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    Geron Kees
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The Darkness Between Doors - 5. Chapter 5

The castle structure, the terminus of their travel tube, now loomed before them. The sun had retreated to a position above distant, misty mountain ranges to their right hand, showing every evidence of planning to disappear within the next several hours. The blue sky had taken on a golden hue with violet streaks, with a distinct measure of red thrown in around the setting sun. Derry thought it one of the most beautiful and unique skies he had ever seen.

"I'm sure we'll get used to seeing skies like we've never seen before," Mike said, when Derry mentioned his fascination with the colors. "I'll never forget that night sky at the old starport, either."

Cally, who had taken the lead of their group, pointed at the castle ahead of them. "That's a big place."

It was. And close up, it even more resembled an old castle out of legend than it had from a distance, with turrets and flying buttresses, and crenellated caps to the vast outer walls. Yet there was not a stone in sight, the bluish-gray walls of the place looking more like polished metal than anything else. The structure managed to be both graceful and imposing at once, enough so that Derry could imagine its defenders of old being fairies or pixies, or some other gentler creature from out of human myth. This was not a place of ogres or trolls.

"It's pretty awesome," he finally decided, and nodded in agreement. "Makes me wonder whose architecture I'm admiring."

"This planet was developed and offered as a resort by the Talaspins," Nyf said then. "The infrastructure is of their design, though the villas run the gamut of empire appeal."

"That isn't really a castle, is it?"

"No. It's actually a circular building with an open core. The interior held a park, or some other natural place in which to relax. The building around it contained offices, living units, and storerooms for the operational personnel."

Derry was about to ask what the Talaspins had looked like when the air flickered before his eyes, and a red circle of light appeared to the side of his vision. He turned his head automatically to the circle, and was stunned to see that it outlined a small, dark mass that was quickly growing in size. It was only then that he realized his head bubble had activated.

"Our suits!" Cally whispered, surprise plain in his voice.

Derry glanced back at his friend, and was surprised to see that both Cally's and granddad's suits had turned from the deep red that was their normal coloring to a faded bluish-white, and that their head globes were active, and the very same color. He looked down at his hands, confirming that his own suit was now that color as well.

"Don't worry," Nyf said then. "Your suits have changed color to minimize your visibility. Observe the approaching figures in your sensory array."

Derry turned his head back to the red circle, which had grown in size to encompass the dark blobs within. Those indistinct forms quickly sorted themselves out into a half dozen of the winged fliers, who appeared to be heading straight towards their position. Derry watched them come with some bit of worry. Had they been seen?

He must have voiced the question aloud.

"It is not impossible," Nyf responded. "The Sasparians have very acute eyesight for detecting motion at a distance. But their flight pattern suggests that the castle is their destination, rather than our own place in the tube."

"You really think they could have seen us from that other peak?" Mike asked, sounding slightly disbelieving. "They'd have to have incredible eyesight."

"We will see momentarily."

The six fliers approached rapidly, seeming to spread out as they came, until it was clear they were flying in rank, two abreast, with each succeeding rank spread slightly further apart, giving the formation the shape of an arrowhead. It also soon became clear that their position in the tube seemed not to be the target of the six, but rather the castle itself. But that the fliers would pass very near them was plain.

Also plain now was that the fliers appeared to be armed. Each carried a short lance with a barbed tip, and wore daggers at their belted waists. Derry could see now that his first impression of their faces had been correct. They were not unhandsome faces, just strange and alien. All six of them were muscled like males, but it was just a feeling Derry had, and there was no true way to know their gender. Their attention did seem to be on the castle ahead, not on the tube.

Derry noticed then that one of the fliers in the rear was slightly smaller than the others, and when he focused on that one, a brief sense of wonder overcame him. It was just an impression, but the smaller flier appeared young, perhaps even their own age, if his size compared to the others was any indicator. The notion made Derry smile, and he raised a hand and pointed. ""Look, Cally. That one looks young like us."

But at the movement of his hand, one of the lead fliers immediately looked their way, and then broke formation and dove towards them. In a moment the alien was hovering outside the tube, looking in at them, the plainly puzzled expression on his face clearly conveying that he had no idea at all what he was seeing.

"Remain motionless a moment, if you will," Nyf said. "He spied your movement, Derry, but you will still appear indistinct to him through the shell of the tube. Your suits have approximated the sky in color as viewed through the transport tube, and while Sasparians have a very acute sense for visual motion at a distance, up close their eyesight is no better than your own. He will not know what to make of you if you do not move again."

Derry resisted an urge to nod, and simply stood still. Outside the tube, the Sasparian's wings beat effortlessly, as the alien's dark eyes watched them. Then his head turned, and Derry allowed his own gaze to follow the other's. The formation of fliers had halted, and were all looking back now, apparently urging the stray to join them. Their watcher raised his free hand and indicated the tube, but one of the others made a dismissive motion with his own hand and then waved the straggler onward.

The Sasparian outside the tube looked back at them, briefly tapped the tip of his lance against the material of the tube, and then took off to rejoin the others.

"Interesting," Nyf said then. "That the others refused to investigate your presence would seem to indicate that they are in a hurry to be somewhere."

Mike sighed. "Figures we had to pick the peak where an armed flight of possible belligerents are heading."

"You think they're looking for trouble?" Cally asked.

"Well, not with us, but they did seem to look like they were in a hurry to give someone a hard time. But...some of that may be that anyone moving around here that's armed just looks militant to me. Either way, I would have preferred to see they were bound for somewhere else than the castle ahead of us."

Derry turned and watched the flight of Sasparians, who reached the castle within minutes and settled out of sight behind the crenellated top of the outer wall. He almost expected to see something to indicate further action after that, but the castle remained quiet. "I don't see anything."

"We won't from here, I guess." Mike nodded. "Might as well get going. We can be there in a few minutes if we fly."

The three of them raised from the floor of the tube and moved forward, and were soon moving faster than they would have been able to run. The glassy side of the tube became a blur, with the way ahead slowly resolving into a dark circle, which soon enough became the back end of a parked tube car at the station. By then the castle loomed above them, its true size now apparent. It was bigger than anything Derry had seen before outside of a real city.

They arrived at the back of the tube car, and found the doorway there open. Mike withdrew his weapon from its holster and held it out before him. "Let me go first."

Derry clamped his jaw at the feeling that there might be trouble, but nodded, and he and Cally followed his granddad as the man climbed into the car. Because the hull of the vehicle was transparent it was easy to see the interior, and they could tell immediately that no one lurked within. They walked down the center aisle of the car, and then could see through the clear wall at the end and into the tube station.

There was no one there.

The roof of this station was also transparent, and let in enough of the evening light to see by. The tube to their right was empty of a car, suggesting that it was parked at the station on the peak at the other end. There were no dark ovals of Armenti transport doors visible, and just one large archway in view at the back of the room, leading within the building. Again, the use of light wave guides seemed to make the place brighter than possible, directing light from the overhead into every nook and cranny, dispelling the shadows. It did seem clear that the artificial lighting was not working, as that source usually filled the alien rooms with a soft light that seemed to come from the very air itself. The room before them was light enough to determine that there was no place to hide in the gloom, but at the same time, it scarcely looked inviting.

"It's going to be dark soon," Mike said. "I'd prefer to find us a safe little niche somewhere before that happens. Come on."

They passed through the glass-like wall and entered the station proper, and made their way through the seating area and arrived at the archway that led deeper into the building. This turned out to give admission to a wide, tall hallway, that curved away in both directions to their sides. The hallway was darker, and the way to the left soon disappeared into blackness. The light in the hall to the right faded to a deep gray in the distance, but then looked to lighten again further on. Just at the point where the hallway curved out of sight, there seemed to be a true light of some kind in operation.

Mike looked both ways a couple of times, and then turned to the boys. "Looks like we go right here, unless the two of you have a desire to go exploring by flashlight."

Cally grunted, and then smiled at Derry. "What do you think?"

Derry smiled back. "That my granddad has a good idea. Let's go right."

"I was thinking the same. Maybe we can check out the other way tomorrow when it's light again."

"Actually, your head bubbles will allow you to see just as well in the dark," Nyf reminded.

"I know," Derry said. "We were talking figuratively. I just meant we'd rather go where it's light than where it's dark."

"I see." The artificial mind chuckled then. "And I do believe I just made an unintentional joke there."

"Don't quit your day job," Mike said, smiling. "George Carlin you ain't."

Derry and Cally both looked at each other questioningly. "Who?" Derry asked.

Mike sighed, and shook his head. "Never mind. Let's just go."

They turned right and proceeded down the hallway. It was further to the light than they thought, but as they approached it, it became clear that it was produced by the artificial lighting the ancients had favored. Mike turned back to gaze at Cally, where they all seemed to turn now when talking to Nyf.

"Well. Looks like all the systems are not out. What about that, Nyf?"

"I have tried to query the station mind here, but there is no connection.That suggests that primary systems are offline. The lighting has several layers of back up, so would not be affected so easily."

"It's off at the tube station," Mike reminded.

"Which tells me that the station was deliberately deactivated. There seems to have been a real effort here to keep the tube transports from running."

"Well, yeah. Makes location defense a whole lot easier if a squad of attackers can't just appear in a second in a tube car. A watch placed at the tube ends could see someone coming on foot for a long time before they got there." Mike gave out a little sigh. "Looks to me like they had some real disagreement here after the doors stopped being used."

"It is actually not unexpected," Nyf said quietly. "It is the way of living things to dispute dominance. With limited resources at each location, and multiple races present, each having their own needs and agendas, it was likely inevitable that they would attempt to form boundaries. But what was needed then may not be needed now. As we saw on the world of the bear horses and glass people, those two races had become cooperative in their attempts to survive. Such cooperative agreements may also have been made here."

"But maybe not among every race," Mike pointed out. "Unless there is some serious wildlife here to defend against, there would be no need to go armed like they do if everyone was cooperating. Weapons always suggest an enemy to me."

"There are animals present in these mountains," Nyf confirmed. "But all were introduced after terraforming of the planet created the new biosphere of the peaks. None of the wildlife species here are dangerous."

"Then it's people against people," Derry said unhappily.

"And that sucks," Cally agreed, frowning. "It means we have to be careful, doesn't it?"

"You should always be careful on these excursions," Nyf returned. "As I have mentioned before. I have seen nothing here yet that poses a threat to your protective gear, but that does not mean such weaponry is not present. Still, your suits would maintain even against the average projectile or directed energy weapon available to most travelers back in the day. But they will not be proof against military-grade weapons technology."

Cally made a frustrated sound. "I meant we have to be careful about getting in the middle of two groups at war. We don't want to be picking sides or anything without knowing what's going on."

"Makes sense to me," Derry agreed.

Mike held up a hand. "Okay, that's something we agree on. But we're getting distracted here. Let's go check out the light first, okay?"

Derry and Cally smiled at each other, but the boys both nodded, and the trio started off again.

They approached the lighted area carefully, but it was quickly evident that this was simply more of the hallway, only a section of it where the fascinating illumination of the ancients was still in operation. There were no actual light fixtures anywhere to be seen, but seeing was perfect, as if the very air emitted light. The hallway continued onward, but now they could see doorways on both sides ahead of them, again in the form of arches. They approached the first of these carefully, and found themselves facing a closed door.

"How do we open these?" Mike asked Nyf.

"If they are unlocked, you simply approach them and they will open."

Mike nodded. "I don't suppose these suits can make us entirely invisible, huh?"

"No. Such stealth technology was readily available in empire culture, but the designers of your suits felt that the other protections already included negated the need to also be invisible. These were exploration suits, not battle suits."

"Just checking," Mike returned. He drew his sidearm and held it before him. "Wait here, guys."

"Wait a minute," Derry said, pulling his own weapon and stepping forward. "Granddad, we're all in this together. You can't always be taking the chances while we wait behind."

"Derry --"

Cally shook his head, and also drew his weapon. "I say we all go together. This is a democracy, isn't it?"

That made Mike smile. "Actually, it's not. But I get your point. Okay, we all go together, but I'm front man. How does that sound?"

Cally grinned. "We got your back, Sarge."

Derry laughed at that, and Mike rolled his eyes, but nodded. "Okay, come on, troops."

Mike turned and moved towards the door, but it did not open. "Okay. It's locked. What do we do now?"

"Move on," Nyf said, a trace of humor evident in his voice.

Mike blinked at that. "There's no other way to get in?"

"Not unless you wish to break the door down, and I can assure you that would be no simple task. Empire security is difficult to circumvent."

"Oh. Well, we don't need to break it down, that's for sure. The noise would probably bring everyone running, anyway. So we'll go on to the next one."

Actually, they got no response until they reached the fifth door, which simply whisked apart in two sections as they positioned themselves in front of it. The room beyond was large, and had several smaller rooms to each side. All were completely empty.

But the far wall was transparent, all one window it seemed, and it was the view beyond that captured their attention. The room they were in appeared to be at least five or six floors above ground level, and set in the inner portion of the wall that circled the place. The interior of the castle wall consisted of a vast, open area of ground below them, upon which stood small cottages set in a circle among sprawling trees, and with a small brook running to one side of them. The cottages were of logs and had thatched roofs, and were totally out of keeping with the level of technology apparent in the castle complex around them.

Above them showed the darkening sky, still lit with traces of red and gold in it, but even now showing a few stars heralding the descent of night. A few lights on the inner walls of the castle cast a warm glow down on the village, but their uneven placement suggested that several, if not most, were no longer working. No matter, as the inhabitants were lighting their own fires, several smaller ones that suggested cook fires, and several larger ones that seemed to be bonfires just for the sake of the flames.

There was a common area at the center of the circle of cottages, and there the largest bonfire had been kindled inside what looked to be a stone circle set into the ground. There were tables all around the fire, and a fair number of Crites seemed to be moving about them. Derry got the impression that they were intent on putting together the evening meal. Some of the Crites stood before tables upon which provisions had been laid, and seemed busy cutting things up and putting them into large pots. Nearby them stood a stone hearth with a grate set into it, at which flames licked from below, and about which several other Crites moved, tending to the pots already upon the fire. Other Crites busied themselves at less obvious tasks, but which almost certainly were intended to contribute to the dinner at hand.

It was apparent immediately that the clothing worn by these Crites was different than the mummy-bandage robes worn by the ones they had seen passing through the tube station in Nyf's video. The clothing they could see below was loose and flowing, many-colored, bright and cheerful. The effect was one of harmony and contentment.

Derry's eyes moved to the other side of the fire, where a larger table stood, and at which five Crites sat, flanked by a number of other Crites holding spears. Before the table stood the six Sasparians they had seen earlier, whose leader even now seemed to be in heated conversation with the Crites, if the motions of his arms and the tense way the others held their spears were any indicator. The Crites at the table were set forward in their chairs in attentive postures, except for the center one, who was lounging back quite calmly, his hands laid casually upon the armrests of his chair. The Sasparian leader's intensity seemed not to affect him.

"I don't know what I'm seeing," Mike said then.

"It appears to be a meeting of some kind," Nyf supplied.

"Looks damn hostile to me. More like an argument."

"I can't tell the boys from the girls," Cally whispered. "The Crites all look alike."

"The Crites do not have two distinct sexes as does your kind," Nyf told him. "Their reproductive cycle is more complex. These you see below are all in a neuter state at the moment. But we can refer to them in the male gender, to make it easier."

Derry looked over at Cally, who shot him a disbelieving look. Neuter? Well, that just sucks, doesn't it?

Derry smiled at his boyfriend. "That probably makes life complicated."

"Not for the Crites," Nyf explained. "In their neuter state they can perform all tasks equally well, from rearing the young to fighting battles, if need be. It's actually very efficient for them."

"I don't see any young down there," Derry countered.

"They would be indoors while visitors are in the compound," Nyf decided. "In Crite culture during the empire days, the young were not given a voice in communal decisions until they reached their majority."

"Well that sounds sucky," Cally said, shaking his head. "And not very advanced, for star lords."

"Crite youth is marked by an intense exploratory, evolving learning experience. They grow to adulthood in half the time that your species takes, Cally. In that period they are subject to intense change that commands most of their ability to focus. Limiting their decision-making in communal affairs is only reasonable for the Crites."

Mike waved a hand at the scene below. "The Sasparians we see are all male?"

"Yes. The belligerent pose of the leader should make that apparent." This time the humor in Nyf's voice seemed clear.

Mike blinked, and then smiled. "I'm not sure, but I think our gender just got dissed a little."

"I'm sure," Derry said. "What about it, Nyf?"

"It was not meant to be an insult, Derry. But of empire races that fall into the two-gender, male-female category that also holds your own kind, the males tend to be the more aggressive of the two sexes. It would appear to be a trait that most two-gender races share in common."

"He does look mad," Derry agreed.

"Do not be deceived by the Sasparian leader's posture," Nyf countered. "His apparently aggressive stance is only designed to place emphasis on his words. The relaxed posture of the Crite leader would be more tense if a true dispute were underway."

"No matter," Mike said. "Wait...what's happening now?"

The relaxed Crite in the center had suddenly stood behind the table and extended both hands. Yet the agitated Sasparian leader looked completely unsurprised. He stood his spear against the edge of the table and also extended both arms. The two leaders grasped hands and shook firmly. The spear carriers on both sides relaxed a little then, and as the leaders released each other's hands, the Sasparian's entire demeanor seemed to change. He looked to be smiling now, or at least wore an expression that suggested a smile. The Crite also gave every appearance of being pleased, and the other Crites at the table sat back and placed their hands on the armrests of their chairs.

"That wasn't the ending I expected," Mike said, frowning. "That looks like an agreement of some kind."

"Better than a fight," Derry said.

"Probably. Oh, look...I think they're all going to eat together now."

More chairs were brought by other Crites and placed to the rear of the Sasparians. They pulled them forward and sat down, folding their wings behind them in a rather amazing fashion so that they stood up behind their backs like the sails on a Chinese junk. Square plates were brought to the table by other Crites, and placed before those seated there. The Crite leader held up his hands, said something, and then everyone at the table dived into their meals.

"Hey, this would be breakfast for the Crites, wouldn't it?" Cally asked then. "I just remembered they sleep during the day."

"The evening meal would be the first of their day, correct," Nyf answered. "For the Sasparians, this is probably the last meal of the day."

"They seem able to eat the same food," Derry pointed out.

"I can't be sure what they are eating," the artificial mind returned. "But warm-blooded oxygen-breathers have very similar nutritional requirements. And these people have had a millennium to adapt."

"They sure have healthy appetites," Mike remarked, smiling. "I wouldn't want to get my fingers near anyone just now."

Derry and Cally both laughed at that. "Think you'd get bitten?" Cally asked.

"I know it!" Mike turned the smile at them.

Derry sighed, pleased all over again that his granddad had decided to relent and join them in exploring the doorways. The man's experience and wisdom had proven valuable, and Derry was amazed at how much he had learned just by being with him on two ventures through the mysterious doors. There was also a feeling of security in their explorations now, which he had not felt when it had just been himself and Cally exploring on their own. That granddad would do his best to ensure their safety meant a great deal. Derry trusted Cally, and loved being with him, but neither of them had the experience to really be doing this on their own. Visiting alien worlds would certainly not be high up on his mom's list of allowable things to do. She'd be alarmed and furious if she found out. Had granddad decided against them continuing to explore, the mystery of the doors could have gone unsolved possibly forever.

"What do we do now?" Derry asked.

His granddad looked about their room, and gave a little shrug. "I'm for staying right here for the night. There's only the one door. Nyf, can that be locked?"

"Yes. You will find a small plate to the left of the doorway. Place your hand upon it until it lights, and the door will be locked."

Mike nodded, marched across the room, located the plate, and pressed his hand against it. It's border lit in an orange glow, and when Mike tried to go through the door, it did not open.

"Great. Now...were those fixtures we saw in that one room over there a bathroom, Nyf?"

"Yes. You should be able to use them just fine."

Derry laughed at that. "I don't know. We'll have to be careful sitting down. Whoever had these rooms before us must have had some pretty big butts."

"You will find that the fixtures will adjust themselves to the size of your butts, Derry."

Both boys laughed at that, while Mike just smiled and nodded at them. "Tell you what - I'll go first. If I start yellin', come a'runnin'!"

They all laughed at that, but using the alien facilities proved to be every bit as easy as Nyf had suggested.

"I feel better," Cally said happily, the last to return to the large room. He squatted next to Derry. "And ready for a rest, too."

Mike nodded. "Me, too. It would be nice if there was a bed here, but the floor will have to do. Boys, I'd say we get some grub from our packs, settle down and watch our new friends below for a while, and then get some sleep. We'll pick up where we left off tomorrow when the sun comes back."

"Okay to drop our head bubbles?" Derry asked.

"It will be safe to do so," Nyf answered.

They sat and tried to make themselves comfortable, and Derry found the floor beneath them surprisingly springy. It wasn't exactly soft, but it was also not in the least bit as unforgiving and hard as the wood floors would have been in his own house. They doffed their packs and got out some food and their canteens of water. They had expected to be gone from the transport station where Difris awaited them only a couple of days, and so had brought along a minimum of supplies. They each had enough for about twelve trail meals, which should easily cover that period of time, and then some.

Granddad had taken them to town before leaving home and helped select foods they could take with them, and Derry had frowned at some of the suggestions. But now he was hungry, and everything looked wonderful. They had packets of salmon jerky, packets of trail mix, granola bars, dried apple slices and almond butter to put on them, muffins made with yogurt and whole wheat flower, roasted chickpeas, dark chocolate squares, and small rice cakes made with peanut butter, dried cranberries, and coconut. The foodstuffs needed no refrigeration, were light to carry, and packed plenty of the nutrients they would need on their journey. Their canteens were the heaviest items they had packed, and each held enough water for two days without rationing. Refilling them in the bathroom before they moved on would extend that period by an extra day.

They each portioned out a meal on paper plates, and dived into them with just as much gusto as the aliens below had begun their own meals. Derry ate happily, smiling around his food as he watched Cally eat, and at the smiles he received in return. Granddad mostly had his eyes on the goings on below, but did occasionally look at them, and could not have failed to note the silent communications going on between the two boys. He looked untroubled by them, and though they had not yet talked about the boy's relationship, every signal Derry had received from his grandfather suggested that the man was aware of it and accepted it. But that they would need to talk about it more openly at some point, he knew. The idea of it still scared him, and he didn't mind at all waiting for it to happen.

The aliens below seemed in no hurry to finish their meals. The other tables had filled with more of the Crite diners, and while this seemed like a fairly organized village, the number of people present was not much more than one hundred. That led Derry to wonder how many people had been stranded on Rustgevend when the doors had stopped being used. Thousands? More?

He voiced the question to Nyf.

"There is no way to tell. Since the idea was to offer peace and relaxation, the villas were kept well apart. Most peaks had fewer than 200 villas on them. Talaspin development records list over four million mountains on this planet. Only about half of them provided enough land area for development, and only about half of them were in the planet's climatic comfort zone. And at the time the Armenti vanished, only about five percent of those peaks had been developed. The last records I can find indicate that just over two million villas had been built, worldwide. About sixty percent were inhabited at any given time. Given that villas were rented by individuals or small parties exclusively, I would estimate that the planetary population could have been no more than about one million at the time that door transport ended."

"That's a lot of people!" Cally exclaimed.

"Not for an entire planet," Mike responded. "Still, a thousand years is a fair amount of time. and we have no idea what the doubling rate would be for any of these races. We don't even know how long they live. But --" he gazed again at the small village below -- "it seems clear there is no population crunch, at least here. No vast populations warring for space. It's very possible this world is still only lightly populated. What's your opinion, Nyf?"

"I tend to agree with you. All empire races trapped here at the end of door travel would have been biologically enhanced with augments, just as you now are. Their lifespans would have been considerable. But there are no facilities here to maintain augment technology, and so children born here after the end of door travel would not be so equipped. Lifespans would have been shortened, maybe even halved. It makes it much harder to estimate the current population without knowing more about the factors governing life here in the interim."

They were quiet a moment, watching the diners below. "It's sad to think these people were suddenly stranded so far from home," Derry mused. "Away from family, and friends, and everything they knew. It must have been really hard for them to realize they could never get any of that back again."

"They may not have known that originally," Nyf told them. "Without knowing what happened with the Armenti and the doors, we can only guess. But the fact that they were stranded indefinitely may not have been apparent to them until later."

"It sucks either way," Cally decided. "I feel sorry for them."

"People survive," Mike said quietly. "They survive the hardest things. These people did, too."

Derry finished his meal, took a drink from his canteen, and then closed up his pack. "Are we going to keep watch tonight?"

"There is no need," Nyf put in quickly. "I will become aware of any danger as quickly as any of you, and wake you should it become necessary. I suggest you all sleep, so that you are fit for tomorrow's activities."

"I'll second that," Mike said, closing up his own pack and pushing it to the side. "I just hope that sleeping on the floor won't cripple me by morning." He smiled.

"There is no need to sleep on the floor," Nyf pointed out. "Simply lay yourselves out, instruct your suit to have the contragravity feature lift you several inches off the floor and keep you there until you say other wise."

Mike's eyebrows went up at that. "That won't run the batteries down, or something?"

Nyf laughed. "No. Even if you stayed that way for the rest of your years, no."

"Well, then." Mike laid down on his side, drew his legs up slightly, raised his head, and then closed his eyes. In a second he rose above the floor, and his eyes opened again above a smile. "Say, that's okay!"

Derry and Cally laughed at the look on the man's face, and immediately chose positions of their own facing each other and raised themselves above the floor. Again they felt like they were floating upon water, and Derry immediately knew he would have no trouble falling asleep like this. He grinned at his boyfriend, who looked just as delighted as Derry felt.

"See you in the morning, Cally. 'Night, Granddad."

"'Night, guys."

The last thing Derry did before closing his eyes was to pucker his lips and offer Cally a silent kiss. The other boy mimicked him, and they smiled at each other until sleep came and took them away.

Copyright © 2021 Geron Kees; All Rights Reserved.
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Toilets with adjustable butt seats eh? That should save the user going into a Tailaspin! 🙂 

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drpaladin

Posted (edited)

This answered the question about the suits ability to change color.

I've been wondering about a couple of things. Both Difris and Nyf are hyper-aware of their surroundings. I'd be surprised if they didn't know the nature of Derry and Cally's relationship. Nyf in particular, since he is always carried by one of them, probably senses changes in heart rate and breathing, not to mention all those signals between the two. Like most things with them, it hasn't needed to be mentioned, but I can imagine the red faces when it happens.

The other item is their ability to communicate privately. How private is it?

Edited by drpaladin
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1 hour ago, drpaladin said:

This answered the question about the suits ability to change color.

I've been wondering about a couple of things. Both Difris and Nyf are hyper-aware of their surroundings. I'd be surprised if they didn't know the nature of Derry and Cally's relationship. Nyf in particular, since he is always carried by one of them, probably senses changed in heart rate and breathing, not to mention all those signals between the two. Like most things with them, it hasn't needed to be mentioned, but I can imagine the red faced when it happens.

The other item is their ability to communicate privately. How private is it?

My guess would be that Difris and Nyf can listen in on all the messages Derry, Cally, and Mike send.  But it was established in the second Door tale that any of the three humans in the circuit can narrow their private messaging to only one of the other two humans, if they so wish.

What has not been officially established is the range.  In the last tale Difris told them that the built-in communicators had "considerable" range.  I am guessing some of that might depend on what types of obstructions are in-between two or more that are communicating.  It might also depend on what electromagnetic spectrum activity is happening at the same time.  I am also guessing that the suits could, in theory boost the range of the guys' communication systems.  What about that, @Geron Kees?

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1 hour ago, ReaderPaul said:

My guess would be that Difris and Nyf can listen in on all the messages Derry, Cally, and Mike send.  But it was established in the second Door tale that any of the three humans in the circuit can narrow their private messaging to only one of the other two humans, if they so wish.

What has not been officially established is the range.  In the last tale Difris told them that the built-in communicators had "considerable" range.  I am guessing some of that might depend on what types of obstructions are in-between two or more that are communicating.  It might also depend on what electromagnetic spectrum activity is happening at the same time.  I am also guessing that the suits could, in theory boost the range of the guys' communication systems.  What about that, @Geron Kees?

I guess it comes down to the AI's concepts of privacy and personal space. Considering Difris stripped the boys naked and examined them when he stunned and captured them and Nyf accompanies them to the bathroom, I'm inclined to say they have no boundaries.

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5 hours ago, Ivor Slipper said:

Toilets with adjustable butt seats eh? That should save the user going into a Tailaspin! 🙂 

I can always count on you to flush out the joke in something! :)

 

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4 hours ago, drpaladin said:

This answered the question about the suits ability to change color.

I've been wondering about a couple of things. Both Difris and Nyf are hyper-aware of their surroundings. I'd be surprised if they didn't know the nature of Derry and Cally's relationship. Nyf in particular, since he is always carried by one of them, probably senses changes in heart rate and breathing, not to mention all those signals between the two. Like most things with them, it hasn't needed to be mentioned, but I can imagine the red faces when it happens.

The other item is their ability to communicate privately. How private is it?

Difris and Nyf would certainly be aware of the closeness that Derry and Cally share. Nyf, especially, because he's right there when they're blowing kisses at each other.  But neither of the artificial intelligences would comment upon it because neither would consider it strange, and both would certainly consider it a private thing between the guys. As members of a culture comprised of hundreds (at the least) of different races and societies, Difris and Nyf would be aware of every sort of variation on sexuality that existed, which would have to be a bit broader in scope than we have here. They'd also be aware of any taboos regarding sex or talking about sex in the cultures of the empire, and consider what was going on between the two boys as not germane to the problem of what happened to the Armenti.

So short of either one of the guys mentioning it to Difris or Nyf, it is unlikely to come up. The two AIs may be curious, but the rules of their culture will dictate that curiosity take a back seat to privacy.

Maybe. :)

The guy's ability to communicate privately is just that. Encrypted, surely, and only directed at the ones they feel the are speaking to. Now, that doesn't mean that someone, somewhere cannot listen in. The Armenti and other species certainly had their own variations on the NSA. But for the purposes of the story at this point, let's say their communications are really private.

 

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2 hours ago, ReaderPaul said:

My guess would be that Difris and Nyf can listen in on all the messages Derry, Cally, and Mike send.  But it was established in the second Door tale that any of the three humans in the circuit can narrow their private messaging to only one of the other two humans, if they so wish.

What has not been officially established is the range.  In the last tale Difris told them that the built-in communicators had "considerable" range.  I am guessing some of that might depend on what types of obstructions are in-between two or more that are communicating.  It might also depend on what electromagnetic spectrum activity is happening at the same time.  I am also guessing that the suits could, in theory boost the range of the guys' communication systems.  What about that, @Geron Kees?

Difris and Nyf are included in any implant-borne communications so long as those communications are directed at everyone. Private talk between Derry and Cally is not open to be listened in on.

Range hasn't needed to come up in the story line yet, because everyone has pretty much stayed together. But assuming that even an average walkie talkie available today has a range of several miles, let's assume that a digital, encrypted signal emitted by an implant would have at least that. That's even assuming that they emit in the radio frequency range, which may or may not be the case. I'll have to think on it.

On any world that was reasonably civilized in the empire days, repeaters would have been everywhere, networking very complete. So one could literally interface with anyone on the same planet pretty much instantly. On any world where such tech was not available, communications would have been more limited. But that's as with any broadcast communications system.

Wearing the suits would certainly boost the range of communications, but only as a result of implant-to-suit-array communications that were then rebroadcast by the suit's com emitters. The suits would not enable the implants themselves to range any farther.

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53 minutes ago, drpaladin said:

I guess it comes down to the AI's concepts of privacy and personal space. Considering Difris stripped the boys naked and examined them when he stunned and captured them and Nyf accompanies them to the bathroom, I'm inclined to say they have no boundaries.

There you go. As with any good friend, you expect them to look, but not to tell. :)

 

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38 minutes ago, drpaladin said:

Geron,

Will the boys ever take Nyf home with them?

I think they should. Don't you? :)

 

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49 minutes ago, drpaladin said:

Geron,

Will the boys ever take Nyf home with them?

It'd be a nifty little thing to have.🙂

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10 minutes ago, Ivor Slipper said:

It'd be a nifty little thing to have.🙂

No one could talk about you in another language behind your back, anyway! 😄

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47 minutes ago, weinerdog said:

The Boys didn't know who George Carlin was? Now THAT'S tragic!!!

I really hate it when I'm in a conversation and have to explain who someone is or was in this age of petty celebrities who are famous merely for being famous.

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I would be in favor of Nyf visiting Earth.  If he attended French or Spanish class with them, however, he would be in the same situation of not having the language files available as he was with the somewhat monkey-like race on the starport moon.  However, he and the boys could learn either language more rapidly, since Nyf has a perfect memory.  The boys have the memory implants, so they could build vocabulary quickly as more words became available to them.

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4 hours ago, weinerdog said:

The Boys didn't know who George Carlin was? Now THAT'S tragic!!!

That was based on a real event that happened with my own son when he was a young teen. I saw Carlin in NYC when I was in my twenties, and I was relating that experience, and my son listened with great interest, and then shrugged and said, "Who's George Carlin?"

Kind of took the wind out of my sails. Carlin was already gone at that point, but I was able to pull up a few things on YouTube to show him.

He laughed at a some of it, but basically pronounced Carlin a little 'corny'. I then located a copy of the 'seven words you can't say on TV' and played it for him, and Carlin went WAY up in his estimation! :)

 

 

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3 hours ago, ReaderPaul said:

I would be in favor of Nyf visiting Earth.  If he attended French or Spanish class with them, however, he would be in the same situation of not having the language files available as he was with the somewhat monkey-like race on the starport moon.  However, he and the boys could learn either language more rapidly, since Nyf has a perfect memory.  The boys have the memory implants, so they could build vocabulary quickly as more words became available to them.

The guys could get a language dictionary for any language and Nyf could learn it while they slept. :)

 

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4 hours ago, drpaladin said:

I really hate it when I'm in a conversation and have to explain who someone is or was in this age of petty celebrities who are famous merely for being famous.

I have reached the age where I don't know a lot of 'stars' that are talked about on TV.  I remember my dad saying he didn't know who anyone was at the Oscars when he was my age, and now I see why. Stardom seems to be for the young. When someone in their fifties like me, or older, is talked about anymore, it's to announce that they're getting a lifetime achievement award of some kind. Hah! 😝

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32 minutes ago, Geron Kees said:

The guys could get a language dictionary for any language and Nyf could learn it while they slept. :)

So Nyf is able to read books by osmosis, reading the book when it is closed, without a sensor array?  And most non-English dictionaries I have seen include fewer examples of word usage, and more of a lexicon instead of examples of use, than do English dictionaries in this countries.  In the next chapter, Nyf could not tell as much of what was going on in the first few paragraphs because the visual sensor array of their exploration suits was line-of-sight.

Great story, Geron.

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32 minutes ago, Geron Kees said:

I have reached the age where I don't know a lot of 'stars' that are talked about on TV.  I remember my dad saying he didn't know who anyone was at the Oscars when he was my age, and now I see why. Stardom seems to be for the young. When someone in their fifties like me, or older, is talked about anymore, it's to announce that they're getting a lifetime achievement award of some kind. Hah! 😝

I vividly recall back in the 70's trying to explain to my aunt who Elton John was. Now I'm the one lost so I know exactly what you mean.

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8 hours ago, weinerdog said:

The Boys didn't know who George Carlin was? Now THAT'S tragic!!!

Confession  time - I don't know who George Carlin was either. 😕

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11 hours ago, ReaderPaul said:

So Nyf is able to read books by osmosis, reading the book when it is closed, without a sensor array?  And most non-English dictionaries I have seen include fewer examples of word usage, and more of a lexicon instead of examples of use, than do English dictionaries in this countries.  In the next chapter, Nyf could not tell as much of what was going on in the first few paragraphs because the visual sensor array of their exploration suits was line-of-sight.

Great story, Geron.

I was referring to a computerized language reference. Hell, Derry could plug Nyf into the Internet and Nyf could suck down everything Google Translate has online in  a few minutes time. It's not like Google security could baffle an Armenti AI! 😈

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11 hours ago, drpaladin said:

I vividly recall back in the 70's trying to explain to my aunt who Elton John was. Now I'm the one lost so I know exactly what you mean.

Elton WHO??? :)

Yeah, I'm kidding.

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Geron Kees

Posted (edited)

9 hours ago, Ivor Slipper said:

Confession  time - I don't know who George Carlin was either. 😕

But that's because you're British, not because you're too young! :)

Carlin was a distinctly American comedian, popular in the seventies and eighties mostly, though he kept right on going until the day he died in 2008, I think it was.

I'd be willing to bet that most young Americans wouldn't have a clue who Benny Hill was, either.

Edited by Geron Kees
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