Friday, March 23, 2012

Tempest of Fate

Following is a play script I wrote for Lusternia. Unlike most of those I've written, this one will probably be comprehensible to people who aren't familiar with Lusternia. The only background you might benefit from is knowing that, in days long past, cities used Edifices of Power to raise their best as Vernal Gods to combat the attacks of the Soulless, beings reminiscent of the Great Old Ones of Lovecraftian mythos. Gorob was the first of the Vernal Gods and taught the techniques to the others. And now, Tempest of Fate.

Tempest of Fate

by Lendren Starfall

Cast (in order of appearance)

General Leosin, Hidden Steel ........ insurrection leader and tactician
General Asa Spring-Born ....... insurrection leader and would-be Vernal
General Phell Gatewalker ............... insurrection leader and empath
Daoshen, The Tempest ............................. tyrannical conqueror
Storm Sentry Quire .................... sentry of the Citadel of Storms
Storm Sentry Exentre .................. sentry of the Citadel of Storms
Major Domo Sheeana ........ functionary of the Citadel of the Star Rose

Scene 1: Revolution

SCENE Battlefield: Taking up most of the stage, a canvas tent has been pitched, evidently as a makeshift war room. A lantern hangs from the highest point over a lightweight, portable table, atop which lie maps and scrolls showing plans of war. Outside the tent, the stage is mostly bare, though occasional sounds of troops drilling or the passing by of small groups of warriors show that the tent is in the middle of an army's encampment. A painted cloth drop hangs at the back of the stage, depicting rising, craggy, sparse terrain leading to an imposing, well-defended citadel.

ROLE Leosin (M): General Leosin, Hidden Steel

COSTUME LeosinCostume (Leosin): Though he takes pains with his posture to stand tall and try to look imposing, ultimately Leosin is thin, wiry, and almost scrawny, at least for an orclach. His most pronounced feature is his large nose, bent in the middle from a prior battle, resembling an axe-blade that was broken and badly repaired. His armour is painted vermillion, but heavy use has peeled back and gashed through the paint in many places, revealing steel smudged with dirt and blood. A great battleaxe strapped to his back seems like another aspect of his attempt to seem mighty, but on someone so willowy it seems more comical than menacing. Though he fails to impress with bulk, his movements are tightly controlled, precise, and convey deadly efficiency.

ROLE Asa (F): General Asa Spring-Born

COSTUME AsaCostume (Asa): Though it is clear Asa is an orclach woman, there is something to her features that suggests the best and most noble traits of both her own and other races of mortal shards, as if her heritage is somehow mixed, or she were sculpted by an artist who couldn't choose what race she would be until the very end. She is the tallest in her company, and also has the most bulk of muscle, seeming somehow more noble and more divine than anyone around her. She has flowing golden hair and keen, clear eyes of ice blue which miss nothing. Her armour shows the dents and wear of recent battle, but the logo of a star-shaped rose, etched into the bare steel on her chest, remains unsullied by any mark. The same image comprises the pommel of the vast greatsword that is strapped to her back. As she moves and speaks, she projects the confidence of a born leader, one who leads not by choice but as an unavoidable expression of her inner self.

ROLE Phell (F): General Phell Gatewalker

COSTUME PhellCostume (Phell): In any crowd of orclach, Phell could blend in and be forgotten, so ordinary is her appearance. It is not even immediately evident that she is female, due to her bland features. Her bulky armour does nothing to mitigate the confusion, concealing everything about her perfectly average figure. Hanging from frogges on each hip she wears battle-hammers devoid of any design. The only thing about her that attracts notice is the openness of her eyes, and their tendency to turn to anyone nearby and drink in everything about them.



Asa: ENTER sweeps from the battlefield into a tent, a fire in her eyes, and looks expectantly at the other two orclach present.

Leosin: (leaning over a map on the table) There is no way we can survive a frontal assault, no matter how many troops we commit. The terrain alone will halve the force, and the magical wards that the tyrant wizard has placed will destroy us before we can even engage the enemy.

Asa: (pacing within the narrow confines of the tent) Then what do you suggest, Leosin? You are our best tactician.

Phell: leans against the far side of the table, her eyes following the movements of the other two orclach.

Leosin: (pointing to a spot on the map) We could send most of our army to the north, looking to strike along the valley, drawing the defenses there, while a small force, only a unit or two, advance under cover of night to quietly seize the towers here, and here.

Asa: So the main force is a decoy?

Leosin: In part. If we can take those towers undetected we can reverse the wards. Then the army can advance and will have a good chance.

Phell: Such a tactic can never triumph against one with the gift of foresight. He will know it will happen before we do.

Leosin, to Phell: (turning to face the quieter orclach) Do you believe such a gift can be true?

Phell: I have heard that the Fates visit him and do his bidding, and the one time I met him, I sensed something about him I cannot explain any other way.

Asa: I cannot believe any mortal shard can subjugate the Fates when even the Elder Gods found them ineffable and beyond approach. The Fates are no one's handmaidens.

Leosin: Well, it would explain his triumph at Fury Ridge, and the impossible serendipity of that supplies cache that saved his army at the Battle of Three Rivers.

Phell: (thoughtfully) If you consider the history of his rise to power and his conquests in this light, many more things than those suddenly make sense.

Asa: There must be some other explanation. He is a cunning leader, there is no denying that. But the best source of his triumphs is how ruthlessly he will sacrifice any resource or any ally. Such is a tactic that falls only to tyrants.

Phell: There are tales of prophecies. I once met a traveller from a faraway basin surrounding a sea, who claimed to receive wisdom from the spirit of the moon.

Leosin: (laughing uneasily) How can a light in the sky reveal the future?

Phell: One might just as easily speak of how the planets in their spheres can shape our fate, and yet the wisdom of the Star-Seers is beyond question. There are many things in the wide worlds.

Asa: Then why did he not escape our trap at the Bellwalker Falls?

Leosin: As you'll recall, even his loss there turned out to be to his advantage, when his troops retreating from us happened into the mines from which they extract those humming crystals which now power the wards of the Citadel.

Asa: (exasperated) This is getting us nowhere. I do not accept that he has true foresight, but if he does, how can we proceed?


Phell: (in deep thought) I cannot see a way.

Leosin: (nodding sourly) Indeed, if he knows we are here, there is nothing we can do.

Asa, to Leosin: (decisively) Then we have nothing to lose by attempting your gambit. I will lead the main force, to make the ploy more convincing. Leosin, Phell, you will lead the units that will capture the towers. Hooooooo!

Leosin: (thumping the armour on his chest) Hooooooo!

Phell: May the Fates favour us.

Asa, to Phell: (shooting her a sour grimace) The Fates favour no one. We make our own destiny.

EFFECT Curtain (6): The curtain falls, and the stage sinks into silence, apart from the quiet movement of stagehands.



Scene 2: Revelation

SCENE ThroneOfStorms: Drops of painted cloth on all sides of the stage cast slanting shadows and gloom, using tricks of forced perspective to make the stage seem like a vast, empty chamber with high ceilings. A great pair of doors are painted on the cloth at the left end of the stage, opposite a tall, spindly throne, the only feature in the otherwise desolate room.

ROLE Daoshen (M): Daoshen, The Tempest

COSTUME DaoshenCostume (Daoshen): Though this orclach clearly shows his age in the slight stoop of his shoulders and the deep silver-grey of his hair and beard, he still manages to seem sturdy and healthy beyond what his frail frame could justify. He wears only heavy robes of slate grey, and leans against a gnarled wooden staff, moving slowly, as if weary from bearing the world on his shoulders.

ROLE Quire: (F): Storm Sentry Quire

COSTUME QuireCostume (Quire): Little of this sentry can be seen inside her full plate and heavy armour. She bears a pike in one hand and a shield emblazoned with the logo of a swirling storm in the other.

ROLE Exentre (M): Storm Sentry Exentre

COSTUME ExentreCostume (Exentre): Little of this sentry can be seen inside his full plate and heavy armour. He bears a pike in one hand and a shield emblazoned with the logo of a swirling storm in the other.



Daoshen: ENTER sits brooding on the throne, staring into the desolate emptiness of the huge, empty chamber.


Daoshen, to Quire: Sentries, you are dismissed. Leave me in silence.

Quire: (glancing at her fellow sentry) But, your majesty, it is not safe.

Exentre: Even now, we have reports that rebels have captured the southeast and southwest towers. The wards are turning, your majesty.

Quire: There may be saboteurs and assassins within the very Citadel of Storm, your majesty.

Daoshen: (glancing to an empty space behind his throne) You have your orders, sentries. Do I need to repeat them?

Quire: (reluctantly lowering her pike) As you command, Great Tempest.

Exentre: (also lowering his pike) Fates watch over you, Great Tempest.

Quire: EXIT turns and leads the way out the doors of the great throne room.

Exentre: EXIT follows behind Quire, closing the door behind him with a thud.


Daoshen: (in a weary whisper) It is very nearly over. They approach. Soon I may rest.


Phell: ENTER emerges from a hidden entrance behind the throne, her hammers held at the ready.

Leosin: ENTER follows Phell, axe in both hands.

Daoshen: (without looking around) Welcome to the Throne of Storms.

Phell: strides to before the throne, watching Daoshen alertly.

Leosin: moves towards where the sentries stood, then comes up short, and sweeps the chamber.

Daoshen: Worry not, General. I have sent them away.

Leosin: Whyever would you do that, Tempest?

Daoshen: They were good soldiers. They did not deserve to die, and there was no need for them to die.

Phell: If only you had not caused the deaths of thousands of other innocents.

Daoshen: If only there had been no need.

Leosin: (turning to Daoshen) How did you know we were here?

Daoshen: (with a wry, secret smile) I could see the colour of your armour.

Leosin: stares blankly at this comment.

Asa: ENTER strolls in briskly through the main doors, sword at the ready, but soon puts it away.

Asa: The defenders fall back. The wards are down, and we are securing the Citadel. There has been little resistance and less bloodshed.

Daoshen: Would that there could have been none.

Asa, to Daoshen: After decades of vicious conquest and cruel oppression, why should you, in essence, surrender so easily?

Daoshen: Not in essence but in fact: I surrender myself to you three, now.

Asa: And why?

Daoshen: They only needed to hold this citadel until this day. This minute, in fact. The sole purpose was to deliver me into your hands, here, now. All of my efforts have led to this.

Phell: Then you knew this day would come?

Leosin: To what end? What could it profit you to be captured today?

Daoshen: No profit to me. You shall take me in chains to the Citadel of the Star Rose.

Asa: Perhaps I shall slay you on the spot for your many and heinous crimes.

Daoshen: Perhaps you could, but you shall not.

Phell: How can you know this?

Daoshen: I dreamed it. I saw in my dream the blue of her eyes, the brown of your hair, the red of his armour, the yellow of the dying sunlight.

Asa: Do not think to discourage us with more rumours of your impossible powers.

Daoshen: I have no need to do so, but I shall prove it just the same.

Daoshen: fishes a scrap of paper from his robes, scribes something on it, folds it closed, and then offers it to Asa, who accepts it dubiously.

Daoshen, to Leosin: Ask General Phell a question whose answer I could not know.

Leosin: looks questioningly to Asa,

Asa: shrugs and nods.

Leosin, to Phell: Tell me a secret you shared with your brother.


Phell: (after a moment's consideration) When we played hide and seek in the library, he would call me Fiction because he kept finding me amongst those shelves.

Daoshen, to Asa: Now read what it says on the parchment.

Asa: (reading the parchment) He called me Fiction.

Phell: (somewhat shocked) No one knew that but me and him, and he died while I was still a child.

Daoshen: I dreamed this day. Today is the seventh day of the Dolphin, and on the night of the third day, I dreamed, and in the dream, all of this occurred, in all of its colour.

Leosin: What about the colours?

Daoshen: I was born without the ability to see colours; the world is to me all greys. But on a day in autumn when I was two and twenty years old, an unfortunate error led to a visit to the Fates, and ever since, when I dream, it is in colour, and later, it comes true, precisely as I dreamed it.

Asa: (suspiciously) Then why did you not prevent your capture?

Daoshen: (with a weary sigh) You do not understand. My dreams come true. They cannot be averted.

Leosin: Simply being somewhere else would suffice.

Daoshen: Had I attempted to be somewhere else, I would still have been here, but I would have been here under circumstances not of my own choosing, of my own creation. The only way to control my fate is to create it, to make my dreams come true in a way that serves my greater purpose.

Phell: How can you create your fate if your fate is sealed?

Daoshen: By choosing moments that lead to the dream coming true, I can determine what the events mean when they finally happen.

Asa: (shifting weight from one foot to the other) That makes no sense.

Daoshen: Consider: once I dreamed of coming to a particular city on a particular day, soaked head to toe. Had I chosen to try to avoid going to that city, I would still have been there on that day, but perhaps it would have been because of a shipwreck.

Phell: (nodding slowly) Or being lost in a storm.

Daoshen: Exactly. Instead, I hired a horse, rode to the city via the desert way, and on arriving I dunked myself in a fountain to rinse off the dust of the road. The dream came true, and because of my choices, it was a pleasant and beneficial experience, not a disaster.

Asa: So you arranged for us to capture you?

Daoshen: No, you were always going to capture me. I arranged that your capture of me should happen in a way that will ultimately serve the best good and involve the least bloodshed.

Leosin: There you go again, claiming to care about averting suffering, and yet you have caused countless deaths, enslavements, assassinations, torture, ruthless suppression of rebellion...

Phell: You have not demonstrated anything approaching compassion.

Daoshen: You would be surprised how much I care. In fact, very soon, you will be.

Asa: Enough of this. Chain him and bring him.

EFFECT Curtain



Scene 3: Evolution

SCENE StarRose: Though similar in purpose and size to the throne room of the Citadel of Storms, this spacious, grand chamber is its opposite in all other ways. Painted drop cloths depict marble columns elaborately carved with vines and roses, regularly broken by bright windows. The great doors at the right end of the stage are similarly decorated with gold curlicues which culminate in star-shaped roses, each one a point of silver light in the inky indigo surrounding it. Opposite these doors stands a throne which resembles a great silver rose. glowing with cold power. its back growing into a pillar of starlight that reaches seemingly up into the sky itself, transforming somehow from a construct of silver into a thing of divine energy.

ROLE Sheeana (F): Major Domo Sheeana

COSTUME SheeanaCostume (Sheeana): Unusually slender and even mousy, this orclach woman seems to be perpetually squinting. Her emerald green robes are impeccably tailored and perfectly fitted, and yet still manage to convey an impression of being rumpled and in disarray, though it's hard to put a finger on precisely how or why. She carries a scroll which she almost constantly checks over, even while speaking.

Sheeana: ENTER walks into the grand throne room, for a moment taking her eyes off the scroll in her hands to glance reverently at the throne, her eyes following its back upward as it transforms into a beam of pure starlight bridging the gap to the heavens.


Sheeana: finally turns her eyes back to the scroll, then bustles about making the room ready.

Sheeana: (calling out to unseen figures off-stage) Double sentries at the north and south halls, the generals are returning with a prisoner!

COSTUME DaoshenChained (Daoshen): Though this orclach clearly shows his age in the slight stoop of his shoulders and the deep silver-grey of his hair and beard, he still manages to seem sturdy and healthy beyond what his frail frame could justify. He wears only heavy robes of slate grey, moving slowly, as if weary from bearing the world on his shoulders. Heavy chains connect iron collars around his neck and his wrists, which are held behind his back.



Doashen: ENTER is led in through the main gates, his hands chained behind his back by crude iron collars, by Leosin and Phell.

Sheeana, to Phell: Thank goodness you've arrived. The wards at the frontier reverberate with some power, but the indications make no sense. Have the troops returned already with you?

Leosin: (shaking his head) We hurried back with this prisoner. The war against the tyrant is over!

Sheeana: (looking at Daoshen dubiously) This, then, is him? Surely we must prepare for celebrations!

Phell: (troubled) Before we plan any feasts, let us learn more of what the wards report. It may be nothing more than an effect of the lowering of the wards of the Citadel of Storms, or it may be more.

Sheeana: hands the scroll to Phell, who begins to study it closely.

Leosin, to Phell: (looking sharply to her) You don't think that the threat Gorob taught us about is already upon us? There have been no advance warnings, and we did not expect him for years yet.

Phell: (looking at the pillar of starlight reaching from the back of the throne) Yet Gorob taught us to be prepared should the tide of battle drive him near sooner. This is why Asa has been studying for years for the moment of ascension, and why we have imbued so much power into our Edifice now.

Phell: (tapping the scroll) I can't be certain, but this could be one of them, and if so, coming on fast. The insubsantial one whose very body is poison.

Phell: hands the scroll back to Sheeana.

Leosin, to Sheeana: (turning to her) Bring the scroll, and Phell's assessment of it, to General Asa Spring-Born. Bid her to prepare herself.

Sheeana: (nervously) As you command, General.

Sheeana: EXIT hurries out of the throne room.

Leosin, to Daoshen: (turning to stare at him) It cannot be coincidence if the Soulless finally come for us the very day we defeat you, thus sparing us fighting two wars at once. What did you dream?

Daoshen: Many things, but not this conversation. If I had, I might know if you were truly prepared for the scale of what comes for us all now.

Phell: Asa has spent the last few years training. She is as ready as she can be.

Daoshen: Indeed, she is not. She has spent much of those years leading battles against my generals.

Leosin: She could not have done otherwise. We could not have built this Edifice without our victories, capturing sources of power.

Daoshen, to Leosin: Verily. There are too many things for one general, however talented, to do them all. To have enough power to battle the Soulless, makes it impossible to dedicate oneself to study enough to be able to effectively wield that power.

Phell, to Daoshen: You'd best hope her training was adequate, as we all will be devoured together should she fail.

Daoshen: (placidly) Fate will lead us where it will.

Leosin, to Daoshen: What have you seen of the future? How will this end?

Sheeana: ENTER runs into the chamber in a panic, her eyes wild.

Sheeana: Generals! Asa has been slain!

Phell: Slain? How?

Sheeana: Struck down by poison, in her chambers, while she prepared.

Leosin: Poison! It is the Soulless of which we were warned, and somehow, it glimpsed our preparations and moved against us!

Phell: (aghast) Gorob warned us of their cunning, but we did not imagine it could be so precise.

Leosin: But how could it have known?

Daoshen: Perhaps it sensed the Edifice; that much power can be discerned by beings of power from some distance, and...

Daoshen: (eyes following the pillar into the heavens) It's not like you went out of your way to hide it.

Phell: (slumping downward) It was all for nothing. We cannot stand against the Soulless without her.

Daoshen: (smiling) Why not?

Phell, to Daoshen: (whirling to face him) Asa was our chosen. No one else has trained in the ways of using the power of the Star Rose.

Daoshen: (with silent calm) There is one other who can bear the burden.

Leosin: stares agape at Daoshen.

Daoshen: I, too, have been preparing for this, for decades, far more than had your Spring-Born. I have studied the harmonic theories of stellar convergence, the manipulation of forces both primal and refined, the synthesis of the arcane powers of creation and destruction.

Phell: How can we know this to be true?

Daoshen: I could recite for you the formula for calculating the resonant frequency of the planetary spheres, or discourse at length about the malleability of reality, but there is no time. Do you not recall how the forces were shaped at Fury Ridge to such precise effect? Surely that is proof enough.


Leosin: Why would you have prepared, secretly, for the use of our Edifice?

Daoshen: (with exaggerated patience) Because I dreamed this. My whole life has been preparation for this day.

Sheeana: (her eyes unfocused) The outer wards are falling. The outer wards are falling!

Phell: You are older than the construction, even the conception of the construction, of this Edifice.

Daoshen: Nevertheless, before you were born, I knew my story would lead to my ascension beneath this Edifice. And that, if I were not prepared to shape these energies this day, not just I would perish, but so would every living being in this land.

Leosin: Even the ones whose deaths you yourself caused by the thousands?

Daoshen: (turning to stare angrily at Leosin) Yes, even them. They would have died anyway, devoured in unspeakable agony by a Soulless, then their power used by that Soulless to destroy others. If this land is not saved, the thing that now approaches the Citadel will not merely devour all of us, it will be impossible to stop fifty years hence in a faraway land, and will eventually devour all life, everywhere.

Phell: You know this because you dreamed it.

Daoshen: Yes. What sacrifice is not worth stopping that? If I had it in my power to slay a million souls and thereby stop the Soulless from devouring all life, I would do it in a second. Would not you?

Sheeana: (growing more panicked) The north tower... it's gone. It has been destroyed by corrosive fumes. All inside eaten away, threescore orclach.

Leosin, to Daoshen: And you are prepared? You will triumph?

Daoshen: I do not know. My dreams of myself end here. I am better prepared for the fight than anyone alive is, but I do not know how it will end. You will just have to trust me.

Phell: Surely you cannot imagine we will trust you.

Daoshen: Surely not. But you can trust me better than you can trust the thing that even now licks at the edge of the Citadel.

Sheeana: The sentries are dying!

Phell, to Leosin: He's right, we have no choice. Unchain him.

EFFECT Poison (5): Sickly violet fumes begin to seep into the grand chamber, swirling with malevolent toxicity.

Sheeana: It comes, even here it comes!

Sheeana: EXIT flees in a panic, her eyes full of fear.

Leosin: (grudgingly unlocking Daoshen's chains) Be quick about it.

COSTUME DaoshenCostume

Daoshen: (hurrying to the pillar of light) Release the power into me, I am prepared.

Phell: moves to the pillar and touches it and Daoshen, carrying starlight into him.

Leosin: (doing the same) You had best not betray us.

Daoshen: fills with starlight, his body seeming to grow as it glows with power, leaving the pillar mostly drained.

Phell: retreats, leading Leosin with her, to the far side of the chamber to avoid the violet fumes.

Daoshen: rises into the air, casting waves of silver light that drive back the poison.

Daoshen: EXIT rushes in a blur of starlight out of the chamber, waves of energy before him causing reverberations of noise and thunder that shake the Citadel.

Leosin: I hope we have not made the gravest error of our time.

Phell: (tears in her eyes) Asa, dead, I cannot believe it.

EFFECT Battle (9) Shudders and flashes of light and darkness keep shaking the Citadel, signs of the clash of inconceivable forces happening just outside.

Leosin: (crossing to put a hand on Phell's armoured shoulder) One way or the other, your days in battle are ending, Phell. Take comfort in that.

Phell: Cold comfort, if I can finally lay down my arms only to be either devoured, or subjugated.

EFFECT Conclusion (1): With a last shudder, the flood of starlight washes over the whole stage and then goes out.


Leosin: (speaking into the silence) To think, it all came to this.

Daoshen: ENTER staggers into the chamber, bloody and broken, barely able to walk, though still flickering with guttering starlight.

Phell: What news, Tempest?

Daoshen: It is not slain, but it is driven off. It will not return here for many years.

Leosin: Years? How soon? How can we be prepared?

Daoshen: (tiredly) Long after your time. And there is but one sacrifice that is needed to be prepared.

Daoshen: stumbles towards the pillar of starlight, staggering and almost losing his way.

Phell: moves to help Daoshen.

Leosin: (suspiciously) What sacrifice? What do you require now of us?

Daoshen: (leaving both hands on the pillar) Nothing. I have fulfilled my purpose. I have no more dreams to see true. It will be a century before your descendants need this Edifice, but it will be two centuries before it has enough power, if I do not make the last sacrifice, my final purpose.

Phell: takes a step back.

Daoshen: screams as the starlight floods back out of him into the pillar, bringing its light back to half of what it was before, but leaving his body crumpled and in ruins.

Daoshen: May the Fates take pity on me for my crimes.

Daoshen: EXIT crumbles in on himself, leaving behind only a rose-shaped clump of charred flesh.


Leosin: What a curious turn of events.

Phell: (her eyes distant) The silence... the thing is gone. Daoshen spoke truth.


Sheeana: ENTER hurries in, her eyes strained with worry, and looks around at the tableau a moment.


Sheeana: Generals... we have captured the assassin that slew Asa. He claims he was sent by Daoshen. We found his poisoned dagger. What shall we do with him?


Leosin: Then... it wasn't the Soulless, it was Daoshen all along?

Phell: (taking a deep breath) To arrange that his dream would come true. In a way that led to the desired outcome.

Leosin: (staring angrily at the scorched remains) He slew Asa? He had even her killed?

Phell: If he had not, the dream would have meant that the Soulless did slay her, and gained her power. He probably was right, she wasn't ready.

Leosin: So he claims.

Phell: (turning to Sheeana) Set the assassin free. Tell him never to return to our kingdom, on pain of death.

Sheeana: Released?

Phell: He was only a pawn of Fate, moving to save us against our own best impulses, as were we all.

Sheeana: EXIT nods, puzzled but obedient, and turns to leave.

Leosin: What now?


Phell: Now, you must ready yourself for your crown. The people need a leader and need hope. You will tell them of Asa's battle against the Soulless, her victory, and its dire cost. You will tell them of our triumph against the treasonous efforts of the cruel tyrant, who sought to undo us.

Leosin: Why should I lie to them thus?

Phell: They would not believe the truth. And we have but a century to prepare for the return. They must be motivated to work, to bleed, to sacrifice, for us to be ready in time.

Leosin: Many of them will suffer because of this.

Phell: And yet is not their sacrifice necessary? Without it, how many more will die?


Leosin: (with a defeated sigh) May the Fates take pity on me for my crimes.



Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Galaxy Far, Far Away

Following is my first draft of a list of cards for a Space Opera version of Once Upon A Time, for people's comments.


Artificial Intelligence
Ambassador (Interrupt)
Mechanic (Interrupt)
Rogue (Interrupt)
Saboteur (Interrupt)
Smuggler (Interrupt)


Of Alien Origin
This Can Fly
Contraband (Interrupt)
Faithful (Interrupt)
Jump-Capable (Interrupt)
Multi-Purpose (Interrupt)
Telepathic (Interrupt)


Breaking In
FTL Travel
Powered Down
Purchase or Hire
The System Crashes
Time Travel
Deep Sleep (Interrupt)
Orbital Insertion (Interrupt)
Upgrade (Interrupt)
Vehicle Crashes (Interrupt)


A Factory
A Desolate Asteroid
A Remote Settlement
An Airlock
Deep Inside Hyperspace
Floating In Space
Hydroponic Farms
In Cyberspace
Medical Center
Power Plant
Space Station
The Edge Of Known Space
The Bad Side Of Town
A Barren, Hostile Land (Interrupt)
Ice Planet (Interrupt)
Mines (Interrupt)
The Marketplace (Interrupt)


Alien Artifact
Blaster Rifle
Countdown Timer
Data Crystal
Food and Drink
Hyperspace Gate
Security System
Doomsday Weapon (Interrupt)
Long-Range Transmitter (Interrupt)
Unknown Language (Interrupt)


A few in the more remote outposts survived.
Across the whole planet there were celebrations late into the night.
After this truth got out, nothing could ever be the same again.
And then she was back as if she had never left.
And so a new frontier was opened for exploration.
And they all hailed her as the one who had been foretold.
And years later they declared that day an official holiday.
And so the captain regained control of his ship and crew.
And to this day there they remain.
As one, the populace was befuddled and didn't know what it meant.
As the last of them left to points unknown, a terrible silence was left behind.
At least they could use the reward to repair most of the damage.
Automated systems kept working for long after there was no one left alive.
Finally the doorway slowly opened.
He found what he had truly lost.
Hunks of slowly cooling rock settled into new orbits.
It took days for the fires to burn out.
It was an entirely new form of life, unlike anything that had been before.
It collapsed into itself and vanished forever.
No matter how many treatments she got, she would never be truly human again.
Once the story was out on the network, change was inevitable.
So the cities lay in smoking ruins, but life would find a way to return someday.
So she revealed her true identity and they were reunited.
The long, arduous process of rebuilding had just begun.
The formula was finally perfected.
The ecosystem collapsed, and millions died.
The new alliance faced many hardships in unity and harmony.
The election results came in: it was a landslide victory!
The destruction was nearly absolute.
The jury-rigged repair held... long enough, at least.
The ship slowly disappeared into the inky darkness of space.
The answer to the mystery was something no one had predicted.
The rebellion was crushed.
The door sealed behind him, leaving him alone in darkness.
The ripples of this change in reality itself would take years to understand.
The threads of reality finally settled back to a stable formation.
The way there was lost forever.
The treaties were signed and ratified.
The discovery led to an age of plenty.
The secret was too dangerous, so they agreed to hide it once more.
The plot was stymied, but was it part of a larger scheme?
The creature's death meant they were safe once more.
The people's cries for change were finally answered.
The life support system wheezed back into life.
The power came back on.
These new discoveries would force the researchers to start over.
They earned promotions and a new security clearance.
They would be on the run forever, but at least they were free.
They weren't who he expected them to be.
They made this their new home and lived out all their days there.
Though they repaired most of the damage he could never fight again.
What new forms of life might arise there, scientists would speculate for decades.
With their new powers, they could ensure justice would prevail.
With her new-found wealth, she was finally able to build it.
Word about the cure was disseminated to all the worlds.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Stowe Soaring

Today I got to take my glider lesson and flight that was my big surprise Christmas present. It was originally scheduled for my birthday, yesterday, but gliding is very weather-sensitive, and a low cloud cover forced Stowe Soaring to reschedule for today. The reschedule didn't work out right, they double-booked, and I had to wait over three hours for my flight. (We spent that time relaxing in Morrisville.)

The flight was preceded by ground training. They'd said it would be an hour, but it was maybe fifteen minutes, and was spent at the glider, and also included the pre-flight checklist which was going to happen anyway. Fortunately I'd already finished reading the book that came with it. The book is very dense, very dry, and very hard to learn much from because there's no chance to make each thing sink in before you're on to something else. It's really intended to be used in parallel with practical training that makes each bit real. However, while I hadn't learned a lot from the book, I did get the ideas into my head, so even the hurried training was enough to get me acclimated to the glider.

The towplane pilot wasn't their usual towplane pilot, but someone who flies DC-10s regularly, and isn't a glider pilot. So the tow up was a little bumpy, and my teacher, John, told me that he was going to handle the tow, and that it's the hardest part. I believe it. I could feel his work on the controls, and there were always three things going on, faster than I could follow. This was the only part that was a little bit scary.

As soon as the tow separation ended and we were on level flight, John told me to point the glider at a particular point and fly it. Just like that. Bam. My first few minutes trying to fly the glider were uneven at best; no matter how many times you read the advice that you work the controls with small movements, just how light the pressure should be is something you can't feel until your hands are on the stick.

It was so late in the day that almost all the lift was gone. We circled in a few thermals (columns of rising air caused by sun heating on the ground, which gliders use to gain altitude and thus prolong the flight) but while the lift had been great earlier in the day (another pilot had been up for four hours on a single tow), even my trainer couldn't get more than a hundred feet out of any thermal, and each flight came to just under a half hour. That I was flying wasn't helping much either.

By the second flight, I had gotten a much better grip on coordinated turns -- that is, working the stick (aelirons) and pedals (rudder) together so that the plane banks without yawing (slewing to the side) -- and pretty much never had the yaw string off center. This was both in straight-and-level flight, and while maintaining a bank of 30° while circling in a thermal However, I never got even close to getting the hang of using the pitch control (tilting forward or back with the elevator) and trim to maintain airspeed of 65 knots. At best, I was managing a pilot-induced oscillation of about 10 knots either way -- I would correct, overshoot, and have to correct back, and overshoot again. That was at best; at worst, I was correcting in the wrong direction, because I didn't have it down to muscle memory how it works, I had to stop and think through, every time, "I need to increase airspeed, and diving increases speed at the cost of altitude, and nose down is diving, and pushing forward is nose down" (or the reverse) instead of just getting "push forward for more speed". (Another minor issue is that I couldn't comfortably pull back since the stick was hitting my stomach, and I couldn't use trim enough to adjust for that because I never had time -- at any given moment I am supposed to watching the sky and horizon, the yaw string, the variometer, the altimeter, and the airspeed indicator, all of which were partially obscured by the pilot in the front seat, while working the stick and rudder pedals).

So I got a total of about 10 minutes of actual flying time. (And that's what my logbook says.) I didn't do anything during either the tow or the landing (not even the approach). All I did was the very simplest stuff, high up in clear air without any other traffic or significant weather. And I didn't even get to the point where I was able to do that. But I was only flying it for ten minutes, so I'm pretty pleased with the fact that in that much time, I got to where I could do banks, fly straight, and aim for a spot and reach it. Another flight and I could probably get to where I could do the pitch in those conditions, and then I could get better at feeling lift on another flight, and so on.

Even so, it's kind of amazing to imagine that anyone can keep all the things in their head they have to in order to fly -- let alone fly and also talk to some annoying guy in the back seat. What's even more amazing is thinking of people doing that in 1928, with planes that barely held together, and hardly anyone to teach you because no one else knew either.

If I had a few extra lifetimes, there are a half-dozen things I would love to spend a lot of time learning, like playing drums. Flying is one of them. Since I don't have an extra lifetime, nor even the basic courtesy of being independently wealthy and eligible for retirement, I probably won't do anything more with this other than playing with Flight Simulator X (which has a glider!). But I can say that, once, I flew a glider.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Stymied and frustrated with the dog fence

I'm very frustrated that we're 90% of the way through training Socks to the dog fence, but now we're at a dead standstill, and there doesn't seem to be anywhere I can turn for help. Every time I try to seek help, it seems the whole thing gets brushed off or not taken seriously.

The fence system's manual has a detailed set of instructions to go through over a few weeks. We've gotten through most of it. Right now, Socks is very hesitant to approach the fence boundary, enough that we don't get chances to reinforce that reluctance because she won't go near it, so we can't reward her for coming back from it.

However, twice so far, she's seen something really tempting outside the fence on the road, and each time she blew through the boundary at the end of the driveway moving so fast that the collar never had time to beep. There's a series of steps in the manual to cover this, but it is entirely predicated on the idea that you can arrange suitably tempting distractions that, despite the reluctance you've built up in previous steps, she'll get to the border, while you have her on a line so you can control the situation. This lets you repeat the previous instruction, only now saying, "even when something tempting is outside, you still can't go".

The manual suggests other family members, favorite toys, or neighbors with their pets can serve as the distraction. However, the few times Siobhan and I have tried to do this, it doesn't come anywhere near close. One of us having her on the leash, the other one is not enough temptation to get Socks even slightly interested in going to the end of the driveway, let alone running full tilt down it. While she likes toys, she has no particular favorite, and her taste for toys comes and goes very quickly. Neighbors and their animals come and go at their schedule, not ours, and it seems a bit much to ask a neighbor to come stand at the end of the driveway three times a day for a week or two. I'm concerned that even that wouldn't be enough temptation for the lesson.

I tried arranging to where Socks can be outside on a line on her own and still be able to get to the end of the driveway, in hopes that the random passings of neighbors and their vehicles might be enough to give her a chance to teach the lesson (since I can't spend 12 hours a day waiting with her on the line for those moments and hoping to take advantage of them). But even with an expensive, super-long line and a newly mounted place to clip it, it's not long enough to cover our lengthy driveway. I've never seen a 100' dog line, but that's what it would take. Even if there was one, I hate to pour that much money into a line we only need for a week if it works, when I don't know if it might work.

So we've poured a huge amount of time and money and effort and pain into this system, we're 90% of the way to done, and it feels like we're stuck, totally stopped. Every day that passes while we don't do anything, as if some miracle's going to come along, is a day that the previous training gets muted a bit, and she's not getting her exercise. It feels like, five or six days ago, we gave up, and I just didn't realize. If we can just find a way over this last hump we're done.

Where can I turn to get new ideas, assistance, or any other way to make progress? I don't even know who I can ask. There aren't any experts on hand for this. People who I know don't seem to have any ideas, if they've even really trying. My post to the SportDog forum goes unanswered. Maybe I should just be trying to hire someone to stand at the end of the driveway for us. Where do you hire people for jobs like that? I am really desperate for ideas here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Denver food

Denver is not a foodie city. It has no particular signature dish, except perhaps the Denver omelet, but let's face it, the Denver omelet is not particularly unique. (Oddly, I saw more places selling Philly cheese steak sandwiches than Denver omelets. I wonder if Philly's full of Denver-omelet-specializing diners?) Most of our meals were not exceptional, or were things that were unusual for us only because they don't have that in our area (and sometimes when we travel, we slum it at a place like Wendy's just because we can't get that at home). Plus, the hotel we stayed at for most of the trip (after the convention was over) had a free breakfast, and not just a muffin and a banana, but a full buffet with an omelet station and everything; so a third of our meals were that. We also had a couple of times when a lunch had enough leftovers to become dinner too. So in the end, we only had a handful of meals that were of any note. And of these the two most interesting were the most, and least, expensive meals we had.

The honor of "most expensive" easily falls to The Fort. This is a pueblo-style building in the red rock area southwest of Denver, but if I tell you that it has a sort of cowboy frontier theme, you will get entirely the wrong idea. You'll probably imagine some mocked-up Wild West town where people in ten-gallon hats and six-shooters are either yelling "yeehaw!" or having quick-draws at high noon, accompanied by sagebrush. The Fort is certainly historical, but not quite that histrionic. It's more focused on the pioneer period, which covers the wagon-trains heading west during the gold rush, and the ranchers herding cattle through the prairies. The staff are in vaguely period garments, but not costumes; it's more subtle than that. The women wearing long skirts and shawls, the men in puffy-sleeved shirts, for instance. The building has a pebbled courtyard and lots of timber inside, but it does not have a steer-head skeleton, a Colt 45, or a cactus everywhere you turn; it just has period building materials.

The food tends to focus just enough on period meals to be interesting, without being either Hollywood or realistic to an extent that it wouldn't also be tasty. For instance, I had a prickly pear beverage which is approximately the sort of thing they would have been drinking in the area 150 years ago, but it was neither slavishly historically accurate (so much that it might not please the modern palate) nor cinematically goofy. (Even so, I didn't like it too much. But that's just because it turns out that while I love the prickly pear lemonade Bolthouse used to make -- why did they stop!?!? -- I don't really like prickly pear on its own.) They also use a fair amount of "game" meat, though they don't actually hunt buffalo, they buy it from sustainably-run local farms that raise buffalo, quail, and the like for that very purpose.

Siobhan had a game meat platter, while I had a pork belly and campfire beans dish that I eventually realized was basically the precursor to "pork-n-beans". I also tried an intriguing appetizer: pickled jalapeños stuffed with honey-sweetened peanut butter. They had a nice heat burn, but the combination didn't work as well as I might have liked. In all, the food was good, and the experience interesting and enjoyable (and I'm not even referring to how good-looking the hostess was in that), but I don't know if it was worth the huge bill. Still, I am not much of a fan of game meats, so I'm not really the one who should judge.

On the way to Roxborough State Park we had no lunch plans, but Google Maps showed there was a Sonic and a pizzeria in the village of Roxborough Park on the way to the park proper, so we figured we'd grab something on the way in, but we didn't decide ahead what it would be. We got to the one shopping center that is the village center, and pulled in, but before we could alight upon Sonic, to what did our eyes appear, but a little strip-mall-type restaurant called Tamale Kitchen. We later learned it was one of a small Denver-area chain, which had started by some people selling tamales door-to-door. But you wouldn't know it by visiting; it just looks like any little strip-mall restaurant run by locals.

I suppose technically the meal we got was not the cheapest in total dollars, but it was certainly the cheapest in dollars per amount of food, and since it ended up making three generous meals, it was easily the cheapest per meal. We stared befuddled at the menu as we read about "family pack #1" which had:
  • 12 tamales (red, green, or a mix)
  • 12 tortillas
  • 1 pint of beans
  • 1 pint of rice
  • 1 pint of chili
  • a two-liter bottle of Pepsi or Diet Pepsi
for $21. Back in Vermont that would be a fantastic price; I would expect to pay twice that much. And restaurants in Denver were uniformly much higher in price than back home. So this deal was just amazing. They had several other platters which mixed in tacos and/or burritos, at similarly amazing prices.

The chili was actually chili sauce, and it was good chili sauce, and way more than you needed for everything else in the meal. The tamales were also very good. Not the best I've ever had, but certainly closer to the best than the worst. The green ones were a little skimpy on filling, but the red ones were quite generous on filling, so it evened out. The rice was nothing special, but the beans were very good.

We both had lunch from it, then I ate more for dinner, and well into the evening. It was too good to let any of it go to waste. I even used some of the chili sauce to dip hush puppies in (don't knock it, it worked really well). All in all, it was very good. Not fine cuisine good, but for $21 for that much food, you'd expect it to be awful and still cost a lot more, but it was darned good. If I could buy a package like that at home, I think we would cook half as much as we do.

There were some other meals that I'm sure Siobhan has documented extensively on Chowhound or Yelp or something, and some of them were good, but they were the kind of good you might expect to find in any city. We had a fairly good deli, but nothing to even sit in the shadow of Carnegie Deli; we had some all right Mexican, but not really a lot better than even the Mexican we can get in Vermont; and so on.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Denver activities

Most of what we did in Denver can be divided up into two categories: window-shopping, and visiting parks and wilderness. The former leaves me very little to talk about, because Denver's shopping areas were dreadfully dull. You know how the local mall is like 90% clothing stores? Denver's malls are like 98% clothing stores. The first mall we visited, if you took out the clothing stores, jewelry stores, and restaurants, you'd have about three things left. One tiny Lego shop, a chocolatier, and a Microsoft store. The other big mall, and outdoor shopping area, weren't much different. There were a couple of kitchen shops, a huge store that sells nothing but containers for other things, and multiple Starbucks in the same mall... and those were the highlights. The 16th Street pedestrian mall was even worse: pretty much nothing but chain stores.

About the only store that was much fun to visit was a Guitar Center. Though not as much as it might have been if it had been possible to buy stuff there! There was also a tiny shop called The Pilot Shop we kept seeing signs for on the way to our hotel (at the small regional airport), so we stopped in one day just to sate our curiosity. (About half the store is kitschy things like model planes, T-shirts, and bumper-stickers, of interest to people who fly; the other half is specialized things like headsets, ILS charts, and FAA regulation books and checklists.)

So we spent most of our time visiting the various nature areas, parks, and wildernesses that happened to be convenient to our location and the weather. Weather wasn't always with us: it was chilly, threatening to rain, and cloudy a lot, and in fact, after a late winter in Vermont where it was wet and cold the whole year, it finally got warm for the first time right after we left, at which point it was cold in Denver. Even so we got a fair amount of sunlight.

Our first stop was the quaint village of Manitou Falls, in the Colorado Springs (or, as the signs all say, Colo Spgs) area. It's not just a charming touristy town. It's a CHARMING TOURISTY TOWN at the top of its lungs. It makes Stowe look reserved. It makes Ogunquit seem organic. It makes Port Jefferson seem sincere. We didn't linger very long, though; the deli we were getting lunch at didn't open until pretty much when we had to run to make our reservation, so we got our food to go.

The main thing Manitou Falls has going for it, apart from small, cutesy shops selling things no one needs, is being the base of the Pikes Peak Cog Railway. This is a pretty expensive ride, but it's really quite incredible. Unfortunately due to high winds we couldn't ride to the top (and graciously, they reduce the exorbitant ticket prices accordingly... to still exorbitant, but less so, prices). We only got to Windy Point at 12,000 feet. The views were still spectacular, and the ride well worth it.  The conductor does a great job of keeping the trip entertaining.  Still would have been nice to be able to say we got to the very top (14,100 feet or so).

After this, we went to the Garden of the Gods.  This is a pretty big park that is mostly notable for having some amazing, huge rocky formations, mostly of that strikingly red rock native to the area.  Some are huge, some are balanced, some are oddly shaped, and all are pretty breathtaking.  In between is an awful lot of arid wilderness, along with some nicely designed trails and roads.  A light walk of a couple of miles got us amongst and alongside the biggest of the rock formations, and gave us great views from all directions, both of the rocks and of the crazy people climbing them (despite the many, many signs saying not to do so unless you were a professional with a license), plus an exposure to the wilderness itself (though we didn't really see any wildlife apart from the occasional bird).  After the walk, a set of roads lets you drive through the rest and see most of the remainder of the great views, rocks, and wilderness, which provides a nice balance: you get to see everything in a huge park even if you're not up to doing huge long hikes.  Anyone who visits the area should give Garden of the Gods a few hours; best of all, it's free.

Back in the Denver area we visited Cherry Creek Park, which is referred to as Denver's backyard.  This is the kind of park that's mostly focused on activities: picnic areas, fishing, boating, swimming, and the like.  Which is not to say there wasn't wilderness and trails, but given that it's mostly a big open area with very little vegetation taller than your knee, it's really more suited to activities than feeling like you're out in the middle of nowhere (you can still see Denver from pretty much all points, even though it's many, many miles away).  Some of the activities are a bit unusual, such as a shooting range.  The most interesting was a model RC airplane field: space set aside by the park, and then maintained and equipped by a pair of local RC plane fan clubs.  No one was flying the day we went due to high winds, but that let us get a better look (since technically we weren't supposed to be allowed into the area).  It's incredible how much stuff they have, including runways wide enough to drive a minivan down.  These people are serious.  (So much that RC cars are entirely banned, because, after all, those people are just playing with silly toys.)

Roxborough State Park was a bit more wilderness-park-like.  No camping, but lots of hiking, and it was hilly enough that you couldn't see the whole park from any single point.  We took one of the easiest trails, and it was just about as much as we could do -- though in warmer weather we might have felt a bit more comfortable on it, but even so, we probably wouldn't've been up to the challenge of any of the other trails.  The park had a few "learning about nature" signs that were really strikingly self-congratulatory and effusive, but once you got away from the visitor center, it was just a lovely park with interesting plants and rock formations and a nice sense of isolation and quiet.  Also a lot more vegetation than we'd seen elsewhere, though even here the trees were short, stunted, twisted oaks.  No tall pine forests like we might have imagined (that, it turns out, is more common on the other side of the Rockies).  The picture here is a ground-clinging cactus growing at the foot of a twisty oak, a juxtaposition that seemed unusual.

We didn't end up driving up into the mountains and over them (or through them, as there's a tunnel on one of them), largely because the weather never quite seemed right for a drive like that.  Some other time we need to see the Colorado Plateau, the land on the other side of the Rockies (that includes a lot of Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico), where there are both the tall pine forests, and the kind of dry arid land that you can call "desert" without disclaimer.  All in good time.

We didn't do a lot of museum-like stuff. We intended to visit the Denver Mint, because, how often do you get to tour a U.S. Mint? But it turns out they only offer a small number of tours each day and you have to book far in advance, and we let the window of opportunity slip away. We had also considered the Molly Brown House, but it wasn't open the one day we were looking to go to it.  So in the end the only place we visited was the Denver Firefighter's Museum. Which was pretty cool, really. It's not too large, only took an hour and a half or so to visit, but it was also reasonably priced (more so since we got a Groupon coupon for it), so it was a fairly good deal.

I think it was more fascinating for Siobhan because she has less exposure to firefighting and its history than I have. My parents were in the volunteer fire department in various capacities, and so I went to any number of open houses, picnics, firefighter's competitions, and the like, as well as some time hanging out at the fire department (I remember playing Atari 2600 on the (for that time) huge TV they had in the rec room). I even took some first aid, CPR, and babysitting courses there. Looking at plaques with pictures of firefighter training towers isn't as wowing if you've actually climbed up in one, and hearing about how the response system works isn't as amazing if your mom was a dispatcher and you had a CB in the house for years picking up the calls.

Even so, there was a lot for me to learn and be impressed by. Particularly interesting was the early part of the museum which covered the history of the fire alarm process -- from the time when it was someone shouting "Fire!" and everyone running for their buckets, through the installation of dedicated telegraph wires and cog-wheels with coded locations making ticker-tapes in various departments, to the modern computerized systems, and everything in between. There were also some fascinating historical tidbits about Denver's history with firefighting. And no matter how exposed you are to firefighters, you can't help but get a bit moved by some of the accounts of their bravery, sacrifice, and dedication.

Be forewarned, though. While there are a lot of activities for the kids, including a chance to try to get into gear quickly, a model house to practice fire drills in, and a truck you can climb into, there is not a pole you can slide down. There are several poles, of course, but there is no sliding.

The museum's definitely worth the time and money. Even if you don't find the subject matter interesting, I suspect the museum would serve to make it become interesting for you.

Friday, May 06, 2011


Over the month's end we spent a week in Denver, because of Siobhan having a work conference there, and extending it a few days. The first couple of days Siobhan was in her conference, and I mostly just goofed off in the hotel room -- I looked into things I could do near the hotel, but none of them were more compelling than just relaxing. I'll do a few blog posts about our adventures in Denver, on various subjects. This one will be overall impressions.

The most striking impression of Denver is that it's flat. You look on the map and you get the idea that, sure, it's in a valley, but it's in a valley in the Rockies, it's a mile up, it's got to be at least hilly, and feeling like there's mountains nearby. But it's not just a valley, it's a huge, huge, huge plateau. You can get in a car and drive for an hour and never once cross a hill of any size, or feel like the mountains are nearby. It feels like you're in Iowa or Kansas. There are distant mountains on the horizon but they are so far away that you can't see them if there's even a single story building in the way, and they don't ever seem to get closer. They feel like they're in another state. For all that you're up high in the mountains you will feel like you're on the plains. Heck, Long Island feels hillier.

I also got the impression in my head that there'd be woods, and Siobhan got that even more. Isn't that how you picture it? But when you're there what it really looks like is a midway point between the scrub-covered deserts of the southwest, and the open prairie of the midwest. It's dry, rocky, and almost entirely devoid of trees. Everywhere.

That's not to say there isn't natural beauty. Once you get out of the city, into the parks and wilderness areas, there's an austere beauty, a combination of the vast (incredible-sized red rocks, huge open vistas) and subtle (the low-key life of the arid almost-desert). It just wasn't the kind I imagined it would be.

People talk about the "Mile High City" altitude effects, and we were even warned to bring some extra painkillers for the headaches, but I never really felt it. It's hard to be sure if there was ever a time I wouldn't've been as out of breath in lower altitude; a few times I did a fairly long hike, including almost three miles to a supermarket for supplies (the second half with a backpack full of heavy stuff), once on a trail in the hills, and I don't think I got more out of breath than I would have back home. Of course, up Pikes Peak, I felt it, but that's a whole other ball game.

Another thing I didn't know about Denver was that it had a sizable Hispanic/Latino population. I suppose I didn't have any preconceptions about its ethnic mix. I didn't give it any thought, but if someone had asked, I would likely have guessed it would have the same kind of mix that most any big city would have. I didn't expect any particular ethnicity to be more prominent than any other. One of the nice things about this particular surprise was a great dinner, but I'll save that for another post.

One particularly odd thing is that, on three separate occasions, we saw rabbits. And not even out in the wilderness, in the city. Once, at our hotel, there was one on the grass who didn't even run away when we pulled up in the car and then walked past him, not more than a few feet away. Another time there was a group of three of them in a tiny patch of grass in between a giant office building and an under-construction Ikea (which of course was far, far bigger). I don't think I ever saw a squirrel, though. I suppose rabbits do fine in dry, treeless climes, but I was still surprised to find them in the city, and so much more fearless than anywhere else I've ever encountered rabbits.

Denver's people were uniformly polite, especially on the roads, where virtually no one ever sped, traffic tended to move in an almost uniform block, and it was quite rare to have trouble changing lanes or making your turn. It occurred to me that the legendary standoffishness of New Yorkers is, in a way, a sort of courtesy. When you live in a massively crowded crush of people, personal space, privacy, and isolation are valuable things, survival necessities. Not making eye contact and not being chummy with strangers, the things people from other parts of the country take as being cold and distant, are a way of respecting other people's space, not intruding. When a city is more sprawly (and good lord but Denver is sprawly, on account of that whole "huge flat area" thing I mentioned), a certain level of cordiality becomes the mark of courtesy, because no one needs to cultivate their isolation, since they can always get some if they want some.

Upcoming posts will talk about the things we did in Denver, the places we went, the travel itself, and of course the food.