thats the name of my new story. i'm not supposed to write anything for a few months just do research. My last book in space blew up (blue sky days) and now im back at it.

     Did a little treatment I'll get it. Don't even know the difference between geostatic orbit and geostationary orbit and I'm proposing a city up there. And a space elevator to get up there in about five hours.

need input.


Original Post


Now I think I'm working on a new thing called 'Geostatica'. The premise is that Mars is too far and should be left to rich guys like Elon Musk and the first place in space to colonize is geostationary orbit.

Dunno research first.

We're talking about a counter-weight to the earth connected by the space elevator nanotech string. Like swinging a yoyo over your head it's got centrifugal force flinging It outward. Something to tie on to.


So we open with a dad and his teenage boy leaving in a weather balloon from their small town airport. Well a capsule under a weather balloon actually. The boy thinks it's pretty unimpressive if they're going to outer space. No space suits no blast off.Just street clothes and a three man ground crew.

They fly up to 40000 ft in about four hours. It's here that the dad does a little piloting to stop them moving upwards and to move them laterally to the space elevator. Actually it's autopilot but he has override.

They are still in street clothes So they don't get out of the capsule when they arrive at the platform. Everything is automatic as the capsule is attached to the nanotech thread going to outer space about 2200 miles up.

The thread is more like a zipper in that the attatchment has teeth. It's here that the boy gets enthusiastic as the ride goes faster as the air thins. To the point where they are moving over 200 miles an hour when they are finally clear of the air.

The trip takes between 7 and ten hours and when they get there they are floating around their capsule. The boy is impressed that the same capsule that rode under a balloon went to space. The father says the station they are at is just a bunch of these capsules joined together.


Their stay at the top is only three days. The station has about twenty people living on it and they are all glad to meet the boys dad. He is an organizer of the project which was started on kickstarter.

It's revealed that he's in charge of bringing 20 more people up next week. Well not physically but as an organizer. See the project is in financial trouble.

The early days with crowdsourced money were great and a second stage happened where a few musicians and artists came up did some work and donated it.

Now a third stage was happening where the goal was to make the station self sufficient in food, clothing, and money.

The food was to be grown by ten people who had been working on farms the station owned on earth, the clothing was to be made and exported by a team of five. The final five people were wealthy folks who had paid for apartments on the station.



imageOk I didn't get that this system only works at the equator. That changes everything.


alao I can't get it out of my head that this system could be an energy source. Earth rotation power.


i guess it depends on the size of the counterweight you want to fly but you can't be messing with the earths orbit,


probably a a symmerticsl system is best,  Balance multiple  elevator/counter weights so it's even and doesn't give the earth the Wobblies.


Photos (1)

The Crimson Star



     Roger got your group a ride in the blue pick up and you bounced across the mountains to the village you had started in.

     "Back to Inception," you shouted to Lisa. 

     "And then north into the unorganized territories," she answered.

     "With your husband." Angela spoke from the front of the bed where she was sitting with Toby and Roger.

     Indeed it was something of a couple's club including Omar and Beth, and you felt lonely at the prospect of another journey by yourself.

     "My wife is in Inception," you volunteered unexpectedly.

     "You never told me you were married," Angela complained.

     "Our love is very old and resilient," you explained.

     "She must be remarkably tolerant," Beth guessed.

     "We were high school sweethearts," you offered.

     "What is your wife's name?" Lisa asked.

     "Celia, she's an administrator at the hospital," you answered.

     The truck fell silent realizing they were on their way to visit Celia.

     "You seemed a little off balance without a partner," Angela noticed.

     "In danger of falling," you replied.

     Silence again.


      But it wasn't meant to be. You escaped the gravel roads of the mountains to a valley bottom, all green with a paved highway.  Your driver pulled in to a truck stop, a gravel parking lot that looked out on a river. Gratefully your crew piled out of the truck to stretch their weary bodies.

      Before long a heated discussion began.

      Another truck driver, that your driver seemed to know, seemed to be the ringleader.  Whatever they were saying it seemed to require a very loud voice and the speaking of very rapid Spanish/New Guinean patois.  

      Margaret Davis had been sitting in the cab of your blue truck with the driver and was considerably less dusty than the rest of your friends. She attempted a translation.

       "The town we're headed to is just called 'Border Town'. Apparently it's so far off the beaten track that a transport only heads up there every couple of months. This fellow is heading there right now," she began.

        "And he says we should go with him or wait two months," concluded Omar.

       "I can phone Michael and tell him where to join us," suggested Lisa.

       "Celia won't mind. We're kind of on holiday from each other," you agreed.


        "Beth and I have to get back to work in a month. The tourist season is starting.

       "To Redemption chasing crimson star fruit," you said.

       "To border Town!" Popo called out.


























The Crimson Star




        You weren't in Border Town very long when Michael, Lisa's husband, showed up in a jalopy.  

        "That's an old car," Omar noticed.

        "Based on the original Tesla model T," Michael bragged.

        "Changed everything in 2050 didn't it?" Omar remembered.

        "The first mass market electric car," Michael noted.

        "Plans came up on the first ships," Omar guessed.     

        "With the sleeping Indians," Michael agreed.


        The trip to Border Town had been uneventful. The stoic driver had put your group in an empty box in the back of his big rig.  There were no windows. Pippi and Miguel started a game of charades that went on for the whole trip. Lisa got to ride up front with the driver squished next to Margaret Davis.


        Next day, Michael and Lisa were reuniting on a picnic table in Border Town.

        "Get a room," Omar told them when he saw them making out.

        "There's no hotel in this town," Michael responded.

        "It was nice of the truck driver to let us sleep in his rig," Omar suggested.

        "When we're in the desert we can slip behind a sand dune and find privacy," Michael said hopefully.

       "I've secured a hovercraft as transport for the group," Omar revealed.

       "A really old vehicle too.  It was all the rage at the turn of the millennium," Michael pronounced.

       "Sound dampening. As soon as they made them quiet people started using them," Omar formulated.

       "It's the future. Vehicles should float in thin air," Michael guessed.

       "But there is a reluctance to give up on the wheel," Omar said.

       "I do love my jalopy," Michael confirmed. 

       "You should take it across the border when we go tomorrow," Omar proposed.

       "Those sheets of rock would ruin the old tires," Michael replied,

       "You're welcome to ride with us," Omar offered.

       "We have to remember that deserts like this are mostly sheets of rock with the sand blown off into pockets when we start digging," Michael said.

        "Or sand dunes to bury antennae," Omar agreed.

        "We're off!" Michael proposed.

        "To the desert," Omar smiled.

        And they slept in the trucker's rig for one more night before crossing the border.


The Crimson Star




      The customs officer had a pony tail and looked like he had smoked a joint on the way to work. 

      'We have nothing to declare," Omar told him.

       "There's really nothing to declare. It's uh, an unorganized territory," he offered.

      "So no imports or exports?" Omar asked.

      "Well, pomegranates. That empty box you've been sleeping in will return down south full of 'em," he replied.

      "I've heard they do well in the dry. Uh, how did you know we were sleeping in the trucker's rig?" asked Omar.

      "My wife owns the whole foods restaurant where you've been eating," he answered. 

       "Your wife is our waitress Marsha?" asked Beth,

        "She told me all about you guys, and your search for the three henges in our territory," the customs officer divulged.

        "Makes good apple pie," Popo inserted.

        "I get my lunch break in half an hour. I'd love to meet with you guys and talk. Until then there's some relevant business that needs to be taken care of," he handed each of you a form.

        "I thought formalities were over," asked Omar.

        "It's a waiver. It basically says that if Esmatia needs to send an ambulance that you have to pay. A lot of money," the customs officer informed you.

         "So that's what the main country on Esmus 7 is called. Esmatia," you said. 

        "Ya, and you're at the border between Esmatia and UT, or Unorganized Territory," he answered.

       "How many separate jurisdictions are there?" asked Omar. "I remember there were some leftists creating a new state close to Collusion." 

       "Seven and counting. There is a few more in progress," The customs officer informed you.

        "We'll need a United Nations," Angela proposed.

        "The original terra formers created Esmatia. Everyone else is just fringe groups that claimed wasteland around the edges," Popo said.

        "They live off the oxygen put out by our jungles," Miguel said defiantly.

       "I'm guessing that sand and rock don't do much for the climate," Omar suggested. 

       "There's an ocean across the desert, with a strip of jungle along its edge. I'll bring satellite photos to lunch," the customs officer offered.

      "I guess we're meeting at Marsha's." Omar proposed.

      "See ya there," the customs officer gestured to some people waiting in line. 




The Crimson Star





        It was a couple of kilometres back to Marsha's whole foods restaurant in the town.  You arrived in the hovercraft to wait the half hour for your meeting.

        Omar had spoken to a guy in the bathroom at the customs station and learned that the customs officer's name was Henry. He'd also learned that. Henry had a PhD in UT archaeology.

        "Good thing, I was worried we were wasting our time waiting for some satellite imagery I already downloaded," Toby confided..

        "I want to show him the map of the antennae we got from the Pilots and ask him for details," Omar wondered.


        Then Henry walked in the door with a folder of papers under his arm.

        "My name is Henry by the way," he said shaking everyone's hand.

        "I hope you have more than satellite photos under your arm, because our young brainiac Toby says he already has them," Popo told him.

        "I'll bet his copies don't have the important archaeological sites marked on them quickly with red felt pen," Henry retorted.

        "I want you to look at a map we received that shows the site of the three antennae," Omar offered.

        Henry spent a few minutes studying the document.

        "There is an obvious relationship between my map and yours," he commented.

        "It's almost as if the ancient Tzango people settled around the antennae," Omar proposed.

        "At least their artifacts are bunched up like that. But why wouldn't we have found the antennae?" wondered Henry.

       "Perhaps you were too busy collecting broken pieces of pottery," Omar guessed.

       "Or the pottery was a ruse to throw us off the scent," Henry countered.

       "An ancient people that were extremely sophisticated in hiding their treasure," Omar summarized.

       "We don't know where the Tzango went. Perhaps the secret they're hiding is their story," Henry theorized.



          Then Marsha arrived with lunch. You stopped your meeting and enjoyed the delicious meal.

         "Your wife could make a fortune down south," Popo said, speaking with his mouth full of food. 

         "I think she's more concerned with making meals than making money," Henry responded.

        "Good for her!" Lisa cheered, sitting with Angela and Beth in an impromptu girls club.

       "Working for values rather than just value." Beth agreed.

       "All very fine for a group of ladies about to risk their lives seeking fortune," Toby said.

         And they were.         
























The Crimson Star




      At the border crossing you waved goodbye to Henry and headed off to the desert. You were distracted a moment by a group of campers in solar clothes on 4x4 segways. A brown sea of sand stretched before you and the silence of the hovercraft seemed impossible.

      "Welcome to UT," proclaimed Margaret Davis.

      "What's our first goal?" asked Toby.

      "There are 3 antennae. One is to the north, another is in the jungle by the ocean, our first target is just a few hours ahead," answered Omar,.

      "But a team of expert archeologists failed to find it." Popo added.

      "Never underestimate the power of rank amateurs to think outside the box," Margaret Davis said.

      "You have to remember that we have the map we got from the pilots." Omar responded.

       "What about the theory that the Tzango hid the antennae?" you wondered.

      "You have to remember that the first thing the pilots found when they got to Esmus 7 was a map showing the location of all the antennae," Omar answered.

      "So it's kind of hidden but wants to be found," you concluded.

      "Maybe," Omar agreed.


      The hovercraft fell silent for a few hours. Syone towers marked their route and increasingly they looked like Eskimo statues.

      "Inoksuk," Toby declared.

      "Oblisk," Omar opined remembering a visit to other deserts.

      "Milestones," Michael submitted, dredging up an ancient word.

      And the markers blurred into a very long journey, devoid of detail or signs of life.


      Eventually stone ruins began to appear.

      "We've entered Henry's circle of artifacts," Omar pointed out.

      "What do you think of the idea that the artifacts might be faked?" asked Roger.

      "The Tzango weren't exactly a stone age bunch. Pottery shards seem a bit contrived," answered Omar

      "Henry was skeptical too," Margaret Davis added.

     "So what have we got?  A treasure that's hidden by a race that faked the setting," summarized Miguel. 

      "And then disappeared themselves," added Pipi.

      The stone ruins reached a kind of town centre. The hovercraft came to a halt.

      "Time to solve the mystery," Omar announced. Everyone piled out of the hovercraft thankfully.

      'If we can," added Michael.



The Crimson Star





        There was a clear opening in the centre of the ruined town and Miguel and Pipi got busy shoveling sand.

        “How do we know to dig here?” asked Michael grabbing a shovel and joining in.

        “Well mostly this ground is rock sheet. The sand all blew to this one opening. The first thing we need to check is if the antennae is here, but just a little deeper than the archeologists looking for pottery would dig,” answered Omar digging himself.

        "Ruling out the obvious," Roger decided as he dug his corner of the site. 

        "All these small piles of sand are going to start falling into the hole," explained Miguel as he and Pipi loaded the sand onto a sheet and deposited it into a large pile outside the dig.

        After a few hours they had a two meter hole about 10 meters around.

        "Isn't this where we should start hitting tuning fork?" asked Beth her face smeared with dirt.

        "Hopefully," answered Omar. 


          But nothing was found so a bit dejected the group paused to set up their campsite and eat dinner. Michael had been a chef in his earlier years, and he cooked a delicious meal although he was skeptical about the provisions.

           "We only have enough fresh food for about four days. After that it's freeze dried," he told you as he cooked.

           "Hopefully there will be good foraging when we get to the jungle," Omar replied. 

           "What exactly is our plan?" Michael asked Omar.

           "Day 1 we dug to 2 metres and found nothing. Day 2 we add another half meter of depth to that, in the hard packed ground, and hopefully find something. Day 3 we each make a guess on where to dig a 2 meter hole," Omar answered.

          "Sounds like I need to have a word with the Tzango," Miguel proposed.

         "Day 4 we eat freeze dried hell food," Michael guessed.

         "Or we get to the coast and eat fresh seafood we harvest off the beach," Omar corrected hopefully. 

           You retired to your tents and dreamed of what the future held.









The Crimson Star 




       You awoke the next morning to an auspicious event. Margaret Davis discovered that the fifth light on the index stone was faintly glowing.

       "That's gotta be a good sign," Roger celebrated.

       "Today's gonna be a good day,' Pipi sang to an old tune about nights.  


       But in actuality the day was a harsh grind and you and your friends sat down to dinner a bit dejected.

       "At least we got down another half meter," Miguel said optimistically.

       "To find nothing," Pipi added pessimistically.

       "Tomorrow is another day," Omar submitted, "Does everyone know the order of guesses?'

       "I'm first," Lisa called out.

       "I'm second," Angela said.

       "It must be 'ladies first' because I'm third," added Beth.

       "Perhaps young and attractive females, because I'm seventh," objected Margaret Davis. 

       "The ground has been disturbed in a few places, that's where we should search first," proposed Popo. 

       "Last night I met with a Tzango elder in my dreams. He told me to search on the north side of the hole," Miguel said.

       "We have one fellow that thinks he can detect disturbances from hundreds of years ago, and another who thinks he can tune in head radio to wherever the Tzango are. I propose we work in a systematic grid so we don't miss anything," Roger tried.

       "The whole goal of this strategy is to harness people's intuitions," Omar countered.


        And the dinner morphed into a campfire where you and your friends huddled to avoid the surprising cold of the desert night air.  On top of the cold a wind came up that blew sand around and forced everyone to retire to their tents. While you were pleased with the quality of the modern tents supplied the quantity was lacking, forcing you to share with Margaret Davis.

          "So how goes the healing myth?" she asked you as she changed clothes in her sleeping bag.

           "I'm having troubles concentrating," you replied embarrassed by your fascination with her sixty year old figure.

            "I learned to change clothes in a sleeping bag doing fieldwork with a grad student. Just because I'm post sexual doesn't mean younger males are," she replied.

            "The healing myth is still evolving," you told her.

            "It's not.  Stride joins a group who find fortune and higher meaning in the desert.  It's more like 'Stride had Esmus Fever.  Here's how he fixed it," Margaret counseled.

             "They've been working on it for a thousand years," you moaned.

             "But more than 50% are high functioning now," she countered."  A lot of damage we thought was permanent has fallen to plasticity."

             "Going to sleep now," you murmured.

             "Night," Margaret Davis whispered.























The Crimson Star




         When the sun rose, the wind had died and a layer of sand had blown into the hole.

         "So much for finishing fast and getting more fresh food," proclaimed Pipi.

         "The Tzango were in my dreams again. I have to dig over there," Miguel pronounced pointing to the north.

         "I'm first to choose where to dig!" exclaimed Lisa, a little surprised by her own eagerness

         "So the hole is a one meter diameter circle, two meters deep," Omar pointed out.

        "Like a well." Angela guessed.

        "You won't hit water," Omar was very sure.

        "Choosing a spot is the most important thing," Beth declared.


         Before getting to work Michael insisted they sit down to breakfast with the last of their fresh fruit over cereal and a few fresh rolls from Marsha's restaurant.

        "This baking is a bit chewy already," Pipi declared as he made his way through a roll.

         "This is the last of our fresh food," Michael responded.

         "Gives motivation to finish this dig," you decided as you cleaned up your bowl. 


          Not long after a crowd started gathering around Lisa's excavation a hole in the middle of the larger hole. Roger brought his bowl of cereal and people teased him as they dug.

        "I found a steel bar in the back of the hovercraft," Popo said.

        "A good thing. That hole is too small for swinging a pick axe," Marsha pointed out.

        "That's what I thought," Popo agreed.

       "And so the day passed. There was really only room for one digger at the bottom of the hole so most of you stood in a line passing buckets of fill to the large pile 10 meters away.  Finally you reached your goal.

        "Nothing here," sent up Popo.  And so digging the next hole became the focus.














The Crimson Star




        Angela was next, and she chose a site a few meters to the north of Lisa's. 

        "Getting warmer," Miguel shouted from his own private dig on the North line.

        "I'm a convert to the notion of disturbed ground." Angela conceded.

        "That's because it's true. There are definite discolourations on the line heading north," Pipi agreed.

        The digging went faster, empowered by a new shift system for the digger, and a slightly shorter distance to empty the buckets.

        When the hole was one meter deep a rope was fastened to the bucket handle and the job of bucket lifter was born.  You got the job but soon after Roger, who was digging below reported:

        "We're two meters down and there's nothing here, although I found strange markings on some rocks," he told you.

        The artifacts were passed upwards to be examined.

        After studying the rocks for twenty minutes or so, Margaret Davis expounded.

        "We really don't have very many examples of Tzango writing. This word is often translated as 'North,'' she told us pointing out a mark on several of the rocks.

        "I've already decided my guess is ten meters North of Angela's Beth divulged.

        "Good choice," shouted Miguel from his dig on the North line.

        The afternoon wound down, mostly marked by Michael's meal of freeze-dried lasagna. There was debate over disturbed soil and the likelihood of discolouring after so many years.


        That evening Margaret Davis was topless when you arrived at the tent.

        "I see you gave up on wriggling in the sleeping bag," you offered.

        "You struck me as mature enough to handle it," Margaret replied.

        "It does make me uh... uncomfortable when women assume I'm asexual," you admitted.

        "I lived a year amongst the !djinn people. Completely naked," Margaret revealed.

        "You lose self consciousness that way," you guessed noticing she was making no effort to cover herself.

        'Lisa told me you ran away from the hospital," Margaret changed the subject.

       "It's amazing to me how youthful the human female looks in old age," you answered changing the topic as well.

       "Think about old habitats like long houses or caves.  The post menopausal female was often killed in winter," Margaret told you getting drawn in.

       "An excellent reason to look good," you argued.

       'Why did you run away from the hospital?" she pressed.

       "I'll sleep on it," you replied turning off your light.

       "Night," Margaret Davis whispered.





 The Crimson Star




         Beth and Omar had already been digging for an hour when you came out of your tent to join them.

         "Welcome to the neighbourhood," Miguel said from his hole a couple of meters away.

        "At least we're in the soft ground. You're under the rock sheet," Omar replied.

        "Just on the edge. I'm not saying the Tzango dug through rock. Just that they made a cave on the side," Miguel responded.

        "Anyone that believes in the Esmus echo knows that peculiar sensitivities occur in locals up here. I'm  just going along with the consensus delusion to be polite but I think you might be on to something Miguel," Margaret Davis said.


        The day wound on, no one suggesting a stop for breakfast since the thought of freeze dried fare so early was too forbidding.

        A meter and a half down you found something.

        "An index stone!" Pipi squealed.

        "There's one at every antennae," Margaret Davis informed you, "We must be close."

        "This one has only the fifth light illuminated, and it's very bright," Beth told you from down in the hole.

        "Close," Miguel grunted as he dug a little faster,

        'I'm digging to Miguel," Omar decided.


        It was a meter between the two where they'd find the antennae. 

        "Titanium!" Miguel shouted when he reached the top of the forks.

         They spent 3 days excavating like archaeologists and extracting the circle of tuning forks to resonate once again.

       In fact as they finished there was a throbbing. Omar made a long distance call to the Pilot's carbon filled planet.

        "Yes, you probably just detected some test sounds we made while cleaning it."he said.


         "We're on our way to the coast now, where we may contact you again," he went on.


        "Just two more antennae to find. Yes. We'll let you know."

        He hung up.

        You were off to the coast.













The Crimson Stsr




        When you got back to your tent that night it was very silent. Margaret Davis appeared to be asleep. You crawled into your sleeping bag to slumber as well.

        As you were laying in the darkness Margaret Davis suddenly spoke:

        "You're not going to get away with it."

        "Sorry?" you replied.

        "Tomorrow we hop into that hovercraft and head off into a whole new story. You're hoping to run away  explaining why you ran away," Margaret told you.

        "I've been thinking about it," you replied.

        "And?" she prodded.

        "I love nurses like Lisa. They take a bit of your disease and deal with it for you so you can focus on the more difficult problems," you started.

        "A team to work on your disease," Margaret summarized.

        "There's a narrative though, that they follow," you went on, "All the horrible things that can happen to people with Esmus fever."

        "That's kind of their job," suggested Margaret.

        "Their mythology of disaster was getting in the way of my attempts to create a healing myth," You tried.

        "A narrative you haven't been working on enough," Margaret chided.

        "I breath it," you said solemnly.   

        "Write it down," Margaret counseled.


The Crimson Star





         The hovercraft ride to the ocean the next day was celebratory in its mood. Omar was full of very bad jokes and you were adorned in a big red sunhat that Beth had fashioned when she saw you working in the heat.

         You left the desert for a thin strip of jungle by the ocean. Of course there was a small range of mountains before that.

         "To trap the clouds floating in over the ocean and create rivers flowing down to the jungle," Popo explained.

         The thought of fresh river water was so enticing that you paused a moment to take a drink. Beth and Angela disappeared around a corner to bathe. Margaret Davis and Lisa joined them and the men had a swim of their own with the new privacy.

         Back in the hovercraft you whizzed along passing palapas and abandoned rudimentary shelters.

         "Way more populated than the desert," Miguel observed.

         And eventually you'd see small fruit stands staffed by brown children a bunch of bananas and some oranges was enough because they laughed and played games of marbles as they worked.

         Sun umbrellas over folding tables gave way to simple buildings with neon signs powered by solar panels and you realized you were entering a rustic town.

         Anarchy was evidenced by individual water systems on each building. Holding tanks for water catchment were everywhere near solar panels for power.

         "An unnamed town in an unnamed country," declared Roger.

         "I think it should be called 'Nowhereville'," submitted Toby.

         The hovercraft pulled in to a large hotel that marked the end of town.  A sign said 'The royal Hernandez'.

         "It's somewhere, just nobody has bothered to tell the world," Omar said.

         "Want to go spend some UT bucks?" Popo proposed.

         The idea was universally accepted, the hovercraft was parked, and you headed to a cafe in the basement of the hotel.

         "Beth and I only have 20 units." Omar confessed embarrassed.

         "Enough for a pomegranate coffee," Popo said looking over the menu.

         You fell into old habits easily sipping large drinks with umbrellas and toasting the unnamed town for the luxuries it provided.

         "I guess you need a drink after crossing the desert on land," a voice at the next table said.

         "Professor Jenkins!" Roger recognized the fellow although most of you only recalled the sandy haired guy with a lisp.

         "And Malcolm!" You added happy to see your old travelling buddy.

         "It sounds like you guys got here in an easier way than slogging across the dessert," Omar asked.

          "We found a couple of seats available on a small private jet," Malcolm divulged.

          You sat drinking with Malcolm and Jenkins from late afternoon to late in the evening and then they showed you a park where you could pitch your tents and that is where you slept.





















 The Crimson Star





       "It's called Catharsis," Malcolm pointed out.

       "What?" you asked.

       "The unnamed town you're in," Malcolm replied.

       "Total anarchy, I guess it was legal to sleep in the park last night?" you wondered.

       "There's no police in Catharsis to object," Malcolm told you.

       "No laws either?" you asked,

       "Not yet. It's still unorganized territory," he answered.

       "Of course.  If this is a Hernandez hotel, I'm thinking the other hotel at the other end of town is a Marquez property," you guessed.

       "Affirmative, the two big families came to the new land," Malcolm answered.

       "Brought their rivalry with them," you assumed.

       "Not really, these are young cousins to the old bulls. Mostly they are anarchist gentlemen," Malcolm clarified.

        "What about hospitals and schools?" you asked.

        "Expensive private schools and private hospitals. There are stories of old ladies travelling all the way to Border Town for a free medical procedure," Malcolm replied.

        "Not a good place to be poor," you guessed.

        "We've got a few families people give charity to but yes, not a solid welfare state," Malcolm agreed.

         "Does anyone own the land?" you asked.

         "Still unorganized but we do have a real estate agent, Frank Feenie, and people think his maps are great," Malcolm answered.

         "An unreal estate agent," Roger quipped.

         "When you buy a lot off Frank the assumption is that you're just paying half," Malcolm continued.

         "And he keeps the cash?" Omar wondered.

         "Pays for cartographers and surveyors putting in stakes too," Malcolm argued.

         "Frank probably does well too," Michael guessed.

         "His Kids are in the expensive private school," Malcolm confirmed. 

         "Like printing money," Roger offered.

        "Buying into the Catharsis Delusion," Malcolm added.





The Crimson Star




        Almost by habit your group piled into the hovercraft that afternoon. There had been some vague suggestions of a trip across town to see the Marquez hotel, but everyone knew it was free and open.

        "I want to see a Howler monkey," Toby requested.

        The town, like Kuala Lumpur on Earth, was a patchwork of jungle and city, the wilderness providing oxygen to the metropolis and shade from the hot sun.

        "Your monkey may be in one of these jungles," Omar told Toby.

        "I'm thinking our antennae might be too," suggested Roger.

        They stopped for pomegranate snow cones and Malcolm and Professor Jenkins who had tagged along filled you in on UT agriculture.

        "Pomegranates are what UT is famous for but there are banana and oranges that could be sold too," Jenkins started.

        "How do they sell them if UT has no money," Roger asked.

        "Well there are UT bucks but that's just a web page for coupons paid for in Esmatia money," Malcolm answered.

        "We all got some before we left Border Town," Toby divulged.

        "Mostly they trade for things like chicken and beef," Malcolm told you.

        "Must be some wild stories crossing that desert in a fridge truck," Popo guessed.

        "Our grocery stores depend on them," Malcolm said.


        Then Pipi, who had become the de facto hovercraft driver, stopped in a large gravel parking lot next to an even larger section of bush.

        "Henry's map of artifacts points to this place as well as the pilot's map showing where all the antennas are," Omar revealed.

        "It's not covered by sand this time just overgrown with jungle," Roger pointed out.

        You spent the afternoon traipsing around the jungle to no avail. Finally tired and a little discouraged you headed to the Marquez hotel for a drink.

        "We'll have to sleep on it and come back tomorrow," Miguel proposed.

        "Maybe you'll have one of your special dreams," Margaret Davis told Miguel.


        The Marquez Hotel like many of its five star brethren was ultimately a bit boring. Its attempts to be predictably corporate resulted in a generic blandness.

       "At least they have pomegranate juice," Beth said.

       "The only local thing on the menu," Lisa commented.

       "At the Marquez hotel we strive to be boring," said the waiter who was listening in as he wiped the table.

       "I've met Rosita Marquez," you offered.

       "I've heard about her. A daughter to the witch doctor and a cousin of our owner," the waiter responded.

       You thought of the 13 year old girl and her work with Crimson Star Fruit.

       "Seems a long way away now," you said.

      But little did you know.  She was soon to visit.






















The Crimson Star




        That evening you pitched your tents by the gravel parking lot and the Jungle you wanted to explore.

        "I didn't hear from the Tzango." Miguel said when he woke up.

        But oddly Margaret Davis had been contacted, she felt, by ancient Tzango witch doctors.

        "They were talking using tones that my hearing couldn't pick up. Their mouths would keep moving but I was standing there in silence. All I got, really, was that we're looking for a hatch in the forest floor, they went into great detail about how it was marked, but all the markings were biodegradable so probably long gone," she told you.

        "So all the above ground points I had chosen may be wrong," Omar decided.

        "Or my subconscious may have generated it all and it's B.S," Margaret warned.

        "I'm still looking for a hatch," Miguel confided.


        After breakfast that included some fresh fruit that Michael had obtained, you started the search.

        "I had picked out a few tree clusters that may hide antennae.  Now I think we should look for ruins of markers," Omar told you.

        "I'm trying to remember what was said in my dream. I think we're looking for small monuments made of sticks," Margaret Davis reported.


        The day was disappointing. The only saving grace was that Toby got to see his Howler monkeys. The forest was full of them and Mono Titi a species of miniatures from Costa Rica.

       Malcolm and Professor Jenkins had a couple of rooms back at the Hernandez hotel so you decided to head there and use the showers.

       "A nice way to treat ourselves after a shitty day," Omar said as you drove the hovercraft back there.


       You met with Malcolm again in the downstairs Cafe.

       "So tell me about finding the sixth antennae," he prompted.

      "Hindsight is 20/20 but it seemed easier than finding the seventh," you replied.

       "Is digging in sand easier than searching jungle?" he asked.

       "We had some local input that showed us the way," you answered, thinking of Miguel.

       "You know professor Jenkins may have something to offer on the Seventh Site," Malcolm countered.

       "Do tell," you prompted.

      "His research shows that there is discolouration of trees if they grow into metal," Malcolm continued.

      "Like a hatch door," you guessed.

      "I think he even flagged some spots today," Malcolm added.

      "Jenkins is too quiet. Let's go speak loudly for him," you urged.

      And that's what happened.
































The Crimson Star




        When you got back to the jungle next day you were experts on floral discolouration due to metal exposure. Professor Jenkins had to fly out so he wasn't there but he had stealthily thrown a few yellow flags on areas he suspected.

        "Has everyone looked at their info-packs?" asked Toby feeling important because it was he who had assembled the information on discolouration from metals.

        "I understand how iron leaves rust and copper turns matte green but how about weird Tzango metals?" wondered Roger.


        A few hours later you stopped for lunch having checked all of Jenkins yellow flags.

        "We don't think it's weird to sit down for lunch in a meter of leaves," noted Beth.

        "Denizens of the duff," agreed Roger.

        "These rain pants Malcolm scored are awesome," you decided.

        "I'll have to give them back, they belong to the volunteer Fire Department," warned Malcolm.

        "So we found some coloured leaves but they just lead to artifacts down below," summarized Roger.

        "Tzango Tin Cans," Margaret Davis named them.

        "We're looking for a trap door made of those tin cans," Omar insisted.


        A few hours passed and a consensus emerged that of Jenkins sites most of the trees had a blue edge on their leaves.

        "So what we're looking for is a tree where almost every leaf has a blue fringe," Omar decided.


        And so a grand search ensued. Most people were surprised by the number of trails that existed in the jungle that they hadn't walked yet. Finally, on a trail in the north of the stand, a tree was found.

        "We should have known they would choose the north," Miguel argued as he dug.

        "There was no park in those days," corrected Michael.

        "It's a bench. The jungle's on a clear plateau," suggested Popo.

        "Ya, they chose the North," Pipi added.

        "Just like in the desert," Roger concluded.

        "I think I found a hatch," claimed Margaret Davis suddenly.

        Everyone rushed to Margaret's site which was off to the side a bit.

        Within an hour you had scraped away a meter of duff and revealed a door.

       "The doorway to antennae seven," wheezed Miguel out of breath from digging.


        That evening in the tent Margaret Davis was buzzing.

         "What I'm most proud of is turning off the voice in most academics heads that says 'don't listen to your dreams,'" she said.

         "Being an anthropologist who studies people who talk through their dreams helps," you guessed.

         "Mmm," she whispered from her sleeping bag and was off to dreamland.
























The Crimson Star





         When the doors opened you were surprised to find ornate brickwork rather than mud.

         "I was expecting to find something more uh, earthen," admitted Omar.

         "These bricks are amazing. They're made of natural rocks with imperfections, just smoothed like Cuzco in Peru. But smaller," offered Popo.

         "I like how the imperfections fit together," Angela agreed running her hand over the stones.

         "Like a jigsaw puzzle," Toby added.

         It would take three hours to walk about a city block down to a chamber at the end of the hallway, mostly because of a need to discuss, brickwork at first, but the fascinating lighting as well.

         "These pods on the walls are bioluminescent, but they would run out if not exposed to a light source.  I wonder how this works?" wondered Michael.

         "Designing a lighting system that still works after thousands of years is no simple task," agreed Roger.

         "The index stone may offer a clue. It didn't show anything in the seventh location until we opened the hatch. Now it has a very bright light," Margaret Davis added.

         "I think we may be mixing systems here. The index stone runs on some kind of radio frequency while these lights may not," Omar argued.

          And sure enough, when Popo and Miguel limbed out of the hatch and followed the tunnel above ground they found a number of trees that they discovered had lenses on the top.

          "We got lucky and found one of the lens trees that had fallen over," Popo divulged.

          "Otherwise we wouldn't have found the lenses," Miguel added plopping an opaque stone on the floor.

          "The abiotic film on these might be harmful," Omar warmed handling the lens carefully.

          "Kept it from getting covered with jungle slime for thousands of years," added Miguel.

        "I wonder how it keeps leaves from growing over it," wondered Roger.

        "Tzango death Rays," Pipi guessed.

         Finally they arrived at the chamber at the end of the hallway. They paused for a moment at the doorway. The seventh antennae was near.










the Crimson Star




        The seventh antennae wasn't buried but was in clear view in the chamber at the end of the hallway. All that remained was to strike it and see if the Pilots detected the signal.

        "Annoyingly, this phone has no signal," Omar reported when he tried.

        "My guess is that this underground has excellent dampening abilities. Try your phone outside the hatch," Margaret Davis suggested.

        An elaborate plan was hatched where Omar would head outside and call the Pilots. Pipi would run up five minutes later and confirm that the fork had been sounded. If successful the two would rejoin the group triumphant or else if it failed they would return to formulate plan B.

        "So it's plan B," Omar admitted when he returned.

        "Clearly the Tzango would have had a way to make the antennae work," suggested Margaret Davis.

        "This chamber seems to have been a way to make it not work," countered Popo.

        "That's it! We have to take the forks outside the chamber," concluded Beth.

        "Or more easily, we have to figure out how to open the hatches in the ceiling," Omar added.

        They all looked up and studied what they thought were ornaments on the ceiling.

        "All I can think of is going up above and scraping off the duff," Popo proposed.

        And that's what happened.  A few hardy souls climbed out of the tunnel and attempted to find trap doors.

        "Nothing yet," reported Pipi when he ran down to keep you up to date.

         Eventually you were greeted by a sliver of light.

         "Hello below," Miguel shouted.

         "It looks like there may be up to six hatches," Omar responded.

          There was moaning above.

          Finally, after 3 or 4 more hours of work the ceiling was a patchwork of openings.

          "My phone works," reported Omar.

          "Strike the tuning forks, I'm calling the pilots," he added.

          Roger responded using a primitive mallet that he had fashioned from a tree branch and a bit of cloth.

          "You've got it?" Omar said into his phone.  "Success!" He called out and everybody celebrated.

          "My index stone now has seven bright lights," Margaret Davis told you.

          That evening you had pomegranate cocktails all around in celebration.

          "On to the eighth antennae!" Omar toasted.

          It would be the most difficult.


          When you got back to your tent that evening Margaret Davis was lying naked on top of her sleeping bag.

          "Jesus woman, put yer clothes on," you said in a southern American redneck voice.

          "That was a dusty day. I managed to bathe and now I'm air drying," she responded.

          "Pretty distracting for an old girl," you told her.

          "You can take it. You're a big boy," she chided.

          "Mm," you agreed and fell asleep.



















The Crimson Star




       At breakfast that morning a heated discussion occurred.

       "It's only a theory. That each antennae is associated with one planet in the planetary system," Roger started.

        "I'm saying that we have to keep in mind that the eighth antennae we're headed to might be associated with the destroyed planet we know about," proposed Margaret Davis.

         "Or it may be straight forward like these last two," said Omar who had to be back at work in a little over a week.

          "I think we should talk about this on the way to the site," suggested Beth who also had to be back at work.

          "But before we go, what planet do we think was associated with this site?" wondered Popo.

          "I'm thinking Esmus 7. Perhaps that's why it's the only one with an on/off switch," answered Margaret Davis.

          "When those doors are closed its definitely incommunicado," Miguel added.

          "So we're talking about an ancient Tzango race perhaps in a far more populated system. They liked to be able to communicate, but they also liked to disappear," said Roger.

          "An excellent talking point for in the hovercraft," Beth insisted and everyone agreed this time.

        Gina flung her phone haphazardly onto the counter and faceplanted into her bed, "Mrs. Baldwin just called to say, 'My services as a real estate agent are no longer required,' which means I'm officially down to just that Malibu place, and the owner is thinking of jumping to that 'sharing economy' bullshit."

        "Yeah. God, that's awful, I'm really sorry to hear that, babe. Hold on a sec, I gotta take a leak," Chris walked into the bathroom with his phone, whispering into the mic to his stock broker, "I need you to move everything into that thing, ok? Right now. Thanks."

        "of course it can be really good money," Chris told Gina walking out of the bathroom. "I have some friends with a place near the beach that rent out their place for two nights and cover the whole month's rent."

        "Where do they stay for those two nights?" asked Gina.

        "I guess his brother has a smelly room in his basement," Chris replied.

        "Sounds gross," said Gina disgusted.

        "Sounds like free rent," Chris    countered.

"I quit America.  I swear to God, I quit this f***ing country," Chris said, tossing the spent popcorn bag of hydrogenated oil and Flavocol salt into the trash can, like a molotov cocktail hurled at a downtown megabank nexus.  He checked his phone, waiting for the dollars or the contracts or some guardian angel to fly in through the WiFi and save him from hell.  That thing, it was his Golden Ticket.  Show me the money, baby.

"I can't believe they have *middle class pencil-factory workers* in Germany," Cindy said, pouting her duckface pout.  "And, and, FREE COLLEGE in like, what, half of Europe?  I've got a PhD-and-a-half in computer science and psychology, but I still have to shake my ass on the internet for cash cause my Jamba Juice wage-slavery covers what... the INTEREST on my debt?" Cindy performed her expert twerking in her over-tight yoga-pants and micro-top.  She'd gymmed that butt real hard, got it from flat-Anglo-Nordic nonexistance to a near-Kardashian level bump.  Hard working American, Cindy.

Chris helped her instagram a 5 second video and hash tagged it #fitnessmotivation #datass.

Cindy stole her phone back, "Wait!  Don't forget to tag it, 'Donald Trump'.  Nobody sees or hears anything that doesn't have The Trump in it."

Chris repeatedly touched all the pockets on him like a tweaker's Macarena, "Shit, where's my phone?  Cindy?  Where's my phone?  Cindy!  My phone?  I'm waiting for important contacts!"

"Chris, I'm doing my Zumba squats here, ok?  Flash-workout.  Maybe you left it in the theater?" Cindy continued bending over on the street corner.

"No!  No way, I distinctly checked the floor... Aw shit," he slapped his forehead with a greasy popcorn hand and immediately wiped it off with a parking receipt to avoid blemishing.  "I must've threw it out in the popcorn bag.  Fuck!"  

"Jeeze, playboy, you don't have to get all worked up about it!  I'll run back and grab it for you.  I've got to get some more cardio in.  Can you make sure this post gets to Tumblr, Facebook, and like, whatever other sosh-media site looks trendy right now?  You're a super-guy, babe!  Thanks!"  Cindy ran off in the direction of the theater.  Chris watched her lycra disappear behind sliding glass panes.  She was looking good for 32.  Maybe not doing so good, though.  Then he remembered he was 33.  Fuck.

Chris called his parents up, "Yeah mom, we'll be home in half an hour.  Sorry, our cut of the rent will have to wait till like... uh.  Yeah, I understand mom.  I know, I just feel bad because...  Yeah, ok.  I love you too, mom."  Chris Yelped the nearest Payday Loans place in the area code.

The Crimson Star






        On the way to the eighth site the conversation continued.

        "Why would you say the system was more populated back then?" Michael asked Roger.

        "A trendy idea in the journals, really. There are archaeology sites on several planets. It points to a time when extracting mineral wealth was everything," Roger answered.

        "More important than air," Miguel wondered.

        "Several of the planets extracted minerals and made no attempt to terra form," Roger agreed.

        "There is some evidence the Tzango could exist without oxygen," Margaret Davis added.

         "Well Esmus had about 10% of the oxygen it has now in Tzango times, enough to support lichen," Roger submitted.

         "What the hell is that?" Pipi suddenly said from the driver's seat.

          You were on a fairly clearly marked prototype highway but you hadn't seen another vehicle in hours. The gargantuan truck that was now in front of you changed that.

         "I think it's a homemade recreational vehicle," guessed Michael.

          You'd follow it all the way to your destination. The ancient ruined desert town of Convus.































      There was a general store in Convus that was open for business.

      "Sort of in between our last two sites. A little civilized like Catharsis and a little desert ghost town like site 6," summarized Toby.

      "The guy in the RV is here," noticed Roger pointing to the vehicle parked in front of the store.

      "A chance to get a closer look at the behemoth," enthused Michael walking over to it.

      "Home made aerodynamics," admired Omar who had crossed the street also.


      And then you all crossed to go into the store.

      Large dirty hardwood floors greeted you and you met the driver of the RV.

      "We've been admiring your rig," Omar said to the only other customer in the store.

      "So what's the population of Convus?" you heard Popo ask the guy behind the counter.

      "Just a homemade folly," the red haired RV driver responded.

      "A grand total of twelve people,” the guy behind the counter answered.

      "We're looking for the eighth tuning fork," Omar said to both strangers, "We've heard it's in Convus, do you know anything about it?" he asked.

       "I have an article on my phone. It talks about the five tuning forks in Esmatia,” replied the red haired RV driver.

        "There are three more in UT," Toby blurted.

        “'Tis what I hold in high regard, the singing of a Convus shard," the Guy behind the counter submitted.

        "I'm thinking there is some ancient poetry to be read?" Margaret Davis asked.

        "There's a thousand year old poem called 'Convus Echos' written in English," The Guy Behind The Counter answered.

        "I thought the early natives were from places like Papua New Guinea?" Margaret Davis wondered.

        "Most of the doctors and lawyers went to University in Australia," he answered.

        "So the guy who wrote the poem was a doctor or a lawyer?" Toby wondered.

         "A civil engineer I think. He worked in the Capitol for a few years and then came out here and founded our town. He's probably the reason we have running water," the guy behind the counter responded.

          "A shower!" enthused Beth.

          It wasn't as if you'd been in the desert for very long, the tanks in the hovercraft were still quite full. But you were still directed to a town campsite where there were showers available and a hose to fill the tanks.

          "Not filthy like last time we were in the desert," decided Toby.

          "This water is from a thousand foot well dug a thousand years ago," Michael summarized.

          You'd stay at that camp a long time.



























      Margaret Davis left with Omar and Beth at the end of a week in Convus.

      "So long tent mate," you said as you gave her a hug.

      "Keep working on that healing myth," she said as she hugged you back.

      "I need to live the story, not just tell it," you told her.

      Malcolm and Professor Jenkins showed up in a taxi from Catharsis so with the red haired RV driver it was a complete changing of the guard.

      "Will you come back?" you asked Omar as you shook his hand good bye.

      "I hope you are long gone by the end of the guiding season," he answered.

      "We haven't even figured out where to look yet, let alone dealing with what may happen when the index stone is complete," you answered.

      "I hope we meet again," he added vaguely.

      "We'll be lost without our leader," you worried.

      "We'll have to return then," Omar proposed.     

      The taxi driver was getting restless so the group piled into his car and left.

      "Say hello to the plane pilot Todd," Jenkins called into the car window as it left.         


      And then you were alone.

      Roger and you sat down to assess the situation.

      "Did you read that poem?" he asked knowing how you'd answer.

      "No, but Margaret Davis left her copy in my tent with notes all over it," you replied.

      "Omar read it," Roger said a bit mournfully.

      "Both the people we know read it just left," you added.

      "I hereby proclaim you our next minister of literature," Roger said.

      "The poem is our best clue, but neither Omar nor Margaret Davis said much about it," you noted.

      "Your job is to figure out why," Roger told you.



      That night in the tent it was strange to be alone. You wormed over to the bed previously occupied by Margaret Davis and looked at the book: Convus Echoes. ‘'Tis what I hold in high regard, the singing of a Convus shard.' The quote was underlined but never referred to again.

      "They didn't talk about it because there was nothing to say," you said out loud. And you spent the night reading all of Margaret's notes.

      "Amounts to nothing," you decided and went to sleep. 







        In the morning you had to deal with Michael and Lisa who you felt were abandoning you just as the problem got difficult.

        "It seems like people are hitting the road because we're a little stuck," you complained.

        "Michael thinks that the tuning forks were used as weapons. Resonance weapons that were powerful enough to destroy a planet," Lisa confided.

        "Like a child on a swing set, each little push makes you go higher," you agreed.

        "Nicolas Tesla caused half of New York to shake with a barber's massage tool," Lisa submitted.

        "Little pushes can add up," you guessed.

        "Michael also thinks the explosion may have backfired somehow and destroyed the forks themselves," added Lisa.

        "Tis what I hold in high regard, the singing of a Convus shard," you quoted.

        "Maybe what you're looking for is a shard that still rings," Lisa proposed.


        Michael had been in the general store trying to call a taxi. Now he returned.

        "It may use up all our UT bucks but we have a ride down to the airstrip tomorrow," he told Lisa.

        "What about Professor Jenkins? Is he going with you?" you asked.

        "He is staying for a couple of weeks. He has convinced his employers that this is research," Michael replied.

        "It may take a couple of months," you countered.

        "All the wandering souls that have left you will suddenly reappear when the index stone is complete and riches flow," Michael guessed.

        "Not sure they are welcome," you suggested.

        "That's the future," Roger said having just joined the conversation.


        After Michael and Lisa left there was a kind of lull in proceedings. Toby became a large voice to be reckoned with and the guy who drove the RV emerged as a leader.

        "My name is Cameron," he told you after a few days of being referred to as the 'red haired guy with the RV'.

        "I'm still referred to as 'the sandy haired guy with a lisp'," Professor Jenkins told him rolling his eyes.    

        "I'm from Border Town. That's where my wife and kids are," Cameron said.

        "And daddy went to the desert to explore in his RV," concluded Angela.

        "In search of adventure maybe even fortune," Cameron countered.


        After two or three weeks your group grew weary of the campsite in Convus, even with its ancient running water. Jenkins was leaving and so you all piled in to the hovercraft to take him to the airstrip.

        "Ten hour trip for pleasure," wondered Popo.

        "Had to get out of that ghost town," answered Roger.

        Perhaps that's also why you stayed a few weeks in Catharsis.
























         It would take a couple of important events to end your stay in Catharsis. First was the arrival of a package from Margaret Davis.

         "It's a metal detector. A new kind that searches out titanium," Popo announced.

         "Just what we need when we get back to Convus," enthused Malcolm who had decided to stay when Jenkins flew out.

         The other event revolved around Toby who had been hanging around a skateboard park on the other side of town.

         "He made friends with a girl," Angela gushed. "Fourteen years old and in love."

         "I hear she's coming back to Convus with us," Roger said.

         "That's the plan," Angela answered. "A pretty little thing named Rose."

         "Rosita Marquez," Popo detailed.

         After chewing on that news you spoke:

         "It's funny how some people leave at important moments and some people arrive."

         "Maybe her witch doctor intuitions are at play," asserted Popo.

          "Maybe she's attracted to my son," countered Angela,

          "Never occurred to me," Pipi volunteered.


          On the last night before you left Catharsis you took a shower in Malcolm's room in the Hernandez hotel and met him in the basement for a drink.

          "So what did you do for these guys to get a free room?" you asked him.

          "I'm writing a report on the Catharsis economy," he replied.

          "What does it say?" you asked.

          "That anarchy is working just fine with an oasis like the Hernandez hotel to go to," he replied.

          "You're spending the day tomorrow with a Marquez. Sort of colluding with the enemy isn't it?" you wondered.

          "She is fourteen, not really a problem," Malcolm responded.


          And while Roger and Angela splurged on a hotel room for the night you went back to your tent to sleep. As you were dozing a phone call came in from Margaret Davis.

         "I'm back in Sendero Rosa, a little bored already," she told you.

         "You will have to come rejoin us. We're about to find the eighth antennae," you responded.

         "Light up the index stone," she added.

         "Where exactly IS the index stone," you asked a bit embarrassed.

         "In the pouch behind the driver's seat in the hovercraft. I thought you'd find it," she replied.

         "No, needed to ask you," you answered a bit disgusted.

         "You might see me," she comforted.































         The only thing remarkable about the ten hour hovercraft ride from Catharsis to Convus was Toby and Rosita Marquez holding hands in the back seat the whole way.

         "I heard from Margaret Davis last night. She told me that the Index Stone is right here," you said pulling something out of the pouch on the back of the driver's seat.

         "Guess we should have found that," Roger supposed.

         "Holy shit the eighth light is glowing," you reported looking at the index stone.

         "Very dimly," confirmed Toby looking over your shoulder. It was still amazing since the hovercraft was an hour out of Convus.


         You didn't even stop at the general store when you got in to Convus but proceeded directly to the campsite of the thousand year old showers.

         "Only took you two weeks," Cameron said sarcastically as he greeted you. He had been left in his RV watching a small pile of gear you had left.

         "Did you spend your time missing your wife and kids in Border Town?" Angela wondered.

         "I talked to them on the phone. They miss me but they want me to bring back treasure," Cameron replied.  

         "This box contains a metal detector that finds titanium," Toby said unpacking the hovercraft.

         "And this is the Index Stone. You'll notice that the eighth antennae is glowing faintly," you submitted.

         "Brighter now than it was an hour away," Toby commented.

         "Are you telling me the Tzango had electronics and wires?" Cameron wondered.

         "It seems to be powered by ultra-sonic sound," Roger answered.

         "Like a dog whistle," Miguel added.

         "A dog whistle may produce an ultra sonic sound but these devices receive also," Roger added.


         Some days went by flailing with the metal detector to no avail. After a week you got a call from Omar.

         "How goes the search?" he asked you unaware of your frustration.

         "Nothing yet," you replied tersely.

         "You're going to have to dig in the plaza across from the general store," he told you.

         "I was hoping this new metal detector would show the way," you responded.

         "The maps are clear. All the artifacts point to the plaza in the centre of town," he insisted.

         "I hoped we were beyond random digging," you replied a bit pathetically.


         In the end you found yourself digging with a shovel.  Popo, Miguel and Pipi served as assistants.

         "We'll probably get more help when we find something," you guessed.

         And indeed you were a little lucky. You came upon what appeared to be an ancient Tzango water system.

         "So this was an oasis even in ancient times," Popo concluded.

         An attempt with the metal detector at the bottom of the hole yielded a satisfying beeping sound and you dug onward knowing that titanium was near.

         "You guys need some help?" said Roger from the top of the hole.

         "Your timing is excellent," you responded all caked in dust.

         And Roger and Cameron would set up a much needed line to carry away the accumulating diggings. Eventually they'd be joined by Toby and Rosita Marquez and production would peak for the day.

         "I think tomorrow's the day," you told Margaret Davis on the phone that night.

         "I have one ethnobotany lecture to deliver and I'll be there," she promised.

        And she would.








       The light seemed different on the next day. Full of promises and intentions it beckoned when you awoke.

       "That Tzango water system still has water in it from 5000 years ago," observed Rosita Marquez at breakfast..

       "How do you know?" asked Popo.

       "Tapped on the pipe," she answered.

       "Don't drink it," counseled Angela.

       "We're talking about Tzango plumbing that's still sound 5000 years later. If you dared to drink it it might be fine," guessed Roger.

       "Gross," Toby said.


         The breakfast morphed into excavation, the original diggers in the hole and everyone else in a line passing earth to a pile.

        "Try the metal detector," Toby requested, and a complex ritual ensued involving beeps that had grown stronger as you dug.

        "Clearly we're headed in the right direction," Roger told you. But as the day passed this became less obvious and when you paused for dinner it was highly in question.


        "Bit of a soul destroying day," you told Margaret Davis when you talked on the phone that evening,

        "I've got a flight to Border Town in the morning. After that it's a free for all. I should be able to catch a ride to Catharsis but who knows?" she told you.

        "See you when we see you," you replied and that would be sooner than later.


        Michael and Lisa were on the flight to Catharsis that Margaret Davis would catch.

        "We got a bit numb at our day jobs. Lisa felt unappreciated at the hospital and I was facing a group of glazed eyed freshmen at the college. So we took a leave of absence," Michael explained.

        "Thousands of years later all we've achieved is polite slavery and reluctant servitude," Roger formulated.

        "I hope you still have a job when you get back," Angela told them.

        "I hope we don't need a job because we're so rich from new treasure," Lisa enthused.

        "Still need a job because you want to be useful. Being rich can be boring," Popo said a bit mysteriously.


        "Margaret Davis made herself known when you started excavating. The first find of the day was a simple 'L' in the Tzango pipe. A third of a meter right angle with a cap on it.

        "Oddly I think this was the level of the ground in ancient times," she said unconvinced.

        "So there was ten meters of pipe heading up into the sky," Miguel said doubtfully.

        "If I'm right this was a community tap. It might even still work," and she unscrewed the cap revealing a stream of water. The flow was dirty for only a few gallons and then it was replaced by a clear stream of water.

        "What could the clarity of that water mean?" wondered Roger.

        "Perhaps that someone else is using this pipe," Margaret Davis answered.*






















        "What do you mean somebody else?" Roger asked a bit skeptically at breakfast.

        "The campsite has its own well. Powered by a pump. When the power is down, the water is too," Popo added.

        "The Tzango pipe seems artesian. Must be under a lot of natural pressure too to come gushing out like it does," Popo submitted.

        "I think our next move is to lower a string down the pipe and find out how deep it is. We can put a weight on it against the pressure," Margaret Davis said.

        "I've got a fishing rod in my RV, I've got some weights too," Cameron offered.

        "Let's get over there and try this," Michael said enthusiastically.


        At the plaza you had to wait for a while for Cameron to arrive with his fishing rod.

        "I wonder if Cameron has been fishing in the ocean or in rivers," Toby said bored.

        "It's an odd thing to have in the desert. I never asked him how long he was in the jungle," Roger added.

        With luck it was an ocean fishing rod, with a 200 meter reel of line and an old fashioned 16 ounce weight for deep water.

        "I've got another 100 meter spool in my kit," Cameron offered.

        "That should be enough," Tony said. And he'd be proven wrong.


        It wasn't hard lowering the weight into the Tzango well. As soon as Miguel got around the corner and was lowering the weight at least. The first half hour trying to move vertically against the pressure was another story. It would take a coat hanger retrieved from Cameron's RV and disassembled to wire to do it. Pretty soon Miguel was paying out meter long sections of line towards an unknown goal deep in Esmus 7.


        "Are you counting? You've gotta count how deep," Popo told Miguel.

        "We know that my whole reel is 200 meters," Cameron pointed out.

        "But if we find the bottom before that we're shit out of luck because he didn't count," Popo insisted.

        "Shut up I'm trying to count,' Miguel groaned.


        And then the line ran out so you stopped for lunch.

        "My granddad dug a well on his farm. It was only 80 meters," Cameron told you.

        "But in the desert it's not uncommon to dig 1000 metres to find water," Roger countered.

        "Esmus has only been terra formed for a thousand years. Not enough time to form really deep underground sources," Margaret Davis opined.

        "Tell the Tzango that," Miguel suggested.





























       Miguel hit metal at 250 meters. Half way into the new 100 meter spool of fishing line that Cameron had added from his box.

       "I mean it didn't thud like I hit wood but clanged like metal," he reported.

       "Not that there is much evidence of Tzango metal work," inserted Margaret Davis.

       "Not that you could hear 250 meters away surrounded by dampening sand," added Toby.

       "I think we should send a camera down to have a little look," suggested Roger.

       "They have little mini cameras available at the General Store," suggested Cameron.


       And so your group became expert remote spelunkers with improvised gear and high hopes. All went as planned until you got down to the metal and found a plexiglass pipe and a generator.

       "What is that?" asked Miguel trying to make sense of the picture on his tablet.

       "It seems to be an opaque section of the pipe," Roger answered.

       "And a small room off to the side with some equipment," added Pipi.

       "They left a light on," Toby said as if he knew who 'they' were.

       "This puts most of our assumptions into question. We thought this well was artesian but this seems to be some sort of generator. Probably to power a pump. We thought the Extra pipe at the top was mysterious but probably it went to a water tower that could supply water to houses and fields on the surface by gravity feed when the pump was off. Most importantly, we thought the Tzango moved to another planet, but maybe they stayed right here and just moved underground," Margaret Davis summarized.

       "What about the treasure?" Toby asked a bit sheepishly.

       "Maybe the treasure is finding the Tzango race," Roger answered.

       "Won't pay for my new car," Michael agreed with Toby.

       "Perhaps we have a duty to focus our energies not on, uh, anthropology, but on treasure hunting," conceded Margaret Davis.

       "After we find the eighth tuning fork and complete the index stone I'm all for contacting the Tzango somehow," Toby pointed out.

        And so the next week dissolved into a montage of digging. It became confirmed that the metal detector was sending a louder tone as you dug closer to the tuning forks and you learned to hum along with its beep.

       "Kind of catchy really," you enthused as you passed a bucket to Lisa.

       "The walls are caving in," she answered looking angry.

       And indeed the soft desert sand was collapsing as the well shaft grew deeper.

       "We should make the shaft into a cone and spray down the walls with cement," proposed Popo.

       And with a great deal of effort, that is what you did, although the spray cement was substituted by a couple of bags of ready-mix from the general store.

       "That's not much cement," noted Michael.

       "All we need is a thin layer to hold back the sand," Popo answered.

       And with reinforcing complete you got around to digging again. Tired and dirty you retired to the thousand year old showers to get clean.

       "Sweet dreams," whispered Margaret Davis when you crawled into your sleeping bag.

       "Night," you murmured.

















         In the morning everyone agreed that this was going to be a big day. The hole was reinforced and ready for about 3 meters of digging.

         "I wonder if those Tzango will hear us scratching at their roof," Pipi said with his mouth full of breakfast.

         "We've agreed to start a second team to research the Tzango. Professor Jenkins will be returning to head it," Margaret Davis told you.

         "You may think that Jenkins is just hopping back and forth a lot, but you have to remember that he's the only one of us that gets paid for this work," submitted Malcolm.   

          "I'm looking forward to seeing him," Margaret Davis told you.

          "So he gets to play around with lowering a camera down that well while we sweat digging a hole towards an antennae," Miguel wondered.

          "Speaking of sweating, let's get to work?" Roger summoned his crew grabbing a shovel.


          At the hole there was a notable lack of enthusiasm. Luckily the metal detector got frantic a meter down pinging urgently and providing motivation to an otherwise distracted crew.

          "It's calling us," said Toby while still shoveling,

          "Dig me up," Pipi enacted.

          "I wonder if it's a whole fork or just some broken shards," wondered Angela.


          At lunchtime Jenkins showed up and you and the others welcomed him.

          "Say hello to the Tzango for me," Pipi requested.

          "F-f-find some treasure for me," Jenkins stuttered back.

          "Multi-tasking," Roger quipped.

          "I hope one team succeeds," Miguel suggested.

          But both teams would succeed that afternoon.


          "We found the top of an antennae," Toby told Jenkins triumphant.

          "I lowered the camera below the generator and about 100 meters below it I found a r-r-root cellar," Jenkins countered.

          "What we found may just be a broken piece of an antennae," Roger corrected.

          "The root cellar looks like it hasn't b-b-been used in a long time," added Jenkins.

          "Excellent bad news," you summed up.


          That evening you'd sit with Malcolm and drink pomegranate cider. When you returned to your tent Margaret Davis was lying in her sleeping bag working with the index stone.

          "What do you have to report?" you asked her.

          "Tomorrow," she answered.

          "Tomorrow," you agreed and fell asleep.
































        Next morning Margaret Davis sat at the breakfast table working with the index stone.

        "What are you so fascinated with?" Roger asked her.

        "All 8 of the antennae are glowing. And there's something else. The whole rock has a new colour," she answered.

       "Maybe it's getting ready for completion." Popo guessed.

       "Looks like it's turning blue," you said looking over Margaret's shoulder.

       "I wonder what's in store when we uncover the last antennae," Angela said looking at the new blue.


       At the plaza you found Professor Jenkins threading a fishing line down the well pipe.

       "How deep now?" Miguel asked him.

       "370 meters and counting," he replied.

       "Hope you have a breakthrough day," Miguel suggested.


       But in reality neither of the teams made great strides that day. While half of the tuning fork got uncovered half still remained as you headed back to the campsite.

       "Tough day," you said to Margaret Davis as you crawled into your sleeping bag.

       "A calm before the storm," she replied as she drifted off to sleep.

       "Calm," you replied as you entered dreams as well.


       That night you had intricate dreams that left you reeling in the morning. An insect-like being who called himself 'The Caretaker' contacted you. It was surreal when Margaret Davis assigned you and Miguel to Jenkins well exploring team. Exactly what had happened in your dream. As the day progressed the coincidences grew stronger until you had to withdraw to your tent before dinner.

       "My dreams are informing me," you told Margaret Davis that night.

       "Let them speak," she advised.

















         It kind of surprised you when Cameron showed up the next morning with Jenkins in the RV.

        "This wasn't in my dream," you complained as you and Miguel climbed aboard.

        "But most of what occurs these days has already been dreamed," Jenkins surmised.

        "Yes, so much so that it seems odd when something new occurs," you added.

        "So you've heard from The Care Taker?" Jenkins asked as the RV headed into more and more remote desert.

        You tried not to act phased as the conversation grew paranormal.

        "Yes, I did talk with a fellow by that name," you answered a bit skeptically.

        "Rosita Marquez plays chess with him. She's the one who got the directions for the place we're headed right now," Jenkins said distracted by a satellite photo he was examining.

        "She has a way of making strange phenomena seem every-day," you added.

        "The Caretaker lives alone at the bottom of the well where he maintains the water system. The rest of the Tzango live 30k away where we're headed," Jenkins told you.    

        "According to Rosita," you surmised.

        "We're testing her story today," Jenkins suggested.

        And the 30k drive would take three hours. A few times you got stuck in the sand and had to escape using ramps you'd brought along for the job. But finally you would creep up on an outcropping of rock that Jenkins had identified on the satellite photo.

        "Apparently there are several light tunnels hidden here," Jenkins noted.

        "Like the Tzango site at antennae seven, but without trees," Miguel guessed.

        "It's unclear if the Tzango habitat is shallow with hatches like antennae seven  or deep in the ground like where the Caretaker lives," said Jenkins.


         When you explored the rock outcropping you found nothing at all at first. It was only after Miguel scaled the 10 meter boulders that he found opaque lenses hidden on the tops.

          "I found the inputs to the light tunnels," he shouted down.

          "They drilled 10 meters through the boulders to keep the tunnels hidden," you pointed out.

          "Must be some kind of holographic system to take the light deep underground," Jenkins guessed.

          "What do you see when you look down the tunnel?" you shouted up to Miguel.

         "I think it's The Caretaker," Miguel replied and you knew that you'd made contact with the Tzango.




        Thirty kilometers away from the RV the other team had unearthed the eighth antennae and was contacting the Pilots for confirmation.

        "We're going to try and cause a throbbing," the elder pilot announced which was good news to all since there wasn't a very good mallet for striking the fork.


        You were talking to Malcolm on a video phone.

        "So you did all that work and unearthed the fork. I thought there would be fireworks or something," you told him.

        "Everyone was expecting treasure to fall from the sky," he replied.

        "Just a small trigger will do it. When you least expect it," you told him.

        "How's your Tzango hunt going?" Malcolm changed the subject.

        "We got a sustained visual on The Caretaker through a holographic pipe," you answered.         

        "Did you get photos?" he asked.

       "It was an arbitrarily long distance, so no, no photos. Now there's even some doubt over whether it was The Caretaker," you answered.

       "So what's your next move?" Malcolm wondered.

       "We've decided Rosita Marquez needs to be on our team. She seems to be the only one of us with concrete communication abilities," you responded.

       "So you're driving back here to pick up Rosita and Toby," Malcolm guessed.

       "And take a shower. We're at a bunch of rocks in the middle of the desert," you added.

       "We'll have to have a drink to celebrate the two teams' success," Malcolm proposed.


       Although the RV had a large water tank it was thought best to head back to Convus for showers, and hopefully to recruit Rosita Marquez. Jenkins, Miguel and you bumped across the desert on the way back to the campsite.

       "So we're going to spend the night in town?" Miguel asked.

       "Malcolm proposed we have a drink of pomegranate cider. Probably should sleep it off before we leave," you suggested.

       But what would ensue was more than drunk driving. The drunken exploration of underground labyrinths below Corvus.


       "We've got a throbbing," Popo shouted. And sure enough you could faintly hear the fork as it vibrated.

       "That's being sent from the Pilots?" you asked to confirm what you'd been told on the phone.

       But nobody answered you. They were too busy staring at a new event. At the same level as the base of the fork a hatch was opening. The same thought was on everyone's mind;

     "This is the hallway that leads to treasure.”




























The Crimson Star




        The story of what occurred that evening has many versions. There is agreement that Malcolm was to blame or perhaps to credit for what occurred. Understand that he'd been working all that day and was ready for a drink. Understand also that he thought, predictably, that the opening of the hatch was going to be explored after a night's sleep. Understand thirdly that Malcolm's two friends, Professor Jenkins and Stride had just arrived from an excellent discovery of sustained contact with the Tzango race and needed to celebrate, and you may see why drinking took place.

        Whatever the case the corks on several tall bottles of pomegranate cider were removed and an after work happy hour commenced.

        "I wonder what's through that hatch," Pipi commenced staring drunken at the door.

        "Probably the treasure," Michael said a bit drunken himself.

        "We should go find it," Margaret Davis said, surpassing herself with the bold suggestion.

        "Or we should just sit here and drink cider," Malcolm countered.

        "I've only got tonight, tomorrow it's back to the desert," Miguel said.

        "Then we have no choice. We have to do a little looking for the treasure tonight," Popo pronounced gathering up his gear.


       Everyone would gather, complete with day packs and water bottles, at the hatch, a bit drunken and full of excitement for the adventure ahead.

       "I hope it has cool Tzango lighting like the underground in Catharsis," said Pipi.

       "If not I've got a funky old flashlight that may even have some battery life," Cameron offered.

       And they were off descending a staircase at first and then into a steeply downhill hallway with tile work they recognized.

       "The same stonework as Catharsis. A bit like Cuzco in Peru on earth in that it uses each rock's imperfections but smaller," noted Margaret Davis.

       "Like pieces in a jigsaw," Miguel noted.

        And your group would continue on far too quickly until someone noticed you were lost.

         "There has only been 5 forks in the road, I guess we should have taken one because this main route is fading away," Popo declared.

          "Potentially this is a maze for hiding a village," Margaret Davis suggested.

         And you'd walk on into the night, until finally, sober and blistered you'd emerge from the hatch in the early light of morning.

         "I think that was a maze," Toby said and everyone agreed.


The Crimson Star




        That was the morning that Omar and Beth returned to find you hung-over and blistered sleeping in.

        "We got a message from Margaret Davis that you were about to find the treasure. It got us so excited that we quit our jobs and came out," Omar told you.

        "Last night was a bit of a setback," Popo said his voice an octave lower from the drinking.

        "We still haven't found the treasure but we're close," Michael revealed.

        "Looks like you spent last night drunk and carousing," Omar chided.

        "We couldn't resist exploring what's down the hatch," Pipi offered.

        "So you went down drunk?" Omar asked.

        "Well Miguel, Dr. Jenkins, and Stride weren't going to be available this morning," Roger explained speaking of the desert crew that had left early that morning with Rosita Marquez and Toby along.

        "Tell me about what they're up to," Omar requested.

        "We're talking about truths that may not be true. The idea is that this site is only a well and antennae. There may be one Tzango fellow by the name of 'the Caretaker' who lives below here. The bulk of the Tzango are below the desert site they are spearheading," Roger explained.

        "Sounds like we should be out there too," Omar said fascinated.

        "Most of us decided that treasure hunting is most important," Popo countered.

        "I'm not sure if it's possible to find the Tzango treasure without establishing contact with the Tzango themselves," Omar opined.

        "Last night we saw plenty of turn offs. One of which may lead to the treasure and another may take one on the thirty k walk out to the Tzango," Roger offered.

        "Before we spend the day mapping the underground maze I think we should pay attention to the index stone. It changed a lot when we dug up the one fork, but the other sites had three or four.  Maybe that's what's required here too," suggested Margaret Davis.

        "Perhaps we should form two groups. One to map the maze and another to dig up the remaining forks," Omar told you.

        "I can do some digging," Popo volunteered.

        "I want to map the underground," Beth added.

        And so the group was split into two teams. The day would pass quite quickly until late in the afternoon. That's when Popo ran up from the underground sounding an emergency.



The Crimson Star




        "It's Beth, she fell down a shaft," Pipi wheezed out of breath.

        "What?"Omar asked a little stunned.

        "I've stabilized her vitals and phoned for an airlift," Pipi reassured.

        "How bad is it?" Omar asked.

        "Anyone else would be dead, but that's an extraordinary woman. She was making jokes about becoming the hag in a Chaucer poem," Pipi answered.

        "How far did she fall?" Omar asked a little desperately.

        "Fucking far. And the bottom of the hole is jaggy," Pipi responded.

        "That girl always knew how to fall," Omar said through teary eyes.

        "It was fifty meters. We knew we were two hundred meters down and she landed at a back door to the generator," Pipi told Omar.

         "We know the generator is 250 meters down," Popo added.

         "She seems to have slowed her fall by scraping at the walls of the shaft. Her hands are badly damaged, but it worked," Pipi told Omar.

         "How did the fall happen?" Omar asked.

         "It was Angela and Roger. They found a pointing stone with some lights in it. They were foolishly attempting to carry the heavy thing out. Angela got thrown off balance at the shaft top when Roger dropped his end and was about to fall in. Beth saved her but fell in herself," Pipi answered.

          "Fucking hell," Omar swore. The first time most people had heard him use profanity.

          "How did you get down to her?" Asked Popo.

          "We had one fifteen meter piece of rope. I was able to secure myself using some pitons, and lower it down a few times," Pipi answered.

          "Sounds dangerous. Good thing you had your climbing gear," Popo said.

          "When I got to the bottom I found a door in. Roger and Angela are looking for that route right now," Pipi said.

          In an incredibly short period of time the airlift arrived. Pipi had an excellent map newly drawn and was able to lead the crew to the top of the shaft without difficulties. Just as they were roping up for the perilous climb down into the shaft Roger and Angela appeared breathless.

          "We can guide you down using staircases and hallways," Roger proposed.

          And that's what happened. They even used the overland route to take out the stretcher, flying Beth away in their excellent heli jet. All fell silent in the aftermath and the group calmed and came out of shock.

          "Thank god for the Bordertown hospital,” Margaret Davis said watching the plane head over the horizon.

          "I'm heading up there,” Omar decided and just like that he was gone.


























The Crimson Stat




        "The bones on her face were broken," Pipi argued.

        "But no obvious brain damage," Popo countered.

        They were sitting at the campfire in the campsite drinking pomegranate cider when Angela joined them.

        "You guys aren't actually debating Beth's medical outcome, are you?" she chided.

        Luckily the conversation was interrupted by Malcolm who was on the video phone with Stride.

        "You guys have been eating the Crimson star fruit?" Malcolm asked.

        "Rosita Marquez has dried samples," Stride revealed.

        "And it helped?" Malcolm asked.

        "We found a hatch into the maze. It seems to help navigate," Stride claimed.

        "Like the hallways you saw when you tried the star," Malcolm noted.

        "Rosita has a detailed knowledge of the maze somehow," Stride suggested.

        "Enough of your adventure, I have to tell you about our misadventure mapping the maze," Malcolm interrupted.

        "What happened?" asked Stride.

        "Omar and Beth showed up shortly after you left. Beth fell down a shaft and was airlifted to hospital in Bordertown," Malcolm told Stride.

        "Is she ok?" Stride asked.

        "She's an amazing woman. She slowed her fall by scraping the plaster walls with her fingernails. Trashed her hands, broke lots of bones, but she survived," Malcolm summarized.

        "Fucking hell," Stride said spitting.

        "Omar flew over to be with her," Malcolm reported.

        "He didn't get to hear that we met the Tzango," Stride said mournfully.

        "That's important news," Malcolm offered.

        "Rosita not only is brilliant at navigating the maze, but she has dream contact with 'the doorman' who is our Tzango contact," Stride added.

        "Not 'the caretaker'?" Malcolm asked.

        "He's probably still by the well. The doorman told Rosita where the hatch is. Ten k from here out in the desert," Stride told Malcolm.

        "Pretty concrete evidence that dream contact is real," Malcolm replied.

        "Now we meet with him in the maze. Tomorrow we're going to the Tzango underground city," Stride revealed.

        There was intense whispering in the campsite. Finally Malcolm spoke:

        "Do you think Cameron would drive back and pick up a few of us who want to see the city?" Malcolm asked.

        "Probably fine. How many of you are there?" Stride replied.

        "All of us," Malcolm said without hesitating.

        And so the next day at first light the RV would pull into the campsite. The whole group was heading off to see the Tzango underground city.






















The Crimson Star




        The first place the RV stopped was the stone outcropping where Miguel, Professor Jenkins, and Stride were camped next to Toby and Rosita Marquez. You all got on board and headed out to the hatch 10 k away.

         "When do we meet the door man?" Asked Popo who was excited at a little adventure after digging for days.

          "He's through the hatch and down a long flight of stairs," answered Toby who was sitting on the side with Rosita Marquez.


          Before long all of you were through the hatch and descending to meet the Tzango.

          "I hope they don't mind such a big group of visitors," Angela said eating breakfast as she went.

          "They seem like generous and fair minded hosts," Miguel pointed out.

          "I'm kind of glad Michael and Lisa stayed at the campsite. Two less guests," Pipi submitted.

          "I think Michael has some treasure hunting he wanted to do," Roger guessed.

          And then without ceremony you entered the room where you were supposed to meet the Doorman.

          "Where is he?" Pipi asked.

          "He must have stepped out for a moment," Miguel guessed.

          "Maybe it's the wrong room?" Pipi guessed.

          "We met with him here a few days ago," Toby responded.

          And then all of a sudden he was there.

          "I have 'Anna's guide to human etiquette'. It says that if your party breaks the rules by say, unilaterally doubling the size of their party a good response is to break the rules a little yourself, something simple like showing up late is polite and will put them at ease," the doorman said.

          He had a large, square head with a tremendous extended jaw. His English was perfect but it sometimes dropped into a sibilant radio like whine.

          "We feel at ease," Toby reassured him.

          "Anna would be pleased," the Doorman reassured back.

          "So we're going to the Tzango city," Roger said changing the subject.

          "That's the plan," answered The Doorman.

          "Excellent," agreed Roger.

          "But first we should talk about your friend Beth," The Doorman said.

          "She fell down a chute by the generator," Roger submitted.

          "It's important to note that she had help," The Doorman told you.

          "What do you mean?" Asked Roger.

          "Hundreds of years ago when we were designing that shaft we added air currents to help anyone falling," he added.

          "Air currents?" Roger wondered.

          "To hold the faller against a wall. Otherwise they'd be pushed into the Centre," he explained.

          "And here I thought Beth had summoned some kind of magical powers," Roger confessed.

          "And the landing has Pistons to absorb the shock," The Doorman revealed.

          "Fifty meters is a long way. Of course she had Tzango Magic on her side," Roger conceded.

          "The reason I told you is to prove there was no magic involved. The discovery of an alien species might make you too open minded. Remain skeptical today," The Doorman warned.















The Crimson Star




        Almost immediately the trip to the Tzango City would become difficult to believe. The arrival was amazing enough as The Doorman ushered you in to the 'elevator'.

        "It's an air chute. Like offices had on earth in the first part of the twentieth century to deliver mail," The Doorman told you.

        "You expect us to just jump into that shaft?" you asked.

        "It's perfectly safe," The Doorman assured you.

        "Looks like a good way to end up like Beth," Miguel warned.

        And with no further discussion The Doorman stepped in to the chute and flew away.

        "Who's next?" asked Toby.

        "I'll go," volunteered Popo.

         And without delay he too was gone.

         Nobody stepped up to go next, and finally the phone built in to Miguel's arm rang. It was Popo and Miguel put him on speaker so everyone could listen.

        "That shaft only goes uphill for a little while, then it is horizontal for a while, then it heads down for a long time," he told you.

         "Is The Doorman there?" Roger asked.

         "Standing right next to me," Popo answered.

         "I guess I'll go next," you put forth and then there were three at the receiving station.


          Everyone followed giving you an opportunity to look around. It was a tiny station with a spiraling walkway going up. Several Tzango appeared to be telling jokes  in a cluster at the bottom of the ramp. Occasionally they'd laugh and the air would fill with a frequency modulation storm.

          "That landing was swank," you said to Popo.

          "That's probably why humans never sent anything but mail. We could never figure out a landing that wouldn't hurt people," Popo enthused.

          "Those little air jets kind of hurt at first but then when I relaxed they tickled. Finally it was like a massage," you opined.

          "A docking system that feels good," Popo said admiringly.


          Before long your whole group was on the platform. It was time to pass the joke-tellers at the bottom of the ramp and go out into the Tzango world.

          "We come out on the top of a 'hill'," The Doorman told you.

          To say that there could be a hill in an underground city is to acknowledge the genius of the Tzango engineering. But sure enough you emerged to a view that was overwhelming in its ornate beauty.

        "Are those water features based on Convus well water?" you asked pointing to the ponds and lakes in the view.

        "All our water comes from the caretaker's well," The Doorman answered.

        "What about that Ferris wheel?" asked Toby.

        "It's not a carnival ride it's a rice patty," The Doorman told him.

        "Does all the light come from that one outcropping," Michael asked.

        "There are five sites hidden around the desert. And we have light amplifiers," The Doorman answered.

          "Humans have optical amplifiers. But I think they’re mostly used in laser research," Miguel reported.

          "We seem to have figured out how to take a small amount of sunlight and amplify it," The Doorman said.

          "Because you have some amazing power generators," Roger said.

          "Krilon," The Doorman called it.

          "Something to talk about later. Right now we're going to see those buildings," Angela interrupted her husband and led the group down the hill.







The Crimson Star




    "The Tzango buildings are spectacular but they also have a Dr Seuss quality," Toby told Angela and Rosita Marquez who were walking with him at the front of the group.

     "Tell me about Krilon," Roger asked The Doorman as they walked at the back of the group.

      "The Tzango treasure," The Doorman replied.

      "What is it, some kind of energy source?" Roger asked.

      "Only if you know how to use it. There are those who have stumbled upon a huge bounty of Krilon only to leave it untouched," The Doorman replied.

       "Is that the treasure we're looking for?" asked Pipi who had been eavesdropping.

       "I think what you're looking for is a folktale. Still you may come upon vast reserves of Krilon, "The Doorman answered.

        "That's no good until you know how to use it," guessed Roger.

        "The small generator you found at the well powers the whole city. I think an equivalent measure of its strength would be several gigawatts," The Doorman claimed.


          "Ya there is a Dr Seuss influence," Angela conceded.

          They were in a Tzango grocery store with a whimsical strength.

          "They're not vegetarian," Toby said examining a rotisserie.

          "Maybe they have green eggs and ham," Rosita Marquez suggested.

          "I would not eat them in a box, I would not

Eat them with a fox," quoted Toby.


          "Hello you three," The Doorman greeted having just arrived at the grocery store.

          "A local. We needed some background on this place," Angela greeted back.

          "That meat is fake, grown from a few cells in a test tube. Then shaped into a form like the donor animal," The Doorman told Toby who was staring at the rotisserie again.

          "No animals died in the making of this meal," proposed Toby.

          "I think the Tzango are vegetarians,"  Roger, who had just walked in, added.


          "Michael you have to look for a stash of Krilon near the generator," you heard Roger talking on a cell.


          "It's a fuel source. I've heard it referred to as Tzango treasure," Roger added.


          "If you've already found it then we're good. I'll tell the others," Roger said.


          "Ya knowing how to use it's the real trick," Roger said.


          "I'll look into it," Roger promised.
























The Crimson Star




        "Those loopy brass pieces remind me of Dr. Seuss," Margaret Davis said as you left the grocery store.

        "We found out the Tzango are vegetarian," Toby added summarizing your achievements in the store.

        "We found out the Tzango treasure is Krilon," Roger added innocently.

        "That's big news," Popo responded.

         "Michael already found a stockpile," Roger divulged.

         "So that's it. We found the treasure," Toby proposed.

         "Krilon is worthless unless you know how to use it. But that one small genset we found is powering the whole city. Apparently one liter of fuel lasts several months, creates gigawatts of power, and creates no pollution," Roger informed you.

          "Aren't the Tzango going to object if we plunder their stockpile?" Margaret Davis wondered.

          "I guess that planet they destroyed five thousand years ago was mostly Krilon. They seem to have plenty," Roger answered.

          "Just because they have plenty is not a justification to steal from them. Especially if we need lessons on how to use the stuff," Popo offered.


          But after that the Tzango elders made their opinion known. You were in a kind of community centre a place with many comfortable chairs when The Doorman who had disappeared for a few hours returned.

          "Look at this," he said handing you a kind of magazine that he'd collected.  It was difficult to understand as it was written in Tzango but the graphics were clear.

         "I think it shows that there is a 650 year stockpile of Krilon and if Michael is allowed to remove his find there will be just 640 years left," read Margaret Davis.

          "So The Doorman was wrong in encouraging us to take it," Roger said a little dejected.

          "Like an overzealous kid encouraging his friends to take his family's silverware," Miguel said disgusted.


          All this talk was rudely being conducted in front of The Doorman and now he sought to make amends.

          "I'm inclined to think that finishing excavating the eighth antennae is the best move," he offered.

          "Because meeting the Tzango themselves is proving fruitless," you concluded.

          "One thing I should do before we are off to the caretaker's place is talk to some scholars," The Doorman decided.

          "I can see how historians might shed light on the planetary destruction, and anthropologists might have studied the Index stone myth," you offered.

          "We call our learned ones by different names but yes, I even want to find out what is known about the ancient ones who created the Index stone," The Doorman proposed.

      "I think we'll head back to The Caretakers zone and we can meet you in a week by the generator," Roger invited.

       "I'll be an expert in Tzango history by then," The Doorman responded.

        And so it would go.


















The Crimson Star




        On the RV ride back to Convus heated discussion broke out.

        "The thing that most confounds me when I think of the Tzango city is how every day we seemed to the locals," Roger started.

        "They are a race that makes little distinction between the dream world and the every day. Didn't you notice they knew Rosita by name?" Margaret Davis replied.

         "I've known several Tzango for my whole life in my dreams," Confirmed Rosita Marquez.

          "I first met The Caretaker in my dreams," you added.

          "We still haven't met him in the flesh," Popo clarified.

          "It's important to remember the Tzango are essentially a race in hiding," Margaret Davis asserted.

          "I guess I took offence when there were no parades or attempts to establish diplomatic relations," Roger offered.

          "If they wanted diplomatic relations they would have come above ground years ago," Popo insisted.


          Then you were in Convus. The campsite and its showers was welcoming. Michael and Lisa were there to meet the RV.

          "The band returns," Michael greeted.

          "So how much Krilon were you taking?" asked Pipi too directly.

          "It wasn’t such. I got a shopping cart from the general store and filled it up," Michael answered.

          "Ten years supply for the Tzango," you inserted.

          "Now we're back at the antennae," Miguel told Michael.

          "The Caretaker told me," Michael responded.

          "So you met him?" Roger asked.

          "We're supposed to meet again tomorrow," Michael answered.

          "Hope you don't mind a few extras," Roger proposed,

          "The more the merrier," Michael invited.

          And most of you would be there.














The Crimson Star




        In the morning everyone was excited to meet The Caretaker and over breakfast the discussion was far ranging.

        "Last night when I got into the tent, Margaret was snoring like a chainsaw," you told everyone.

        "I was meeting with some Tzango in my dreams," Margaret Davis replied.

        "Any important news?" Angela asked.

        "They were talking about small towns I didn't know existed in the Tzango underground, About ten k in each direction from the city. A place called Northtown, and another called Southtown, and two more called East town and West town," she replied.

        "Very concrete," Roger judged.

        "The aboriginal dream time in Australia on Earth is the most concrete dreamscape we know of. Esmus 7 seems to have different physics for this task," Miss Davis expounded.

        "The Esmus echo," Pipi named it.

        "We have a week until The Doorman shows up. Maybe visiting a town is a good idea," Roger suggested.

        "If I'm not mistaken that outcropping was north of here about 10 k. The air pipe took us about 2 k. That means south town could be a couple of Klicks away," Popo guessed.

        "The first thing we should ask The Caretaker," Miguel suggested.


        Then it was time to begin the arduous walk down the shaft to where Beth had fallen. Robert and Angela knew the way nest at first but then their knowledge of the staircases and ramps was surpassed by Michael and Lisa's new found expertise.

        "This one tiny generator powers the entire city," you told Michael as you approached.

        "Krilon powered," Michael confirmed.

        And as you entered the shaft The Caretaker was already there.

        "We meet again," Michael greeted.

        "We met in my dream," you added.

        "Pleased to see all of you,"  The  Caretaker answered.

        "We met with your colleague The Doorman, he took us to the Tzango city," Roger mentioned.

         "I hope you were treated well," The Caretaker wished you.

         "We were a little surprised how non-special we were," you answered.

         "The Tzango have a connection to the humans above," The Caretaker confided.

          "And yet the humans don't even know you're there," Popo ventured.

          "Years ago it was decided that the humans were too aggressive to openly share space right now. However progress was being made and slowly integration is happening," The caretaker revealed.

         "The creation of the doorman and caretaker positions is a step in that direction. Probably it will take hundreds of years," Michael guessed.

          "I think we're planning on moving above ground at about the same time as we run out of Krilon," the Caretaker professed.

          "1000 year plan. How long does an average Tzango live?" Asked Roger.

          "My grandmother lived to over 700. But most of us expect 500 years," The Caretaker answered.




















The Crimson Stsr




        The Caretaker had invited you to his home so the discussion continued as you walked.

        "So you live in South town?" Pipi asked The Caretaker.

        "Such as it is," he replied.

        "What does that mean?" asked Pipi.

        "Well North town has ten thousand citizens. East and west both have about five thousand, but South town, including my wife and two kids, has eight citizens," he explained.

        "What's the problem?" Pipi asked.

        "It's perceived as the closest town to humans. Not popular for that reason," The caretaker explained.

        "Eight citizens is not many," Pipi decided.

        "It will probably grow over the years," The Caretaker said hopefully.

        "As the races begin to integrate," Roger added.

        The group fell silent then, realizing the disdain the Tzango felt for humanity. Finally just outside town Miguel spoke;

        "I'm wondering about your neighbours," he asked.

        "There is an old couple. 600 and still going strong. Then there is a young professor and his wife. He's an expert in the history of humans," The Caretaker answered.

        "Sounds like someone I have something in common with," Margaret Davos decided.

       "The scholar ship is setting sail," Pipi announced.

        And silent moments would pass as you walked through the deserted streets on the outskirts of town.

        "I live right in the centre," The Caretaker told you as you began to pass by buildings with signs of inhabitation.

         "That big house at the end of the street is mine," he said a little later.

         "I can hardly wait to meet your wife," Angela told The Caretaker.

         "She doesn't speak much English," he replied.

         But awkward failures to communicate were avoided when you arrived at the house and found that the professor, named Lucas, and his wife were over visiting.

          "I heard you were showing up with humans, Trok," Lucas greeted as The Caretaker hugged his wife.

          "I think we should call you by your real name. One of the reasons humans are disliked is we don't spend enough time adapting to others," Roger decided.

          "Long live Trok, the caretaker," Miguel pronounced.

          "He does take care of our water and generator," Lucas said.

          "No need to force him into a name," Roger argued.

          Then Angela got into conversation with Lucas' wife Tryla who spoke surprising English so that she was able to do rough translation for Trok's wife Kayla.

          "Do you mind when people call your husband the caretaker?" Angela asked.

          "He takes care of me," she answered with some help from Tryla.

          But another conversation between Lucas, Roger and Popo overflowed into your ears.

          "You've already found the treasure. It's the Krilon stockpile. What you're looking for is a decoy. Set up long ago for humans," Lucas argued loudly.

          "Just a little cash to pay expenses and to get home to my wife and kids is enough," Popo said mentioning his family for the first time.

          "We have five days until the Doorman shows up. Is that enough time to show us this decoy?" asked Roger.

          "It's going to have to be," answered Lucas and it was decided.



The Crimson Star




      The journey to the decoy was complicated by Lucas' insistence that he not show his face above ground.

      He described the location as 'under antennae seven' which was in Catharsis so the bulk of your group drove with Cameron in the RV while Popo and his two brothers accompanied Lucas on the two day underground walk to the destination.

       The night in south town had been unremarkable. Camped in abandoned houses you slept soundly till morning when you started your journey to Catharsis. With a night to wait you spent time in the basement of the Hernandez hotel with Malcolm solving the world's problems.

        "So Lucas found a tunnel that goes all the way from south town to antennae seven?" Malcolm asked.

        "We don't know if it's in good repair," you answered.

         "That Tzango city was an excellent piece of engineering. Entirely in the bedrock, it had a supportive roof and walls. I could see a 30k tunnel hitting at least a few shafts of sand," Malcolm ventured.

         "Vertical sand dunes," you added.

         "So there may be a few places where the tunnel has caved in and they have to dig their way through," Malcolm said.

          "I hope Lucas has some Tzango tricks for that or else the sand will pour in like an hourglass," you offered.


          That evening you headed back to your tent a little drunk on pomegranate cider. As it turned out Margaret Davis was there with Lisa drinking a bottle of imported white wine.

        "We were just talking about you Stride," said Lisa a bit drunken.

        "This is an intervention," Margaret Davis declared.

        "Did I do something wrong?" you wondered.

         "You left the hospital before we could finish your course of treatment," Lisa claimed.

         "It's a lifelong chronic disease. The course of treatment is um, forever," you responded.

         "The safest place to be is in a hospital," Lisa argued.

         "Actually no, the numbers show that those who do best get off of their backs and quit taking medicine. The hospital is like a swirling drain that pulls you down into a comfortable death," you said a little sadly.

          "So you would reject the assistance of dozens of care givers?" Lisa asked a little hurt.

          "I don't reject assistance. I just think that it's healthy to be independent not dependant," you opined.

          "Sounds lonely," Lisa suggested.

          "I meet lots of people as I go," you answered.


          In about 30 hours Popo and his brothers showed up.

          "That was really fast," Roger told them.

          "Lucas showed us Tzango tricks," Popo answered.

          "Where is he?" Roger asked.

          "He's waiting for us at the antennae," Popo responded.

          "That's where we'll head in the morning," Roger said heading off to bed.
















The Crimson Star




        In the morning you drove the RV to the gravel parking lot by antennae seven and made the hike to the hatch.

        "I hope Lucas slept well in the underground," Angela wondered.

        "That's where he sleeps every night," Toby told his mom.

        "We'll soon find out how he slept," Roger said opening the hatch.

        And you'd descend into the excellent Tzango tunnel with its detailed stone work. It wasn't long before you entered the large room where the tuning forks were and found Lucas.

         "Did you sleep well down here?" asked Popo.

         "That 30 k hike had me tired," Lucas answered.

         "I'm excited to see the decoy," Roger confessed.

         "You'll be glad to see this then," Lucas said pulling up a tarp that hid a trap door.

          "A trap door within a trap door," Miguel called it.

          "I wonder how far it is to the treasure," Pipi asked.

          "Let's find out," Lucas urged heading down a staircase in the hatch.

          The group would move quickly down the hundred or so meters to a room.

          "The moment of truth," Popo said as Lucas opened the door to reveal the treasure.

          You were greeted by an opulent pile of riches. Gold bars and platinum. Emeralds and rubies.

          "If this is the decoy that Krilon must be worth a fortune," Michael enthused.

          "To us humans this is worth a fortune," Cameron declared.

          "I wonder where they found oysters," said Margaret Davos with a string of pearls around her neck.

          "So it's ok to just take this treasure," Michael asked Lucas.

          "it was put here thousands of years ago as a decoy to keep humans away from the Krilon stockpile," Lucas answered.

          "That would be us," Pipi said stuffing a backpack with gold bars.

          Then in a pivotal moment Popo revealed that his backpack was full of extra strength shopping bags which he distributed to everyone. It wasn’t long before each person had a tidy treasure pack with two not three gold bars an assortment of emeralds, rubies, and pearls to round it out.

        "What did you do wrong?" Miguel asked Pipi whose bag had fallen apart.

        "I got greedy and tried to take three bars," he answered sheepishly.

        "Same problem here," added Cameron who had tried to monopolize the platinum.

         Eventually the whole group was packed and heading back to the RV in the gravel parking lot. You told Lucas that you’d see him again soon as the Doorman was due in the morning but for now you were going to rent several rooms in the Hernandez hotel and take showers.





















The Crimson Star




        At the Hernandez hotel your group checked in to several rooms. Clean and re-energized you all had dinner in the fancy restaurant.

        "I can pay for this, I went downtown and sold an emerald at a jewelers," Popo volunteered.

        "I hope he makes something nice with it," Margaret Favis added.

        "I think he was talking about something bigger than earrings or a ring. Perhaps a brooch or a necklace," Popo replied.

        "I'm thinking of hanging one of my stones on a necklace," Angela said reflexively.

        "I'd like to make a brooch if nobody objects," Margaret Davis added.

        "I guess that's one thing we should consider. How much do we want to keep the Tzango secret?" asked Roger.

        "They have been hiding from humans underground for like a thousand years," opined Toby.

        "But they just created two new positions The Caretaker and The Doorman to interact with humans," Lisa countered.

        "Historically the cultural anthropologist has made huge noises about being sensitive to new cultures, but in the end the pressure to publish has lead to a lot of pristine cultures being publicized," Margaret Davis admitted.

        "We kind of have a duty to not be the assholes they think humans are," Roger said at last.

        "I never told the jeweler the story of where the emeralds came from," Popo offered.

        "Although it would have fetched a higher price with a good story," Pipi added.

        "In the end I am an ethnologist. Publishing endangered people's whereabouts while pretending to be sensitive is kind of what we do," said Margaret Davis sadly.

        "I guess I'm against you making a brooch Margaret. And I don't think you should make a necklace as a conversation piece Mom," Toby concluded.

        "That's a conversation that should never happen," Rosita Marquez added.

        And the evening continued with several bottles of fine imported wine being consumed. Eventually people started retiring to their high end rooms and you would head out to your tent at the edge of the parking lot to sleep.

        "You're not staying at the Hernandez Hotel either?" You asked Toby and Rosita Marquez when you caught up to them also walking back to the tents.

        "I am a Marquez. We don't stay at Hernandez Hotels," Rosita answered.

        "I'm with her," Toby added.

         As it turned out Margaret Davis was having an after-hours girls night when you got back to your tent. Angela, and Lisa were there and after a while Rosita joined them.

         "Did Toby fall asleep?" you asked her.

         "He drank too much," answered Rosita with a glass of wine in her hand.

"I hope you ladies don't mind if I too, fall asleep," you said crawling into your sleeping bag.

         "Good might Stride," Lisa whispered and her and Angela left the tent and headed back to the hotel.
























The Crimson Star




        The big event the next morning was supposed to be meeting up with The Doorman, but it was overshadowed by the arrival of Omar and Beth. You picked them up walking by the road near the Catharsis airstrip, Beth deeply disfigured and limping, Omar pissed off at the anarchic and nonexistent taxi service.

        "Cameron we haven't been here much since your RV arrived but something like home just picked us up," Omar greeted after he sat down.

        "Good to see ya," Cameron shouted from the driver's seat.

        "I got out of the hospital two weeks ago and we were guiding Japanese tourists at the crimson star fruit tree when Roger phoned and told us there was treasure," Beth said her speech only slightly compromised.

        "We even saved your share," Popo offered.

        "We knew you would," Omar countered.

        "There was an arbitrary distribution of loose rubies and emeralds that definitely advantaged those of us on site," Margaret Davis confessed.

        "Survival of the fastest," Pipi called it.

        "Sounds fair," Omar conceded.


        Before too long you arrived in Convus and Cameron asked for directions.

        "Should we go to the general store or just back to the campsite?" he wondered.

        "Seems a little anti social to not check in at the store," Roger voted.

        "I want to buy some things with all these UT bucks," Popo added.


        And so it was decided, Popo bored people with his flagrant consumerism and you were about to depart a little bored when Ross the guy behind the counter came up with some news.

        "Those kids were playing with your trap door," he said while bagging Popo's groceries.

          "You mean the door we buried to hide?" Popo asked unbelieving.

          "I guess they dug it up," Ross replied.

          "I hope they didn't go down there," Pipi said worried.

          "They came up spouting nonsense about meeting an alien called 'The Caretaker' ," Ross told you.

          "Sounds like they met a Tzango. The ancient race that disappeared," Omar suggested.

          "They're just kids with wild imaginations," Ross countered.

          "Besides, even if they met a Tzango, it's a race that hasn't been heard from in hundreds of years. They probably wouldn't appreciate it if the word got out," you offered.

          "The kids say this fellow spoke perfect English. Kind of an interface for future contacts," Ross revealed.

          "We'd love to stay and talk. As it turns out we have a meeting we have to get to," Roger inserted.

          "I can always head up to the campsite to see you," Ross assured you.

          "See you then," Omar said corralling the whole group out.




















The Crimson Star




      With only a couple hours to go before you were to meet with The Doorman you set up camp in the campsite.

      "It's good to be back in the tent. Even after staying in the fancy hotel," Angela declared.

       "I'll miss the little fridge with the expensive treats," Pipi said sadly.

       "Only because Popo was paying," clarified Miguel.

       "I wonder what The Doorman turned up in his research," said Margaret Davis curious.

        "Maybe he's going to point us towards the decoy," Toby said sarcastically.

         "Been there, done that," Pipi proclaimed.

         "Even if the information The Doorman has is useless, we have to be polite," warned Roger.

          "We already have the treasure. How could his inflation be anything but useless?" Toby asked.

          "It's one situation where your elders are open minded and you kids are hard wired," Angela told Her son.

          "I want to hear what The Doorman has to say," insisted Rosita Marquez.

          With the tents pitched and the food safely stored away you headed down to the antennae to find out what the kids had been up to.

          "Looks like they re-excavated the hatch," Pipi said a bit disgusted.

          While Popo and his brothers tried to clean up the kids' digging Rosita Marquez had a conversation with Toby.

          "Your eyes are kind of glazed. It's like you're not really here," Rosita said concerned.

          "This whole day is a waste of time. I don't believe the Doorman learned anything we don't already know," Toby replied.

          "My dreams were full of chatter last night. I think we're going to be surprised at what happens," Rosita warmed.

          Then it was time to get everyone into the hatch and begin the walk down to the generator to meet The Doorman.

         "Haven't really told you about our walk to Catharsis through these tunnels," said Miguel as you walked the underground.

          "How did you travel so fast?" wondered Roger.

          "Again with the Tzango and their air tubes. We kind of flew," he answered.

          "Like the entrance to the city," Roger guessed.

          "Not so Complete. The Doorman handed us something like hang gliders. Then he used controls hidden in the walls to turn on the air," Popo revealed,

          "A lot of those controls were broken. A few thousand years does its dirty work," Pipi pointed out.

          Then all of a sudden Beth was sitting down hyperventilating.

          "What's the problem?" Popo asked Omar.

          "No problem, we're just approaching the top of the shaft," he answered.





























The Crimson Star





       Beth recovered quickly when Roger and Angela took the lead and led the group down the Staircases and hallways that arrived gently at the generator level.

       "Did you hear that this floor has shock absorbers," Pipi offered when they'd arrived.

       "What are you saying? That this shaft was designed with Neth's fall in mind?" Omar asked.

       "You don't fall fifty meters and survive. There were also air currents pushing her up against the wall," Popo revealed.

       "Again with the Tzango air tricks," Pipi added.


        All of a sudden you heard someone approaching. And while you were expecting one Tzango this appeared to be four humans.

        "You remember your grandma Helga don't you?" said a slightly familiar old lady's voice.

        "Aunt Celia!" you cheered apparently happy to see us.

        "Hello nephew. You're down a hole it seems," I replied.

        "Haven't seen you since Collusion," you rambled on.

        "I've been following along. Telling your story," I told you.

        "And this must be Auntie Alexa," you ventured, pointing to the third old lady in our group.

        "You've been reading your family history. Enough to know that she hasn't spoken in seven or eight years," I answered.

        "Must be quiet travelling with her and Helga," you wondered.

        "It's lovely. I really don't miss the old ladies yammering," I told you.

        "And who do we have here?" you asked gesturing to the older man in ancient but fashionable clothing.

        "That's Juan Antonio Hernandez, he's an avatar," I answered bored.

        "A Tzango postulate. You're the fellow that gave all the towns in Esmatia their odd names," you said.

        "They weren't towns in my day. Just pieces of bush where I stopped to camp," the avatar said.

        "And yet the capitol city is called 'San Marquez'," interjected Rosita.

        "Perhaps this is an appropriate junction to introduce us to your relatives, Stride," Omar inserted.

        "Everybody this is my grandma Helga and my two aunts, Alexa and Celia," you introduced.

        "Pleased to meet you," Celia answered.

        "And ladies, this is our leader Omar and his wife Beth," you went on.

        "Who had a fall down this shaft," I interrupted.

        "Popo, and his two brothers, Pipi and Miguel," you continued.

        "From illumination," Helga noted.

        "Roger and Angela and their son Toby," you added.

        "Who is courting Rosita Marquez who I know through my dreams," Celia added.

        "And Cameron who we recently met in Convus," you added.

        "Drives an RV," Celia noted.

        "Malcolm who I've known since Retribution," you went on.

        "Your friend professor Jenkins is notably absent," I ventured.

         "Glad to meet you all, although I feel like I've been telling your story for a year. We have been at the Tzango University where we met The Doorman and got the Hernandez avatar. All of this should lead to a grand conclusion tomorrow," I gave a little speech.











The Crimson Star




        While you young people got to return to the surface, us elders were left to sleep in the underground on the hard cold stone. Luckily The Doorman showed up with some soft Tzango sleeping pads and extra blankets and we were cozy in our slumbers. That left you huddled by a campfire in the cold desert night with only an avatar as entertainment.

          "Why did the avatar follow us?" Asked Popo.

          "Probably got tired of the old ladies' company." suggested Roger.

          "Avatars of dead people try to resolve conflicts left behind by their human. Probably this one sensed the Hernandez/Marquez conflict and is trying to resolve it with Rosita," Omar guessed.

          And sure enough Rosita and the avatar were sitting to the side having an intense discussion.

          "It's not much of an argument really. One side named the capital city and thought it deserved to name the small towns too. The other side named the small towns and wanted to name the capital," Pipi summarized.

          "But still hundreds of years later there's bad blood between them," you opined.

          "Can't even agree enough to put sidewalks in Catharsis," Malcolm added.

          "If the Hernandez clan was in charge the capital would have a horrible name like 'Prophylactic'", Toby, who had been sampling the pomegranate cider without his mom knowing, said drunken.

        "But Rosita's ancestor was out of line calling himself a saint," Miguel contended.

        "He was a witch doctor," Margaret Davis explained weakly.

        And the discussion went on for hours until people started disappearing to their tents.


          "Bringing resolution to the healing myth?" Margaret Davis asked when you crawled back into your tent.

          "Once there was a guy called Stride. He didn't beat his disease because it's lifelong and chronic but he had excellent results in managing it.

This involved challenging the presuppositions of his care givers and not falling into new habits based on their expectations. Over time he overcame learned pathology and found his own path," you said meekly.

          "Excellent," Margaret Davis responded turning out her light and falling asleep.

         After a while working your systems in your sleeping bag her voice cut through the darkness:

         "I thought you were acting rudely each night but you're putting on a catheter aren't you?" she asked.

          "A trick I learned from Lisa and her friends," you replied.

          "Better than stumbling around in the dark," and she was snoring a moment later.





























The Crimson Star




        When you got back to the bottom of the shaft in the morning us three old ladies were here and we'd been joined by The Doorman and Lucas.

         "Grandma and Aunties," you greeted us.

         "Hope you hot young gals slept well," Popo wondered.

         "Thanks to these pads and blankets," I answered.

         "We're eager to hear your news," Roger said to The Doormen.

          "I studied at the university for a week. I did come away with information," he replied.

          "Do tell,"Pipi urged.

          "There are four decoy treasures. Since you attempted to remove a Krilon stash you are eligible to remove all 4," he divulged.

          This caused cheering and celebration. While a generous amount of hugs were bestowed on us elder ladies, Angela, Beth and Lisa seemed appropriate to most.

        "One consideration is our decision to try and keep the Tzango whereabouts secret," Omar remembered when the celebration calmed.

        "I think we can find a discreet buyer in San Marquez," Popo suggested.

        "We're hoping to stay a rumour for the next 600 years or so..." The Doorman estimated.

        "And we want to help. But we have to sell the treasure too," Omar insisted.

         "We could melt down the gold bars into ingots," Pipi suggested.

          "We have enough money to pay to have the gold and even the platinum reformed into generic ingots," Omar confirmed.

          "That just leaves the emeralds and rubies and pearls. Maybe we should keep those and let our ancestors deal with them," Margaret Davis suggested.

          "An important thing to note before you get caught up in how to spend this fortune is how excellent and obscure The Doorman's sources are," Lucas submitted.

          "What do you mean?" Asked Popo.

          "I just searched the surface. Kind of like looking on the Tzango web. He found ancient parchments that revealed the treasure," Lucas answered.

          "How difficult do you think it will be to retrieve?" Omar asked The Doorman.

          "It's a series of trap doors buried in the sand. Some may have hundreds of years of sand that has blown over them but the ancient coordinate system is reliable," he answered.

        "Sounds like digging is the next thing," Popo said stoically.

         And for the next few days, this was true.


The Crimson Star






         As it turned out the digging for the last four treasures was trivial. The hatches were easily located in the desert near the rock outcroppings and the RV could be pulled up to the troves to be loaded.

         That night as you sat by the campfire in the camp at Convus you were jubilant.

        "We've gone from moderate wealth to ridiculously wealthy," noted Pipi.

        "I want to apologize for hogging the platinum after the first treasure. It just seemed like nobody was even paying attention to it," Cameron volunteered.

        "I think the reason nobody objected is that you have more expenses than anybody else," Roger answered.

        "Even now your RV seems pretty weighed down," Pipi noted looking at the six wheeled rig loaded with treasure.

        "The springs are at their maximum. I'll have to go very carefully to the airport where we need to hire several planes," Roger proposed.

        "I've still got some UT bucks but we'll also have to promise some ingots when they're made," Popo told you.

        "I think the place to sell the emeralds, rubies, and pearls is Earth. Just saying they come from a distant planet is enough," you suggested.

        "And you'll be heading back there soon won't you?" said a voice outside the campfire circle.

        "Aunties!" you cheered when you figured out who it was.

        "It was your grandmother Helga who sensed you were nearing the end of your visit," I told you.

         "How did you make it back here 10k?" Miguel asked giving the ladies a hug.

         "This fine gentleman, Ross, came out and picked us up when we phoned," I answered. Nobody had really noticed Ross standing with us.

         "They even took me down to meet The Caretaker and Lucas," Ross added.

         "I bet you feel bad about calling those kids crazy," wondered Toby.

         "The Caretaker says they are planning to visit his house next time they are here," reported Ross.

         "So every year when they come to see their grandparents they will get to see a little more Tzango territory. I bet they get invited to the Tzango city next," guessed Toby.

         "As long as they keep it a rumour they are ok." Roger condoned.

         "The Tzango are on a six hundred year program to re-establish relations with us humans. They think we're savage idiots. Keeping their whereabouts secret is a good way to prove we're not," Omar suggested.

         "So I just make sure the new section of Tzango paraphernalia I want to add to the store is very tacky," Ross decided.

         "The best way to make it seem false is disinformation," Omar agreed.

          Finally you young people moved over and made room for us elderly ladies and we sat by your fire in the cold desert night for hours.






















The Crimson Star




        That was the morning us old folks woke up covered in sand by the strong desert wind. The night had gone late powered by the excellent pomegranate sherry that Ross had retrieved from the dusty shelves of the general store. Toby volunteered to retrieve our sleeping mats from the Tzango underground and while he travelled up there with Ross, I drunkenly demonstrated that a cell phone could be used to contact Lucas. It took me a few tries to succeed but eventually I was able to contact Lucas and arrange for him to meet Toby and Ross at the hatch with the sleeping gear.

         So the sand that covered us in the morning never touched our skin or got in our eyes. So deeply were we squirreled in the Tzango sleeping bags and so drunken on pomegranate sherry that we slept deeply while the wind howled. You awoke with a far too jolly demeanor inviting us to breakfast on the lawn by the decaying playground and fountain.

        "This is an excellent folding table you retrieved from the general store Ross. Problem is that it feels like 'The Last Supper'," you quipped.

        "More like the last breakfast," Pipi added.

         "It is indeed a portensioua event. But I think I vote that we say farewell at sunrise tomorrow. That's when we split into several groups each with a portion of treasure to take safely back to Border Town and some of us will catch connecting flights to our homes," Omar announced.

        "What happens then?" asked Pipi.

        "Well, until then the treasure will have been split by weight, in Border Town we split by approximate value. Some of us like Margaret Davis want to keep their portions as artifacts. The rest of us may want to avail themselves to the services of Popo and his brothers who have offered to take the gold and platinum to the capital and have it melted down into untraceable ingots," Omar answered.

         "Also I make myself available to take emeralds, rubies and pearls to Earth and sell them," you added.

         "I'd rather receive cash sent across space than end up with a lot of rocks I can't sell without giving my friend's location away," Pipi offered.

          "On another topic I want to thank Michael for preparing this excellent meal," Roger said quickly.

          "And I want to donate three gold bars to the town of Convus on behalf of all of us explorers. I'm hoping this playground can be updated and this fountain. But rather than hooking up to the excellent water discovered by the founder, I suggest the Krilon powered sources maintained by the Tzango," Omar offered.

          "That's the big pipe up by the antennae?" Ross wondered.

         "Built by the Tzango, maintained by The Caretaker, enough water for a city and a few small towns, they won't mind if you add another," Popo agreed.

         And the meal dissolved as people went to do their packing. The day was marked by a few notable events however, most importantly at noon when two cars pulled in to the campsite.

         "Some kind of reconciliation?" Rosita guessed when she saw who was in the cars. They contained the Hernandez boys who ran the hotel and her cousins who ran the Marquez hotel.

          Also attending the meeting was the Hernandez avatar who had kind of glommed onto us old ladies of late.

          Omar presided over the talks, which were held on the same folding tables that you'd had breakfast on.

















       "Thank you for making the difficult journey to Convus. There are two important things I want to talk about," Omar said shortly.

       "Just getting the Hernandez and the Marquez to sit together at a table is an achievement," said Rosita Marquez supportively.

        "The first thing is the Tzango. This ancient race that went missing hundreds of years ago has now been found. They aren't in space somewhere like everybody thinks but right here underground."

          "Can we meet them?" asked Rosita's cousin Antony.

          "I'll put you in touch with Ross, who works at the general store here in Convus and has met a few Tzango," Omar answered.

         "Maybe Ross should be offering tours," proposed Juan Hernandez.

          "The thing is the Tzango are basically hiding from humans. They think we're savages. It's been suggested that the best way to prove this isn't true is to keep their whereabouts secret," Omar said sadly.

         "Why are you calling us here?" asked Juan Hernandez.

          "Because I think you're basically the government around here. Us explorers, who made first contact, we're leaving. Hopping flights starting tomorrow. Even though I'm acting unilaterally I'm confident that you'll do the right thing," Omar answered.

          The group fell silent then, mulling over the new information.

          "Which brings me to my second item," Omar continued.

          "Hope it's smaller than contacting aliens," Antony Marquez said.

          "It's ending the thousand year feud between the Hernandez and the Marquez," answered Omar.

          "We agree to disagree," said Juan Hernandez.

          "The original fight was because one guy got to name the big city and the other named the towns," Omar noted.

          "That's a simplification," the avatar said.

          "But even now the disagreement continues. Your hotels are polar opposites on catharsis, you're even sitting at different ends of this table," Omar argued.

          "What do you propose?" Juan Hernandez asked.

          Omar picked up a bag and put it on the table.

          "This is a bag full of gold and platinum. I'm suggesting the Main Street of Catharsis be renamed 'Agreement Street' and you use this money to pave a few blocks and add a sideway," Omar answered.

          "It does get ugly in the rainy season," Antonio Marquez agreed.

          "Catharsis meaning 'purification' or 'cleansing' is the purification and purgation of emotions—especially pity and fear—through art or any extreme change in emotion that results in renewal and restoration." I memorized it from Wikipedia Juan Hernandez said.

        But it hasn't been that purifying, it's been more about walking in horse shit when I go downtown," Antonio Marquez argued.

         "I think the idea of 'agreement street' is an excellent addition to an anarchist city," Juan Hernandez agreed.

          With that ticked off Omar's list you were bound for Bordertown.
















The Crimson Star




       The RV left Convus while it was still dark carrying sleeping passengers to the Catharsis airstrip.

        "Cameron you're a hero for driving so early," Angela said peppy.

        "Raa," Pipi agreed in a very low voice. He'd been up late drinking.

        "Probably you should keep quiet and let people sleep," Cameron whispered from the driver's seat.

         It wasn't long until the sun rose and you arrived at the airstrip.

         "It's really more of a helipad but that freaks people out since they took off on an airplane," Popo explained.

          "Vertical descent in the desert," Pipi agreed.

          It wasn't long before Omar had lined up the first flight.

          "I'm thinking ladies first so Margaret Davis and Strides elders can go," Omar suggested.

          "You're too kind," I told him.

          And before too long we were off.

          "Better to wait in a whole foods restaurant than that little airport," Margaret Davis told us as we flew away.

          We took with us one fifth of the treasure by weight and that left you sitting on four fifths in the airport.

          "I guess it was a good guess on the weight," Miguel said.

          "That plane was running a little sluggish," Pipi added.

          "Still my wife and I are next," Omar voted.

          "May be tomorrow morning," Popo warned.

          "She's slept in many airports," Omar said proudly.

          And that would be the case, although Beth and Omar were bestowed the only good bed in the RV. You dropped by there in the evening with a bottle of pomegranate cider to wish them well.

          "You're camped in the airport parking lot. I'm sorry but that's illegal," you said joking.

          "Luckily there are no laws or police," Omar pointed out.

          "Stride!" greeted Beth coming from the front bedroom in a negligee and a ski coat.

          "I wanted to come by and say farewell to you," you offered.

          "We fly out first thing," Omar said sadly.

          "I'll miss The Wife of Bath and her man," you held up your glass in a toast.

          "The wife of bath's tale is true. Inside every hag is a princess, and he who sees the princess becomes a prince," Omar summarized.

          "Interesting interpretation, problem is your lady is not a hag but a beauty with a few scars," you pointed out.

          "But one of the scars is right across my face," Beth countered.

          "Some will see your flaws. I see only your beauty," Omar told Beth lovingly.

          And that's the way it would be.





























        Omar and Beth flew out first thing that morning and it was rumoured there may be another flight that afternoon.

       "I guess we're up next," Toby said to you and it was supposed to be his family and girlfriend that joined him to form the next group.                                        

       "I'm sorry I kind of had a crush on your wife before you arrived," you told Roger when they were leaving. 

         "I've got a crush on her too," Roger told you.

          "I'm glad you found your husband," you said to Angela as you were hugging her goodbye.

        "I hope you’re glad to see your wife," Angela responded.

        And just like that three fifths of the treasure flew away. You were next flying in the morning with Michael and Lisa.

        Popo and his brothers had a small fire going on the edge of the parking lot that evening and you all gathered round to avoid the cold.

        "I don't mind sleeping in that airport, but it's freezing at night," Popo opined.

         "It's more of a hanger, open to the night air than an airport," Michael suggested.

        "Jungle nights are supposed to be muggy. This is like a cold desert night," said Pipi pulling a blanket around his shoulders.

        "That's because they cut down all the trees from the desert to here," you proposed.

             "This fire is warm," Lisa said trying to avoid a Stride rant on deforestation.    

           "So Malcolm, when Lisa and I fly out tomorrow with Stride, that only leaves Popo and his two brothers for the last flight. How are you and Cameron getting back?" Michael asked, changing the subject.

         "We're crossing the desert in the RV. I've never done it before," Malcolm answered.

         "Well thanks for staying with us while we wait a few days," Lisa said politely.

           "We couldn't leave you without the kitchen," Cameron responded.

           "I think you should leave in the morning. I've only travelled the desert by hovercraft but I'd say it's at least 2 or 3 days drive in that RV," Michael suggested.

         "Ya I guess we'll be ok on our own," Popo agreed.

























     Before too long Michael, Lisa, and you were in Border Town. Omar and Beth, Roger and Angela came out to greet you while Toby and Rosita Marquez waited in the whole foods restaurant for you to join them. 

         "The elderly ladies seem to have moved on," you said to Margaret Davis when you saw her. 

        "They caught a connecting flight to Collusion when they were confronted with the disturbing lack of accommodation in this town," she replied.

        "Did they get a share of the treasure?" You asked hopefully.

           "Nobody was really comfortable splitting up the bounty until Popo and his brothers arrive tomorrow with the fifth portion," she informed you.  

         "They should be in tomorrow morning. As to Cameron and his passenger Malcolm I can't say," you reported.

         " I foolishly booked a flight to Sendero Rosa the day after tomorrow. I hope they drive that RV hard across the desert," Margaret Davis replied.

           And you would make your way to the whole foods restaurant to greet Yoby and Rosita Marquez.

          "And how is my favourite sub fifteen couple?" you asked them. 

          "Rosita turns fifteen in three weeks," Toby pointed out.

           "An older woman. You've got six months to wait don't you?" Stride asked.

       "Robbing the cradle," Rosita interjected.

         "Fine wine, well aged," Toby said, proudly. "Ya I'm a half year behind," he answered you.

            "How was your flight out?" Rosita asked.

            "Lisa resents me for leaving her hospital," you answered.

             "Makes for an awkward trip," Toby guessed.

              "Luckily Michael keeps her in check," you added.

               And as the afternoon went on you spoke at length with Omar and Beth then Roger and Angela and finally over dinner with Margaret Davis.

          "You never really told me your healing myth," she prompted.

          "We've been through this. It's a lifelong chronic disease. The best anyone does is to adapt to it well," you answered.

          "So rather than a healing myth you need an adapting myth," she responded.      

           "Exactly," you agreed.     




























        Popo and his brothers arrived in the morning early on and all five portions of the treasure were finally back together.

      "Now we just need Malcolm and Cameron and we can do  the big split," Margaret Davis observed.

       "I think we flew over them this morning. They were making excellent time. Probably only half a day away," Popo informed.

      All it would take to entertain Popo and his brothers for four or five hours was a pitcher or five of decidedly unusual pomegranate sangria. 

      "You're here already!" slurred Miguel when Malcolm walked in to the whole foods restaurant.

        "Where's Cameron?" Pipi asked equally as altered.

        "He went to his house. You have to remember he lives here," answered Malcolm.

        "He probably wanted to put the RV away," guessed Popo.

         "It took a bit of a beating getting here," Malcolm confessed. 

        "I'll miss the behemoth," Pipi said sadly.

        "He'll probably show up here in his wife's small car," Malcolm guessed.

          "The only reason we want to do the split so quickly is that Margaret Davis is flying out tomorrow," you offered. 

           "We were hoping you'd be of sound mind," Margaret Davis added.                                     

          "Oh I'm hearing sounds in my mind alright," Pipi confirmed.

         Eventually you reconvened in a rustic shed behind the restaurant and everyone brought their treasure.

      "I promise not to hog the platinum this time," Cameron told you, and having done a little research you made sure of it. 

        "There is only about a quarter of a million each in bars. The real money is with Stride going to Earth with the jewels. One of the main values is the story he'll tell with each stone," Popo explained.

        "Popo I've come to suspect that you have money," Toby wondered.

         "He's a fucking zillionaire," Pipi revealed.

          "I get that a quarter million isn't even enough to say, buy a house," Toby started. "But when you find it in a hole..." he tapered off.

         "It's like it fell from the sky," Pipi said solemnly      
































The splitting up of treasure was taking a few hours.

"I think some of these emeralds should be valued by cultural significance," Margaret Davis contributed.

          "So we each take our jewels and stride can keep track of each person's money when he sells them," Toby wondered.

          Omar was offering each person a hat with little pieces of paper that had numbers on them.

         "So each person chooses a number. When your number is called you get to choose the next jewel. The choosing of the best jewel is a main skill in this," Omar told you.

         Things progressed and only half way through the stock you had to break for dinner.

       "Good idea. I needed a stiff drink," Beth enthused.

        "It's stressful isn't it, making these decisions," Miguel opined.

          Then who should appear walking around as maitre de's but your old friend Henry the customs officer and his wife Marsha.

        "You're home from the Unorganized Territories," he greeted and shook hands.

          "We've been dribbling in here for a few days," Omar said shaking hands back.

          "My waitress said she saw you, with some elderly ladies doing the Bordertown no accommodation dance," Marsha said to Margaret Davis. 

       Your back shed is the best room in town. Still the elderly ladies flew out after one night on the floor," Margaret Davis replied.      

           "Poor old gals. I hope they got what they wanted from their trip to UT," Marsha said concerned.

             "They flew into Catharsis. Have you been?" Margaret asked.

        "No. We're planning a trip. Henry wants to fish in the ocean," Marsha replied.

    "So what's your plan Stride?" Henry asked you privately.

        "I guess I'm Earth bound. To study those who adapt to MS best," you answered.

      "No longer looking for the cure?" he asked.

        "1000 years later and learning how to adapt is key," you answered. 

         That's the way it would be.

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