Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars, Ch. 12, Pt. 2

I am sorry to have to say this will be the last installment
of my unfinished novel, The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars. 
I'm in the process of revising the text for publication. 
I've abandoned the flash-back format, which is a bit of a spoiler, 
and I'm dividing up some of these very long chapters and desperately striving to cut it down.
I'll keep everyone informed as to my progress.

A list of the previous posts (point to the chapter and the link will appear):
Chapter 1 The Captain Eats Crow
Chapter 2 How Robbin Nikalishin Got His Name
Chapter 3 The Captain Receives an Unexpected Assignment
Chapter 4 School Days at Epping Academy
Chapter 5 The Captain Takes Command of the Red Planet
Chapter 6 Crises and Decisions
Chapter 7 An Old Love and Another Assignment
Chapter 8 (Pt.1) Robbin Nikalishin and Sharlina Graves [pt.1]
Chapter 8 (Pt.2) Robbin Nikalishin and Sharlina Graves [pt.2]
Chapter 9 Aboard the Ore Freighter Hell's Gate
Chapter 10 How the Relationship between Robbie and His Silver Mother Changed
Chapter 11 The Captain Receives an Unconditional Reprieve
Chapter 12, Pt. 1 A Summer Adventure and a Term at Oxkam
Chapter 12, Pt. 2
Robbie Meets Kolm's Family
Robbie wrestled with these matters until well into Trinitary Term, at first alone with Prf. Eiginsh and then to a lesser extent with Prf. Flournoi, with whom he explored the theoretical foundations of the work.  At one point, Robbie asked if Kolm couldn’t participate in the studies, since the engineering aspects of the subject captivated the young Eirishman.  The Professors respected Kolm’s intellect as much as Robbie’s and were willing to include him.  Robbie had an ulterior motive; he hoped to get Kolm so intrigued with the idea of creating and maintaining an interstellar drive that he would commit to entering the Flight Academy with him the following year.
the Midwinter Holidays came round, Robbie’s old demon reared its head again and he had no idea what to do with himself.  He woke Kolm up one night with the dream about the baby, although he didn’t reveal the nature of the nightmare to his friend.
Kolm said to him, “It’s goin’ home that’s worrying ye again, isn’t it?  Now, I’m not askin’ ye for any explanations, so don’t get huffy or jump up and paste me in the side of the head – just hear me out.  I was wonderin’ if ye’d like to come home to Eira with me for the holidays.  There’ll be a passel of great food, and some traditions that may be new to ye.”
So Robbie rang up Sterling and actually caught her at home.  When she heard his plans, she was silent for a minute and then said, “I haven’t seen you, Robbie, since before you went birding last summer."
This irritated him because it made him feel guilty, and he really didn’t think she had any right to make him feel guilty.  “Why do you want to see me?  Is there any real reason, Mum?  You must be busy, particularly at this holiday season.” 
“Of course there’s no reason,’ she said, her voice grating.  “I’m being rather silly, aren’t I?  There should be a logical reason for everything we do; that’s quite obvious.”
A silence hung between them.  Then Sterling said, “Go to Eira, Robbin.  Kolm is a fine boy and it will be a useful experience for you. You have your mother’s blessing.”
It was with great relief that Robbie shut down the com, although he had no idea as to whether that “blessing” remark was sarcastic or sincere.
So he went home with Kolm to his family’s farm not far inland from Wicklo Precinct and the experience was a revelation equal to the birding trip.  He learned at last what it was like to be raised in a traditional family, with your roots growing from a piece of ground you called your own.  Kolm’s mother and father, Joanna and Mat, and his two sisters, nine-year-old Aideen and fifteen-year-old Fiona, all lived in a rambling, inefficient house of concrete and fieldstone that predated the Union by a hundred years.  Kolm’s widowed grandmother lived with them as well, a lively, good-natured old lady who made a lamb stew worth dying for.  Kolm’s mother baked wonderful soda bread, served with honey from the family’s own bees.  Robbie got stung examining the hives, much to the merriment of Fiona and Aideen.  The fifteen-year-old flirted mercilessly with Robbie, who carefully reined in his responses, because Kolm made some threats that struck him as only half-humorous.
Robbie met domestic animals for the first time; there had been dogs at Dois Palmas, but they were big, brutish guard dogs, intimidating to a small boy.  Here there were not only dogs, but cats, goats, sheep, chickens, geese, and a couple of equines.  The equines were mere ponies, kept mainly for the entertainment of the family’s and the neighbors’ children, but Robbie found them unnerving.  He was goaded into mounting one and promptly fell off into a pile of manure.  Kolm teased him.  “Here, the big star-flyin’ man can’t even keep his seat on a little mare pony!  That doesn’t bode so well for the future of Earth’s space program, now, does it?”
“A space plane’s got bulkheads, you nit,” responded Robbie good-humoredly as he pelted his friend with manure, “and restraint belts on the seats.  This monster’s got no safety mechanisms – and no guidance system!  It’s like riding on the outside of the hull!”
Of all the animals, Robbie found the chickens and geese the most fascinating, to the perplexity of Kolm’s family, who looked upon them matter-of-factly as a source of eggs and meat.  When one of the geese hissed and pecked at Robbie, he simply stood his ground and honked at it, and strangely enough the bird backed off with what seemed like a puzzled mien.  And the roosters fascinated him, with their strut and their raucous crowing, their proud combs and flocks of adoring hens.  He told Kolm that obviously these gamecocks knew how to please their women.
The Eirish Midwinter festivity was different from anything Robbie had ever heard of.  It was celebrated on the solstice, but Kolm’s father explained that it incorporated elements from what ancient Romish worshipers had called Krismess.  Robbie’s knowledge of the Romish religion came solely from a brief exposition in one of Prf. Doone’s classes, so he was interested to see what it entailed. 
The MaGilligoodys set up something they called a “kraytch” – a little array of figurines in a cave-like setting.  There was a woman in a blue gown with silvery trim on it, a baby lying in a cradle, and a man standing beside them.  From the top of the cave projected a wire with a star on it, something like the star on Robbie’s space plane.  There were sheep and donkeys arrayed around, and (mystifyingly) a camel, and winged fairies stuck up on the wall behind.  Facing this tableau were two men dressed in bright robes, holding out a box and a vial. 
Kolm said, “There are supposed to be three of those, but last year one of ’em disappeared.  I think maybe one of the cats got holt of it and carried it off.”
“What’s it represent?” asked Robbie, watching Kolm’s Grammy lighting fat beeswax candles at each end of the scene.
“It’s the birth of that god-man Jaysus that’s on me medal,” said Kolm.  “That’s his mother Mairin watchin’ over him.  He was supposed to have been born this time of the year – that’s what we’re celebratin’.”
“Who’s the man?  I thought you said he didn’t have a father.
“It’s his foster father, name of Josef.  Mairin was married to him, ’cause that was back in the days when women had to have men to look after them."
What’s the star for?” 
“They say it burst out bright in the sky at Jaysus’s birth.  Probably a supernova, you know, if it ever really happened a-tall.  And the family was so poor that the babby was birthed in a barn, and yet this star set up right atop it.  Those chaps in the robes – they call ’em Wise Men – Professors, most likely … they got its coordinates and brought fancy gifts to Jaysus to show they recognized he was a god.  It’s supposed to have happened somewhere at the east end of the Mediterrian, where it’s all a Devastation Zone now.  A pretty tale, it is.”
“And you Eirish really worship this god?” asked Robbie, looking at Kolm’s father.
“Oh, I don’t know that I’d call it worship, lad,” Mat MaGilligoody said.  “But we Eirish tend to be a superstitious lot.  If it’s not gods, it’s fairies, ye know.  Two of those even got hooked up in this tale, ye can see there.  It’s just part of our tradition to do these here things at Midwinter – a nice, peaceful way of celebratin’.”
Robbie found it totally bizarre, but nevertheless he stood looking at the baby and at the mother and at the star, unable to interpret the emotions that were weltering within him.
On that day of solstice they had a big feast … the main course was goose, which made Robbie a little uncomfortable, afraid he was eating the one whose acquaintance he had made … and then they sang traditional songs.  Some were in an ancient tongue that even the MaGilligoodys didn’t know the meaning of, but one was in an ancient dialect of Inge.

Silent night, holy night ...
All is calm, and all is bright
Around the vergin mother and child --
Holy infant, all tender, all mild ...
May the cleep in a haven of peace ...
Sleep in a haven of peace ...

Robbie thought he had never heard a song so tranquil and so moving.  “That mother and child – that’s your Mairin and Jaysus?” he asked.
“Right.  The same as is in the kraytch,” said Mat.
 “I can’t help being a little surprised.  I thought all the ancient religions were supposed to be violent and evil.  This doesn’t seem that way.”
And Kolm’s mother said, “I’ve an idea, friend of me son, that none of them was violent in its heart.  I think it’s the hearts of humans that misunderstood the Right Way and made ’em so.”
  Later in the evening, Kolm played a tin whistle, a talent that Robbie hadn’t known he possessed, and Kolm’s father played a grotesque musical instrument where the air was forced through a bag.  They told ancient Eirish stories about vanishing cities and wandering lights and they drank mulled ale; it was not Robbie’s first taste of alcohol, but it was his first time to drink a little more than was wise.  The next morning he was privileged to experience his first hangover.
When the time came to return to school, the boys splurged by taking an excursion boat across Sainjorge’s Channel instead of catching a wing hopper.  The craft was operated by Gwidian Tours, the enterprise of an old family of seafarers from Kardif.  It was yet another first for Robbie – his first time to bob on the waters of the sea.  He got a bit queasy, but it excited him tremendously, and he hated to see the trip end.
“Ye’re kinda quiet, lad,” said Kolm, as they neared the harbor.  “What are ye thinking about?”
“I’m thinking that I envy you, Goody,” Robbie replied.  “I didn’t know – couldn’t have realized – how happy people … a family like yours … could be … ”
Kolm clapped him on the shoulder.  “Well, ye do seem to have had a bit of a rough time in yer life, friend of mine.  But ye’re welcome in my family.  Ye’re welcome to come back and soil yer boots in the goose shit as often as ye like!”
*          *          *
Early in Trinitary Term, Prf. Flournoi called Robbie into his office.  “At the risk of bolstering what I perceive as a pretty substantial ego, Mr. Nikalishin, I have to tell you that your progress has impressed both Prf. Eiginsh and me.  Man, you’re only 17 years old, and you’ve reached a point that is often beyond the reach of a First Termer.  It’s post-grad stuff that you’re doing.”
“I’m really gratified to hear that, sir.  Prf. Eiginsh sometimes makes me feel like a mental flea.  He’s awfully good at tearing apart what I think are perfectly cogent pieces of reasoning.”
Flournoi chuckled.  “He is that.  Not very verbally adept, though, is he?”
“Oh, did he tell you about the name thing, sir?  We have this on-going battle.”
“Don’t let him get to you.  I’ve known him some fifteen years now, and to this day my name sometimes comes out of his mouth as ‘Foolroi’ or ‘Flower-boy.’”
They laughed together.  Then the Professor said abruptly, “Mr. Nikalishin, I want you to apply for regular admission to Oxkam next year.  I can almost guarantee you a scholarship.”
Robbie looked at him.  “Oh!  Well, I appreciate your faith in me, Prf. Flournoi, but I really don’t think I want to do that.  I plan to attend the Flight Academy at Old Heathero.  I’ve already got the Permission to Apply in hand and I was just on the verge of asking you if you could be so kind as to write a recommendation for me.”
Flournoi was clucking and shaking his head.  ”Your mind will be wasted in the military.  You have the potential to do great things in either the theoretical or applied fields of temporal quantum physics.  Do you realize how rare your kind of intellectual ability is?  Why do you think it took over six centuries from the discovery of quantum mechanics and superstrings to come up with temporal quantum theory?”
“I always thought it was because the Dark Age got in the way.”
“Well, that can’t have helped, but my point is, it takes an intellect of rare and eccentric brilliance like Iven Herinen’s to achieve such a breakthrough.  You might – you aren’t quite there yet, but you might – just have such a mind.  And you want to throw it all away on some space-pilot hero riff.”  Flournoi shook his head.
Robbie was getting a little irritated.  “I’m not all that sure I do have that kind of mind, Professor, and I’m not sure I have the dedication for it.  I wanted to become competent in this branch of physics because I believe it’s the foundation of an interstellar drive and I know that understanding something of the science behind your engines can make you a better pilot and – a better Captain, if I should ever be so fortunate.  You shouldn’t just punch buttons – you should know what happens when you punch them, and why.  But the flying has always come first with me.  It’s my motivation.  Without that, I might just throw over the whole thing and become … ”  He cast about for an example.  “ … a bird counter.  Or a farmer in Eira.”
Flournoi gave a rather startled laugh at that, not fully understanding what prompted those examples.  “Well, I’m not going to lay off you about this, Robbie.  And I’m not going to agree to write your recommendation yet, either.  Let’s wait awhile.  Think it over; don’t act rashly.  And then maybe … ”
“It’s not rash,” said Robbie.  “It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.”
He talked all this over with Kolm, who said, “A rare opportunity it is, Robbie – to have some of the most learned men on Earth beggin’ ye to attend one of the greatest universities on Earth.  Ye might even get a chance to work on the SkyPiercer Project.”
“I am going to work on the SkyPiercer Project,” exploded Robbie.  “I’m going to fly one of the first ships with a TQ drive that is ever constructed.  And you are going to be the Engineer on it.  Kolm, you know I want us to be a team – to go into space together!”
“I know ye do, lad, but … ”  Kolm chewed his lip.  His Permission to Apply for the Flight Academy also reposed in a drawer of his desk.  “Ye’re not the only one they asked to stay here, ye know.  They didn’t prime me up quite as full as they did you, but they were a fair bit flatterin’.  And me parents … well, I’d be the first person in me family to get into a high and mighty school like this.  The best anyone did afore me was me Mum, who spent a year at the MaCrory Technical College up in Dublen.”
obbie shoved his fingers through his hair.  “Kolm, you stubborn nit, I want you with me at Old Heathero.”
“Robbie, why is it so important to ye that I go with you?  We can’t be together our whole life, man.  We’ll both marry us a woman someday and settle down and raise a family.  We can’t stay together forever.”
“See, I don’t see that in my future.  I want … ”
“I know.  You want to be a space hero.”
“Well, yes, juvenile as that sounds.  And every hero needs a companion – somebody to share his adventures with him.  Can’t you be that for me?    Besides, I need you, Kolm.”
The last words seemed wrenched out of him, and Kolm frowned.  “Ah, lad … ”
“You keep me stable, Goody.  You know that.  I … Sometimes I think something terrible would go wrong with my life if you weren’t a part of it.”
Robbie was scowling and scrubbing the back of his neck, looking up defensively at Kolm.  The young Eirishman sat down beside him.  “Now, Robbie, boy.  That’s touchin’ to me.  Lemme think about it a wee bit more.  It is a great draw – this takin’ care of the fancy newfangled light-time engine of an interstellar ship.  Maybe I could even get to be a tiny hero in me own right.”
Robbie laughed shakily.  “I have no doubt whatsoever of it.  Come on, Goody, don’t let me down.” 
The upshot of it all, of course, was that Professors Flournoi and Eiginsh regretfully relented and wrote the recommendations, and Robbin Nikalishin and Kolm MaGilligoody went down to the Old Heathero Flight Academy together in the fall term of 2747 – an event that was indeed to have consequences for the history of the modern world.
That's all, folks!
You'll have to wait ... and wait ... and wait ...
till the first volume of The Man Who Found Birds is published.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Nice Words about The Termite Queen

       YA author Marva Dasef reviewed The Termite Queen on Amazon and Goodreads.  I discussed one of her books, Faizah's Destiny, here on the termitespeaker blog.  She doesn't like the human part of the story (sigh), but she does like the termites!  And she appreciates my "Shakespearean" presentation!  Here's some of what she says.

       "As for volume 2, the termites have more depth and become very interesting with heroics, kindness, evil intentions, and all the other human emotions but with an imaginative twist on all of it. Yes, we've got to know them far better as they interact with Kaitrin. This new level of interaction comes from Kaitrin's development of the termite language (sort of like radio waves, not sound). By interpreting patterns in the wavelengths, various repetitions, and lots of smart guesswork, Kaitrin prepares to study the termite race at their very core--within the termite palace.
       "I love all Kaitrin's interactions with the Seer, the Warrior, the Remembrancer, several of the Worker chiefs, and, at last, the Queen in her prison of reproduction. The sections with the termites only as the evil Chamberlain plots to overthrow the Seer are well done. I especially like the blocking notes (theater talk for non-verbal movements on stage) which add to the termite language. The various posturing tells us a lot about the personalities of the individuals."

       To counterbalance Marva's dislike of my protagonist, here's a quotation from Chris Brown's Amazon review:
       "I am definitely nòt a fan of romances, but even so, I found the story of growing and deepening love between Kaitrin and Gwidian to be a most compelling one, and Taylor was certainly able to hold my interest throughout the ups and downs of this part of the story. Taylor certainly demonstrates how a love story can be more than satisfyingly written without having to rely on the crutch of over-worked sex scenes as its only means of conveying the story. I even found Kaitrin's post-adventure quest to understand Gwidian to be a rather compelling story in and of itself. I think I read the last third of the book in one sitting -- perhaps if for no other reason than to at last understand this Gwidian -- initially a bit of a snoot, and always a bit standoffish, but also somehow desperately in need of love."

       Here's where you can find Marva's reviews of Volume One and of Volume Two, and here is her Amazon page

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Books I Read as a Child: Influence or Reflection of My Personality?

I copied this from Amazon and
I apologize for the fuzziness; it
didn't copy well.
Recently I got to thinking about the books that were my favorites when I was a child, and I began to wonder how those books might either have influenced me or might reflect the kinds of material that I'm writing in my older years.  I've turned up some interesting relationships.
       My mother read to me every day when I was a toddler and preschooler.  I would meet her at the door with a book when she would come home from teaching school, and she would immediately sit down and read for 30 minutes.  Like most children, I liked to experience the same books over and over.  Strangely enough (for a two or three year old) I adored Billy Whiskers, by Frances Trego Montgomery.  My well-worn copy of the book is sitting over here on my shelf; I found it when I cleaned out all those stored boxes after my mother died.  Apparently it was a very popular children's book for its time (early 20th century) because the cover says "One Million, One Hundred Fifty-two Thousand Copies of This Book Sold."  It sometimes has the subtitle "The Autobiography of a Goat" and it recounted the adventures of a billy goat who was trained to pull a cart and ends up in the circus.  Frankly, I don't recall the plot at all, but I do remember the line "the agonized look on the face of Billy Whiskers."  For some reason that line fascinated me.  I used to go around spouting it because it never failed to make adults laugh and praise me for being precocious.  It seems I've always loved the sound of words, even if I wasn't sure what they meant!  I really need to read that book again and see what all the fuss was about.  And something else my fascination with that book demonstrates is that I always liked non-human protagonists from early on.
       When I was in fourth or fifth grade I read at least 50 books.  Our main classroom had a table with books on it and every day I picked a different one.  We had to write little reviews.  I liked most of what I read, but much of it didn't stick in my mind.  I know I never cared much for Mary Poppins, although I couldn't tell you why.
       My first big love among books that I read to myself was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  I read it when I was eight years old (I think somebody gave it to me while I was recovering from chicken pox).  I read it 14 times and had the whole first chapter memorized.  Later I also read and relished the same author's A Little Princess.  Two things about these books strike me now:  They both have ailing male characters who are helped by strong female characters.  In my book The Termite Queen, the characters are not children, of course, but the male lead is a conflicted introvert who is struggling to cope with his past, something like Colin's father in The Secret Garden or Sara Crewe's father in A Little Princess; and Kaitrin Oliva is equivalent to Mary Lennox or Sara Crewe.  I have always thought of Rochester in Jane Eyre as more the inspiration for Griffen in The Termite Queen, but it seems the inclination to be fascinated with the vulnerable male character has been with me from the beginning.
       Then I discovered historical fiction.  Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray was my first venture into that area on the level I was supposed to be reading (about 10 years old).  I was fascinated by the depiction of medieval life.  However, even before that, I had discovered The Three Musketeers.  I know I met it when I was eight years old, the same year I read The Secret Garden, but I think it was in a version abridged for children.  I fell in love with swashbuckling adventure, and in the year I was twelve I read every one of the sequels to The Three Musketeers.  I also read The Count of Monte Cristo in its original form when I was ten and was completely mesmerized.  Unfortunately, I learned the word "infanticide" from that book and was pretty shocked by the episode where the villain buries the baby.  I also learned the word "hashish," which I understood vaguely only as something bad that shouldn't be messed with.  I was fascinated by the paralyzed man who could only communicate by blinking his eyes, and by the drug that simulated death, allowing the heroine to escape.  And the whole revenge motif, which proved in the end not to be the right answer ... I'm sure that had an influence on my thinking.  But certainly none of that damaged my psyche -- it just opened up the possibilities of wonderful, exotic adventures, both physical and psychological, and it fed a long-standing interest in French history and the French language.  And while I always loved the rascal D'Artagnan (a trickster character for sure), my favorite musketeer was Athos, the sober intellectual.
       Another influence where I see a connection to what I write today came from the Doctor Doolittle books.  I know today they are castigated as racist, but actually only the original volume contains much of that nature and it's one I never read!  I don't own any of those books; I read them all from the library and so I just plucked one off the shelf one day and then another and another and paid no attention to reading them in order.  My favorites and the only ones I really remember were Mudface the Turtle and the Canary Opera (I don't remember the exact titles).  Do you see a thread here?  Both are about animals (comparable to aliens) who are intelligent and can talk.  Mudface also introduced me to the ideas of archaeology, paleontology, and anthropology -- how did humans really get to the New World?  Well, how else but by having a male and female pair get rescued during Noah's flood by a giant sea turtle who deposited them in the Western Hemisphere?  I thought that was the neatest idea!  I also loved Dr. Doolittle's parrot and the canary in the Canary Opera.  Talking, intelligent birds -- hmm. 
       These are not the only books I read as a child and teenager, of course.  Quo Vadis was another of my historical finds (stimulated by seeing the movie at the age of 10) -- it got me interested in Roman and classical history.  I loved Little Women and proceeded to read all its sequels, also.   I paid my dues reading nursing stories (Cherry Ames and Sue Barton), and I got into mysteries about the age of twelve.  I inhaled the entire collected Sherlock Holmes canon that year, and in high school I read a lot of Ellery Queen.  Later in my life I particularly liked Dorothy Sayers and a few other authors.  But I never found the mystery genre as a whole compelling.  It was always realistic books with a psychological twist that captivated me, or else a lot of fast-paced, swashbuckling adventure with trickster characters.  And this summary wouldn't be complete without a mention of Shakespeare, who falls in both of the above categories.  When I was fourteen, my mother bought me a complete Shakespeare.  We read Julius Caesar in school that year (feeding my interest in ancient Rome) and of course my mother taught English literature, so I started reading the plays and actually memorizing passages.  That can't have hurt my literary development.
       One more little anecdote involving historical fiction:  I had seen a movie at some early stage of my life where I was appalled and horrified when a character's eyes were gouged out.  I practically had nightmares about that scene, but after a few years I couldn't recall what movie it was from.  And then in high school I read The Prince of Foxes by Samuel Shellenbarger, and lo and behold!  There was the same scene!  Actually, it's a trick; the character only pretends to gouge out the eyes and substitutes grapes for the eyeballs.  But I don't think I understood that when I saw the movie at the age of seven or eight; I thought that was really somebody's eyeballs!
       You may note that I never read any science fiction as a child, and the only fantasy I can recall were the Oz books.  We had a friend who had adored the Oz books when she was a child and she bought me a whole bunch of them.  I have eight of them over here on the shelf.  My favorites characters were the Patchwork Girl (another intelligent non-human) and the Glass Cat ("I have pink brains - you can see 'em work!"). I also liked one tale where dinosaur bones come to life.  There you see my fascination with paleontology and it presents again the strange alien lifeform that exhibits intelligence.  I really didn't get into epic fantasy at all until I read Tolkien at the age of 29.  After that, the ball started rolling.  But after my writing hiatus from 1983 to 2000, it seems I turned back to my roots.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Writing Progress: So What's Next on My Agenda?

       For a while now, I've been playing up Fathers and Demons as the next book I planned to publish, but now I've changed tactics.  I mentioned that Fathers and Demons was a big chunk of my WIP The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars, too long to leave within the boundaries of that book.  I've long been thinking that I might never get around to making MWFB publishable, and Fathers and Demons somewhat summarized the plot of the longer book, thus at least getting a bit of it preserved.
I published this drawing once before
but I thought you ought to know
what Robbie looks like at the time
of Fathers & Demons.
       But working on the shorter book rejuvenated my interest in MWFB and I realized that F & D was going to play the spoiler for the parent book if I do publish it.  It reveals an important plot point that I'd rather people didn't know before they read Man Who Found Birds.
       So I've decided to delay publication of F & D until I approach the point in MWFB where the Jewish section occurred.  I had already formatted it completely for CreateSpace, but so what?  It will just sit there in my computer until I'm ready for it.  I hadn't done the Kindle and the Smashwords, so I'll put that off.  I apologize to the people who have expressed interest in Fathers and Demons and in my future Jewish history.  I assure you that sooner or later this piece will get published.
       In the meantime I've begun the daunting task of restructuring and reworking and especially abridging MWFB.  I won't tell you how long the original MS is, and it isn't even finished!  However, the first chunks are readable in and of themselves, so I'll at least plan to publish those.  Even at that, it will have to become a series.  But I think I can work it out so that each volume is self-contained and not too long.
       Some of you know that I've been posting chapters of MWFB (I'm up to Chapter 12) here on this blog.  I get a lot of pageviews on the chapters, and I had hoped that I would get feedback comments, but I've hardly had any, except from one person who has fallen in love with this book and impatiently begs for the next chapter!  I want to thank this very loyal fan for his support!  It's really gratifying and it played a part in my decision to work on the book.  I had never planned to continue publishing chapters forever, and I'm about to stop.  I mean to complete Chapter 12 and I do plan to post Chapter 13, because it finishes something left hanging in Chapter 11, but that will be the last.
       One reason for stopping is that I'm restructuring the book, eliminating the flash back/flash forward organization.  I had originally thought that I could do the whole book that way, but I ended up running out of material for the future part and extending the early part almost endlessly.  So a straight chonological organization will function better and help to shorten it (I hope).
        So how would I characterize The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars?  It's a fictionalized biography of the spaceship Captain Robbin Nikalishin, who commanded the expedition that made first contact with extraterrestrials.  With my usual intent of keeping the future context, I set it up as a piece written by an Oxkam Professor in commoration of the fiftieth anniversay of the Captain's death.  Personally, I like that ploy, and I'll probably keep it, adding an extra title page from the future, the way I do with the Ki'shto'ba series.  This future author will not be narrating the story, however, and there will be no footnotes or other scholarly apparatus -- just a straightforward, mostly omnipotent-narrator piece of storytelling in the third person.  It should be eminently easy to read, at least until the aliens appear (when the conlang they speak becomes an essential part of things), but that's so far off I'm not even going to think about it now.  We have to get through the many problems of Robbin Nikalishin's early life first!
       I'm going to leave the Prologue (the martial eagle story) intact, and then pick up from that, calling the first three sections of the book "Eagle Ascending," "Eagle Falling," and "Survivor." 
       (Disclaimer:  Any and all of the above is subject to change at any time!)
       I also may work occasionally on The Valley of Thorns (Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head, v.3).  The text is pretty much ready, but the cover is only about half done and the map isn't ready at all, except as part of a larger map.  And that reminds me -- I don't have any cover art for MWFB, or rather, I have a cover but it's no good -- one of my hopeless attempts at figure drawing.
       That sounds like I have a lot to do, doesn't it? !!  I guess it's time I quit dithering and got busy!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars, Ch. 12, Pt. 1

Here is yet another installment of my unfinished novel, The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars, a fictionalized biography of Capt. Robbin Nikalishin, the starship Captain who made the first contact with extraterrestrials in the 28th century (some 2.5 centuries before the time of The Termite Queen).

A list of the previous posts (point to the chapter and the link will appear):
Chapter 1 The Captain Eats Crow
Chapter 2 How Robbin Nikalishin Got His Name
Chapter 3 The Captain Receives an Unexpected Assignment
Chapter 4 School Days at Epping Academy
Chapter 5 The Captain Takes Command of the Red Planet
Chapter 6 Crises and Decisions
Chapter 7 An Old Love and Another Assignment
Chapter 8 (Pt.1) Robbin Nikalishin and Sharlina Graves [pt.1]
Chapter 8 (Pt.2) Robbin Nikalishin and Sharlina Graves [pt.2]
Chapter 9 Aboard the Ore Freighter Hell's Gate
Chapter 10 How the Relationship between Robbie and His Silver Mother Changed
Chapter 11 The Captain Receives an Unconditional Reprieve
       Still employing the usual flash-back/flash-forward format, Chapter 12 follows Chapter 10.  The young Robbie desperately tries to find ways to cope with his disillusionment with his mother.  During the process he discovers the joys of birding, but nevertheless his term studying physics at Oxkam can't come too soon. 

Chapter 12, Pt. 1:
A Summer Adventure and a Term at Oxkam
The last half of his Second Form year was hell for Robbie.  He came down with his annual cold shortly after the episode that would forever live in his memory as that “foggy night in Epping,” and so for a while he could excuse himself from going home on Off-Days by saying he didn’t want to give his ailment to his mother.  But that excuse could last only so long, and when he was again forced to spend time with Sterling, they were like dinner companions who, having discovered that their politics are diametrically opposed, are trying desperately for the duration of the meal to remain polite and avoid dissension.  When he was at school, he was taciturn and edgy.  His teachers ascribed it to the pressures of completing certain academic requirements before he went up to Oxkam.
As the end of term and the subsequent six-week summer holiday drew near, Robbie grew even more nervous.  Kolm would be going home to Eira and he wouldn’t have the calming influence of their relationship.  The thought of spending six weeks in his mother’s flat drove him to the brink of contemplating suicide.  But he found a partial way out; he learned of a three-week summer institute for bright preppers at the Grenich Observatory and he talked Prf. Quinston into reserving him a place in it.  Epping possessed a small refracting telescope, but astronomy wasn’t a specialty of the school, and it seemed appropriate that somebody who wanted to fly to the stars one day should seize every opportunity to gain such knowledge.  And the institute was perforce residential, since stargazing can only be conducted at night.
That would take care of half the holiday period, but Robbie still didn’t know what to do about the other three weeks.  The counselors insisted that he should take a break from studying before going up to Oxkam.  But they couldn’t know that a stint of living at home was likely to stress him out worse than he already was …
A few days before the term was to end, Kolm finally confronted him.  “Man, what’s the matter with ye lately?  Ye’re as crabby as a cat with sand fleas up his ass, and ye’ve been that way for months.  I think ye’d best be sharin’ with me what’s wrong.”
Robbie said, “Nothing.  Don’t ask me, Kolm.”
“I haven’t said anythin’ up to now because it just didn’t seem polite to be pryin’, but ever since ye went down in mid-week to tell yer Mum about the Oxkam thing, ye’ve been nothin’ but an aggravation.  Whatever happened to ye that night?”
Robbie’s reaction surprised even himself.  He stood up and belted Kolm in the mouth, laying him out.  Then he picked his flabbergasted friend up off the floor, saying, “Now look what you went and made me do, Goody.  Bloody hell, can’t you stop being such a busybody?  Can’t you stop trying to run my life?”
Kolm stood working his jaw from side to side and checking whether all his teeth were in their proper places, and he said, “There, that just proves what I said hit a nerve.  I think I’m gonna keep bein’ a busybody till ye talk to me.  Ye can’t see yeself like I can, Robbie.  Frankly, lad, I’m a bit worried about ye.”
“I just … can’t talk about it, Kolm.  Don’t ask me to,” said Robbie miserably.
“All right, but I just want to be a help to ye, man.  I don’t think it’s healthy going on the way ye’ve been.”
“How can you be like you are, Goody?  Here I just punched out my best friend and he isn’t even angry.”
“Well, I can’t deny, I am a little miffed.  But what good would it do to be angry?  Ye’d have the weight on me in any fight.  And fightin’s not me style, anyway.  I’m a talker, Robbie.  Ye ought to make yeself to be more of one.  And ye ought to use yer natural sense of humor, man.  Ye have one, do ye remember?  But I’ve seen little of it worth mentionin’ this past spring.”
“I know.  I’m sorry, Kolm.  But just don’t ask me talk about this.  I can’t … I just can’t ever talk about it.  But I hear what you say.  My behavior’s been rotten for people who haven’t done a thing to deserve it.  I’ll make an effort to act more civil, Kolm.  I promise.”
“Let me just say this … and don’t ball up the fists again, friend of mine – I’m not sure me teeth would tolerate a second whack!  Ye made this desperate effort to get into that institute, when I woulda thought ye’d have jumped at the chance to spend some time with your Mum before we go up.  And ye’ve been avoidin’ goin’ home on the Off-Days – don’t think I haven’t noticed!  It’s that ye don’t want to spend the last three weeks of the holiday with yer Mum, isn’t it?  Ye don’t have to tell me why, although it must be a sad situation and it makes me feel very bad, man, indeed.  But maybe I have the answer for ye.  Remember when ye told me about the birders’ club that Ms. Stythe was talkin’ about?”
Robbie said nothing, stuck in the misery of realizing that his state of mind was so transparent, and Kolm continued, “Ye seemed so intrigued by what she’d said, laughin’ and fair bubblin’ over, ye were.  Why don’t ye see if ye can go on a birdin’ excursion?  The teachers want ye to have some recreational time – what could be more recreational than hikin’ around in the fresh air peerin’ at little feathered creatures through VEs?  To be honest, it doesn’t appeal that much to me, but you … ye’ll probably think ye’ve died and gone to the otherworldly paradise.”
So Robbie did that.  He consulted the biology instructor Ms. Stythe, and she contacted a nearby birding club and found they had scheduled a two-week August outing to the south coast to observe sea birds.  They were eminently respectable people, mostly over the age of 50 and endowed with the single-minded focus common to birders, and they were delighted to think that this bright young Epping pupil would want to tag along on their old-fogy outing.  They promised to take good care of him and suggested that he join them at the rail terminal at Suthamton on the 10th of August.
Robbie went to the Village to tell Sterling about this addition to his summer plans.  She stood in a patch of shadow between two bars of sunlight and said, “I congratulate you, Robbie.  You’ve found really ingenious ways to avoid me this summer.”
He clenched his jaw.  “It’s not that … it’s just … these are great opportunities.  I really can’t pass them up.”
“Of course they are.  Of course you can’t.”
And then, as if he could punish himself by saying hurtful things to her, he said, “Besides, if I stay here with you so long, I’ll be interfering with your work.”
She stood so still that she seemed carved out of the shadow.  Then she said, “I’m looking for a flat in Lunden.  I doubt if you’ll have time to come down from Oxkam next year very often anyway, so there’s really no point in my living in Epping.  I can get cheaper accommodations in Lunden, and besides … ”  And suddenly her voice dripped with sarcasm.  “ … I’ll be nearer to my … work … that way.”
He could feel the slap she had inflicted upon him back in February stinging afresh on his cheeks.  “Then maybe I’d better take the rest of my belongings out of here before I go to Grenich,” he said.  “You may be gone by the time I come back.”
“It might be wise,” she said.
So he did that, taking everything including his space plane, which he returned to its location on the dresser of his dorm room, no longer caring what anyone thought about his display of it.
And so one distraction that might have interfered with Robbie’s success at Oxkam was eliminated, but the misery of his damaged maternal bond remained embedded like a spike in the depths of his psyche.  He could not begin to understand how to cope with such a situation, and so all he could do was try not to think about it and get on with his life.
*          *          *
       The birding excursion, however, really did work wonders, diverting Robbie's mind from his distress and cheering him up.  In that two weeks, he found a hobby that he was never to forsake, and he discovered that people who were neither his peers nor his heroes could be charming and amusing and absolutely delightful to know.  The group took the scenic train along the Dorset and Devonsheer coast all the way through Kornwell to Landend, with a detour through Stone Hedge country on the way home.  Robbie had never seen anything of his adopted land outside of Lunden Prefecture and Epping, and he had had no conception of its beauty and mystery.
The birders would disembark from the train at various points along the way and hike the rocky coast with a merciless stamina that left the 16-year-old huffing.  They identified several species of gulls; they saw common terns and Sandwich terns, sandpipers stalking the beaches, and even a sooty shearwater.  Storm petrels flew off the coast of Kornwell.  In the evenings the group would return to the rail line and bunk in various tourist hostels along the route, although a couple of times they camped out overnight along the beaches, loaning Robbie enough gear to tide him over. 
Viewing the sea for the first time from ground level was an awe-inspiring experience.  Swimming was discouraged along most of the world’s coastlines, but the water in the south of Britan had been cleaned up sufficiently to allow Robbie to venture into its unfamiliar medium.  The sensation of the stuff of the sea creeping against his skin only added to his sense of awe.  He could imagine that space was like this – endlessly vast and ceaselessly in flux – a place of nothingness and fullness, fearful peril and ultimate reward – a place where heroes are made.
At night he would lie on his back and lose himself in the stars, and it tickled his fancy to think that he, the callow young Robbie Nikalishin, could enthrall these dignified old gentlemen and ladies with lectures on the constellations.  They asked him how he had come to be so fond of birds, and he told them it was because of these same stars – they had made him want to fly like a bird so he could go into that sky one day.  Then they had to hear all about his plans and dreams, exclaiming and questioning with a naïve, non-judgmental enthusiasm.  He quite fell in love with them all and they in turn with him; they called him their mascot and invited him to come birding with them whenever he wanted.  He and they possessed a mutual understanding of the eccentricities of the obsessed.
Robbie had taken Kolm’s advice to heart, about learning to use words and humor to his own advantage, and he found these slightly pixilated birders to be the perfect subjects for practicing those skills.  It does not seem unjustified to say that his conversational adroitness and his ability to use humor to help himself deal with uncomfortable situations may have been birthed in that first birding excursion.  He found that both skills added a good deal of fun to life.  They also provided an excellent means of shielding one’s soul.
When Robbie returned to Epping, his mother was gone.  She had left him a rather formal message giving him her new address and com number and saying she hoped he would come down for a visit before Mikelmess term convened.  He sent her a message back saying that he and Kolm were going up a little early for orientation and he would have to defer the visit.  He heard nothing more and relentlessly pushed the situation into the background of his consciousness.
*          *          *
Robbie was fortunate to be able to room with Kolm again in the Edmund’s Adjunct House at Oxkam, because he didn’t find those other intellectually elite students who shared the residence all that compatible.  He and Kolm were the only advanced physics students in the House, and he had trouble relating to artists and musicians and economists and budding dramatists.  Enrolling in the military or becoming a space pilot had never entered the mind of a single student there; in fact his fellows looked at him askance when they learned of his ambitions.  A couple of youngsters were studying ornithology, but they were less natural historians than research-oriented types who tended to produce essays with titles like “The Effect of Class G19 Herbicides on the Chemical Composition of the Yolks of Pheasant Eggs at Three Distinct Points of Embryonic Development.”
Kolm, on the other hand, got along with everybody; he had a naturally open and sunny disposition and the ability to find something agreeable to talk about no matter whether his conversation partner was a Professor of Griek Poetry or the deliveryman.  And he simply laughed at pomposity, while Robbie’s impatience with snobbery and the pretentiousness of rank was mushrooming.
Of course, this impatience got Robbin Nikalishin into trouble; he became a familiar sight in the waiting room of the Discipline Officer, and the words “wayward,” “stubborn,” and “uncooperative” cropped up frequently in his records.  But, although he could never say afterward that he enjoyed every aspect of the year he spent in one of the most prestigious universities in the world, he realized that the knowledge he was gaining and the contacts he was making were essential to the future he had in mind for himself.
He and Kolm were privileged to be studying under two of the premier temporal quantum physicists of the time.  One of them, Prf. Claud Flournoi, was a theorist, a Specialist in Alternate Dimensional Temporal Analysis, which took Iven Herinen’s basic equations up several levels.  He was an easy-going, 45ish man, with a big, soft body and a slight French accent that betrayed his birth in Marsay Prefecture.  He smiled easily and his door was always open. 
The other, Prf. Karlis Eiginsh, was the Temporal Quantum Applications man.  He was less easy to like – a nervous little fellow with fishlike eyes, who had the stubby fingertips of a former nail-chewer, always wore a scowl, and snapped at his students if they interrupted him.  Furthermore, he persistently called Robbie “Mr. Nikerishin.”  Robbie fumed about this to a degree that made Kolm shake his head and say, “Just calm down, Robbie, boy – at the rate ye’re going, ye’ll be gulpin’ blood pressure medication afore ye’re twenty!  He calls me ‘MaGillicruddy,’ but do ye see me poppin’ a valve over it?”
Robbie felt immense respect and awe for the intellectual brilliance of both of these Professors, but he considered it lucky that he had drawn Flournoi as an advisor while Kolm had been stuck with Eiginsh.  Kolm didn’t mind and Robbie was pretty sure that Eiginsh and himself would have quickly been cursing at each other.
It was during Hillarious Term, about a month after his seventeenth birthday, that Robbie first began to draw special notice.  Prf. Eiginsh was lecturing one day to his class of five Adjuncts and university freshers on the subject of the formation of temporal quantum loops.  It was hypothesized that below the chaotic sub-quantum brane of 11-dimensional superstrings existed a second dimension of time that manifested itself as temporal quantum loops.  It could be said to project in a different direction from the brane – downward, said the Professor, if you must have a way to visualize it, and completely outside our plane of existence, although attached to it.  It possibly served as the first dimension of time in a parallel universe, just as the time that Earth knows would be the second dimension of time in that universe.  Mathematical models showed that within their own universes temporal quantum loops were non-chaotic and stable, but this hypothesis could not be demonstrated experimentally, since the classical assumption was that no physical relationships exist between entities of the multiverse, except for some insignificant leakage of quantum energy.
However, Iven Herinen had hypothesized that if energy can leak between dimensions, so can quantum time.  Ever since he had perfected the formulas, experimental physicists had been trying to force one of these secondary time loops to pop into existence on our side of the brane, by manipulating high-mass particles within various types of electromagnetic and gravitational fields.  Detection would be achieved by noting some anomalous effect, like a distortion of the EM field, transitory graviton fluctuations, or a deflection or momentary discontinuity within a stream of weak-force particles.  However, any phenomena that might have occurred was too unstable or too infinitesimal to persist long enough to be detected.
“What is necessary,” Prf. Eiginsh was droning, “is to find a set of events that will force a loop to fold.  The formation of a fold should create a minute residual electromagnetic effect … ”  Eiginish interrupted himself to point out the pertinent elements of the formulas displayed on the big viewing screen.  “ … which, with our increasingly sensitive detection equipment, we should be able to discern.  However, inducing a detectable expanded, stable, secondary temporal quantum fold employing particles of high mass and standard EM/grav containment fields has proved virtually impossible up to now.” 
Robbie suppressed a yawn.  All this had been covered more than once in previous lectures; the man was a veritable fount of repetitiveness.  But then probably some of these befuddled-looking students weren’t as capable of following the thread as he was …
But now Prf. Eiginsh was introducing something new.  He flashed a fresh model up on the view screen and said, “A different approach, however, was suggested several years ago by the late Prf. Irina Hilo of the Moska Consortium.  It involves a process of bombarding the least massive of atoms – hydrogen and helium – with a focused beam of neutrinos … ”
Robbie had woke up and now he interrupted.  “There’s an anomaly in step five of that fourth formula, Professor.”
Eiginsh grimaced.  “I know that, boy.  Will you kindly allow me to finish?  The discussion period will come later.”
“Sorry, sir.”
The Professor proceeded to work his way through the model.  The other students were getting more confused by the minute, but Kolm and Robbie looked at each other, thinking the same thing.
“It becomes obvious that the commonest isotope of hydrogen,” Eiginsh was saying, “yields a reconcilable model.  The anomaly crops up when we posit the apparently non-reactive collision of a neutrino with the nucleus of a deuterium atom.  Some additional entity is required to complete the model.  After extensive exploration, Hilo concluded that nothing reconciles the model except a second-dimension time loop; no hitherto known particle emission or interaction could account for this particular anomaly. 
“Since hydrogen-1 contains no neutrons, it would appear that it is the neutron in deuterium with which the neutrino is interacting.  Similar results are obtained with tritium and with helium, but in a less straightforward fashion.  It seems the heavier the element, the greater the quantum chaos factor and the more difficult it becomes to isolate and detect the results.”  He worked through some more formulas.  “Neutrinos pass constantly through all matter, causing an effect in perhaps one collision in 10 billion as a single particle passes through the thickness of the Earth.  Now it appears that those collisions might be producing a hitherto undetected effect – that of inducing secondary time loops.  It is an effect that has no deleterious impact on matter because a loop in itself effects nothing in our universe, and it’s doubtful that even one in a billion loops becomes a spontaneous fold.
“So it is now being hypothesized that transitory, harmless secondary temporal quantum loops are being produced constantly throughout our universe.  It’s even been postulated that the rare spontaneous temporal quantum folds may be responsible for some of the unexplained events that occur occasionally – things like psychic phenomena, hallucinations, prophetic visions, or sudden inexplicable disappearances.  That’s tangential to the more fundamental inquiry that we’re pursuing here today, but it certainly is possible that such folds could cause rare alterations of matter or glimpses into alternate realities. 
“However that may be, experiments with potential TQ fold technologies are presently ongoing, involving the bombardment of deuterium atoms with neutrinos.  One venue where this is taking place is the Temporal Quantum Research Facility in Okloh Prefecture, Midammerik.  That complex is the first operational element of the Herinen Memorial Space Port.”
“I’ll bet I know what they’re finding,” said Robbie, unable to contain himself.
Eiginsh ground his teeth, fixing his eye on the irritating youth.  “And what would that be, Mr. Nikerishin?”
Unable to stand it any longer, Robbie said, “It’s Nik-a-LEESH-in, sir – Nik-a-LEESH-in.  I’d really appreciate it if you could pronounce my name properly.”
Seated next to Robbie, Kolm rolled his eyes slightly, but Robbie didn’t really care.  The man owed his students the courtesy of getting their names right.
Eiginsh cocked his head, took a breath, then expelled it.  “I’ll work on that.  And since you seem determined to have your say, why don’t you just take your pointer and explain to the class where I’m going with this?”
“Yes, sir.”  Unfazed, Robbie used his desk port to manipulate some figures on the screen.  “See, this won’t work, nor this, nor this.  Actually, I’m not sure what would work.  But if you could achieve exactly the right modulation and density of the neutrino bombardment – it would probably have to be pretty dense, denser than anything we can generate at the present time, maybe – along with the proper pressure and temperature for the deuterium, you could probably induce a secondary fold that would last long enough … ” His voice was rising in excitement.  “ … long enough to accomplish something.  I’m not sure what, but something.”
Robbie seemed to have Prf. Eiginsh’s attention, and the other students were gaping at him.  Only Kolm was nodding as if he had expected it all along.
“As a matter of fact,” said the Professor, “a fold could be generated that could encompass a quantity of matter … ”
“Maybe a significant quantity!” cried Robbie, his excitement becoming uncontrollable.  “Isn’t it true, Professor, that a fold is capable of transporting – transporting – matter?”
“So Iven Herinen hypothesized.”
“Well, then, why not create one big enough to encompass a space plane and transport it across the universe at FTL speed?” cried Robbie.
Now it was Kolm who couldn’t restrain himself.  “Robbie, boy, it’s an interstellar drive ye’re after inventin’!”
Some of the students snickered, but Robbie said, “I’m serious!  Why couldn’t a neutrino-producing accelerating reactor be developed that would induce one of these loops to expand?  To be converted into a kind of … oh, call it a cloak … large enough to serve as a time-quantum drive in ships?  Sort of swoosh the ship across the surface of the brane and dump it before the fold pops back into its own dimension.”
Prf. Eiginsh leaned back, folded his arms, and stared intently at his ebullient student.  Finally he replied, “The proper term for the phenomenon is ‘pod.’  Temporal quantum pod.”
Robbie stared.  “You mean, somebody else already thought of that?”  There were additional snickers, but Robbie ignored them.  “Wait a minute!  The SkyPiercer Project – its headquarters are at the new Herinen Space Port!  Is that what the Project is working on – a drive that uses time-quantum technology?  How near are they to perfecting it?  What’s … ?”
Prf. Eiginsh waved a hand.  “Sit down, Mr. Nikarshin!  Class is dismissed for today!  Nikarilshin, stay a minute, if you will.”
“Sir,” said the incorrigible Robbie, “pardon me, but there’s no ‘R’ whatsoever anywhere in my last name.”
Kolm was on his way out, but he shot back, “Muzzle it, Robbie!”
Robbie sighed.  “Sorry, Professor.  It’s only that I’ve always had trouble with people butchering my name.  There’s a smart aleck over at Edmund House who calls me ‘Licorishin.’  Of course, she does it on purpose to aggravate me.  I don’t think that’s what you’re doing.”
Eiginsh fixed his bug-eyed stare on Robbie, then actually laughed, just a couple of short explosions, but Robbie thought that was a start.  “Sit down, boy.  What do you know about the SkyPiercer Project?”
“Only what’s on the public Ed Base.  That’s not much.”
“Did you know I’m a member of the Advisory Panel?  So is Flournoi.”
“Actually, I didn’t know that, sir.  That’s exciting!  What can you tell … ?”
Eiginsh ignored the question.  “Your ability to forecast the implications of this very complex mathematical model I threw at the class today is – rather impressive.”
“Thank you, sir!”
“Since you have such a lot of confidence in your own abilities, I’m going to give you some extra work.”
“Stop by the Departmental Offices at 1800h.  There’ll be an info key there with your name on it.  It will contain some formulas.  Let’s see if you can solve any of them by our next tutorial … uh, that’s five days off, I believe.  Of course, you’ll have to complete the regular assignments as well.”
“I’ll do my damnedest, Professor!”
“For some reason I believe that.  See you then, Mr. Ni … kar … ”
“Nik-a-LEESH-in, sir.”
“Yes, well, whatever.  Under other circumstances, I’d call you by your given name, but the beefeaters in the Administration like us to maintain a certain pretense of decorum with the younger students.  Dismissed.”
*          *          *
Robbie got a bit less sleep than he needed during the next five days and when he confidently presented his solutions to Eiginsh, the Professor mercilessly tore them to shreds.  Robbie held his own, however, quickly grasping his errors, reordering his thinking, and following through with some suggestions of his own.  When he told Kolm about all this afterward, the young Eirishman was impressed.  “I can follow what ye’re sayin’, but I don’t think I coulda devised it on the spur of the moment.  Ye’ve got to have one of the most adept brains for this sort of foolery that’s ever been bred, lad.”
The tutoring sessions continued, during which a frustrated Robbie was bombarded with every possible situation that could thwart the formation of a temporal quantum pod substantial enough to enclose something as large as a ship.  They got into the problems of duration, distance, and trajectory.  Could such a pod be stabilized long enough to drag a ship across the galaxy?  Would the length of a jump be fixed or variable, and what means could be used to control it?  How could one compel the loop to destabilize at the desired destination?  How long would such jumps be – a few meters, a hundred thousand kilometers, or a dozen light years?  What would happen if two loops should intersect?  What would be the effect on matter – and especially living matter – within the pod?  What time effects would take place within the pod?  What would happen to matter in the path of the trajectory?  And what was to prevent the pod from destabilizing at the wrong moment and dropping the ship in the middle of a star, for example, or in the event horizon of a black hole?
But in all this work Robbie never could get Prf. Eiginsh to discuss what was going on in the SkyPiercer Project, or to state the point to which its work had progressed.
Coming soon:
Chapter 12, Pt. 2: 
Robbie meets Kolm's Eirish family during the Midwinter holiday