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Friday, August 12, 2022
Emerald of Earth – EPISODE 30: Race To the Hot Pole…
(If you like what you see, share this link with a friend! This is where the story starts -- Season 1, Episode 1 is at the bottom: https://stupefyingstories.blogspot.com/search/label/YA%20SciFi%20EMERALD%20OF%20EARTH%20Serial?updated-max=2022-01-28T05:00:00-06:00&max-results=20&start=18&by-date=false)
The next morning, after keying the bolus near her unit with the code GADI gave her, Emerald stepped out onto the Core’s central lift platform. Overhead, the immense ball of nuclear fusion that served as SOLAREX’s sun as well as powering the entire ship, was damped like a coal in a fire and the air around her held the chill of early morning predawn, damp and full of the smell of jungle decay.
She looked up and frowned. She’d been too busy on the day she arrived aboard to see what was above her head. And the sun had been shining then, too. But now she clearly saw that the sky was the other side of the two kilometer long Core. Toward each pole – the ends of the Asteroid 4179 Toutatis that it was banded from ochre to tan to emerald to hunter green at one pole, to a mixture of olive and lime to tan again to blinding white.
Toward the front of SOLAREX, over a kilometer away was, if she was to believe GADI, a small desert. The blistering sands of the Hot Pole gave way to savannah blending into jungle and then to the subtropics where she stood. Palm trees, gingko, saw grasses and hundreds of other plants and trees from Florida, central Mexico, Ethiopia, and Argentina populated the semi-tropical band of the SOLAREX Core. A toucan watched her and a troupe of spider monkeys with equal interest. The jungle segued into deciduous forest fading into conifers and tundra and finally the brilliantly white disk of snow capping the Cold Pole. Across the Core, over a kilometer away, was a blue ribbon of water spiraling from the Hot Pole to the Cold Pole, widening to form a small lake directly overhead.
The sun continued to brighten until she could no longer look directly across the Core.
Look down from the “sky”, she saw that she stood on an immense, raised platform of concrete patterned in squares of tan and ochre. Benches of stone that ranged in color from ebony to pure white, some with backs, some without, ringed the edge of the platform. She stood just outside of one of four cylindrical huts built of golden sandstone blocks. Each hut had a set of four curved sliding doors. The hut Emerald had stepped out of faced a huge pine tree and an immense oak. Between them was a path of some crushed, tan stone and ran between them then branched just beyond. Flower beds of black-eyed Susans, purple coneflowers, impatiens and pansies angled out, forming a trapezoidal swath of garden.
To her right were formal gardens, white rose bushes in riotous blossom closest to her and hedged in by dark green, immaculately clipped bushes.
To her left was emerald green turf grass, encompassing a children’s playground, the concrete replaced with wood chips and sprouting a huge jungle gym cast out of primary color plastics.
Beyond the playground were dozens of small food carts, most of them sporting flags and signs announcing HOT PRETZELS, POPCORN, CARMELED APPLES, SHISH KEBAB, EMBARE SWEETS, BURGERS, GYROS, BURRITOS and dozens of other foods.
Her stomach rumbled as the doors of the hut on the playground side slid open and deposited three female teens who stumbled blearily into the bright light. They were in the middle of an argument.
“Whose idea was it to get up at six in the morning?” Izegbe muttered as she crossed over to Emerald. She added, “OK, Ms. Autism, this is the point at which you...”
Emerald stepped forward and said, “I just want to thank all of you. I know you’d rather be sleeping...”
Søren interrupted, “You got that right.”
Emerald kept talking, ignoring him, “...but I’m glad you’re here. I wanted to see the rest of the ship, but I’m not sure...”
Izegbe’s, Søren’s, and Ayaka’s heads turned simultaneously at the sound of another set of doors opening, this time from the hut facing the formal gardens. Daniel stepped out, looked at all of them and said, “What were you afraid I was going to do? Ravage her?” He snorted, “I have older fish to fry. I don’t need to troll the nursery to get what I want!” He wore a large backpack. The others carried smaller ones. Even Emerald, realizing that they would be passing through a number of different kinds of weather, had packed a heavy sweater for the polar region and shorts and a sleeveless shirt for the desert.
“Let’s get going,” Daniel said. He started off, suddenly came to a stop, turned like a zombie and said tightly, “I feel the necklace.”
Emerald blurted, “What?” He ignored her, as if he were in a trance – or being controlled by something. Emerald managed to whisper, “What do you feel about the necklace? Where is it?”
Daniel’s eyes grew wide, he thumped his chest. "No more!” He took a deep breath, shuddered and said smoothly, “Follow me and don’t get lost.” The glazed look was gone.
No one in the group moved. When Emerald cleared her throat, Daniel stopped. She said, “Uh...how are we going to get to the desert? Or do we just start walking?”
Daniel lifted his chin, shook his head like he was dazed and said, “We’ll hike straight to the desert from here then spiral around the Core all the way back to the Cold Pole. We can pick up a bolus there and come back here for supper.”
Izegbe, Søren and Ayaka looked at Emerald suddenly. Søren said, “That’s a long trip.”
“Two kay as the crow flies. Spiraling aft from the desert should be about ten to fifteen kay. That’ll be easy for us – we’re in superior shape.” He jerked his chin and headed across the platform at a jog, jumping off the steps, curling his legs up then kicking out as he dropped to the ground.
Søren’s mouth fell open, his eyes bugged out and with a kamikaze yell he sprinted after his Team leader.
Izegbe and Ayaka looked at each other, rolled their eyes and said in unison, “Boys.”
They looked at Emerald. Ayaka said, “I suppose you don’t know anything about boys?”
“I know about boys!” Emerald said. She raced after Daniel and Søren who were still jogging aft, following a faint path into the jungle. Once off the platform, the trees seemed to grow up around them, thick trunks wound with vines and dense undergrowth creeping up to form a dense understory. They started to hear animal cries and the occasional rustle of brush and snapping twigs.
Emerald slowed down. Jungles inspired caution in her. Her parents had always made sure she carried a heavy-duty taser because even though jaguars were extremely rare, they weren’t extinct by any means. Izegbe and Ayaka caught up with her. “What’s wrong?”
Emerald shot a glance overhead and said, “There’re animals in this jungle, you know.”
“Duh,” said Ayaka. “It wouldn’t be a balanced ecology without animals.”
Emerald paused then asked, “If it’s balanced does that mean they left the predators in? I grew up in a jungle on the Yucatan Peninsula. They still have jaguar there. But here…”
Izegbe stopped dead in her tracks.
Ayaka grabbed Emerald’s arm and said, looking up, “Jaguars?”
Izegbe shook her head. “Don’t listen to her! My mom’s best friend is one of the wildlife biologists on SOLAREX. She would have said something about predators if there was anything really dangerous.”
They all heard the deep-throated growl at the same time.
“You sure about that?” asked Emerald.
“I don’t think...” Ayaka began as the underbrush shook and parted. All three girls screamed as Søren and Daniel leaped out growling and snarling – and then fell down laughing.
Emerald scowled then screamed again, pointing to one side of the boys. She cried, “That’s a nest of Mexican scorpions! A nest of Mexican scorpions!” Both boys froze. Emerald screamed again, “You’re in a nest of Mexican scorpions! They’ll kill you!” They leaped to their feet, dancing around, screaming and batting at their clothes – until they noticed that Emerald was howling with laughter. The other girls joined in at the looks on their faces.
Søren stopped dancing first, glared at them and said, “Very funny!” and stomped down the trail.
Daniel finally stopped, glared at Emerald then burst out laughing. “Touché, newbie! Touché!” He ran after Søren, shouting, “Søren! Wait, buddy!”
The girls walked after them, catching up with the boys a little further as they left the palm trees and mangos and entered Napier and pampas grasses. They could at least see each other now, the boys taking a fifty meter lead. The trail led slantwise across the savannah.
“It’s getting hot,” said Ayaka. She pulled a dark blue kerchief from a pouch in her backpack, wiped her forehead, then tied it around her head.
“You don’t think they’d have a pride of lions in here, do you?” asked Izegbe.
“No! That’d be stupid. Besides, SOLAREX isn’t an ark. We’re just exploring the Solar System,” Emerald said.
“Yeah, every square centimeter of it,” said Ayaka. She sighed.
“What?” Emerald asked.
Ayaka opened her mouth to answer, but Izegbe cut her off, saying, “She had to leave her boyfriend back on Earth.”
Ayaka shoved Izegbe but added, “There are no good-looking boys on SOLAREX. Apparently.”
The boys were waiting for them in the shade of an enormous boulder. Beside it, a Whistling Thorn grew, the branches overhead spreading out from a slender trunk. Each thorn had a bulb at the base and ants living in the bulb swarmed up and down the trunk.
Daniel said, “All right. Once we hike out of the savanna, we’ll be in the desert and headed for the Hot Pole. If you want to have your presence there recorded, you have to lay your hand on the palm reader.”
Emerald laughed and said, “A palm reader? Will it tell me my future?”
“Only if it’s interesting,” Søren said, still sulking, adding, “So you don’t have to worry.”
Izegbe said, “Oh, I think Emerald’s going to have an interesting life.”
“Why?” asked Søren. “She’s no better than anyone else.”
Izegbe lifted her chin, “Her great aunt is one of the vice-captains, isn’t she?”
“That doesn’t mean...” Søren began.
Daniel cut the other boy off, pointing into the distance and squinting. “Using mirrors, SOLAREX engineers focused more light on the desert up there – it’s supposed to be able to actually reach over forty degrees C.”
“That means it will feel like a real desert. There are even scorpions and mirages.”
“Mirages? That’s stupid,” Søren exclaimed. “A water mirage is just a reflection of the sky by air close to the hot sand that has a different density than then air above it. But there’s no real sky here.”
“How do you explain that, then?”
They turned to look. An image of some sort appeared to be hovering over the ground about a kilometer or so away. “It looks like a blimp,” said Emerald.
“Or a Zeppelin,” said Søren.
“Zeppelin’s are rigid,” said Ayaka.
Daniel said, “We could go see.” Ayaka, Izegbe, Emerald and Søren looked at him. He shrugged. “Maybe it’s real.”
Emerald said, “Or maybe it’s a mass hallucination.”
“Or maybe it’s nothing,” said Søren. “We’re never gonna find out standing around here, talking about it. Let’s go.”
Daniel started off at a slow jog across the savanna that was dotted by baobab trees from the Serengeti, Australian Kimberly savanna bloodwoods, Khimp shrub, and gum from the Thar Desert of India, a few barrel cactuses from the North American Mojave and plants from all of Earth’s hot grasslands. Emerald noticed an acacia – like the one the boy, Zech had blown up ants on. There weren’t any other working Intensive Training Teams she could see. She looked back at Daniel. He said, “This is taking too long. These trails spiral through the biomes from Pole to Pole, but they’re for casual tourists. Come on!” He ran off the trail they’d been following.
The others looked at each other, then set off after him. After jogging the length of two or three football fields, the grasses disappeared, the light intensified and it grew warmer, and the air dryer. They kept running as sand underfoot seemed to wash up around their feet. When Daniel finally stopped, they found themselves at the foot of a brick red and tan sand dune shaped like a tsunami frozen in mid curl towering four meters over them.
Ayaka bet over, panting, then said, “Where’d the blimp go?”
“It’s gotta be behind the dune,” said Izegbe.
“No it’s not,” Emerald said. She wasn’t panting much because she and her mom had run into Telchac Puerto fairly often. “It should be overhead.”
“What’s on the other side of the dune, then?” Daniel said.
“There’s only one way to find out,” said Søren and started off at a jog. He slowed down the moment he reached the end of the dune and shouted, “Guys!”
Guy Stewart is a retired teacher and counselor, with science fiction for young people and adults published in ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact; podcast at CAST OF WONDERS; and in CRICKET the Magazine for Children. For links to his other online works, go to https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/. For an interview with me about EMERALD OF EARTH, try this: http://www.writersandauthors.info/2015/09/interview-with-guy-stewart.html