Tag Archive: esper talents

Homecoming coverThe Bounceabout is the crew’s nickname for exploration ship XP-13. Why? Well, to explain that I need to explain a bit about how faster-than-light travel works in my universe.

I know, it’s not really possible to go faster than the speed of light. But how do you have an interstellar plot if you cannot assume simultaneity, which is ruled out by relativity? So I am making the following assumptions:

1. Electromagnetic radiation does indeed travel at the speed of light.

2. Esper talents (telepathy, telekinesis, levitation, teleportation) are instantaneous, as are their mechanical versions such as sub-light communications and jump gates. However, they are subject to distance limitations.

3. Interstellar travel is accomplished via “jump points” (you can call them wormholes if you prefer) which can be flagged with sub-light beacons. Transit between two jump-points is reasonably smooth if the exact positions of both are known.

4. Unflagged jump points can be detected via electromagnetic radiation, but of course if a jump-point is five light-years away, what you will detect is where the jump-point was five years ago. Transition to an unflagged jump point (location not precise)  is (a) rough and (b) tends to do strange things to artificial gravity fields and force fields. As a result of this, exploratory jumps are taken in free fall with all people on board physically webbed into place – and they need to be!

The practical result is that while travel within the known parts of the Confederation is fast and reliable, the expansion of the Confederation, depending on exploration, is slow and the Confederation itself has a very strange shape.

In Homecoming, even Lai quickly comes to call the XP-13 the Bounceabout!

I’m doing my A to Z blogs from my books, both characters and background information. For characters I’ll introduce them quickly, say what point of time they’re talking from since their situations change drastically through the books, and let them talk. Background information will vary according to what I’m talking about. All of these blogs will be scheduled to go live just after midnight Alaska time.

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A very quick note. I have a guest blog up on But What Are They Eating about some of the foods my characters eat–and why those using esper talents must eat so much to avoid low blood sugar.

Ever notice that the berm across the end of your driveway, or the one formed when you shovel the sidewalk, is harder than the undisturbed snow? That’s because when snow is disturbed crystals are broken, and the broken surfaces positively grab onto other ice surfaces. Two examples of this are common in nature, and I’ve used both in my fiction writing.

The first is called a wind slab or wind crust. When a turbulent wind picks up snow crystals and redeposits them, a good deal of crystal breakage takes place. When the broken crystals settle down they weld themselves to other crystals and the result can be a hard crust—even though the temperature is below freezing. Roi has to cope with this in Tourist Trap:

The trees had broken the force of the wind up to now, but once he entered the open swath the wind almost knocked him off his feet. The snow was crusted here, not quite enough to hold his weight, but enough that his thighs were bruised repeatedly by the chunks of wind-slabbed snow he was dragging Timi through. He paused twice to increase the circulation to his feet. Were they cold, hurting like hell, or just numb? he wondered absently, and then realized that Timi’s shields had dropped to the point that he was feeling Timi’s body as well as his own. The wind cut through the frozen scarf and the cold glued his eyelashes shut, and with a start of horror he realized that he had drifted away from the line back to the shelter. He could teleport himself back, maybe—but he wasn’t sure he had the energy left to do even that, and there was no way he could take Timi with him.

He struggled on: lift a leg and break the crust with his knee, then drag the leg through the slightly softer snow underneath until he could balance on that leg to break out the next step with the other leg. Timi staggered behind him, almost falling several times, and his mind ached from the effort of keeping the other boy upright. Snow had sifted into his clothing, somehow, and he knew he was cold but no longer felt it. With an abruptness that caught him by surprise, the wind died down, and he went to his knees as he tried to break through a crust that was no longer there. Back in the trees, he finally realized, and reached out for the faint impression of the shelter.

The second is probably less familiar to most, and I hope it remains so, but here in Alaska it is constantly being drummed into us. This is what happens in an avalanche. The churning snow sets up like concrete as soon as it comes to a halt. Well, not quite like concrete — it can be dug through with shovels – but far too hard to shift by moving your body. Marna is caught in an avalanche in Homecoming:

Even as she crouched and aimed herself for a belt of trees that might provide some protection, the leading edge of the avalanche overran her, tumbling her helplessly down the slope. The churning snow caught and twisted one forceweb until she thought her leg would break, but the torsion activated the safety cutoffs and the forcewebs went abruptly inert. She clawed her way upward through the fast-moving snow, and tried to remember what lay downhill. Only her perceptive sense kept her from total disorientation.

The buffeting and spinning as she was carried along reminded her of the time she had been caught in the breaking wave—but then Win had been there to rescue her. Win. She had repudiated whatever was left of Win, but as the slowing mass suddenly set rigidly about her body, she wondered at her own insanity in wanting to be alone. She struggled to move, but felt only the slight snapping of a switch, followed by the growing cold of the snow that held her prisoner. Her struggles must have turned off the thermal suit, she realized with a growing sense of despair. Exhausted and chilled, she could not even visualize a place of safety. Win, she sobbed mentally. Forgive me, my love.

This is a situation where time is absolutely essential, and buried but living victims are likely to die of suffocation or cold – often in less time than it takes to get help. Dogs are better than people at finding victims, but if search and rescue dogs have to be flown in, it is often too late to find anything but a body.

Year 2, Day 280

The rains are late. Either that, or they have been early the last two years.

Is it possible that they will not reach this far south, that the nomads will not return? Certainly they follow the herds, and the herds will not come south until the vegetation greens, after the rains have fallen. In the two years I have been here, the rains have come before the summer solstice. But my crude calendar says the solstice is today, and there is no sign of rain. Only of dust and smoke, which forced me to levitate to see the direction in which the sun set. I did not even see cloud tops, or dry lightning.

The stream has gone dry, and I am seeing more and more dead animals on my exploratory flights. To the west are sand dunes – I don’t explore much that way. A day’s flight north, though, it is raining in places. How much longer will the rains move southward? If they reach me, will they last long enough to turn the vegetation green? Should I go farther north, and try to find the nomads?

I have burned off most of the dry vegetation around my shelter. Not that the starving animals left much. Predators were glutted at first, but now they, too, are gaunt and starving. The warnoff has become a necessity if I leave the shelter on foot.

Luckily I can teleport myself and Patches to greener areas where I can fish and she can hunt the small mammals we both prefer as food. The large mammals would be tastier, but without the nomads I am not very good at preparing them.

I hope they come back.

Perhaps I should teleport north of the rains, and try to find them?

This is an excerpt from Jarn’s Journal, the journal kept by a fictional human-like alien, Jarn, who was stranded on Earth roughly 125,000 years ago. He has made friends with one tribe of early humans, but they have followed the grazing herds northward. Jarn’s Journal to date, from the time of his crash landing, is on my author website.

Year 2, Day 248

I’ve always thought of herbivores as relatively harmless. Not that you want to corner or threaten one, as they generally take rather violent exception to anything that signals they might be eaten. But as a general rule they don’t go looking for trouble. Not these!

I have named them hippopotamus, though I will have to find out what Songbird’s people call them. I’ve seen them before, of course, when I was following the river downstream. They look like small, barren islands from above, and lumbering, clumsy brutes when they drag themselves out of the water where they feed.

They are not clumsy.

Especially when they see me watching them and decide that I am a threat.

They are very crowded, as the dry season has been more intense then usual this year, and they have retreated to the few deep scours of the river. I knew the tempers of the bulls were short, as I have seen several battles. In fact I was watching a battle, amazed at the gape of their jaws, the ferocity with which they attacked each other, and the obvious fear with which the cows herded their young out of the way. I had shielded against their emotions, so I had little warning when one of the rivals suddenly decided I was a threat and charged me.

I am ashamed to say that I totally forgot everything I have managed to learn about counterbalancing over the last few months and simply did a brute-force teleport to my shelter.

Needless to say, I am almost too exhausted to record this. I need to make counterbalancing automatic!

Jarn’s Journal is an ongoing feature that gives some of the back story of my science fiction universe. Jarn is a human-like alien, a R’il’nian, who was stranded on Earth, in Africa, roughly 125,000 years ago. He has made contact with a tribe of early humans, but they have left for the season, following the game herds. Jarn’s story to date is on my author website.

This an excerpt from the (fictional) journal of an alien, Jarn, stranded in Africa roughly 125,000 years ago. Jarn’s story is part of the remote background of the science fiction world of my novels Homecoming and Tourist Trap, as well as an upcoming trilogy. For his Journal to date, see my Author Site.

Year 2, day 140

The headaches have almost disappeared. Score another round to my esper instructors.

They kept telling me that my headaches were analogous to sore muscles when I tried something new physically. Well, they were right. Over the last few fivedays I have seen more parts of this continent than I have over the past two years, and while my head felt as if it was going to explode the first few days, I can now go almost anywhere I have seen and levitate to a height which is uncomfortably cold with no headache at all. And once I am high enough, I can pick out landmarks and teleport to them with little effort.

It is a large continent that I have landed on. To the north, trees and watercourses become steadily more frequent until finally I find myself in jungle. By the sun, this jungle continues past the equator, bordered to the north by more savannah and eventually by true desert, drier than anything near my shelter. Farther yet, I came to a great salt sea. It may be partially enclosed, as there seem to be few tides in spite of the large moon.

South, the land again is washed by salty water, but stormier and with definite tides.

There are mountain ranges, valleys, even volcanic areas, and a great valley which makes me suspect this continent may be rifting apart. I have yet to find snow or ice, though I think I glimpsed some coming in. Still, by the height of the sun this continent is centered on the equator and even its most northerly and southerly limits are far from the poles.

I am mapping at after a fashion – it gives me something to do while I am alone. I can get both latitude and longitude from the position of the sun, though absolute distances have to be expressed in terms of the unknown radius of this planet. I keep hoping I will find the gather, but even the area green from the rains is far too large for anything but blind luck to lead me to them. I wish I knew where they were.

Year 2, day 122: Day 736 since my arrival

Last night I dreamed of flying.

It’s not something I’m very good at. I’m afraid once I decided to become an engineer and design starships I didn’t pay much attention to my esper lessons. But I’ve been forced to do a lot of esper over the last two years. Teleporting, perceiving, and telekinesis, mostly, but I’m dong all three much better than I ever did at home. So why not try levitation?

Not flying, exactly. But one of the things I’ve found I can do is teleport to a distinctive landmark. The higher I am, the better my chances of spotting a distant landmark I can use as a destination. So why not levitate to gain that height?

It does take just as much energy as I would need to climb to the same height. There is a way of getting around that, by using the energy of falling water or a landslide, but I’m going to have to learn how all over again. Even using my own energy, though, I managed to rise far enough into the air to see a distinctive tree and teleport to a spot above it. With practice, I could explore in much larger steps. And it wouldn’t wear out my sandals.

I think I will see what the computer library holds on levitation.

Much later in the day

Why didn’t my esper instructor tell me that all of that counterweighting and similar jargon simply referred to the conservation laws of physics? No wonder teleporting to a place at a higher altitude exhausts me; I’m using my own energy instead of swapping energy and momentum with my surroundings! I tried teleporting to the top of a butte while moving a similar mass of dirt and rock down, and it took almost no energy. The same with levitating to butte height. Water would work even better as an exchange medium, but for that I’ll need to find a waterfall.

So, my first priority is to practice exchanging energy and momentum with my surroundings, which should make teleporting much easier, and the second is to find a convenient waterfall. I wonder if I could locate that gather?

Author’s note: Jarn has finally worked out a calendar. He’s decided to start each year with the northward equinox, and to count the year he arrived as year 0. His Journal to date is on my Author Site.

Day 614

They seem to have decided I am a benign god, at least. The fear that I felt yesterday gradually subsided today, though the awe remained.

I teleported to the spot I’d been teleporting Songbird from. She was watching for me, though she’d been gathering foodstuffs while she waited, and proudly escorted me to the camp. This time I was shielded against emotions – not entirely, for safety’s sake, but enough I could function.

They were preparing a feast. Every person in the group filed before me while I was enthroned on a large rock,, and each bore a gift. Some were very welcome indeed, like the clothing – far finer than what Songbird had made me, and beautifully decorated with bits of fur, feather and shell. Some were containers, or items of food. Some were decorations, for the head, throat, arms and legs. Others …. Well, I am still not sure what they are, but I smiled and accepted them as the honors they were intended to be.

The food was primitive relative to some I have eaten, but by far the best I since I was stranded here. Songbird is a better cook than I am, but for the first time I realized that her mother had only started to teach her how to prepare food. Not that I found everything they ate to my taste, but I did manage to eat at least a little of everything they offered.

By that time it was growing dark away from the fire, which seemed to grow brighter as the stars appeared. I was wondering how to excuse myself when several of the men of the group came into the firelight, so ornamented with feathers, animal skins tanned with the hair on, and beads that I could not recognize any of those I had met. They moved in patterns – dancing, the shaman called it – while others made sounds by pounding on shoulder blades, blowing on reeds, and doing other things I could not quite see, as well as singing.

Makers of beauty, I thought. Such are rare among my people. What have I found here?

Jarn is a R’il’nian, a human-like alien, stranded on Earth, on the African continent, roughly 125,000 years ago. He has found and rescued a human child. This is the background of the universe I have imagined in my science fiction books Homecoming and Tourist Trap, though they are set much closer to our own time. Jarn’s species has a number of what we would call esper abilities, including something they call conditional precognition.

Day 370

Songbird’s language is beginning to feel much more natural to me. Her views on the world do not.

I cannot help thinking of her as a dependent, as a child who needs shelter and protection.

She rather obviously thinks of me as some sort of godlike being, capable of miracles (such as plumbing and setting her broken leg) and quite incompetent at taking care of myself. She has taken over the cooking, not because she is a better cook than I am (which she is), but because in her mind it is a female’s job to prepare food, as well as to procure most of it.

She also has me thinking twice about the abilities of the shamans.

Songbird’s mother and her mate – Songbird  doesn’t seem to have a word or even a concept for “father” in the biological sense – did not want to leave her, but the shaman assured them not only that leaving was necessary so that the rest of the tribe would not starve, but that leaving Songbird was a necessary sacrifice to the gods. So far as Songbird is concerned, I am the god the shaman predicted. A rather strange and incompetent god, but still a god. Had not the shaman foreseen it?

Is it even remotely possible that the shaman has enough conditional precognition – untrained, of course – to recognize that I would rescue her?

When I decided to rescue Patches, I thought my main problem was going to be finding a substitute for her mother’s milk. Well, I have learned a few things since then.

Puppies are destructive. And messy. Their teeth are unbelievably sharp. They are incredibly good about getting around, over or through things I think will be barriers. And they are absolutely adorable.

Patches not only listens to me (though she clearly responds more to my tone of voice than to what I am saying) she regards me as her pack, and since she has leaned to walk, does her best to follow me everywhere I go. My explorations have been severely curtailed, as she cannot quite keep up with me. I can teleport her along, and since the first time or two she accepts it as a normal part of life. But I either have to carry her (which she begins to resent very quickly) or pause often to let her nap and explore.

Her legs are beginning to lengthen. Judging from what I have seen of adults of her species she will be quite able to keep up with me when she is a little older, so I have decided to concentrate on strengthening the mental bond between us. She does not think in what I would consider an organized matter, but her senses are superb, and she is quite happy to share them with me. Already she has begun to help me find water and small game on our exploration trips.

Water. The stream I am camped by is becoming narrower. Not a drop of rain has fallen since I came here. Animals are rarer, and tend to cluster more and more around the stream banks – and so do the predators. Is this a normal dry season, or the beginning of a drought?