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STICKY: A Beautiful Friendship Snippets

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STICKY: A Beautiful Friendship Snippets
Post by Duckk   » Mon Aug 15, 2011 11:45 am

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Reserved for official snippets of A Beautiful Friendship.
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Re: STICKY: A Beautiful Friendship Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Tue Aug 23, 2011 8:59 pm

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A Beautiful Friendship -- Snippet 01

A Beautiful Friendship
David Weber

Unexpected Meetings

1518 Post Diaspora
Planet Sphinx, Manticore Binary Star System

1

"I mean it, Stephanie!" Richard Harrington said. "I don't want you wandering off into those woods again without me or your mom along. Is that clear?"

"Oh, Daaaddy --!" Stephanie began, only to close her mouth sharply when her father folded his arms. Then the toe of his right foot started tapping lightly, and her heart sank. This wasn't going well at all, and she resented that reflection on her . . . negotiating skills almost as much as she resented the restriction she was trying to avoid. She was almost twelve T-years old, smart, an only child, and a daughter. That gave her certain advantages, and she'd become an expert at wrapping her father around her finger almost as soon as she could talk. Unfortunately, her mother had always been a tougher customer . . . and even her father was unscrupulously willing to abandon his proper pliancy when he decided the situation justified it.

Like now.

"We're not going to discuss this further," he said with ominous calm. "Just because you haven't seen any hexapumas or peak bears doesn't mean they aren't out there."

"But I've been stuck inside with nothing to do all winter," she said, easily suppressing a twinge of conscience as she neglected to mention snowball fights, cross-country skiing, sleds, snow tunnels, and certain other diversions. "I want to go outside and see things!"

"I know you do, honey," her father said more gently, reaching out to tousle her curly brown hair. "But it's dangerous out there. This isn't Meyerdahl, you know." Stephanie closed her eyes and looked martyred, and his expression showed a flash of regret at having let the last sentence slip out. "If you really want something to do, why don't you run into Twin Forks with Mom this afternoon?"

"Because Twin Forks is a complete null, Daddy."

Exasperation colored Stephanie's reply, even though she knew it was a tactical error. Even above-average parents like hers got stubborn if you disagreed with them too emphatically, but honestly! Twin Forks might be the closest "town" to the Harrington freehold, but it boasted a total of maybe fifty families, most of whose handful of kids were a total waste of time. None of them were interested in xeno-botany or biosystem hierarchies. In fact, they spent most of their free time trying to catch anything small enough to keep as pets, however much damage they might do to their intended "pets" in the process. Stephanie was pretty sure any effort to enlist those zorks in her explorations would have led to words -- or a fist in the eye -- in fairly short order. Not, she thought darkly, that she was to blame for the situation. If Dad and Mom hadn't insisted on dragging her away from Meyerdahl just when she'd been accepted for the junior forestry program, she'd have been on her first internship field trip by now. It wasn't her fault she wasn't, and the least they could do to make up for it was let her explore their own property!

"Twin Forks is not a 'complete null,' " her father said firmly.

"Oh yes it is," she replied with a curled lip, and Richard Harrington drew a deep breath.

"Look," he said after a moment, "I know you had to leave all your old friends behind on Meyerdahl. And I know how much you were looking forward to that forestry internship. But Meyerdahl's been settled for over a thousand T-years, Steph, and Sphinx hasn't."

"I know that, Dad," she replied, trying to make her voice as reasonable as his. That first "Daddy!" had been a mistake. She knew that, and she didn't plan on repeating it, but his sudden decree that she stay so close to the house had caught her by surprise. "But it's not like I didn't have my uni-link with me. I could've called for help anytime, and I know enough to climb a tree if something's trying to eat me! I promise -- if anything like that had come along, I'd've been sitting on a limb fifteen meters up waiting for you or Mom to home in on my beacon."

"I know you would have . . . if you'd seen it in time," her father said in a considerably grimmer tone. "But Sphinx isn't 'wired' the way Meyerdahl was, and we still don't know nearly enough about what's out there. We won't know for decades yet, and all the uni-links in the world might not get an air car there fast enough if you did run into a hexapuma or a peak bear."

Stephanie started to reply, then stopped. He had a point, she admitted grudgingly. Not that she meant to give up without a fight! But one of the five-meter-long hexapumas would be enough to ruin anyone's day, and peak bears weren't a lot better. And he was right about how little humanity knew about what was really out there in the Sphinx brush. But that was the whole point, the whole reason she wanted to be out there in the first place!

"Listen, Steph," her father said finally. "I know Twin Forks isn't much compared to Hollister, but it's the best I can offer. And you know it's going to grow. They're even talking about putting in their own shuttle pad next spring!"

Stephanie managed -- somehow -- not to roll her eyes again. Calling Twin Forks "not much" compared to the city of Hollister was like saying it snowed "a little" on Sphinx. And given the long, dragging, endless year of this stupid planet, she'd almost be seventeen T-years old by the time "next spring" got here! She hadn't quite been ten and a half when they arrived . . . just in time for it to start snowing. And it hadn't stopped snowing for the next fifteen T-months!

"Sorry," her father said quietly, as if he'd read her thoughts. "I'm sorry Twin Forks isn't exciting, and I'm sorry you didn't want to leave Meyerdahl. And I'm sorry I can't let you wander around on your own. But that's the way it is, honey. And" -- he gazed sternly into her brown eyes -- "I want your word you'll do what your mom and I tell you on this one."

* * *

Stephanie squelched glumly across the mud to the steep-roofed gazebo. Everything on Sphinx had a steep roof, and she allowed herself a deep, heartfelt groan as she plunked herself down on the gazebo steps and contemplated the reason that was true.

It was the snow. Even here, close to Sphinx's equator, annual snowfall was measured in meters -- lots of meters, she thought moodily -- and houses needed steep roofs to shed all of that frozen water, especially on a planet whose gravity was over a third higher than Old Earth's. Not that Stephanie had ever seen Old Earth . . . or any world which wasn't classified as "heavy-grav" by the rest of humanity.

She sighed again, with an edge of wistful misery, and wished her great-great-great-great-whatever grandparents hadn't volunteered for the Meyerdahl First Wave. Her parents had sat her down to explain what that meant shortly after her eighth birthday. She'd already heard the word "genie," though she hadn't realized that, technically at least, it applied to her, but she'd only started her classroom studies four T-years before. Her history courses hadn't gotten to Old Earth's Final War yet, so she'd had no way to know why some people still reacted so violently to any notion of modifications to the human genotype . . . or why they considered "genie" one of the dirtiest words in Standard English.

Now she knew, though she still thought anyone who felt that way was silly. Of course the bio-weapons and "super soldiers" whipped up for the Final War had been horrible. But that had all happened over five hundred T-years ago, and it hadn't had a thing to do with people like the Meyerdahl or Quelhollow first waves. She supposed it was a good thing the original Manticoran settlers had left Sol before the Final War. Their old-fashioned cryo ships had taken long enough to make the trip for them to miss the entire thing . . . and the prejudices that went with it.

Not that there was anything much to draw anyone's attention to the changes the geneticists had whipped up for Meyerdahl's colonists. Mass for mass, Stephanie's muscle tissue was about twenty-five percent more efficient than that of "pure strain" humans, and her metabolism ran about twenty percent faster to fuel those muscles. There were a few minor changes to her respiratory and circulatory systems (to let her handle a broader range of atmospheric pressures without the nanotech pure-strainers used), and some skeletal reinforcement to cope with the muscles, as well. And the modifications had been designed to be dominant, so that all her descendants would have them. But her kind of genie was perfectly inter-fertile with pure-strainers, and as far as she could see all the changes put together were no big deal. They just meant that because she and her parents needed less muscle mass for a given strength they were ideally suited to colonize high-gravity planets without turning all stumpy and bulgy-muscled. Still, when she'd gotten around to studying the Final War and some of the anti-genie movements, she'd decided Dad and Mom might have had a point in warning her not to go around telling strangers about it. Aside from that, she seldom thought about it one way or the other . . . except to reflect somewhat bitterly that if they hadn't been genies the heavy gravities of the Manticore Binary System's habitable planets might have kept her parents from deciding they simply had to drag her off to the boonies like this.
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: A Beautiful Friendship Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Thu Aug 25, 2011 8:59 pm

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A Beautiful Friendship -- Snippet 02

She chewed her lower lip and leaned back, letting her eyes roam over the isolated clearing in which she'd been marooned by their decision. The tall green roof of the main house was a cheerful splash of color against the still-bare picketwood and crown oaks which surrounded it. But she wasn't in the mood to be cheerful, and it took very little effort to decide green was a stupid color for a roof. Something dark and drab -- brown, maybe, or maybe even black -- would've suited her much better. And while she was on the subject of inappropriate building materials, why couldn't they have used something more colorful than natural gray stone? She knew it had been the cheapest way to do it, but getting enough insulating capacity to face a Sphinx winter out of natural rock required walls over a meter thick. It was like living in a dungeon, she thought . . . then paused to savor the simile. It fitted her present mood perfectly, and she stored it away for future use.

She considered it a moment longer, then shook herself and gazed at the trees beyond the house and its attached greenhouses with a yearning that was almost a physical pain. Some kids knew they wanted to be spacers or scientists by the time they could pronounce the words, but Stephanie didn't want stars. She wanted . . . green. She wanted to go places no one had ever been yet -- not through hyper-space, but on a warm, living, breathing planet. She wanted waterfalls and mountains, trees and animals who'd never heard of zoos. And she wanted to be the first to see them, to study them, understand them, protect them. . . . .

Maybe it was because of her parents, she mused, forgetting to resent her father's restrictions for the moment. Richard Harrington held degrees in both Terran and xeno-veterinary medicine. They made him far more valuable to a frontier world like Sphinx than he'd ever been back home, but he'd occasionally been called upon by Meyerdahl's Forestry Service. That had brought Stephanie into far closer contact with her birth world's animal kingdom than most people her age ever had the chance to come. And her mother's background as a plant geneticist -- another of those specialties new worlds found so necessary -- had helped her appreciate the beautiful intricacies of Meyerdahl's flora, as well.

Only then they'd brought her way out here and dumped her on Sphinx.

Stephanie grimaced in fresh disgust. Part of her had deeply resented the thought of leaving Meyerdahl, but another part had been delighted. However much she might have longed for a Wildlife Management Service career, the thought of starships and interstellar voyages had been exciting. And so had the thought of emigrating on a sort of rescue mission to help save a colony which had been almost wiped out by plague. (Although, she admitted, that part would have been much less exciting if the doctors hadn't found a cure for the plague in question.) Best of all, her parents' specialties meant the Star Kingdom had agreed to pay the cost of their transportation, which -- coupled with their savings -- had let them buy a huge piece of land all their own. The Harrington freehold was a rough rectangle thrown across the steep slopes of the Copperwall Mountains to overlook the Tannerman Ocean, and it measured twenty-five kilometers on a side. Not the twenty-five meters of their lot's frontage in Hollister, but twenty-five kilometers, which made it as big as the entire city had been back home! And it backed up against an area already designated as a major nature preserve, as well.

But there were a few things Stephanie hadn't considered in her delight. Like the fact that their freehold was almost a thousand kilometers from anything that could reasonably be called a city. Much as she loved wilderness, she wasn't used to being that far from civilization, and the distances between settlements meant her father had to spend an awful lot of time in the air just getting from patient to patient.

At least the planetary data net let her keep up with her schooling and enjoy some simple pleasures -- in fact, she was first in her class (again), despite the move, and she stood sixteenth in the current planetary junior chess competition, as well. Of course, that didn't mean as much here as it would have on Meyerdahl, given how much smaller the population (and pool of competitors) was. Still, it had kept her from developing a truly terminal case of what her mother called "cabin fever," and she enjoyed her trips to town (when she wasn't using Twin Forks' dinkiness in negotiations with her parents). But none of the few kids her age in Twin Forks were in the accelerated curriculum, which meant they weren't in any of her classes, and she hadn't gotten to know them on-line the way she'd known all her friends back on Meyerdahl. They probably weren't all complete nulls, but she didn't know them. Besides, she admitted, her "peer group interpersonal skills" (as the counselors liked to put it) weren't her strong suit. She knew she got frustrated quickly -- too quickly, often enough -- with people who couldn't keep up with her in an argument or who insisted on doing stupid things, and she knew she had a hot temper. Her mom said that sometimes accompanied the Meyerdahl modifications, and Stephanie tried to sit on it when it got out of hand. She really did try, yet more than one "interpersonal interaction" with another member of her "peer group" had ended with bloody noses or blackened eyes.

So, no, she hadn't made any friends among Twin Forks' younger population. Not yet, anyway, and the settlement itself was totally lacking in all the amenities of a city of almost three million people, like Hollister.

Yet Stephanie could have lived with all of that if it hadn't been for two other things: snow and hexapumas.

She dug a booted toe into the squishy mud beyond the gazebo's bottom step and scowled. Daddy had warned her they'd be arriving just before winter, and she'd thought she knew what that meant. But "winter" had an entirely different meaning on Sphinx. Snow had been an exciting rarity on warm, mild Meyerdahl, but a Sphinxian winter lasted almost sixteen T-months. That was over a tenth of her entire life, and she'd become well and truly sick of snow. Dad could say whatever he liked about how other seasons would be just as long. Stephanie believed him. She even understood (intellectually) that she had the better part of four full T-years before the snow returned. But she hadn't experienced it yet, and all she had right now was mud. Lots and lots and lots of mud, and the bare beginning of buds on the deciduous trees. And boredom.

And, she reminded herself with a scowl, she also had the promise not to do anything about that boredom which her father had extracted from her. She supposed she should be glad he and Mom worried about her. But it was so . . . so underhanded of him to make her promise. It was like making Stephanie her own jailer, and he knew it!

She sighed again, rose, shoved her fists into her jacket pockets, and headed for her mother's office. Marjorie Harrington's services had become much sought after in the seventeen T-months she'd been on Sphinx, but unlike her husband, she seldom had to go to her clients. On the rare occasions when she required physical specimens rather than simple electronic data, they could be delivered to her small but efficient lab and supporting green houses here on the freehold as easily as to any other location. Stephanie doubted she could get her mom to help her change Dad's mind about grounding her, but she could try. And at least she might get a little understanding out of her.

* * *

Dr. Marjorie Harrington stood by the window and smiled sympathetically as she watched Stephanie trudge toward the house. Dr. Harrington knew where her daughter was headed . . . and what she meant to do when she got there. In a general way, she disapproved of Stephanie's attempts to enlist one parent against the other when edicts were laid down, but one thing about Stephanie: however much she might resent a restriction or maneuver to get it lifted, she always honored it once she'd given her word to do so.

Which didn't mean she'd enjoy it, and Marjorie's smile faded as she contemplated her daughter's disappointment. And the fact that she and Richard had no choice but to restrict Stephanie didn't make it fair, either.

I really need to take some time away from the terminal, she reflected. There's no way I could possibly spend as many hours in the woods as Stephanie wants to. There aren't that many hours in even a Sphinxian day! But I ought to be able to at least provide her with an adult escort often enough for her habit to get a minimum fix.

Her thoughts paused and then she smiled again as another thought occurred to her.

No, we can't let Steph rummage around in the woods by herself, but there might just be another way to distract her. After all, she's got that problem-solver streak -- the kind of mind that prints out hard copies of the Yawata Crossing Times crossword so she can work them in ink instead of electronically. So with just a little prompting. . . .

Marjorie let her chair slip upright and drew a sheaf of hard copy closer as she heard boots moving down the hall towards her office. She uncapped her stylus and bent over the neatly printed sheets with a studious expression just as Stephanie knocked on the frame of the open door.

"Mom?" Dr. Harrington allowed herself one more sympathetic smile at the put-upon pensiveness of Stephanie's tone, then banished the expression and looked up from her paperwork.

"Come in, Steph," she invited, and leaned back in her chair once more.

"Can I talk to you a minute?" Stephanie asked, and Marjorie nodded.

"Of course you can, honey," she said. "What's on your mind?"
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: A Beautiful Friendship Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Aug 28, 2011 8:56 pm

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A Beautiful Friendship -- Snippet 03

2

Climbs Quickly scurried up the nearest net-wood trunk, then paused at the first cross-branch to clean his sticky true-hands and hand-feet with fastidious care.

He hated crossing between trees now that the cold days were passing into those of mud. Not that he was particularly fond of snow, either, he admitted with a bleek of laughter, but at least it melted out of his fur -- eventually -- instead of forming gluey clots that dried hard as rock. Still, there were compensations to warming weather, and he sniffed appreciatively at the breeze that rustled the furled buds just beginning to fringe the all-but-bare branches. Under most circumstances, he would have climbed all the way to the top to luxuriate in the wind fingers ruffling his coat, but he had other things on his mind today.

He finished grooming himself, then rose on his rear legs in the angle of the cross-branch and trunk to scan his surroundings with sharp green eyes. None of the two-legs were in sight, but that meant little; two-legs were full of surprises. Climbs Quickly's own Bright Water Clan had seen little of them until lately, but other clans had observed them for twelve full turnings of the seasons, and it was obvious they had tricks the People had never mastered. Among those was some way to keep watch from far away -- so far, indeed, that the People could neither hear nor taste them, much less see them. Yet Climbs Quickly detected no sign that he was being watched, and he flowed smoothly to the adjacent trunk. Now that he was into the last cluster of net-wood, the pattern of its linked branches would at least let him keep his true-feet and hand-feet clear of the muck as he followed the line of cross-branches deeper into the clearing.

He slowed as he reached the final cross-branch, then stopped. He sat for long, still moments, cream and gray coat blending into invisibility against trunks and branches veiled in a fine spray of tight green buds, motionless but for a single true-hand which groomed his whiskers reflexively. He listened carefully, with ears and thoughts alike, and those ears pricked as he tasted the faint mind-glow that indicated the presence of two-legs. It wasn't the clear, bright communication it would have been from one of People, for the two-legs appeared to be mind-blind, yet there was something . . . nice about it. Which was odd, for whatever else they were, the two-legs were very unlike the People. That much had been obvious from the very beginning.

<What are you listening for, Climbs Quickly?> a mind-voice asked, and he looked back over his shoulder.

Shadow Hider was well named, for more than one reason, he thought. The other scout was all but invisible against the net-wood bark, even to Climbs Quickly, who knew exactly where he was from his mind-glow. Climbs Quickly had no fear that Shadow Hider would betray their presence to the two-legs, but that was unlikely to make him any more pleasant as a companion.

<The two-leg mind-glow,> he replied to the question, and tasted Shadow Hider's flicker of irritation at the tone of his own mind-voice. He'd made no attempt to hide the exaggerated patience of that tone, since Shadow Hider would have tasted the emotions behind it just as clearly.

<Why?> Shadow Hider asked bluntly. <We already know they are as mind-blind as the burrow runners or the bark-chewers, Climbs Quickly.>

Shadow Hider's disdain for any creatures who were so completely deaf and dumb was obvious in his mind-glow, and Climbs Quickly suppressed a desire to cross back over to the junior scout's position and cuff him sharply across the nose. He reminded himself that Shadow Hider was far younger than he, and that those who knew the least often thought they knew the most, but that made the other scout no less frustrating. And, of course, the People's ability to taste one another's emotions meant Shadow Hider knew exactly how Climbs Quickly felt, which made things no better.

<Yes, they appear to be mind-blind, Shadow Hider,> he replied after a moment. <But do not make the mistake of thinking that means they are no more clever than a burrow runner! Can you do the things the People have seen the two-legs do? Can you fly? Can you gnaw down an entire golden-leaf tree in an afternoon? Because if you cannot, perhaps you should remember that the two-legs can . . . which is why we have been sent to keep watch on them in the first place!>

He tasted Shadow Hider's flare of anger clearly, but at least the younger scout was wise enough not to snap back at him. Which was the first wise thing Climbs Quickly had seen from him since they'd left Bright Water Clan's central nest place this morning.

This is Broken Tooth's idea, Climbs Quickly thought disgustedly. The clan's senior elder had argued for some time now that Climbs Quickly was becoming too captivated by the two-legs. If it were left up to him, Shadow Hider would have this task, not someone he fears is more interested in what the two-legs are and where they came from -- and why -- than in simply keeping watch upon them!

Climbs Quickly had been the first scout to discover these two-legs' presence, and he admitted that he found everything about them fascinating, which was one reason Broken Tooth questioned his fitness to keep continued watch upon them. Clearly the elder believed Climbs Quickly was too fascinated with what he regarded as "his" two-legs to be truly impartial in his observations of them. Fortunately the rest of the clan elders -- especially Bright Claw, the clan's senior hunter, and Short Tail, the senior scout -- trusted Climbs Quickly's judgment and continued to believe he was the better choice to continue keeping watch upon them. In fact, though none of them had actually said so, from the taste of their mind-glows Climbs Quickly felt fairly certain that they agreed the task required someone with far more imagination than Shadow Hider had ever revealed. Unfortunately, it did make sense for more than one of the clan's scouts to have some experience with it, and Climbs Quickly was willing to admit that another perspective might prove valuable.

Even if it was Shadow Hider's.

He waited a moment longer, to see if Shadow Hider had something more to say after all, then turned back to the cross-branch and the clearing. The bright ember of Shadow Hider's anger faded with distance behind Climbs Quickly as he crept stealthily out to the last net-wood trunk, climbed easily to its highest fork, and settled down on the pad of leaves and branches. The cold days' ravages required a few repairs, but there was no hurry. The pad remained serviceable and reasonably comfortable, and it would be many days yet before the slowly budding leaves could provide the needed materials, anyway.

<Come now!> he called to Shadow Hider, then curled himself neatly to one side of the pad and allowed himself to savor the sun's gentle warmth.

In a way, he would be unhappy when the leaves did open and bright sunlight could no longer spill through the thin upper branches to caress his fur. His pad would have better concealment, which would undoubtedly make Shadow Hider happier, but if he had his way Shadow Hider wouldn't be here by that time, anyway.

Claws scraped lightly on bark as Shadow Hider swarmed up the last few People's lengths of trunk and joined him. The other scout looked around Climbs Quickly's pad, as if trying to find something with which to take fault. Climbs Quickly tasted his annoyance when he couldn't, but then Shadow Hider flirted his tail and settled down beside him.

<This is a good scouting post,> the younger scout acknowledged almost grudgingly after a few moments. <You have an even better view than I thought you did, Climbs Quickly. And the two-leg nesting place is larger than I had thought.>

<It is large,> Climbs Quickly agreed, reminding himself that size was one of the hardest things to judge from another scout's reports. The memory singers could sing that report perfectly, showing another of the People everything the original scout had seen, but for some reason, estimates of size remained difficult to share without some reference point. The only true reference point the two-legs had left in this case, however, was the towering golden-leaf whose massive boughs shaded their nest place, and golden-leaf trees tend to make anything look small.
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: A Beautiful Friendship Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Tue Aug 30, 2011 9:00 pm

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A Beautiful Friendship -- Snippet 04

<Why should they need a nest place so large?> Shadow Hider wondered, and Climbs Quickly flicked his ears.

<I have wondered that myself,> he admitted, <and I have never found an answer that satisfies me. It required great labor by over a dozen two-legs, even with their tools, to build that living place. I watched them for many days, and when they were done, they simply went away. It was over three hands of days before the new two-legs came, and there are only three of them even now.>

<I know that was what you had reported, but now that I have seen how large their nest is it seems even stranger.>

Climbs Quickly gave a soft bleek of amusement at the perplexity in the other scout's mind-voice, but then that amusement faded.

<Unless I am mistaken, the smallest of the two-legs is only a youngling,> he said. <I cannot be positive, of course, but if that is so, I wonder if perhaps something happened to its littermates. Could that be why their nest seems so vast? If they lost their other younglings to some accident only after they had planned their nest's size . . .>

Shadow Hider said nothing, but Climbs Quickly tasted his understanding . . . and a glow of sympathy for the two-legs' loss which made Climbs Quickly think somewhat better of him.

<It is strange that they live so apart from one another,> Shadow Hider said after some moments. <Why should a single mated pair and their young build a nest so from any others of their kind? Surely it must deprive them of any chance to communicate with other two-legs! Assuming they do communicate, of course.>

<I think they must communicate in some fashion,> Climbs Quickly replied thoughtfully. <The two-legs who made this clearing and built the nesting place surely had to be able to communicate with one another in order to accomplish so many different tasks so quickly!>

Shadow Hider considered that, recalling the memory song of Climbs Quickly's first glimpse of the two-legs in question.

The clan had not been too apprehensive when the first flying thing arrived and the two-legs emerged to create the clearing, for the clans whose territories had already been invaded had warned of what to expect. The two-legs could be dangerous, and they kept changing things, but they weren't like death fangs or snow hunters, who all too often killed randomly or for pleasure, and Climbs Quickly and a handful of other scouts and hunters had watched that first handful of two-legs from the cover of the frost-bright leaves, perched high in the trees. The newcomers had cut down enough net-wood and green-needle trees to satisfy themselves, then spread out carrying strange things -- some that glittered or blinked flashing lights, and others that stood on tall, skinny legs -- which they moved from place to place and peered through. And then they'd driven stakes of some equally strange non-wood into the ground at intervals. The Bright Water memory singers had sung back through the songs from other clans and decided the things they peered through were tools of some sort. Climbs Quickly couldn't argue with their conclusion, yet the two-leg tools were as different from the hand axes and knives of the People as the substance of which they were made was unlike the flint, wood, and bone the People used.

All of which explained why the two-legs must be watched most carefully . . . and secretly. Small as the People were, they were quick and clever, and their axes and knives and use of fire let them accomplish things larger but less clever creatures could not. Yet the shortest two-leg stood more than two People-lengths in height. Even if their tools had been no better than the People's (and Climbs Quickly knew they were much, much better) their greater size would have made them far more effective. And if there was no sign the two-legs intended to threaten the People, there was also no sign they did not, so no doubt it was fortunate mind-blind creatures were so easy to spy upon.

<Very well,> Shadow Hider said finally, his mind-glow grudging, <perhaps they are able to communicate . . . somehow. Yet as you yourself have reported, Climbs Quickly, they truly do appear to be mind-blind.> The younger scout flattened his ears uneasily. <I think that is the thing I find most difficult to understand about them. The thing that makes me . . . anxious about them.>

Climbs Quickly felt a flicker of surprise. That wasn't the sort of admission --or insight -- he normally expected out of Shadow Hider. Yet the other scout had put his claw squarely upon it, for the two-legs were a new and frightening thing in the People's experience.

Yet they were not entirely new, which only made many of the People more nervous, not less. When the two-legs had first appeared twelve season-turnings back, the memory singers of every clan had sent their songs sweeping far and wide. They'd sought any song of any other clan which might tell them something -- anything -- about the strange creatures and whence they had come . . . or at least why.

No one had been able to answer those questions, yet the memory singers of the Blue Mountain Dancing Clan and the Fire Runs Fast Clan had remembered a very old song -- one which went back more than twelve twelves of turnings. The song offered no clue to the two-legs' origins or purpose, but it did tell of the very first time the People had seen two-legs, and how the long-ago scout who'd brought his report back to the singers had seen their egg-shaped silver thing come down out of the sky.

<I have often wished the Blue Mountain Dancing scouts had been a little less cautious when the two-legs first visited us,> Climbs Quickly admitted to Shadow Hider. <Perhaps we might have been able to decide what the two-legs want -- or what we should do about them -- between then and now, when they have returned.>

<And perhaps all of the People in the world would have been destroyed then,> Shadow Hider replied. <Although,> he added dryly, <at least if that had happened, we would not be wondering what to do about them now.>

Climbs Quickly was torn between a fresh desire to cuff Shadow Hider and a desire to laugh, but once again, he did have a point.

Personally, Climbs Quickly thought those first two-legs had been scouts, as he himself was. Certainly it would have made sense for the two-legs to send scouts ahead; any clan did the same thing when expanding or changing its range. Yet if that was the case, why had the rest of their clan delayed so long before following? And why did the two-legs spread themselves so thinly?

Shadow Hider was scarcely alone in wondering how -- or if -- the two-legs truly communicated at all. If they did, even Climbs Quickly was forced to admit that it must be in some bizarre fashion completely unlike the way in which the People did. That was one reason many of the watchers believed two-legs were unlike People in all ways, not just their size and shape and tools. It was the ability to taste their fellows' mind-glows, hear one another's mind-voices, which made People people, after all. Only unthinking creatures -- like the death fangs, or the snow hunters, or those upon whom the People themselves preyed -- lived sealed within themselves. So if the two-legs were not only mind-blind, but chose to avoid even their own kind, they could not be people.

But Climbs Quickly disagreed. He couldn't fully explain why even to himself, yet he was convinced the two-legs were, in fact, people -- of a sort, at least. They fascinated him, and he'd listened again and again to the song of the first two-legs and their egg, both in an effort to understand what it was they wanted and because even now that song carried overtones of something he thought he'd tasted from the two-legs he spied upon.

Shadow Hider is wrong, he thought now. Blue Mountain Dancing's scouts should have been less cautious.
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Re: STICKY: A Beautiful Friendship Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Thu Sep 01, 2011 9:03 pm

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A Beautiful Friendship -- Snippet 05

Yet even as he thought that, he knew he was being unreasonable. Perhaps those long-ago scouts might have approached the intruders, but before any of them had decided to do so, a death fang attempted to eat one of the two-legs.

People didn't like death fangs. The huge creatures looked much like vastly outsized People, but unlike People, they were far from clever. Not that anything their size really needed to be clever. Death fangs were the biggest, strongest, most deadly hunters in all the world. Unlike People, they often killed for the sheer pleasure of it, and they feared nothing that lived . . . except the People. They never passed up the opportunity to eat a single scout or hunter if they happened across one stupid enough to be caught on the ground, but even death fangs avoided the heart of any clan's range. Individual size meant little when an entire clan swarmed down from the trees to attack.

Yet the death fang who'd attacked one of the two-legs had discovered something new to fear. None of the watching People had ever heard anything like the ear shattering "Craaaack!" from the tubular thing the two-leg carried, but the charging death fang had suddenly somersaulted end-for-end, crashed to the ground, and lain still, with a bloody hole blown clear through it.

Once they got over their immediate shock, the watching scouts had taken a fierce delight in the death fang's fate. But anything that could kill a death fang with a single bark could certainly do the same thing to one of the People, and so the decision had been made to avoid the two-legs until the watchers learned more about them. Unfortunately, the scouts were still watching from hiding when, after perhaps a quarter-turning, the two-legs dismantled the strange, square living places in which they had dwelt, went back into their egg, and disappeared once more into the sky.

All of that had been long, long ago, and Climbs Quickly deeply regretted that no more had been learned of them before they left.

< I, too, often wish we had learned more when the two-legs first appeared so long ago, > Shadow Hider said, almost as if he had been reading Climbs Quickly's very thoughts, and not simply the emotions of his mind-glow. < Yet I also think we are fortunate Blue Mountain Dancing's scouts saw as much as they did, especially the ease with which they slew the death fang. For that matter, we are fortunate the memory singers were able even to recall the memory song from that long-ago time! >

< You are certainly right about that much, Shadow Hider, > Climbs Quickly agreed, although he did not agree with everything the younger scout had just said. In fact, he believed it was most unfortunate that the death fang's fate had frightened those long-ago People into avoiding closer contact. They were fortunate to retain a memory song from so long ago, however, especially when it was not one of the songs which had been important to the day-to-day lives of the People in all the weary turnings since it had first been sung.

Yet that very song's account only fueled Climbs Quickly's frustrated, maddening curiosity about the two-legs. He'd listened again and again to that song, both in an effort to understand what it was they wanted and because even now that song carried overtones of something he thought he had tasted for the two-legs he spied upon.

Unfortunately, the song had been worn smooth by too many singers before Sings Truly first sang it for Bright Water Clan. That often happened to older songs, or those which had been relayed for great distances, and this song was both ancient and from far away. Though its images remained clear and sharp, they had been subtly shaped and shadowed by all the singers who had come before Sings Truly. Climbs Quickly knew what the two-legs of the song had done, but he knew nothing about why they'd done it, and the interplay of so many singers' minds had blurred any mind-glow the long-ago watchers might have tasted.

Climbs Quickly had shared what he thought he'd picked up from "his" two-legs only with Sings Truly. It was his duty to report to the memory singers, and so he had. But he'd implored Sings Truly to keep his suspicions only in her own song for now, for some of the other scouts would have laughed uproariously at them, and they might well have strengthened Broken Tooth's suspicion that Climbs Quickly was not the best choice for his present duties. Sings Truly hadn't laughed, but neither had she rushed to agree with him, and he knew she longed to travel in person to the Blue Mountain Dancing or Fire Runs Fast Clan's range to receive the original song directly from their senior singers and not relayed over such a vast distance from one singer to another.

But that was out of the question. Singers were the core of any clan, the storehouse of memory and dispensers of wisdom. They were always female, and their loss could not be risked, whatever Sings Truly might want. Unless a clan was fortunate enough to have a surplus of singers, it must protect its potential supply of replacements by denying them more dangerous tasks. Climbs Quickly understood that, but he found its implications a bit harder to live with than the clan's other scouts and hunters did. There could be disadvantages to being a memory singer's brother when she chose to sulk over the freedoms her role denied her . . . and allowed him.

He bleeked softly with laughter at that thought.

< What? > Shadow Hider asked.

< Nothing important, > Climbs Quickly replied. < Just a memory of something Sings Truly said to me. She was not happy at the time. >

< I am glad someone finds that humorous, > Shadow Hider said dryly, and Climbs Quickly laughed again.

It was true that his sister had a formidable temper, and the entire clan still recalled the day a much younger Shadow Hider, but little removed from kittenhood, had accidentally dropped a flint knife. It had fallen perhaps a twelve of People's lengths and embedded itself in a net-wood limb . . . perhaps a double hand's width behind Sings Truly's tail.

It would not have been humorous if it had fallen any closer, of course. Short Tail had lost the last hand width of his tail to a not dissimilar accident, and it could have injured Sings Truly seriously, even killed her. Shadow Hider's reaction most definitely had been humorous, however. Indeed, he'd received his name for the way he had vanished into the shadows when Sings Truly began her furious scold at the very top of a memory singer's mind-voice!

< She would not truly have skinned you for a rug for her nesting place, younger brother, > Climbs Quickly said now, feeling unusually fond of the other scout. < And I do not think she will skin me for one, either. Although there are times I feel less certain of that! >

< Personally, I have no desire to find out whether or not you are correct about that, > Shadow Hider replied with feeling.

< A wise scout does not venture into the death fang's lair to see whether or not it is at home, > Climbs Quickly agreed, stretching out on his belly with a sigh of pleasure. He folded his true-hands under his chin and settled himself for a long wait, and Shadow Hider settled down beside him.

Scouts learned early to be patient. If they needed help with that lesson, there were teachers aplenty -- from falls to hungry death fangs -- to drive it home. Climbs Quickly had never needed such instruction, which, even more than his relationship to Sings Truly, was why he was second only to Short Tail as Bright Water Clan's chief scout, despite his own relative youth.

So now he waited, motionless in the warm sunlight, and watched the sharp-topped living place the two-legs had built in the center of the clearing.
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Re: STICKY: A Beautiful Friendship Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Sep 04, 2011 8:59 pm

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A Beautiful Friendship -- Snippet 06

3

"So why are you turning my shop into a mess this time?" Stephanie's dad inquired politely, leaning against his basement workshop's doorframe with a cup of coffee in one hand. His tone was one of weary resignation, but a laugh lurked in its depths, and Stephanie looked over her shoulder at him with a smile.

"I've been thinking about what Mom said about the celery thieves," she replied.

She opened one of his neatly labeled drawers and found the circuit chip she wanted. She also checked to make sure there was still at least one more t-chip in the drawer -- one of the conditions for her free use of her father's tools and supplies was that she help keep track of inventory and tell him when it was time to reorder items -- then turned back to the chassis of the device she was building.

"And that thinking led you to a conclusion which explains all this?" her father asked, raising an eyebrow and waving his coffee cup at the contraptions taking shape on the workbench.

"Well," Stephanie paused and turned around to face him fully, "in a way. It all seemed pretty silly right at first, of course. I mean, celery?" She rolled her eyes, and Richard snorted a laugh. Celery wasn't very high on Stephanie's list of edible foods. She'd eat it under parental duress (and if there was nothing better around) but that was about it. "Besides, according to all the reports, only a head or two at a time was taking missing, and who'd go to all that bother to steal that teeny an amount, right?"

"I can see where those thoughts might have occurred to you," he conceded.

It had been almost a full T-year since a mounting number of settlers had reported vanishing crops, but in the beginning, most people had been inclined to think it was some kind of hoax, especially since the only plant that was ever stolen was celery. And since, as Stephanie said, so few heads of celery were going missing each time the "thieves" struck.

"The first thing I thought when Mom told me about it was that some zork-brain was probably stealing the stuff and hiding it somewhere -- or just getting rid of it, for that matter -- as some kind of joke," Stephanie continued. "It wouldn't be any dumber than some of the other stuff I've seen kids in Twin Forks pull. In fact, it'd be less dumb than a lot of it!"

"You know," her father said after a moment, "not all the kids in Twin Forks are idiots, Steph."

"I didn't say they were," Stephanie replied. There might have been just a hint of insincerity in her response. "They sure act that way sometimes, though, don't they?"

"Not all of them," he said. "Still, I'll grant you that some of them do. Like that young hoodlum Chang."

"Stan Chang?" Stephanie cocked her head, surprised at the noted genuine anger in her father's tone. It was unusual for her mild-mannered parent, and so was the curtness of his nod. "What did he do this time?" she asked a bit cautiously.

"He says he only meant it as a 'joke,' and that's his father's view of it, too," her father said. "It wasn't very funny for Ms. Steinman's Rottweiler, though. He set up a booby trap that was 'only' supposed to dump a five liter bucket of cold water on whoever walked into it. I guess we're all lucky it was Brutus and not another kid."

"How bad was it?" This time Stephanie's tone was resigned, not cautious.

"Let's just say he's not a very good carpenter, and the entire contraption collapsed when Brutus walked into it." Her father shook his head, his expression more resigned and sad than angry this time. "The whole thing came down on him. It crushed his entire right foreleg and he was trapped for over forty-five minutes before we could get him out. I spent better than two hours putting it back together again, and I'm not sure he's ever going to recover fully."

Stephanie nodded slowly. Her father cared -- a lot -- about his patients. Like he'd often said, they didn't have voices, so they couldn't explain what was wrong. And people couldn't explain it to them, either. No wonder she'd heard so much anger in his voice.

"I'll bet he wasn't real sorry about it, either, was he?" she said after a moment, and her father laughed harshly.

"Not so you'd notice," he agreed. "After all, Brutus is only an animal, right? And like Stan said, it's not like he got killed, is it?"

The two of them looked at one another for a moment, and Stephanie felt a warm surge of affection. It was so typical of her dad to take the dog's side, and she wondered just how her father's conversation with Stan's father might have gone. Under the circumstances, she was pretty darned sure there'd been one, at any rate!

Wish I could have been a fly on that wall, she thought with a mental smile. I bet the sparks were just crackling off Dad's hair!

"Well, I guess Stan's just proved they can do things dumber than stealing celery," she said out loud, winning an unwilling smile from her father. "But I did think at first that it was probably somebody stealing it because they thought it'd be funny to watch people run around in circles trying to figure out what was going on. Only then I did a search for every report about missing celery and plotted all of them on a map, and they're spread so wide every kid on the planet would have to be in on it!"

"You know," her father said, "when your mom mentioned this to me, it never even occurred to me to think about mapping them to see how widespread it actually was." He gave her a smile. "Of course, given my general all-around brilliance no doubt it would have occurred to me if I'd given the matter any serious thought."

"Yeah, sure," Stephanie said, rolling her eyes.

"It was a good notion, though," he said more seriously. "That puzzle-solver side of you coming to the surface again, I see."

"I guess," Stephanie agreed. "And you're not the only one who hasn't given it any 'serious thought,' either. It doesn't look like most people have noticed it at all. In fact, I wouldn't have if the farmers who've been losing the stuff weren't part of Mom's genegineering program."

Her lip curled, and her father tried to stifle his sigh.

Her father nodded thoughtfully.

Celery was one of the terrestrial plants which hadn't adapted well to the local planetary environment, and Stephanie's mom had taken over the project trying to do something about that. She'd had to restart it almost from zero, unfortunately, because the geneticist who'd originally started it had been one of victims of the Plague's final resurgence. In the end, she'd come up with an entirely new approach that was in the field test stage now, and the farmers' reports she was reading to assess its effectiveness were where she'd first heard about the mysterious thefts. None of the thefts had been very big, and they had been scattered pretty widely.

"They do cluster, though," Stephanie said, turning back to one of the contraptions on the workbench. "It's like there are maybe four or five areas where the celery's getting pinched, but there's an awful lot of separation between those areas. And I'm not sure it really started as recently as people seem to think it did, either."

"No?" Richard raised his eyebrows.

"People have had a lot on their minds, Daddy. First they were dealing with the Plague and just trying to stay alive, and since then everybody's been crazy busy trying to put everything back together again. I wouldn't be too surprised if a whole bunch of little, tiny 'celery raids' didn't just go completely unnoticed in the middle of all that, especially if whoever it is was just snatching them out of the field. I think the only reason anyone's noticed even now is that the stuff's been disappearing out of greenhouses during the winter months. Who knows how much of it might've gotten snatched out of outdoor gardens during the summer without anyone even noticing?"

"Point," he acknowledged.

"The thing is, though," she went on, "that however recently it started, it's not happening in just one place and nobody's been able to catch whoever's doing it."

"How hard have they tried?" he asked.

"Wellll . . ."

Stephanie looked up, forehead creased with thought as she considered the best way to answer her father's question. To her way of thinking, there was a difference between "how hard" and "how effectively" (or "how intelligently," for that matter). That wasn't exactly what he'd asked, though, and she shrugged.

"I think at first most people figured it was kids," she said, "and it's not like the amount of celery that's being taken is really hurting anyone that much. I mean, it's only celery, and it's not like there's a big market for stolen celery, right? So the truth is, no one put a whole lot of effort into it at first. Like I said, they've had other things to worry about.
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Re: STICKY: A Beautiful Friendship Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Tue Sep 06, 2011 9:07 pm

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A Beautiful Friendship -- Snippet 07

"But it looks like whoever -- or whatever -- is behind it is starting to take more of it, and I think at least some people are worried the thieves might start branching out into stuff besides celery. Besides, like Mom says, an awful lot of it seems to be being taken out of the experimental greenhouses. In fact it looks like most of the reported incidents -- the ones where people have actually noticed the celery disappearing -- are coming out of the experimental plots. And if that keeps up or spreads to some of the other experimental farms' plots, it could screw up some of the long-term research projects. So in the last few T-months, people have been getting more serious about figuring out what's going on and stopping it. Besides, it's a challenge!"

"Getting more serious?" her dad repeated, and she shrugged.

"Well, they started out simple. Given where the celery's been disappearing from, most people figure whatever's taking it can't be too big, since it would have to squeeze into some pretty narrow places. A couple of people suggested setting traps, but the Forestry Service knocked that one on the head in a hurry because of the Elysian Rule."

Her expression sobered, and so did her father's. The Elysian Rule had been adopted over a thousand years before, after a disastrous clutch of mistakes had devastated the ecology of the colony world of Elysian. It absolutely forbade the use of lethal measures against a complete unknown without evidence that whatever it was posed a clear physical danger to humans, and no administration on a planet in the early stages of settlement would even consider its violation without a reason far more compelling than the minuscule economic loss thefts of celery represented.

"Since we don't know what's actually taking the celery, we can't be sure how to set a nonlethal trap for it," Stephanie said. "That didn't keep some people from wanting to go ahead with traps, anyway, but Chief Ranger Shelton wasn't about to let them get away with that!"

She grinned in obvious approval of the chief ranger's stance, then continued.

"So they tried alarms and sensors. Since everybody figures we're dealing with some sort of local critter, they decided to try simple tripwires connected to lights and remote cameras first, but that didn't work. Whatever is actually snatching the stuff, either it doesn't spend a lot of time on the ground or else it's really good at spotting tripwires."

She paused, brown eyes narrowed thoughtfully, then looked back at her father.

"I think they're right that it's probably something local. Something small, I bet, and really, really sneaky. But what I can't figure out, is why something from Sphinx would be eating celery of all things."

"I can think of several possible reasons," her father replied. "Don't forget, one of the things that made the Manticore System so attractive to colonists despite Sphinx's gravity is how similar all three if its planetary biosystems are to the one humanity evolved in." His eyes darkened. "That's probably the only reason the Plague could evolve in it and hit us so hard."

He paused for a moment, then gave himself an almost apologetic shake and continued.

"Both Manticore and Sphinx use the same sugars our biochemistry does, and the local amino acids are pretty similar, as well. Sphinxian genes and chromosomes are actually a lot like terrestrial ones, too. I'm speaking in a general sense, of course, because there are at least as many differences as similarities. For example, the Sphinx equivalent of RNA forms double strands, not single, and it forms longer chains than anything we've found in terrestrial biology. Humans and the critters we tend to take with us when we colonize planets can eat Sphinxian plants and animals just fine, though -- it just doesn't give us everything we need, like most of the essential vitamins, so we have to supplement it. Which is one reason your mom and I fuss at you about eating your vegetables, now isn't it?"

He glowered at her, and she grinned again.

"Anyway, my point is that there are quite a few things growing here on Sphinx that humans have decided are tasty. We like the way they taste, even if they don't have all the food values we need. So I don't see any reason to assume some Sphinxian animal wouldn't find celery a real delicacy."

"Um." Stephanie considered that for a moment, then shrugged. "Okay, I guess I can see that. Although the thought that anyone would feel that way about celery is kind of hard to accept.

"But what I was saying is that whatever it is, it's small and sneaky, and it doesn't go anywhere near tripwires. So they decided to try motion sensors, but that didn't work too well, either. There are so many small critters running around Sphinx, like the chipmunks, that the motion sensors kept going off all the time. They tried dialing their sensitivity down, so they'd only go off for something bigger than a chipmunk, but then whatever's stealing the celery started getting past them again. So then they tried setting infrared barriers just around the greenhouses themselves, but that isn't working either."

"I thought I remembered reading somewhere that at least a couple of alarms had gone off," her father said thoughtfully, and she nodded.

"Yes, but whatever's behind this, it seems to like bad weather. My data search couldn't nail down the weather conditions when all the robberies took place. For one thing, sometimes the people filing the report couldn't pin down the time any closer than a day or two. I mean, most people have better things to do than stand around in a greenhouse counting celery plants to make sure none of 'em have disappeared. No wonder they don't always notice immediately when one of them takes missing! But almost all the raids I could check the weather on took place when it was snowing, or during a thunderstorm, or at least when it was raining pretty heavily even for Sphinx. And all of them -- all the ones I could nail down, at least -- happened at night, too."

"So whatever it is, it's probably nocturnal, and it only comes out when it rains or snows? It's smart enough to use bad weather for cover?"

"That's what it looks like to me, anyway."

"And would it happen that you've shared this particular insight with any of the other investigators trying to figure out what's going on?" her father inquired politely.

"Gosh!" Stephanie widened her eyes at him. "I guess it must've slipped my mind, somehow."

"That's what I thought." Her father shook his head with a long-suffering expression, and Stephanie laughed.

"Anyway," she continued, "they have had a couple of cameras go off, and something tripped the alarms on one of the experimental farms over in Long Grass, but the weather was so bad they didn't get anything. Well, one of the cameras in Seaview got some really nice holos of snowflakes, but that wasn't much use. All of them were motion sensor-controlled, but with no pictures, all anyone's really sure about was that it was bigger than a chipmunk because that's where the filters were set."

Her dad nodded in understanding. Sphinxian "chipmunks" didn't look a lot like Meyerdahl's (or, for that matter, Old Terra's) chipmunks, although they filled much the same ecological niche. The burrow-dwelling marsupials were six-limbed and only a very little smaller than a terrestrial Chihuahua, and they were about as ubiquitous as a species got. Fortunately, they were also timid, unlike their slightly smaller arboreal cousin, the equally ubiquitous (and much more destructive) wood rat.

"But the thing I noticed about all of those," Stephanie went on in a satisfied tone, "was that even when one of the motion sensor alarms was set off, the celery thief still got through and got away with his celery without setting off any of the infrared alarms closer to the greenhouses themselves."

She paused, looking at her father expectantly, and he took a thoughtful sip of coffee, then nodded.

"You're thinking about what you and I discussed a couple of weeks ago, aren't you, Steph?" he said with a smile of approval.

"Yep." Stephanie smiled back at him. "I remembered what you said about that report about wood rats' eyes. If Dr. Weyerhaeuser's right and they do use a lot more of the lower end of the spectrum than human eyes do, then something like a wood rat might be able to actually see an infrared beam and stay out of it." Her smile turned into a grin. "You're always telling me to analyze a problem carefully before I jump into trying to solve it. Sounds to me like some other people should have been taking your advice, too!"

"Well, let's be fair here, Steph. Dr. Weyerhaeuser's report only came out in October. It's not like people have had a long time to think about it or put two and two together yet for something like this."

She nodded in agreement, but she'd also heard the approval in his voice for the way she'd put "two and two together."

"Anyway," she went on, waving at the partially assembled hardware spread down the workbench's length, "what I'm doing is putting together some ultraviolet sensors. We've got Mom's experimental greenhouse right here, and she's got some of the celery from that genetic development program growing in it. I figure we've already got the bait, so maybe we should try the other end of the spectrum and see if we don't get a little bit luckier than the folks in Long Grass and Seaview." She gave him her very best wheedling smile. "Wanna help?"
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Re: STICKY: A Beautiful Friendship Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Thu Sep 08, 2011 9:04 pm

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A Beautiful Friendship -- Snippet 08

4

Climbs Quickly perched in his observation post once more. He was relieved to be on his own again -- Broken Tooth had finally agreed, grudgingly, that Shadow Hider's time could be more usefully employed elsewhere -- but the sunlit sky of three days earlier had turned to dark, gray-black charcoal, and a stiff wind whipped in from the mountains to the west. It brought the tang of rock and snow, mingled with the bright sharpness of thunder, but it also blew across the two-legs' clearing, and he slitted his eyes and flattened his ears, peering into it as it rippled his fur. There was rain, as well as thunder, on that wind, and he didn't look forward to being soaked, while lightning could make his present perch dangerous. Yet he felt no temptation to seek cover, for other scents indicated his two-legs were up to something interesting in one of their transparent plant places.

Climbs Quickly cocked his head, lashing the tip of his prehensile tail as he considered. Broken Tooth was correct that he'd come to think of this clearing's inhabitants as "his" two-legs, but there were many other two-legs on the planet, most with their own scouts keeping watch over them. Those scouts' reports, like his own, were circulated among the memory singers of all the clans, and they included something he felt a burning desire to explore for himself.

One of the cleverest of the many clever things the two-legs had demonstrated to the People were their plant places, for the People weren't only hunters. Like the snow hunters and the lake builders (but not the death fangs), they ate plants as well, and they required certain kinds of plants to remain strong and fit.

Unfortunately, some of the plants they needed couldn't live in ice and snow, which made the cold days a time of hunger and death, when too many of the very old or very young died. Although there was usually prey of some sort, there was less of it, and it was harder to catch, and the lack of needed plants only made that normal hunger worse. But that was changing, for the eating of plants was yet another way in which two-legs and People were alike . . . and the two-legs had found an answer to the cold days, just as they had to so many other problems. Indeed, it often seemed to Climbs Quickly the two-legs could never be satisfied with a single answer to any challenge, and in this case, they had devised at least two.

The simpler answer was to make plants grow where they wanted during the warm days. But the more spectacular one (and the one that most intrigued Climbs Quickly) were their transparent plant places. The plant places' sides and roofs, made of yet another material the People had no idea how to make, let the sun's light and heat pass through, forming little pockets of the warm days even amid the deepest snow, and the two-legs made many of the plants they ate grow inside that warmth all turning long. Nor did they grow them only during the cold days. There were fresh plants growing in those plant places even now, for Climbs Quickly could smell them through the moving spaces the two-legs had opened along the upper sides of the plant places to let the breeze blow in.

The People had never considered making things grow in specific places. Instead, they'd gathered plants wherever they grew of their own accord, either to eat immediately or to store for future need. In some turnings, they were able to gather more than enough to see them through the cold days. In less prosperous turnings, hunger and starvation stalked the clans, yet that was the way it had always been and the way it would continue. Until, that was, the People heard their scouts' reports of the two-leg plant places.

The People weren't very good at it yet, but they, too, had begun growing plants in carefully tended and guarded patches at the hearts of their clans' ranges. Their efforts had worked out poorly for the first few turnings, yet the two-legs' success proved it was possible, and they'd continued watching the two-legs and the strange not-living things which tended their open plant places. Much of what they observed meant little or nothing, but other lessons were clearer, and the People had learned a great deal. They had no way to duplicate the enclosed, transparent plant places, yet this last turning Bright Water Clan had found itself facing the cold days with much more white-root, golden ear, and lace leaf than it had required to survive them. Indeed, there had been sufficient surplus for Bright Water to trade it to the neighboring High Crag Clan for additional supplies of flint, and Climbs Quickly wasn't the only member of the clan who realized the People owed the two-legs great thanks (whether the two-legs ever knew it or not).

But what made his whiskers quiver with anticipation was something else the other scouts had reported. The two-legs grew many strange plants the People had never heard of -- a single sharp-nosed tour of any of their outside plant places would prove that -- yet most were like ones the People knew. But one wasn't. Climbs Quickly had yet to personally encounter the plant the other scouts had christened cluster stalk, but he was eager to do so. Indeed, he knew he was a bit too eager, for the bright ecstasy of the scouts who'd sampled cluster stalk rang through the relayed songs of their clans' memory singers with a clarity that was almost stunning.

It wasn't simply the plant's marvelous taste, either. Like the tiny, bitter-tasting, hard-to-find fruit of the purple thorn, cluster stalk sharpened the People's mind-voices and deepened the texture of their memory songs. The People had known the virtue of purple thorn for hundreds upon hundreds of turnings -- indeed, People who were denied its fruit had actually been known to lose their mind-voices entirely -- yet there had never been enough of it, and it had always been almost impossible to find in sufficient quantities. But the cluster stalk was even better than purple thorn (if the reports were correct), and the two-legs seemed to grow it almost effortlessly.

And unless Climbs Quickly was mistaken, that scent blowing from the two-legs' plant places matched the cluster stalk's perfume embedded in the memory songs.

He crouched on his perch, watching the sky grow still darker and heavier, and made up his mind. It would be full dark soon, and the two-legs would retire to the light and warmth of their living places, especially on a night of rain such as this one promised to be. He didn't blame them for that. Indeed, under other circumstances he would have been scurrying back to his own snugly-roofed nest's water-shedding woven canopy. But not tonight.

No, tonight he would stay -- rain or no -- and when the two-legs retired, he would explore more closely than he'd ever yet dared approach their living place.

* * *

Stephanie Harrington pulled on her jacket, turned up its collar, and wiggled her toes in her boots as she gazed out of her bedroom's deep-set window at a night sky crosshatched with livid streaks of lightning. The planet of Sphinx had officially entered Spring, but nights were still cold (though far, far warmer than they had been!), and she knew she'd be grateful for her thick, warm socks and jacket soon enough.

She opened the tall casement window quietly, although the sudden earthquake rumble of thunder would have drowned just about any sound she could have made. The window swung inward in its deep embrasure, and chill dampness hit her in the face as she latched it back. Then she leaned forward, bracing herself on the broad windowsill, and smiled as she sniffed the ozone-heavy wind.
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Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: A Beautiful Friendship Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Sep 11, 2011 9:01 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2104
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

A Beautiful Friendship -- Snippet 09

The weather satellites said the Harrington freehold was in for a night of thunder, lightning, rain, and violent wind, and cold or not Stephanie intended to savor it to the full. She'd always liked thunderstorms. She knew some kids were frightened by them, but Stephanie thought that was stupid. She had no intention of running out into the storm with a lightning rod -- or, for that matter, standing under a tree -- but the spectacle of all that fire and electricity crashing about the sky was simply too exhilarating and wonderful to miss . . . and this would be the first thunderstorm she'd seen in over a T-year.

Not that she'd mentioned her plans for the night to her parents. She figured there was an almost even chance they would have agreed to let her stay up to enjoy the storm, but she knew they would have insisted she watch it from inside. Thoughts of fireplace-popped popcorn and the hot chocolate Mom would undoubtedly have added to the experience had been tempting, but a little further thought had dissuaded her. Popcorn and hot chocolate were nice, but the only proper way to enjoy her first storm in so long was from out in the middle of it where she could feel and taste its power, and they weren't very likely to think that was a good idea.

And, of course, there was that other little matter.

She smiled in the dark and patted the camera in its case on her hip as thunder growled louder and lightning lashed the mountaintops to the west. She knew her mother had trolled the disappearing celery mystery in front of her as a distraction, but that hadn't made the puzzle any less fascinating. She didn't really expect to be the one to solve it, yet she could have fun trying. And if it just happened that she did find the answer, well, she was sure she could accept the credit somehow.

Her smile curled up in urchin glee at the thought, but she hadn't made her mother privy to every facet of her plan. Part of that was to avoid embarrassment if it didn't work, but most of it came from the simple knowledge that her parents wouldn't approve of her . . . hands-on approach. Fortunately, knowing what they would have said -- had the occasion arisen -- was quite different from actually hearing them say it when the occasion hadn't arisen, which was why she'd carefully avoided bringing the matter up at all.

She shoved the folded rain hat into her pocket, climbed up onto the deep, stone windowsill, swung her legs out, and sat there for a moment longer, feeling the wind whipping through her short, curly hair. She knew her mom expected her to be monitoring her carefully placed sensor net from her bedroom terminal, and she had a pretty shrewd notion that her parents Would Not Be Amused if they happened to wander into her room for some reason and she wasn't in it. She'd thought about stuffing pillows under her blankets just in case, but she'd decided against it. First, it wouldn't have fooled either of them. Second, they would be certain to notice the rope she'd anchored to the frame of her bed before dropping its free end out the window, anyway. But, third, it would have been cheating. It was one thing to set out on an adventure of which they might not approve; it was quite another to try to trick them into thinking she hadn't if they figured it out fair and square, and Stephanie didn't cheat. Of course, that didn't mean it wouldn't work out a lot better for all concerned if they didn't wander in. . . .

She twisted around to kneel on the window sill (which was more than half as deep as she was tall) while she tugged the casement closed. She couldn't close it all the way because of her climbing rope, but that was good. It would keep the window from closing and latching behind her, with her still outside, and she carefully hooked the length of cord she'd run from the window frame through the latching bracket. She pulled it taut and tied it to keep the window from slamming back and forth in the wind if the storm got as lively as it looked like getting, and tested it to make it was secure.

It was, so she slid down on her stomach, letting her legs dangle toward the ground, then lowered herself down to arms' length, and dropped the last half meter or so to the ground. She stood for a moment, looking back up, and gave the rope a tug to make sure it was still secure. Getting back into her bedroom unobserved was going to be trickier than getting out had been, but she felt confident she'd manage.

The wind roar in the massive crown oak closest to the house was louder than ever, with mighty branches creaking and swaying in the darkness far overhead or etched against the eye-blinding flash of lightning with almost painful clarity. All of Sphinx seemed to be alive, moving and swaying and lashing in the night, and she laughed in sheer delight as she scampered through the roaring, whispering prelude of a thunderstorm orchestra tuning its instruments.

* * *

Climbs Quickly clung to his pad while the net-wood's groaning branches lashed the night as if to protest the wind that roared among them. The rumbling thunder had drawn closer, barking more and more loudly, and lightning forks had begun to play about the mountain heads to the east. The storm was going to be even more powerful than he'd thought, and he smelled cold, wet rain on its breath. It would be here soon, he thought. Very soon, which meant it was time.

He climbed down the trunk more slowly and cautiously than was his wont, for he felt the sturdy tree quivering and shivering under his claws. It took him much longer than usual to reach the ground, and he paused -- still a half-dozen People-lengths up the tree -- to survey his surroundings. The People were quick and agile anywhere, but true safety lay in their ability to scamper up into places where things like death fangs couldn't follow. Unfortunately, Climbs Quickly's plans required him to venture into an area without handy net-woods, and while it was unlikely to hold any death fangs, either, he saw no harm in double-checking to be certain of that.

But scan the night though he might, he detected no dangers other than those of the weather itself, and he dropped the last distance to the ground. The mud, he noted, had begun to dry -- on the top at least -- but the rain would change that. He felt the faint, pounding vibration of rain drops through the ground, coming steadily nearer, and his ears flattened in resignation. If the reports about cluster stalk proved true, getting soaked would be small enough cost for this evening's excursion. That didn't mean he would enjoy it, though, and he flitted his tail and scurried quickly towards the nearest plant place.

* * *

Stephanie dipped into the stash she'd brought along and extracted a fruit bar. She might be willing to give up popcorn and hot chocolate, but she was still a growing girl with the Meyerdahl first wave's genetic modifications. That kind of accelerated metabolism had to be stoked regularly, and most Meyerdahl kids routinely packed along munchies for moments like this.

She settled back in her chair in the gazebo, camera in her lap, and her mind ran back over her checklist as she began to chew.

She'd been careful to leave the ventilation louvers open on the greenhouse which contained her mother's celery. In addition, she'd adjusted the greenhouse ventilation system to produce a slight overpressure, pushing whatever scent the celery might have out those open louvers. Her parents had known about that part of her plan, but somehow she hadn't gotten around to mentioning the fact that for tonight she'd disabled the audible alarm on her bedroom terminal and set up a silent relay from her sensor net to her camera, instead. Mom and Dad were smart enough to have guessed why she might have done that if they'd known about it, but since they hadn't specifically asked, she hadn't had to tell them. And that meant they hadn't gotten around to forbidding her to lurk in the gazebo tonight, which was certainly the most satisfactory outcome for all concerned.
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Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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