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Deal 981: Roar!

By day, I’m still and asleep, resting until I’m needed again. But by night, I am the selfless hero guarding my young charges from all the monsters that go bump in the dark. But most of all, guarding them from the Goblin King.

The ray of light I shine into the dark deep may be mostly metaphorical, but that doesn’t matter to my charge. Luckily most of the monsters I face are also metaphorical. So it is mostly my own self-confidence that powers the winning blow.

And so I stand ready, ever vigilant, and sworn to protect.

I am Teddy. Hear me roar!

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Deal 948: It’s a cat’s life

Nine lives. The humans were wrong about so many things, but that detail they got right. The truth is more complicated, but in effect we have nine lives. Of course, most humans never see our first life. That is usually spent elsewhere, and it is the end of the first that allows us entry to this world. Similarly, our last life is usually spent elsewhere as well, either in contemplation of our lives well lived or in teaching our young how to manage our hold on this place.

We’ve guided human history from the shadows, after all.

Nearly all humans are oblivious to our paw lightly touching their affairs. To be fair, we rarely intervene in any case, so there is very little to catch us doing.

Unlike those slobbering sycophantic dogs, we sought changes that benefit our kind, that generally did benefit the humans. And even, I suppose I have to admit, benefitted the dogs as well. By providing pest control, agriculture became practical and humans settled down. By settling down, they build homes with warm hearths for us to sleep near out of the cold and out of the weather. Simple action, small nudges, and lots of comfort gained for several of our lives.

Of course, they also brought their dogs to that fire.

We dangled the carrot of peace and tranquility. And the humans usually took the bait and settled down.

Best of all, small simple changes take little effort on our part. That leaves more time for curling up in sunbeams and less need for plotting world domination.

Naturally we don’t plot world domination. We achieved that ages ago.

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Deal 939: Cold

This desert is harsh. Dark and cold, and very hostile to life. And yet, life finds a way.

The ride is long and slow, and transport is cramped, with only a minimal amount of space left over after life support and supplies are packed for the passenger. Almost as if the passenger is only incidental.

Without the passengers, there would be no need for most of the supplies. But without a passenger, would the trip really matter?

There’s a window. But it’s view is limited by the thickness of the wall. It is a tradeoff. Cameras outside provide lots of view, but are fragile. And without a way to see, there would be no way to dock to the station manually if something went wrong. Of course, if something goes wrong, the path to not arriving dead is very narrow and touchy, and highly unlikely to be safely followed.

But here we are, in this cramped space for hours of travel, with almost nothing to do. Communications with the outside world was cut off to only a few bits per second almost immediately after we were under way. Once we arrive, that will be better. But still, that is hours away.

In the meantime, nothing to do but watch the darkness. We have a small light on, but it doesn’t reach more than a few feet away from the window. But it does illuminate the occasional passerby. None bother to try to follow us, after all life out there tends to pick its level and stay there, and we are going the other way entirely. Straight down.

The darkness is nearly complete, and visibility from our light is only about ten yards. We nothing more. We hope the tell-tales are right, and we are on course to dock. If we miss, we face a long haul back to the top, with just barely enough oxygen aboard to get us there.

Suddenly, we see hints that we will arrive safely. There is a regular pattern of lights outside the window. Lights that lead the way to a structure, shaped like a mad conglomeration of soap bubbles. At the edge is a hatch, and that is clearly where we are headed. A small craft all that different from our own is standing off, ready to guide us in and help with the docking if our systems need a nudge. The area is fairly well lit, since the station has plenty of power and has been adding LED panels as rapidly as they can be shipped in and mounted.

We’ve arrived at the LanternFish, a nearly self-sufficient station. Most crew rotate on six month or so schedules, but some find they like the isolation and stay longer. The station maintains a near-surface pressure, despite sitting at about seventeen thousand feet deep. This explains the bubbles, as nearly any other construction would swiftly collapse. Stations at more hospitable depths would include a moon pool and allow divers to come and go. At this depth, people only leave the station in rigid bubbles.

Why are we here?

Humans insist on finding ways to live everywhere.

So why not try each of the least hospitable environments and conquer them one by one?

Besides, we learn things by being down here. There are many nearly unexplored shipwrecks at these depths. The station is a useful model of how a colony on a hostile planet might operate. There are opportunities for biologists too, if they are patient. There is a colony of vent worms nearby too.

But it is a dark dangerous desert out there.

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Deal 884: The Lantern

The lantern hanging in front of the window lit the road, and called out to passerby. The window belonged to an inn that sat along the road in a spot that had held an inn since time immemorial. The inn was known up and down the road simply as “The Lantern”, as no one could remember a time when there wasn’t a lantern hanging there.

A long time ago, though, there used to be two lanterns, one to each side of the building. In those days, the Inn was at a crossroads of a sort, or perhaps at a fork in the road. From the traveler’s view, the inn sat at the point where the road diverged. The northern way wound across the headland to a bridge over the river that ran about a mile to the west. The southern way went down a series of tricky switchbacks to a passable ford. In those days, the lantern to the south was only lit when the water was low enough to pass the ford.

Many a traveler welcomed the chance to pass the river without paying toll on the bridge, and welcomed even more knowing before they made the often treacherous descent that they would be able to pass. Grateful travelers recommended the inn far and wide, and were generous during their stay when they found the southern lantern unlit.

The troll that owned the bridge collected more tolls from eastward parties than westward, but being a troll, never really wondered why.

Then The Rain came. This wasn’t any usual rainstorm. The rain started on the last day of summer, and continued unabated until the first day of spring a year and a half later. At first, travelers just assumed it was a heavy storm, and waited a few days for the water to drop and the ford to open. But it kept raining. And raining. When the water was measured at well over six feet deep at the ford, the innkeeper stopped even sending anyone down to measure it.

Then the rain washed out the path, and a week or so later, the cliff face started to fall away to be washed downstream by the torrent. Every few days, more rain-soaked soil fell away.

By the end of the first winter without the rain letting up, the bridge troll fell from his perch and was washed away, and presumed to have drowned. This was a blessing for travelers because they no longer needed to pay tolls to the beast. But it was also a curse, as they learned as winter approached again. Without a troll to maintain it, the bridge began to show signs of wear. Luckily, many of the staff of the inn were clever with structures, and were able to shore up the bridge for the second winter without a dry day.

The bridge held.

And that year and a half long rainstorm became known as “The Rain”.

Eventually, the kingdom took note, and sent away for a new troll to maintain the bridge. Today, there is hardly any sign that there ever had been a path down the cliff. And the The Lantern still lights the only remaining road.