End of Summer Reading Bash

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Aloha – Summer is winding down, but science fiction never ends.  This weekend I’ll be running an end of summer celebration with a giveaway of all five of the Orion’s Spur books that are available on Amazon.  When to get your free copy?

Friday – Volume 1  Demeter

Saturday – Volume 2 Return to Demeter

Sunday – Volume 3 Defending Demeter

Monday – Volume 4 Haumeah

Tuesday Volume 5 (and end of the series) End Game

I’d love your reviews, but no obligation.  Enjoy the reading marathon as summer winds down.

 

Doc

 

 

Project Lilliput – Chapter 4

We’re back with giant cockroaches, birds and snakes?   Chapters 1-3 are available in the blog archives.  Enjoy Chapter 4

Chapter 4 Live and Learn

Things were quiet for nearly an hour after Tony lost contact with the hospital at Springfield Four.  After eating something, people’s nerves seemed to calm, and quiet chatting, turning to jokes and even some teasing.  Eric could hear laughter through the cabin door to the break area on the second deck.  Then things grew extraordinarily quiet; so much, so that Eric decided he had better find out what was going on.

No one was on Deck Two, so he started to descend to Deck One.

Coul appeared at his side before Eric was half way down the stairs.  “Someone is trying to get in,” he half whispered.

“Someone?” Eric looked puzzled.

“We think someone from the roof must have come down and is now trying to get aboard the copter.  We’re trying to figure out how to manually open the door,” Coul’s voice rose in excitement.

“Are you nuts?” Eric responded loud enough that several people who had gathered around the egress turned toward him briefly, but quickly turned back to where they had attached an emergency crank to racket open the exit door.

“What are you doing?” Eric called to the crowd that bunched around the door.  Even as he spoke, he knew he was too late as his ears popped as the air pressure adjusted to the exterior.  “Close the door!” he screamed.

Black, rope like tendrils sprang through the half-opened doorway.  A hairy cockroach leg as wide as Eric’s upper arm pressed through the opening knocking students across the room.  Several students screamed, while others seemed in shock.  Tony who had been cranking open the lock recovered quickly with the metal crank still in his right hand.  He closed on the flailing legs swinging the crank like a weapon.

Eric looked around the room for something, anything to use and settled on a backpack with a pink bunny emblazoned on the back.  Within a moment, he was next to Tony swinging with all his might at the legs.  Fortunately, the portal was too small for the cockroach to gain entry to the cabin.  “Whose bright idea was this?” He huffed as he took another swing at the snakelike legs.

“We heard scratching,” Tony replied, but then was too busy striking back and forth between two legs to speak further.

Eric took another swing, but could see his efforts were futile.  He dropped the backpack and looked for something else to use.  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a chair flying down the steps from the upper deck break area; this was quickly followed by a second and a third.  That could work; he thought as he ran over and grabbed the bottom chair.  Looking up, Eric saw Kim weaving down the stairs.  “Good idea,” he called.

By the time he got back to the opening Kim was by his side, shoving the metal base of the chair at the now oozing legs of the cockroach.  For the next several minutes they shoved, and pushed, and beat the dangling legs with the chairs.  The third chair soon joined the battle with Tony continuing to swing his modified battle-axe at the cockroach legs.  First one, then two legs were forced out the entry.  The third and fourth legs departed simultaneously.  Eric dropped his chair and rolled to the door shoving it closed with his legs.

Lying on his back, Eric looked over at Tony, whose arms were lacerated from the struggle with the cockroach, “What were you thinking?”

Tony dropped the metal bar he had been using.  It fell to the floor with a loud clank.  “There was scratching outside the door,” he grimaced as he slid to the floor.  “We thought it might be survivals from the roof.”

“You think the snack bar personnel climbed down a vertical wall from the roof?” Eric mused.  “Why would they do that?”  Eric worked to keep from voicing the anger that was welling up inside him, “And scratching?  Haven’t you ever been outside the city?  It was the first thing I thought of.”

“No,” Tony responded quietly.

“Moron!”  Kim accused, as she set her goo-covered chair down.

“Knock it off,” Eric snapped at Kim.

Kim shrugged, turned, and walked briskly back up to Deck Two.  “You’re all a bunch of morons,” she growled as she two-stepped back up the stairway.

Tony looked over at Eric who had slide back into a sitting position next to him.  “Thanks,” he muttered.  “And, no, I’d never been outside of Provo parish before we made this trip.”

“We live and learn,” Eric shrugged, smiling sardonically.  “It could have been worse.  You could have let a cloud dragon in.  You don’t want to get caught on the ground with cockroaches.  They’re nasty scavengers.  They’ll eat anyone and anything.  They wiped out a whole herd of cattle just south of Springfield Two a couple of summers back… they also seem to find join in scraping at doors and objects that might have food inside… just so you know.”

Things remained quiet on the inside after the cockroach incident, although the scratching outside the copter not only continued but also escalated.  The scratching began to get on the nerves of several of the students.  Chanel was clinging to Tony, and Eric noted that Kviiiy was glaring toward the corner where the couple sat.   Student reaction ranged from angry to terrified.  Eric finally retreated to the cockpit of the craft.

“You sure you should go back in there?” he heard a voice call.

“Why not Kim?” Eric called over his shoulder.

“They,” she pointed downstairs, “seem focused on self-destruction.  They need someone to keep an eye on them.”

“Good point,” Eric growled.  “Keep an eye on them,” and he shut the door behind him.

They had been on the ground two hours and one minute when a loud knock came on the door of the cockpit.

Eric opened his eyes, turned and opened the door to be greeted by Bernie and a mix of half a dozen boys and girls from their class.  “Well?” Bernie challenged.

“Well what?” Eric asked quietly.

“Well, what now?” Bernie challenged.  “You said to wait two hours.  It’s been two hours.”

“I said the storm warning was for two hours,” Eric replied in a matter-of-fact tone.  “I did not say that everything would be fixed in two hours.  It might be several hours before all systems are back up and running.  I’ll try the radio every fifteen minutes, but there isn’t much else for us to do?”

“You said two hours,” Bernie’s fists clenched.  “Do something.”

Eric knew better than to stand up, instead he leaned back in the chair that was now facing Bernie and company and asked, “What would you like me to do Bernie?”

“Fix it,” Bernie demanded.

“Fix what Bernie?  The radio is in good working order, I’ve checked.  We have to wait for a signal.  I imagine when we get a signal; the flight tower will have someone bring the copter back to Springfield.”  He shrugged, and turned his chair back to face forward.

The chair swiveled back around catching Eric off-guard.  Bernie, holding the top of the chair back moved his face within a few inches of Eric’s face and growled, “Some of us have to go to the bathroom, and we can’t go outside obviously.”

The tourist copter did not have facilities on board, hence the stop on the roof of the Wyndham for a potty break.  Eric was beginning to understand the consternation of Bernie’s mob.  “Bernie, there is nothing…” Eric paused.  “Give me a few minutes and I’ll see what I can do.”

Bernie hesitated, and Eric took advantage.  “Meanwhile, get out the cockpit, and I mean now,” Eric used a command voice he was not used to.  He realized anything less would not achieve his desired outcome.

Bernie stepped back.  “Okay, but you better have an answer in five minutes.”

Great!  Eric thought as he closed the door to the cockpit.  I’m supposed to solve this is five minutes.  “Next he’ll want me to create teleportation,” he muttered.  Eric stared out the window for a moment, then began studying the controls.  “There has to be a manual around here somewhere,” he reflected aloud.

It was not five, but thirty minutes later that an announcement came over the intercom, “This is Eric.  We’ll be lifting off in two minutes, secure Mr. Dewquist and fasten your seat belts.”  As promised, two minutes later the rotors of the copter began to turn and shortly the copter began to lift off the floor of the Wyndham.

Eric had flown a copter a couple of times under close supervision when he had been working on his license.  The accident had ended all that.  Now without a flight instructor at his side, he moved the controls awkwardly, and the copter responded to his lack of confidence by bucking and wobbling in protest.  Still he managed to get a reasonable amount of stability as he moved the craft toward the broken windows of the old hotel.  His heart raced as he worried about what would happen to the craft as it hit less stable air.

Other than his own timidity, nothing happened.  The craft continued to bobble as it exited the building, but the skies were still and crystal clear.  Eric could see new debris scattered about.  Several large branches and several trees were on the ground.

Eric shifted controls and the copter gradually rose to the top of the thirty-story building.  As his confidence grew so did the stability of the craft.  His plan was simply to get everyone to the top of the Wyndham where they could wait for an all clear from Springfield Central.  He realized that it might be several hours before the city contacted them if their communications towers was damaged, and he was certain that he would have open rebellion long before that.

Eric drew in a breath when he got to the top of the Wyndham.  The roof itself was intact, but the refreshment area was a mess.  The netting that protected the common area was in tatters, and the snack shack stood, but was severely damaged.  Rather than landing on the marked helipad, he moved to a point half way between the snack shack and the restrooms and brought the copter down with a thud.  As the rotors came to a stop he considered just using the intercom, then thought better of it and rose out of the pilot’s chair.

His fellow students were looking out the window, with some looking expectantly at the intercom speakers thinking that they would come to life and tell them what to do.  When they saw Eric, the speaker watchers turned catching the attention of most of the rest of the class.

Eric sat down on the second step and waited for them to quiet down.  As the mumbling stopped, he sighed and started, “We still have not heard from Springfield Central, and I don’t think we will for several hours.  Some of you may have noticed the new damage around the city when we exited the building.”  He saw a few heads nodding, and continued.  We are on the roof of the Wyndham.  It is a mess.  It looks like the restrooms are intact, but the protective netting is all torn up.  I’m not sure how safe it is to go outside.  I don’t see any cloud dragons on the roof right now, but that doesn’t mean they’re not circling overhead looking for a snack.  We have one laser fitted on top of the copter which is operational, and can be controlled manually from the cockpit, but …” he paused.

“How did they get us to the roof if Springfield Central is still down,” Bernie piped up.  “Let’s just have them fly us back now.”

“Springfield Central did not fly us to the roof, I did,” Eric snapped at Bernie in a harsher tone than he had intended.

He noticed Coul visibly edging toward him from the group, while several of his classmates began talking to each other.

“Then fly us back to Springfield,” Bernie’s voice rose from the din.

“I might be able to do that,” Eric’s voice rose, “If I knew how to get there.  Do you?”

“It’s south of here,” Kviiiys voice could be heard from the quieted room.

“Kviiiy you’re right.  I can even remember some of the landmarks, but I really don’t have a setting to go by to get us back, and we don’t have unlimited fuel to just go hunting for the parish.”  He paused again to let the implications set in.  Running out of fuel in the forest could leave them lost forever, if the cloud dragons didn’t find them first.

“I need a volunteer with shooting skills to man the laser.  I’m guessing that’s you Tony.” Eric’s voice rose again.  “Then we can make a restroom sprint, and maybe raid the snack shack.”

“Ah, I’ve never fired a laser,” Tony admitted.

“Anyone have any experience with lasers?” Eric had an empty feeling in his stomach.

The room remained silent for a full minute, when a voice filled with sarcasm rose from a corner of the cabin, “Geez you guys are useless.  I can do it,” she marched through the cabin and back up the stairs past Eric.

Eric stood after Kim passed, “Okay, give us five minutes to get everything ready.  I’ll set the doors to open automatically.  When they do, you should run, not walk, to the restrooms.  I need some volunteers to raid the snack shack.  I would recommend letting those volunteers use the restroom first,” he smile sardonically.  The doors will close as soon as the last person is out.  We’ll reopen the doors in ten minutes to let everyone back aboard.  Any questions?”  He waited, and as none came, he turned and walked back up the two steps to the upper deck.

Kim was sitting in the co-pilot chair when Eric returned to the cockpit.  “So how does this work?” She asked coldly.

“You don’t know how to fire a laser?” The empty feeling in Eric’s stomach returned.

“It can’t be that hard,” Kim grew defensive.  “I fired handheld lasers in Sante Fe.  Everyone did.  However, I have not used a laser cannon before.  I just need to figure out the firing mechanism on this thing.”

“This isn’t funny,” Eric growled.

“I didn’t say it was,” Kim spat back.  “How do you turn this thing on?”

Five minutes later, the doors opened, and two dozen firstlings and a teacher ran out the door in a body.  Fortunately, no one was trampled as they raced inside to the relative protection of the rest rooms.

Eric watched furtively from the cockpit for any signs of cloud dragons, but the clear blue sky was devoid of the winged creatures.  Kimberly watched through the targeting screen and stayed focused on the restrooms and the space between there and the snack shack.  A couple of minutes later, Tony and three others, including Kviiiy and Coul made a break for the snack shack.  As soon as Tony and his party started their race back to the ship, Eric hit the button that opened the main ingress into the ship.  The last person entered the ship at a sprint twelve minutes after the doors had opened.  “Boy that has to be a record,” Eric laughed nervously.

“Don’t you need to go?” Kim stayed focus on the targeting system.

“I’ll use a cup,” Eric smiled.  “What about you?”

“I’ll figure something out when the time comes,” she sat back in her chair.  “I found that I could hold it in for two days in Sante Fe, when I really needed to.”

“Sounds like a record,” Eric tried to lighten a conversation that had suddenly turned serious.

“It probably wouldn’t count,” she closed her eyes briefly, “I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink for two days either.”  She reopened her eyes.  “I’m glad the birds didn’t come.  I have enough nightmares already,”

Project Lilliput – Chapter 3

Finished a first proofreading of chapter 3.  Feel free to catch the first two chapters in the archives.

Chapter 3  Why Me?

The cockpit had two empty seats with standard flight controls that Eric had worked with in simulations before.  He sat down in the co-pilot’s seat and stared blankly out the front window of the craft.  Where’s the crew? He wondered.  The radio crackled to life again as the chimes forewarned an announcement.  “This is your Captain.  The Illinois Weather System is advising that we have tornados touching down in the region.  We anticipate that we will remain grounded here for the next two hours.”

There is no pilot, Eric thought.  Then realized that there was a pilot, but the pilot was probably sitting in Springfield Central flying the drone remote.  He stared off at the shadowy surroundings of the Wyndham that was darkening by the moment.  His face shifted from confused to determined as he put the headset of the radio on and called out, “Springfield Central, this is stranded copter…” what is the number?  He paused then tried again, “Springfield Central, this is a passenger aboard the stranded copter in Old Springfield.  Is there anyone there?”

A few minutes later, Eric descended to the main cabin.  “There is a first aid kit under seat one.  There is no medic on board, but I have a connection with the hospital at Springfield Four.  Kviiiy, grab the first aid kit.  Who knows first aid?”

The room was silent for nearly ten seconds before Tony spoke up, “I guess it’s me then.  I earned the first aid and lifesaving merit badges and went to CPR training when I was a Boy Scout.  I think I can remember most of it.”

The patch to the hospital helped a lot although they were still advising blind.  The first order of business was Mr. Dewquist.  He was still unconscious.  After checking to make sure the air passageway was not blocked, they moved him on his side and tilted his head back.  Eric found the emergency blankets and they made their teacher as comfortable as they could.  One classmate had a broken arm, three others appeared to have severe sprains, but without X-rays, there was no way to determine whether they had broken any bones.  The remainder of the injuries were limited to bumps and bruises.

Tony was just finishing up with the last of the injuries when he looked up and over to Eric.  “Hey, looks like we lost the connection.  See if you can get them back.  Mr. Dewquist does not look good and I want to see if there is anything else we can do.”

Eric two-stepped back to the cockpit and tried to reconnect with the hospital, then with Springfield Central, but only got static.  He tried alternate channels without success.

Half way down the steps to the main cabin he called over to Tony, “We’re out of luck.  I can’t raise anyone.” As soon as he said it, he realized he had made a mistake.

The room broke into chaos.  It was difficult to make out whether the crying or yelling was the more obnoxious.  The loudest voice was that of Bernard Parker, who went by Bernie.  “What are we going to do?  We’ve got to get out of here.”  His voice seemed to reflect the disposition of most of Eric’s classmates.  Miss Jackson was not any better than the rest, as she started clawing at the door of the exit.

“Pipe down,” a loud female voice overpowered the din.  As if by magic the cabin quieted.  Kim Santibanez looked up at Eric and continued, “What do we do Eric?” maintaining a firm and loud voice of command.

Two dozen pairs of eyes, including those of Miss Jackson turned expectantly toward Eric.

Eric’s first thought was to turn and run back up the staircase, go into the cockpit and slam the door shut.  His second thought was, what would dad do?  In a flash, he knew that what he said next would shift the room to panic or calm.  “We sit down and stay quiet.  Kviiiy.  You, Chanel and Coul go upstairs and get some food and drinks.  The craft has supplies in the cabinet market Emergency Only.  It was remotely unlocked when I spoke with Springfield Central earlier.”  He took a deep breath and added, “We’ll wait here for two hours for the storm warning to pass, and then we’ll see.  I’m sure that the storm has something to do with our losing communication with Springfield.  It might take a while to get everything back up and running.  Meanwhile let’s just stay calm.  Did anyone bring any card games?”  He turned and climbed back up the stairs.  He walked into the cockpit and closed the door.

Sitting in the chair, he started to panic.  Why me?  I don’t know anything about anything.  I’m just a messenger.  He knocked his head on the console three times, and then stared out into the darkness.  Tony will take over if there’s a problem.  I won’t have to worry about it.  Mr. Dewquist will wake up in a few minutes.  Miss Jackson… he paused and knocked his head on the console two more times.  “They’ll get the radio back up after the storm and everything will be all right,” he said aloud in a soft voice.  Finally, he leaned back in the chair staring at the ceiling.

A soft rap came on the door, and it opened slowly flooding in light from the common area of the second deck.  “Can I come in?”

“I guess so,” Eric muttered.

Kimberly Santibanez, or Kim, came into the cockpit closing the door behind her.  She sat down in the pilot’s seat and stared at Eric.  “Are you afraid?” she said in her ever matter-of-fact voice.

Eric hesitated and looked away.  His mind immediately brought back a vivid vision of that day four years earlier.  He could feel the talons of the Cloud Dragon… the kestrel tearing through his clothing into his back.  He could feel himself being lifted off the ground.  Then he came back to the present shaking his head, “Afraid?  I suppose so.  I’m afraid of lots of stuff.”

“Well don’t let it show,” Kim continued to look hard at Eric.

Kimberly Santibanez had actually moved from Sante Fe Central to her Aunt and Uncle’s home in Provo Five.  Sante Fe had been in the news for over two weeks following the snake attack that had decimated the entire parish.   Over two hundred thousand people had lost their lives in the nightmarish week that had followed the Invasion of the Serpents, as the media had labeled it.  Kim had lost her entire family including parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  Only she and her eight-year-old sister had survived from their entire family in Sante Fe.  The snakes were eventually destroyed by air strikes from a joint assault by the Parish Air Guards of Albuquerque, Pueblo, and Amarillo.  Survivors had been shuttled by train and airlift to Albuquerque, and then redistributed to new homes across the country.  Kim and her sister had been lucky as they actually had extended family members where they could be taken in.

Looking back at Kim, Eric grew reflective, “Why me?  Why not Tony?”

Kim softened for a moment, and then her dark brown eyes grew hard again, “Tony is a nice guy.  But nice guys don’t always make the best decisions.  They don’t know how to sacrifice.  Our mayor was a nice guy in Sante Fe, but when the time came, he couldn’t bring himself to make hard decisions.”

“Tony’s not like that,” Eric countered.  “He’s a good leader.”

“And popular,” Kim growled.  “If this isn’t a two hour problem,” she paused for effect, “We don’t need popular, we need someone who doesn’t need to be popular.  You’re smart.  I think you could make a hard decision if you had to.”

“So you,” Eric stared at Kim, “decided to put me in the frying pan.”

“Lousy metaphor, but yes.” She folded her arms and sat back defiantly.  “I think you can get us out of here if it’s necessary; maybe it won’t be.  Maybe you can go back to being afraid of everything.  But for now I think you’re our best bet.”

Eric looked at Kim trying to get a different perspective than the tough kid from Sante Fe.  She was almost his height, but slender.  She had long black hair pulled back in a tight braid.  She wore faded jeans a black spaghetti strapped shirt that was she covered with her faded jean jacket.  Her face could be pretty, but it was masked by her perpetual tough guy persona.  “Why not you?” Eric finally voiced what he was thinking.

“I don’t know anybody.  I’m the outsider here,” she relaxed further into the pilot’s chair.  “People are afraid of me, but they don’t know me.  They really don’t know if I’d take them off a cliff or to my secret hideout where they would all be killed by my nasty gang of Chicas.”

Eric cringed.  He had heard the rumors about Kim and a gang of vandals in the city, but had never seen evidence of anything including vandalism.  He remembered someone… Chanel… making a comment about it in passing once.  Finally, he smiled, “Maybe a gang of Chicas is just what we need,”

Kim snorted through her nose, and her eyes got teary for a moment, “Don’t make me laugh.  I didn’t think you had a sense of humor?”

Eric smiled.  He used to joke around a lot he remembered… but not since the incident.  “Who said I was joking,” he smiled again.

 

 

Project Lilliput – Chapter 2

Chapter 2  Springfield Central

Eric’s class was on a week-long field trip from Provo Central in Utah to Cape Canaveral in Florida to observe the launch of Lunar Base V.  On the way they had a one day stopover in Springfield Central, the hub of the nine cities of Springfield.  Springfield parish, which comprised all nine cities of Springfield was just south of old Springfield, the former capital of the state of Illinois.  The train slowed as it passed the outskirts of the old city.  The skyline was intact and looked like self-contained mountains in the distance.

“How big do you think those buildings are?” Kviiiy asked as they drew closer to the edge of old Springfield.

“It’s hard to imagine,” Eric exhaled slowly.  “Mr. Simms, our history teacher said that a floor of one of those buildings was often 25,000 square feet or even larger.”

“Wow, just one floor is as big as Provo Central?” Kviiiy squinted as she stared at the skyline of the old city.

“Provo 2 or 3 yes, but Provo Central is a little more than twice that size,” Eric likewise stared at the skyline.  “And that has a population of just under 100,000 people.  Three of their city blocks would take up the same space as Provo Central, the eight other cities of the parish, and all the farmland to support us.”

“That’s amazing,” Kviiiy exhaled slowly and looked away.  “And we get to see the old city tomorrow?”

“That’s the plan,” Eric nodded.

“I hope we’re not walking,” Kviiiy frowned.

Eric leaned back thoughtfully, “I wonder if Dr. Lambert will be able to walk again.  He looked pretty chewed up.”

“Well, it would serve him right,” Kviiiy scowled.

“I don’t know,” Eric grew serious, “Without him we all might be dead by now.”

Thirty-six years earlier, Dr. Joseph Lambert, fresh out of MIT graduate school, ran across classified computer records about animal miniaturization.  He wrote a grant, and began expanding on the research and within five years had successfully tested the process on more than a dozen varieties of animals.  The evidence was pointing to the ability to shrink the subjects with no ill side effects, after the initial 72 hours of implementing the protocol.  Twenty years later, on August 23rd, worldwide gassing, approved by the United Nations, and most of the free nations of the world, resulted in the global miniaturization of all animal life on the planet; correction… miniaturization of almost all animal life on the planet.  The process worked perfectly on all mammals.  However, the longitudinal impact on some species and sub-species had either been temporary, or had not worked at all.   The Aves class of animals, or birds experienced temporary impact on various species that did not remain in subsequent generations.  The result was also temporary on some varieties of amphibians and reptiles.  And for some reason, the technique failed completed with one insect group:  cockroaches.

Cockroaches were a giant menace to the new world order, but the return of the birds of prey, such as eagles, kites, falcons, owls, and hawks, had been devastating to families, and even some underprepared cities.  Children born after the Transition referred to the birds as Cloud Dragons.  Reptiles were another matter, as several cities had been decimated by isolated cases of snake attack.

As a result, Dr. Lambert was considered a hero by those who studied the histories, and remembered the famines, wars, and terrorism that preceded and caused the approval of the dramatic action taken.  Meanwhile, families who had lost relatives to animal attacks considered Lambert a monster.

The lights of the train flashed, and Eric sat up securing his backpack.  “I wonder if Springfield Central will be much different than Provo Central.”

Springfield Central was a hub for the rapid transit system going to the eastern states.  From the platform where they exited Eric and his classmates could see several lines or tubes that were concentrated in this location.  “Well, that’s one difference, Eric turned to Kviiiy, who was towing three suitcases, we only have two transit tubes in Provo.

“Provo Five gather round,” a deep voice rumbled.

Everyone in their group groaned.  Mr. Dewquist of the science department was their sponsor and lead chaperone.  He was a short, round, balding man in his 40s.  He had conveniently disappeared to the front car of the train with Miss Jackson, a new teacher who reminded Eric of an adult version of Chanel.  Eric had nearly forgotten that the teachers were even on the trip with them.

“We’re staying at the Spoon River Suites,” Mr. Dewquist announced with a voice of authority.  Dinner is at six o’clock sharp at the hotel, so don’t be late.  The hotel is the first stop off the red line, so don’t get distracted and miss the step off.  I’ll lead, and Miss Jackson,” he paused to smile in her direction, “will bring up the rear.  Any questions?”

Like Provo Central, the city was served by high speed walkways.  The system was set up on a three parallel track system.  The outer track was slow moving and fairly easy to get on and off.  The middle track moved at a higher pace, about jogging speed, and the inner track moved at a sprinting pace.  Moving on and off, or between tracks was fairly easy as long as you paid attention.  Like Provo Central, the transit map indicated eight lines, all merging on the intercity hub, and three belt lines that circled the city in six city block increments.

Spoon River Suites looked much like the Timpanogos Suites in Provo.  It was a two story white building just off the exit.  It bore the same white plastic exterior as all the buildings in Provo.  This was not an accident.  Worldwide construction prior to the Transition had built infrastructure for 10 billion people in the form of over a quarter million cities.  Cities were grouped in constructs for 25,000 people enumerated one through eight, with a city construct for 100,000 people designated as central.  A group of cities for 300,000 people was termed parishes in the United States.  The entire area for a parish was between one and two square mile depending on the required agricultural area needed to support the population.  The project of creating 35,000 parishes around the globe resulted in a cookie cutter approach to designing the cities and parishes.

“Want to go for a swim after dinner?” Kviiiy asked Eric as they approached the front lobby of the hotel.

“I’m beat,” Eric replied honestly.  “Why did you bring so much stuff anyway?” he pointed with his eyes at Kviiiy’s three suitcases.

“Bait,” she smiled.  “Come on, I need your help.  I overheard that Tony and his trolls are going to the pool after supper,” she pouted convincingly.

“Why do I feel like a tool in your evil plot,” Eric sighed.  “Okay, I’ll tag along if you don’t try to dunk me.  I’m good for a lounge chair at best.”

Eric skipped the hamburgers that most of his classmates were locked into, and tried the local favorite, a pork tenderloin sandwich.  He liked the combination of meat and grease.  He was also happy that he decided to join the group at the pool.  Springfield was experiencing a heat wave.  The temperature was only 89 degrees, which was a lot cooler than Provo this time of year.  But the humidity was so thick that he could barely breathe.  Despite the heat he left on a black tee-shirt with his swim trunks.   He decided that dunking Kviiiy in the pool was better than a lounge chair.

The next morning the class met in the lobby for the tour of Old Springfield.  For the trip Mr. Dewquist had chartered a two-deck copter.  It was a tourist model with seats paired up with the windows of the circular cabin that had room for forty passengers on the lower deck.  The upper deck had a snack bar and a closed off navigation room.

Eric had taken copter lessons before the incident, but had not been in a copter since and had some trepidation about going on the sightseeing day trip.  His fear wasn’t of flying, but of the cloud dragons or birds.  Illinois was along the migratory route of the massive ducks and geese.  In turn it was home to thousands of predatory birds.

As the copter lifted off, Eric saw the central park, which was covered in shaded glass to protect individuals from aerial attacks.  The copter soon rose above the four towers representing north, south, east and west at the edge of the circular city construct.  As they rose higher the ivory white color of the circular city stood out brightly against the lush green vegetation that surrounded the city looking like some medieval castle.

Cultivated fields of corn and soybeans grew in rows that were tended by robotic farm units that rose like giants moving slowly across the fields.  On the horizon, perhaps a quarter mile away, Ryder could spot two, then three of the seven satellite cities that made up Springfield parish.  Beyond the fields rose a tangled forest of oak trees and underbrush that were kept at bay by more robotic field units.

“Sure is green,” Kviiiy commented from the next seat over.

“Yeah, it’s a lot prettier than the brown and red dirt with the greenish blue sagebrush of home,” Eric sighed.  But it sure is sticky out here.  I guess it’s all the humidity that keeps it so green.  I’m not sure if I’d trade the dry air just to get this much green, but its’ a close call.”

In the distance, they could see the ribbon of one of the many small rivers that were common in the region.  Beyond the river rose the decaying towers of Old Springfield.  “I understand that Old Chicago is even bigger than this,” Kviiiy replied in awe as they approached the outer neighborhoods of the city.  Roofs of homes were collapsing, ancient vehicles were rusting, roads and sidewalks were breaking up with the cracks filled with weeds.  One entire neighborhood looked like it had been hit by some sort of bomb with buildings collapsed and dead trees scattered about like toppled toys.

The recorded narration and laser pointers helped identify the old rail lines and a derelict diesel powered train engine and cars.  The copter flew in close to the massive engine, and disturbed a murder of crows.  A couple of the crows came within a few feet of the copter as it hovered and Eric almost jumped out of his seat.  The crows moved on and settled further down the rail line.

The copter continued its pattern pointing out office buildings, restaurants, and a car dealership with over a hundred cars sitting in a giant parking lot.  It moved on to the first of two stops, the Wyndham.  The Wyndham was the tallest building still standing in Springfield rising 352 feet in the air.  The recording pointed out that by way of comparison to the pre-transition people, the Wyndham would have had to shoot two miles into the air to give a comparable affect.  This drew ooohs and aaahs from the students.

The copter flew through the lobby and in and out of the building through large broken windows.  Finally, it settled on the roof of the aging structure.  “Fifteen minutes,” the canned narration paused.  “Follow the yellow line for restrooms and snacks.  The view area is just beyond the snack shack.”

The walkway was covered with bird-resistant netting.  The snacks were expensive and bland.  Eric was hesitant, but eventually moved to the view area.  “It’s pretty much the same view as inside the copter,” he complained to Kviiiy.

Tony joined them with a fast melting ice cream cone, “Still nice to be standing here.  I almost feel like I’m watching it on television when we’re in the copter.”

“Suits me,” Eric continued.  It’s hot and muggy out here.  I feel like it’s raining inside my clothes.”

“Hey look over there,” Kviiiy pointed.

Tony joined her, “What are you looking at?”

“The sky,” Kviiiy smiled.  “Have you ever seen a green sky before?”

Eric, Coul, and Chanel joined them, “I don’t see anything,” Chanel frowned.

“It’s different,” Eric supported Kviiiy’s claim.  “It is sort of blue, but sort of green too.”

“Yeah, I see it,” Coul agreed, but was looking west rather than south.

“That way,” Eric whispered.

“Oh yeah,” Coul looked perplexed but continued his affirmation.

A loud bell sounded scattering some birds resting on a corner of the building and spooking Eric.  “I guess we better get back if we don’t want to get left behind,” he turned and started walking back down the yellow marked path.

The final stop on the tour, and the one many of the students had been excited about, was the zip line tour inside the former State Capitol building.  The building infrastructure was still intact despite sixteen years of abandonment.  The zipline tour started on the third floor and descended at a gentle slope that provided an up close view of the stained glass centerpiece of the capitol building.  The plaster friezes were showing some cracks, but otherwise stood intact.  Periodically the cable carried the passengers through open areas, which made Eric nervous, but he did not see any birds inside the rotunda.  His eyes caught glimpses of movement along the floor far below, most likely cockroaches that now infested all the abandoned cities.

They were still several minutes from the end of the tour when the recall bell sounded from the copter.  Trying to push forward more rapidly, Coul somehow managed to jam his pulley, blocking the progress of the rest of the class.  Dangling, Coul kept taking swipes toward the cable, but could not get a firm grip on anything, making matters worse.  Eric was stuck behind three other classmates who were starting to panic.

Tony had moved on ahead oblivious to the problem until he heard some of his classmates yelling.  Turning he saw the dilemma and worked his way back up the cable to where Coul was dangling.  “Calm down,” he commanded, and Coul finally relaxed enough that Tony, with longer arms, was able to reach the jam and tease it loose.  The process had taken nearly half an hour, and the constant ringing of the recall bell was getting on everyone’s nerves as they worked their way to the final platform.

“What’s going on?” Eric was probably the fifth or sixth student to ask Mr. Dewquist, as he was motioned quickly to his seat.

“Tornado alert,” Miss Jackson tried to smile, but it just further exposed her worry lines.

Eric had barely taken his seat when the copter lifted off the shelf where it picked up the last of the class members.  It raced across the breadth of the rotunda to where a narrow panel opened electronically to allow their escape from the building.  As soon as the vehicle hit the exterior it started bouncing around with air turbulence.    Strong gusts of wind lifted the vehicle skyward, and then sheer winds drove it back down, all as the copter jerked left and right.  A seat belt light came on, but it was a bit late, as class members were either hanging onto their seats, or had been thrown across the chamber.

Eric had conscientiously fastened his seatbelt when re-boarding the copter, and was mesmerized with the effects of the wind.  Leaves and debris were flying near their craft as it continued to wobble to maintain control.  The sky had darkened.  Off to the left and still in the far distance he could see clouds beginning to swirl into the tale tell signs of a tornado funnel.

The chime of the speakers rang and a voice came over the intercom, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are unable to return to Springfield Central in this storm.  We’re going to have to return to the Capitol building and wait this out.”

Eric watched as the copter turned and tried to return to the Capitol building, but as he watched the copter fighting the wind, the craft continued to lose ground against the driving air currents.

The chimes echoed, and the pilot’s voice came back on the intercom.  “We’re not going to make it back to the Capitol.  Make sure all you and all of your companions are belted in tightly.  Please prepare for a crash landing.  We’ll try to make it back to the Wyndham.”

Eric turned his attention back to the battle between nature and the pilot.  Rain began to pelt the copter hard, sounding like bullets crashing against the windows.  What seemed like an eternity, but could not have been more than five minutes later, the copter whipped through a broken window of the Wyndham, and then settled into a hover, while the pilot looked for a landing site.  In the semi-darkness, the craft moved out of the path of the wind blowing through the broken window and settled to the floor.

Again the chime rang, “This is your captain.  Please keep your seat belts fastened.  We’ll have to wait out the storm here.

Miss Jackson yelled out, “We need a doctor.”

Eric released his seatbelt, and ran up the stairs to the second deck and pounded on the pilots’ cabin.  “We need medical assistance.  Do you have anyone with medical skills aboard?”

The door to the pilot’s cabin opened, but no one was there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Project Lilliput – A new Sci Fy Novel

Image result for Lilliput Island

Aloha – I finished a new YA novel manuscript and am now working on clean up.  I like to write free style, then go back and polish the manuscript, then have a third party proofread.  So I’m up to stage two.  Your feedback is welcome :o)  Chapter 1 follows:

 Chapter 1  Cloud Dragons

Eric Brice was a firstling.  He was not unique.   All 27 members of his class were firstlings.   They were the first born after the Transition, and provided evidence that the planet-wide initiative had worked.

Eric often wondered what his mother had thought.  Had she been afraid?  Did she think she would die?  He realized that his mother must have been the bravest person in the world.  Correction, all the mothers of his generation must have been the bravest people in the world.  Trying to imagine the fear they must have endured for nine months terrorized him even now at sixteen years of age.

“Beautiful, isn’t it,” a voice startled him.

“Huh?” Eric turned to see the smiling face of his friend Kviiiy as she slide in facing him on the padded bench seating.

“I just noticed that you were looking out the window, and assumed you were taking in the rolling hills of Iowa,” Kviiiy responded smiling.  “Or were you just meditating again?”

Kviiiy was the same age as Eric and had been his best friend since they were both six years old.  She was a bit shorter than Eric and had recently filled out with a solid, curvy build.  She had red curly hair that she was always fighting, and a face full of freckles.  When they were eight, she asked Eric to count the freckles on her face, but he lost count at a hundred.

Turning back to the window, Eric replied reflectively, “Yes it is pretty; a lot nicer than the brown weeds of home.”

The bullet train they were riding sank back to the surface after zipping across a bridge spanning the North Skunk River.

“Haven’t we crossed this river already?” Kviiiy asked, leaning across Eric to get a closer look.

“You smell good today,” Eric grinned.  “Making another play for Tony?”

“He’ll come around,” Kviiiy smiled knowingly.

“To your question,” Eric turned back to the window.  “We’ve crossed the North Skunk River four times and will cross it twice more according to the maps.  It writhes back and forth like a snake.  The train line is moving southwest, so we intersect it six times before we cross into Illinois.”

Kviiiy plunked down beside Eric.  She was dressed in a denim shirt and jeans, and wore a white head band holding back her rebellious red hair.  “How fast are we going now?”

“You know that as well as I do,” Eric scowled, “200 miles per hour with the mag-lev system.  You know all this; don’t play dumb with me.  What gives?”

“I’m bored,” Kviiiy replied.

“So Tony blew you off?” Eric grinned.

“No… yes… sort of,” Kviiiy sulked.  “Chanel is all over him.”

“Okay, how about a game of cards?” Eric exhaled slowly.  He reached under his seat to pull a deck of cards from his backpack when the lights inside the car flashed to warn that the train was slowing down.  Even so, he toppled over onto Kviiiy as the train quickly decelerated.  As he recovered he noticed her blue eyes staring into his.  “Sorry,” he blushed as he stood back up.

Eric was stocky but tall compared to his peers.  His ink black hair contrasted his pale face, which exacerbated the redness in his face when he blushed.  He preferred slacks to jeans and wore a blue, button down collared shirt, which was his signature look.  “I wonder why we’re stopping.  We’re still in Iowa.  We shouldn’t get to Springfield Central for another forty-five minutes.

As the train came to a rest, the lights flashed again, and a neutral computer voice came over the PA ordering everyone to stay in their seats.

Eric and Kviiiy joined their classmates, ignoring the announcement, and stood and staring out the window trying to figure out what was going on.  It was a lightly wooded area with green rolling hills.  The area immediately surrounding the train was covered with some sort of thorny wild berry plant.  The berries and formed, but they were still green.

“I’m going outside to see what the problem is,” a voice that Eric recognized as belonging to Anthony Dennett rose above the din.  Tony was the class president.  He was also captain of the junior class basketball team.

“I’m going with you,” came another voice.

Female.  Chanel Savage obviously, Eric thought.

Kviiiy moved to stand, but Eric dragged her back into her seat.  “This is not the time nor place to be wandering outside,” he whispered.

“But…” Kviiiy began.

“No buts,” Eric cut her off.  “We wait and see.”

Several minutes passed before the chatter of classmates started again as Tony returned.  Standing at the doorway he announced, “Looks like a broken tree limb blocking the track.  They’re unloading the lasers to cut it away.”

“Come on out,” Chanel called.  It’s a beautiful day out here; just a bit muggy.”

The call to enjoy a sunny day in Iowa was too much for Eric’s classmates, as they rose from their seats and started to disembark.  “Don’t you want to go outside?”  Kviiiy asked as she got out of her seat.

“I’m thinking about it,” Eric stalled.  “It would be interesting to watch the lasers at work.”  He had a sudden urge to scratch at the scars on his back.  “I think I’ll stay here,” he replied indecisively.

“Come on,” Kviiiy encouraged.  “I’ll protect you.”

“Even Tony can’t protect us,” Eric growled.  Nonetheless, he rose to follow Kviiiy.

Just as they reached the doorway to the train he heard screams and backed away from the door; a too familiar screech followed.

As students shoved to get back to the safety of the train Eric heard someone outside yell, “Cloud Dragons.”

“Great!” Eric exhaled.  The engineers weren’t dumb enough to remove all the defensive lasers were they?  He wondered.

One screech was followed by another and another.  Eric finally got up the nerve to approach a window.  Three, four… no five.  I don’t recognize this variety.

Kviiiy joined him, “Looks like kites,” she stood mouth agape.

“Did everyone make it back inside?” Eric asked as he spotted a stream of light from the front of the train hit one of the kites that released something or someone.

A second laser beam from the top of the center car drew Eric’s attention away from the fallen bundle.  The green light seared the right wing of the cloud dragon causing it to squeal as it took flight.  Two more beams were creating a light show from the front of the train now.  The predators were dancing and screeching trying to avoid the burning light.

Eric saw movement out of the corner of his eye to the left.  The bundle that had fallen earlier was crawling slowly, toward the train.  “No,” Eric cried out.  “Stay still you fool.”  He realized as he spoke that it was a waste as his voice did not even carry to the next set of seats.

Eric jumped out of his seat and raced to the egress.  Without pausing he jumped to the ground and bounded to the fallen man, jumping on top of him.  “Lie still you idiot,” he whispered angrily.  As if illustrating what he meant, he lay perfectly still on top of the man who responded in kind.

One of the creatures stood less than a wingspan away from Eric staring at him with a hungry look in its red eyes.  Eric closed his eyes expecting to feel the sharp talons digging into his flesh.  His muscles flexed involuntarily expecting the pain that did not come.

Two laser beams angled into the kite from different directions.  The screech was deafening, but Eric did not move.

The creature took flight, being the last of the five predators to leave the scene.

Eric lay still on top of the man for what seemed forever, but could not have been more than a minute when he heard running footsteps.  “Come on, get up.  Let’s get back inside,” he heard the familiar voice of his friend Kviiiy.

Eric rose, then tried to help the man up he had been lying on top of.  The man struggled, but could not rise.

“Afraid my right leg is broken,” the man apologized.

“Dr. Lambert?  Joseph Lambert?” Eric’s jaw dropped.

“One and the same lad,” the man waved Tony and others back.  “Right now I could use some help, but it is going to have to be a medic, he laughed hoarsely.

“But what are you doing here?” Eric looked dumbfounded.

“On my way to Springfield,” the man started to shiver.

“I’ll get a blanket,” Kviiiy yelled and ran back toward the train.  “I think he’s going into shock,” she called over her shoulder.

A man wearing a red polo shirt, designating him as security, approached from the front of the train.  “Why did you get out of the train?  Get back aboard immediately!” he began shouting at the group of students and handful of adults that had emerged around Dr. Lambert.  “Looks like we’re going to need a medical team,” he spoke formally into the communicator attached to his shirt.

Kviiiy reappeared with several blankets, tripping into Tony Dennett.  “Sorry,” she spoke half an octave higher than her normal voice Eric noticed.

“The blankets Kviiiy,” Eric called, unusually irritated.

The security officer took over, with his focus darting back and forth between Dr. Lambert and the sky.  “You kids!  Get back on the train.”

Back at his seat, Eric watched as a Med Tech rushed up the aisle from a rear car and hesitated at the egress from the train.  With a deep breath, he moved away from the protection of the train and quick stepped over to where Dr. Lambert and the security officer waited.  A two-person team soon arrived from the front of the train with a mounted laser unit.  They scanned the sky continually, while the medic worked on Dr. Lambert.

“Nice job out there,” a warm voice distracted Eric from the scene; turning he saw Tony Dennett and his entourage standing behind him.

“It was nothing,” Eric blushed.  Still he accepted Tony’s outstretch hand.

“It was something,” Tony grinned a toothy smile.  “I didn’t even think to do what you did.  I’m not sure if I would have had the nerve if I had thought of it.”

“Yeah, we were impressed,” Coul  GoCool, agreed as he stood next to Chanel with both of their heads nodding.

Eric did not care for Coul GoCool.  In some ways he felt sorry for the guy as he had such a stupid name.  But Eric could feel his skin crawl whenever he was around him.  He decided that Coul was a Clinger.  He hung around the most popular guy in the class, whoever it happened to be.  Eric thought Coul was his best friend in second grade, but by third grade Coul was to be found with the boy who rescued the cat out of a tree.  Now it was the class president or basketball star; Eric wasn’t sure which of Tony’s roles had captured the attention of Coul.

Eric laughed to himself as he took in the trio.  Coul was as pale as Tony was black.  Coul was the shortest kid in the class, Tony was the tallest.  Tony was cool while Coul was not.

Coul always wore a hat.  This year, his choice of haberdashery was a grey beret.  The beret covered short sandy hair that looked like Coul had cut it himself.  His teeth were yellowish, and he sometimes smelled like he needed a shower.

Chanel was as short as Coul, but there the similarities ended.  She had shoulder length brunette hair, and dark brown eyes accentuated by her eyebrows and lashes that drew observers in.  She was petite and athletic.  She was attentive to whomever she was focused on that week, and laughed easily.  Half the boys in Eric’s class had a crush on her.  Today she was drawing attention to herself with a bright floral print sundress.

Eric didn’t care much for Chanel.  She acted like an airhead, but he knew she was near the top of the class academically.  She had captured the hearts of four boys in their class, dating since she was thirteen.  But Eric noticed that she tended to break up with the boys as soon as she knew they were totally focused on her and not someone else in the class.  He was beginning to think relationships were just a game for her, like basketball was for Tony.

“Hey, they have a patrol copter coming in,” Kviiiy called out drawing Eric’s attention back out the window.  The copter was huge with four sets of rotors surrounding a substantial round carriage.  They could have placed half the train in the space that the main deck of the copter occupied.  It was designed after the drones of the early twenty-first century.   The oversized construction had been necessary to ward off the cloud dragons that had mangled hundreds of standard size helicopters the first several years after the Transition.

Dr. Lambert waved in their direction as he was carefully lifted onto a gurney, and carried to the copter.

“Where do you think they’re taking him?” Tony asked no one in particular.

“Probably the hospital in Springfield Four,” Kviiiy volunteered.                 “But we’ll get to Springfield as fast, or faster, than the copter,” Chanel looked up to Tony looking for confirmation.

“But they’d still have to get him from the station to the hospital,” Tony replied seriously.

Chanel actually fluttered her eyelashes, “I hadn’t thought of that.  You’re so smart.”

On the side, Kviiiy provided a gag reflex with her fingers that made Eric laugh abruptly.  He transitioned the laugh to a cough.  “Well we better take our seats.  I think they’re packing up to get moving again.”

Kviiiy kept her seat by Eric and started talking as soon as Tony and his companions returned to their seats, “She makes me sick.”

“Chanel?” Eric asked, although he knew the answer.

“Yes, little miss prissy pants,” Kviiiy spat out.

“She’s wearing a dress today if you hadn’t noticed,” Eric smiled.

Kviiiy slapped his arm, “You know what I mean.  All lovely dovey, and pretentious.”

“Seems you’ve been taking lessons,” Eric teased.

“What?” Kviiiy yelped, drawing attention from the students nearby.  Then in a lower voice, “What do you mean by that?” she snarled.

“I saw that fake trip into Tony you pulled,” Eric whispered back, leaning in without looking directly at Kviiiy.  “Oops, look at me… classic Chanel move, if not as polished.”

Kviiiy folded her arms tightly and sat silently as the bells chimed and the train began moving forward again.  She didn’t speak the rest of the way to Springfield Central.

 

 

 

Future of Interstellar Space – In movies at least

Aloha – Looks like Star Trek IV-B is in early discussions even before Star Trek III-B is out.  Of course we also have the new Star Trek series starting later this year.

If you need a good sci-fy fix I recommend Dark Matter.  It’s very reminiscent of Firefly, although it is much darker.

We still have Star Wars to look forward to, but I’m really hoping they’ll take the story in a new direction rather than just reboot the original.

Where are some of the Robert Heinlein conversions?  Starship Trooper was done poorly even though it got three iterations.  The Puppet Masters, as original as the novel was when it was written it seemed like a rehash of other stories by the time it was finally produced.  But where are the screenplays for Citizen of the Galaxy or Podkayne of MarsFarmer in the Sky, with recent scientific findings would be a natural.  Granted, Tunnel in the Sky was a sci fy version of a more famous novel, but still worthy of consideration.

 

 

Venus to Titan

Aloha – Where to move?  I’ve often debated the merits of leaving the United States and its chaotic, and for the last eight years terminally ill political system.  But there aren’t many places less bad.  An article today caught my eye about leaving it all behind and moving off world.  The five top options appear to be:  Venus, the Moon, Mars, Titan, or Callisto.

Venus (artist rendition above) used to seem like a good option if you liked tropical forests and marshes, but research indicates that when it rains it rains sulfuric acid and Heinlein’s vision of the planet may be a bit off.  Exploration options seem to be focused on exploring and/or living above the clouds.  Seems like a high energy option, plus I like cooler climates.

The Moon.  Considering the Ding Dong’s running for political office my main concern is that it is to close to Earth.  It now appears that there may be ample water and minerals on the Moon to support human colonies.  I like the idea that lava tubes are big enough to create entire cities and parishes.  Still, it seems way too close to the Barracks, Donalds, and Hillarys whose popularity make me question the IQ of the entire race.  I think it is declining rapidly.

Mars?  Certainly far enough away for a generation or two.  The lower gravity sounds good to my joints and bones.  Kind of on the dark side if you’re afraid of werewolves or vampires.  Still can they be worse than our politicians?

Titan?  Even further away.  Got a great view of a beautiful planet.  Stable gravitational pull.  Looks like there is plenty of water.  Not a bad choice.

Callisto is even further, orbiting Jupiter.  I would have considered some of the other moons of Jupiter ahead of Callisto, but not a bad choice.  I think the view from Titan would be better though.

My vote?  Titan wins in a landslide election.

Doc

If you’d like to read the original article it is at

http://arstechnica.com/science/2016/06/world-going-to-hell-here-are-the-solar-systems-five-most-livable-places/