach flipped. He hadn’t been sure he could do this, but here he was. It was hard to breathe, and he wasn’t sure if that was from the altitude or the extraordinary wonder before him. The incredible expanse of puffy clouds filled him with an unspeakable sense of awe. He felt close to God here, as though he could touch infinity.
He took a deep breath, and his chest ached. A headache started building, and his muscles felt weak. It was time to return to the camp near the base of the mountain. He hoped his muscles would stay strong and not let him down. If he fell or got injured here, he could easily die. His teeth chattered with the cold. He had to leave before it would be too late — he needed to get back before dark.
And he knew real courage would then be needed — even more than what was needed to reach this mountain top. Before he left, his eyes scanned the magnificent view, savoring the image, and recording every detail to memory. But the longing in his soul reminded him that connections of the heart were even more powerful than physical strength or mountain top views, and he could not get back to camp soon enough.
A deep urgency filled him, and Jared suddenly felt empty and alone. The most wondrous sights of the world could not compare to what he felt for the love of his life. He did not want to lose her. And he intended to spend the rest of his life helping Angela achieve all her dreams. He would be there for her no matter what.
Tears burned his eyes. Angela was blind, and he would describe to her in detail everything he saw and felt as he stood here on this peak. And he would let her know that what he saw in her was even more beautiful than what he saw and felt at the top of the mountain.
Tonight he would ask Angela to marry him.
He turned and started down the slope.
Copyright © 2019 Lynn Miclea. All Rights Reserved.
Please also see this story and like it on Lynn’s blog at – https://wp.me/p4htbd-nJ
January 9, 2019
I climb high
By E.C. Fisher
I begin with the huddled masses
The mountain ahead stirs us; a journey to the peak
Grasping for the hanging fruit; trying to enjoy its sweet nectar
Obstacles stand before me; barriers on my journey
Daunting tasks as I make my trek up
I climb high; reaching out for the stars
I glance back to see those who started faltered
Do I despair; give up; and join the ranks of the dearly departed
The ascent perilous; I find myself with doubt
The unknown journey ahead leaves me swaying
The sun shines through the clouds; a light in the darkness
I climb high; reaching out for the stars
I find myself at the top; alone I’ve made it
The view on high is beautiful; I wish I could share it
I climbed high; reaching out for the stars
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January 11, 2019
By Calliope Njo
I noticed her from a distance. I knew it would take a few seconds to reach her. I swooshed down the hill, came to a stop and looked around where she paused. A snow angel would be the sole remnants under that towering tree.
My old instructor would tell me to get my head out of the clouds and onto the slopes where it belonged. Funny thing though, my mind has always been on the slopes because that’s where she showed herself evelr since that first day.
I climbed up all the way to the cabin I had been staying at. Cozy and rustic little place but it suited me. What I needed. Maybe if I asked that old man he could tell me more.
I couldn’t sleep and spent the night staring up at the ceiling. Her blonde hair swirled in the wind. Her icy blue eyes crinkled at the edges. Ah hell, nothing got accomplished lying down.
I grabbed a lantern by the door and held it up when I stepped outside. I didn’t expect to see anything, but a strange blue light floated in my direction. I waited there and somewhat hoped that light would disappear.
The blue light transformed into the mysterious woman. She stayed at a distance and smiled in my direction. Not sure what that slight tilt of her head meant but I waved her in. She backed up and with a gust of wind, disappeared.
I ran out to try to find any hint but no luck. I walked back to the cabin and closed the door behind me. I leaned against it and feared I lost my mind.
I settled down on my cot and didn’t expect to fall asleep but I must have. The next thing I knew the sun shone through the window.
Phoenix Constatine, the gay skier. Phoenix Constatine, a new patient in the mental ward. I laughed. It didn’t stop. I needed to talk to that old man.
A note on his door read that he had to go to the village to get more supplies and would return in two days. So much for that plan, because I won’t be here.
I spent the day skiing the mountain and no luck. She blew away someplace that couldn’t be found. Maybe I dreamed up the whole thing because of stress and exhaustion.
I had to return home to Colorado. As much as I wanted to stay I couldn’t. Maybe next time I would be able to find that magical spirit. I packed my stuff and put it by the door.
That night something whispered my name. I opened the door and she stood right in front of me. She reached out her hand. Curiosity got the best of me and I took it. So frosty, not warm like I expected.
She took me to a high mountain, a place above the clouds. Too beautiful to not look or wonder what lies below. I hated the thought, but I had to leave to get back home.
She shook her head. “You are home. Where you belong.”
Please visit Calliope’s blog and follow her!! https://januaryedition.blogspot.com/2019/01/extra-extra-read-all-about-it.html
January 13, 2019
Lost in the Clouds
By D.L. Tillery
As life leaves me bare I seek the clouds of
If freedom was my mother I would suffer, I would feel the warmth of her bosom even in the coldness of her stare…Yet is it fear
that’s put me there?
Here I climb to the peak, am I lost or am I
When I listen I hear you speak.
‘I am you and you are me.’
Yet here above it all, it’s not you but the
cold that frees me.
Visit D. L.’s website and follow her: https://authordltillery.wixsite.com/authorsite
January 14, 2019
By David Reiss
Mark pulled his goggles from his face and tucked them under one arm, squinting against the frigid wind; snowflakes scoured his face, but removing the fogged eye-protection allowed the field researcher to confirm that his wrist-computer’s screen was dead.
“Damnit,” he swore. Even with the sea of clouds whipping below the peak and obscuring the landscape below, Mark had been reasonably certain of his bearings. His tracker was working, at least; if he’d gotten too far off, someone should have contacted him. “HQ, this is Rover Three. I need a coordinate check. Where the hell am I?”
There was a pause. Mark shifted from side to side on his skis and waited.
“Rover Three, this is HQ. Hey, Mark.” The speaker’s voice was recognizable despite the scratchiness of the signal. Justin, Mark sighed to himself. The intern. “I put you right at site twenty-four. Good job.”
“Well, there’s nothing here,” Mark growled, shaking out his facemask and replacing it on his frostbitten face. “Not a damned thing. Site twenty-four is empty.”
“Uh…negative, Rover Three. There’s a strong signal from beacon twenty-four.”
“Then there’s something wrong with your equipment,” Mark bit out, feeling suddenly tired; it had been an eight-hour slog from the lower peak where the helicopter pilot had been able to let him off. Eight hours, for nothing! It was probably the intern’s fault. “Is Shelly around?”
Shelly was the expedition’s tech guru; she couldn’t be trusted within five feet of a pair of cross-country skis and her coffee was awful, but she knew the system better than the guys who designed it.
“Nah, Shelly’s sleeping in,” the intern replied.
“Well, wake her up,” Mark insisted. “Either I’m in the wrong place or site twenty-four turned invisible.”
“I’m gonna let her rest,” Justin chuckled softly. “She works too hard, y’know? Hold on, I got it. Rebooting now, okay?”
Shelly had horrible taste in men; she’d been flirting with Justin ever since the kid signed on.
From the sound of it, the intern reciprocated her interest; he probably thought he was doing her a favor, letting her sleep in even though official protocol was to keep the technical lead up to date if there were any anomalies. He was correct that Shelly would’ve been irritable upon being roused—her prickly pre-coffee disposition had become legendary among the other researchers—but she was going to be positively livid when she found out there were problems and she wasn’t alerted. Justin was sabotaging his own romantic aspirations…but Mark certainly wasn’t the type to offer unsolicited relationship advice.
The field researcher brought his hands to his face to breathe warmth into his cold-stiffened fingers, focusing on burying his irritation with every slow exhale. He was chilled, he was tired…but he had the open sky and a mountain to himself. And besides…once upon a time, he’d been young, too.
And, hell, maybe Justin would grow up a bit, Shelly would like him and they’d work things out. She was a good kid, she deserved a bit of happiness.
“Oh. Oh, shiiiii…” Justin trailed off. “Rover Three, this is Justin. I mean, this is HQ. Hunker down a minute, I have to figure this out.”
Hearing that kind of panic across the radio link should have been nerve wracking, but Mark was experienced enough to know better. He was alone up here, safe and secure, being treated to a view that few could ever have imagined.
Clouds poured across the horizon, whipped by chill gusts and swirling, eternal gales. Each breeze stabbed like knives, and the air was clear; Mark could see for miles in every direction, as though he had the entire world to himself.
Ten years ago, the weather would have looked completely different. That’s why the team was here: to study the changes and make sense of shifting wind patterns. Satellite footage and weather balloons could only tell you so much, sometimes you needed feet on the ground and local equipment. Site twenty-four should have had a small radio tower bristling with sensors (which needed regular maintenance, hence the team’s presence) and a survival shelter.
The tower could be only a hundred feet downhill and it would have been wholly obscured by the roiling mists.
“I was on the wrong screen,” Justin announced suddenly. “You need to head west. You’re not far off.”
Mark squinted, staring downhill where the mountain cut into the flowing clouds like a ship through the ocean waves. The wind was painful above the icy fog; heading lower wouldn’t be fun. In the emergency shelter, at least, he’d be able to get warm.
“All right,” the field researcher sighed and began shifting about to make sure that his gear was properly balanced for transportation. “I’ll head west.”
“You’re, um, not going to tell Shelly…are you?” Justin sounded so forlorn that Mark couldn’t help but bark in amusement.
Young, Mark thought to himself. Poor Shelly is going to have her hands full.
“No,” he chuckled. “Don’t worry about it, no harm done. This is Rover Three, going radio silent. Keep your ears on, I’ll let you know when I get to twenty-four.”
“Thanks,” the intern replied, relief palpable.
The old explorer laughed as he continued his own lonely, extraordinary journey.
Visit David’s website and follow him for news on his writing! https://davidhreiss.com/
January 16, 2019
Conquering the Mountain
By: Leah Pryor
The only sound Mitchell could hear was the crunching that the newly-fallen snow and the hard ice made under his ski boots. The air was thin up here and it took him really focusing on getting a deep breath to fill his lungs. He had no idea that it would be so hard to breathe! But the view from way up here was worth the effort. He had never in his whole life seen such serene beauty. There was no hustle and bustle way up here. It was as if he had left Earth and all the people behind.
Mitchell Pokerjack was a young man who had made a good amount of money at a young age. He had started a Pooper Service business when he was fourteen. He worked around the neighborhoods picking up turds on the weekend. The money he made from that he put in a savings account and let it accrue interest, never touching a dime of it. As he grew older, he got hired on at the local burger joint. He worked there in the evenings and worked his own business on the weekends still. Always saving his hard earned income. His parents were beyond themselves with pride in their son’s work ethic. They made a deal with their seventeen-year-old son to match whatever he had in his savings account the day he graduated high school. They kept their word. By the time Mitchell graduated he had a small fortune and decided that college was not for him.
He wanted to spend the next couple of years traveling. He spent his time off researching different travel destinations, motels he would stay at, and places he would eat. His first adventure took him to a resort in Rio where he spent ten days snorkeling with other tourists, riding around in cramped tour buses for hours, just to be rushed back on the bus seconds after getting to their destinations. He ate with people he didn’t know or care to know and sipped on expensive watered-down drinks adorned with fruits and little umbrellas. Although he loved Rio, he vowed never to go on another pre-made group tour surrounded by so many people he didn’t know again.
His next trip was well researched and planned out. He made all the calls and set up the schedule himself. Mitchell made his way through the busy and bustling streets of Cairo. He enjoyed his meals by himself and spent an extra three days taking in the sights before reluctantly going back home.
Now on his third outing, Mitchell found himself atop a solitary mountain in the Swiss Alps overlooking what would be a pristine town called Zinel, had the clouds that hung lower than the high peak he was on dissipated. Mitchell was no stranger to skiing. His parents often spent many a winter day hitting the slopes around their home town in Colorado. He had shredded enough snow to know what he was doing and felt he had a firm enough grasp to forgo the ski guide. Plus he wanted to be up here alone. Not because he didn’t enjoy people… he liked people enough. He had friends at home and made pen pals that he wrote to and spoke to frequently. He found that when he traveled with others, he often missed out on things like this:
The quietness of the mountain top. How he could hear his heart pounding, the snow crunching underfoot, and the wind as it whistled and blew little snow devils around the untainted scenery. If he had come up here with a group of friends or a tour group, he would miss out on the silence. It would be lost in the eager voices and the view would have been stamped out with footprints, skis, and camping gear. No, he preferred it this way.
Mitchell bent down to tighten his boots and check the conditions of his binding. Once he was ready he stood, took as deep of a breath as he could, placed his ski goggles over his eyes and guided his skis to the edge of the peak. With the tips of his skis hanging over the edge, Mitchell bent his knees, spread his legs apart to keep his skis from crossing, and pushed off with the poles. He took in another quick breath as he started downhill. The snow was fresh and soft as he slid over it. The acceleration started off slow, but soon enough he was speeding down the mountain leaning left and then right to dodge trees and jutting boulders that stuck out of the snow. He was alive now with the trees speeding past him and the wind whipping him hard in his face. This was what he needed. There was nothing else but him and the mountain. If he took his eyes off the prize, there was nobody out here to help him. He was in his element and his focus wasn’t on Mary-Ellen or the ring she gave him back before he left. It wasn’t the cancer that raged in his mother’s bones or the hospital bills that he promised to help pay. Here he was truly alone and his emotions were snuffed out by the speed and the pure adrenaline that ran through his body.
He knew this might be his last trip. His Dad needed him. His Mom needed him. He needed Mary-Ellen, even though she didn’t feel the same for him. But right now, right now he needed this. He needed to be in control of his surroundings and his own thoughts. He needed to feel unhinged and unencumbered. On this mountain, he was getting what he needed.
It took three hours to make his way to the base of the mountain, and he was sore and tired when he finally came to a stop. His legs hurt from the strain of keeping himself upright, and his arms ached from the effort of keeping them close to him while he flew down the mountainside. He plopped down in the cold, hard snow and looked up to see the monster he just conquered. It was majestic and white. The clouds were high at the top and covered the tip from his view.
Mitchell took in a deep breath; it was easier to do down at the base than it was up at the top. He thought about that for a while as he sat and stared. He thought about a lot of things as he took off his skis and packed up his gear. He knew this would be the last of his adventures for a while. His life was waiting for him back in Colorado, where he would spend the remaining amount of his money saving his Mom’s life and the rest of his time off winning back the only woman he had ever loved. He took one more look up at the mountain and one more deep breath before he stepped into the taxicab that would take him back to the airport and back to his problems.
Please visit Leah’s Facebook author page: A Sentence A Day 2019 https://bit.ly/2MdcZMJ
January 19, 2019
A Memory of Blue
By Susan Staneslow Olesen
Cold bit into Loro’s face. He knew the cold would be brutal, but up here, with nothing to hide behind, the wind drove the cold through every stitch-hole in his clothing. His helmet kept his head warm, his goggles kept his eyes from drying out and his eyelids from freezing, but one still needed to breathe. Uphill, uphill, uphill, step, step, step, nothing on his mind but moving forward and upward. He wore liners under his wool socks, and his boots were rated to fifty below zero, but his hands could have been warmer.
Squeak. Squeak. Squeak. The snow up here was too cold to crunch, the granules so small and packed so close together that they slid past each other like buckshot instead of compacting under his weight. Up the hill, up the hill, up the hill. He had exactly six hours to complete his task; summer was short enough, but clear days were rare even in summer, and few people dared to wander far.
Loro was in his forties by now; it was hard to keep count, let alone remember. Time had lost a lot of its meaning, but he could remember the clear sunny days as a boy, the heat of the sun, the glory of running outside half naked, the smell of fresh-cut grass and the sizzle of rain on hot pavement. His children didn’t believe him, accused him of pretending he lived in a storybook.
Maybe he had.
Three thousand feet up now. Loro puffed his breath out with each footfall. His face covering was damp from the moisture; the moisture froze and chafed his face. Nothing to be done about it. The clouds had thinned to haze, the haze unworldly bright, frosted glass against the sky. Four thousand. Four thousand was the magic number. At four thousand feet, breathless from altitude, the city below would be visible. It was said to be a sight to behold. Perhaps a hundred people would try each summer; perhaps twelve might make it to the top of Mount Covasc, bringing back photos and tales of the bluest skies and clearest air imaginable. Photos would be blown up, placed over ceilings in public places and lit from behind, recreating the hidden miracle. Postcards would be printed with large arrows pointing to the clouds, You Are Here. No one had seen an aerial view of the actual city of Falls Landing in more than thirty years. Satellites had died, and drones died quickly in the cold.
Loro trudged onward. The light hurt his eyes, bolstered his spirit, revived his memories, and made him move faster despite his lungs heaving in the thin air. He’d been eight when the cold came. That summer had been the hottest on record, day after day of scorching heat, even in the valley. If anything, the valley seemed to hold the heat in worse, the mountains blocking the breezes that might disrupt it. Loro suffered sunburn no fewer than three times that summer. In September, the heat faded rapidly, followed by a month of rain that seemed to grow colder by the day. In October, the rain turned to snow, and snow, and more snow. The deep cold came in November, shattering records for the third month in a row. By January the snow was as deep as rooflines, and people were grumpy for not having seen sunlight in so long.
Little did they know.
Spring came on paper. Outside, the valley remained blanketed with clouds. The snows stopped, but the cold never left. The weathermen talked of inversions, of global change, of man-made disasters. The politicians blamed each other, and countries picked fights. Wars were rather fruitless; few countries were used to extreme cold, and invasions proved deadlier to the invaders than the invaded. Food for troops couldn’t be grown on frozen ground. Targeting cities with missiles didn’t work when clouds perpetually obscured satellite imagery, and electronics weren’t built to function in thirty-below-zero temperatures. Most of them failed. Planes couldn’t deploy troops when they couldn’t see to land. Neither could passenger jets, or cargo planes with supplies.
Twenty-six weathermen were murdered in a single year.
Loro’s son Lindan didn’t know what a weatherman was.
Loro’s reverie stopped as his face met with the frozen ground. Keeping up his mechanical pace, he’d stopped paying attention and tripped himself on his own skis. He frisked the front of his jacket frantically. The bump of his camera in his inside pocket, next to the warmth of his chest, was still there. Nothing seemed to shift or rattle, and he prayed it was intact. He didn’t dare take it out. Not yet. He rolled himself to his feet and reset his skis, and reset his attitude. A pole or ski sliding down hill over the ice could be his death.
Loro looked upward. The peak glowed overhead, not much farther, and he set out with fresh energy. Two hundred paces more, and the mists disappeared.
Opaque skies gave way to glaring light, making Loro blink even behind his goggles. Brightness engulfed him from all sides, blinding, yellow, unexpectedly strong. Overhead, clear skies shone in brilliant shades of turquoise and azure and gentian, while thin trails of gray and lavender clouds clawed the horizon.
“YES!” thundered from his lips, cold and unexpected, hanging before him in a ball of frozen breath. “I made it! I made it! I remember this!” Loro shouted, but it was impossible to hear him so far down in the valley. The sun was warm on his face, feeble as a butterfly, but it was real, it existed, brought the memories back. He lifted his goggles, pulled down his face mask, squinting at the brightness, drinking in the sun with every pore before replacing them.
He climbed the last few yards to the top and turned around. Falls Landing was invisible, the valley filled solidly with cottony mist and clouds. Looking at the city was like looking down at the top of a sheep, white and puffy and palpable, a roiling frozen sea. Nothing, in fact, was visible — no hills, no valleys, no towers, no landmarks, no people, just a field of white. From here on the mountain, Loro might have been the last man on Earth, all alone in the wilderness, invisible and as fabled as the sun.
“Hallooooo!” he shouted for the fun of it. “Halloooooo!” The sound carried a short distance, then froze and dissipated. How he wished Lindan could see it, but cold and distance were too risky for children.
Time was short. Loro peeled off his outer layer of gloves and drew his camera from his inside pocket. Twenty panorama shots of the valley below, more of the sky and sun and horizon. A half-dozen of Loro goofing off, taking selfies before the blue skies and sunshine. People spoke of building solar towers on the mountain, but no one had figured out how to do it fast enough to drag the materials up, build it, insulate it, and get it running in under two weeks. Nothing. There was nothing up here, not a tree, not a stump, not a tumbleweed. Anything useful had been removed, and the rest was buried under ice and snow.
Loro went to replace his camera, but his hands, without the heavy outer gloves, had grown cold and stiff. He had trouble working the zipper of his coat, struggling to grasp the oversized tab and pull. Tooth by tooth he worked it down enough to slide his hand in, only to lose his numb grip on the camera. It fell down onto the ice and began to slide.
“No! No! Stop!” Loro launched himself after it, skidding to a clumsy stop so that the camera slid to a gentle rest perpendicular to his ski. He bent down, but his fingers wouldn’t cooperate. Twice he got it off the snow, only to have it fall again. Again it slid farther down the mountain, and again he was able to stop it with his ski. At last he seized the camera using both hands and dropped it loose inside his coat. The elastic drawstring around his waist would keep it from falling out. Using the heels of his hands, he pinched the fabric of his coat to hold it, then drew the zipper up with his teeth.
Loro pushed his panic downward. Panic was dangerous. Panic killed. But time was now short, and he knew his hands were far colder than they should be. His hands were chilling the rest of him. His outer gloves — bulky, heavy, highly insulated — hung from their clasps attached to his sleeves, and still he needed ten minutes to pull them on using his teeth and his wrists. Insulated, yes, but meant to keep heat in, not create it. Instead, they would keep them nicely cold, just like a freezer blanket.
He couldn’t feel the poles in his hands. The straps around his wrists kept him from losing them, but his hands had no grip, and they slipped out of his grasp every time he used them. Without the poles, he didn’t dare build up too much speed down the mountain. Slow was the last thing he wanted to be.
By the time he was halfway down the mountain, the cold had worked its way inside him, and he began to shiver.
They shone the massive spotlights onto the main street, a beacon to anyone lost, a blinding beam for spotting anyone approaching the town. In such cold, search crews went out only if a child was missing. An hour past sunset, Loro shuffled slowly into sight, his skis moving scant inches with each effort. The front of his goggles and face mask and coat were heavy with breath-frost. Starnas and Kembel rushed out and grabbed him five hundred feet from the cleared entrance to the city. They held him by his frozen elbows and slid him through the gateway on his skis, the great snow-doors closing behind them to help keep out wind and drifts. His stiff body was carefully tipped onto a stretcher mounted on a Snowcrawler. They removed his skis, but left the poles in his icy clenched hands as they rushed him to the medical building, half a mile away.
Loro made a noise as Kembel layered warm blankets over him. “Camera,” came the faint groan. “Cooooat.”
“Your camera? It’s in your coat? Don’t worry. I’ll make sure they don’t hurt it.” It was the last thing Loro remembered for more than a week.
When he woke in the hospital, Loro’s face was still swollen. The skin was badly peeled and shiny with ointments, but he wouldn’t lose his nose or lips or eyelids. His toes hurt, but he could feel them wiggling against the sheets.
“My camera?” Loro’s throat was dry, and the words came out as a croak, weaker than he felt. “Photos?”
His wife Milla sat next to the bed. She smiled at him. “The whole town is talking about them. They’re the most beautiful photos anyone has ever seen, and the town council has promised to buy every one of them. The sky, the colors — people can’t believe it’s real. No one has ever gotten a sunset before. No one was ever crazy enough to be out that late.”
Loro’s hands were bandaged and resting on pillows before him.
They hurt. Not just the painful fire of recovering frostbite, but the deeper pain of healing wounds.
“Shhh.” Milla dabbed ointment on his lips. “Let them rest. You lost four fingers to frostbite, and parts of two more. The doctor said you’ll be able to eat, and probably dress yourself, but you’ll probably never hold the camera again.”
Loro closed his eyes, his insides as cold and frozen as he’d felt at the base of the mountain. He lay back on the pillows, and let the memories of the blue, blue sky consume him.
Please visit Susan’s website and follow her: https://www.facebook.com/Susan-Olesen-Author-Page-200715809947435/
January 20, 2019
By Jenny Booker
The chill of the air and only the sound of the breeze surrounded him—he felt like he was the only person in the world.
Just a little bit farther, he thought, looking out to the view of vast clouds below.
The high altitude, they warned him, could make the trip very hard. Some adventurous people who also traveled up with him had to turn around at the camp ending their dreams—but not him, and he was determined since the day he booked the flight a year ago. She made him promise he would, and he couldn’t turn back that promise—and he was so close to the summit. Taking the necklace out of the warmth of the jacket, he opened it and turned around to also take in the extraordinary view.
After what seemed like hours, the guide called out to notify him of the final climb, and he noticed the sky had darkened once more.
“Let’s do this Polly,” he whispered.
Making sure he had all his gear from the tent, he nervously proceeded to follow the guide, knowing that this was the last push but also the most dangerous. The last of the group were two other men and a lady—he got to know a bit about them at base camp drinking some tea in the lady’s tent to try and warm up from the cold.
The lady shared the same dream and the other two men had climbed mountains before. Apparently one of them was a blogger but had to leave his laptop at base, which wasn’t a happy sight to see before starting the climb.
The breeze now turned into something like a gale as they said goodbye to the last of the camps and the safety. His cheeks were burning and his legs started to really ache after all the walking. He was near the front and could see the others were also struggling as their axes tried to cut through the ice. The light on his helmet flickered, warning him of the impending danger.
Not sure how much longer he could last, he turned the corner, and then the gale started to calm. A long way in front was a big flag—guessing a half-hour walk.
The sunrise finally welcomed them to the destination that some never made, as he noted on the route. But he made it. Overjoyed, he knelt down and a wave of tears started to clog his goggles. A hand patted his shoulder—turning to look and find one of the group or the guide—it was Polly.
Check out Jenny’s blog and follow her at https://itsjennythewren.wordpress.com
January 21, 2019
by Sean Bracken
You can’t hide your lyin’ eyes
And your smile is a thin disguise”
I know that I’m only tormenting myself, and yet I can’t stop playing the Eagles’ classic song over and over again on my classic Bush turntable. The words are torturing me. They evoke memories of Jessica’s smile. That smile that radiated from her entire face. That smile that captured my heart and mind forever. The words also remind me of the look in her eyes when I realised that she had betrayed me.
It seems like only yesterday, but in reality it was over six months ago when our plane landed in Orly airport. Our two-year-old marriage had been under strain for a few months, after our second application to become adoptive parents was refused. We had decided to take a three-week vacation in France. My best friend Billy lived in Val d’Isère and had invited us to come stay anytime we liked. The plan was to relax, enjoy some skiing and to work on our problems.
The holiday got off to a perfect start. The mountain village was picturesque, and Billy’s chalet was perfectly located, with easy access to the slopes. Billy and Jessica became instant friends and Billy went to great lengths to make us welcome. I could feel my tension disappear from the moment I arrived.
The first few days were fantastic. Hearty breakfasts were followed by fun on the slopes and high-spirited apres-ski parties. Jessica was in her element. It was her first ski holiday and she loved it. Her beautiful smile returned and I began to believe that we were back on track with our lives.
It was near the end of the first week that I started to become suspicious. Billy and Jessica had begun to find excuses to avoid the morning skiing, preferring instead to meet me for lunch and ski in the afternoon. I dismissed the idea, thinking there was no way my best friend and my wife could ever hurt me like that.
How wrong I was.
The following Monday morning, I took a chair-lift to the highest piste, situated on a glacier. The elevation combined with the ice provided for year-round skiing. As I skied away from the lift I began to take in the vista. The beauty of the mountain took my breath away. Standing above cloud level, I could see even taller peaks rising through. Bright sunlight reflected off the pristine snow and the sky was the deepest, intense blue I had ever seen.
I forced myself to turn away from the captivating sight and began to ski back down to another piste, determined to bring Jessica up to share the scene in the afternoon. Halfway down, a snowboarder lost control and collided with me as I traversed a very steep run. Luckily, I escaped with bruising down my left side and a nasty black eye. I decided to return to the chalet and soak my aches in a hot bath.
As I climbed the stairs I could hear giggles and laughter escape from behind the bedroom door. Even though I knew instantly what was happening, I was not prepared for the sight of my beautiful wife and my best friend sharing my bed. Both women tried to cover their nakedness, but it was the look in Jessica’s eyes that really shook me. All of the deceit, all of the lies, all of the treachery shone through her dark pupils. I never spoke a word to either of them. I was afraid that if I dared to speak, I would surely kill them with my bare hands. I stormed past the bed, grabbed my bag and stuffed my clothes and toiletries into it, before walking out of the room and out of their lives.
I found a small hotel on the far side of the town, changed into my favourite silk pyjamas and climbed into bed with a bottle of wine. The following morning I booked an early flight home, leaving my dreams behind. Streaks of mascara traced the course of tears down my face as I boarded the plane.
To this day I would give anything to have Jessica back. I’d sacrifice my money, my career, even my title. I used to love being Lady Sandra Byron. I used to love life. But nothing can replace my love with the lying eyes, disguised by her smile.
Visit Sean’s website and follow his writing career:
January 25, 2019
Resistance and the Dream
By Zakia Sultana
“Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing.” Barry Finley, Kilimanjaro and Beyond.
“I wish I could be a bird. Then I would be able to play hide and seek with the clouds over the mountain. If I could just walk again, I would touch those clouds. Mom said that there was a forest on the top of that mountain. I would really like to go there & lose myself in the harmony of nature. If just I could climb the mountain. If……”
Neil was talking to himself sitting beside the window, looking outside with an unwinking gaze. Only when he heard his mother shouting his name, he gained consciousness.
His mother said, “Neil, can you hear me? It’s time to have your milk. The glass is on the table. Drink it…drink it all before it gets cold. And then don’t forget to take your medicine.”
“Ok mom”, Neil said rolling his eyes. He neither likes to drink milk nor to take medications. But he can’t say no to his mother. He knew very well that it would freak his mom out.
Neil lives in a small village which is surrounded by mountains. He used to be a very mischievous child. He used to run indoors, play with his friends all day long. There was an old tree beside his house. He used to climb that tree often. It was his favorite thing to do. His parents didn’t like it and used to tell him not to do it every day, but he didn’t listen.
His mom said, ” Listen to me, Neil. Do you realize how much pain it will be if you fall? You can even break your legs or hands or even injure your head. Don’t do this.”
Suddenly one day he fell ill. He had a high fever. His condition was worsened. No medicine seemed to work. His parents consulted with doctors. After almost 20 days his condition started to improve. But he was still physically too weak. One day on a beautiful sunny morning he wanted to go outside the house. But the moment he tried to walk, he fell. No matter how much he tried, he couldn’t move his legs. His parents called the doctor. After checkup doctor said, “I don’t know how to tell you. There is no easy way of telling this. Your boy’s leg is paralyzed due to the fever. It’s not permanent damage. With proper physiotherapy, it will get better, but it will take time. Till then you have to be patient. Don’t let him lose his mental strength.” From that day on Neil has been taking treatment.
Amidst all this Neil never lost his faith and hope. Though there were some moments when he became impatient and frustrated. All he wanted at those moments was to go outside. See the world with his own eyes, feel the ground with his legs. But then he reassured himself that everything was going to be good. Just a few more days then he will be able to walk again.
It was one year and a half after that incident. Gradually he was gaining consciousness of his legs. Though his legs were still weak, he could walk with the help of a walking stick. At that moment it was more than enough for him because as people say, “Something is better than nothing.” One day on a sunny morning he was watching the mountain through his window. He realized that the attraction he felt towards the mountain didn’t fade away instead it had increased. He thought for a second. No one was home at that time, and his legs were better than before. He decided it was the time. Leaving a note for his parents, he took his stick, filled his backpack with some dry foods, water bottle, a sleeping bag, rope, some emergency medicines, bandages and went outside. Though He couldn’t run, he could walk. He was walking slowly but wasn’t falling down, and that was a relief. When he was outside, the joy he felt, couldn’t be expressed in words. He touched the ground. The smell of the soil was mesmerizing. He looked again at the mountain and started his journey towards it. There was no way to tell from where he gained such courage. But the point is at that moment he felt like he could even climb Mount Everest.
So, his journey began. He started to walk up to the mountain. It was a thrilling experience. The higher he was climbing, the more this energy was expanding. He could feel it. He made sure to take regular short breaks to eat energy foods, rest briefly and to assess his direction. He also made sure to not linger too long where he was cooling down too much. Despite all his efforts, it was becoming difficult for him to continue because of his issue. Soon it was dark. So, Neil settled a suitable place to camp for the night.
The weather remained perfect the next morning. Standing there Neil started to look back from where he started his journey. He couldn’t believe that he came so far. It was only yesterday when he was laying on his bed, looking outside the window. And today he was here. So close to fulfilling his dream. He ate and then started his journey again. He had still a long way to go. He walked slowly collecting all his strength and courage. It was not easy at all. But he was not the type of a person who would lose hope after failing once. He had a pretty clear idea of what was he going to get once he was out here, far away from home. The path was not smooth. The rocky path was making it hard for him to climb. He was getting tired. He fell two or three times and got several scratches. But now was not the time to ponder over those.
He looked below. Everything seemed so tiny. From this height, his village was looking miniature. He had to admit that once or twice the thought of quitting crossed his mind. But now he could tell that he was not going to quit. He looked above. His goal was near. He could feel his excitement. He resumed his journey.
He didn’t notice the time until it was 4:00 PM. His legs were hurting so much. But he paid no attention to that. Because the scene which was in front of him was worth dying for. It was indeed a breathtaking one. The sun was shining above the clouds. The clouds were beautiful. They were looking like big balls of cotton. Tender winds were flowing as if they were caressing the clouds. He couldn’t believe his eyes. If he could just touch the clouds. Unable to control his happiness he began to shout. He didn’t know what to say. He just shouted and said out loud that, ” I did it. Yes, Thank God I did it. My lifelong dream…………….finally!!! “
Before he knew it, tears rolled down his cheeks. But he didn’t seem to concern about that because it was the tear of happiness. He dropped his walking stick. He figured that he didn’t need it anymore. It was the happiest day of his life. All those years whenever he saw the mountain, he had the feeling that the mountain was calling him. And now he was here, on the top of the mountain. The only place where he was destined to be………..
Sometimes all you need is a strong will power to make the impossible possible, to conquer the resistance.
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January 26, 2019
The Journey Ends
By D. A. Ratliff
Dalton reached the pinnacle. The spot he loved more than any other on this miraculous world. Day after day he made the arduous trek to the top of the mountain to gaze over the vast valley always covered in thick rolling clouds. Their colors stark white to deep gray and ever changing. What lay beneath the clouds was anyone’s guess.
His father had taught him to ski on these slopes. As a small child, he had relished the freedom of sliding across the snow as the wind chilled his cheeks. While other novice skiers marveled at his prowess, he was proudest of how his father’s chest puffed out each time he mastered a new skill. Long before the others, he moved to the intermediate level where he traversed among the valleys and ancient trees.
The sensation of being free encompassed him. Breathing crisp, chilled air, the glare of sunlight on the pristine snow, days when the sky was a brilliant blue or days when thick snow fell and the world was silent, brought joy to his existence. As the years passed, he became the master. On his seventeenth birthday, he had skied to the top of the mountain, an expert trail, and had stood with his father overlooking this incredible vista. On that day, his father had given him the skis and poles he now used. The old-fashioned equipment once belonged to his great-grandfather who had brought them with him the day he left home.
He shuddered as he thought of his father. He had lost him the year after first scaling the summit. A freak accident had taken his life and left Dalton alone. He had lots of friends his age, even younger, and his dad’s best friend, Hal, was trying to be a father to him, but no one understood the bond that he had with his father when they were skiing.
His mother died when he was two years old, killed by marauders. It was then that his father had taken the job that brought him to Argus. His childhood was spent with the children of the families who made a living transporting minerals. They attended school together and then he had chosen training as a tech engineer, but the only time he felt alive was on the point where he now stood.
The silence at the top of the mountain, save the soft howl of the blowing wind, filled him. Here he was happy. Here he was at peace.
Then the alarm on his com sounded. He closed his eyes to savor the image for as long as he could. When he opened them, the mesh gridded walls of the rec chamber surrounded him. The hologram tucked back into the server.
The attendant’s voice floated from the com. “Sorry, Dalton. I know you had thirty minutes left, but there’s a problem in the mineral testing lab. Hal sent for you.”
He gave a small salute to the attendant in the control booth and headed four decks above to the lab. Hal was tinkering with a piece of equipment the geotechs used to determine mineral purity. He looked up, grinning as he watched Dalton enter.
“You’re gonna turn into a popsicle if you keep hanging out in that cold hologram. Went once with your dad, told him he should turn the heat up.”
“Has to be cold for the real effect, Hal.”
“Yeah, well, give me the beach hologram that the captain added. Hot sun, hot sand, warm water, and nearly naked women, some of them not human. My kind of afternoon.”
Dalton took the cover off the malfunctioning machine to look at the internal drive. “I’ll admit, I like the beach too, but the slopes of Parendor are my favorite place.”
Hal stared at him for a second. “Dalton, I know you think that Parendor is going to be like the hologram, but word has it civil war broke out there. It may not be the place you think it is. Besides, the Argus won’t arrive there for another eight months.”
“It’s where my dad said we could leave the Argus and not wander from mining planet to mining planet for the rest of our lives. I have to do what he wanted. He wanted our journey to end.”
“Son, I just don’t want you to be disappointed.”
“Dad created that hologram from a holovid he bought on Xandora when I was nine. The Argus had just added the rec chamber.” He turned to Hal. “Not sure I want to leave the Argus, but I have to ski the real Parendor for my dad.”
Hal squeezed his shoulder. “Martin was the best friend I ever had. He’d be proud that you love skiing as much as he did.” Leaving him to repair the device, Hal departed saying he was heading back to the ship’s engineering department.
Dalton smiled, glancing at the old skis leaning against the workbench. Skis his great-grandfather brought from Earth decades before. It didn’t matter what the conditions on Parendor were, he would find that slope and discover what lay beneath the clouds, and he would make his father proud. It was time for his father’s journey to end.
Visit and follow D. A. Ratliff at https://thecoastalquill.wordpress.com/.
January 28, 2019
Peace for Humanity
by Lynn Miclea
Liam stood at the peak, gazing out over the view before him. For once, he was speechless. A sea of billowy clouds spread out below him in all directions. There were no sounds. There were no words. There was just complete, powerful peace.
He knew that down on the surface of the planet wars were being fought. There was too much anger, hatred, and fighting down there. It had to end. It couldn’t go on like this.
He pushed those thoughts aside. Liam had come up here, as he often did, to get a much needed break from the war. For now, he allowed the serenity before him to settle in his body. He felt a deep peace wash through him, as he took in the scene that surrounded him.
Up here he touched the incredible expanse of infinite wonder. The beauty and overwhelming grandeur filled him, and he felt his muscles relax and the tension in his body soften.
But time was running out. His eyes burned with tears. Liam needed to lead his troops into battle one last time. It needed to be the last war, the final battle, if humanity were to survive.
He took a deep breath, and his eyes took in the exquisite awe-inspiring magnificence before him. The incredible beauty and serenity of this place was not lost on him. This was what he needed, and what mankind needed, to survive. It was what made it all worthwhile.
It was time to return to the world below. The planet and all of humanity were worth saving.
Please, God, he thought, let this be the last war. Please.
Copyright © 2019 Lynn Miclea. All Rights Reserved.
Please also see this story and like it on Lynn’s blog at – https://wp.me/p4htbd-nQ
January 29, 2019
By Doug Blackford
The Endless. That’s what they called it. It was easy to see why. The cold air was almost painful and the acrid taste of ozone was bitter on my tongue, but they barely registered in comparison to the sweeping vista of clouds. The smell of rain came and went as air currents carried it to my nose and then away again. The whisper of the wind was the only thing that balanced the silence. The endless ocean of clouds in every direction balanced my soul. I knew it wasn’t real — that it was just electrical signals being pumped into my brain, but that didn’t change how it felt. It wasn’t even a true reflection of reality. There was no breathing at this altitude and the cold itself was deadly. There were definite advantages to virtual reality, but it was all just a sales pitch — a sophisticated sales pitch.
I had stood on the peaks of Mount Everest and K2, and had even been to the “Top of the World” on Olympus Mons. They were each impressive in their own right, as every peak was, but the view on this one had an air of mystery the others lacked. It was, for lack of a better word, otherworldly.
I gestured with one hand and adjusted the virtual interface to begin the narration. The female voice was sultry without being provocative, with just a hint of a Jamaican accent. It was too perfect to be anything except an AI voice, but damn if it didn’t sound authentic. I wondered what information in my profile prompted the accent.
“Hello, Sebastian. Thank you for considering Starline Industries for your travel needs.”
Nice touch. Make it personal.
“Terra Centauri is roughly 4.3 light-years from Earth in the Alpha Centauri system. As the first and closest of the three known habitable exoplanets, we have been there the longest. All basic needs are established with educational, corporate, and government services available.”
“Are those needs and services included in the cost?”
There was always a catch. I had actually had to buy my own air when I trekked Olympus. You’d think a travel package designed for Olympus Mons on Mars would include air, but no, not so much. It’s not like you can do without it, so yeah, always a catch.
“Excellent question, Sebastian. Basic needs such as housing, food, water, air, medical care, and anything else needed to ensure your safety, security, and survival are included in the basic package during transport and while on planet. Things you can actually live without are not. You can, however, upgrade from the basic package to include better or additional services.”
There it was. When they said basic, they meant you’ll-be-miserable-but-you’ll-live basic. I’d done enough traveling to know what wasn’t being said.
“Shall I continue?”
“Due to the indigenous life on the planet, surface travel is regulated carefully and by permit only. Our presence is mostly restricted to habitat constructs in order to minimize damage and contamination of the natural biome. The planet is slightly cooler than our own on average, but is fully capable of sustaining Terran biologicals.”
“What kind of indigenous life?”
I knew what the public data said, but SI might have more updated information.
“Plants analogous to our own, but completely different species. Although some microbial fauna have been discovered, thus far there has been no sign of more complex life forms. Is that a sufficient answer or would you like more scientific detail?”
“No, that’s good. Thanks. Proceed.”
“The highlight of our most popular travel package is what you are experiencing right now. Centauri Mons is the tallest mountain in the Centauri system with a height of just over 11,320 meters. That makes it taller than any other known peak except for Olympus Mons on Mars.”
“Been there. Done that.”
It wasn’t that I was bragging. It was just a statement of fact to prompt the AI to not tangent off in that direction.
“I know. You are quite the accomplished mountaineer and archaeologist. You’ve conquered the highest peaks in our system. I think you might enjoy the challenge of expanding your accomplishments to include another star system. You’d be the first person to conquer every peak over 8,000 meters in two systems.”
“Nice try, and I’ll admit I’m tempted, but you’ll need to do better than that. Convince me.”
“If you insist. Challenge accepted.”
I knew it was just me projecting my own expectations, but I swear I could hear a smile in her voice when she said it. AI agents had become virtually indistinguishable from actual people in the 70 or so years since the Precursor technology had been discovered. That discovery in my early teens was what had driven me to become an exoarchaeologist. I was pushing 90 these days, and even though I was projected to live to around 220, give or take, climbing mountains was for young people. As a middle-aged male, I had other priorities. Still, that view was stupendous.
“Give it your best shot.”
“As an exoarchaeologist, you are no doubt aware of Precursor artifacts having been discovered in several locations in system — Luna, Titan, Mars, Ceres, Vespa, and even right here on Earth once we knew what to look for and how to look for them.”
The VR slowly shifted and morphed to simulate versions of each environment she named.
“I know about them, yes. Are you saying they have discovered artifacts on Terra Centauri?”
Of course I knew about them. I had studied most of them. I had even discovered one of the several that were located on Mars. If they had found artifacts on Terra Centauri, that would have huge ramifications. There were several theories regarding the Precursors, but no real evidence about where they had come from or where they had gone. They were obviously an interstellar civilization, as our own star drives had proven based on their technology, but no other evidence had been found regarding any star system other than our own.
The VR showed a recently uncovered obelisk in one of Earth’s jungles. It appeared unmarked by the passage of time. I could feel the humidity and smell the eucalyptus of the jungle. The simulation began shifting again, but the obelisk remained. All of the plants changed to types I didn’t recognize, and the humidity dropped considerably. There was a strange scent that seemed familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it.
“I do not have access to that information, so can neither confirm nor deny such a discovery. It is not an impossibility for Precursor artifacts to exist on Terra Centauri, therefore, it is certainly possible that they do. If they do, but have not yet been discovered, imagine if it was you who discovered them. As a certified exoarchaeologist, you have access to special packages that are unavailable to non-certified citizen travelers. Would you like to hear what packages are available to you?”
“Special packages? What kind of special packages?”
I knew she was using logic manipulation, but it was still intriguing. I had accessed the SI node more out of curiosity than anything else, after having heard that SI had the best VR representation of The Endless. My curiosity was now aimed in another direction. The AI was good and had piqued my interest.
“In addition to the citizen travel packages, you are authorized to apply for three special packages according to your certifications. Technically, they are called science packages, but we just call them the professor, researcher, and resident packages. Unlike the traveler packages, which you pay for, science packages are paid for by a sponsor.”
I knew how sponsorships worked. I’d had several fellowships and grants, not to mention the countless contracts I’d worked over the years.
“Do any of them have open sponsorships available?”
“Yes, Sebastian. Each science package has sponsors open to candidates who meet their certified qualification needs.”
“Tell me about the packages.”
It wasn’t that I was seriously considering traveling over four light-years to another planet, but it wasn’t that I was totally set against the idea either. I was curious. Always had been. There was always more to know. Mother Sabine used to tell me that some feline DNA must have gotten into my mix. I had thought she was serious up until my early teens, when I figured out what she really meant. I did get my DNA checked, though, just in case. No feline.
“The professor package is for Centauri University and includes a one- to three-year work visa to teach at the university. Various fields of study are available, including exoarchaeology.”
“No, not ready to hang up my boots just yet.”
I might be middle-aged, but I was still too young to retire to a classroom.
“The researcher package includes a three- to five-year work visa and has interested sponsors in the university, corporate, and government sectors. The fields of research available depend on which sponsor accepts your application, but all three sectors include at least one exoarchaeology research position.”
“Both field and lab research positions are available across the sectors. Would you like more detailed information on this package, Sebastian?”
“No. Not right now, anyway. Tell me about the last one you mentioned. The resident package?”
“Immigration requirements have been modified to now allow certified individuals to become permanent residents of Terra Centauri. This fact has not been advertised to general citizens due to the probable over-response of applications. Only certified individuals that fill a specific need are considered for permanent resident status. Considering your skills, accomplishments, and certifications, as well as the ongoing search for Percursor artifacts, you are a prime candidate for the resident package.”
Why would I want to move there? An even better question might be, what benefit would being a resident provide?
“Why would I want to move there? I get that it’s prime territory for an exoarchaeologist, but what possible benefit would be enticing enough to actually move there? I would think a field-researcher position would be perfectly adequate.”
“I’m glad you asked, Sebastian. Pending a successful application, you would be allowed to live on Terra Centauri for a probationary period of five years, after which time your probationary resident status could be converted to permanent or you could return to Earth. During that first five years, you would be obligated to do some guest lectures, teach some classes, and perform some research. You would have a little more freedom to pursue the research of most interest to you, and not just what was assigned to you. After the five years, should you stay and become a permanent resident, you would be allowed to form your own research expeditions. Also, you would be given first-class accommodations on your trip there, if that matters.”
“Really? My own expeditions after five years? I can’t do that with the researcher positions?”
“I’m afraid not, Sebastian. All research expeditions are supervised by resident experts and conducted according to their requirements and goals. As a researcher, you would answer to them. After five years, you would be one of them. The five-year arrangement is to provide adequate time to become familiar with the planet and its eccentricities. If there is more to it than that, I do not have that data.”
I had earned the seniority and experience to form and lead expeditions in many places on Earth, but nowhere else. True enough that I had been the lead scientist on expeditions to both Mars and Luna, but they were someone else’s expeditions — the United Western Alliance for this one, Luna Corp for that one, International Solutions for another one. It took decades to earn my name on Earth. It would take decades more to earn it for the rest of the system. Earning it in five years was …
“Five years? Really? What’s the catch? There’s always a catch. I mean, besides having to become a resident. Who is the sponsor? Oh, never mind. It would have to be the government. Right?”
“I’m sorry, that information is classified. I can provide details and I can submit applications on your behalf, but I cannot access or reveal specific sponsor names. The system is set up so that specific sponsors are anonymous until after your application is accepted. At that point, things progress according to their process and they will provide you with all pertinent information.”
For that kind of benefit, the name of the sponsor didn’t really matter all that much. It mattered some, but probably not enough to be a deciding factor. I had accessed the node for The Endless strictly for my own entertainment, and now I was actually considering moving to another planet. How did that happen?
“Five years. Seriously? How long do I have to make a decision?”
“Open positions cannot be reserved or held open for potential applicants. You have until someone else is accepted for the position. That may not happen for another year or more, or it may be filled within the hour. Applicants are considered in the order of their application. I will tell you that although I am currently hosting 7,237 other virtual tours of Terra Centauri at this time, none of them are potential applicants for a resident package.”
Could I move to another planet? Should I move to another planet? It wasn’t like I had any permanent attachments. Friends, sure. Peers and colleagues, of course. No family, though. No offspring. No significant other. Not anymore, anyway. In fact, not even a current contract or expedition. There was nothing really keeping me on Earth. I had been off-planet for years at a time before. This wasn’t that different.
“You win the challenge. Do it.”
The seventh time was just as spectacular as the first. No, as spectacular as the second. The first time had been a VR experience. It had been an exemplary simulation, but it hadn’t compared to the real thing.
I had made the trip from The Ark to the summit of Centauri Mons every year since I’d landed. I’d had to beg a ride for the first five years, but since I’d converted to permanent resident, the research skiff at my disposal ensured I could go on my own timetable. I had cut it close this year. The ion storms were due in less than a week, but I had an expedition scheduled for right after, so this was my only available window.
The voice in my head startled me out of my reverie. It had been good while it lasted. Thirty minutes of uninterrupted peace. The environmental suit was so advanced that I hardly noticed it. Terra Centauri got first dibs on all of the latest advances. It was almost like being alone atop the mountain, except I was never truly alone anymore.
One of the requirements I’d had to agree to when becoming a resident was getting chipped. It wasn’t the same as getting an identity chip. That was just an implant under the skin with my SIN and other information — medical, security, financial, everything that defined my data print. No, this was a chip in my head. It had two primary functions. One, it connected me to the network. Always on, always connected, anywhere on or around the planet.
The second function was an IA, an intelligent assistant, that existed in my head. Every resident had a version of the IA in their heads, but user customization ensured that each one was unique to them. It had proven quite useful, but it also bugged me to no end. I preferred it that way. I never wanted to get so used to technological integrations that I began thinking they were part of me. They were part of me in a literal sense, but they were not me. They were separate. I had intentionally tweaked my IA to be sarcastic, blunt, and profane. He was a pain in the ass and I didn’t like him very much. He didn’t like me very much, either, so it worked out great.
“You’re going to die.”
That was obvious. So was everyone at some point, but I doubted he had just stated a fact like that out of nowhere. Something had prompted it.
“Why do you say that?”
“I am detecting an ion wave — no, wait. Yes. I had to verify the data burst with satellite sensors. Farside Arcology has gone dark. It sent out a data burst just before signal loss, and satellites confirm that an ion wave front is progressing. You. Are. Fucked. Wait, so am I. Shit.”
The storms were one of the planet’s “eccentricities,” as I had once heard them called. They were always preceded by a wave front, but usually not by more than a few hours. They had never been categorized as separate events. That meant the storms were early. That also meant I was screwed unless I found shelter at a lower altitude. The storms themselves were seldom lethal to biologicals, though they could temporarily scramble your neurological system and generate substantial shock voltage. However, they could completely fry unprotected electronics. Considering that my very survival depended on working electronics at the moment, now was a bad time.
“We need to go.”
I was running before the words even left my mouth, not that I needed to say them aloud. Pita had the skiff flight-ready by the time I was in the pilot’s seat, and I was halfway down the mountain before I asked my next question.
“Time before intersect?”
“On your current heading, seventeen minutes. You cannot make Oceanus Prime.”
“I know, but I might be able to reach the canyons.”
The next few minutes lasted forever, but went by too quickly.
“I don’t want to die. Go faster.”
“We’re not going to die. Damn!”
A ground stroke reached up and killed the electrical systems. The skiff turned into a gliding brick.
“Help me level her out! We’re going down!”
When I opened my eyes, I saw a wall with strange carvings in front of the windscreen.
“Welcome back, Bas. I rebooted hours ago. It seems you’ve discovered a Precursor site.”
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