Ritual, Symbolism, and Belief

This is a topic I’ve spoken on before but a slightly different tack this time.

I am not a “believer” in the religious sense. That said, I recognize that a need for ritual and symbolism, a need to find “greater meaning” in things–or impose a meaning if one can’t find it–on the world. I resolve these two by following a religious “tradition” wehre the core is not belief, but actions which doesn’t care about “belief” so much as ones actions–Asatru, Germanic/Norse paganism.  I like the delightful term a friend of mine coined “agnostipagan.”

Actually it’s not really a tradition, or perhaps it is simply a very young tradition.  Very little record of the ancient belief and practice (commonly referred to as The Lore) has survived to the modern day, and much of that filtered through a very few authors who were not above altering the tales to fit their own views.  So those who seek to follow it are left with the task of creating a religion largely from whole cloth with only a few “bones” of the old beliefs to use as a guide.  But the important point for me is that the surviving records do suggest that the gods, if they exist don’t care what one believes but rather what one does.  To use a common oversimplification, die courageously in battle and go to Valhalla (or Folkvangr–Freyja gets half the warriors); don’t die courageously in battle and end up in Helheim.  (I have seen considerable dissent–some justified by the surviving Lore–as to just how hard and fast that rule is; and some discussion that there are quite a few other places one may end up and that the “heaven or hell” dichotomy may have been a creation of Christian recorders of the Lore.)

The upshot is that I can use it as a place to satisfy the innate human need for ritual and symbolism without the need to believe.  It has an ethos I find congenial with the “Nine Noble Virtues” (discussed elsewhere on this blog–not found in the Lore, but many modern Asatru use as a distillation of traits the gods are seen to value in that Lore).  If I were instead to try to fill that need via Christianity, I’d run afoul of the fact that the central tenet of Christianity is belief, is faith.  It’s summed up in John 3:16:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

As a non-believer, the hypocrisy of pretending would trip me up and, well, it just wouldn’t work.

So, I chose a path which fills a hard-wired need of the human psyche for ritual, symbolism, and to put the experience of the world into a larger context.  I do so with the full knowledge that the meaning may exist only in my mind, but in a path where that’s okay.

A lot of problems come, I think, when people try to deny this hard-wired need as part of their disbelief in traditional religion.  They reject, justly or otherwise (I leave that to each individual to decide) “religion” (in specific or in general) and in so doing attempt to reject, at least consciously, the need for ritual and symbolism.

That need, however, will out, one way or another. And a common way it comes out is the deification of the State (with Marx as its prophet). And, since they are denying the religious nature of the need, why their new source of ritual, symbolism and meaning must be “rational” and “scientific” and everyone who disagrees is thus a benighted fool–an uneducated hick at best or more likely an actual worker of evil.

And, with “reason” and “science” on their side (It Says HereTM) why anything they do, no matter how heinous, is justified to bring “enlightenment” to the rest of us.

This may explain much of the political violence of the last few years.

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Chocolate Coconut Macaroons: Feeding the Active Writer

This is a bit different from a previous recipe which, while it seemed find at first, I ended up finding a little dry.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter, softened

2 eggs

2 cups Splenda brand sweetener or equivalent.

2 cups unsweetened flake coconut

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 Tbsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F

Cream the butter and eggs together.  Add in the other ingredients and stir until well mixed.

Spread parchment paper on a cookie sheet.  Drop small balls of the coconut mix by spoonfuls, about 2 inches apart.  Flatten the balls slightly.

Bake at 325 for 12-15 minutes.

Let the cookies cool for a few minutes before transferring to an airtight container.

Enjoy.

 

The Seen and the Unseen

Frederic Bastiat wrote about “The Seen and the Unseen”, essentially describing what economists call “opportunity cost”.  What this means is that while you can see the effect of money being spent–as in the case of money spent to fix a broken window (the classic example) puts money in the glazier’s pocket which he can then go and do other things with, what you don’t see is what else the person might have done with that money if he hadn’t had to fix that broken window.  Once you start looking deeper at those things, a different picture emerges.  The person, instead of fixing the window (since it’s not broken) buys a new suit of clothes, and the clothier then goes and does other things and…the upshot is the economy is ahead by one suit of clothes over the broken window case. (This is called “The Broken Window Fallacy”–look it up.)

The same principle applies in fields other than economics.  Take, for instance, what happens any time a high-profile crime (especially when the crime involves guns, but it doesn’t have to be) and people call for more “gun control” and the argument is “don’t you care about (the victims of that crime).”

Yes, I do care about the victims of those crimes.  But that is the “seen”.  I also care about the “unseen.” I care about the little girl whose father was accosted on the way home but whose attackers fled on seeing that the father was armed.  I care that she wasn’t rendered fatherless, or at the very least her father’s ability to provide for her reduced.  I care about the woman who was not raped because she was able to pull a gun on her putative rapist.  I care about not just the patrons and employees of a store not robbed because an employee or customer was armed; not just them but all the future patrons and employees of other stores that will not be robbed because that robber was stopped.  I care about the neighborhoods that riots diverted around, and the people living in them, because people living in them, armed people, presented a clear message of “this line you do not cross.”

I care about the hundreds to thousands of times (minimum) every day that crimes do not happen because people are armed for their own protection.

But these are the “unseen.” News doesn’t report “crimes that never happen.” People who aren’t robbed or raped or victims of battery often do not report the crime that didn’t happen to the police.  People alive, healthy, unmolested because they’re armed.  A “silent population” that doesn’t make headlines.

That these things are often not reported present a difficulty to attempts to study the phenomenon.  At the very low end, a survey of crime victims, we get numbers like 70,000 per year.  The problem with that one is that, again, it’s only the “seen”:  crime victims.  People who were not victims, who never reported the incident, usually where simply presenting the gun causes the criminals to flee, are excluded by its very nature.  So it’s going to be low.  But even there that’s twice as many people defending themselves with guns as being killed by people using guns.  And if we exclude suicides (the presence of a gun may affect choice of method; it does not render a non-suicidal person suddenly suicidal) it’s 4-5 times as many as are murdered with guns.

Most studies, which attempt to quantify the number of gun uses including those not reported to the police produce estimates ranging from 500,000 to a high of 3 million every year.  Even at the low end that’s better than half again as many as the total number of guns being used to commit crimes (300,000 for the year in 2008–and, incidentally violent crime in general and crime committed using firearms is down from 2008’s levels.  See the chart I generated here.)

This is the great unseen, not just because it’s not obvious without careful thought and study, but because the people who are publicly wringing their hands over the latest atrocity and using it to stampede you into agreeing with their political demands don’t want you to see it.  They’re purposely silent on this other side and, indeed, belittling those supporting it, playing the “don’t you care…” game.

So when people put up pictures of the latest atrocity up on your screens and asking “don’t you care” remember the others, the people you don’t see, the people who are able to go about their lives safe and unmolested that those putting the pictures up would have you forget.

Getting it Right: A Blast from the Past.

As I have mentioned a time or two, I have been reading paranormal romances in an effort to get a feel for the field since I’m developing a story concept for one.  In particular, I’ve been reading the finalists for the most recent “Rita” awards.

One thing I’ve noticed is a decided lack of concern for “fact checking.”  In one, we have a person doing a “practice form” with a Western style sword that is apparently a long sequence of moves against notional (imaginary) opponents.  There’s just one problem with that.  The use of long, stylized forms like that are an Asian approach, not one used in Western swordplay.

Another writer had an extremely experienced diver apparently confused between air embolism and the bends (two different problems that can occur from among other things, ascending too fast) and got durations and the like wrong.  A more subtle error was someone suddenly appearing having been “swept” there from a just sunken boat when no such boat was within sight beforehand.  But how far could the person have been swept while still being not only alive but conscious?

The same thing happens in the “traditional” SF and Fantasy genre too.  One writer recently had a ship leaving a station apparently in Earth orbit and taking weeks to return to Earth (the journey was interrupted before completion but the expected duration was weeks).  Even if the ship was as far as the moon it would take less than 5 days on a minimum energy orbit.  Anything longer than that would take more energy.  There are reasons why the outbound leg might take that long (high efficiency, low thrust engines) but they won’t apply for a vehicle that returns from high orbit and reenters the atmosphere. [Ed: On later reflection it occurred to me that other tech they had suggested it would take as long as they want to take to come back and there were reasons they might have wanted to take longer for this particular trip–so less a mistake and more “‘Fridge logic.”]

These things dropped me right out of the story for at least a moment.  I managed to get back into it but I should never have been dropped out in the first place.

A lot of people will say “but it’s fantasy” or it “uses future tech” or something like that.  And that can be the case if a fantastic element is involved.  If, for instance, the story is in an alternate world where Western martial arts took a different turn becoming more Asian in approach, that’s fine.  But that needs to be explicitly part of the world and not “it’s a world identical to our own except some short time in the past people became aware of the existence of ‘supernatural’ creatures.”  But the existence of the supernatural or “future tech” just increases the need to get the parts that aren’t part of that invention right.  By showing the reader that you get the “mundane” aspects right you give them confidence to accept the fantastic.

Perhaps you, as the writer, think you can just get away with it. “Nobody will notice.” And there’s some justice to that.  After all, these writers did get away with it.  They were all finalists for a major award. (The non-romance in the above, was not only a finalist for a different award but actually won it.)

But somebody did notice.  I noticed.  And if I were not particularly motivated I might well have not taken the effort to get back into the story after those glaring (to me) errors.  How many other people did stop after seeing those errors?  How many people put down the book and wrote that author off?  How many sales did the author lose?  We’ll never know.

Now, on the other hand, whatever you do, you’re going to make mistakes.  That’s part of being human.  And maybe, someday, when you’re famous (or not so famous) you’ll get a letter from a reader saying “you got xxx wrong in your story.” It happened to me in my story “EMT” (Analog Science Fiction & Fact, December, 1993).  It involved an ambulance service on the moon.  For that story I spent a lot of time researching how ambulances operate, the effects of severe blood loss on the body, how CPR is performed and, especially, under what circumstances professionals performing CPR say “we’re done.” Despite all that effort, Analog forwarded a letter from a reader to me from a physician who, basically, said “you got that wrong.”

Does that mean one shouldn’t try?  Of course not.  You’re probably not a professional in every field you might have a character engage in.  You do the best you can and realize that it won’t always be perfect.  But you can hope to get things close enough that when a professional in the field calls you on it he qualifies things with “although it’s unlikely, I suppose it could happen” and “or course, protocols might change in the future.”

And the fewer and smaller mistakes you make, the fewer readers will lose that Willing Suspension of Disbelief that allows them to enjoy your work.

And that’s what it’s all about.

On This Day: 49 years ago, Apollo 11.

49 years ago I watched men from planet Earth first set foot on the moon.  I never dreamed that 3 1/2 years later I would watch the last (for my lifetime most likely).  The great disappointment of the Apollo program is that we didn’t go anywhere with it.

In any case, here’s a transcript of the communications of the Eagle’s terminal approach and landing:


Communicators in the text may be identified according to the following list.

Spacecraft:
CDR  Commander  Neil A. Armstrong
CMP  Command module pilot   Michael Collins
LMP  Lunar module pilot  Edwin E. ALdrin, Jr.
SC  Unidentifiable crewmember
MS  Multiple (simultaneous) speakers
LCC  Launch Control Center
Mission Control Center:
CC  Capsule Communicator (CAP COMM)
F  Flight Director

Remote Sites:
CT Communications Technician (COMM TECH)
Recovery Forces:
HORNET   USS Hornet
R  Recovery helicopter
AB  Air Boss

A series of three dots (…) is used to designate those portions of the communications that could not be transcribed because of garbling. One dash (-) is used to indicate a speaker’s pause or a self-interruption and subsequent completion of a thought. Two dashes (- -) are used to indicate an interruption by another speaker or a point at which a recording was terminated abruptly.


04 06 28 51 CC
Eagle, Houston. We read you now. You’re GO for PDI. Over.

04 06 28 57 LMP (EAGLE)
Roger. Understand. AELD control circuit breakers. DECA GIMBAL AC – closed?

04 06 29 07 CDR (EAGLE)
What?

(GOSS NET 1) Tape 66/4 Page 309

04 06 29 08 LMP (EAGLE)
DECA GIMBAL AC – closed? Circuit breaker? COMMAND OVERRIDE – off? GIMBAL ENABLE? RATE SCALE – 25.

04 06 29 23 CC
Eagle, Houston. Your alignment is GO on the AGS. On my Mark, 3 30 until ignition.

04 06 29 29 LMP (EAGLE)
Roger.

04 06 29 33 CC
Mark.

04 06 29 34 CC
3 30 until ignition.

04 06 29 38 LMP (EAGLE)
Roger. Copy. Thrust translation – four jets – Balance couple – ON. TTCA throttle – MINIMUM. Throttle – AUTO CDR. Prop button – RESET. Prop button. Okay. ABORT/ABORT STAGE – RESET. ATT CONTROL – three of them to MODE CONTROL. 0kay, MODE CONTROL is set. AGS is reading 400 plus 1. Standing by for …

04 06 30 45 LMP (EAGLE)
Hit VERB 77?

04 06 31 04 LMP (EAGLE)
Okay. Sequence camera coming on.

04 06 31 32 CC
Eagle, Houston. If you’d like to try high gain, pitch 212, yaw 37. Over.

04 06 31 45 LMP (EAGLE)
Roger. I think I’ve got you on high gain now.

04 06 31 49 CC
Roger.

04 06 32 03 LMP (EAGLE)
Say again the angles, though.

04 06 32 05 CC
Roger.

04 06 32 06 LMP (EAGLE)
I’ll set them in to use them before we yaw around.

04 06 32 08 CC
Roger. Pitch 212, yaw plus 37.

04 06 32 24 LMP (EAGLE)
OMNI’s in.

04 06 33 09 LMP (EAGLE)
… 10 … 10 percent …

(GOSS NET 1) Tape 66/5 Page 310

04 06 33 41 CC
Columbia, Houston. We’ve lost them. Tell them to go aft OMNI. Over.

04 06 33 51 CMP (COLUMBIA)
They’ve lost you. Use the OMNI’s again.

04 06 34 01 LMP (EAGLE)

04 06 34 05 CMP (COLUMBIA)
Say again, Neil?

04 06 34 07 LMP (EAGLE)
I’ll leave it in SLEW. Relay to us. See if they have got me now. I’ve got good signal strength in SLEW.

04 06 34 13 CMP (COLUMBIA)
Okay. You should have him now, Houston.

04 06 34 16 CC
Eagle, we’ve got you now. It’s looking good. Over.

04 06 34 23 CC
Eagle – –

04 06 34 24 LMP (EAGLE)
– – descent looks good.

04 06 34 25 CC
Eagle, Houston. Everything is looking good here. Over.

04 06 34 29 LMP (EAGLE)
Roger. Copy.

04 06 34 34 CC
Eagle, Houston. After yaw around, angles: S band pitch, minus 9, yaw plus 18.

04 06 34 46 LMP (EAGLE)
Copy.

04 06 34 59 LMP (EAGLE)
AGS and PNGS agree very closely.

04 06 35 01 CC
Roger.

04 06 35 14 LMP (EAGLE)
Beta ARM. Altitudes are a little high.

04 06 35 45 LMP (EAGLE)
Houston. I’m getting a little fluctuation in the AC voltage now.

04 06 35 51 CC
Roger.

04 06 35 52 LMP (EAGLE)
Could be our meter, maybe, huh?

(GOSS NET 1) Tape 66/6 Page 311

04 06 35 54 LMP (EAGLE)
Stand by, Looking good to us. You’re still looking good at 3, coming up 3 minutes.

04 06 36 13 LMP (EAGLE)
… real good …. about on.

04 06 36 18 CDR (EAGLE)
Our. position checks downrange show us to be a little long.

04 06 36 21 CC
Roger. Copy.

04 06 36 24 LMP (EAGLE)
AGS has gone about 2 feet per second greater …

04 06 36 36 CDR (EAGLE)
… ought to be … Stand by.,

04 06 36 43 LMP (EAGLE)
Altitude …

04 06 37 00 LMP (EAGLE)
… it’s going to stop.

04 06 37 18 CC
Eagle, Houston. You are GO to continue – –

04 06 37 19 LMP (EAGLE)
… closed … GO … at 4 minutes.

04 06 37 22 CC
Roger. You are GO – You are GO to continue powered descent. You are GO to continue powered des cent.

04 06 37 30 LMP (EAGLE)
Roger.

04 06 37 35 CC
And, Eagle, Houston. We’ve got data dropout. You’re still looking good.

04 06 38 04 LMP (EAGLE)
… PGNS. We got good lock-on. Altitude lights OUT. DELTA-H is minus 2 900.

04 06 38 18 CC
Roger. We copy.

04 06 38 20 LMP (EAGLE)
Got the Earth right out our front window.

04 06 38 23 CDR (EAGLE)
Houston, you’re looking at our DELTA-H?

04 06 38 25 CC
That’s affirmative.

04 06 38 26 CDR (EAGLE)
PROGRAM ALARM.

(GOSS NET 1) Tape 66/7 Page 312

04 06 38 28 CC
It’s looking good to us. Over.

04 06 38 30 CDR (EAGLE)
It’s a 1202.

04 06 38 32 LMP (EAGLE)
1202.

04 06 38 48 CDR (EAGLE)
Give us a reading on the 1202 PROGRAM ALARM.

04 06 38 53 CC
Roger. We got – We’re GO on that alarm

04 06 38 59 CDR (EAGLE)
Roger. P30.

04 06 39 01 CC
6 plus 25, throttle down – –

04 06 39 02 LMP (EAGLE)
Looks like about 820 –

04 06 39 03 CC
– – 6 plus 25, throttle down.

04 06 39 06 CDR (EAGLE)
Roger. Copy. 6 plus 25.

04 06 39 14 LMP (EAGLE)
Same alarm, and it appears to come up when we have a 1668 up.

04 06 39 17 CC
Roger. Copy.

04 06 39 23 CC
Eagle, Houston. We’ll monitor your DELTA-H.

04 06 39 24 LMP (EAGLE)
… worked out beautifully.

04 06 39 28 CC
DELTA H – –

04 06 39 29 LMP (EAGLE)
… looks good now.

04 06 39 30 CC
Roger. DELTA H is looking good to us.

04 06 39 34 LMP (EAGLE)
Ah! Throttle down – –

04 06 39 35 CDR (EAGLE)
Throttle down on time!

04 06 39 36 CC
Roger, We copy throttle down – –

(GOSS NET 1) Tape 66/8 Page 313

04 06 39 37 LMP (EAGLE)
– – … throttles down. Better than the simulator.

04 06 39 42 CC
Roger.

04 06 39 48 LMP (EAGLE)
AGS and PGNS look real close.

04 06 40 08 CC
At 7 minutes, you’re looking great to us, Eagle.

04 06 40 13 LMP (EAGLE)
Okay. I’m still on SLEW so we may tend to lose as we gradually pitch over. Let me try AUTO again now and see what happens.

04 06 40 21 CC
Roger.

04 06 40 23 LMP (EAGLE)
Okay. Looks like it’s holding.

04 06 40 24 CC
Roger. We got good data.

04 06 40 49 CC
Eagle, Houston. It’s descent 2 fuel to MONITOR. Over.

04 06 40 55 CDR (EAGLE)
Going to 2.

04 06 41 01 LMP (EAGLE)
Give us an estimated switchover time please, Houston.

04 06 41 05 CC
Roger. Stand by. You’re looking great at 8 minutes.

04 06 41 10 LMP (EAGLE)
At 7000 –

04 06 41 12 CC
Eagle, you’ve got 30 seconds to P64.

04 06 41 15 LMP (EAGLE)
… Roger.

04 06 41 27 CC
Eagle, Houston. Coming up 8 30; you’re looking great.

04 06 41 35 LMP (EAGLE)
P64.

04 06 41 37 CC
We copy.

04 06 41 51 CC
Eagle, you’re looking great. Coming up 9 minutes.

(GOSS NET 1) Tape 66/9 Page 314

04 06 42 05 CDR (EAGLE)
Manual attitude control is good.

04 06 42 08 CC
Roger. Copy.

04 06 42 10 CC
Eagle, Houston. You’re GO for landing. Over.

04 06 42 17 LMP (EAGLE)
Roger. Understand. GO for landing. 3000 feet. PROGRAM ALARM.

04 06 42 19 CC
Copy.

04 06 42 22 LMP (EAGLE)
1201

04 06 42 24 CDR (EAGLE)
1201.

04 06 42 25 CC
Roger. 1201 alarm. We’re GO. Same type. We’re GO.

04 06 42 31 LMP (EAGLE)
2000 feet. 2000 feet. Into the AGS, 47 degrees.

04 06 42 35 CC
Roger.

04 06 42 36 LMP (EAGLE)
47 degrees.

04 06 42 41 CC
Eagle, looking great. You’re GO.

04 06 42 58 CC
Roger. 1202. We copy it.

04 06 43 01 LMP (EAGLE)
35 degrees. 35 degrees. 750. Coming down to 23.

04 06 43 07 LMP (EAGLE)
700 feet, 21 down, 33 degrees.

04 06 43 11 LMP (EAGLE)
600 feet, down at 19.

04 06 43 15 LMP (EAGLE)
540 feet, down at – 30. Down at 15.

04 06 43 26 LMP (EAGLE)
At 400 feet, down at 9.

04 06 43 29 LMP (EAGLE)
… forward.

(GOSS NET 1) Tape 66/10 Page 315

04 06 43 32 LMP (EAGLE)
350 feet, down at 4.

04 06 43 35 LMP (EAGLE)
30, … one-half down.

04 06 43 42 LMP (EAGLE)
We’re pegged on horizontal velocity.

04 06 43 46 LMP (EAGLE)
300 feet, down 3 1/2, 47 forward.

04 06 43 51 LMP (EAGLE)
… up.

04 06 43 52 LMP (EAGLE)
On 1 a minute, 1 1/2 down.

04 06 43 57 CDR (EAGLE)
70.

04 06 44 04 LMP (EAGLE)
Watch your shadow out there.

04 06 44 07 LMP (EAGLE)
50, down at 2 1/2, 19 forward.

04 06 44 13 LMP (EAGLE)
Altitude-velocity light.

04 06 44 16 LMP (EAGLE)
3 1/2 down, 220 feet, 13 forward.

04 06 44 23 LMP (EAGLE)
11 forward. Coming down nicely.

04 06 44 24 LMP (EAGLE)
200 feet, 4 1/2 down.

04 06 44 26 LMP (EAGLE)
5 1/2 down.

04 06 44 31 LMP (EAGLE)
160, 6 – 6 1/2 down.

04 06 44 33 LMP (EAGLE)
5 1/2 down, 9 forward. That’s good.

04 06 44 40 LMP (EAGLE)
120 feet.

(GOSS NET 1) Tape 66/11 Page 316

04 06 44 45 LMP (EAGLE)
100 feet, 3 1/2 down, 9 forward. Five percent.

04 06 44 51 LMP (EAGLE)

04 06 44 54 LMP (EAGLE)
Okay. 75 feet. There’s looking good. Down a half, 6 forward.

04 06 45 02 CC
60 seconds.

04 06 45 04 LMP (EAGLE)
Lights on. …

04 06 45 08 LMP (EAGLE)
Down 2 1/2. Forward. Forward. Good.

04 06 45 17 LMP (EAGLE)
40 feet, down 2 1/2. Kicking up some dust.

04 06 45 21 LMP (EAGLE)
30 feet, 2 1/2 down. Faint shadow.

04 06 45 25 LMP (EAGLE)
4 forward. 4 forward. Drifting to the right a little. Okay. Down a half.

04 06 45 31 CC
30 seconds.

04 06 45 32 CDR (EAGLE)
Forward drift?

04 06 45 33 LMP (EAGLE)
Yes.

04 06 45 34 LMP (EAGLE)
Okay.

04 06 45 40 LMP (EAGLE)
CONTACT LIGHT.

04 06 45 43 LMP (EAGLE)
Okay. ENGINE STOP.

04 06 45 45 LMP (EAGLE)
ACA – out of DETENT.

04 06 45 46 CDR (EAGLE)
Out of DETENT.

04 06 45 47 LMP (EAGLE)
MODE CONTROL – both AUTO. DESCENT ENGINE COMMAND OVERRIDE – OFF. ENGINE ARM – OFF.

(GOSS NET 1) Tape 66/12 Page 317

04 06 45 52 LMP (EAGLE)
413 is in.

04 06 45 57 CC
We copy you down, Eagle.

04 06 45 59 CDR (TRANQ)
Houston, Tranquility Base here.

04 06 46 04 CDR (TRANQ)
THE EAGLE HAS LANDED.

04 06 46 06 CC
Roger, Tranquility. We copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.



HERE MEN FROM THE PLANET EARTH
FIRST SET FOOT UPON THE MOON
JULY 1969 AD
WE CAME IN PEACE FOR ALL MANKIND


A Snippet

I’ve got two main projects that I’m currently working on.  Both are building toward their final climax.  This is a couple of scenes from fairly early in one of them:


For three days, Tanaka had been pursuing the Thisok.  The Great Pack Leader himself had served as Tanaka’s sponsor.

The rules, as explained to him were simple.  He went into the field with nothing more than the traditional bone knife, effectively a short sword for a human.  Nothing else.  No tools, no weapons, no provisions, and no clothes.  Everything he uses in the hunt he must wrest from the wilderness itself.  At the end, he had to return with a tooth taken from a living Thisok, one that still lived to hunt again.

One further rule remained.  No weapon but the bone dagger may pierce the flesh of the Thisok on this hunt.

So in addition to trying to take down the Thisok, Tanaka had to obtain food, ensure his own protection from the elements and other predators, and do it without the natural strength or inborn weaponry of an adult Eres.

He had one advantage.  Humans, unlike either Eres or the Thisok, were cursorial hunters.  That meant that they could pursue a target at a modest pace and keep pursuing it and keep pursuing it for hours, days even.  The target was generally faster, it would run away from the human but would stop shortly thereafter.  Before it had recovered from its sprint, the human would catch up and it would run again.  Over and over, with the target growing progressively more exhausted with each repeat until it collapsed from exhaustion.

That worked so long as the Thisok moved away when he approached.

Tanaka’s whole body ached, but especially his legs.  He had picked up the Thisok’s trail early on the second day of his hunt.  He had been walking constantly since then, pausing only to check sign and ensure he was still on the beast’s trail or to pluck one of the plentiful fruits for its moisture.

So far, his unfamiliar scent had kept the Thisok uncertain, and moving away from him.

Tanaka paused at the edge of a stand of trees.  His vision blurred and he shook his head to clear it.  The neo-provigil, taken as a hedge just before he had begun the hunt, was wearing off and his body begged for him to lie down and sleep.  Somewhere above, lightfliers were circling, tracking his progress.  He could signal them; call this off.

There.  On the field.  He spied the thisok.  It was moving, with a decided stagger, not more than two hundred yards ahead.

“Well, old fellow,” Tanaka murmured, “looks like your as tired as I am.” He looked down.  Yes, the knife was still in his hand.  He had dropped it once before without even realizing it and had had to backtrack an hour to find it.

Every such mistake drained him while giving the thisok opportunity to recover.

The wind shifted, now coming not from behind but to the side.  Tanaka saw an instant change in the thisok’s demeanor.  No longer confused by an unfamiliar scent carried on the breeze, it’s eyes turned toward Tanaka.  It charged.

“Shit!” Tanaks spun and fled back into the trees.  Adrenaline gave his feet wings as he leaped for a low-hanging branch.

Without being quite sure how he got there, he found himself scrambling higher into the tree top just as the thisok broke into the woods.  It leaped, scrabbling at the bole of the tree with its claws but not finding purchase to climb.  Its claws tore long strips from the tree as the beast howled.

Once he was confident that the thisok could not reach him, Tanaka settled down in a crotch of the tree to rest.

When Tanaka opened his eyes, night had fallen.  All three moons graced the sky providing enough light for even Tanaka’s human eyes to see clearly.  The thisok was nowhere to be seen.

While the unintended sleep had restored some of his energy, it had done nothing for the all-pervasive aches.  With slow movement, he climbed down among the three’s branches, hung full length from the lowest branch, then dropped to the ground.  He spotted the bone dagger where he had dropped it in his leap into the tree.  He scooped it up.

He turned in place, letting his gaze sweep the woods around him while also listening, seeking with eyes and ears for any clue that the thisok might be waiting, ready to spring.

No sign of the thisok.  He knelt, examining the torn-up ground.  After shredding the local vegetation, the thisok had apparently headed.

“That way.”

He wet a finger and held it up.  Such weak breeze as there was blew from before him.  He doubted that the thisok would find his scent confusing any more and so thought it best not to be scented.  Tanaka would have to find some other way to keep the beast moving.  And who knew how much effort he had lost by his unintended nap. Crouching low, he advanced in the direction the thisok had gone.

Just outside the copse, the thisok lay still as if it had simply dropped, unable to proceed.  Crouching close enough to see its shallow, ragged breathing, Tanaka thought that was much what had happened.  Its fury at the tree had expended the last of its energy.

Tanaka stood.  After a quick glance to see that there was a climbable tree ready to hand he raised his arms and waved them. “Hey!”

The thisok did not move.  Tanaka stepped forward and repeated his wave and shout.

Holding his breath, Tanaka crept up to the side of the Thisok. The thisok remained unmoving although a low groan rose from its chest.

The thisok, like the terran shark, constantly grew new teeth and shed old ones.  And so it was a simple matter for Tanaka to find a tooth ready to break free and pry it loose with the bone knife.  He picked up the fallen tooth, raised the dagger in salute, and turned and walked away.

A few minutes later he stopped at the hum of a lightflyer approaching.  The lightflyer set down next to him and an Eres stepped out.

“I salute you, Great Pack Leader of Tanaka Pack.”

At that voice, Tanaka felt his eyebrows climbing toward his hairline. “I salute you,” he said in response, “Great Pack Leader of all the Eres.”

#

Tanaka entered the Great Pack Leader’s office, followed closely by Kaleka.

“I greet you, Great Pack Leader of all the Eres,” Tanaka said.

“I great you, Great Pack Leader among humans.”

Behind him, Tanaka could hear Kaleka shift uncomfortably.  Tanaka understood.  He had not said he bared the throat.

Krashnark paused for a moment, then gestured acknowledgement. “Sit.  I will have refreshments brought.”

“Thank you,” Tanaka said.  He saw a chair designed for humans, not an office chair but a reclining chair more more appropriate to watching grav-soccer on holovision than to office meetings.  He sat and leaned back in the chair.  Kaleka took a position behind him.

Krashnark, from his position behind his work table, looked down at Krashnark. “Rest yourself young one.  All is safe here.”

Kaleka gestured acknowledgement and sat in one of the Eres stool-chairs.

Krashnark turned back to Tanaka. “Are you well enough?”

Tanaka rubbed his right arm. “Sore, if I’m to be honest.  It’s been an intense few days.”

“But worth it, Great Pack Leader,” Krashnark said. “Worth it indeed.”

Tanaka frowned at the repetition, calling him “Great Pack Leader”.

“Worth it?  Sheshak told me why he wanted me to make that hunt.” Tanaka glanced sideways at Kaleka. “Or perhaps there was more to it than that?”

Krashnark made the hissing sound that served as laughter for the Eres. “More?  Indeed.  Tell me, young Kaleka, what did you think of the human’s Hunt.”

“I…ah…”

“You may speak,” Krashnark said. “I ask for a reason.”

“The human is terrifying,” Kaleka said. “There was no charge, no rending, no trapping.  He just walked.  And when the thisok trotted away from the human, the human walked.  And when the Thisok stopped, the human walked, and approached.  And the thisok trotted away again.  And again the human came, still walking.  And again the thisok departed.  And again the human came.  And again and again and again.  As a youngling, I had nightmares so:  the monster that never quits.  In the end, he walked up to the thisok and took its tooth.  And the thisok raised neither claw nor fang to stop him.”

Krashnark touched tongue to teeth in agreement. “Three times we Eres have gone forth in Great Hunts against the humans and their allies.  Three times, they have driven us back.  This, I think, is why.”

Tanaka spread his hands, a gesture that, by coincidence, in this context meant much the same to Eres and human. “Is that why you asked me to come here, to tell me I’ve become an Eres monster?”

“Not entirely,” Krashnark said. “Hear my words, Great Pack Leader.”

Tanaka tilted his head and waited.

“The Jekat sect say that those who know, who feel, who think, your word…sothont…”

“Sophont?”

“Yes, sothont.”

Tanaka nodded.  Lacking lips, the Eres could not produce the “f” sound.

“Sothont are not lawful prey to Eres.”

“Are you Jekat then?”

“I am not,” Krashnark said. “As Great Pack Leader to all the Eres, I must be above individual sects.”

“I see,” Tanaka said.

“Sothont are not lawful pray, but all sothont, whether Eres, or Human, or Rela, or others, hunt.  All.”

Tanaka caught his breath.  This could be dangerous territory. “Not all humans hunt,” he said softly.”

“Humans as a type hunt.  That some individuals do not is unimportant.” Krashnark stood and paced behind his desk. “Not all hunters are sothont, but all sothont are hunters.  Or so we thought.”

Tanaka leaned forward waiting.

“Keshak-tal,” Krashnark said. “They were keshak-tal.”

Grass-eaters, Tanaka thought. “Were?”

“Are,” Krashnark said. “They eat only the plants of their homeworld.  Perhaps others too, now.”

“I do not understand.”

“A ranging vessel found their home.  They had been long confined to shipboard and thought to stop for some hunting.  Not all Keshak-tal are meek.  Not all keshak-tal are stupid.  But these… They used tools.  They used fire.  They had steam power.  We think they had electricity.  And they breed.”

“Breed?”

“They breed.  Each female gives birth to a litter of four every year.  They have no predators, save each other.”

Tanaka chilled. “That does not sound good.”

“They breed and they fight.  They slaughtered the crew of the Third Fang Ch’chnak.  They took the ship and…”

“Don’t tell me they learned to use it.”

Krashnark stopped and looked straight at Tanaka. “You guess.  They took the ship and they fought other Eres.  And they defeated them and took their ships.”

“I don’t see the problem,” Tanaka said. “A few primitives with stolen ships?”

“They have taken thirty two worlds,” Krashnark said. “Singly, or in small groups, we can defeat them.  But they swarm.  And they are building ships, copies of ours.”

“Wait a minute,” Tanaka said. “How can they be…”

“I do not know.  A few, perhaps in captured yards, but they build thousands.”

“Given what you told me was their starting point, they must be the galaxy champs in fast learning.”

“I do not know.  I only know that they will be here in less than three hundred days and I cannot stop them.”

Kaleka’s chair fell over as Kaleka rose and stumbled backward.  Krashnark rounded his work table and dropped to a low squat in front of Tanaka. “I called you here so I might beg aid of the humans in protecting my people.” He lifted his head high in the air. “I bare the throat, Tanaka, Great Pack Leader among the Humans.  I bare the throat.”