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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 1011: The Gift of Wonder

I’ve found some old photos of a visit to the fair, when I was younger, so much younger. I’d almost forgotten about being talked into the magician’s tent show that day. From the pictures, it must have been a two act show. As I sit here and remember, with pictures of the posters that promised the worlds of wonder to behold within as reminders, I recall the shows.

The first act blustered out on stage, and left the audience alternately confused and annoyed, the stinker. By which I mean he stunk. Somewhat literally stunk. He drug me on stage, and proceeded to taunt me at every turn. The balloon became a dog on his command, but then was promptly popped with a needle. He showed a magic mirror that could tell the future, but all it predicted for me was humdrum work at the factory. He didn’t even give me a choice! And when he finished with me, he just shooed me away like an unwanted puppy.

Sure, the things he did were astounding, but at every turn, he popped everyone’s sense of wonder and left the crowd sitting on their fingers. By that point I was ready to write it all off, and expected the other act to phone it in as badly as this one did.

But I stuck it out. I’d paid my hard-earned dime for my seat, after all!

I could tell the next performer was different just from the way he walked on stage. He had presence under the lights. The stage wasn’t all that fancy, but he knew he belonged on the best stages in the world, and acted as if this was one of them. His act exuded quiet strength at every turn, especially when dealing with gentler topics.

He produced a flock of birds from nowhere that swarmed around the audience and returned to the stage to line up and mutter amongst themselves. Each bird did a trick as it appeared. You could tell the birds respected him, and that he loved his birds as he tore them in two to double them, found them folded up in silk, and even lined them up, invisible, on his stick so clearly that when the stick vanished and a line of birds was suddenly beating their wings in its place, it took a moment to realize the stick was gone.

He seemed to single out each of the people humiliated earlier for a special moment. To me, he offered a choice among several jewelry boxes. The one I chose had an egg inside, which he broke open to reveal a gemstone on a chain. It was only as he was settling it around my neck that I realized it was my birthstone. Or at least a good simulation of it. He took that moment to carry my imagination outside of the tent on the boardwalk, and to see the opportunities that were hiding in all things mundane.

After his last bow, I could tell the whole audience was profoundly affected. Usually loud conversations about how the tricks were done are overheard in the aisles and lobby. But this time, the conversations I heard seemed less about tricks and more about what each had seen, and people felt. That schmuck from the opening act had left everyone cold. But this guy, well he had us all dreaming.

Years have passed, and I still occasionally rediscover that stone stored safely away in its cheap mount and slowly tarnishing cheap chain. With it, I’ve preserved the program, and some snapshots. And I cherish those memories.

Much of what he had promised had indeed come true. I had married well and happily. I made a difference in the world, and would someday (but not too soon!) leave it a better place than I found it. But in the end, all of that was incidental. As I sit here and reminisce, I can see how those moments of wonder opened my eyes to the wonders around me, and changed me for the better.

Now today, I get to offer a moment of wonder to an audience of my own.

I hope I can find my way to do for them what was done for me those many years ago.

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Deal 1001: The other side

It is safe here. It is safe here. It is safe here.

I keep telling myself that. It is safe here.

I don’t like it here. It is safe here.

I don’t like it here. The tea isn’t good. No room. I need space. It is safe here.

But I am strong. I will try to stay and be safe.

I go outside. It is safe here. But I don’t like it. And then, the mirror. The mirror frightens me. I run back inside, frantic. It is safe here. I don’t like it here.

Food is plentiful. I am warm. I avoid the mirror. It is safe here.

But I must go. I don’t like it here.

I imagine I can be safe somewhere else. It is safe here.

I sneak away. I don’t look at the mirror. It is very quiet as I sneak away.

Too quiet. Nervous in the quiet. I rustle. Quiet. It was safe there.

I am stuck on the verge. It was safe there. I don’t like it there.

This is the edge. This is the choice. I am safe there but I don’t like it there.

So I can cross the edge. Cross it. Cross it now. Fast. Fast. Cross it fast. The possibilities are limitless.

I was safe there. But I was captive. I’m not safe here.

Why did I go?

I am free.

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Deal 973: Not dying

I’m generally pretty cheerful for someone who’s been to hell and back.

I don’t bite, and I try hard to avoid unreasonable fears.

So when they tried to poison me, I did my best to not be annoyed. But you don’t need to wake up to poisoned cereal very often before it begins to leave the impression that you aren’t wanted.

Still, I put it aside and continued on my assigned task.

Then the accidents began to happen.

The spiked shoes were, I’m certain, just an accident.

The large saw that got loose and nearly decapitated me was at least partly due to my own clumsiness.

The tree the fell the wrong way and landed on my tent had to be a freak wind gust at the critical moment when the tree was felled but hadn’t yet realized.

Then I examined the stump, and there were signs that it might have been dressed after the tree fell to adjust perception.

And that saw, well it had never done that before I arrived (or since, but I couldn’t know that then).

The message began to become clear to me. I can be pretty stubborn, but you only have to drop one tree on me to get my attention. Unfortunately you apparently do have to drop a tree before you get my attention.

Now that you have my attention, be very sure that you wanted it. Because I am stubborn this way too.

Now that I think about it, I must be the only one taking home poisoned breakfast cereal or there’s be a run on the doctor’s tent. Ditto for mechanical mishaps. That loose saw had scared many people around the camp, but had also made a clear run through camp without leveling a single tent or even coming close to injuring anyone. It might have got me if I hadn’t been shaving and seen the motion in the mirror.

I fear not for myself, but for the others.

One of these attempts is going to succeed, and I will regret the collateral damage that results. Or maybe the nearly unthinkable will happen and I will be killed. I’ve never been assured that I am immortal, after all. In point of fact, I’ve never been told anything. I’m just very hard to kill.