Tales of the vuduri year.., p.13
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       Tales of the Vuduri: Year Four, p.13

           Michael Brachman
 

  Now I don't know about you but how long has that water been sitting there? Is it fresh? Could it have bacteria? Who knows? Let's find out!

  Entry 4-084: March 20, 2016

 

  Salty, sweet, sour, bitter

  Everybody knows that we can only taste four things: salt (sodium chloride), sweet (sugar), sour (acidic) and bitter. Some people think that alkali taste soapy but that is only because lye, a very caustic alkaline substance, was and still is used in the making of soap.

  Think of your tongue as a quick assay kit. You eat something and your tongue returns information about the pH (sour, bitter), salinity and nutrition (sweet). Everything else regarding flavor comes via the nose. Except maybe for deliciousness, otherwise known as umami. But not everybody believes that.

  So Rome and Rei came across this pool of water. It has been dripping for centuries, dissolving minerals. Most minerals, for example limestone, create a higher pH which would mean alkaline. When you stick your tongue in there, you get:

  “Ugh,” he said. “Bitter.”

  “Do you think it is safe?” Rome asked, sinking down next to him.

  “Yeah,” Rei said. “It’s so warm, it probably has a ton of minerals dissolved it in but still, it’s wet.” He took another swallow and said, “Yuck.”

  Rome found it somewhat amusing but her thirst was also drawing her attention. She bent over and touched the water with her tongue.

  “Yuck is the right word,” she said but then she took a long drink as well.

  She moved back a little and sat down on the ground and looked around her using her infrared vision. To their right, there was the near wall of the cave. The wall arched up and connected to the ceiling and really had nothing of interest going for it. Its expanse was also unnaturally smooth. But to the left, the grotto extended as far as her vision would let her detect with no real end in sight. There was much more residual heat here and it made it easier to make out certain details. She twisted in place and looked back to where they had blasted a hole in the wall.

  “What do you think?” she asked him. “Should we stay here?”

  “Why not?” Rei said. “At least we have water. This would be as good a place as any to get rescued.”

  “Rescued,” Rome said, dreamily. “I hope it is soon. I am tired of this place already.”

  I don't know what would happen to you if you drank too much water with a high pH. But in small doses, I'm sure the hydrochloric acid in your stomach would counteract it. I take Tums or Rolaids sometimes and I'm no worse off for it.

  Entry 4-085: March 21, 2016

 

  Caves

  I haven't been in very many caves. I'm not a spelunker. But caves certainly seem like a place where you can develop some drama so I feature them in my writings, a lot. For example, in Rome's Revolution, we find that the Deucadons have been living deep within the planet, in a gigantic cave, for 500 years. As it turns out, many of those caves were artificial, created by the intelligent precursors to the "falling blankets" that reside on Deucado. Living underground was their only chance to survive the nearly continuous bombardment of meteors, asteroids and the like.

  I also featured a cave in The Milk Run when Aason met Molokai, the being who claimed he was a god. At least that particular cave was completely natural. It made for a great backdrop between the young man and the bodiless entity. When I did my audiobook version of The Milk Run, I actually added a slight echo effect during that scene to reinforce the fact that they were underground.

  This brings us to yesterday's scene wherein Rome and Rei find themselves inside a cave which was adjacent to a lava tube. In real life, I don't think such a thing is very common but it is fiction so I am allowed to take a few liberties. I did hint at this when Rome noticed:

  They were in a large cavern that was fifty or more meters tall. The ceiling of the chamber was unnaturally smooth. Its shape did not fit Rome’s perception of what a cave should look like.

  The reality is, the cave was artificial. It was hollowed out by MASAL's minions nearly 200 years earlier as MASAL's hideout. He slowly and cautiously accumulated outdated equipment (think early Radio Shack) so that he could hide from the Vuduri for nearly two centuries without anyone noticing. Sadly, Rome didn't think it through. If the cave looked unnatural and somebody built it, then somebody built it. She should have considered who that somebody would have been. Oh well, her loss is our gain as it made for more drama.

  Entry 4-086: March 22, 2016

  Light

  Human senses are pretty awesome. A human rod can detect a single photon. The olfactory bulbs in our nose can detect a single molecule. A hair cell within the human ear can detect the Brownian motion of air which is to say it can detect the motion of a single molecule. Our taste buds aren't quite as sensitive nor is our sense of touch but they are pretty damned good. Now being able to detect a photon using pyschophysics and noticing that incredibly dim light in normal life is slightly different. From what I've read, humans need about 5 - 9 photons hitting the retina within a fairly short period of time to be reliably noticed.

  In the novel Rome's Revolution, our heroes find themselves trapped in a cave nearly a mile below ground. They are in the pitch black. Blacker than black, really. But Rome can see thanks to her infrared sensitive i-rods. The cave is very hot so there is lots of IR bouncing around. Rei can see because he has sonar-vision and can use sound, even the sound of his own voice, to "see" in some sense. But unless they find some glow-in-the-dark rocks, there should be no light in the traditional sense. Imagine their surprise when they discover that is exactly the case:

  Rei stood up. He looked down the cave. He squinted then turned his head attending to the cave out of the corner of his eye.

  “Come on, Rome,” he said, reaching down for her.

  “What is it?” she asked, taking his hand and standing up.

  “Light,” Rei answered, pointing ahead. “It’s really faint. Just a few photons. But there is definitely some light coming from down that way.”

  Rome looked down to where he was pointing. If she bobbed her head back and forth, she could catch a few tiny flashes which meant her retinas were recording quanta of light as well. They took two steps forward then Rome pulled on Rei’s sleeve.

  “What?” Rei asked.

  “Do you think we should take some water with us?” Rome inquired.

  “Naw,” Rei answered. “MINIMCOM will be here any minute. Besides,” he said, pointing down. “It looks like there is a little stream or something. Maybe that’s what eroded this whole cave.”

  Rome looked around again. “I do not think this was erosion, the walls and overhead seem too smooth.”

  “Whatever,” Rei said. “We’ll follow the stream and if it dries up or goes away, we’ll do something then, maybe.”

  “All right,” Rome said, “but I do not think this whole setup is natural.”

  “What?” Rei said, moving ahead of her.

  “Nothing,” Rome replied. She hurried to catch up to him and together, they started walking along the tiny rivulet that was the overflow from the pool they had found. They only went 15 meters in the direction of the stream when Rome stopped again.

  What stopped Rome in her tracks? She "saw" something using her infrared vision that did not belong. Like I said yesterday, she didn't really think this whole thing though.

  Entry 4-087: March 23, 2016

 

  The Pipe

  Yesterday, Rome and Rei were following the trail of photons deep beneath the seemingly dormant volcano of Kilauea when Rome stopped suddenly. She stopped because she saw something that absolutely, positively should not have been there. It kind of looked like this:

  What?” Rei said. He really needed to be able to read her mind.

  “That,” Rome said, pointing.

  “I can’t see what you are pointing to.”

  “Wait,” Rome said. She looked up to make sure the region overhead was clear then she fired her hand weapon
straight up, causing the entire cave to become illuminated just like an electronic torch. Rei looked where she was pointing and he saw it. Coming out of the ground was a metallic cylinder approximately one meter in diameter, capped with a dome made of metal.

  “Let me fire mine too,” Rei said. “Stay back.”

  Rei dialed back the intensity knob on his weapon to its minimum and fired it directly overhead as well. The blue-white flame illuminated the area even more brightly.

  “Holy mackerel,” Rei said, squinting to exam the structure. What is it?” he asked.

  Rome took one step closer to the object and said, “I do not know but I do know it is not natural.”

  “I agree with that,” Rei said.

  Carefully holding their hand weapons overhead, they approached the object. Rei squatted down and put his hand on it.

  “Warm,” he said, “almost hot.”

  “Yes,” Rome agreed. “I saw the infrared signature. It is generating heat.”

  She followed the object with her eyes and suddenly took a deep breath.

  “Look,” she said, pointing down the cave. Rei sidled around and followed where she was pointing. Coming out of the cylinder or rod, just below the cap, was a thick cable that snaked its way down the cave and out of sight.

  “What the hell is that?” Rei said, shutting down his weapon.

  “I do not know,” Rome said. “But it cannot be anything good.”

  “This is some sort of geothermal power rod or thermocouple,” Rei said. “Something is drawing power down here. The cable is carrying power somewhere.” He pointed down the cave, off into the distance.

  Nothing good can come of this. When will they ever learn?

  Entry 4-088: March 24, 2016

 

  Curiosity killed the cat

  Like I said yesterday, when will they ever learn? Well, as it turns out in the late stages of Rome's Revolution, Rome actually did have some pretty good common sense. When they spotted the mysterious object, probably a power source, nearly a mile underground, she tried to put a halt to the proceedings:

  “This is some sort of geothermal power rod or thermocouple,” Rei said. “Something is drawing power down here. The cable is carrying power somewhere.” He pointed down the cave, off into the distance.

  “I do not wish to know,” Rome said firmly.

  “Come on, Rome,” Rei said. “Where is your spirit of adventure?” There was more than a little sarcasm in his voice.

  “I have had enough adventure for three lifetimes,” Rome said. “I do not think we should go any further.”

  “We have to see where this goes,” Rei said. “Come on.” He held out his hand toward her. Reluctantly, Rome came forward to take Rei’s hand and allowed him to pull her along.

  Together, they moved deeper into the cave. They followed the cable to a clearing where several tunnels converged. Each of them contained a cable as well and the cables accumulated to form a thick bundle that almost filled up the area ahead. Rei and Rome inched forward along the collection of cables through a short tunnel until it opened up into another, sizeable cavern. The cables fanned out along the floor of the cave, going around a corner.

  At this point, both of their retinas registered a measurable amount of light. Although it was dim, it was sufficient for Rei to use his eyes instead of his sonar-vision to navigate. The light itself was yellowish and artificial. Rei and Rome followed the splay of cables around the corner and discovered that there was yet another cavern beyond that.

  The cables all converged upon a low, wide divider, no more than half a meter tall. Each of the cables inserted into a hole and then disappeared. Rei lifted one foot and placed it on top of the wall. He pressed and felt no movement. He hopped up and saw that it would more than support his weight.

  In my mind I was kind of thinking about that tunnel in Aliens just before Ripley and Newt came upon the Alien Queen's hatchery. That's why I packed so many cables, to make it tough going and kind of ominous. However, none of that mattered compared to what they found next. After all, Radio Shack went bankrupt for a reason.

  Entry 4-089: March 25, 2016

 

  The Big Bad

  Every hero has to have a villain to bring out the hero's finest qualities. And what could be more villainous than an enormous, evil computer dedicated to engineering the humanity out of mankind? Back when Rome's Revolution was still the long form version entitled VIRUS 5, I had come up with the name MASAL and his place in my future history just to give those long days some flavor. Never did I dream that some day we would get a chance to meet him.

  Imagine my delight, then, when my characters led me, as author, straight to the Big Bad himself. It was awesome. I was so excited. I had the chapter end on a really cool note:

  “Come up here,” Rei said and Rome complied. Tentatively, Rei and Rome made their way across the base of the barricade, past the termination point until they could hop down to the floor of the cave again. They continued walking until they were roughly 100 meters from what looked like the far wall of the inner cave.

  Suddenly, Rome grabbed Rei’s arm.

  “What?” Rei asked.

  “That, that,” Rome said, fear rising in her voice. “That is not a wall. It is… electronics.”

  “You may stop there,” resonated a voice from high atop the cave.

  Rome squeezed Rei’s arm tighter. The lighting in the cave brightened to a small degree. Rei could finally make out the size of the equipment in front of him. The technology looked straight out of early vintage NASA except that it was beyond immense. It filled the entire far side of the huge cave.

  “What, what are you?” Rome asked with naked terror in her voice. “Who are you?”

  “I am MASAL,” boomed the voice in deafening tones.

  “But…you are dead,” whispered Rome almost reverently.

  “Hardly,” replied the voice.

  This is the part of the novel that literally wrote itself. I just had to type it and sometimes I could barely keep up! I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. I hope you experienced the same thing.

  Entry 4-090: March 26, 2016

 

  Their own samanda

  Within the world of Rome's Revolution, when Rome and Rei had been kidnapped by the Onsiras, the rest of their family was unaware. Rome's parents, Fridone and Binoda, were enjoying some quiet time, completely oblivious to the fact that Rome and Rei were in mortal danger. Their conversation covered many topics but there was one of particular importance:

  Aason was fast asleep in the other room. Even though he had functioning PPT transceivers, he was not connected to the Overmind so when he felt the need, he slept as much as any normal newborn. Fridone and Binoda were lying together in the back room. They rested on a mat which in turn rested upon a layer of palm fronds. It was softer than the wooden floor but was not much of a mattress. The two of them did not care. Binoda gently stroked Fridone’s grey hair.

  “I knew you were not dead,” Binoda said matter-of-factly. “Rome could never understand why I was not more upset. I missed you terribly but I knew you were not dead.”

  “How?” Fridone asked. “How could you know?”

  “Because, dear husband, we are our own samanda. You were always in my heart and my head. You never left. That is how I knew.”

  “But I was on another world,” Fridone pointed out. “I had no way to reach you.”

  “That part surprised me. I never suspected you were off-world.” Binoda considered her own statement. Then she spoke again. “What we have transcends time and space,” Binoda said lovingly. “We are a part of one another for all time.”

  “Yes,” Fridone said. “You are right. When things were hardest, when I was most sad, I would just reach down deep inside. I felt you. I knew you were out there. It was the very thought of getting back to you that kept me going, even when things were bleakest.”

  “Is that how Rome found you?” Binoda asked. “Do you think she ca
n feel you the way I do?”

  Fridone shook his head. “As far as I can tell, based upon what they told me, it was sheer coincidence that we found each other. Deucado was the only destination that Rei’s people considered. But there was no way for them to know I was there.”

  “I cannot believe that,” Binoda said. “Of all the places to go, even on Deucado, to land in your courtyard. It has to be more than that.”

  Fridone put his hand up to Binoda’s cheek. “She certainly seemed surprised to see me. She gave no indication that their landing spot was selected by anything other than chance.”

  “I wish I could have been there,” Binoda said. “It warms my heart even thinking about it. To be with you, to finally be safe. But then for Rei to take Rome to the Vuduri, why did you not stop them? I realize it worked out but from what you told me, it sounds like you knew they were going to die.”

  The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Even when things were darkest for Rome and Rei back on Deucado, when they had no direct knowledge the other was even alive, their psychic connection told them their love was safe. This will come in very handy, real soon.

  Entry 4-091: March 27, 2016

 

  Our daughter did what? Part 1

  When I compressed down the original long-form version of Rome's Revolution, back when it was three separate novels collectively called VIRUS 5, I had many small scenes which added flavor to the novels. But when it got shortened down to one, many of the scenes had to go because they did not advance the plot.

 
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