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Deal 1054: Riding along

The cat came back the very next day: it just couldn’t stay away. Bruce, that is. He may not be a normal feline, but since he looks and acts like a cat, I’m going to call him a cat. Even if he does have an extra effective knack for fading in and out and can talk.

Not that talking is all that unusual here. There was that toad. Even the cockatrice I killed early on complained about my methods. So I take a talking cat in stride.

Now that he’s let on that he talks, he talks constantly.

He still believes he is in charge, too. Which bugs Gwen to no end. But she can’t admit it because of some silly rule of dragon honor. Naturally we all find ourselves bound one way or another. I have no way home. Gwen doesn’t have a cat. And Bruce, he knows things and will occasionally share.

“I have a message for you, Sydney”

“Really? How?”

“I ran into an old friend of yours. Tricky fellow. Large. Black. Definitely not a bird one should chase, let alone catch.”

“Raven.”

“Yep. He had some ideas for you to ponder.”

By now, Gwen was also paying attention. But Bruce is first and foremost a cat.

“I don’t know, I wasn’t listening by then. And then you left on this quest, and were going in the right direction. So I tagged along in case you ran into something you couldn’t handle.”

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Deal 1045: Cats and Dogs Living Together

Well I’ve found one subject not to bring up to a cat.

I wonder when I’ll see him again. The look he gave me when I wondered if I’d ever see my dog again was priceless. I mean, I know the answer is never, but apparently just the idea that I willingly associated with canines was more than enough. I should probably try to apologize to the annoying creature, though. The dog in question was a childhood pet, and died at least a decade before I got sucked into this insane place.

If he comes around again, I might mention that. Or I might let him stew some more. The cat clearly is one of the many parties that want to manipulate me into doing something. Some of them seem to even want the same things. I haven’t worked out what the cat wants, but I strongly suspect he’s somehow using Gwen to get his way without being obviously involved. But what sort of hold he has on a dragon is something I can only speculate about. I promised Gwen that I would ask no personal questions. I came close to the line by asking her about the cat at all, judging from her reaction. I don’t want to find out what might happen if I crossed that line.

I had thought we were getting closer, but it might all have been my imagination. She still has not offered to show me her real form since that first encounter on the trail. Nor has she openly acknowledged what she is, just hints here and there.

I have had free run of the residence, the human-scaled parts at least. I still haven’t quite worked out how the servants come and go. I assume it is something mundane like an ample supply of service passages, dumbwaiters, and the occasional discretely placed doorway. Somehow my room does get made up when I’m out and about, and I’ve never spotted the staff at work. Even if it were Gwen doing it all when I’m not looking, I’d still expect to find some evidence of that. Nope. My room is always neat, clothes cleaned, bed made. Meals turn up on the patio, in the dining room, or occasionally in my suite. They usually turn up where I expect to find them, but again without any overt service staff.

Not that this minor mystery bothers me. I’m sure it is something no stranger than an elderly caretaker who simply does not want to be seen. I’m pretty sure it is not the cat, though.

But all of this is procrastination.

I am supposed to be spending this hour contemplating the question of the chicken.

I was given no further hints. I’m not sure if she was referring to the chicken and egg question, the road question, or the karmic question of what did the largest and meanest dinosaurs do exactly to survive primarily into our time primarily in the form of a chicken?

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Deal 1012: Jupiter Bound

Spiral on my Mind 20:
Fish, Eye, Strength, axe, Transformation, fork, War, dog, and Unity

I’m having trouble imagining a harsher place to set up home than right here, right now. When we left, everyone was so sure about what we’d find. Too sure as it turned out. But exploration is like that. Sometimes you head to the top of the world, and all you find is a nice view and thin air. Sometimes you find storms larger than your homeworld that no one knew would be there.

Heh. “There”. As in “here”, exactly where we planned to settle.

Or in this case, exactly where we expected to pass over frequently in our final, stable orbit.

No one expected to be able to fish off the veranda. At least not from here. There was talk of a mission plan that involved a zeppelin that sought buoyancy at the one bar level. They were crazy enough to imagine that fishing might be possible. At least until they found themselves at the mercy of the wind at the one bar level, and got sucked into the eye of a storm.

There isn’t much you can make the shell of a zeppelin out of that would survive the eyewall of a Jovian storm.

That just seemed like a tragedy waiting to happen.

So our mission avoid the atmosphere as much as it can. Except apparently, it can’t. We’re in a polar orbit, inside what we assumed was the bounds of the magnetosphere. Observations and models of the mission were pretty clearly drawn up on the assumption that we could avoid the top of atmosphere, while still taking advantage of the magnetosphere to keep us safe from the worst of the solar wind.

That is critical to our long term survival. Too much exposure, and we’ll die. Slowly.

Touch the atmosphere with anything more than the gentlest of kisses and we’ll die. Quickly.

We’re equipped to spend years in orbit, decades according to the planners. Longer, even. We are a tool in storage here in the most unlikely of places. If things go well, we become a colony. We provide a valuable pool of self-sustaining humanity, far away from that single, fragile basket where all the rest of us live.

Why?

Well, several reasons leap to mind. First, there is always that threat of the mythical World War Three. Mythical, I say, because it is all too real, but simmering slow enough that no one has had the nerve to admit it. The field of glass west of Japan ought to have been a clue that something was up. I don’t know, really, we were already under way when that happened. How it happened, we might never know. No one will tell us. In any case, I suspect this is the fork of the trousers of time we find ourselves on. The war is real but unstated. We have arrived, and nothing is as we were led to expect.

Second, is the threat of a dinosaur killer. That basket that everyone else lives in is fragile, and there’s only the one basket. It wouldn’t take a very large rock to cause it irreparable harm. A rock that is rather small compared to many that are wandering around without leashes out here. But given what we are observing, that pathway seems less important right now. Or, perhaps, more important to humanity as a whole than to us as individuals.

We arrived expecting that there would be room for us between the magnetosphere and the atmosphere, and that the atmosphere was a dangerous place. We were part right. The atmosphere is a more dangerous place than we understood. I guess there had been little interest in the polar regions before our mission plan was finalized. The whole place just looked like a banded Easter egg of winds of various depths. We knew that the top of the clouds would be a smorgasbord of interesting chemicals, and that the atmosphere itself was mostly hydrogen and helium. We count on those traces to remain viable here in the long run.

But in the short run, we have a very narrow band we can sit in.

Or the dog barks.

And then its all for naught.

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Deal 997: Veterans

The dog was nearly as jumpy as the human it was escorting. Like peas in a pod, they were. Both going slightly grey about their muzzles, both lean and wiry.

He was clearly a veteran, and the dog may well have been too. You can’t always disguise the nervous tics of someone freshly home from combat. The strangest things would alarm both man and dog, sometimes causing them to practically levitate in surprise.

Then the moment would pass and they’d realize together that whatever the shared moment was about, it wasn’t real, wasn’t happening here and now.

So I sit here and watch people go by, and they sit over there and relive their shared pasts. I briefly consider telling them who I am and what I am doing, but then that never works out well. I can invent a better story for them from here than whatever it is that they share.

So I collect my cane, my hat, and my notes and make my way towards the parking lot to find my car, leaving them in their moment. Together.